My racing season kicked off with a great meeting at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northamptonshire. Rockingham is the UK’s only banked speedway and was constructed in the nineties with public funds on the site of a closed down steel works. The intention was to bring Indycar and NASCAR racing to the UK. In the end the circuit only hosted a couple of races before it was realised that the economics of promoting those series in the UK did not work. However a sports car circuit was constructed in the middle of the track and Rockingham now hosts a variety of different series including the BTCC.

The sports car circuit is fantastic – very long with a wide variety of technically challenging corners. It also uses two sides of the oval plus Turn 2, one of the long banked corners. As you zoom along the straight towards the banking at Turn 2 you pass the huge grandstands that dominate the north side of the track and with a bit of imagination you can get some idea of what it must be like to head towards Turn 1 at Indianapolis or Daytona! You are supposed to take the corner flat out – I’m afraid to say I didn’t have the guts for that and lifted every time. I was still touching 110mph down the straight after the Turn – as fast as I go along the Lavant Straight at Goodwood.

We were very lucky with the weather for such an early fixture with a dry track and plenty of sun. The BARC organised the event, the first ever sprint at Rockingham. Because of that there was a fantastic turnout of officials and marshals who ensured the whole event ran like clockwork. We had two practice and three timed runs and I improved my times each run. My final time was respectable but I lost time on Turn 2 and the final corner that I took much too slowly. So room for improvement next year!

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The Beast under proper Indycar race position tower.

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Towering grandstands , fast straight and pits. Daytona? No, Rockingham..

 

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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.

I took the Beast to Silverstone in June for the MGCC main international event. I was competing in the sprint on the Stowe Circuit and had high hopes of improving my performance after my appalling time at Crystal Palace. The Stowe Circuit has some good straights and I thought that would help me to at least better the times I had set there a few years previously in my little MGF. The result was massively disappointing. Although there were some good straights the Circuit also has a lot of slowish corners that I struggled to get right. My best time was some 4 seconds slower than my time in the MGF. It should have been 3 or 4 seconds faster especially as this time round there was one less chicane!

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The following weekend I was racing at the Gurston Down Hillclimb near Salisbury. Gurston is a fantastic hill and one of my favourite events of the year. It’s quite fast with a challenging series of corners in the middle and some steep gradients. The paddock is in a farm yard and the whole event is run with fantastic precision. You can even get a great breakfast at the startline cafe which has a great view of the hill. My expectations were very low but much to my surprise I did relatively well. Whilst still a couple of seconds behind the times I had set in my MGF the gap was not so large and I managed to at least be quicker than the other MGFs and TFs. I was still a couple of seconds slower than a time set by previous owner Nadine but I know how quick she is so I was not too disappointed! Next event should be a return to Goodwood in August where I should hopefully improve on the times I set at Easter.

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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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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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