The Westfield SEight
An Article from SportsCar World
Is it the cars or the drivers that are more important to the success of the Privilege Insurance GT Series? When planning this story, I chose to look at a particularly interesting new car, but inevitably the three individuals behind its development managed to shed some light on their own unique way of going motor racing.
The build of the Westfield SEight was completed by March of this year, but for various reasons, it didn't make its first appearance until the Donington meeting at the end of April. It was there that I first met Mike Smith, but hardly in ideal circumstances. It was immediately after first practice, and the car was being loaded onto a trailer to be returned to base after a very fraught introduction to the series for the whole team. The car hadn't been tested at all, and Mike had found himself on a busy track with a box full of neutrals. He was desperate to get out of the way of Ian Flux - on a hot lap in the McLaren - but couldn't find a gear. Fortunately, Flux locked everything up and avoided a collision, but the team decided there and then to stay away from the races until the car was really ready.
It's taken the DAD Motorsport team until now to reach that stage, but they have made so much progress with the car that its proper debut at Snetterton was nothing short of sensational. Mike Smith commissioned Andy Dawson of DAD Motorsport to build the car as a relatively economical way to create a machine with enormous performance for the GT Series. The team are quite happy to admit that the project isn't top of their list of priorities - Mike and co-driver Tony Lanfranchi are both very busy during the week doing other things - and they have no desire to spend huge sums of money on what is really their hobby. Nevertheless, the car has been built to a top class standard, and with a few test sessions behind them, they now possess a car to threaten not only the other GT3 entries, but the whole field.
Obviously based on the road going SEight, the car boasts the following statistics;
Everyone connected with the team is delighted with the stage they have now reached, and they plan to enter the last three races of this year's championship, with a view to being really ready for next season. However, if the engine blows at any time during these meetings, that will be that until next year. The budget just doesn't cover major expenses such as a complete engine rebuild.
During Saturday's test sessions at Snetterton, the team started to demonstrate the ultimate potential of this extraordinary car. During the morning, Tony managed a 1:14.2 and Mike a 1:16.5, at a time when the supercars of the series, such as the Renault and the McLaren, were struggling to get down to 1:10.
The afternoon sessions revealed a minor clutch problem, which made gear selection difficult, and then the engine lapsed onto seven cylinders, but Tony still managed a 1:13.5 - on old tyres. Andy Dawson felt that with new tyres, the drivers could perhaps get down to a 1.11 during official practice. The engine was still leaking oil into the V, but it was only losing negligible amounts, so the team were not unduly worried about it.
During first practice, Tony nearly proved Andy right by producing a 1:12.35, despite the engine cutting out completely on the back straight (see race report). A much more serious problem became apparent during second practice. The car was handling so well that the cornering forces it was generating caused the near side upper wishbone mounting to break away from the chassis. Most teams would have packed up and gone home at this point, but not DAD Motorsport. Andy got out the MIG welder and proceeded to weld the suspension mounting back on! Mike Smith looked decidedly concerned about having to drive the car in this condition, but the team manager had no doubt at all that the repair was strong enough.
Despite these teething problems, the car qualified eighth fastest and quickest in GT3. There were inevitably quite a few mutterings about the car's legality from along the pit-lane, but the SEight was built to the exact wording of the regulations, so there was no doubt that it was legal. By the end of the race, it would be the rest of the entry that would fall foul of the regs.
For the full story of the Westfield's maiden race, see the Snetterton report. To summarise events, Tony started the race, with the intention of completing the full 45 minutes on his own if he wasn't too tired (I think Mike was still worried about that wishbone mounting). He was initially an excellent eighth (just behind the TVR) and at one point was an incredible fourth during the pit-stop sequence.
He pressed on despite one front mudguard flapping around. This was removed during his one minute pit-stop, but the other one fell off on the Senna Straight. Something, probably a stone, then punctured the oil radiator, and most of the lubricant leaked out, some of it onto the left hand exhaust manifold. Tony left a huge trail of smoke in his wake, and even spun on his own oil, but still brought the car home in a provisional sixth place, second in GT3.
While the other finishers were noise tested in parc ferme, the Westfield wasn't because its oil tank was virtually empty. Being a quiet car, it would have passed if tested at any other time during the meeting. When seven cars were excluded from the results, the Westfield was classified third, which may even become second depending on the Cirtek Marcos team's appeal to the RACMSA.
I was obviously delighted to have the opportunity to follow the DAD team during such an eventful weekend. From the two drivers and Andy Dawson, down to Andy's two sons, the whole team were extremely co-operative and helpful during the two days. But how on earth are they going to follow this at Oulton Park on September 28?