brighton speed trials


The last time I competed at the Brighton Speed Trials was in 2012 when the event was marred by the tragic death of motorcycle sidecar passenger Charlotte Tagg. The Green local authority siezed on that as an excuse to try and ban the Speed Trials from being held in the future (see previous posts). However they had not reckoned on the passionate support the event has and a campaign organised by the Brighton and Hove Motor Club led to the Speed Trials returning in 2014. Unfortunately I was unable to attend that year but was pleased to be able to get an entry for this year.

It was good to bring the Beast back to Madeira Drive. As miraculously always seems to be the case the sun shone and several thousand spectators turned up to watch what is one of the oldest motorsport events in the world.

Nadine Geary’s immensely powerful Brock Daytona Cobra Coupe. Nadine is a former owner of the Beast – which she always made go rather faster than me!

Whilst not one for the purists I rather liked Richard McCann’s Jaguar XKE / E Type series 2 with its series 1 headlights and flared wheel arches

For years John Scanlon has enetered the Speed Trials in a variety of seemingly inappropriate Bentley saloons. This year he entered his Bentley Arnage Black Label. These are fantastic cars – the last of the real Bentleys (before they became Volkswagons). Crewe built they look stunning and have the final iteration of the venerable 6.75 litre Rolls Royce V8 – this time built by Cosworth and fitted with twin turbochargers. They are rare and ludicrously cheap and if I had a barn I would fill it with good examples.

Tesla brought along a P85 which performed well but perhaps not as quickly as they thought it would.

This year Stuart Gilbert beat me to the fastest MG crown (though sadly the Benn Trophy that used to be awarded for fastest MG has been discontinued) in his ferociously quick 5.3L V8 MGB GT

Fastest Time of the Day went to crowd favourite Jim Tiller in his heavily modified 7.3L Allard J2. Jim has been modifying and competing in his Allard at the Speed Trials for nearly 50 years. This was only his second victory – the first coming in 2004.

Mexican company Vuhl entered one of their new cars for what was the first competitive outing for the brand. I suspect the car is better suited to events with corners than drag strips!

Its hard to imagine that Jim Tiller’s Allard once looked like this J2X. The smart Cooper Jaguar T33 next to it went on to win the first race at the Goodwood Revival the following weekend.

Robert Oram has been competing in his E Type at the Speed trials for many years. This year he also entered and drove the Ferrari F40 behind. A nice way to spend a day!

An unusual entry was Alan Collett’s rare ISO Rivolta GT. Like an Italian Gordon Keeble or Bristol it combines European running gear with a big US V8.

Third fastest car on the day was John Church’s standard looking Audi 80 Quattro. It was anything but being blisteringly fast. Note the portable engine cooling fan – no point wasting power and increasing weight with permanent mechanical or electric fans!

The General Lim rat rod Plymouth

Carole Torkington prepares the SBD OMS CF08 for its final run. She came within fractions of a second of beating Jim Tiller’s Allard and becoming only the second woman (after Patsy Burt in 1968) to win the event.

As per usual the event attracted an eclectic mix of vehicles.  And whilst I improved my time on previous years, running with list 1A road tyres made a class victory all but impossible.  I was, however, gratified to beat a Ferrari F40 in two of the three timed runs.

The video below shows Pierre Lequeux in his Austin Healey Sprite starting his timed run. The car has been wonderfully restored and competed at Brighton in the 60s.

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Monterey Motoring Week in California is famous for its array of top quality international motoring events, all packed into one week in August. Centred on the world-famous Pebble Beach Concourse D’Elegance there are numerous other shows, both formal and informal, together with classic and vintage racing at Laguna Seca. Apart from the lucky few able to travel to California in August, European motoring enthusiasts have not been able to experience anything similar. All that now looks to be changing with what seems to be the emergence of a “London Motoring Week” each September. In fact it is more of a “South East Motoring Week” as it encompasses events across London, Sussex, Surrey and further afield.

The undoubted highlight of London Motoring Week is the incomparable Goodwood Revival Meeting. This has been running every September since 1998. So successful and dominant is it that now other events are beginning to cluster around it. The week before the Revival sees the Salon Prive concourse and motoring lifestyle show at Syon House in London, closely followed by the Hampton Court Concourse of Elegance, The Beaulieu International Autojumble, The Brighton Speed Trials and the increasingly popular Shere Hillclimb in Surrey.

With so many fabulous events crammed into a very short space of time, motoring enthusiasts can find that difficult decisions need to be made as to which events to attend. This year I was lucky enough to attend the Revival, Salon Prive , Hampton Court and the Shere Hillclimb. I unfortunately had to turn down a place at the Brighton Speed Trials due the clash with Hampton Court and Shere.  A great shame is this year’s Speed Trials was the first to be held since the event was reinstated following a successful campaign to stop the Green dominated Brighton City Council banning it.  Reports on all the events I attended will be added shortly.

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La Ferrari and Bespoke F12 Ferrari at Salon Prive 2014

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of driving my friend Pierre Lequex’s immaculately restored Racing Sprite to the Lenham Roadhouse Cafe in Kent. From the 50s to the 70s the Cafe was a regular stopping point for rally cars on their way to Europe, particularly for British Monte Carlo Rally contestants. Coaches running between Dover and London also used to stop there and it is said that Ian Fleming wrote much of his first Bond novel whilst eating breakfast at the Cafe when travelling up from his house in Folkestone to his publisher’s office in London.

After many years as a truck stop the Cafe now has new owners who have made an effort to try and capture the custom of classic car owners who might be interested in the Cafe’s old links to rallying. Having seen an advert for the Cafe in an MG club magazine Pierre and I decided to head there early one Saturday morning for breakfast in his recently restored Sprite. Unfortunately Pierre broke his arm the week or so before our trip so could not drive. Instead he very kindly let me drive his very precious car. So his bad luck was my good fortune!

We had great weather and a fantastic trip down through the back roads of Kent to Lenham. Pierre had bought the Sprite minus it’s engine in a pretty poor condition a number of years ago. He had spent the intervening period having the car expertly restored whilst he investigated its history. He new it had been raced but he managed to find out it had competed not only in events in the UK such as the Brighton Speed Trials, but also in international events on the continent. The car is a hoot to drive as the engine is powerful and the car weighs very little – even with two passengers! You can find out more about Pierre’s fantastic car on his website http://www.cyberspot.co.uk.

Then Lenham Roadhouse Cafe is not easy to find being hidden back from the road and with no signage to alert you to its presence. Once you do find it you have to navigate a porthole filled parking area to get to the entrance-not ideal in a low-slung sportscar. The Cafe building itself has clearly seen better days but the interior has recently been repainted and the walls adorned with many of rally (and Sprite) legend John Sprinzel’s rally plates. These and the large number of accompanying photographs make the trip worthwhile. The huge breakfasts at a reasonable price are also an incentive to make a visit!

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Good news, despite the best efforts of the Green leadership of Brighton Council, the Conservative and Labour opposition members united (strange bed fellows) to approve the continuation of the historic Brighton Speed Trials. Members were impressed by the amount of support the organisers received in opposing the Green’s plans and were also swayed by the potentially adverse impact that ending of the Speed Trials would have had on the economy of Brighton. This years event will now go ahead on the 13th September and I will be driving the MG SV and trying to better the time I set in 2012. Do come and support the Brighton and Hove Motor Club who put on a terrific show.

It is commonplace for motorsport commentators to contrast with disdain modern Tilke-dromes, (Abu Dhabi and Korea), with venues with racing heritage such as Silverstone, Monza and Monaco. Certainly there is something about a venue with proper history – spectators may feel it and drivers certainly can. Driving Goodwood or Shelsey Walsh gives me a greater thrill than some modern venues such as Rockingham.

Forty years before the chequered flag first fell at Silverstone, Brighton hosted one of the first competitive motor sport events in the the UK – and one of the earliest in the world. The Speed Trials have continued in various forms, World Wars excepted, ever since. But that heritage is now under threat. Following the tragic death of Charlotte Tagg at the event in 2012 (see my blog below) the Green Party run Brighton and Hove City Council has announced that it is reviewing the future of the event. Whilst the Council say they are not motivated by ideology they have made it clear that they are no friends of the motor car. Indeed one of their spokesmen stated that such speed events had no place in “modern Brighton”.

The Beast at the Brighton Speed Trials in 2008

The Beast at the Brighton Speed Trials in 2008

I have been competing at Brighton for over 6 years. It is the only time I go to Brighton and when I do (often with my family) I have calculated I spend on average £300. Assuming similar levels of spending by the 150 or so other competitors (bearing in mind that many travelling from further away stay the night), not to mention what is spent by the 3000 or so spectators who come to watch, I would estimate that the event contributes at least £100,000 to the local economy. Given the economic climate that Brighton finds itself in, can the Council really afford to turn away such spending?

The Brighton and Hove Motor Club, the organisers of the Speed Trials, have started an e petition on the Council’s website urging the Council to support the continuation of the event. Nearly 9000 people have signed. If you are concerned about preserving one of the world’s oldest motorsport events, please add your name to the petition.

http://present.brighton-hove.gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?ID=410&RPID=11443570

I received a tremendous surprise when I saw the latest issue of the MG Car Club magazine Safety Fast. There on the cover was the Beast, my MG SV at the Brighton Speed Trials last year. I had sent in a photo to the magazine so they could put it in the “out and about” section of members photos. They obviously liked it! I was impressed how well it came out when enlarged considering I only took it with an iPhone 4.

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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.

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Charlotte and Roger, Asco Honda