Matt Robinson from Performance Tuner pays a visit to Guglielmi Motorsport
Track days, fast road driving, race series - there are a lot of ways to get your kicks behind the wheel, but of course there are different parameters affecting each discipline. What works on the road is hardly likely to be ideal for red hot track work. Knowing what works and what doesn't isn't something you pick up in an afternoon - it'll take years of trial and error at the sharp end of affairs before you'll be capable of discerning the ideal set-ups.
Stephen Guglielmi is just such a person, though. he's been in the motor industry for over 30 years and he's been racing for a large part of that. And we're not talking a small clubman series here - Steve was the champion in the TVR Tuscan Challenge in 2001 and 2002. A thoroughly engaging and modest man, talking to him reveals that he has literally been there and done that, and when he offers his advice on a car's optimum set-up, you really ought to listen to him.
But nowadays, Steve has retired from the racing game (albeit he is still part of the Time Attack series) to concentrate on developing his day-to-day business, Guglielmi Motorsport. Based in Daventry, right in the middle of the British Motorsport heartland, this small company has developed a formidable reputation on word of mouth alone. He bowed out of racing in 2002, the same year Guglielmi Motorsport was born. Initially one unit, it’s expanded into adjacent premises and is now a treasure trove of delights.
The main thrust of the business is maintaining and servicing road and track cars for customers, but race car prep is still a part of life here. Steve explains: "We have all the experience of sorting out a wide variety of cars for track work because I am an end user myself - thanks to all the racing, I know what works on a circuit and what doesn't, so I can advise my customers better."
There are five members of staff at Gugliemi, working six days a week as part of a slick operation. There's a steady stream of activity, and everything is tidy and orderly. On the day of our shoot, an FD3 Madza RX07 is having a big brake conversion carried out, while a 210bhp E30 325i sporting the original M20 six-pot is being maintained. This car can run scorching 8m 15s BTG times at the Nordschleife. Quite phenomenal.
There are reminders of the motorsport credentials here, though, and soon as you walk in, you spot the very Tuscan Steve won his titles with sitting quietly alongside the cars being serviced. Now powered by a 5.2 Rover V8, the AJP engine was ditched a long time ago. It looks great - purposeful, but sufficiently battle-scared, and wreathed with the glow of historic success.
A particular speciality at Guglielmi, though, are Lotus Elises, and specifically the transplanting of the venerable VAG1.8T 20v engine into the mid-engined lightweights. It's an idea that comes from an owner who did the conversion himself, who brought the car to Guglielmi. As you can imagine, these things make for one hell of a car; in road trim, you're looking at 250 bhp and 250lb ft torque in a car tipping the scales at 750kg... Steve campaigns a very highly-tuned example of one of these in the Time Attack series, and needless to say it is monstrously rapid.
Tantalising projects are littered everywhere at Guglielmi, and like a kid in a sweetie shop it's hard to know where to gawp next. Tucked in one corner is a particularly horny orange Elise racer. Steve casually mentions: "That was the first ever Elise to be raced in the world. We developed the first roll cage, for all Elises, on that car." Astonishingly, the beast - prepared in 1995 - remains on its original 290mm Alcon brakes from 1996 they've never been changed, a marker of how potent they remain.
An S2 shell is stripped of all its composite bodywork, and Steve explains that this will be the Time Attack weapon for 2008. Powered by a later 2-litre VAG turbo, it'll weigh 800kg and promises to be a serious competitor, thanks largely to the fact it'll tote a knee-trembling 500bhp!
My Bavarian fascination is awakened by an old E30 M3 shell sitting innocuously in the workshop. "Ah, well the 2.5 DTM engine you saw earlier in the other E30?" says Steve, referring to the E30 track day training car they run. "We're going to put that engine in this car, along with a six speed box (either a Hewland sequential or dogbox as per the Prodrive M3s).
It's currently made of fibreglass all over, bar the floor and roof -" he bangs the car to prove it, "-and the rear window panel, which was specific to the M3, is made of carbon fibre. They weighed a lot, you know." The car will take time to build, as Steve says he doesn't like to rush things, instead preferring to do it properly first time around.
There's an engine test room and damper room complete with the necessary machine to test damper settings and rebound nestled within the complex, and the general air is of a very professional outfit that is both personable and extremely knowledgeable, a truly welcome mix in this corporate day and age. That much is evident talking to Steve.
He recounts that previously-mentioned tale of his Tuscan's switch from good to great. "In 1997 I put the car on stickier tyres and I suddenly got this handling anomaly on it that cost us tenths of a second on every corner," he says smiling. "The back of the car would corkscrew slightly when loaded up in the bends, which didn't make you feel very confident. Anyway, we analysed the suspension and it transpired that the car was underdamped, promoting too much rear roll. The car was just too low, so we raised the car 20mm and immediately went two seconds a lap quicker at Snetterton in 1998."
It changed the Tuscan from a car struggling to make the top four into one which qualified top three of the grid with "20 per cent less effort", according to Steve. Attention to minutiae like that is where the difference between winning and losing can be made - the proof is the outcome of the Tuscan development. After a great session in 1999 (three poles and three race wins in the most competitive season of Tuscan racing ever), sponsors bought the car off HR Owen in 2000 and in 2001 and 2002, Steve took the car to the title. But this isn't just a nice story to be told in pubs - Steve will pass on his know-how to customers, so they can benefit with their own cars.
The wealth of knowledge at Gugliemi, from Steve himself through his team of staff, is astounding, and you can't really go wrong.
Whether you've got a hot hatch you want setting up for fast road use, or a track day special that needs some tweaking, or even a full-on racer that's after some attention, I really can't think of anywhere better to go than Guglielmi.
After all, who better to give advice to the end user than a man who has won the TVR Tuscan championship, twice?