I look forward to the Brighton Speed Trials every year. Invariably the sun shines, a good couple of thousand spectators turn up and you get a beguiling cross-section of cars and bikes blasting down Madeira drive on the sea front. In the past I have competed in my MGF and more recently my MG YB. My last outing in 2010 was particularly satisfying as my old YB, the second slowest car out of the 100 odd entrants, won the Benn trophy for fastest MG after the other MGs either broke or were disqualified.

This year I was keen to enter a faster MG, my SV – chassis number 3. “Beast” as she is affectionately known in my family, has form at Brighton, having won the Benn trophy in 2008 with a time over the standing quarter-mile of 14.5 seconds. This year I wanted to see if I could do any better than that and maybe win the Benn trophy again.

Arriving at dawn in Brighton, I picked my way through the remains of Friday night’s drunks, to Madeira Drive. There competitors were met by the Police. A large part of the paddock was cordoned off as a crime scene as a few hours earlier a man had been stabbed and left in a critical condition. This did not bode well for the event and there were fears that it might be cancelled.

In the paddock on Madeira Drive

Excellent organisation from the Brighton and Hove Motor Club soon had us back on programme and I managed to get my practice run in before lunch. I found myself in a class with a Lamborghini Aventador, a Jaguar XKRS, a Nissan GTR and numerous other souped up but road legal chargers. I had no realistic chance of doing well in class but decided I would be content to be fastest MG. The main obstacle to that aim was my friend Richard Withers’ stripped out 2 litre racing MGBGT. Whilst his car was much lighter mine had significantly more HP and as such should have been able to beat him with ease.

Driving a car in a straight line for a quarter of a mile does not sound difficult. But the real knack is getting the start right. Once the lights go green getting the power down without spinning the wheels, and therefore wasting precious fractions of a second, is not easy without practice. I had not managed to practice in the SV and so during my practice run I spent what seemed like ages squirming away from the line to record a very poor time. In my two timed runs I got progressively better, learning to start off more gently before applying full power. In the end I managed a best time of 15.05 seconds and a terminal speed of 105 mph. Whilst this enabled me to win the award for fastest MG, only beating Richard’s BGT by a few tenths of a second, it was considerably slower than the speed the car had recorded in 2008. Clearly the problem was with the driver not the car. I did, nonetheless, have the satisfaction of being faster than a Ferrari F40..

After my last timed run I went to watch the final bike runs. It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun shimmering off the sea,  and thousands of spectators enjoying the ice cream and the spectacle. I’m not a massive bike fan but these guys were so fast it was amazing. Some of the solo guys reached speeds in excess of 170mph and covered the quarter-mile in less than 9 seconds.

I thought the motorcycle side car passengers were even more brave, hanging on to hand grips on machines brutally accelerating up to more than 100mph. I was particularly taken by the very fast looking Asco Honda of Roger Hollingshead, so much so that I snapped a photo of him and his passenger, Charlotte Tagg, just before their first timed run. I missed their second timed run but heard there had been an accident. Oil on the track stopped proceedings which I thought was a shame. I had seen an ambulance but there were no comments made about injuries.

A few days ago I received my fastest timed run certificate from the BHMC and was surprised to see that they had not counted my second timed run in allocating overal positions. Only when checking the BHMC web site did I see reference to a tragedy. I then pieced together from press websites what had happened to cause the meeting to be abandoned. Apparently the Honda Asco, on it’s second timed run, had failed to stop at the end of the quarter-mile and had hit the barriers head on and had broken in half. Roger was critically injured and Charlotte was tragically killed. I was immensely saddened by Charlotte’s death and Roger’s injury. Whilst we all know motor sport can be dangerous such events are still shocking. My heart goes out to both their families.


Charlotte and Roger, Asco Honda