Features: How a re-run of ‘Le Mans’ inspired Ralph Hosier to get into Motorsport

Ralph Hosier studied  Engineering at Exeter College, and then went onto to do a B.Eng degree in Engineering at Warwickshire University. He has recently written technical articles for the likes of Evo, Practical Performance Car, Practical Classics, Full Throttle and Classics Monthly and has worked for Ford, Jaguar, Bentley, Land Rover and a range of small manufactures.

Have you ever sat at home watching motorsport and thought ‘I wish I was doing that instead of sitting on this sofa’? Well that’s where is was about ten years ago, inspired by a re-run of the Steve McQueen film ‘LeMans’, but it was a video of Tom Walkinshaw thrashing a Jaguar XJ-S that spurred me into action, if you get a chance Google it and your life will never be the same again.

Certainly my life changed, I searched for Jaguar race series and found the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club ran one of the best value for money circuit race series on the planet. I digested the race regulations and drew up a list of things the car would need such as race brakes and a bucket seat, to my utter surprise and glee I found I could buy a car and convert it into a mediocre race weapon for less than £3000, I could almost smell the hot oil and burning rubber already!

Now, the problem with dreams like these is that it is far too easy to spend more time planning than doing, so to make sure I actually completed the project I joined the club, enrolled into the Championship and sent my entry off for the first race. The deadline was now set, slightly concerning the race date was April the 1st but this was no joke, the clock was ticking and there was no time to waste. The plan was beautifully simple; buy a good road car, gut it, fit a few choice race parts and go racing. Maybe simple is the wrong word, maybe naive…

I started hunting down a suitable base car. £1500 was all it took for me to become the proud owner of a very well loved 1984 5.3 V12 XJ-S. What a magnificent car, driving it home I developed an unexpected sense of pride, and horror of horrors I actually cleaned it!

Obviously cleaning a cheap classic Jag results in bit of rust falling off, so it was time to break out  the angle grinder to perform major surgery. Welding it back together went well, very little of the car accidentally caught fire, which I consider a success.

Race preparation started by removing bits of car that are deemed unnecessary, like the massive air conditioning pump which totally obscures the front spark plugs. Most of the interior went in the bin or on ebay and I discovered a miniature swimming pool under the back seat, stupidly I prodded it and the seat pan fell out revealing an excellent view of the road below and provoked the welding kit out again. In all the car’s weight plummeted faster than Ten Ton Tony with a gastric band, by a useful half ton.

I uprated brake pads and fluid to combat fade at very high temperatures, fitted adjustable dampers to firm things up a bit, ripped a bigger hole in the air intake, removed the centre exhaust silencer and used race engine oil to hold it all together at 6500rpm, that was the performance tuning bit done. The big problem on these cars is cooling so jacking up the bonnet to let the hot air out is a top mod. The rules requires series control Toyo tyres and mandatory safety mods, such as a plumbed in Fire extinguisher and racing harness.

Right, job done, time to go racing at Silverstone. We were not the first to arrive, even though it was only 7:30, everyone was busy unloading, checking tyre pressures, drinking tea and other essential tasks. Even so, I found the other competitors to be a really friendly bunch and more than willing to give help and direction. There was a real atmosphere, difficult to describe, excitement, the sense of approaching battle, the smell of fuel and race oil.

Ralph Hosier and the XJS

The time for qualifying arrived swiftly, we move out onto the pit straight for a warm up lap, which involves driving bloody fast. As we round the corner back onto the pit straight the safety car peels off into the pit lane and it gets a lot faster, and I try to keep up. The engine makes a superb noise, starting with a growl and ending with a roar, its smooth and inspires confidence.

All the video watching and learning the corners before hand counts for absolutely nothing out here. I try and follow the line of the car in front which works quite well, I am amazed how fast the car can go round corners with all the tyres howling in a graceful high speed four wheel drift.

After a few more laps I am just getting my bearings and preparing to do a fast(ish) lap when the chequered flag comes out and its all over. Was that really 15 minutes? Well yes, it just went so fast because my brain was in a warp.

After all that can be done to the car has been done its time for a full racing lunch! The top F1 drivers have a dietician and dine on nutritionally engineered techno food. I had beans, chips, pie and gravy, mmmmmmmmmm.

The Race

With the safety car in front and the fire car behind, we roar off for a green flag lap. I am very aware that even though I am giving it some beans, the fire car appears to have no difficulty keeping up and wants to overtake me. The safety car peels off into the pits and we reform on the grid ready for the start, when the start lights go out it suddenly gets loud and very busy as 25 Jag engines are simultaneously floored, the car in front stalls and I make a quick decision to go to his left, I am in front of a couple of cars somehow but they are advancing rapidly. I turn into the first corner, accelerating past 90mph but still way to slow, as the road straightens out I am passed on both sides. Into the hairpin and as I brake I get significant under steer, followed by over steer as I power out onto the back straight, the fastest part of the track. I glance at the speedo passing 130, everything seems to be buzzing, including me.

Then its hard on the brakes for the 90 left at Brooklands, I am not entirely sure where to start breaking and do it to early and slow too much. I get lots of vibration from the front, this is a new feature but doesn’t deter me. I down shift to second and turn in, the shift causes the back end to step out briefly and I hear the tyres chirp. As I turn right through Luffield the corner tightens and the car is in a four wheel drift, at motorway speeds and I am pressed hard into the side of my chair. I apply power and upshift to third into Woodcote, from here I go from the left side of the track to the apex on the right taking me out onto the pit straight, again drifting from the right all the way across the track to the left with the speedo indicating 120mph. At the end of the pit straight its hard on the brakes and a down shift that steps the back out again.

I was starting to catch the car in front when I start getting lapped and I make the mistake of moving off the racing line to let them by, turns out this is a classic novice mistake.

After 7 laps the red flags came out, a car had come on to the pit straight and just touched the grass on the left, starting a massive slide ending in the pit wall. The car was demolished, even the rear axle was loose. A sober reminder indeed that motorsport is dangerous.

Afterwards

We did this in three months, from daydreaming in a café to racing at Silverstone. We did it on a very tight budget and with no special facilities on the driveway, mostly in the rain. I did most of the work on my own but couldn’t have finished it in time without the help of friends. As we packed up for the day, I felt a real sense of achievement, but my mind was already buzzing with plans for improvements and the next race.

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