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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I love cars, whether they are steam powered old crocs from the Victorian era or modern supercars. I am, however, very aware that many people do not share my passion. Indeed there are many who have an irrational hatred for cars. The recent attempt by Green Party run Brighton Council to cancel the city’s famous 100-year-old speed trials is a manifestation of that.  As such it is imperative that those organising motoring events give no excuse to the car haters to further restrict our hobby.

I have been watching the London to Brighton veteran car run for many years. On the relevant Sunday in November I get up early, braving drizzle and cold, and head to the High Street in Crawley, Sussex,  the halfway stop for the veteran cars on the run from Hyde Park in London to Madeira Drive in Brighton.  Crawley is an uninspiring new town built around an old mediaeval core centred on the High Street. The town has suffered in the last decade or two, but has recently made a significant effort to regenerate its town centre. One of its showcase events has long been the London to Brighton run.  In years past the council has shut off traffic to the High Street allowing the veteran cars to pull up in front of the old George Hotel where the crews were able to take a well earned break and warm themselves up with coffee and hot chocolate. There was always  plenty of room for the public to come and watch, which they did in their hundreds. In addition the local scout troop set up a tea tent and served good value bacon sandwiches, earning funds for themselves and local charities and at the same time providing spectators with something hot on a usually bitterly cold day. The local radio station would also attend to broadcast live from high street and there was a real feeling of community engagement and pride in the event. The old cars looked great hissing and clanking past the medieval buildings and off on their journey to the South.

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The stop at Crawley as it used to be. Contrast with the image of the Honda garage below from this year.

 

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Good views for the public in previous years.

 

 

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The Scouts tea tent from previous years – great bacon sandwiches too!

I was horrified to find that this year the run would not be stopping on the High Street in Crawley. Instead it was stopping on the outskirts of Crawley at a Honda dealership. From there the cars would drive around the edge of Crawley bypassing the High Street. The local Council, MP and residents were naturally upset. I asked the RAC (who organise the run) what had caused the change. The cynical view of certain observers was that Honda as a sponsor had demanded more for their sponsorship – or had upped the level of their support. This was not denied and it was argued that without sponsor support the run could not happen.  Given that even the cheapest cars on the run now sell for over £60k I am not convinced that additional money from sponsors is that necessary. Putting the entry cost up would surely not deter too many of the well heeled owners for whom the annual run is often the only time they drive their veteran cars.  The RAC also argued that the facilities at the George Hotel were no longer adequate for the crews. Harrods, a new sponsor last year, had provided the catering from a gazebo and now presumably wanted better facilities.  This year they were able to take over all of the inside of the Honda showroom and provide covered seating for the crews. Given how poor the weather became on the day I expect this was welcome. But couldn’t a better temporary facility have been provided in the High Street?  Another argument put forward to support the change of location was the need for undercover areas for people to work on their cars.  Again I can see why that would be vital but the fact is a garage was always made available to crews in need of help on the approach to the town.

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Crawley half way stop 2014. Not quite the Power of Dreams..

When I dutifully made my way to Crawley on the Sunday morning for the Run the net result of the changes to the stop off point were worse then I had expected. There was very little space for spectators and as a result numbers were substantially down. The Scouts were no longer able to sell their tea and bacon sandwiches and as a result a vital piece of engagement with the community had been lost. More practically, there were no refreshments at all for the spectators who were not permitted to visit the Harrods indoor facility. I met a party of Dutch and Belgian tourists who travel to the UK every year to see the run. They were very disappointed with the change and said they would not be coming back to Crawley. Since they had all stayed the night in a hotel in the town centre, the change will therefore also have a tangibly negative impact on the financial rewards the Run brings to the town. The overwhelming feeling amongst spectators I spoke to was that the London to Brighton Run appeared to have turned its back on Crawley.

The veteran car run does cause inconvenience to locals as roads are shut and traffic delayed and diverted. I would not be at all surprised if the council in Crawley decide to withdraw their support for the Run given the Run seems to have withdrawn its support of Crawley.

Whilst attending the RAC Motoring Forum I had the pleasure of bumping into Wayne Carini of US TV show, Chasing Classic Cars. Wayne was in the UK to take part in his first London to Brighton veteran car run.  Accompanied by a camera crew, he was going to be driving an early Ford for an episode of the new series of his show. We had a good chat about his excellent show and the challenge he was likely to face getting his car to Brighton. A thoroughly pleasant guy, I look forward to seeing how he got on.

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With the excellent Wayne Carini.

 

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.