Saturday at Players Classic has a special atmosphere and soundtrack. It’s hard to miss the buzz of track cars thrashing around the ultra-quick Goodwood circuit; for me that’s usually because I’m sat in one.
It means I’m not able to check out as many of the static displays as I would like to, but driving on Saturday at Players Classic has a community feel all of its own. Positioned on the opposite side of the track to the usual paddock areas that are filled with show cars, the Players track paddock is a hub for all the drivers.
It’s become a place to catch up with people you may not have seen for a year or so, and drivers book super-early to secure one of the limited track slots. It’s one of my favourite parts of Players Classic, and I don’t think I’ve attended a more varied and accessible track event anywhere else. You literally have no idea what you’ll line up against.
From clubsport-style Clio 182s like Simon’s blue example above, to Gurd’s home-built and immaculately-prepared 16V turbo Berg Cup Mk1, the spectrum is wide and welcoming.
Of course, there is a slew of track-prepped BMWs too, but even then there’s quite a gulf between my 116whp 320i and James Batty’s 500+bhp M2. I mention everyone here by name because that’s the spirit of Players Classic. If you’re not acquainted at the start of the event, there’s a very good chance that you will be by the end of it.
That’s not all though; VR6 Turbos, Mk2 Escorts, just about anything goes. The vibe is one of unity, and that’s pretty rare for track events where egos are big and passion often runs high.
All of this sounds like a rose-tinted look back over a wonderful weekend, and it is. But it’s only 10% of the story for me.
The week before Players was a frenzy of vehicle prep on my E30 project. I’m sure most of the other drivers at the event have similar stories of late nights and anxiety to get their cars ready, but this year was both extra special and terrifying for me.
This was the first time I’d get to drive my car with an all-new engine and transmission setup – namely drive-by-wire ITBs and a Holinger SGS-3 sequential 6-speed gearbox. It sounds like a mouthful and there’s a lot of engineering brain power in it – most of it not coming from me, but a brilliant team of people at Regal Autosport, Longman Racing and Holinger Engineering.
It’s funny, because the idea for this project came about via a good few Belgian beers in a bar near PMW Cologne around November 2019. The world has changed a great deal since then, but this project has fought through to completion.
Players Classic 2021 was the culmination of the last 12 to 18 months’ work, but like all good projects a lot of it couldn’t come together until the closing stages. This exposed us to a bit of risk, and myself to quite a sizeable amount of anxiety.
Would it all work together? How would it work? Do we have enough time? Can I drive it? Do I remember my first name? These were all questions buzzing around my head a long time before I sat in the driver’s seat for the first time.
The jewel in the crown of this project is the Holinger sequential gearbox. It comes with a bell housing to fit directly to the BMW M20 engine and uses the conventional starter position. But that’s about where the bolt-in simplicity ends.
To mate the gearbox to the engine, Regal Autosport designed a bespoke flywheel and twin-plate Tilton clutch pack with a custom release bearing. That might seem like an aggressive clutch for a low-power application, but there’s a good reason for it. We’re looking to swap the 2.0 M20 out for a larger 2.8 stroker once the setup is proven, and are also running no-lift air shift on the dog engagement sequential.
When you look inside the car it’s probably the first thing you’ll notice. Not only are there paddles mounted to the steering wheel, we’ve completely deleted the conventional gear selector altogether. It’s like ’80s DTM merged with today’s tech.
We wanted to challenge people when they were looking at the car. The more you look the more you see, and most people are quite surprised.
Gears are selected by engaging the paddles on the steering wheel which control solenoids that gate air pressure from pushing on the selector mechanism. A small compressor and tank sit behind the seats and power it all. The whole thing is orchestrated by an EFi Euro 4 ECU with a Longman Racing loom and calibration.
The clutch is used to pull away, control reverse speed and to smooth low load/low speed gear changes. Once you’re going though, it’s full clutch-less, wide-open-throttle fury. For such little power the car covers ground really quickly.
It’s just not what you expect from a 32-year-old BMW coupe, which is precisely why we’ve stuck with the BMW M20 engine. That is what you expect, but not in this configuration. It’s a total misuse of technology and resources, and it’s this playfulness that I love.
Yes, it would have been easier and more effective to swap in an M52 engine, but where’s the fun in doing what makes sense on paper?
To facilitate the gearbox shift strategy, we’ve had to bring the M20 six-cylinder 12V kicking and screaming into 2021. AT Power throttle bodies sit on the side of the head, but are operated by an E46 M3 throttle body actuator mounted below.
This allows for rev matching between downshifts and more crisp and direct throttle response compared to a cable. It’s triggered by an E46 throttle pedal mounted in exactly the same position as the conventional E30 pedal, which you’d struggle to notice in the cabin if you weren’t told about it.
In the long run, the electronic throttle actuation will help form part of the traction management, but I don’t think we’re going to need that with the current power level.
To complete the engine control loop we’ve also used an MRT cam trigger sensor kit and converted to coil-on-plug ignition.
An M20 in an E30 just looks right, doesn’t it?
There’s never enough time to test cars before events, especially when so much has changed. But sometimes there’s comfort to be found in the clock running down and accepting that there is just not enough time left. Given an infinite timeline I think we could have continued to tinker until 2031.
One thing that we did have to add last minute is a cooling system for the gearbox. Holinger request gearbox oil cooling at ~110°C (~230°F). In the lead up to the event, on-road testing showed the gearbox to be pretty happy at around 70 to 80°C (150 to 176°F), but the UK experienced a heatwave during the week before Players and we saw 100+°C (212+°F) on the street. I didn’t want to overshoot the allowed temp.
This called for the addition of some emergency cooling to keep the box in check, especially considering the fast sweeping curves of Goodwood. Luckily, Regal Autosport is a CSF Radiators dealer and had the perfect oil cooler in stock to pop into the front of the E30.
It’s probably my only meaningful contribution to this wave of work, with the vast majority of spannering done by Chris Tinkler at Regal Autosport. The two holes drilled into the slam panel are something I can take credit for however. It’s an easy fit really. The dual-pass core works as an engine oil cooler, transmission cooler or diff cooler and has angled AN outlets to clear bodywork easily. It also has threaded holes in the top and bottom which make it really simple to mount.
I’ve struggled before with awkward-shaped cores with mounting wings and tabs, and they can be a little clumsy. This CSF cooler is much more compact though. The sleek design integrated into the nose of the E30 really well; not bad for a last minute addition.
The footwork on this car has been set for a little while now, so there was no need to reinvent the wheel there, but we did add an MRT roll centre correction kit and Dunlop Direzza DZ03G tyres. The Dunlops are one of my favourite track tyres and go some way to compensate for my driving; they’re incredibly sticky.
As it goes, the car made its first real shakedown run in anger on the way to Goodwood on Friday before Players Classic. It seems no matter how old I get, I’ll never be able to plan a project with enough time left to be comfortable. But maybe that’s the thrill of it; no sleep, fear, and a whole group of people collaborating to create something unique. I don’t think I would change it for the world.
Perhaps it’s the tiredness making me a bit emotional, but I can tell you that there’s something really special about gaining trust in a new build, learning the nuances of something you’ve never experienced before, and driving a car you’ve only just bolted together, all day, at nigh on 100% effort. It’s pretty fun.
An old fuel pump relay did do us dirty by rattling itself apart though. It stopped the E30 running for a an hour or so, but other than that the car was faultless.
At the close of play on Saturday, I breathed a major sigh of relief . Not that I lacked confidence in the build, but there’s so many variables when going out on track with a car you know, let alone one you don’t. I mean, I could have just stacked it by my own volition.
With this event under our belts this car will only get quicker; roll on sequential E30 V2.
But that’s enough about me. I wasn’t the only one at Players Classic enjoying the track action.
There’s more than meets the eye with this Mk7 GTI TCR. Not only is it a special edition track model of the 7th gen Golf GTi, it was chocked full of track parts. Tubular Verkline subframes, lightweight wheels, a Wavetrac differential, big brakes and a full CSF cooling package to name just a few. It was surprising more than a few of the BMW M crowd and running relentlessly all day.
The best thing? The owner doesn’t even use social media, he’s just there for the enjoyment.
Regal Autosport are taking all of the knowledge learned on their Mk7 platform R&D and applying it to the brand new Mk8 Golf, which is pretty exciting. It’s already proving to be substantially faster than its predecessor, which begs the question: just how fast can modern hatchbacks get?
Like, where does this all end? When you look at the power and 0-60mph sprint of a Mk1 Golf GTI and Mk8 GTI they don’t seem they could be from the same planet, let alone the same lineage. Fast is certainly good, but is it fun?
One car that certainly is fun is Jimmy MacDonald and Ben Street’s 328i E36. Jimmy and I had a brilliant battle on track on Saturday.
The E36 has been developed by the lads over a few years now and uses an M52 2.8 engine with M50 inlet manifold and S50 exhaust manifold to make solid power. A CSF radiator keeps it cool and the whole thing is stripped out and caged. Goodwood is their home circuit and the green colour suits the stately landscape perfectly. Very gentlemanly. I’m keen to see where this car will go as E36s are getting very popular and quite valuable. Let’s hope they keep driving and tuning it.
On Sunday, many more cars join the party at Players Classic and the track shut to gain additional show display parking. That doesn’t mean track cars can’t display though.
The last few years have a seen a bit of an unofficial track display in the pit lane, so I removed the bonnet from the E30 to show off the ITBs/conduct a sitrep.
Looking through the data logs from Saturday, temps are fantastically stable. My E30’s main water radiator is CSF’s E36 328i item – the same as in Jimmy and Ben’s green E36. It uses an ECU triggered two-stage dual fan setup to control the temp. We installed the radiator just in time for the last Players event in 2019, although the car has come a little way further than that now.
We also installed CSF’s unique M20 race oil cooler in 2019. This sits just below the main radiator in the stock M20B25 position and takes care of the engine oil cooling.
The dual-pass cooler installed in the front of the car to control gearbox temperatures proved to be a little too efficient for the semi-wet track conditions, so I ended up rigging a temporary solution by blocking some of the core.
It’s one of the many things to refine in the next evolution of this build.
Away from the track itself, there was still plenty of engineering to nose around. Thanks to the limited space at the Goodwood venue and Players’ own high standards, the show field is all killer, no filler.
Players host Jay’s own 964 was on display not far from my car. Also prepared by Regal Autosport and utilising AT Power throttle bodies and a Longman Racing ECU, you could say Jay’s copied my homework here… except he’s done it a little better.
If there’s one image that sums up the variety at Players Classic, the one below has got to be up there with the best of them. It’s chocked full of car culture: Richard Woolmer’s Midget and A35, Matt Glassup’s 964 and Camaro, Mickey Marrow’s MK1 Scirocco, and of course Mark Riccioni’s 360 Challenge race car.
We’re really lucky that the UK authorities let us get away with driving (almost) anything we want on the street.
And it’s this feeling of togetherness that Players Classic manages to embrace so well. For one weekend in June it’s car culture versus the world. We can celebrate all of it in one place in a wonderfully British setting.
Players Show, we salute you.
Additional Photography by Josh Stringer
This story was brought to you in association with CSF Radiators, an official Speedhunters Supplier