Beyond Thunderdome: Racing Expo Leeuwarden 2019

17w ago


After assessing the damage and teething issues incurred during my first race outing, I started looking towards the new season. Through the miracle that is the internet, and in particular the Book that contains all Faces, I came across a good opportunity to test the car out in a friendly meeting.

The Racing Expo is the country's biggest motorsport exhibition.

As luck would have it, the official Vrije Standaard Racing Facebook page was looking to recruit two drivers to fill out the grid for an exhibition event. This was part of the annual Leeuwarden Racing Expo, a motorsport convention which included an indoor Live Action Arena.

The Live Action Arena provided entertainment throughout the weekend.

As there were only five entrants for the Vrije Standaard section of the show, the organizers had asked VSR's Sjouke Bosma to find some more drivers via his Facebook page. A few messages later, and me and my father Danny were part of the weekend's exhibition.

The organizers promised at least three heats on Saturday and Sunday, depending on the smoothness of the day's proceedings. Among the exhibits were various types of gokarts, speedway motorcycles, supermotards, bangers, sprinters, brutish V8 stock cars and a varied bunch of drifters.

However, getting into the event turned out to be a lot easier than actually getting to it. With only a few days to spare, we had to rush to get everything ready. Though my car was ready, my dad's still needed to get its brake lights and wiring checked out, something which took up more time than we had wanted.

The old truck was acting up.

Another wiring-related issue meant the DAF truck would be unable to two the trailer, as it refused to send electricity to its lights. Therefore, we were forced to hook it up to my dad's classic Opel Commodore.

Getting it on the trailer turned out to be another struggle though, as my car absolutely refused to start. The engine's refusal to fire wasn't helped by the starter motor going on intermittent strikes as well. As it was the night before the event, there was no time to reanimate the car, so we simply winched it on.

The car wasn't too happy about being awakened from its slumber.

A lot of frustration and swearing later, we were finally done setting things up. With the clock having turned well past midnight, we settled in for an early morning drive. The comedy of errors wasn't quite complete though, as Danny had forgotten to fill up the Commodore.

For a normal car, this wouldn't have been a problem, as there was a gas station across the street. However, the Commodore ran solely on Liquefied Petroleum Gas. This is a wonderful fuel as it is fantastically cheap, which comes in handy when you have a dual carb 2.8L straight six under the bonnet.

But its comparatively limited availability was a rather big problem, especially since LPG pumps are not allowed to operate without a gas station employee present. Since we were going out before the business hours of most regular pumps, we were in a bit of a pickle. Using the DAF to go pick up some LPG wasn't an option either, since filling a jerrycan with a gas a challenging at best.

Against all better judgement, I headed out with the trailer and my racecar hooked up to the Commodore, trying to make it to the closest 24 hour service station, about 20 kilometers away. Danny would follow with the truck, ready to tow the car should I run out.

Thunderbird 2 had to come to the rescue.

Sure enough, the big Opel coughed a few kilometers from the pumps just as I entered an on-ramp to the city's ring road. Somehow I made it up the hill, allowing me to roll back off downhill at the next exit. However, I had misjudged the speed at which my dad could follow, and he passed by me without seeing where I had ended up.

An hour later he called from home (as he doesn't own a functioning mobile phone), found me, unhooked the trailer and towed me and the car to the nearby Shell station. All gassed up, I drove back to fetch the trailer, and we could finally start the hour long journey to Leeuwarden.

Finally back on track, we arrived an hour behind schedule. Thankfully it wasn't a problem, as the show was still some time away from starting up. A bigger issue was getting my car to fire up. Though we tried push-starting it with my dad's racer, the G60 engine refused to budge. Defeated, we pushed the car into the paddock, As it turned out, the spark plugs had fouled quite badly, but this was fixed rather easily with a rag.

The DT-R getting acquainted with a similar machine owned by Rene van Duinen.

Finally settled down in the driver area, we sat down for a long wait. Our class wasn't up until about halfway into the schedule, giving us plenty of time to depressurize from our chaotic arrival.

As it turned out, our presence was rather essential, as two out of five entrants had failed to show up entirely. Among the absent friends was Marcel Rath, the one and only German to participate in Vrije Standaard competition. If we had been missing as well, the class would have been represented by a meager three cars.

Arjen Santhuizen working on his Saab-engined car.

But since we were there, we took the extra time to get better acquainted with our fellow racers. The trio consisted of the freshly re-bodied blue Volkswagen Scirocco Mk1-roofed, 2.0L 16V engined machine of Leo Sintebin, the black and orange Opel Kadett D-roofed, Saab B204T-engined chassis of Arjen Santhuizen, and the yellow VW 1.8T-engined car of Rene van Duinen, which looked eerily similar to my own.

Leo Sintebin proved to be the class of the field.

After some coffee, sandwiches and chitchat, it was time for the first demo of the day. Following a quick installation lap, I lined up on the dummy grid before setting off on a rolling start. Being a friendly meeting, it was all about giving a good show to the crowd rather than scoring outright results, as no one was keeping score.

And for me, it meant getting some good seat time ahead of the coming season, as well as an opportunity to test out the effects of the relocated wastegate. However, there was a slight complication. The stock 2L class which had gone before had spilled various fluids all over the arena, making it incredibly slippery.

Not until the drifters had their go did the track improve.

Though the stewards had poured some emergency grit on the track, it hadn't really done the trick. This became immediately, and almost painfully clear in the first corner. Starting alongside my dad at the back of the field, I had to slam the brakes as Danny entered the turn backwards. I managed to avoid sliding into him myself, reversed the car out, and rejoined.

After which, I immediately misjudged my braking point, and brushed the barrier. This lead to a red flag situation, as the impact had moved the loosely fitted barrier back about half a meter. Once a forklift had moved it back, I finally got the chance to find a rhythm.

I quickly determined first gear was entirely too short, so I remained in second all the way round the short course. Despite running in a higher gear, the engine had very little issue getting on boost, and I started going faster and faster. That is, until the race was prematurely black-flagged.

Dad's car was in the middle of the the start-finish straight, facing the wrong way. The car was drenched in oil and coolant, and let off a large cloud of white steam. I went over seeing if I could help push the car back, but the marshals waved me away, concerned over the spillage.

After quite some time, the car was returned to the paddock, revealing an oil cooler line to have sprung a leak. This causes oil to spill under the rear wheels, which had caused Danny to career into the barriers ass backwards. Finally, the crash had dislodged a coolant line attached to the turbo, adding further unwanted lubrication to the tires.

The responsible oil cooler.

Despite the entire car oozing fluids, he tried to repair it in time for the second heat of the day, but eventually decided against it. While helping him clean up the car, my phone inadvertently became contaminated, making it impossible to shoot any images or video during the weekend. In the meantime, we took a walk across the the convention, admiring and sometimes ridiculing the vehicles present.

The Vrije Standaard Racing Nederland stand was well-visited throughout the weekend.

A personal highlight was seeing the Dome S101 raced with great success by Jan Lammers, John Bosch and Val Hillebrand to the 2001 and 2002 FIA Sportscar Championship titles. Sadly, the mighty Judd GV4 V10 wasn't started for a professional demonstration of eardrum-shattering.

The Dome S101 Judd.

A few hours later, I had to get ready for the second heat. This time around, the demo went by without incident. Extra rubber had been laid by the following classes, in particular the drift demonstration, giving far more grip.

However, I was starting to discover the limitations of my used road tires. As my confidence grew, I started pushing harder, resulting in pained screams from the Continental rubber mounted at the front, and truly catastrophic understeer. With every other car running semi-slicks on at least the front axle, I did good to keep ahead.

The opposition's tire selection was far superior.

Originally, we were supposed to do at least three heats on each day, but shortly after the second series was done, an announcement on the PA system informed us that all subsequent runs were cancelled. Following this, we were called to the track for an impromptu meeting with the organizers.

As it turned out, a city council official had been in the crowd with an air quality meter, which had detected a dangerous amount of carbon-monoxide. Since the Live Action Arena was indoors, the organizers had done their best by setting up large fans at every open door, but since the wind was blowing from the opposite direction, it didn't have the desired effect. In light of this, it was decided to stop the show for the day.

#657 Jan van der Weij.

Also joining the fray were late arrivals Jan van der Weij and his Opel 2.0L turbocharged car, and the one and only German Vrije Standaard racer, Marcel Rath. Rath's car ran a dual carb Volkswagen 2.0L 16V with long intake runners, prioritizing torque over absolute power, which he said "is a lot cheaper".

German Vrije Standaard racer Marcel Rath (#690) finally arrived on Sunday.

With six cars on the roster, it was time for the first run of the day. However, there were some caveats. In order to prevent the council from taking their license away, the organizers had opened all the doors in the driver area, and banned warming up engines. Additionally, the number of heats was set at two.

As a result, the cars had to be pushed towards the grid, where they would be granted a few warm up laps to prevent engine damage. This was fine for cars, since they had starter motors, but the karting community wasn't too keen on this restriction. Some hilarity ensued, as several of the two-stroke karts protested heavily, causing people to push-start their hearts out, delaying the heats by at least fifteen minutes.

One of the people affected by the delay was Tom Coronel, who's son was racing a kid's kart.

As there were two new drivers with no prior knowledge of the track, I was mindful of further first turn shenanigans. Once again lining up near the back due to being slightly late, I found myself next to Marcel Rath. My apprehension turned out to be correct. Purposefully taking a wider line, I managed to avoid Marcel as he spun his car around almost instantly.

As Vrije Standaard cars have very little weight over the rear wheels, this is a common occurrence on tarmac. The rest of the run was otherwise uneventful, as I once again battle my sub par rubber for supremacy, as the car constantly pulled towards the wall. In all, it was just good seat time in preparation for the new season.

Even though he hadn't hit anything, Marcel Rath's car turned out to have some budding engine issues, and was out for the rest of the day. In his place, my father returned to the fray, as he had found the time to bypass the oil cooler, and repair the turbo coolant line. After topping up the various essential fluids, he was back in the game.


(Facebook video of the second heat on Sunday above).

Unfortunately, he was a little too happy to be back. Starting alongside each other, he had the edge on my by launching in first, while I had elected to keep it in second. From that point on, he spent the entire heat running way too wide, sliding the car around in a decidedly un-front wheel drive way.

This allowed me to quickly catch up, taking him on the inside as he inevitably swiped the barriers. Sadly his exuberant driving style resulted him hitting them at exactly the wrong angle, causing the wheel to gain an excess amount of positive camber. The rear axle then, was toast. After just a few short laps he was out once again.

I wasn't without mechanical issues either, as the steering wheel started to rock from left to right quite violently. Thinking I had a flat left front tire, I pulled over to the side, finishing the last lap at a snail's pace. Back in the paddock, it turned out I was missing several wheel nuts, something which had occurred at Ter Apel as well.

Father and son as happy as can be.

This made getting the car into the DAF quite difficult, but swapping some nuts from the a rear wheel to the front helped keep them on long enough to get the job done. At the same time, Danny steered his heavily crabbing racer towards the trailer, which it finally fit on after some pushing and shoving. And with that, a fun but frustrating weekend of free driving had finally come to an end.