MO­TOR­SPORT

2016 Mini Se7en Cham­pion Ash­ley Davies and Novice Cham­pion Leon Oli Win­dow re­flect on a su­perb sea­son for their mod­est team from Aber­gavenny.

Mini Magazine - - Contents -

Welsh rac­ers Ash­ley Davies and Leon Oli Win­dow talk us through their highly suc­cess­ful 2016 Mini Se7en sea­sons.

When we think of Welsh sport­ing he­roes we im­me­di­ately pic­ture burly Rugby Union lads, Pre­mier League foot­ballers and maybe a rally driver or two. The coun­try isn’t well known for pro­duc­ing cham­pion rac­ing driv­ers, but that’s cer­tainly not the case in Mini Se7en rac­ing. For the Mini 7 Rac­ing Club’s 50th an­niver­sary sea­son, team SMG from Gwent took two of the top honours, while Owens Fab­ri­ca­tion from Car­marthen­shire sup­ported Josh Collins to a maiden S-Class ti­tle.

Clearly they’re do­ing some­thing very right in Wales, so we popped over the bor­der for a chat with re­cently-crowned Se7en Cham­pion Ash­ley Davies and his team mate Leon Oli Win­dow, 2016 Novice Cham­pion. Both cars are pre­pared by Nigel Davies and for­mer Mini Miglia racer Wayne Grayer at the fam­ily-run Skir­rid Moun­tain Garage in Llan­vi­hangel Cru­cor­ney (bonus points for the non-Welsh read­ers who can pro­nounce that cor­rectly!). The team prides it­self on do­ing as much work in-house as pos­si­ble, from bodyshell fab­ri­ca­tion to en­gine and cylin­der head build­ing. As mod­ern one-make se­ries in­creas­ingly rely a field of fac­tory-built and largely iden­ti­cal cars, it’s very re­fresh­ing to see the level of va­ri­ety in Mini Se7en and Miglia is still thriv­ing. There’s a be­spoke hand­fab­ri­cated feel to each racer and many have been con­stantly de­vel­oped and im­proved over decades.

Se7ens rely on a race-tuned 998 en­gine with the sin­gle bar­rel of a We­ber sid­e­draft carb, push­ing out al­most 100bhp with a reg­u­la­tion Piper camshaft and lim­ited

mod­i­fi­ca­tions. To­day the ma­jor­ity of en­gi­neer­ing ad­vance­ments fo­cus on re­li­a­bil­ity, as these minia­ture rac­ers don’t need big power out­puts to light up the tim­ing screens. In fact, Mini fans are of­ten sur­prised to see how fast these cars can cor­ner on tra­di­tional dry rub­ber sus­pen­sion, crossply rac­ing tyres and with reg­u­lar 7.5-inch Cooper S front brakes. It’s an in­cred­i­ble spec­ta­cle.

When did you first start rac­ing Minis?

Ash­ley: It was five or six years ago now, with the Mini 7 Rac­ing Club right from the be­gin­ning. I’d been rac­ing go karts since about age 11 be­fore that, and I’d done loads of kart­ing over the years but never raced a Mini. Dad used to build Minis for Wayne and Stu­art Grayer back in the day and I’d al­ways be there watch­ing, so I thought I bet­ter get out there and do it my­self at some point.

Did you ever con­sider yourself as a fu­ture Se7en cham­pion?

No I couldn’t see it hap­pen­ing, as the com­pe­ti­tion is pretty tough out there. It was only the past cou­ple of sea­sons that I started get­ting nearer the pace and hav­ing some good re­sults. There were a cou­ple of wins in 2014 and again in 2015. Around that time a few of the rules were tight­ened up to bring ev­ery­one back down on the level, and I think af­ter that we had the pace.

How did your sea­son pan out?

We started off re­ally well at Brands Hatch, where I man­aged to win both races. That car­ried on to Cad­well Park – one of the best cir­cuits in the coun­try I’d say. We took both races there too, but I’m strug­gling to re­mem­ber the whole sea­son now, it al­ready seems like such a long time ago!

Did you face any ma­jor is­sues?

When we went back to Cas­tle Combe in May, un­for­tu­nately my crank snapped in qual­i­fy­ing and that put me right at the back for the races. Other than that we had quite a trou­ble-free sea­son, which re­ally worked to my ad­van­tage. We re­ally needed it af­ter some ter­ri­ble luck in the past few years.

Who was your clos­est ri­val?

I would say Lewis Selby – he’s been the big­gest threat. We had some real good races dur­ing the year. There were dif­fer­ent peo­ple up the front at dif­fer­ent times, as I guess driv­ers favour cer­tain tracks over oth­ers or just have bet­ter weekends. I think Char­lie Budd and Spencer Wanstall were up there too, and Max Hunter had some good fin­ishes – it’s been a close sea­son.

What gives you the edge?

I reckon part of it is keep­ing calm and keep­ing smooth. You see a lot of the driv­ers be­ing a lit­tle er­ratic and go­ing off un­der pres­sure. As soon as you loose con­cen­tra­tion peo­ple will catch you up, no mat­ter how far ahead you get. I’ve never had any tu­ition but the first ever kart race I did, I came third, if that means any­thing! I’ve been out test­ing and taken on ad­vice from my dad Nigel, from where he used to run cars be­fore, and we were rea­son­ably com­pet­i­tive from the be­gin­ning.

Has it been ex­pen­sive?

Rac­ing’s al­ways ex­pen­sive but we had a good sea­son of re­li­a­bil­ity, which helped. We don’t have a huge bud­get – just enough to keep it go­ing in the Se7ens. In all forms of mo­tor­sport you’re up against peo­ple with more money than you; that’s the na­ture of it. We do ev­ery­thing in house at SMG, apart from things like re-bor­ing blocks. I think we’re one of the only teams to­wards the front that does ev­ery­thing our­selves.

What’s your plans for 2017?

I was go­ing to move up to Miglias, but rais­ing funds to re­build the car with var­i­ous rule changes on the way means we’ve have to put that on hold for next year. In­stead I’ll come back to try and de­fend the Mini Se7en

ti­tle. It’s been nice to have Leon out there as well, and he’s been pretty com­pet­i­tive for his first sea­son. Let’s go out and see if we can do it all again.

Do you need to give any­one a shout out?

Yes, big thanks to Aber­gavenny Brake & Clutch, Nutts Rolling Road, JELF Group In­surance and also Se­lect Se­cu­rity Spe­cial­ists for their on­go­ing sup­port. Most of all I should say a huge thank you to my dad Nigel Davies for making all this pos­si­ble and Wayne Grayer for al­ways help­ing with the mas­sively last­minute dead­lines. Oh and my grandad Colin Watkins for all the awe­some pho­tos.

Thanks Ash­ley, so over to Leon – how did you first get onto the grid in 2016?

Leon: I was look­ing to start rac­ing in an af­ford­able way. I first looked at the Porsche Club and 750 Mo­tor Club, then got in­tro­duced to Team SMG in South Wales near my home town. I’ve al­ways liked Minis and have owned them be­fore, but never en­ter­tained the idea of rac­ing one. SMG in­vited me to Sil­ver­stone to watch one of the last races of 2015 and suf­fice to say that made my mind up.

Had you com­peted be­fore?

No, never, the sea­son was my first time in a race car. And what a year it was! I was af­ter a sec­ond-hand car, how­ever a lack of cars for sale in late 2015 meant we had to look to build one from scratch. The stars aligned and a mint shell from Owens Fab­ri­ca­tion came up for sale, ready painted with all the car­bon pan­els. That was a great cost and time sav­ing in the end.

It must have still been a quick build?

It was started in Novem­ber 2015 and fully built for test­ing by March. They spent pretty much ev­ery spare day, evening and week­end on it and it’s turned out to be one of the best Se7en builds I’ve ever seen.

What are your plans for 2017?

I’ve had 2016 to find my feet and it’s safe to say I’m hooked. We have se­cured three new spon­sors and will be push­ing for a top five fin­ish this year, im­prov­ing on 11th place over­all and top novice.

What does it feel like to drive a Se7en on the limit?

It’s very re­ward­ing when you get it right, al­though it takes a while to get used to, es­pe­cially as I’ve al­ways had rear-wheel drive cars be­fore. They can go a lot faster than you think for a 998, so you just have to grow some balls and put your foot down!

What were your big­gest rookie er­rors?

Hit­ting Dom Burger’s car on the last-but-one race, as he span back across the track af­ter an ac­ci­dent at Snet­ter­ton. Putting the car into re­verse at Brands Hatch at ap­prox 100mph wasn’t par­tic­u­larly great ei­ther…

What would you say to any­one who’s con­sid­er­ing join­ing the grid?

Life’s short and you only live once, so don’t worry about the cost. If you re­ally want to race, you will find a way to do it! You can hire a car and do one or two rounds or work re­ally hard and get some spon­sors on board to get a full sea­son done. Ei­ther way it’s the most ex­cit­ing sport you can do with a very friendly club who wel­come new­com­ers with open arms. If any­one wants ad­vice on how to get started, tweet me @leono­li­win­dow and I’ll be happy to help. Like­wise, if any­one would like to help with the spon­sor­ship side of things, please get in touch.

Pho­tog­ra­phy Stephen Col­bran and Matthew Bar­ring­ton

Ash­ley and team SMG pause for a pic with 2016 Miglia cham­pion Shayne Dee­gan.

Ash­ley took nine wins in 2016.

SMG pre­pares al­most ev­ery­thing in-house.

Aside from the graph­ics and rollcage, Mini Se7ens don’t look rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from a road Mini.

Com­pe­ti­tion in the Se7ens was fierce for the 50th an­niver­sary sea­son.

Ash­ley plans to re­turn and de­fend his ti­tle in 2017.

The 998 en­gines pro­duce around 100bhp.

Leon’s Se7en racer is one of the best pre­pared on the grid. It’s im­mac­u­late.

Leon Oli Win­dow speeds around Don­ing­ton Park.

Leon fin­ished the 2016 sea­son as top novice.

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