Today I should have been taking part in the last event of my season, a sprint at Castle Coombe Race Circuit. Unfortunately I left my application too late and did not get an entry for what is always an oversubscribed event.  Its a real shame as the SV is perfectly suited to fast circuits like Coombe and I am sure I would have done quite well.

Looking back over the season I can see some improvement in my driving as I slowly got use to the car. Sprints and hill climbs are not like circuit racing – you get far less track time and as such it takes longer to learn the peculiarities of car.  Whilst I had two coaching sessions at Bruntingthorpe proving ground I suspect I should have done some track days – there is no substitute for track time. Still, any improvement is good and if I can get a couple of track days in before next season begins I should do a lot better in the championship that I race in, the MG Car Club Luffield Speed Championship.  Below are some photos from the season.

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On the start line at the Farnborough and District Motor Club’s Rushmoor Sprint, Aldershot, April.

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At the splendid Sevenoaks and District Motor Club Crystal Palace Sprint, London’s only competitive motor sport event.

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At the Brighton and Hove Motor Club’s Goodwood Sprint, August. The mocked up Earl’s Court building was being prepared for the Goodwood Revival Meeting in September.

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Exiting the chicane at Goodwood.Image

Fast grey British engineering genius, and the Harrier isn’t too bad either. Bruntingthorpre Proving Ground, September.

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At speed at Prescott Hillclimb

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In the paddock at Prescott Hillclimb, October. The Beast is parked next to a new works MG3.

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Rolls Royce Wraith, Geneva Motor Show, March 2013

Rolls Royce Wraith, Geneva Motor Show, March 2013

A few years ago I visited the Rolls Royce factory at Goodwood. It was hard not to be impressed by architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw’s futuristic semi subterranean building which looks more like a bond villain’s lair than a car factory. Hidden partially underground at the behest of the local planners it still manages to be light and airy. The quality of the construction matches the quality of the architecture – the plant truly is a triumph of British architectural, engineering and construction know how. Such a shame then that, on touring the interior, it soon became apparent that what was being built there were not Rolls Royces but BMWs.

At the time the range was limited to the huge slab sided Phantom. Not an unattractive car it is nevertheless designed and engineered in Munich, where the body and all the major components (engine, transmission, power train) are also made. The plant at Goodwood merely assembles the parts, and paints and trims out the shells. That’s not to say no craftsmanship is employed at Goodwood. The quality of finish on the trim, the leather working and marquetry is exceptional. But depressingly all the names of the managers of each of the key works stages (paint shop, assembly etc) are German.

A sporting Rolls?

A sporting Rolls?

Bit I suppose we must not grumble. At least the brand lives on in motor car manufacture and keeps Britons in jobs. Bit it is odd that when Jaguar are lambasted for being Indian owned and MG for being Chinese owned, there is far less criticism of RR and Bentley. Unlike Jaguar and MG, all modern Rolls’ and Bentley’s are largely designed and engineered overseas with little of the “clever” work or indeed manufacturing of the key components being undertaken in the UK. An MG 3 is more of a British car than a Rolls Royce Phantom.

A big Austrian tries a big German... Arnie gets the measure of the Wraith

A big Austrian tries a big German… Arnie gets the measure of the Wraith

Whilst the Phantom has sold well BMW have widened the range to include first the cheaper Ghost and now the fast backed Wraith. It’s clear the Wraith is intended to be a car driven by its owner rather than a chauffeur. It even has (shock) sporting pretensions. It has a shorter wheel base than the other cars in the range, firmer damping and an engine more powerful than that in a McLaren MP4-12c. I first saw the Wraith when it was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March. It’s a fantastic looking car – far more imposing than the Ghost on which it is based. There is even decent headroom in the back. If I was in the market for a super luxury German sports coupe I would buy one. But remember this is not really a Rolls. If you want a well engineered British made product worthy to wear the Rolls Royce badge you need to be in the market for aero engines…..

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Ghastly Ghost, compare with classy paint job behind

Beast’s claim to fame is being the oldest surviving production MG SV. She was a works car and was used for promotion work when the car was launched in 2003. That year she was prepared for the Goodwood Festival of Speed and spent the weekend in the supercar paddock and being driven up the hill by luminaries such as Australian multiple F1 champion Sir Jack Brabham and the designer of the car (and the McLaren F1) Peter Stevens. So when earlier this year the Goodwood Road Racing Club announced that there was to be a new area of reserved parking at the Festival of Speed for visiting supercars I was determined that the Beast should have the chance to mix it with the Ferraris, Lambos and other exotica. The organisers were supportive and allocated me a ticket when they found out the Beast would be revisiting the Festival nearly 10 years to the day since she was last there. Getting a ticket was not as easy as it sounds as the organisers had a list of what they thought of as supercars and MGs were not on it! Only two door Ferraris were allowed, and amongst the volume brands only Jag XJ220’s (no other Jags) only Lotus Esprits and Evora S, 911’s but for this year only, and only SLS Mercs (no AMGs). So pretty exclusive company!

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The Beast attracted lots of attention, indeed more than the McLaren MP4 12 c and Ferrari V12 parked next to it. In fact there were 23 McLarens present so they were considerably more common than the MG! Surprisingly there was only two Ferrari 458’s when I had been led to believe that they were, when compared to the McLaren, the better car. Clearly the Festival crowd are a patriotic bunch.

McLarens – any colour as long as its orange..

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As it was the 50th anniversary of the 911 there were plenty of Stuttgart’s finest. Next year its said they won’t be allowed amongst the supercars but this year the super car car park would have looked a bit empty without them so it would not surprise me if they get a reprieve.

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I suspect the attention focused on the Beast was the result of her striking looks and the fact she is such a rare car. One of her admirers turned out to be someone who had worked for the Isle of Wight company who had made the carbon fibre blanks used to construct the bodywork of the car. The Beast was the first complete SV he had seen.

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Getting to know the foibles of a new car is never the easiest thing to do in racing. It’s made all the harder in sprinting and hill climbing as the amount of track time you have is very limited. To try and give myself a head start this season I took the Beast, my MG SV, to Bruntingthorpe airfield in Leicestershire for a day’s tuition with experienced driving coach Mark Hales. He spent a most enjoyable day trying to give me a feel for driving the car at speed and around corners. Despite Mark’s excellent tuition I did not come away feeling confident when faced with the prospect of the Goodwood Road Racing Club’s Easter Monday Sprit the following weekend. As it was the car performed well with lots of grip and good brakes. It seemed suited to a fast circuit like Goodwood even if I was not! I had great trouble getting the car away from the line. I just sat there spinning the wheels for what seemed like ages. Starting in second gear was too slow but the car has such mighty torque it even managed to spin the wheels changing up to third. The end result was a disappointing time and final place. In fact I was significantly slower around the track than I have been in the past in my much less powerful MGF. Still, the car attracted a lot of interest and I was interviewed by One Forty One, the Goodwood Club website and TV channel. The interview can be found on You Tube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nUdMmF7dvw

In the pits at Goodwood

In the pits at Goodwood

Following the disappointment of Goodwood, my next outing was at the Farnborough and District Motor Club Dimanche Sprint at Rushmoor Arena near Farnborough. Its a relatively tight course but one I know well. Things, however, started badly. The wet weather made the track treacherous and at the first corner, a slow 90 degree right, I span thankfully without hitting anything. My embarrassment was relatively short lived as both the following cars did the same! As the day wore on and the track dried out my times got quicker and in the end I improved from last in class to a respectable 4th with only Porsches and Caterhams ahead of me. part of my improvement was down to finally getting the hang of getting away from the line without spinning the tyres. The knack is to merely drive off like you are slowly leaving some traffic lights and then to pile on the power once a fair bit of momentum has been obtained.

A bleak Aldershot morning

A bleak Aldershot morning

Buoyed up by my performance at Rushmoor I was looking forward to the Crystal Palace Sprint on the May Bank Holiday weekend. This is one of my favourite events and I have driven at every one since motor racing returned to the Palace in 2009. It’s a fantastic event – the only motor racing event in London. It’s little know that the the first ever motor race in the UK took place at Crystal Palace in 1899. Racing continued in various forms both before and after the Great War. In 1936 a new purpose built circuit was inaugurated but it was only used for three years before the Second World War brought all Motorsport in the UK to an end. After the War racing returned in 1953 on a new longer and faster circuit. Whilst never the host to an F1 race, F2 races attracted all the stars of the day from Jochen Rindt to James Hunt and Niki Lauda. In its later years the circuit also hosted fast and close saloon car races and attracted up to 60,000 spectators. As cars got faster the track became more dangerous. There was virtually no run off and average lap speeds by the early seventies were over 100mph. Racing came to an end in 1972 and the course reverted to park land. The Sevenoaks and District Motor Club staged a couple of sprints on part of the old circuit in the late nineties but the local council refused to allow these to continue after the millennium. The resurrection of motor racing at the Palace in 2009 was agin organised by the Sevenoaks Club and h proved a massive success. Held over two days it has for four years now been blessed with great weather and big crowds of over 5000. The sprint attracts over one hundred entrants on each day and as well the racing there are car displays, trade stands, kids activities and catering – all in a pleasant park setting.

Motorsport at the Palace

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At Crystal Palace I found myself in a large class of 20 cars of various types ranging from Subaru Imprezzas to a Suzuki Cappuccino. And I did terribly. The course was very tight and ran partly on the old pre War circuit and then up to the frighteningly narrow North Tower bend. This has negative camber and is surrounded by banks and trees. When it was part of the original race circuit it was 25 foot wide, now it’s less than half that. Grip was not a problem, gearing was. It was too fast to go round in first but changing into second lost too much time. I just could not get it right and finished a humiliating 18th in class beaten even by the diminutive Suzuki! In fact I ended up 30% slower than the winning four wheel drive Subaru. A real shame as it’s a great event and I wanted to do better.

The Beast with victorious Subaru Imprezza.

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There were some interesting cars at the Palace. The Chaparral sports racer below, for example, look at the pipes on that!

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Pre War cars were out in force including this very smart Amilcar and this Riley exiting the first corner.

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Beautiful Fiat Balilla with iconic Crystal Palace transmitter.

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Over forty years apart, Jacky Ickx in the winners Crayford Cortina convertible 1967 and the car, back at the Palace this year.

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MP4 at the RAC – Spring 2012

Recently I had the pleasure of a tour of McLaren’s slightly sinister technology centre at Woking and the opportunity to test drive the latest version of the MP4 at Goodwood and on the roads of the South Downs.

When it was first announced I was excited about a British super car to rival Ferrari. And, at approximately £120,000, I could (with some financial engineering that would make my prudent father choke on his Lidl cornflakes) even dream of owning one.

First impressions were favourable – the MP4 is a fine looking car, particularly in McLaren orange. The stunning curves and compact lines ooze quality and McLaren’s famous attention to detail.  Even before I drove the car I put my name down as a potential customer. But then the Ferrari 458 was launched and McLaren decided to increase the price of the MP4 to match that of the Ferrari – some £170,000 plus. That put the car beyond me and made me wonder if McLaren’s attempt to compete with the Ferrari was wise.

The famously fast Goodwood circuit was the perfect place to test the car’s performance. Despite the insertion of two additional chicanes, the sheer speed of the MP4 was still enough to scare me. Acceleration was brutal, cornering sharp and the brakes superb. Handling was sublime. Not once did the car feel unbalanced even when my journeyman attempts at hard cornering caused the instructor accompanying me to wince. So on the track or at full chat the MP4 is a genuine super car.

But for a car to be a good super car it needs to be more than just dynamically good. As I drove an MP4 around the country lanes near Goodwood the McLaren marketing guy sat at my side assured me that the MP4 was a car you could live with every day. He selected (through a couple of neat and simple knobs on the dash) “normal” suspension and throttle settings and set the car’s gear box to full automatic.  It pootled around quite well but we both knew that no one would pay £170,000 for a car then take it to Tesco. And even if you did you would not be able to get out due to those smart gull wing doors banging the cars next to you. When I was driving the MP4 it wasn’t neighbouring cars that were being clobbered by the doors but my head every time I bent myself into the driver’s seat. I’m only in my forties but after getting in and out of the MP4 all day, I felt several decades older.  Whilst I expect that the MP4 does in comfort mode (or whatever it is called) have a more compliant ride than other super cars, compared to a GT it still feels harsh. This is not a car you would want to drive to the South of France.

But with a super car you don’t really want to drive to the shops, or to the South of France, or do anything sensible. You want to hare around, impress your friends and demonstrate your taste and wealth. Does the MP4 do the trick? Its a fine looking car but (and its been said before) it lacks the drama and charisma of the Ferrari 458. In addition, and crucially, when not on the track it sounds anaemic, like a Kia with a broken exhaust pipe. How could McLaren not have noticed this? McLaren already have to overcome the handicap of a brand lacking the virile rosso glamour of the prancing horse. Pricing the MP4 at the same level as the 458 was brave but undoubtedly leads customers to compare the two cars. By all accounts, the MP4 has the edge over the 458 dynamically. But I suspect to many potential customers that won’t be of overriding importance. For them the 458 will  win the battle on looks, sound and the glamour of that famous badge.

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Bet Greenpeace love the plate..

Welcome to morewheelspin, a blog dedicated to all things motoring related.  In particular this blog will focus on modern cars and manufactures, motorsport (including F1), and the classic car scene. It will catalogue my various struggles in keeping my fleet of cars (ranging from a new Jaguar XKR to a 1952 MG racing saloon) fettled and road and track ready. In the meantime here is a photo of the great Sir Stirling Moss, reunited after 50 years with his Goodwood TT winning DBR1. I hope you enjoy visiting morewheelspin.

Sir Stirling Moss, Aston Martin DBR1, Goodwood 2009