Les Walmsley’s 1972 Chrysler R/T Charger E49 is a frontrunner in Group N, which continues to showcase the glory days of Australian Touring Car racing at events across Australia
By HEATH McALPINE
THE POPULARITY of the nostalgia classes of racing has grown in recent years, not only in Australia but also worldwide. Group N is an interesting category as it combines an eclectic array of cars from Australia’s initial Touring Car seasons, but these cars don’t necessarily have a racing history behind them, like in the Heritage Touring Cars.
There are three classes to Group N, Group Na, which covers Pre-1957 touring cars that were sold in Australia, Group Nb covers the years 1958-1964 for cars that have an Australian or International race pedigree and Group Nc covers the heyday of Australia’s touring car history and includes models with an Australian racing history between the years 1965-1972.
Group Nc cars encompass both the Series Production and Improved Production eras of Australian touring car racing at the time. Chevrolet Camaros mix it on track with Minis and Toranas, while Mustangs mix it with Mazda RX3s and Datsun 1600s, but really the era was known for the manufacturer battles between Ford, Holden and Chrysler. This still happens today in Group Nc with Falcon GT-HOs, Torana GT-R XU-1s and the Chrysler R/T Charger still providing entertaining battles some 40 or so years later.
Les Walmsley has been racing historic touring cars for 20 years and is the President of the Historic Touring Cars Association in Victoria. Over 80 Group N cars competed at Historic Sandown 2016 and early indications are that more than 100 Group N cars will compete at the 2017 Phillip Island Classic. Walmsley is always up the front and in 2016 won the Group N races at the Winton Historics meeting, in his 1972 Chrysler R/T Charger E49.
After previously racing a Ford Cortina, Chev Nova, Ford Falcon GT-HO and a Holden Torana GTR XU-1, Walmsley has sampled each contender and just loves the Charger.
“You have so many choices in all of the categories,” Walmsley explained. “People race a particular car because they love that particular car. If I had the opportunity to race a Camaro, I’d go and race a Camaro. But for some reason, the Charger, I keep coming back to it. I don’t know, I just love them, they’re good.”
Walmsley has been supported by Treloar Roses for nearly 20 years and this connection was how he came to buy the Charger.
“It was built by Rob Braune in Portland, but I’ve had it now for seven years. He built it and he raced it successfully, more than successfully, he was very quick in it. It’s a different car now to when he had it, of course. I got an association going with Rob Braune because he’s from Portland, and that’s where Gary Treloar comes from, and that’s how I ended up with this Charger.”
Group N, just like Series Production allows minimal changes to the car as bought of the showroom floor but modifications have been allowed to make the cars more reliable. The noticeable feature retained in the car is that most of the interior is retained, bar the floor matting, and that no sponsorship is allowed on the exterior of the car to keep the category period accurate.
You’re not allowed to run exterior signage on the cars, all you’re allowed is your name on the mudguard, your number on the door and that’s pretty much it,” says Walmsley.
Even the sponsor’s windscreen strip across the top that the Victorian Historic Touring Cars run and at Muscle Car Masters has to be approved by CAMS.
“We have to get permission to run that through CAMS. We put in a submission for it and we were granted that.”
The heart of the Charger is the same Hemi straight-six that appeared in the road going model of the era and was built by Jason Maras at Maras Motorsport. The regulations allow some modern parts for reliability purposes, with the experienced crew of Savy Motorsport looking after the Hemi.
“Savy Motorsport organised a billet crank for me from America, more so for the reliability side of it, they have really bad harmonics, so that’s alleviated that problem, it’s got good pistons in it, good rods in it. We have a Chev rear main in it to alleviate the problem with fuel leak; otherwise everything else in it is standard.”
Servicing on the car is performed by Walmsley himself and the engine has been going strong for eight meetings. Walmsley changes the oil, filter and gives the top end a check after each meeting. He is helped at each race meeting by Liam from Savy. Walmsley finds the motor has great power and provides excellent torque.
“It’s around 400 horsepower; it’s every bit of 400 and its reliable horsepower,” smiled Walmsley. “It has good torque; I think that’s why they come into their own at the smaller circuits because they have good torquey motors in them. I’ve still got the original 45 Webers on it. They’re genuine E49 45mm Webers.”
The development of the suspension was undertaken by Savy Motorsport. Regulations dictate that ‘the original form and type of suspension only shall be employed,’ so Walmsley has only replaced the rubbers, but sway bars can be replaced so a stronger, heavier bar has been installed, which equals a very good handling car according to Walmsley.
“At the front I just have to change the rubbers to Nolathane rubber. You change the sway bar on the front, you put a heavier sway bar on it and the rear’s got a Watts Link in it. I run good Penske shock absorbers, which Savy Motorsport supplied. Dick Savy pretty much set the car up suspension wise, and it’s very good.”
Even though the modifications are limited the suspension is where the most gains can be made, or if you get it wrong, you can create a pig of a race car.
“Now with adjustable shocks it gives you another option and of course there the different tyres and different camber and caster settings,” explained Walmsley. “You then have your Watts Link where you chase your tyre, so there are a few options, and if you get it right it’s like they’re on rails, and even though they’re old cars they’re like they’re on rails. But if you get it wrong, they’re a struggle.”
When Walmsley gets it right, which it seems is most of the time, he is punching well above his weight mixing with the more powerful Camaros, Mustangs and GT-HOs, and that is when Walmsley most enjoys his racing.
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of running out the front against the V8s and if I’m fortunate enough to beat them, it’s a good day. If it’s unfortunate for me and they beat me it’s still a good day.”
The brakes are as they came out of the factory, with discs fitted to the front and drums fitted to the rear. Walmsley finds he has no trouble with them and after trying different brake compounds, the Charger stops well. The longevity of the brakes is impressive for a 40-year-old car with the brake pads and rotors lasting Walmsley three meetings. The rear shoes, which are carbon Kevlar, have lasted for the last eight meetings.
“Its brakes are pretty much standard except that we use different brake compounds,” says Walmsley. “I use Kelsey Hayes callipers, the rotors are standard rotors and I run Circo pads, I find them the best. I use a lot of rear brake to try and take a lot of weight off the front brake, so you have to change your driving style to suit what you’re driving. We don’t have power steering, so I sort of left foot brake, well you think you do.”
Walmsley also has the brake bias fitted under the bonnet as per regulations that don’t allow the brake bias controller to be within reach of the driver.
The gearbox is the standard four-speed Borg Warner featured in the road car, which connects via the tailshaft to the limited slip diff at the rear.
Walmsley has a few GoPros covering every angle of his car, and a Vbox fitted to video the gauges. These are mainly used to place onYouTube to help promote the category and his sponsors that feature on the dash. Walmsley does acknowledge that GoPros and the like can be used as data-logging equipment that is outlawed in the class, but sees positive promotion through sites such as YouTube as very important to attract new competitors.
“In ways it is some sort of data logging,” admits Walmsley. “But I put it in there because I like to put as much stuff on YouTube as people love the racing so much. We’re lucky enough to be doing it and they sort of live their motorsport by watching YouTube. That’s the reason I do it and it gets a lot of support.”
The car runs Hoosier Street TD tyres, on five-stud 7×14” rims on the front and rear. According to Walmsley, many of the other competitors run either a Yokohama or Bridgestone radial, but the category provides a wide variety of tyres to choose from. One idea that Walmsley has seen, that has successfully been applied in Touring Car Masters, is a tyre limit applied across the weekend.
“I’d love to see it, maybe not a control tyre, but say, four tyres per round, or six tyres per round; the same as TCM do, because it works well. There are not a lot of people that put tyres on every race but there are a couple. I do three meetings with mine, and that was the problem I had on the weekend [Phillip Island] as well. I tried to do four meetings on a set of tyres. The heat cycles in them, I don’t know how bad they are, but definitely in the last race if you watch on YouTube you can see I was really struggling with the tyres and tyre life.”
Walmsley was one of the original 12 Group N drivers who had the blessing of the late Trevor Young from Biante, to travel with the V8 Supercars with their cars in 2005. This has turned into the popular Touring Car Masters series, which Walmsley will hopefully return to next year, but the cars are far away from the Group N cars that filled the grid over 10 years ago.
“The trouble was they were unreliable, so CAMS said that that’s no good. We can’t have cars sitting on the side of the track and start with 40 and finish with 30. It just didn’t work for TV. So now TCM have a lot more reliability components available to them, gearbox, dry sump, good brakes; they are proper race cars, and they’re big dollar race cars. The commitment to TCM is much greater than Historic Touring Cars because you’re doing it for a lot of other people and the commitment to travel and be at all the rounds is high.”
Walmsley has run in both series and competes at generally five meetings a year, which includes the Phillip Island Historics, Historic Sandown and the Island Magic meetings. The Victorian Historic Touring Cars have moved away from running state series meetings to try and run purely at historic meetings due to the cost.
“I tend to do the five meetings and concentrate on the Historics because that’s what the cars are put out there for. It’s affordable, if you pick your meetings and if you of course pick the right car. We have four historic meetings here in Victoria and then you have the Island Magic meeting at the end of the year, which is another big event. It’s to your expectations, and the preparation you put into your car is the results you get out of it.”
Date posted: March 7, 2017