Alfa Romeo Sprint salt racer at Speedweek 2019

By: Phil Radoslovich, Photography by: Phil Radoslovich & Tim Guinness

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Speed Week take two - revenge of the long white dyno with 'Murphy' the head-gasket-munching machine

After the disappointment of Speedweek 2018, Tim, Frankie and the rest of the Baling Twine Racing Team returned to Orange, NSW, from Lake Gairdner (aka The Big White Dyno), determined to correct the problem which had killed the race motor in 2018. Analysis from the Go Pro and on-board data logger ensued and a fresh engine was built for 2019.

| Read more: Baling Twin Racing Team Alfa at Speedweek 2018

A dyno in Cowra was used to test the engine known as ‘Murphy’ – because Murphy was an optimist. It featured 44mm Weber down-draft carbies, Waggot camshafts, forged pistons and other mods.  Murphy blew a head gasket at almost the last day before departure for the lake, 1600km from Orange. A quick head gasket replacement and crossing of fingers followed.

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I met up with them in Port Augusta complete with a second spare set of head gaskets purchased from the local Alfa parts dealer in Adelaide. The trip to the lake was quite pleasant with the road having been graded in anticipation of the increased volume of traffic expected. First up was the drivers’ briefing that Tim attended and to set up the pits on the lake with help from engineer Greg Hurst and son Murray who is a diesel mechanic by trade.

Full of hope for a better run than in 2018, Tim lined up for a shake-down run on Monday, the first day of competition, following a tough session with the scrutineers. It seems their understanding of the modifications mandated for Tim’s roll cage in 2018 and Tim’s implementation were at odds with each other.

alfa-romeo-sprint-salt-racer-5.jpgMakeshift repairs at a makeshift race venue

After a lengthy inspection the car passed, however they imposed a limit on the car of 135 mph with Tim’s safety being their primary concern. At least this year the limit imposed would be enough for a record to be set should the car do the speed required of just over 126mph. There is no denying however that it was a disappointing outcome given the extra work put in during the year.

In part, the tyranny of distance is responsible for the result because with only one meeting a year and that in a very remote location there is no real opportunity to have the changes assessed in the meantime, especially since the scrutineers mostly come from Victoria.

alfa-romeo-sprint-salt-racer-4.jpgOut she comes again for another inspection

Disappointingly, the first run also turned out to be the last for Murphy as it went off song not long after reaching 5th gear and Tim had to abort the run with no time recorded. So, it was back to the pits for debrief and an engine inspection for the second year in a row.

The inspection revealed significant damage to both right bank pistons and enough melted aluminium to weld the sparkplug electrodes together!

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Although an exact cause was unable to be completely settled, the betting was looking like a detonation issue. 

Motor racing is a tough business especially when it is remote and the budget is limited. Baling Twine Racing is, like many teams competing, largely self-funded supplemented with a mix of some cash and in-kind help from dedicated local sponsors who share the vision.

In motorsport, resources or lack of them can impose finite limits on testing and development, despite the best intentions of those involved.

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As in 2018 the team had a spare engine – known as ‘Sod’ – because Sod’s law says that Murphy wouldn’t make the end of the week. Sod for 2019 was also a 1500 cc Alfasud engine with less radical cams and 40mm Weber downdraft carbies – a change in approach from 2017 which saw a completely standard 1700cc engine as the spare which, although it was quick would have put the car into another class with a significantly higher record speed.

With much of Tuesday being lost to a fairly dramatic thunderstorm and consequential loss of the timing system (due to effects of lightning strikes) the team set to and replaced the damaged Murphy with the backup Sod. Needless to say there was more finger crossing as we fired up Sod for the first time. 

alfa-romeo-sprint-salt-racer-7.jpgPlugs that lacked the vital spark

Wednesday was cooler and windy and there were again weather delays and the team had to wait until very late in the day for a run. There was considerable optimism after this run with Sod working well and turning a speed of 121.9mph. This was tantalisingly close to the required speed of 126mph. Alas, it didn’t get any better.

alfa-romeo-sprint-salt-racer-10.jpgScrutineers get down and dirty with the Sud

Thursday morning signalled departure time for Greg and myself as he and I had commitments in Sydney and Adelaide respectively. Our quiet drive home was disrupted with a big bang as a rock flew up off the trailer and destroyed the rear screen on the Disco...

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Back at the lake the wind had changed and the two runs on Thursday were significantly slower due to a strong headwind, the sworn enemy of smaller capacity motors. Tim had one last fling on the big white dyno on the Friday morning. Unfortunately Sod started developing similar symptoms to Murphy which left the team very deflated after all the effort.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day and Alfasuds weren’t built to do 125mph. For now it is back to the farm for some reflection, and modifications to engine and roll cage.

Baling Twine Racing hopes to return next year with ‘20-20’ hindsight. With further data analysis, more  testing on the dyno and a bit of old fashioned guts and determination and ongoing support from our band of loyal local sponsors, they aim to break the record in the yellow Alfa Romeo Sprint. 

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