When a Shakedown Leaves you Shook | Luke Balmforth’s Caterham

Bad endings can make way for better beginnings. Or, atleast maybe beginnings with equal (if not increased) adrenaline-spiking. What I’m referring to is the last time Luke was pedalling a car on a circuit, and the event being not-so-great. Long story short: too much too soon with it still being rounds of Qualifying at the season finale race weekend of Caterham Graduates Championship -> understeer at Chris Curve ->> wet-grass ->>> tyre-wall.

Fortunately, Luke came away with pretty minor injuries, although major disgruntlement. Understandably so, as he would have came out on top overall, even if he’d made it into the race and finished at the back of the pack! All that’s in the past though, and in those 2.5 years since that incident, the boy has turned man, buying his first home and renovating it alongside his missus.

But by now, from these photos you’ve seen so far, it’s evident he hasn’t just been playing ‘happy families’ in his new 4-bed detached. In between bringing an OAP’s ex-property up-to-date and working shifts at his day/night job, Luke has been to and fro his parents’ house where the next chapter was being spannered on.

Luke’s the type of guy who knows what he wants, and stays loyal to his decision. But I’m not so sure he was absolutely prepared for what he was getting himself into. You see, as a carboy, the natural progression is to develop and grow by inviting new challenges, whether that’s taking on a project with a steep learning curve (technically speaking), or perhaps gaining more satisfaction by driving something with a significant performance increase (racing/hot-lapping a faster/lighter vehicle).

To put this situation into context, he’s done what any bold privateer does in the motorsport world and cranked the dial all the way to ‘BALLISTIC’ from what was before set to ‘QUICK-enough’. From the “tame” Ford Sigma-engined car, this all new Caterham chassis is leaps, bounds, and then some, courtesy of an Ecoboost 1.6L pinched from a Ford Fiesta ST.

Being quite off-grid with social media, Luke hasn’t shared progress on the new undies-stainer publicly online, so I thought I might aswell tag along with him and his father, Nigel, to Blyton Park for both the car and driver shakedown. For someone who’s pretty eager for seat-time, he’s shown infinite patience and hasn’t compromised with this build at any stage these past couple of years. Obviously kept busy with adult-life priorities, he hasn’t really had time to put towards using the car even if it was finished. Occasionally he’d toy with the idea of buying a fast roadcar (i.e. DC2/DC5 Integra Type R; Lotus Elise/Exige) to rip up a few circuits here and there in the interim, but I think he chose not to spread his resources too thin, which was a sensible choice in hindsight.

Enter Caterham 2.0. It’s not the second version of the same car, with this being a different chassis altogether, but I’ll refer to it as that because this is most likely what his previous kitcar would’ve become, if it hadn’t met its premature demise.

Gloves on and harnessed in to the only seat in the vehicle, Luke was ready to mash throttle on track for the first in a long while.

Pitcrew Chief Nigel about to give Luke a good-luck push off towards the track-entry to queue up for sighting laps.

As I already mentioned above, providing energy for motion is the turbocharged 1.6L engine found in the seventh-gen Ford Fiesta ST. What I’ve not told you, up until here, is that the dyno measured 300bhp & 260ft-lb in horsepower and torque, respectively. That’s a 60% power increase and double the torque figure of the factory-spec output, all thanks to a hybridized KKK/Borg Warner turbocharger configuration along with a custom aluminium inlet manifold mounted as substitution for the OEM plastic item, helping to lower intake air temperatures.

Lightning! Okay, maybe not quite… yet.

Track surface conditions established, back in he came to make minor adjustments to side mirrors which needed repositioning and can only be done using an Allen key.

The weather forecast was worse than what we had witnessed, luckily, with rain showers being intermittent and the strong continuous breeze doing its best to dry away the track day tears – ‘cos no one likes a wet day at the track, especially spectators.

Whilst it was chucking it down early in the day – a time period where traffic is usually at its highest, more so with it being Blyton Park and packed to the brim of novices (Luke included) – rear anti-roll bar links were disconnected in an effort to alleviate as much of the off-throttle oversteer.

Compomotive CXR 13 x 7″ bolted onto the front stub axles…

and 13 x 8.5″ sizing in the back, Kumho Ecsta V70A tyres all-round doing their best to utilise all the torque being channelled through the drivetrain.

Peek into the cockpit and you’ll spot a fire extinguisher laying flat in the passenger’s footwell, yet to be plumbed in to complete the flame-suppression system.

Luke does indeed plan on sticking reg plates on this animal once it has been through its MOT test, giving meaning to the top-left toggle switch mounted centrally on the carbon dash-panel with ‘Horn’ etched beneath it. You eagle-eyed viewers probably recognise the shifter lever collar if you’re into Sadev sequential gearboxes. Luke chose to deploy an SC82-17 transmission with dog-gears to bang through whilst holding onto the steering wheel one-handed for dear life.

As Luke was waiting to get out for another session, his dad and I posted up on the banking watching how well others were able to navigate through the tricky hard-right-into-hard-left.

Loads of the usual, you know, Clios, Clios, and more Clios, then a few MX-5s of course. This mildly-modified S2000 looking as timeless as ever.

Turning our heads left constantly in anticipation for Luke in his Hi-Vis chariot to come blitzing around the corner, here he comes now about to bully an Clio II RS to one side. In case you were wondering, that grey blurred object in the back pointing the wrong way was a Jaguar F-Type, of all things. I bet that driver was the comfiest out that day on Blyton.

Being amongst the quietest cars that day, there was no way the black flag was waved at Luke for exceeding noise limits. Turns out, you’re not allowed to cut the chicane on the back-straight, haha!

As you can imagine, maintaining traction in a chassis this light and powerful on a wet course is nigh-on impossible. Luke reported it was only once the track was slightly less damp as the day progressed, that he was able to achieve maximum forward-movement if he kept the driven axle over the dry line and off the slippy paint at the track limits.

He chose not to fit a seat for a passenger to ride shotgun – understandably, as this thing is manic – so Luke decided to ride solo so that he could focus solely on getting to grips with the machine.

No shortcuts were even lightly considered during the piecing-together of this luminous puzzle. To bring the centre-of-gravity down (as well as due to packaging contraints) a dry-sump oil system was installed and plumbed in, eliminating the worry of starving the engine of oil when pulling stupid amounts of G-forces once slick tyres are brought into the mix.

Days prior to this shakedown at the track, Luke managed to get his dyno-run on his second visit after the first being unsuccessful no thanks to electrical issues with the direct injection system. The car made strong power, as I have already alluded to, but began to display signs of misfire once boost pressures racked up to around the 1.2bar level.

This was temporarily circumvented by tuning the turbo conservatively enough for Luke to drive the car at Blyton…

Up until the same issue cropped up at the reduced boost pressures, resulting in a very sputtery Caterham that just wanted to go!

Luke managed to get some good runs in his last session, with the track surface drying up and a less populated field.

An Audi A4 with a livery much like the one on the 1990s Super Touring car.

Ride height could do with many more millimetres dropped, and those wheels :s …

Merc wagen support vehicle still going strong. So much for selling it to free up equity. I remember going out on the moors to take a bunch of advert photos for Luke to use; that was more than two years ago.

Aside from the engine misfire, the morning went well for both car and driver. Definitely an improvement from the last time Luke was at Blyton Park driving a kitcar – his ex-MNR Vortx. Bonnet stayed attached, tailpipe wasn’t run over by the rear wheel, and no jamming-up of the brake calipers.

A4’s livery-friend.

Hadn’t been on the camera since Matsuri, so I practiced some tele-zoom panning.

The trackday wasn’t cut short, as Luke already planned/anticipated leaving at lunchtime. I think he also had a feeling the pesky misfire would rear his ugly head soon enough anyhow.

The plan of action after the morning at Blyton: stickier tyres; remove gearbox to remedy the incorrectly assembled gear sets; introducing a traction control system; less misfiring, more boost. After all those boxes have been ticked, Luke needs every lap of seat-time he can get, because this rocket requires a fighter jet pilot license.

Yeehaw-mobile spotted on the motorway.

Sunset artificially augmented.

Follow the IG: @soulfokus

Keep an eye out for on-board footage in Luke’s Caterham here: Luke Balmforth Racing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s