Event Report: Rallycross at the Circuit de Chateau Distraxi

It occurred to me a couple of months ago that having installed the new concrete drive up one side of my house, and not yet converted the old gravel drive on the other side into garden, for the next 6 months or so there is a mixed-surface loop of driveway going right around the house. In the spirit of Takeshi Teruya, this led inevitably to one conclusion: I have a private Rallycross track and I must use it!

The Circuit de Chateau Distraxi was therefore christened this week - timing dictated by Mrs Distraxi being away and therefore me being less likely to be given the evils for doing dumb shit.

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The Circuit:

The Circuit De Chateau Distraxi is a 0.079 mile mixed-surface road course consisting of around 60% concrete and 40% gravel, with around 15ft of elevation change, and between 3 and 7 corners depending on whether you count wrist twitches. The track is tight, with limited runoff. Roadside ditches, boulders, and trees (not to mention buildings) wait to punish the unwary or over-ambitious.

Beginning at the lowest point of the course, the start-finish line opposite the front door, competitors accelerate along the (very) short, sealed, Front Garden Straight, before entering Turn 1: Lounge Deck Curve. This uphill left-hand sweeper features good traction, an open exit and one of the few semi-safe runoffs on the circuit: high speeds can be expected on this section in the flying laps.

Turn 1 tightens immediately into Turn 2: New Shed Corner. This is a tight and technical left hander. Unsighted over the brow of a hill, with the surface transitioning to gravel at the end of the braking zone, a possible downshift from second required, and a low retaining wall at the exit below the driver’s sightline, it offers a high risk of overly aggressive drivers understeering into trouble.

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Following Turn 2, Back of the House Straight drops past the Conservatory Corporate Box, flattens out to go between the Kitchen Deck Grandstand and the pits, then kinks slightly left and climbs back up to Turn 3. Featuring a downhill opening section and a massive length of almost 150 ft, Back of the House is one of the great road-course straights: easily in the class of Le Mans’ Mulsanne and Bathurst’s Conrod.

The uphill braking zone of Back of the House brings competitors almost to a full stop as they enter Turn 3: Orchard-To-Be Hairpin. Another left hander, with the transition from gravel to seal occurring almost at the apex, the extreme tightness of this corner requires drivers of the less manoevrable vehicles to make a 3 point turn (handbrake turns having been banned due to safety concerns).

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Having successfully negotiated Turn 3, competitors accelerate hard downhill, under the gaze of (theoretical) spectators on the Master Bedroom Balcony Grandstand, through Turns 4, 5, 6 & 7: The Garage Esses. This narrow (3.4m) right-left-right-left sequence with a significant right-hand camber can be rendered almost straight by smaller vehicles, or if drivers manage a sufficiently narrow exit from Orchard-To-Be. However for most drivers its effect will be to pose a distraction on the entrance to Front Garden Straight, a critical area as it sets cars up for the high speed Turn 1.

For this event, competitors are allowed three practice laps, followed by a single timed run of three laps from a standing start to a standing finish.

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The Competitors:

In the hotly contested 2WD Production class, we have two closely matched contenders:

Millenial Distraxi, driving a Toyota GT86, is marginally favoured for both the class and outright win, due to the RWD traction and legendary handling of Team Toyobaru’s iconic creation. However the infamous absence of any torque at all from the 2.0L NA flat 4, while totally irrelevant in any normal road or track situation, may prove its undoing on this circuit which features extensive low rpm 1st gear sections.

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Arch rival Comrade Distraxi, in the Skoda Arms Racing Octavia VRS, benefits from an additional 40hp, big fat gobs of low-end torque courtesy of the Octavia’s VW-sourced 2.0 turbo 4, and a fast-shifting DSG gearbox: a significant factor in a circuit where competitors face up to 6 gearshifts per lap. These features may prove enough to overcome the FWD Skoda’s weight, size and traction disadvantages. Although given the team’s VW cheating technology, and its Eastern Bloc cheating sporting heritage, there is a very real risk that the scrutineers will end the Skoda’s event early.

Moving to the 4WD Modified class, the heavy metal of the event is Big Red Dog Racing’s Mitsubishi Pajero, Clifford. Driven by DIY Distraxi, sporting the event’s largest - if not most powerful - engine, and with Dakar-winning heritage, the Pajero is a dark-horse contender. The low-end torque from its 3.8L V6, combined with 4WD traction, an automatic gearbox, and an ability to handle the odd off-track excursion on this unforgiving track, may prove enough to overcome its weight, size, soft suspension, offroad tires and - most critically for this circuit - very low geared steering. Clifford’s modifications include a set of top-secret aftermarket headers rumoured to be worth as much as +1 hp. In pursuit of the outright win and inaugural lap record, BRDR have taken the extreme step of removing the back seats, reducing weight by over 1% (and improving loadbay space enormously).

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In the 4WD Production class, our final entrant is Yokel Distraxi, piloting a Kubota BX2380. With its 898cc 3 cyl diesel engine putting out a decimals-count level 21.6 hp, power-sapping hydrostatic transmission, and limited top speed of 20km/h, the Kubota is unlikely to be in the hunt for outright victory. However its diminutive size and extremely tight lock means it will easily take Orchard-To-Be Hairpin in a single bite, which may prove to be a critical advantage. Despite being the slowest car vehicle in the paddock, the Kubota’s high C of G, nonexistent suspension, narrow track, and knobbly tires may see it prove a handful in the tighter turns. The Kubota is further handicapped by its front end loader, which Team Toytown Tractors have opted to leave attached - despite its weight and negative effects on C of G and weight distribution - in order to avoid falling into the Modified class and competing head-on with the rally-bred Pajero.

A further entrant, Hard Hat Distraxi in the Case Construction Equipment Spare Parts Division sponsored Case 350 crawler, has been disqualified due to the risk to the organisers’ health and marital status of it damaging the track; the inability of course safety vehicles to tow it off when if it breaks down; and the marshals’ unwillingness to wait out its likely weeks-long lap time.

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Results:

4th with a best time of 1:48.40 - Kubota. The diminutive tractor’s ability to take Orchard-To-Be nearly flat-out went a considerable distance to offset its limitations, but ultimately it was too severely handicapped by the 20 km/h governer and inability to maintain even that speed on the uphill sections. It certainly felt damn fast though!

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3rd, at 1:19.49 - Mitsubishi. Although its 4WD traction made it fastest along Back of the House Straight, it was slower through Lounge Deck than the lower-slung competitors, and lost a lot of time at Orchard-To-Be due DIY Distraxi’s inability to twirl the wheel fast enough through the Pajero’s 578 turns of lock.

2nd, at 1:08.93 - Skoda. The “GTI with the big ass” made a creditable showing on the tarmac section, setting the best time through the Esses and along Front Garden Straight - it was the only competitor which required a dab of brake entering Lounge Deck. But it lost time on the downhill section of Back of the House due to inability to put the power to the ground, and its greater overall length compared to the Toyota required more careful manoevring through Orchard-to-Be, costing it precious seconds.

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And the winner, with a time of 1:06.53 - Toyota. It lost time through New Shed due to the low seating position compromising visibility - and as we know, the corner at the start of the straight is the most important one on any track. However it made up for it in manoevrability around Orchard-to-Be, and the precise handling allowed a more aggressive pace up through Lounge Deck.

And what did we learn from this?

all the positions, and the reasons why, were pretty much as I expected going in. I was surprised Clifford was as close to the cars as he was though: getting him through the 3 point turn was really slow, and he wasn’t that quick on the tarmac bit, as you’d expect. Guess it shows how much difference being able to put the power down on gravel made: he certainly had the highest terminal speed on the straight.

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Going sideways while transitioning from gravel to concrete is ... unwise ... even at low speeds. I tried it in the Toyota and gouged enough out of the gravel rise leading up to the concrete that the tire sidewall dug into the edge of the concrete and bounced me up onto the new drive pretty hard. Decided not to try that again for fear of damaging sidewalls (and in Clifford’s case, tripping him up - SUVs do that).

The 86's traction control allows a healthy amount of slip even in conservative mode - pretty much the whole of Back of the House straight was taken with a dab of oppo applied. It’s also much more subtle than the Skoda’s, which makes the whole car shudder and left a trail of stitches along most of the straight:

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Clifford understeers heavily under braking. Fortunately that section of retaining wall is going anyway, and his tires and suspension can handle it:

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On a track this tight, the sense of precision you get in the Toyota makes a huge difference. I was able to take Lounge Deck much harder than I was prepared to in the Skoda because it felt more controlled: if I’d gone as hard up there in the Skoda as I did in the Toyota, the times might have been closer.

The big weight hanging off the front of the Kubota combined with the lack of suspension makes it a handful over any sort of bumps at speed. Orchard-to-Be could have been taken flat if it wasn’t actively scary - the rise up onto the tarmac sets the tractor pitching enough that front end grip disappears for a moment. I was also very much aware that this is the only vehicle where if it went wrong I was probably going to get hurt.

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Even at sub-30mph speeds, a track surrounded by large boulders is a major psychological disincentive to going Maximum Attack - I could have taken a good few seconds out of all the times if I hadn’t cared about potential damage. Gets the adrenalin flowing nicely though :-).

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