As the fuel price see-saw continues (and we see no reason for it to find lasting equilibrium), consumers are asking themselves, “what can we do about our motoring costs?”

Driving smart is one answer and limiting unnecessary trips, car-pooling then taking into consideration that sitting in morning rush hour is far more fuel-intensive than sitting at 100 km/h on the open road are some options. Furthermore, consideration can be given to use of the air conditioner – for the record, the additional air resistance caused by open windows doesn’t offset the increase in mechanical drag caused by artificially-cooled air. In other words, rather keep the windows closed.

But most of all, keeping a vehicle properly serviced and tuned is the best way to maximise efficiency – whether this be the engine, the gearbox or anything else which can generate mechanical drag.

According to Shaldon Botes, Senior Application Engineer at Liqui Moly South Africa, details such as the grade and quality of gearbox oil matters: “Modern drivetrains are complex engineering mechanisms which require specific friction characteristics to which workshops and DIY enthusiast should pay careful attention. Modern high performance, low viscosity oils are now quite commonplace and not only will an incorrect oil affect consumption and efficiency but can compromise gearshift quality too.”

Components work better when they reach their operating temperature, but oils need to maintain the correct viscosity (thickness) and therefore lubricating properties in a process that can go from below freezing to 120 degrees Celsius – or more – in minutes.

Even components like wheel bearings and CV joints need to be greased correctly (in terms of the lubricant’s suitability for an application) if they are to provide an ideal combination of minimal drag and maximum protection across a broad temperature range.

When it comes to the powerplant, there are plenty of products that make claims about increasing the output. But one of the best ways towards improved economy is an engine "fine-tuned” with the likes of a Unichip. In summary, the Unichip is a piggyback supercomputer that can alter information coming from the original engine control unit and allow signals for fuel and ignition to be altered to improve the engine’s efficiency.

The signals are “corrected” at multiple rpm and load points thereby remapping the engine, and this means you can get improved economy and more power - invariably along with more responsive driving characteristics. The two are not mutually exclusive and in like-for-like driving (for example, a steady-state cruise) consumption will decrease even if power has been increased.

Success in motorsport is about paying attention to detail, because each one adds up until – lo and behold – you might have found a tenth or two per lap. At Zwartkops, in a one-make series, that can be a very useful advantage. On the road, improving consumption by even half-a-litre per 100 km is an equally useful advantage.

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The single biggest factor influencing lap times and lap time consistency over the course of a day at the track is ambient temperature, which – naturally - is closely connected to track temperature and therefore tyre temperature.

According to Heinz Böse, an experienced racer but nowadays Operations Director at ATS (also South Africa’s representative for Dunlop racing tyres and therefore the de facto Dunlop Motorsport) the difference in grip when a slick or semi-slick race tyre is at 50 degrees versus 70 degrees can be as much as 15 percent in outright grip.

But as usual, bald numbers do not tell the whole story – something which I happily admit to, despite relying heavily on numbers generated by a VBOX datalogger.

As Martin Brundle said recently, statistics never had to drive a car into a corner. Unpacking that, it means the subjective stuff matters: when driving near the limit confidence in what’s under you is critical…it is fascinating to discover that it seems even a small drop in grip level can unsettle a driver.

The “top-gun” course at the AMG Academy gives students who have come up through the organisation’s ranks unfettered use of an AMG GT R, a car that boasts 430 kW and 700 Nm. The R Pro version – which is used for the flagship experience - is slightly lighter and has even racier aerodynamic appendages compared to the normal R. There are suspension revisions and more adjustability of the settings, and lighter 20-inch wheels. In the right hands, it can lap Zwartkops in about 65 seconds.

One of the stand-out drivers has been Russell Davidson and on his most recent visit to the Academy he set a chart-topping 1:08.5. Without diminishing his excellent performance – a combination of focussed coaching, a willingness to learn, and no shortage of natural ability – the planets did align to make the time possible.

It was late July which meant a cool ambient, yet the afternoon sun was still able to reach the tarmac directly. As a result, Russell had not only a consistent power delivery (heat make conservative engine management software intervene as soon as various temperature thresholds are crossed) but also a warm embrace between the rubber and the road, keeping the tyres in the zone.He took advantage of this.

VBOX data from his penultimate session that day shows that he was getting a peak lateral G of about 1.3.

A ‘G’ spike isn’t what we want to see when coaching of course – we want to see a driver keeping the tyres balanced on the edge of the traction circle for the entire duration of the turning process, and then transition it smoothly into forward thrust as soon as possible. That’s when we start looking at the “Combined G” field, one of the most useful features of the Racelogic’s Circuit Tools software.

But the point of this article is that in Russell’s final session of the day the sun had by then dropped lower and the majority of the circuit was in the shade and cooling rapidly. The grip level dropped like Francois Botha did after that short left from Mike Tyson, and in both cases, it was game over.

The fact that his nerve-endings were fully alert from an afternoon of track work and having just completed his fastest lap ever, he was perfectly attuned to the car. Within one flying lap, he knew – and on advice from the Academy’s Clint Weston in the passenger seat – that going faster could only be achieved by taking much bigger risks. While the drop in maximum grip generated wasn’t huge, the car felt considerably edgier.

This was a perfect case of the subjective making the decision for a driver, who acted on the subtle messages from his various senses. The VBOX data confirmed that grip had diminished (affecting braking and cornering) but only to about 1.25 G and that there was a clear reason why they were not able to repeat their earlier form.

Next time you’re at a track and you’re wondering why things don't feel quite right (and may have felt great earlier), take a step back and consider all the factors. Of course, if you have a VBOX fitted you’ll be able to investigate and compare and come up with a fact-based answer.

Concludes Böse: “If there is no good reason for being slower, maybe you just need to put your Big Girl Panties on, and give it another go – this time with more pressure being exerted on the right-hand pedal!”


The world sweating champion, Adrian Burford, muses on hydration during endurance races – of which there are three on the local motorsport scene in the coming months.

Working with several teams in preparation for the 24 Hours of iLamuna (a play on the 24 hours of LeMons, in turn a play on the 24 Hours of Le Mans) prompted this blog, because one thing is going to matter hugely in the race: lubrication.

No, this isn’t an unashamed plug for Liqui Moly, a Stigworx partner brand and one that I advocate for a range of oils, fluids and vehicle care products (not to mention bicycle maintenance). Rather, it is about lubricating the human machine, and with each of the four pilots theoretically getting equal seat time, that’ll be six hours of race driving each.

Expect lap times in the 2min30 to 3-minute range with top speeds in the region of 140/160 km/h and while those numbers aren’t exactly mind-numbing, keeping it in the zone hour in and hour out without a mis-shift or mishap will require concentration of the highest order.

Night driving adds stress to the human-machine. While there theoretically won’t be huge speed discrepancies when cars must cost a maximum of R50 000 (excluding safety equipment), there are going to be split-second decisions required – like whether to dive into a corner or to back off and let the faster car approaching from behind go past…

Fatigue and stress is a very real issue and we see it clearly during the Pro Drive courses run at the AMG Academy at Zwartkops Raceway. We’re talking about - usually – five or six sessions of six to eight laps each and we see the effects of trying too hard or getting over-excited.

With the VBOX Video we can track heart rate and we’ve learnt to spot the warning signs.

We’ve also seen a correlation between calm and controlled driving – with little fluctuation in heart rate – and lap times. The best laps are invariably achieved when the driver keeps his cool.

Each session means maybe 15 minutes at the wheel, including in and out laps.

Proper racing is way tougher and it comes as no surprise to learn an F1 driver might lose two kilos in a race. This is mostly just sweat and they’ll gain it back, but what’s important is what else gets lost. This includes – critically - potassium, magnesium and sodium, and a host of other minerals. These must be replenished.

Ironically, drinking unadulterated water can speed up the dehydration process by flushing the minerals out of their system. Many runners have learnt this to their detriment. A relatively small change in hydration can cause cognitive issues – in other words, you’ll start to make bad decisions.

Things will get complicated when competing for 24 hours. Drivers will need to be extremely careful about what they’re taking in – too much sugar and you’ll start to experience a range of side effects, most of them affecting digestion. It could also affect sleep and when you’re not driving, you should be aiming for some sleep credits so you start your next stint fully alert.

An alternative to sugary sports drinks is something like Rehydrate, or if you’re posh, Drip Drop. These are proper Oral Replacement Solutions, designed to save the lives of sick people, including infants.

Drip Drop has become my go-to remedy (I’m a trail/mountain runner and I sweat VERY heavily). In one recent instance, I lost almost six kilograms in less than 12 hours of high-intensity mountain running – despite taking in around five litres of fluid. It is extremely unlikely that any car racers will experience this level of loss, though a protracted stint in a car that could be 50-plus degrees inside could cause issues.

According to the packaging, Drip Drop has half the sugar and triple the electrolytes of an energy drink so it’s more suited to an activity that may not involve huge energy expenditure but will cause plenty of sweating. Alternatively, conditions such as diarrhoea or vomiting cause massive and sudden dehydration, especially in babies and the elderly.

The 24-hours of iLamuna is meant to be a fun event but the stresses, strains and dangers of motor racing will still apply and for maximum performance and safety, Drip Drop or similar is essential. A welcome bonus is that it is also (anecdotally) held in high regard as a hangover cure.

So, whether you’re visiting the podium or drowning your sorrows, it’ll be appreciated equally the morning after.