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I’m in love with my car

Breaking my own lap records in a rusty Ford

12/09/2013 10:47 |  Comments: 

Contributing editor

Sipi is a fairy who hangs above us like a huge, ever-smiling, men’s fragrance-smelling umbrella. He can be called anytime, anywhere to lend a helping hand, and he’ll be there in an hour with one of his Transits for sure. A dangerously maniac car collector (the street in front of his house is full of his vehicles), a radio-control and model car freak, Sipos is a Swiss knife made of human flesh. Totalcar is just one job amongst his zillion occupations, but he endears it the most. Lives with a girlfriend and two dogs.

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  • Mitsubishi Sigma 3.0 24V (1992)
  • Mazda 323 TXL 4WD (1990)
  • 4 long-nose Transits (a 4x4 fire engine, a fire department staff car, an ex-Irish ambulance and an extremely oversized panel van, 1980-1984)
  • Dacia 1300 (1975, being restored)
  • Ford Capri 2.9i (1982)
  • Mercedes-Benz 280 SEL 4.5 (1972)
  • Ford Sierra Tournier 2.9i drift-car (1992)
  • Mazda 121 4dr (1993)
  • Suzuki VS1400 Intruder (1989)
  • Suzuki GSX 750 New Katana (1984)
  • Kawasaki Z1000 Police (1993)
  • Aprilia Habana (2000)
  • Volga M24 wagon (1984)
  • Ural M62 (1968, in pieces)
Totalcar’s TrackDay, during which the Hungaroring was open to car enthusiasts for two days, made me fall in love with my car all over again.

OK, it's not the machine of a dream, but I must admit it has fulfilled a lot of my dreams – even those I never knew I had. It's just an old, rusty Ford Sierra Estate I saved from the junkyard's crusher, paying 200 Euros for it in Vienna more than three years ago.

Since then I had an engine swap. Originally, the car had a 2.0 Twin Cam but eight valve four cylinder, now I drive it with a 2.9 V6. I have replaced the springs with stiffer Mercedes ones, had the shocks refurbished and stiffened at a local shop, and built in a set of polyurethane suspension bushes. Oh, and the differential got welded to gain 100% lock. Nothing really special. If I hadn't painted it desert yellow to cover the dents earned during night rides in the snowy mountains, no one would even notice it.

I do my best to spend as little money as possible on turning it into a better car, and the car helps me to become a better driver every time I get behind the wheel. On 31 August -1 September we at had the 4th Trackday on the Hungaroring. It was a huge event, a lot of car importers displayed their newest cars, hundreds of vintage car enthusiasts came to meet each other in the parking lot and take their beloved old cars out on the track where Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and other legends had driven their Formula one race cars.

I noticed very little of all of this, as I was focused on preparing my car for the heats. It did not mean too much work, only the brakes caused me headaches. Actually, the brakes have been causing me headaches for a year now, but to make a long story short, I use the bigger brakes of another Sierra, but the master cylinder does not seem to be able to handle that. I can press the brake pedal too deep into the floor, the brakes feel soft - but there is no problem with braking power at all. It just doesn't feel comfy. On Friday my colleague András Stump and I wasted four hours trying to make the system a bit better, without success.

On Saturday I did my best driving as fast as I could. I even cheated a bit: I asked Norbert Michelisz, Hungary's race driver No.1, winner of several championships and the 2010 WTCC rookie championship to sign the rear of the car. I am pretty sure this gave the car virtual horse powers, just like go-fast stripes and angel eyes do to street racers. So I did 2:37-ish times on ten year-old Firestone Fuel Saver tires, in some laps I even gave friends a lift. The car is not too powerful, so it doesn't actually frighten people, but it does behave differently from normal cars - which made some of my passengers smile ear to ear.

In the last heat I felt totally relaxed, so I took an old cassette my father used to listen to and played it on the Sierra's old Kenwood head unit. Oldies of the sixties were blasting from the speakers, and as the sun was moving towards the horizon I pressed the pedal to the metal. All this lead to a laptime (officially measured by the timekeepers of Hungaroring) 2:34:36! It was not just at least two seconds better than any of my previous laps, but I even managed to be faster than a few of the far more powerful cars. This really made my day, I was dancing in my bucket seat, even with the four-point harness on. Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Barbara Ann!

My brakes were dead by this time, the front pads were totally worn to metal, so the first thing I did at home was get back to the old brake setup, using the smaller diameter brake discs with smaller pads and calipers. This helped to get a firm brake feel, so I was totally happy. I even planned to change the tires the next day, as my colleague Tibor Papp had just replaced his Falkens he deemed noisy, and once he even got into aquaplaning with them - at around 80 km/h speed.

Unfortunately, nothing worked as I'd planned. In the first laps the brakes seemed to be fine, although I had to get used to having a totally different feeling when applying brakes. This made me brake too early, but this wasn't the biggest problem. The Falkens mounted to the black steelies were like slime. Sticky but slippery at the same time. They just didn't feel right. I tried to adjust the tire pressure several times, but it wasn't of much help, my best time was 2:40 something. I wasn't too happy. And a few laps later I lost my brakes. First they felt spongy, than there was no deceleration at all. And when I say no deceleration, I mean ABSOLUTELY none. I had to use brutal downshifts to keep the car on the track, which sometimes led to wild drifts, but thanks to all my snow-drifting experience I could keep it under control. Now I was everything but happy, even though driving the car was still a lot of fun. I had my mind set on those damn lap times.

The next day I inspected the discs and the pads, and the sight was terrifying. Huge pieces of the pad's friction material were missing, the rest was burnt and disintegrating. I think they were very cheap and poor quality aftermarket pads, which might be OK for street use, but useless on the track. I immediately ordered new discs and pads for the larger setup, and decided to go for a different master cylinder if necessary.

Having calmed down I started to see things in a different perspective. With the Sierra I had already participated in approximately ten track days, two drift practice sessions on an abandoned military airport, and went snow-drifting in the hills regularly for the past four winter seasons with no major breakdowns. Some panel bending, bumper crashing, tire burning has occurred, but nothing serious. The biggest expenses so far have been paying my fuel bills. What more could I want? This old family estate takes all the beating and teaches me how to be a better driver. I have cars that are a lot more interesting than this, even better, but driving the Sierra really makes driving fun. So this one goes to the old rust bucket!

To view the full gallery, please click on any of the pictures. (Thanks for Zoltán Maszlik for the great track-action images!)

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