Posted: 07 October 2015 | Story & photos: RaceMasteR J

It was about just over a month ago that I got an interesting email from Killarney Raceway about an up and coming TV show that would be shot at the track and that the producers were looking for contestants. Reading further into the email it stated that they were looking for people with track time, I have plenty of that, and a neatly modified vehicle, I kind of have that - keeping the Raceweb Twincam in mind. The aim of the show was that you would challenge an F1 driver in your own car around the track. He would set a lap time in your vehicle, and then you would do the same and then see who’s quicker. Interesting. Oh, not forgetting that if you win, you get R20 000!

Now while I admittedly have “some” track time experience and knowledge, I was under no impression that I was going to be any quicker than a Formula 1 driver. But letting someone get into a car they’ve never driven before and then do the best lap they can, seemed somewhat of an interesting challenge. I decided to fill out the necessary paperwork to apply for auditions and give it a go, for shits n giggles… why not!

Rocking up at auditions I was greeted by about more than 30 vehicles. They spread from full on race cars, single seaters, muscle cars, track day toys and a few street cars. There was even a bone stock standard F30 BMW 320i… I don’t know what that dude was thinking… shits n giggles maybe? I waited for about an hour just to be in front of the camera for less than a minute. They asked me a few questions about myself and my car, and that was it. OK… I didn’t expect ANYTHING to come from this. As I drove off, the producer gave me a nod and said thanks… I thought to myself, Oh I know what that means, thanks but no thanks!

Some time passed going about my normal daily routines and work until I got a very surprising email from the producer saying “Congratulations, you’ve been selected as 1 of 12 contestants to be on the show!” Oh my, I was not prepared for that! The first thing that came to mind was, I need to get the car sorted. I was not sure what exactly was needed from the car at the time, but after a phone call from the producer, he said that it would only really be 2 warm up laps and 2 hot laps. One each between myself and the F1 driver. Oh ok, that’s not bad at all. Easy peasy.

The Twincam did need some attention though. It needed a new tune, due to a change in alternator and voltage. So we let the wizards at GSR do their thing and they then gave us the all clear… In Gerards words… “You can boot this thing now”. All good! New CV joints and engine mountings were fitted as well. I never ever drive the car unless we go to a track day, which is hardly. The last track day I did was November 2014. I needed to get used to the car again - on track. Thankfully I managed to get in some anti clockwise track time with the car for some testing and to familiarize myself with the old boy once more.

Going out on track with the car from the new pits, the first corner was now turn 5, a left hander. Immediately I feel and hear a massive vibration coming from the front wheels/suspension/drive train. I backed off. I’m not sure what that is. Left into turn 4, I feel it again. Every left turn I take, I can feel this nasty vibration and that immediately makes me tap off. I don’t want a CV joint popping out or something worse. I pull into the pits to try and see what’s going on. On closer inspection under the car we notice what seems like a tear in the chassis. Damn. That has to be the problem. Damn, I need to sort this out. Track time cut short! Damn!

The only way I can sort this out now is to have it welded up. We are running out of time very quickly as I need to have the car sorted for the show within a few days. I called up Wesley from Jaylan Performance to have a look at the car and possibly weld the chassis. After taking it into them and cleaning all the grease off the undercarriage, it wasn’t in fact a tear, it just looked like one. Nothing was torn. A very quick sigh of relief, but then it got me thinking, what is the actual problem?

We looked again and then noticed a bolt was missing. The bolt that connects the subframe to the car. Wow! When did that happen? The bolt on the opposite side was stripped and just turning freely. Great! That HAS to be the problem. After a new bolt was fitted, and the other one welded tight, I set off thinking my problems were solved.

Wrong! The vibration was still there. I felt it going into every left corner… at about 80km/h. What on earth could it be?! After Wesley drove the car himself, we came to the conclusion that after looking at all the symptoms, it has to be the gearbox itself. Not cool! I don’t have time to get another box in the car now. I either have to call it quits or go into this knowing the car might not hold up. I did not want to miss out. Fingers crossed, let’s do this!

The day before the show started, we sent the car away to be steam cleaned (remember all the grease under the car) and polished for the show. One final last check under the car and we noticed that the right hand side CV boot was brittle and cracked (due to missing heat wrap on the downpipe, it cooked the CV boot). It therefore threw out all the grease from within the CV joint! Bingo! It MUST BE THIS!? We changed CV’s etc and hoped for the best!

Getting to the track I was greeted by teams and teams of people and production crew. This was not a small operation. It felt really fun to be a part of this. Meeting my other contestants I got to see who I was up against. From Porsche GT3 RS, BMW M3, Nissan 350Z, full race spec clubmans Audi A4, Mini Cooper GP, modified Golf 7R, track day spec Nissan Sabre, clubmans Mk1 golf, Haper Sports Car, Subaru WRX and an awesomely modified 350kw Honda Type R EP3. My little Toyota had its job cut out for it. Even though I was not competing directly against these other cars for lap times, we all knew we were up against each other somehow.

The lap time was the one aspect, then you would be judged according to your car’s looks, the way it was tuned/modified/performance and lastly your attitude/personality. The show was co hosted by good friend of Raceweb’s Ernest Page while the main star of the show, the F1 driver, was none other than Finnish legend, Mika Salo. Mika raced in F1 back in the late 90’s for Ferrari and a few other teams, won a few Le Man’s races, raced in many other formula’s and currently still races for Ferrari in a 458. I was keen to meet him.

The show’s 12 episodes, 1 car per episode was shot over 3 days. I only managed to bring my camera along on the third day when most of my on screen time was done. It was a bit weird being on the other side of the camera for a change. This time I was the one person in front of the camera while a whole crew was on the other. Admittedly I was a little nervous at first, but eventually I got into the swing of things.

It’s just funny how you practice what you’re going to say before the time (I had a quick look at some of the questions they were going to ask me), but when the camera’s started rolling I only managed to talk a whole lot of shit. After every time they said “cut” I asked myself what the hell did I just say…? It was fun none the less.

My first day on set involved mostly interviews of myself and the car close ups. The second day was the day I got to go up against Mika. I was not nervous about myself. I was confident in my driving abilities. I was only nervous about the car and if it would hold together. It was my turn now, I was up and this was my time to shine. SPEED, CAMERA’S ROLLING, ACTION! All the cameras were on me. It was time for the lap. Pulling up to the camera’s and after a quick chit chat with Mika and Ernest about the car, Mika got in and gave it hell! It was awesome to see the car going flat out from the outside. I’ve never really heard the car going full tilt from the outside before.

Mika did his lap and pulled in. He gave me some feedback about the car. Nothing I never already knew. He didn’t like it very much and I agree. The car was never ever set up to be a Killarney track car. It just sort of formed into what it is today after many years of mucking about. The gear ratios are wrong for the track, and it being a front wheel drive, understeer is always a problem. Then, because its turbo charged, sending 220kw’s through the front wheels makes torque steer out of the corners a massive problem. Having the wrong ratios means you’re either going to be in peak power as you pass the apex which means having to fight the car out of every corner, or if you go one gear up, you’re completely off the power and lag becomes the problem. Whatever it is, at least the car is far from boring!

I got in and started my lap. This is the difficult part. I knew the car just did the fastest lap time it will ever see, I knew I would not be quicker than Mika, he is just that good, but I tried my best. In fact, I tried too hard. I over drove. To pull off a super hot lap in 1 lap is crazy. My typical driving style is to go quicker after every lap. I ended up locking up the brakes into the corners, tyres screeching into and out of the corners, the car sliding around through the corners… I had SO much fun. I never ever drove the car THAT hard before. The problem was, it was too hard. I wasn’t smooth. What also didn’t help was that damn vibration into the corners. But I thought bugger it if the car is going to break then so be it! But where I lost the most amount of time was as I was going down the back straight in 4th gear it decided to pop out of gear by itself. The car over revved, it dropped out of boost, and I immediately knew that’s my gearbox and lap time gone! I shoved it back into 4th and floored it. It took some time to build up boost again, damn lag, but off I went, eventually. If I really wanted to I could have maybe tried to do another hot lap, but something told me, rather complete the lap and pull in.

Good thing, as I only realized the day after that the brakes were completely gone. I never even noticed I was so pumped up after my lap. Now I can’t talk about lap times or results, you’re just going to have to wait for the show. But who knows I might have scored very high on my other points. At the end of it all I was overjoyed to be a part of this amazing experience getting to meet awesome people and making new friends. What a blast! Thanks to the organisers, producers, sponsors, contestants, crew, catering staff… EVERYONE! It was amazing, I can’t wait to watch the show!

Be sure to check out the rest of the gallery below... Enjoy! Keep up to date with the show on Twitter by following @TestMyRideSA

RaceMasteR J
Junaid Hamid

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