politics


Last year there was much public outcry (see my past posts on the subject) when the organisers of the London to Brighton Run scrapped the traditional half way rest stop on Crawley High Street in favour of a closed to the public stop at a Honda garage on the outskirts of the town. (A Honda garage mind!  A company with no connection at all with the Run and the cars taking part. Maybe it would not have been so offensive if it had been a Peugeot, Renault or even Mercedes Benz garage).

The organisers argued that the facilities available on the High Street were inadequate for the maintenance needs and comfort of the competitors. Whilst that may have been correct it would surely have been possible to use the Honda garage for maintenance (if needed) but still have the rest stop on the atmospheric High Street?  In previous years the High Street was always packed with the public who came in their thousands to get a really good close look at the cars when they stopped. In fact the whole High Street took on a carnival atmosphere. The local radio station broadcast live from the side of the road, the local Scouts did a roaring trade in tea and bacon sandwiches and the RAF cadets sold the programmes.  The Run organisers forsook all of this for a stop on a garage forecourt where the public were excluded and were unable to see much at all.  The crews did, however, have access to a plush Harrods catering facility.. The Scouts had nowhere to sell their tea and bacon rolls and pretty soon the Cadets had noone to sell their programmes to as the few dispirited members of the public who did turn up did not stay for long.

One could not help but get the feeling the organisers of the Run had decided that the public of Crawley just did not matter. Honda presumably paid for the privilege of hosting the stop, unlike Crawley High Street. And no doubt Harrods did the same to supply the catering. The Scouts, collecting for charity, would I guess have been seen as unwelcome competition. Its not unreasonable to ask whether the organisers really needed the extra income Honda and Harrods brought.  The Run is always oversubscribed. If they had additional costs they could always have put the price up. Afteral even the cheapest of the veteran cars taking part cost over £60,000. Many are worth well into six figures. Running a veteran car is not for the impoverished.

With the Run sponsored by a “Private Bank”, and Harrods supplying the catering, the unfortunate impression created was of a bunch of plutocrats enjoying their wealth with no regard for the public. Clearly that was not the case and I am sure many of those taking part were as unhappy as the public at the axing of the old High Street stop.  It would, however, have been understandable if Crawley Borough Council had decided that the disruption to their town caused by the Run was no longer acceptable if it was not going to bring any benefits to the town.

Clearly the concerted criticism last year had some impact on the organisers of the Run as this year they announced that the Run would once again pass down the High Street. The Honda garage would still host the rest stop but cars would have to stop at a check point on the High Street. It was hoped some would choose to take their rest stop on the High Street too and space was set aside for them to do so.  To show commitment to the event the Mayor of Crawley very gamely sat in her wheel chair by the check point to greet the cars as they drove down the High Street. Sadly very few stopped to allow the public to get a close look at them. This was perhaps understandable as if a car had just stopped at Honda they would lose too much time stopping again so close by. In addition the marshals seemed to signal all approaching cars to stop at the Honda garage so many presumably thought they had no choice in the matter.  Still, the Scouts, Cadets and the public were back in force on the High Street, clearly to the delight of many of the passing crews.  Maybe next year more will stop on the High Street like in the past. Or maybe the organisers will finally appreciate that without public support even long running events like the London to Brighton Run will face an uncertain future.

Almost how it used to be. Veteran Cars return to Crawley High Street. George Hudson’s US built 1903 8hp Flint leads Malcolm Ginn’s powerful 24hp 1903 Darracq to the time check point.

A big thank you to Tam Large and Mike Sewell who stopped their 1900 Clement on the High Street for a coffee and cake break. Whether they forsook the Harrods hospitality at the Honda garage I don’t know but theirs was the only car to stop for a break on the High Street in the hour I spent there. As such theirs was the only car that the public had an opportunity to get a good look at during that time.

One of the oldest cars on the run, the 1897 cart wheel clad 6hp Panhard Et Levassor of Roy Tubby. They were making very good time at this point.

Dick Shepphard’s 1901 7hp Panhard Et Levassor stops at the check point closely followed by the Pownall / Dimbelebe 1901 4.5hp De Dion Bouton vis a vis. The Mayor of Crawley Chris Cheshire looks on from the left. She gamely sat out in the cold greeting all the cars as they came through the High Street.

 

Thomas Hill driving the Caister Castle Trust’s 1902 12hp Panhard Et Levassor. The chap in the suit in the back looks somewhat underdressed!

 

Robin Morrison has a full crew for his 10hp 1904 Cadillac

 

Douglas Pope’s 1 cylinder 3.5hp 1900 New Orleans. Despite the name, this little voiturette was a Belgian design made under licence in Orleans Road, Twickenham!

 

Allan White’s very purposeful looking twin cylinder 12hp Renault Tonneau

 

The Farley’s little 1902 5hp Peugeot

 

Another Renault, Ron Walker’s 7.5hp racing two seater. The Renault F1 jackets are a nice touch for what must be one of the world’s oldest racing cars. And Renault still race 115 years on – where will Red Bull be 115 years from now?

 

Mary Crofton piloting the family De Dion Bouton 1900 4.5hp vis a vis.

 

Brian Moore driving another handsome and powerful 16hp Panhard Et Levassor, this one from 1902.

 

Geoffrey Grime’s rare 10hp Gladiator. Made in France, 80% of the cars produced were sold in the UK.

 

One of the ubiquitous Curved Dash Oldsmobiles on the run. This is Adam Barber’s 1903 model. Rugged and reliable they are a great entry level veteran car.

 

Not quite Lewis Hamilton’s car! This is the 1898 3.5hp Benz Dogcart of Nigel Safe being driven by Gordon Cobbold.

 

Flying the flag (or two) for Old Blighty is Rob Aylott in his 1903 5hp Humberette

 

Its easy to forget Scotland has a long history of making cars. Long before the benighted Linwood Imps and Avengers, Argyll also built cars near Glasgow. This is the 1901 5hp Argyll of Michael Hilditch. As with Rootes 70 years later, Argyll found out the hard way that economic success did not always follow initial enthusiasm..

 

Dirk Docx in the 1904 6hp Siddeley of Andre Convents

 

A rare German 1901 4.5hp Adler vis a , this one belonging to John Hankin

 

Philip Oldman looks the part as he navigates his 1902 15hp Mors up the High Street. 4 cylinders and a steering wheel – its almost modern!

 

Where are the horses? Ron Mellowship’s 1898 5hp Bergmann

Matthew Pellett on a 1899 De Dion Bouton Tricycle. It was these little trikes that ignited the public’s interest in motor sport. The first circuit motor races held were races for these trikes.

A non motorised interloper. This Penny Farthing bike was not going from London to Brighton!

 

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The excellent Porsche 919 Hybrids that triumphed at Le Mans this year. Will they be back next year?

Leaving aside the likely impact of Dieselgate on Wolfsburg and the wider German economy,  the crisis rocking VW Group is likely to have a significant impact on their motorsport programmes and aspirations.  Will the money still be there to fund Audi, Bentley and Porsche works teams? Particularly the hugely expensive Le Mans hybrid racers?  If the Audi Le Mans programme was designed to show the excellence of that company’s diesel and hybrid engineering technology, how can it possibly continue when it and its parent have been exposed as using the excellence of their engineering to cheat the public and the regulators?  And if Porsche and Audi pull out of WEC racing will other manufacturers do likewise?
Just before Dieselgate broke there was speculation in the motorsport press that VW were about to buy into Red Bull.  The deal would have made sense. Red Bull have fallen out with Renault and Mercedes will not supply them with engines. The thought of only being able to run obsolescent Ferrari engines next year was understandably unappealing. A deal with VW would have allowed Red Bull access to VW Group’s proven hybrid technology  – rebranding as Red Bull Audi would have been a small price to pay.  Such a deal is now surely dead in the water. There will be no money to spare at VW Group for a luxury like a Formula 1 team.  And without such a deal will we see Red Bull and Toro Rosso on next year’s grid? I think there is a real risk that we will not.

VW Group’s admission that they deliberately and fraudulently installed software in c11 million of their diesel cars to fool emissions testers is startling. We are now sadly used to big business issuing mea culpa statements due to the activities of rogue employees (banks and the fixing of LIBOR rates) , refusals to admit defects in their products (Toyota) or plain negligence (BP in the Gulf of Mexico) but never before have we seen one of the biggest companies in the world admit (but only after being caught) to defrauding their customers and the regulators.

The legal impact on VW will be disastrous. The key issue will be less the fraud in terms of co2 emissions and fuel economy (many do not care about the former and have long believed the latter to be manipulated) but rather it is the issue of NOX emissions that may kill VW.  This is primarily because NOX emissions are believed to be responsible for many fatalities worldwide. As such, fines in the U.S. alone will amount to billions. A number of possibly quite senior people will go to prison. I strongly suspect VW will only survive if the German government intervenes and even then I expect we will see the company broken up.

Whilst it is possible to shed tears for the innocent workers of VW Group surely there can be no sympathy at all for a company that deliberately pursued a fraud that it knew would contribute to the deaths of thousands?

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.

In the week leading up to the London to Brighton veteran car run, the organisers, the Royal Automobile Club, hold a number of motoring events in London including a motoring forum at the RAC club house in Pall Mall.  This year the guest of honour was former Ferrari and Benetton team manager Ross Brawn.  As well as having won manufacturer F1 World Championships with both those teams Brawn has the unusual distinction of having won the same title with his eponymous team in their first year of operation. Until recently he also managed the Mercedes Benz team following their purchase of a majority interest in Team Brawn in 2009.

After struggling for a couple of years the Mercedes team has now won this years Formula One manufacturers title. Brawn expressed his pride in having contributed to the team’s success. He said winning the title was harder than he thought it would be as Mercedes-Benz were initially unwilling to invest in the team. Brawn pointed out that Red Bull spent over £200 million each year to win each of their recent titles . Brawn said that unfortunately Formula One was like that nowadays . Investing a lot of money was not a guarantee of success but not investing enough money was a guarantee of failure .

The cost of running a successful Formula One campaign was very high and could not be met, even for the large teams, by the income they received from the commercial rights holder. Sponsorship could close the gap to some degree but, due to the recent recession, this was not as plentiful as before. As such the manufacturers have an advantage today because they are able to support their race teams from other resources and also supply engines to other teams which generate an income. The complex hybrid engines being used this year are over twice as expensive as last year’s engines and as such Brawn believed the cost of such new technology has undoubtedly had a negative impact on the smaller teams.

When asked what was the greatest challenge of his time at Mercedes-Benz Brawn said it was getting them to think as a team. The engine guys had initially been sceptical of a Mercedes-Benz team as they already had a good working relationship with a successful team – McLaren.  Getting the engine guys and the chassis guys to think together on a “one-car “basis was the key to the current success of the team.

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Ross Brawn at the RAC Motoring Forum

When asked about his impressions of Michael Schumacher Brawn said that he first came across Schumacher when Brawn was working for the Jaguar sports car team at the end of the 80’s. At the time Schumacher was racing for the Mercedes sports car team and Brawn and Tom Walkinshaw were very impressed with Schumacher as he was the only driver at the time who threatened the dominance of the Jaguar sports cars.

When Walkinshaw and Brawn were recruited to Benetton with Briatore it was Tom Walkinshaw who approached Schumacher and poached him from Jordan, not Briatore who often claimed the credit for what turned out to be a vital hire.  Schumacher quickly established himself as a very impressive driver who worked very hard and was always available for testing, unlike some of his colleagues. brawn said he was a great team player who took a real interest in all members of the team. He knew the names of all the mechanics and never criticised the team.

When asked which current drivers he rated Brawn tactfully mentioned Hamilton and Rosberg but also expressed admiration for Alonso. Alonso was one of those drivers able to get the best out of any car in any circumstance.  Brawn contrasted this with Vettel’s performance this year where he’s been consistently outshone by his teammate.

Asked what he thought about double points being awarded to the winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix he said he thought it was a “stupid idea”. Brawn was firmly of the view that the most consistent driver of the year should win the championship – it should not be decided on such gimmicks at the last race of the season.

Currently “retired” Brawn was due to take part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in his recently acquired 1904 Wilson Pilcher.

The private wheel clamping business was notorious for attracting criminals who would clamp people parking on private property then only release their cars after extortionate fines had been paid. The practice became so widespread that eventually the Government banned private firms from clamping cars. So imagine my surprise when I saw a car clamped in the car park of Surbiton station. It seems that private clampers are still allowed to prey on motorists in station car parks. I was horrified when I saw the release fee. Take a close look yourself . Yes that’s correct! There is no missing decimal point. In the past clamping like this was carried out by small dodgy landowners employing equally dodgy clampers. South West Trains, who own the car park, are a large company and should know better than to deal with clampers such as CP Plus Limited who “manage” the car park for them and impose these unfair fines on an unwary public.

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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