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MRA Series Round 3 2020

We were the last category to race in Australia before the lockdown and with the incredible work behind the scenes, Terry Donovan and the team at MRA brought us back to be the first series to race post corona.

Shaun Penwarden gives us his race report for Round 3 of the LA Racing E36 Race Series.

Great to be back on track after a long hiatus. Day structure was a concern with a shortened format but without any mechanical issues it turned out to be a great day.

After barely warming up tyres, the qualifying session was interrupted with a not only a safety car but being sent back to line up in the pits. Once cleared we were out again with a shortened session. Only managing to get 3 fast laps in I was very happy and surprised to qualify 3rd with a 1:58.4

A 10 minute turn around from qualifying to race sounded a bit quick but it was long enough for a toilet break and a tyre check, which luckily was all we needed.

Race 1 also suffered the inconvenience of a safety car but once that was cleared I had a great tussle with the very experienced Matt Thewlis. After initially making the most of a missed gear change, Matt quickly took his spot back and dragged me around the track.

Ignoring better judgement I thought I would take a shot at him under brakes up the inside at turn 2.

Heavily out braking myself and collecting oil from a previous incident, I somehow managed to spin from the inside to the outside without cleaning up Matt. Speaking to Matt after the race, he was also surprised we didn’t connect. Luckily for me, David Bailey retired and I was far enough in front of Marcus Rummler that I held onto 3rd place.

A bit more of a break from race 1 to race 2 gave my committed Chief Engineer Stephen Barnes, time to adjust suspension, scrub tyres and give the car a clean.

Race 2 turned out to be a cracker, I again slotted in behind Matt Thewlis and having learnt from my mistake in the last race, I decided to wait and bide my time. The cars are so evenly matched that I had no way of powering around him, even if I had a run on him on the last turn it was never enough to get him going into turn 1 and Matt being an experienced driver I was never going to get him under brakes.

So for 8 laps I sat behind him and got a 1 on 1 lesson around SMSP! Unfortunately my patience didn't pay off, Matt never made a mistake and even faster cars coming through didn’t upset him. My last 7 laps were all between 1:57.22 & 1:57.53 a consistency I could not have done by myself.... so thanks Matt!

All in all it was a great day of racing, the condensed format was good but only because we had no mechanical issues. The short space between qualifying and races left time only for the essentials.

It was great to see how evenly matched the cars are with Matt using 2nd gear in corners where I am in 3rd, we would enter at leave at different speeds but 50m out of the corner we were even again.

The weekend result is thanks to my father in-law Stephen Barnes, who without I wouldn’t even be on the track. He puts in countless hours before every race preparing the car, refining the car , chasing oil leaks , swearing at the car, searching ebay for parts, searching European websites for go fast ideas and humouring me on my latest go fast ideas and on track days providing transport, catering, cheer squad, swearing at the car and telling me “no” he hasn’t seen the latest thing I have lost. Thanks again Stephen.

Looking forward to the next round and excited to try and find another second or two to keep up with Jeff Barnes.

Thanks Shaun for your race report this round and congratulations to all drivers and teams for getting back to racing!

As usual, before I sign off, a quick shoutout to our sponsors, LA Racing Lubricants, Suspension Concepts, RHD Engineering, MH Auto Care, Prime Race Tyres, Kumho Tyre Motorsports, Tongarra Road Preschool and Early Learning Centre and Metro Fire Services.

Please visit their website and/or social pages, give them some love because supporting them supports us!

If you have any questions about the cars, the build process or how you can be involved in the series, don't hesitate to reach out to us and join our Facebook group, just click this link - https://www.facebook.com/groups/e36raceseries/

(Written by Jeff Barnes)

The 2020 E36 Race Series kicked off with Round 1 on the 9th of February with qualifying and three sprint races scheduled for Sunday at the fabulous Wakefield Park Raceway. It's always bloody windy, bloody cold, bloody wet or all of the above and this weekend was no different! Only the toughest drivers, family and friends would venture out as the rain came down, and I was frequently sideways, almost constantly over Saturday and Sunday!

Since parking up the Conan Racing E36 at the end of last season, I hadn’t given the car any attention. A hasty oil change was performed in the week before the race (upgrading from a ‘name’ brand to the gold standard of oil supplied by our series sponsor LA Racing Lubricants). I also installed a fancy ECUMaster ADU display because #racecar even though it added absolutely no performance!

The ECUMASTER Advanced Display Unit

Oh and the car also got a wash on the Saturday (well it was on the open trailer in the rain at least!). The tyres on the car had run most of last season and as such the outside half of each was basically a slick – given the forecast conditions I decided new wraps for all four wheels was prudent.

Despite being based in Canberra we headed to the track on Saturday afternoon to complete administration and get the car through scrutineering. Chief Scrutineer Mike knows the car now, often has some good advice and is always up for a laugh so whilst it is not the daunting task it once was, it's good to get it done and make Sunday less hectic.

Saturday night we hit the Mercure hotel on the edge of Goulburn right near the Big Merino with a plan for a slap up meal for my only sponsor (love you wifey!). Sunday morning conditions were a precursor to the majority of the day - rain bucketing down and wind howling in. A quick feed of bacon and eggs and off to the track. The first drivers briefing of the year was focussed on safety and driving to the conditions and a big round of thanks to the marshals who didn’t have the luxury of a dry car with a warm seat.

Not the best conditions for racing, but we pressed on!

Almost immediately after that it was time for qualifying. Four E36 Race Series cars headed out driven by Club President David Bailey in the LA Racing machine, Matt Thewlis who was debuting as a full-time series driver having co-driven with David last year and Paul Stanbrook in the Hellrot Racer. Not having been in the car on track for months meant nerves were high heading out and the fact I couldn’t see for the rain and spray meant acclimatising took a few laps. However I made the decision to head out last which at least gave me a few clear laps without traffic to build up speed.

As the session progressed several cars headed back to the pits but with each turn down the straight I was gaining some confidence and the 318is was loving the conditions. It felt really stable and predictable and was just a ball to drive. Looking at the timing afterwards showed this progression in confidence with lap times improving. Incredibly, I managed a best lap under 1min30secs which placed the Conan Racing BMW in the top half of the grid in 11th place out of the 22 Super TT machines and best in class by over 3 seconds.

The LA Racing machine suffered an electrical issue during qualifying and returned to the pits running decidedly lumpier on just 3 cylinders. Unfortunately this turned out to be terminal ending a run of incredible reliability – this car having done 2 ½ seasons of racing, including punishing endurance events, without issue.

With fewer categories running on the day Race 1 came around very quickly. A focus on fuel for the car (and me) meant I didn’t notice the rain had stopped and the track dried almost completely. I got the setup fundamentally wrong for the conditions heading out for Race 1 without a change from the qualifying setup and tyres way overinflated. The start of the race and jostling for position of the first lap was great fun however after a lap or two the tyres overheated and despite the dry track things became as slippery as the qualifying session. Fun but not fast. In no time Matt had latched onto my back bumper. Defending would have slowed us both up so I waved him past on the back straight – with so many laps still to go it made sense. Matt disappeared off into the distance finishing almost 30 seconds up the road with a great 1min16sec fastest lap. Paul was battling traffic just a bit further back so I managed to hold a small gap on him and come home 2nd in class. The E36 Race Series cars finishing 10th, 12th and 14th.

Lunch came and went and my rain dance paid off big time. Race 2 saw the return of the wet weather with perhaps the worst conditions of the day. There was plenty of water running across the track. All the E36s got a great start to Race 2 and it was fun rounding up much more exotic and powerful cars. I followed Matts lead as we hunted through the field. A last minute braking effort around the outside of the final turn and I was back to the front of the class and up from 12th to 7th as we crossed the line with 1 lap complete.

Unfortunately the race was red flagged with a complete restart from original grid positions ordered. This meant we all had to do the hard work again. Thankfully the restart was almost a copy with Conan ending the first lap up the field and front of class. The exhilaration of the first lap meant a little too much exuberance through turn 2 and some additional throttle through the water running across the track saw a slow pirouette off the outside and into the dirt. Luckily the cars immediately behind did a great job avoiding me and after a moment to catch some breath it was ‘pluck first gear and give it some jandal! 

The upside of dropping back to almost the tail of the field was some great racing and passing opportunities for the next few laps as I pushed hard to try and undo my mistake. I was closing the gap to Matt who was leading the class and running well up the SuperTT field but laps were running out. Eventually the pressure showed with enthusiasm exceeding ability. When a wheel dropped off the outside of Turn 9 I kept the foot down instead of lifting and an increasingly severe set of alternating slides resulted in what I am told was a spectacular, but ultimately costly spin on the back straight. Still 2nd in class was some reward at the end of a race which had it all and was just brilliant fun. Matt was clearly improving his car setup as he showed great pace to battle with some serious cars whilst Paul's car was being recalcitrant – sliding might be fun but it’s not fast and some changes were on the cards for the final race.

Conditions for the third race were still very wet and Conan had great pace again. After a few settling laps I managed to close the gap to class leader Matt. Getting a good run down the back straight I followed another car down the inside of the number 27 into Turn 10. Matt defended squeezing me to the inside of the track. Having had a brilliant day so far and considering the finishing positions for the day would not be changed by the Race 3 results I decided the risk of this game far outweighed the reward especially considering the conditions. The 3 E36 Race Series cars came home in 6th, 8th and 11th.

Overall I had an absolute ball on the weekend. Best racing and fun so far in the #e36raceseries. With many cars starting their season from Round 2 and several new builds rapidly nearing completion things are only going to get better. The little BMW E36s performing brilliantly in the difficult weather and are proving easy great fun cars to drive.

Matt and I were stoked with the weekend. Paul was understandably frustrated chasing a more driveable setup across the races. And of course commiserations to David with an impeccable finishing record marred by what was discovered post racing to be a man-made rather than car issue.

Thanks to all the E36 guys for the support, laughs, and fun, not to mention great racing of the weekend.

Most of all massive thanks to my wife Jen for her assistance with everything - getting to the track, managing the car setup, being the stable voice in the headphones and supporting the madness.

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

Weather conditions didn't improve until the final race of the day. Pic by Scott Walker.

It was all about staying warm and dry for Round 3 of the E36 Race Series at Sydney Motorsport Park on June 16. Early weather predictions scheduled the rain for the Monday after the race weekend but as you know, the weather often doesn't behave. Despite the very damp conditions, the club was represented with a total of 6 cars and included some new faces, Robert Boaden, Brayden Everitt and myself.

This round also saw us run with the Historics and the Alfa guys instead of the SuperTT class. As the SuperTT guys had 40 odd cars in their class with significant speed differences, we made a request to run in a smaller group with more comparable speeds which in the end seemed to be the right move from the positive feedback we received.

Jeff Barnes searching for grip ahead of Robert Boaden on debut. Pic by Scott Walker.

Jeff Barnes claimed victory in race one, Robert Boaden took second place and Brayden Everitt rounded out the top three.

Race two was delayed slightly with officials making a call to halt proceedings for 20 minutes to assess the weather, at this point it looked almost certain that the race wouldn't go ahead but the skies did clear just enough to allow the racing to continue but it was mandatory that cars have their lights on while on track. Racing Academy International graduate Robert Boaden took the win followed by Jeff Barnes and Brayden Everitt.

Robert Boaden showing us his wet weather skills in race two. Pic by Scott Walker.

In the third and final race of the day, the track was relatively dry and the lap times reflected this, with David Bailey clocking his fastest lap of 1:58.55 to take the win followed by Robert Boaden and Jeff Barnes. But it wasn't just the guys at the front having all the fun, I had a great battle with Shaun Penwarden and one the Alfa guys at the rear of the field, we diced for position from start to finish and it was bloody good fun, you couldn't wipe the smile off my face if you tried.

Had a ball racing with these guys at the rear of the field. Pic by 7 Chairs.

At the end of the day, we all drove our cars onto our trailers so I'd say it was a good day for us, a few drivers were not so lucky. There seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the category, plenty of people dropping by to ask questions and learn more about these cars. I was really nervous before this event but after the last race, I wanted more! I'm hooked and the build process was totally worth it, racing in my own car made the day even more special.

Our next race is back at Sydney Motorsport Park (GP circuit) on July 21st, a little over 20 days from today, fingers crossed the weather will be much better but don't hold me to it!

As usual, before I sign off, a quick shoutout to our sponsors, LA Racing Lubricants, Shylan Motorsport Services, Suspension Concepts, RHD Engineering, MH Auto Care, Prime Race Tyres, Wards Accounting & Kumho Tyre Motorsports. Please visit their website and/or social pages, give them some love because supporting them supports us!

If you have any questions about the cars, the build process or how you can be involved in the series, don't hesitate to reach out to us and join our Facebook group, just click this link - https://www.facebook.com/groups/e36raceseries/