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OTW Spring Tour or

Never believe the forecasters

For the first time since May 2019 we could embark on our annual spring, tethered car, tour without any restrictions, which was a great relief. What was not so encouraging was the forecast that predicted almost continuous rain and very cold, hence the bags were packed with thick clothes, waterproofs and the possibility of spending more time talking than running cars. With the usual accuracy of the new BBC weather service, we had constant sunshine, not a drop of rain and temperatures up to 27C.

Having negotiated the customary chaos of the British roads we took to the delights of the French autoroutes, costly, but such easy driving for the 450 miles to Basel. We have all seen via Facebook how much work has been done on the track there with the new safety fence and surrounds, but that does not do justice to the complexity and cost of what the SMCC have achieved. The logistics, design and preparation of the steelwork alone was mind boggling, and that is was all cut, welded, drilled and tapped off site, yet all fitted perfectly was mightily impressive. Inevitably, there were some finishing touches being carried out, the last sheets of Lexan for the screens and doors on the drivers refuge, so a lot of drilling and pop riveting attaching original equipment to the new fence.

Wider walkways all paved Clear Lexan and Corodex fence

A new, high tech, cable tester was in the process of being installed, no more huge levers but a screw system that shows pull and extension of the cables under test. The final flourish is the removal of the green roofing that gave a wonderful hue to photos to be replaced with a retractable roof over the pit area. It was not just the car track that had seen so much work as a large tree had come down in the winter wrecking a sizeable portion of the infrastructure for the railway requiring much remedial work and engineering as well as the task of putting new ballast round the entire track.
EI-Wi and the SMCC very much involve the same people so all the work has fallen on a few willing shoulders. For once the weather had helped as the lack of snow and fine days had allowed work to proceed much more quickly that might have been anticipated.

Christian the 'riveter' hard at work New, screw operated cable tester No more green photographs

We hear a lot here about the cost of living crisis, job security etc., but it is a Europe wide problem, fuel costs are much higher there and at a more personal level, the supply of spares for tethered cars now very restricted with tyres for some classes not available at all and little prospect for the immediate future. Oliver Monk passed on a handy tip, which was that if you see it for sale now, buy it, still hasn't helped us with our Class 1 cable for Buckminster though? All of this has caused competitors to make decisions about what races to attend and neither meeting experienced the level of entries that they would have done pre Covid.

Having said all that, there was some serious hardware on show with a number of new PiccoLinus cars sporting the latest Picco Passione motors, not a lot of change from £6,000 a pop, and some competitors had a matched pair. The OTW stable was much reduced with the sole intention of getting the re-engineered 10cc to actually make a run after six years of trying and establish why the 3.5cc that 'herself' is running refuses to exceed 180kph? Somewhat diplomatically, one highly respected competitor pointed out to me last year that the reason I was not getting runs was that my 10cc car was s**t and my engine was s**t. The car I could not do a lot about so a newer Picco was rescued from a hydro (although it hadn't work in that), a selection of second-hand car parts, courtesy of my mentor, grafted on and fingers crossed. Much to my surprise and joy I soon realised which part of the combination was suspect as it set off, quite happily, accelerating towards the 300kph mark, my goal when building it all those years ago. The 3.5cc by comparison would run all day in the high 170s and continue to do so, no matter what remedial action was taken or settings changed. A frustrating mystery?

Serious investment? It worked, at last The recalcitrant OTW 3.5

For reasons already mentioned, the entry was modest with Horst Denneler, Thomas Finn and Wolfgang Poschel who had arrived from Germany on Sunday morning and the two of us from GB. Just 3 in Class 1, usually one of the strongest in Switzerland, a very early Kapusikov #3 and two much newer Russian cars. Natalia Bach put in two consistent runs to win by nearly 13kph although Urs showed us a new way to encourage her to push the button by slapping her bum hard at the appropriate moment. Interesting to observe the quantities of spares being traded, probably headed east as it is still possible to travel to Russia from Switzerland.

Christian and Horst, ex champions Thomas Finn Otto and Natalia do the sums

Tony Della Zoppa is still waiting for his Class 5 electric car parts so was campaigning a very elderly Bulgarian 2.5cc car with a Rossi motor. It needed five minutes to get up to speed before hitting 170k. Tony also has a most exquisite starter box that again exemplifies the Swiss engineering. 3B was an entirely Meier family affair although Laurin's car was reluctant, leaving his brother the winner at a very respectable 234kph.

Janis Meier's 3b Andreas Kestenholtz Janis horsing

Class 3 proved a triumph for Andreas Kestenholz at 279kph, well ahead of Daniella Schmutz with the rest a bit further down the speed chart. New to the class was Janis Meier with the ex Stroebel/Meier NSC car, following in the footsteps of the likes of Rain, Lembit, and Michael by horsing his own cars. Third place on the podium at 264kph a great introduction to the class and encouragement for the future, not so for the OTW car, which did complete two runs for the first time but at a leisurely 180kph, what is wrong with it, especially as the 2nd and 3rd placed cars use the same motor, so plenty of input as to possible mods (none of them worked).

Thomas Finn has turned up in Poland with beautifully engineered, home built, 5cc engines that seem to be producing the goods, although one of those instant silence, oh dear moments for Urs Bach left Thomas with no competition. A great spectator interlude all day was in the next field that is used for scurry driving, a team of ponies and a hi-tech cart with steel wheels. Instead of ponies though, a quad bike was coupled up to the front with the cart driver hanging on to a faux pair of reins for dear life, whilst the passenger did all sorts of acrobatics to stop it turning over on the sharp turns. They did not hang about either.

Aged Bulgarian class 1, modern starter Thomas' 5cc motor Who needs ponies?

Class 5 is still the best supported, in spite of the costs, especially when Otto Stroebel had a motor seize in practice requiring a new engine and wheels. Michael Schmutz, who had two cars and numerous engines to chose from ran out the winner with tethered hydroplane champion Gilbert Huguenin 2nd and Otto, another ex hydro champion third. The OTW 10cc wandered round at 300kph for two runs, first ever and at the target speed, mission accomplished, but with a postscript that was to bite me on the bum a week later.

Natalia Bach
Florian Baumann    Philipp Meier
Andreas Kestenholz
Daniela Schmutz   Janis Meier
Thomas Finn
Urs Bach                       
Michael Schmutz
Gilbert Huguenin   Otto Stroebel

Still plenty to do at the track before Urs is satisfied that all is ready for the European Championships in July, but what a wonderful facility they have, and with the gauge 1 railway to enjoy as well. For a video of this event go to www.youtube.com

Kapfenhardt. Sixty Five years for the RGS

Short trek up to Kapfenhardt and glad we were headed North as there was a 25 mile jam on the southbound carriageway after two HGVs had a coming together. How on earth is Europe going to go green when you see the endless lines of trucks on every road? Just not realistic, although Teslas do seem popular, but they ain't trucks. We were somewhat dubious about how Kapfenhardt would be organised, as the mainstay from last year, Wolfgang Schmid, has now retired, but we knew that David Giles and June were coming over early to help prepare and at the hotel we learned that, after a four year break through changes in work and injury, Volker and Anette Besang would be back. Work started in earnest on Tuesday afternoon and my goodness, wasn't it easier with six, rather than three as last year? It was also a welcome return to TL time, trying out the various bottles of Trollinger wine that were available to see the best on offer. Number four got the vote, but it would have been rude to waste the others? Most of the preparation was completed by Thursday with just the technical stuff to be dealt with by Christoph Rabenseifner and Frank Wadle. Michael Schmutz remarked that he had 'never seen Kapfenhardt so clean'.

Michael, very kindly, set aside a couple of hours on Thursday to try and solve the problem with the OTW Proffi that went, but not quickly. He had the thing reduced to its last screw and checked everything, but concluded that the engine was perfect, so what was it? The builder of the car had emailed a suggestion to look at the needle block, which Michael did, comparing it to his own before he spotted a subtle difference. Two washers, one thick, one thin, but the wrong way round compared with Daniela's car, could this be it? Cleaned, reassembled with the washers reversed and needle reset, time would tell.

Friday is free practice, put a line on, find a horser (becoming ever more difficult) and see what happens? In the case of the OTW 3.5, 276kph and Michael saying from the pylon 'I wasn't expecting that'. Amazing that such a simple, wrong assembly at some stage could cause so many problems, but it was enough to allow air through the needle on a gauge, but not fuel, one very happy lady.

Ironically, the similar motor in Daniela Schmutz' car ingested bits of the disc destroying it and the Falk back end. New motor grafted in for the race, but with no time to test, it was a very disappointing weekend for her. Michael's Facebook post sums it up very succinctly (**** happens, big **** happens too).

                                                          See Right: Remains of disc bottom R

Like Basel, the entry list was thin compared to pre Covid, with travel restrictions for the Ukrainians, Russians banned, and of course, a number of those who are, sadly, no longer with us. Others had decided not to travel because of the cost and unusually, not a single visitor from Sweden, so there were about half the cars that we would have seen in the past, making for a leisurely day. Rain Teder has been indomitable in 1.5 for a while with the enforced absence of Andrei Yakimiv, although multiple champion Lembit Vaher is again snapping at his heels having had, what for him, is a lean spell. Rain's first round speed would not be beaten although he did add another 3kph on the Sunday. Lembit was still a little way behind, with the spirit of Lothar Runkehl represented by Anette Besang in 3rd with one of Lothar's lovely 1.5cc cars and engines. Rain added a bit to the article on Mats Bohlins' cars by telling us that he had bought the parts of the mystery 896 and was in the process of completing the build started some twenty years previously.

Tea and cake for the ladies A few moments rest for the horser Plenty of time for chat and reminiscences

As happens so often, Class 2 was decided in round one with Gyorgyi Bondor just 0.2kph ahead of Mannu Finn, in turn 0.6kph ahead of Lembit in 3rd. Very close indeed, as was 3b with Lauri Teder from Estonia beating his team mate by 0.035kph, the very slenderest of margins. The Meier lads had a torrid time, neither managing to make a run.

Present and past Tech secretaries Copious notes by Lembit Michael with a master class for Sylvia

It was fascinating to watch Lembit at the table next to us taking all day to measure and record in minute detail every possible variable. Then of course it is down to records and experience to know what to change for the following run? The smaller entry allowed a long lunch break for everyone, and for OTW to enjoy one of those weird coincidences that we thrive on.

Earlier in the week we had been emailed by a German collector and authority on AMRO and FRIRO engines, who had seen our article and offered to share information. When he realised that we were actually in Germany, he drove down from Hamburg with a car full of rare engines to show us. Sitting on the balcony of the hotel with all these engines spread out could never have been anticipated, especially as I had seen three other originals just a few days before.

Not ever having seen one in the flesh, another five was bewildering, especially as one was Freddy Streun's championship winning, twin plug version.

                          Right: two AMROs, three FRIROs

There were other exceedingly rare cars and engines, but at present these must remain unpublished, unlike the Gurtner V12 Ferrari engine he produced. Instant crowd surge and some while before I could get a clear photo. Herbert Tinnauer had also brought an interesting motor along, built by Johann Bauer around 1936 and very advanced for its age, with shaft induction.

Much altered Oliver Gurtner Ferrari 1936 Bauer

Back to the action after lunch with the Class 3, the OTW Proffi proving that the previous day was not an aberration to finish the day in 3rd behind Augustyn Wegera and Gabor Peto. Sunday saw Hannes Virunurm and Lauri Teder improve to demote herself to 5th, but with just 1kph between the three of them. An interesting car in 8th place was an entirely new car and engine built by Marino Vavasorri who supplies many of the Picco car parts. The engineering was excellent throughout with the car showing a great deal of promise and good to see another option for those wanting to get involved.

New Vavasorri car And 3.5cc motor Base mounted engine

Class 4 proved the exception to the rule again with the first three places changing completely on Sunday. Thomas Finn had led after the first day but seasoned campaigner Alberto Adreani put in a run at 300kph, closely followed by Anette Besang to demote Thomas to 3rd.

Class 5 was the largest by far at 19 entries with the first four places all decided on Saturday, Marino Vavasorri coming out top at 331kph, whilst Tonu Sepp was slightly below par but still fast enough for second place. A delighted Walter Roeder was 3rd and the recipient of a huge embrace from his wife Hannelore after a difficult year for him in 2022. Many of the other favoured runners were well off the pace showing just how hard it is to get it right with these monsters. Ah yes, and monster is probably near the truth. Having struggled to get the OTW 10 below weight initially, the winter work had somehow made it heavier and not by the odd gram either, no 50 of them, so it started the race with only just enough fuel to reach the feed pipe and with a larger set of tyres on the Sunday, even less fuel. Perhaps the lack of fuel contributed to its fastest run ever, but on inspection, there does not seem any easy way of getting rid of the excess avoirdupois, it is magnesium pan so no leeway there and everything else is pared to the bone. The s**t motor was considerably lighter so a legal car that doesn't go or an overweight one that does, mmm?

Hope he knows where everything goes? Willi's engines stand Peter Arlautski, demon tank filler?

The meeting was celebrating sixty five years of the RGS Kapfenhardt track with Horst Denneler having been at all bar one, and a few competitors having been there as small children, one just four years old. As part of the celebration, all competitors were given T-shirts printed with a specially prepared logo. On Saturday night, everyone made their way down to the Untere Muhlen for a dinner on the patio, some 66 of us, all dealt with in an exceedingly efficient manner by just three waitresses who were taking orders for drinks and food from their normal menu. Quite remarkable that so many people could be fed and watered at once, and all paid for by the organisation. We were asked though to contribute the cost of our meals towards sustaining the club, which raised a considerable amount during the evening. RGS is now reduced to just a handful of members who were presented with glasses for a Germanic tradition, a glass of beer and a shot glass of schnapps held together in one hand and drunk with the schnapps and beer arriving together, or not in some cases, messy but entertaining as long as it was not us trying to achieve it.

Michael Schmutz made clear reference to the shortage of members at RGS and other clubs in his speech at the prize presentation and passed on his heartfelt thanks to everyone, including those from other clubs and countries who had contributed to ensure that the meeting went ahead. It was gratifying that as soon as the meeting had finished almost everyone set to in clearing the track and putting everything away and not just leaving it for 'someone else to do'. Michael pointed out that this would have to be the way forward at many tracks if we were to continue to have venues to race at, helping to prepare, run and clear up after the events.

Lembit       Anette
Mannu         Lembit
Arco   Ranno
Gabor        Hannes
Anette      Thomas

Tonu       Walter

Estonian Team 'Wanderpries winners' Photographer versus the Iphone, no contest

And then it was over for another year and the small matter of a very long drive back to Coquelles and a rather strange experience with the French Douane. Having passed through border control, four cars, including ourselves, were shepherded to a separate area where an officer paid special attention to the front of our car. No idea what was going on at all until a sniffer dog appeared and started down the line of cars, and yes, singled ours out. The dog was rewarded while the officer removed a packet of either drugs or explosives from our front valance and sent us on our way, phew, just a training exercise. Just had to hope we did not meet another sniffer dog in Folkestone?

Something of a shock to the system, having driven across northern France in 26/27 degrees, to come out of the tunnel into 15, and that was as warm as it got for the next three weeks. After the calm of the autoroutes it was back to the chaos of the British roads, M25 closed, diversion route reduced to single file where five lanes had to merge into one, local main road blocked because of a burst water main and then the diversion for that closed just 3 miles from home where a van was on fire on a roundabout. Add to that two double decker buses colliding on a third diversion, manic. Eight hours for 425 miles the other side, nearly six for 170 this side. Have to do it all again in just a few weeks for the European Championship, but that will be another story. For a video of this event go to www.youtube.com