Early Winter 2017

The hill and sprint season is now complete, the clocks 'going back' one hour on the last weekend in October heralding the effective end of 2017 speed events although there were the odd few over the following weekends. Finishing my season early with the Prescott American and Classic weekend I missed several opportunities – the following weekend there were Curborough Sprints on the Saturday and Sunday and then a weekend at Anglesey Circuit also welcoming the National Sprint Championship. On the 21st of October Bristol Pegasus MC held their sprint at Castle Coombe although no open wheel cars were invited and on the Guy Fawkes weekend the FN/BMW sprint at Goodwood on the 4th November. This time of year can be mixed from the weather perspective although the recent weekends have been fine enough for dry track conditions, if rather cold. 

Early in October there was a classic race meeting at Castle Combe which made a pleasant outing which I combined with a little shopping at Merlin Motorsport whose shop is in the paddock. Clearly a successful day for the organisers with large crowds, both in the paddock and round the track, entertained with several races for sports cars plus Juniors, 500s and vintage. In addition, demo runs by cars displayed in the paddock which included the Bronson Scarab, powered by Offenhauser, Mason's 1970 ex-works Ferrari 512S, 1974 Hesketh 308 ex-Hunt, 1977 FW06 Williams ex-Jones and the Lotus Judd driven by Nelson Piquet in 1989. Several F5000 cars including a McLaren M10B and the Harrier and amongst other cars a pretty F3 Lotus 59 and the Joe & David Fry renovated Freikaiserwagen. Apart from this there were plenty of car clubs with their displays and walking round the track was a pleasure with plenty to see on this rather chilly although dry afternoon. 

Conditions not unlike a fortnight later when Bristol Pegasus MC held their annual Castle Combe Sprint, seemingly a success with a full entry of enclosed wheel cars, single seaters not wanted or indeed needed. I arrived mid-morning,halfway through the practice runs and the track was drying well with a very strong breeze, rain forecast later in the day. By way of contrast to a fortnight earlier there were few spectators round the track on which drivers were behaving sensibly, for this was a single lap affair and little time for tyres to warm. Starting from the marshalling area exit drivers had a full lap with the finish line exiting Camp Corner, drivers then doing a 180 to enter the marshalling area once again. Cars were run in batches of 4 which seemed to work well enough, the programme moving smoothly with few delays. I've spectated at the November Goodwood Sprint once in the past and despite the time of year might consider entering next year as it's a great track to drive.


In the meantime I've started on various jobs around the Ensign although nothing is major. Cleaning and lubricating as usual, looking for damage and signs of excess wear, really much of what one does on a regular basis throughout the season. I'd quickly established the reason that the cooling water level have been falling, a pin hole leak in one radiator and a new one has been ordered. The Webers have been removed for examination and cleaning and nothing amiss although I planned replacing the internal butterfly return springs which can only be accessed on the bench. As it turned out one was broken, the loop at one end sheered, luckily falling into the large tray I was using so I knew it was not lurking somewhere in the carburetor. I'd not noticed any alteration to the operation of the throttles so the external return springs were doing their job. Another choice is to remove these internal springs and rely on the external return springs alone. Otherwise two of the securing nuts sized onto their studs, easily resolved. Reassembling I treated the Webers to new Misab manifold washers and Warner grommets and plates, not overdue as the originals looked tired although no evidence of air leaks. I expect this will have upset the carb balance and adjustment but that can be dealt with later. 

The liquids have been drained, petrol easily through a drain plug beneath the Ensign and nothing nasty there. The rear mounted oil tank is easy; either remove the bottom hose and screw on a blank to remove the tank complete, or let the oil drain into a tray. The latter is best for season end as I then spin off the oil filter and rotate the engine on the starter motor, clearing oil from the sump. The oil looked dirty as might be expected, although nothing else apparent. I know I should do this with the oil hot but circumstances are never right, short of draining the system after the last run at an event which is rarely practical. 

The Ensign now awaits a new radiator before I can run up the engine and adjust the Webers. Everything's tucked away for the winter with the Ensign and Mallock in the workshop with more space as I've had a serious clear out. The transporter's off the road, moved into one of our driveways and, for the first time in months, a thorough clean both inside and out. In the next few weeks I'll examine the suspension and underside although there's nothing to suggest problems. A job for a warm and dry day!

Prescott American Classic 30th September & 1st October 2017

A second year for me at this busy weekend of Americana with music, song and dance, the motorcycle Wall of Death in the paddock, even the Prescott wall of death around Semi Circle. I decided to try and stay relaxed about the parking and congestion and just enjoy the sport, to drive as quickly as I could, taking pleasure from my little F3 race car which, back in the day, I'd never image having the opportunity to drive. Perspective was refreshed a week ago with back to back TV on Stewart, Hawthorn, Hill and Clark and it's appropriate to consider that Jackie is the only one who survives today. Always doing other things on Saturdays the box stayed live and I dipped in and out – finishing up rather sad - these were my times. But less of the past, song and dance in Gloucestershire was the action this weekend. 

The Ensign was delivered on Friday morn, simple although the empty paddock was wet, like the trailer park off the side entry lane and anyone without 4WD was in for trouble. Throughout the week there had been a miserable weekend weather forecast; apparently the remains of those destructive Caribbean hurricanes were heading our way. I walked the hill and there were no particular surprises although odd green patches which seemed unusual at the end of the summer. I refreshed my brain about Orchard, the fastest bit of the track although this is relative as the Ensign's best through the preceding speed trap is 77mph.  

Curiously relaxed I headed north early on Saturday morning, the atmosphere grey, wet and uninviting as I entered the side road at Prescott where a traffic jam had developed, at 7.15am no less! I gather the staff on the 'gate' were asking for passes from competitors entering the paddock, although they had not been posted! Eventually I sneaked the Audi into the mud park and walked into the venue with my bags, successfully sneaking behind a van to avoid inspection of my nonexistent pass. After that it was easy with the Ensign parked and ready to go, time for a cup of coffee and then the usual signing on, a driver briefing which they like to do here, then the scrutineers. The Ensign was in the race car class for members of invited clubs, irrespective of capacity with a mix of OMS, Force, Formula Fords and James Baxter's refreshed ex-Tony Marsh 2.5litre Gould GR55, refinished in a pleasant shade of maroon, this arriving in a vast pantechnicon which somehow found a parking space. A truly magnificent 5.7litre GN based vintage special with a Gipsy aero engine was parked beside the Ensign and it was interesting to hear the story of its evolution. The Harrison family had their 1980 Tolman with a 2litre Hart that was at Classic Shelsley, sidelined today with mechanical issues. The 1966 Cooper Daimler V8 was spluttering on Saturday although someone looked at the spark plugs on Sunday and things improved – amazing what a bit of preparation achieves. Our class were parked on the wet grass, with chosen exceptions on the tarmac, as usual Prescott's paddock layout verging on the chaotic   

This being the American weekend the place was naturally packed with American cars of vary ages, modifications, condition – in my eyes varying from the superb to the downright nasty. Plenty of bikes as well and of actual interest, a Penske PC22 with, apparently, it's correct 790bph Ilmor 265C engine – certainly a devastating package as it left the start on several demonstration runs over the weekend, opening the hill on Sunday although only rounding Ettores and back to the paddock. Like many of cars here it was not subject to Prescott's paranoid concern about vehicle noise, unlike competitors who were subject to the usual statutory noise check, which seemed a trifle pointless. However, the whole point of this was to have a large car show enticing lots of spectators and despite the poor weather I suspect this worked for the Bugatti Owners Club. Probably more spectators than the Midland Automobile Club saw at Shelsley Walsh's classic weekend in July, the other big car show in the world of what used to be hill climbing.  

Back to the coal face and practice started on time and for P1 the track was awful – green and slippery – truly nasty! However, the skies started to clear and whilst not sunny, temperatures rose and the track slowly dried so that it felt safer for P2. Interspersed between the timed runs were demonstration runs for the many visiting cars and bikes, particularly a lunchtime. This was popular with the spectators, sometimes two or three deep beside the track. This was well organised and the afternoon competition runs started in good time although, like the morning, there were a number of delays due to exuberant driving, the red lights in the paddock a useful indicator to the state of play. The Ensign was running midfield so by the time T1 came around the track was reasonably dry with good grip off the start line, times falling. For both timed runs the Ensign was in the low 47s, my driving untidy and missing my established gear changing points. I found Ettore's challenging but faster entry and power oversteer in the second half smoothed the Ensign's progress. The Esses remained moist but I'm always slow here so there was no drama. With fewer delays on the second timed runs the programme finished at a reasonable time and I was fortunate because the Ensign only needed moving across the access road to its Sunday paddock slot. Less easy was escaping to the real world with the trailer park access now blocked with Sunday arrivals! In our class it was Darren Gumbley who won, also taking BTD in his latest 1litre Force TA on 40.97s, the official results are here and complete results here.  

Sunday again dawned grey with intermittent rain showers so that conditions for P1 were similar to Saturday. Most cars must have arrived the previous evening so there was no traffic pressure and the paddock was serene. Today I was in the pre-1971 Race Car class – yes, I know the Ensign is May 1972 and I assumed I was not eligible for an award although Tim, Prescott's resident handicapper, had selected the Ensign's PB as handicap. It was a lovely class of cars with Lotus 51 & 61, two Nike, two Brabham BT21 twin cams, an Alexis, Elva 200, Pringett Mistrale, MG Special and the aforementioned Cooper Daimler. The whole class entry had arrived, unlike some classes with gaps where drivers were possibly concerned about difficult track conditions.  


As we were running early in the programme I made sure everything was ready to go although apart from number changing it was the same as Saturday. The scrutineers were upon our cars whilst we attended the drivers briefing and when I returned all had been checked and even a pass sticker on the car. The light rain showers continued and T1 was as nasty as Saturday and I drove quietly up the hill, lifting well before the finish. With Sunday's programme devoted mainly to older cars there were few delays throughout the day and both practice runs were completed very quickly. Having checked other times for T1 it was obvious that I'd been too cautious so I made a little more effort on T2, saving 6s without getting out of shape, which bode well for the rest of the day as I was now settling into Prescott's track foibles.  

Taking advantage of practice finishing early the organisers carried straight on with the demonstration runs and kept the place buzzing which I'm sure suited everyone. Even more spectators today and at the driver's briefing the Clerk said to be careful when driving in the paddock; one naturally is although reversing a single seater into its paddock slot whilst wearing all the kit is truly a leap of faith. In this sense the paddock marshals had no idea, because they've not been properly trained. Happily, the sun was occasionally appearing and it seemed likely that track conditions would improve, which they did, whilst the demo runs also contributed to squeegeeing the track. It was pleasant talking to many people I'd not seen for ages, amongst whom Richard and Sue Mallock were here supporting a 1500cc Mallock Mk4 which Richard had driven at Bo'ness hill climb in September. Also nice to see Mike Fisher, the previous owner of the Pringett Mistrale here today being driven by Les Buck, Mike kindly dropping off a useful spare part he no longer required. As our class runs would finish early and trailers are not allowed into the paddock before the end of the meeting, I played musical trailers so I could drive the Ensign into the trailer park and quietly load, much as I do at Shelsley. Too much escape planning and there were still the afternoon runs to contend with. 

These started promptly and perhaps the fact that BOC had not printed any times in the programme had something to do with this – just times for 'Entertainment and Peformances'! The track was dry for T1, so I took things a little more seriously and was in the 47s as on Saturday, getting a bit out of shape exiting The Esses but fortunately the Ensign found some grip. This happened to a few drivers and is something I've never experienced previously, which suits me fine. Clearly The Esses were still moist. Our final run came around quickly with no delays on the hill: I decided to do everything as T1 and it was a smooth run, staying in shape and into the 46s which I should have been doing on Saturday. Everything went to plan and I drove the Ensign into the trailer park and quietly loaded and departed. Our class was won on handicap by Peter Hannam in one of the Nikes, the Ensign fastest on scratch which made my efforts worthwhile. It was also nice to see a Mallock winning, Peter Thurston and his Mallock Mk4 twincam taking BTD on 46.23s, the official results are here and overall results here. 

Overall, I enjoyed the weekend despite the mixed track conditions and that underlying feeling of uncoordinated planning that seems to pervade a Prescott event and impacts on competitors, particularly off track. The nice thing is that attendance is not compulsory at any motorsport event and we do have plenty of choice. This was the last event of my 2017 season, 27 days of sport with the Mallock and Ensign, two BTDs, two 2nd BTDs and some class wins, so nothing to be dissatisfied about. I'd been considering having the Ensign's twin cam refreshed but after the last two weekends have decided to postpone the decision. There's nothing major to be done and after stripping the Ensign on Monday I decided to check a water leak as the level has been falling, although nothing apparent in the engine oil. The dry workshop floor betrayed a pinhole leak from one of the radiators which can be rectified. I was running the Ensign on a different pump fuel for the last two weekend which I might continue in 2018. The racing wheels and tyres cleaned and stored inside black plastic bags in the cellar, the Ensign now sitting on unique and original Ensign magnesium wheels which look rather cool, although best not used in anger these days. Plenty to do and consider during the 'off season' and I'll continue to pass on my thoughts.

Shelsley Walsh 16th & 17th September 2017 

More autumnal days and the end of the Shelsley Walsh competitive season with two clubbies supported by rounds of various championships including Ferrari, Porsche, Midland Speed, Paul Matty Lotus, Classic Marques, Revington Triumph and the SBD Hillclimb and Sprint Association, so there was something for all tastes. Most of these championships had their bespoke classes on the day whilst the SBD/HSA is multiclass with a scoring system enabling competitors to compete in the class, on the day, appropriate to their car. With the choice of 1600cc racing cars or the pre-1975 classic race car class I'd chosen the latter, possibly not giving this enough thought as I was last runner on Saturday and penultimate runner on Sunday. 

Saturday dawned dry and warm although heavy Friday rain had left the track damp in places. Reports from intrepid early morning mountaineers were of the dreaded Top S actually being dry! Delivering the Ensign on Friday I'd already scaled the heights before the rains, surprised how some high sides of the track were being eroded by rain, soil washing down the track edges. I gather the track had been swept but there were steel fragments littering the track, apparently broken steel brush filaments. I thought this a bit curious as normally polypropylene brushes would be quite adequate for Shelsley's smooth track and paddock surfaces. Intrigued, I read this sort of brush is designed for weed and grass removal and is not recommended for race tracks. Well that's good to know although I understand that the track marshals were to clear the track of these prior to the event starting.  

Back to Saturday and many competitors had their cars scrutineered on Friday afternoon which was convenient, taking pressure off scrutineers on Saturday morning, if not on Friday afternoon. With practice starting at 9.00am there was no reason to rush but old habits die hard and I was up with the lark and in the paddock too early. The weather was mild and dry and there's always something to look at and ponder. Also from Bristol, and from that mine of useless information, born in the same South London hospital as me, Karl Scholler was running his evergreen 998cc bike engine Spectre Mk7 in the 1100 race car class. Designed and built by Karl the Spectre has a wooden body and kart wheels, alongside some original solutions to competition car construction. Karl competes regularly here and his Spectre is a change from the relative uniformity in race car classes. There were plenty of Triumphs and two classes of the Matty Lotus Championship, the first something of an Elan fest which the race cars are always interesting and this time a red 35 I'd not seen before – smart and quick. Moving through the Porsche and Classic Marques the small road going class included a Nissan Leaf that occasionally disappeared, presumably to be fed from the mains. Plenty of road going cars in their various forms and classes before the standard race car classes and at the end our small classic class, competing against etherial 'target times'.  

Exactly like Gurston last Sunday, P1 hinted at the track being slippery but the track was drying and not at all nasty. Even better for T2 and by this time it was late morning and the rest of the field had done plenty of cleaning. I was running slightly softer settings but they were probably unnecessary as I adopted a new approach of not getting too excited in practice, doing everything by the numbers and 5 seconds off my pace so having time to consider lines and what's happening around the car. Probably the wrong time for this as I was given an absurdly slow target time for the competition, but these days the organisers have little or no knowledge of cars or drivers so what can be expected? 

Official timed runs started promptly just before 1.00pm although nothing to get too excited about as Richard Weaver conducted his wrecker up the hill several times during the afternoon to recover cars unable to return under their own power after incidents, happily no one hurt. By early afternoon the track conditions were excellent although it remained cool and there was little heat in the tyres at the end of runs. By the time T1 arrived I was looking forward to a run and made a serious effort, warming the tyres and actually off the line on the green when it suddenly switched back to red. Sharp as a nail I stopped immediately, although later I wondered why I was not concentrating on the kink at the top of the brow. No disaster, Briony just tapping the bank in her Lotus 51 and some soil on the track that presumably neeed sweeping. Then an official decided it was necessary to scuttle up the track in his course car so I thought I'd add to the delay by asking to be reversed back to warm the tyres again! Given the ok to proceed I was concerned that the course car had not returned, remembering the early July meeting in 2016 when one was coming down the hill as I crested the brow in the Mallock, an occasion I'm unlikely to forget. Against my better judgement I started, the run tidy and quick, no PB but in the 30s and 2.13s for the first 64ft - ok. I was even timed at 106 before Bottom S - no way! The rest of the Classic Class had good runs with Graham's 1.6 litre Heaton Rudd Monoposto steadily improving after a small accident at his first appearance here earlier in the season. Sadly, Mike's immaculate Alexis twin cam suffered a split gearbox casing after T2 so was unable to compete, the more frustrating as he was entered for Sunday and his car is a delight. Having consulted Mark Bailey apparently it will be a new casing and fingers crossed about the condition of the Hewland's final drive.

The sky was darkening and after a further delay when a TR7 V8 rolled in the Esses, I decided to pack up early as apart from anything else I knew my time would not be improved. Chris Green took BTD in his 1.6 litre OMS 28 on 27.05s, the official results are here and all times are here.

Sunday proved to be more of the same and the weather forecast suggested dry conditions all day which proved correct. There were many different cars in the paddock today although several from Saturday joined our class including the handsome red Lotus 35 and a quick pale green Lotus 23. Mike is a regular here in his historic 4 litre Chapman Mercury Special although he scratched after practice. The George family's B19 appeared for the day and Michael brought his Lotus 51 FF, his driving slightly detuned following an incident in his Lotus Elan on Saturday. With pleasant track conditions the competition followed much the pattern of Saturday and many of the times were similar. The B19 was back from France having competed at Etretat at the end of August. Happily, we remained in the same area of paddock so there was little need to play musical cars between the paddock sheds, although car numbers needed changing. The new regime of identical numbers and sheds for 2-day events arrived and apparently has now departed, another helpful innovation seemingly discarded despite the numerically expanding office staff now residing in their tasteful restored farmyard offices.

Practice proceeded smoothly and today there were no incidents of note which suited everyone. The dry start line and track were good to drive although, once again, there was little obvious heat in the tyres. There again, both days I was at the end of Batch 5 so I remained in the car and immediately returned down the hill – no chance to immediately check temperatures. A good day's sport that finished in good time. The new traffic arrangements in and out of the paddock, which some still manage to ignore, worked well and a valuable improvement to the venue's logistics. Personally, I was pleased with the Ensign which was running perfectly, another 2.13s off the line and a tad faster overall although not into the 29s which I hope for at this event. I also ran in T2 although, as I expected, the time was slightly slower with conditions cooling; I gather it started to rain an hour or so later. Richard Hollingworth took BTD in his 1.6 litre DJ Firehawk on 27.09s, a time close to Saturday's winner. The official results are here and all the times are here. 

One more event entered this season, the American and Classic fest at Prescott at the end of the month. Saturday will be within a mix of mainly modern single seaters so the Ensign can revert to its correct place in the competitive food chain whilst on Sunday the Ensign is too modern in the pre-1971 class! Whatever, I'm sure it will be a pleasant conclusion to my 2017 season, with a busy winter ahead.   


Gurston Down 10th September2017 

The final meeting of the season at Gurston Down, one I invariably miss as I prefer their two-day affairs. However, in 2016 I entered the MIRA Sprint the day before Gurston and the weather was miserable on that flat and exposed ex-RAF station. This year I gave MIRA a miss and headed south to Gurston early Sunday morning, the sky heavy with moisture and low-lying mist and fog. For a change (!) our class was once again paddock parked in the filthy farmyard and indeed my official position was in the middle of a small swamp where Saturdays heavy rains had washed the yard's surface muck. After unloading in a cleaner area I was able to park the Ensign on the raised concrete pad in front of the club`s equipment store, courtesy of Alan Joy and Murray Wakeham who's OMS had been moved there  as their farmyard slot also uninhabitable. A gazebo was erected immediately below Gurston's resident water feature, the broken roof gutter – no risk of that ever being repaired. Added to this one of the Ensign's tyres had deflated, curiously one I swop with the narrow slave wheel. Therefore it couldn’t be a puncture and I noticed the metal valve body at an angle, probably caused by tensioning the elastic cord used to stop the wheel rolling around the transporter. The securing bolt was loose and tightening this solved a small yet significant problem. 

By this time the sky was looking brighter, a steady breeze moving the clouds with occasional patches of blue. I'd no enthusiasm to walk the track but once practice started it was obvious that the start line was slippery whilst the track was merely damp in places. A large entry today and nice to see a number of 500s which always enliven the paddock. Today was the last round of Gurston's own championship but most classes and major awards were already decided although it is nice for a venue to have a member's championship. Our classic class was small with Mike and his F3 Alexis, Sue's twin cam Palliser and Richard's Jensen CV8, fresh from the August Bank Holiday Crystal Palace and for today, a car with a roof which seemed a good idea. 

Infact we were fortunate in the morning for track conditions steadily improved, P1 safe enough and for P2 the track was dry and felt safe although there was no heat in the tyres. Some of the speeds registered by the time keepers looked a trifle optimistic although there was a strong tail wind up the finish straight which might have contributed. The start line grip also improved although I chose to start off the 'rubbered' line, which worked for me. Practice was generally uneventful and T1 started at 1.00pm, light rain 15 minutes after this, a trifle early as I was hoping the forecast of 'light rain after 2.00pm' would be delayed even further giving our class one dry run at least. Not that the rain was heavy, just enough to make the track surface slippery and uncertain. By the time for our class T1 it looked as if this light rain had settled in for a few hours and after the Ensign's run I headed for the transporter as I'd previously decided to not do a second if the rain arrived. Annoyingly Mike had a spin in The Hollow, no harm done and he drove straight back to the paddock, suitably annoyed I'm sure. Just he and Richard in the Jensen took T2 and track conditions were worse, light rain keeping the surface slippery. By this time, I'd loaded the Ensign and watched their start with Geoff who was not competing in his Lotus 22 twin cam today. The rain spoilt the afternoon but that’s living in the UK and outdoor events for you – the weather makes or mars the day. Mike Rudge took a well deserved BTD on 33.54s in his Westfield on T1 The results are here.

Motorsport at the Palace 27th & 28th August 2017 

I've been clearing my collection of magazines over the last month or two. First to go was the vast quantity of Motorsport – I started buying these regularly in 1964 and it was my pleasure to pass my coins over the Smiths counter at Streatham Hill Station and devour the contents on the train to Victoria, before walking across the park to St James's and the Dunlop office where I worked. Much later, having moved to Bristol, a neighbour, understanding that I had an interest, kindly donated many earlier copies going back to the 20s, in passing mentioning that he had once owned the Sunbeam Tiger. There was no answer to that. Anyway, the other day a local enthusiast kindly took an estate car full of all my beloved Motor Sports which I hope he will value and enjoyed as much as I have done. 

Similarly, I was donated a vast pile of early 70s Autosport Magazines years ago which have proved excellent for researching the history of my Ensign and Ensigns in general, apart from just good reading! This was in the golden period after the original founder, Gregor Grant, had sold out to Haymarket Publishing who installed youthful Simon Taylor from Castle Cary to edit the mag. This he did perfectly, loads of gossip, news, track tests, whilst at the same time keeping excellent reporters onboard – the original John Bolster, of course, and that American icon, Pete Lyons, amongst others. 

Bolster was eccentric and original, becoming involved with AS when Gregor Grant started the magazine and following Bolster's serious track accident in an ERA. He had loads of race experience and also became the voice of television and radio – and now 'news from John Bolster in the pits'. Perhaps today it's easy to denigrate his patrician style but if you read his articles in AS he had a lot of interesting and topical things to say, sometimes ahead of his time and lifestyle, encouraging small economical cars and denigrating the appalling build quality and unreliability of 60s and 70s cars. He loved serious road burners, as we all do, but made balanced comments about them and certainly knew when they were liable to fall off the road too easily 

I only recognised Pete Lyons in later years but he was one of the best race reporters around. I tended to read him in Motor Sport but for me he was always overshadowed by the exquisite writing of Dennis Jenkinson, who seemed to deve himself into the most interesting places and have the confidence of the most significant people. We all know about him riding shotgun for Moss in the '55 Mille Millia, surely the best piece of motorsport journalism ever, even my father buying that copy although he hated MS! There again, in 2017 many don’t. I remember paddock marshalling at Shelsley in the later 90s where Jenks was running his sprint bike and clearly 'in charge' of the other bikers– so cool and relaxed – I was in awe. Anything he wrote was worth reading although, in retrospect, showed his age when criticising Jackie Stewart's progressive stance towards track safety. Looking back to the late 60s and early 70s the carnage was horrific by today's standards, although many still viewed this in relation to the carnage of WW2 when most people were killed in circumstances where they had little or no choice. However...... 

Back to today's world and last weekend was the annual speed fest at Crystal Palace, organised by 7Oaks Motor Club in that beautiful South London park. The date had moved from the usual May Bank Holiday at the behest of the professional event organisers who apparently know about these things? Without discussing details, the entry was smaller than previous years, particularly Bank Holiday Monday when the whole field's runs absorbed but 55 minutes. The organisation was good but not to the high standards of previous years, silly details too boring to discuss although the farce of competitors being docked 10sec for 2 wheels off the track on Sunday was pathetic. Walking the track on Sunday lunchtime I could see the paths of wheels clipping the corners and slightly on the grass, the same as all the past events here. Happily, the light dawned on Monday morning when the C of C was propositioned about this and stated that now an odd wheel was not a problem although one third of the car over the grass would incur his wrath. At the same time, it was stated that tapping a marker cone would carry no time penalty, this seeming rather counter intuitive. None of this means much other than there has never been a problem in the past, so why this weekend? 

Saturday practice started promptly at 9.00am and flowed quickly, as did the whole day, without any significant incidents. The track was truly horrible for P1, slippery and shiny, tyres wet and covered with grass clippings from the moist paddock. The three modern single seaters with their cling film wrapped tyres avoided this although they were in a different world. Morning practice was completed by 11.30am so after the early lunch break the official proceedings with 3 timed runs started on time at 1.00om.The sun had risen and the paddock and track were hot, the ground drying and plenty of spectators enjoying the proceedings. First runner in the programme was Jo Tisdall in his pretty bright orange 750cc Austin Ulster, setting the scene. I liked Robert Woods 1596cc Lotus Cortina in the next class, a class winner as was Jo. Kevin Diamond's 1998cc Volvo looked well prepared with a traditional black coachwork, running in the middle of his class. Classes for more modern roadgoing cars included several MX5s and fast 4x4 Subaru and Mitsubishi, these quick off the line although the hot and dry conditions not in their favour. A lone 1410cc Wolseley Special comprised the vintage entry and the bright red 1293cc Turner of David Waterhouse seemed just the right sort of car for the event, in the same class as Richard Lovell-Butt's 5916cc Jensen CV8 which is occasionally seen at Gurston Down. There were several larger classes of more modern road going cars, headed by the Caterham's of Chris Bennett and David Rayner who were closely matched, Chris taking the honours by 0.23s. There was something for everyone, GSM Delta, Hillman Imp, Minis, Austin A30s and an A40 Farina, Escort, Sierra, Viva, large Audi, BMW – they are all in the days results here. 

The programme finished with the faster specialist and racing cars. A 1996cc Ford engined Sprite was pitted against the 5700cc V8 Fraud Corina and won, whilst David Seaton had his work cut out in his 4941cc BMW engined Pilbeam MP43 sports racer against a 1049cc Seat Marbella, which emphasised the weekends problem of some small, unbalanced and amalgamated classes. The Ensign ran with GaryThomas's 13977cc Force and Ian Perrin's 1300 Formula V whilst the last class comprised a pair of 2012 single seaters, a 2000cc Force and turbo 1598cc FF200. Gary took BTD on 32.46s whilst the other Force was sidelined with bent front lower wishbones. 

The programme finished at 4.30pm and all the cars were removed to the secure trailer park on the plateau above the track. The prize giving was held beside the start line and competitors could relax, or depart, or await another day's sport on Bank Holiday Monday. 

Which many did although the overall entry was smaller than Sunday. Again a perfect morning although a heavy dew again left the grass very moist until mid-morning. I stayed both nights in the accommodation block for the National Sports Centre, economical and convenient, early cooked breakfasts and just a minute or two to the trailer park or indeed the headonistic charms of Crystal Palace and Westow Street. Newly arrived cars or those parked overnight were driven off the plateau down into the grass paddock whilst any bulky items were transported by a shuttle van service. This plateau was originally the site of Paxton's famous Crystal Palace, the exhibition hall erected in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and subsequently moved to the top of Sydenham Hill in 1854, to spectacularly burn down late in 1936 although its name was bequeathed forever to this district of South London. The driver's meeting was just after 8.30am and practice started promptly at 9.00, two runs in the morning before an early lunch as the main event was to be started promptly at 1.00pm by the Mayor and Mayoress of Bromley. The sun was high in the sky and it was hot, one of the hottest Bank Holiday Mondays on record, the track conditions good with a hot surface and well 'rubbered in'. 

The first class included Jason Andrews 4700cc Mustang which looked a handful but was quick, an Allard J1 also 4700cc and presumably side valve, these cars built not far away in South London. The 4x4s in the next class were all fast enough to get in the Top 10 and how nice to see Andy Elcombe, usually C of C here, completing both days in a MX5. The red Turner had stayed for the second day, David Waterhouse today sharing with Dave Nursey, better known for Clerking at Shelsley Walsh, so this would have been an education, apart from sucessfully heading his class. The Bankhurst family were out in force for both days, father Alan in his 1680cc TVR Vixen whilst son Ian and grandson Matthew shared their recently acquired Elan 26R, Alan leading their pack. The Bennett vs Raynor Caterham battle continued from Sunday with Chris Bennett heading the class on 37.18s, a PB. From the practice the whole programme absorbed 55 minutes for each run which was as well because a Sierra had an incident on T2 and needed to be recovered, this delay not upsetting the overall organisation and no one hurt. The final classes were small as on Sunday, the Pilbeam MP43 with a BMW E30 and the Ensign accompanying Andy Greenen in his 2017 998cc Empire Evo, fresh from a weekend at Gurston Down. David and his MP43 won his class on 34.97s, a tad slower than Sunday, whilst Andy Greenan took BTD and a new track record on 31.30s making the Ensign's 35.02s look pedestrian. The results are here.

Despite the delay the programme finished before 4.30pm and we still sweltered in the late summer sunshine, many of the days modest crowd having evaporated. Time to load up and escape although for some, including me, Fishermans Gate was open allowing easy access to the top of Sydenham Hill onto Crystal Palace Parade and a shortcut, avoiding the Palace one-way system, via the bottom of Gipsey Hill. This set the tone for the return journey, no delays and 2 hours 40 minutes door to door compared with 4 hours 10 minutes on Saturday. This is always an excellent weekend although, at a competitive level, personally this year felt little different from any other race weekend when the Ensign competes with cars up to 45 years it's junior in regular 1600cc classes. Perhaps moving the 2018 event date back to the May Bank Holiday will improve the entry list – we will see. Overall though, in my opinion, this is one of the 'must do' events for owners of classic and vintage cars, if only to say they have been here. Not Goodwood, but just as much fun and without the pomp.

Shelsley Walsh 13th August 2017 

With nothing much happening this weekend a trip to Worcester was on the cards, either Saturday or Sunday as the Midland Automobile Club were making their life very complicated by holding back to back British Hillclimb Championship with Top 12 runoffs on each day. Why, I wondered – apparently the complicated annual programme of events had caused the loss of an earlier Championship meeting so this year's allocation was being crammed into one weekend. A possible nightmare for the organisers and competitors but excellent for spectators, of which I was one of many to make the pilgrimage on a sunny, yet somewhat autumnal, Sunday morning. 

Arriving just after 9.00 practice was already in full swing, the paddock comparatively empty as the total number was for a single day event. I gather that this had caused some consternation as a large number of prospective competitors had their entries refused and plenty of last minute telephone calls from and to the Shelsley office. One interesting and underlying comment was the fact that whilst the backroom might be efficient, there is no one there who actually knows who the competitors are, be it past or present, the departure of the last comp sec and his office assistant leaving a void. I gather there might be an attempt to rectify this failing with, possibly, a well-known commentator bridging that gap.

The paddock was full of familiar faces, many of them spectating. The contingent of 500 owners were a little weary having had, on Saturday afternoon, their second timed run moved from the start of the programme to the end, around 7.00 as it happened. I think I've already bored enough on this particular hobby horse of mine and I commiserated, although it begged the question of why the 500s were given two days of sport whereas the Paul Matty Championship just only Saturday or perhaps that was their choice. It was obviously an entry with a bias towards the quick single seaters and there were plenty of 1100s as is inevitable this season. Their current nemesis, Robert Kenrick, had reset Brodie Branche's 8 year old record with a 25.76s on Saturday, a repeat performance today on 25.48s. Of no particular consequence I believe the turbo 2.8 litre Pilbeam MP53-4 of Rodney Eyles in the pre-1985 class was previously owned by said Brody Branch and before that, a long list of illustrious drivers. Nice to see Mike Pilbeam and David Gould keeping an eye on things in the paddock. The 1600cc Heaton Rudd was out again following a small incident at the Classic Shelsley, as was Philip Stader's Mallock Mk11 which was quick through the Esses as Philip gets more seat time; a class win for his trouble heading the George family's exquisite Chevron B19. 

Almost a pleasure to walk the hill in the warm August sunshine, always a bit cooler the higher one goes, spectators already lining the path and seated in the Esses. Practice was running smoothly and no delays of consequence, something that had beset Saturday's event. With excellent spectator viewing the fast single seaters are impressive to watch, particularly through the Esses and their turn in at Top Ess with immediate traction onto the final straight quite unbelievable. Since competing I've always found more pleasure from spectating, perhaps understanding a little more of what's happening in, and to, cars climbing the hill. Returning to the paddock I spent a little time watching cars and their pre-start line antics. The latest edict from the MSA hit our in-boxes last Friday afternoon, amongst other things saying that tyre 'heating by mechanical means' will not be allowed from the start of next season. This has inevitably raised a new discussion to fever pitch and clarification will be necessary to understand if pre-start line wheel spinning is included in this new regulation. In the meantime, it was all happening at Shelsley with tyre coverings being removed, tyres being brushed, engines stalling and booster batteries being attached, to start the engine once again – then the ferocious tyre burnout prior to the start. Is this heating or cleaning – I suspect a debate will continue although drag racing comes under the 'Speed Event' banner and they will be unwilling to dispense with their famous burnouts prior to each run. Contrary to expectations Steve Owen tricked quiietly to the start line, my prefered option.

In the paddock there was an interesting display of championship winning cars, several of which did a demo run at lunchtime, some on open pipes and I'm glad that I started regular hillclimbing when the silencer era was already well established! Some drivers drove cars from the paddock, for example Charles Wardle drove David Seaton's Pilbeam MP43 sports racer, the first chassis built in 1980. Roger Moran borrowed the B19 and seemed pleased with the experience.There was also a photo shoot of past champions, an appropriate record of the day.

Morning practice had finished in good time and the lunch break was short, competitive runs starting about 1.00. It was surprising how quickly the time passed, particularly not being involved with running a car which tends to be time consuming if everything is running correctly, and if not..... Too much talking but eventually I headed up the hill with the plan to watch the faster cars and the first Top 12 beside the Esses. During practice Terry Davis had shown the best piece of car control to recover serious oversteer of his OMS in Bottom Ess, not helped by the cement dust laid following an oil laying incident. On TI everyone were neat and tidy and I thought Paul Haimes swept through the Esses beautifully although, when dissecting the numbers, by no means the quickest. Both runoffs were won by Will Hall in his turbo 2 litre Force, some compensation for the very long development process to make this car competitive. Saturday and Sunday results are here. 

Following the first runoff it was nearing 4.00pm and looked like being another 7.00pm day so I left. I'd enjoyed what I'd seen and heard and this was a successful weekend's hill climbing for spectators, perhaps more issues for some competitors.      

Loton Park 5th & 6th August 2017 

Loton is a popular hill climb, west of Shrewsbury and easily accessible from the Midlands and elsewhere via the M54. Not that I use this route as northbound on Fridays the M5 and M5/M6 junction are places best avoided and I head for the hills west of Worcester where roads are slower but generally free flowing. So it was last weekend although my regular short cut through the lanes from Minsterley was closed, involving a rather lengthy diversion, although what was the rush? It's nice to be able to park the transporter in the paddock, on tarmac, although there's little space between with everything becoming larger, this weekend the Kenrick family lorry squeezed alongside – just! Not that any of this made any difference to me as I'd long since parked and walked the newly resurfaced track. 

It certainly looked impressive and with the thickness of tarmac the track edges had been raised, although it will take a while for the grass to thicken and the roots firmly bind the aggregate. Certainly, at this stage it seemed best to keep on the black stuff, but isn't it always? Some trees and undergrowth had been felled to the right of the start line allowing more light, whilst most of the white lines were painted including the dots marking the 'clipping points', presumably to locate cones when training days are held. It was amusing walking the hill and deciding on these points before reaching them, in most cases getting this right which suggests that whoever made the decisions is probably as incompetent as I am! Anyway, it was all looking good, even the return road at the top of the hill resurfaced, a complete job. That was it for Friday and I repaired to my local B&B and then the local pub for refreshment and pleasant company, remembering my secateurs as the gap in the hedge opposite the pub is always overgrown, undoubtably to discourage walkers or drinkers, or both.

Saturday dawned warm with clouds from the west. The paddock was full and there were an adequate number of scrutineers who were soon upon us. The 1100cc – 1600cc class was running in batch 4 so there was a bit of a wait, several cars also falling off during practice, at least two needing the wrecker. One drove out of the paddock to either return home, or perhaps park a mile down the road and telephone their recovery service. There were lots of road going and production cars that seems right and proper for a club event, nothing really catching my eye although in sports libre the yellow Stratus looked a neat replica of the real Lancia and also yellow was the Rawlson Stiletto Imp, all with a handicap against the Mercer family Force LM. Loads of 1100cc race cars and the Bennett, Jones and Gumbley Force TAs might have been dominant if the Kenrick's Raptor was not here to spoil their party. Following this three FFs and the 1600s where I was lodged. Following the larger capacity race cars, a small pre-1971 group and a championship outing for Classic Marques with their mix of sports cars, followed by TVRs and TRs. A small modern rally car class finished the programme. I was most impressed that on both days the TVR Championship had their own catering van, presumably concerned that starvation might be an issue.

The morning tended to drag a bit and the rain started for P1 and our practice batch, not bad but enough to feel the need to be sensible, this suiting me as I needed a trip up the hill to get my brain in gear, happy with a tidy slow run. Waiting at the top there was lightening, thunder and black skies to the north, not much rain where we were although the paddock received a soaking. The skies cleared and the sun appeared,the track drying quickly so P2 was more interesting and a chance to examine the new surface in more depth. Intimidated by the company I spun up to warm the tyres before this run and had a startling launch although the overall time was nothing special although improved grip everywhere and rather fun. Competitors agreed that the new surface had transformed the hill. Following the morning delays the lunch break was shortened and competition runs started in sunshine and generally pleasant conditions, the Ensign's times continuing to improve but not by that much and the best on P2 of 55.69s, sufficient to hold last place in the class which was won by Gary in his Force PC on 50.07s. 

The overall results were interesting with Jason Mourant taking BTD on 45.24s in his 4 litre Gould GR55 whilst Robert Kenrick, driving the 1 litre Raptor, took 2nd BTD on 46.43s, at the same time resetting the 1100cc class record, that had stood since 2008, by over a second. The results are here.

Duly fortified overnight with fish & chips and ale, Sunday morning promised more of the same. The weather forecast was encouraging although the opaque sky continued for most of the day, with little sunshine. I'd learnt earlier that it was planned to continue running the event through the 11.00-12.00 church service on the recommendation of Loton's land owner, tests carried out on Saturday suggesting that noise levels there were lower than generally perceived. There has always been this gap in the Sunday programme and a good idea to test how valid it was in today's world. Sunday's entry was smaller with HSA members departing following their single day championship round, more breathing space between the single seaters in the paddock and our class reduced to three cars. Classic Marques, TVR and Triumph cars remained for a second day on their championships which is more convenient for those having to travel distances and a shame the same could not have been done for the HSA. Once again scrutineering was prompt and it interesting that this the first time I was questioned regarding the validity of the ROPS (rollover protection) of the Ensign. If unmodified from new the car comes within the FIA historic categories so everyone was happy. Another year and all will be forgotten, just like the fuss when non- return couplings were required on fuel lines so a sample could be taken for testing – I've not heard of a single case of this happening at a speed event. 

After a short delay when we were briefed about the church service noise test, practice moved forward quickly, our class in batch 3 which quickly arrived. Track conditions felt slightly better than Saturday and certainly excellent on P2 when I nearly matched my PB, something that never happens these days. The Ensign was running hard settings and for Sunday I did not warm the tyres. Apart from the fact I don’t think the launch makes that much difference to the first split time unless incredibly slow, I'd had a look at the rubber couplings on the drive shafts remembering that the only two failures have been at at Loton. They looked used but satisfactory, despite which I decided to fit new when preparing the Ensign for Crystal Palace at the end of the month. Approaching 11.00 the programme was altered so our noisy single seater batch ran out of order, allowing the quieter road going classes to practice between 11.00 and 12.00. I don’t know whether this test was a success and if it was I suspect it won't be widely publicised. As it was the programme rushed through, afternoon runs starting at 12.45 and with few delays an early finish to the day, which is what I like. The Ensign was slow on T1 and T2, no particular reason although the car was moving about and perhaps I should have softened the settings as clearly track conditions had deteriorated slightly, the track surface cooler. Steve won our class in his Empire Evo on 50.77s, also a bit slower than the morning practice and short of the elusive 49s be has set his heart on! Again, the Ensign was last in class, probably it's correct place in the hill climb 'food chain'!  

As Saturday Jason Mourant took BTD on 44.91s with Robert Kenrick 2nd BTD on 45.53s to again reset the 1100 class record and complete very successful weekend. The results are here.      

Shelsley Classic 22nd & 23rd July2017 

This July weekend is always a gig I look forward to and this weekend delivered good sport, good weather and the peripheral activities organised by 'The Management Team' in The Courtyard and on The Hill did not make any difference to my weekend of hill climbing, although I sometimes wonder if the purpose of Shelsley has been overlooked by the MAC Committee. This weekend's theme was Malcolm Cambell, famous record breaker and motorist in the 20s and 30s, a number of his ex-cars present and a promotional opportunity for the new 'Atalanta' replica of a car he became involved with back in the day – little sales success then with 21 sold and no particular reason today, but who knows? There were also a number of historic Group A rally cars, immaculate, quick and surprisingly loud although perhaps they operate under different noise regulations to ourselves?

Apart from this the usual musical high jinks in The Courtyard and on Sunday Simon Taylor casting his beady eye over the car park 'Concours'. The sun shone – on and off, the only rain when our pre-1980 class took T1 on Saturday but in the grand scheme of things that was nothing. The Ensign was embarrassingly allocated Shed 1 in the paddock, my last visit there when I annexed this shed at A National meeting when the occupier did not show and I didn't need the Mallock to be on the grass in the rain. The Moran's, next door in Shed 2, took this with the charm and manners that they always exhibit. I expect the recent Motor Sport 'lunch with' article, highlighting Mike Wilds, was the reason for this promotion – their 1972 picture with the Ensign looking as gaudy as it does today.

Too enthusiastic for words I took the Ensign up to Shelsley on Friday morning, early enough to have a smooth journey and an empty paddock, although stopped as I approached the entrance with a pantechnicon parked in the lane. After checking out if there was any issue, on foot, I duly passed and entered the paddock, the leviathan then reversing into the Paddock with sublime skill and then the enclosed double decker disgorged a lone vintage car which was truly bizarre. The paddock was empty as I sorted the Ensign and after dumping the transporter in the trailer park I took a pleasant walk up the hill, a year since I'd done this and it's always interesting to look out for any new tricks. Much was the same apart from the fully boarded final straight. I'll refrain from comment as this must have cost the MAC a lot of money, presumably for reasons of safety possibly dictated by the MSA. I sometimes wonder about cars barreling into Bottom S approaching 150mph which I would have thought has more potential for disaster than the finish straight with few spectators and a low accident history. Arriving at the top of the hill it's always a pleasure to be in Top Paddock and relax for a moment in the sunshine. I recall a pic in the VSCC Bulletin, or was it Motor Sport – captioned 'The Top of the World', the Grand Prix Itala entering Top Paddock.

Back in the paddock other competitors were flooding in and after a bit of socialising I departed for home. South bound on the M5 the traffic was free flowing – north bound a slow traffic jam as always on Friday afternoons in summer. Returning on Saturday morn it was deserted – of course, the paddock a haven of calm in which I had time to fiddle and relax – too relaxed as I forgot to torque the wheel nuts until the last moment. There was a large entry of well organised Bucklers with similarly large quantities of Austin 7 and Austin Healey before the various date defined classes. A pretty 1961 Lotus 7 caught my eye as did a pale green 841cc 2 stroke Saab phut-phutting as 2 stokes do. All 4.7 litres of Ford Mustang looked masculine and  there were plenty of sports racers, Lotus 23, Elva 7, Aldon ALc, Mallock Mk11 and Chevron B19 – all would suit me perfectly although I'd not be that keen locating my feet behind the Lotus 23 track rod, should I ever be that fortunate. Lots of delightful 1960 to 1969 single seaters as well – Brabham, Lotus, Nike, Alexis, Elva – suitable for this sort of event although on both days a 1600cc Lotus 23 took the class award against strong opposition. Plenty of 60's sports cars, not a great time in the UK for build quality but if they'd survived until now they've had plenty of love and attention. My 1970 to1980 racer class was small – the beautifully prepared Harrison family 1980 Toleman TG280 with a 2 litre Hart surely the pick of the bunch. 

Track conditions were good although there was dust, mud washed from the banks in the last few days. The Chevron B19 in our class set the pace which the Ensign should have matched if I was not having a bad day – missing gears and driving untidily in practice, we always have the excuses! Similarly, the Toleman should have disappeared and hidden – which neither driver did. As it was T1 coincided with the only rain of the day although I managed to find all the gears with a slow and tidy run. T2 and the B19 did the business and secured a well deserved BTD. I'd packed up, disillusioned with my driving and the day dragging and I was unenthusiastic about the drive home, albeit comfortable and swift in the Audi. A short vid of the Ensign leaving the start.

More of the same on Sunday and a bright morn in Bristol as I headed north. The weather forecast was again ambivalent, but aren't they always? Early in the paddock but time to fiddle and think about the previous day's poor performance. Having run the Ensign with softer settings on Saturday to no good effect I opted for the default Shelsley settings of hard dampers and solid roll bars. Apart from P1 yesterday when the twink had spluttered, the engine was running sweetly and happy with the richer Weber air settings enabling a slower engine idle which also made paddock maneuvering easier. The trailer park had plenty of space, as always, and whilst connecting the Audi to the transporter I had an interesting conversation with two drivers of immaculate group A rally cars parked alongside. These cars were being promoted this weekend, on display and demo runs up the hill. They had just the same enthusiasm for older cars although their preference being rally cars. The new one-way system in the trailer park was excellent and for those wishing for their tow car and trailer to enter the paddock the new exit was opposite the entrance to the members car park, across the lane, a cinder track leading to the paddock. A simple solution designed to avoid congestion in the church lane, amongst other things.  

Both days the programme started just after 8.30am, half an hour earlier than traditional and it worked well as, on both days, practice finished before 1.00pm. Change was also in the air with practice now run in numerical order rather than the ad hoc basis of the past. I gather that there was some resistance to this change but I did not mind and it made life simpler for paddock marshals. Sadly, the afternoons did not follow with the same pace, something I've always been aware of as I invariably run towards the end of the programme at Shelsley. 

Sunday's track conditions were excellent and my driving had returned to what passes as normal, two tidy runs without missed gears and pleasantly uneventful, the usual gear change and braking point at Bottom S. With the sun shining brightly for P2 life felt good on the hill. The paddock was a busy place with many spectators milling about the cars or heading for the activities in The Courtyard. I looked at the car park concours at lunchtime, plenty of interesting cars and it's good that owners choose to keep their cars in a roadworthy condition rather than hidden in secure storage. Timed runs started about 2.00pm and a long wait before  our batch 6 was called. The Ensign was a tad slower than P2 but quick enough, sufficient for second place behind Keith's familiar 2 litre Chevron B25 BDA. On return to the paddock it was badly organised as the cars waiting to run were blocking our way to the sheds. An Austin Healey then had an off that required the 'wrecker' so nothing would be moving for ages and my enthusiasm waned. I rolled the Ensign into the trailer park and bought myself a beer, not such a bad idea competition wise as I had felt it unlikely I'd improve on T1 and, looking at the final results, it wasn’t a bad call. Saturdays and Sundays results are here.

As already said this was good weekend, despite my moaning about this and that. Nothing is perfect and perhaps I must adopt a different approach next season and be more selective about the events I enter. That said, when running an older car the choice of classic events is limited, for example Wiscombe 500OA, Harewood Classic, Shelsley Classic, Bo Ness & Prescott Classic, although some venues  do have classic classes, like Gurston and Shelsley, Gurston with the distinct advantage of not running their classic class at the end of the day. Interestingly, sprint venues rarely consider classic cars and the BSC, like the BHC, avoid them like the plague!      

Blyton Park 8th & 9th July 2017 

Something new and as I'd heard good reports about this sprint venue, located on an old RAF airfield in Lincolnshire which was operational between 1942 and 1954. I joined the early weekend traffic and headed north with the Mallock. Leaving early as I'd done for Harewood last month I avoided any serious delays and the journey was uneventful. This weekend's event was being run by the Westfield Club, I believe the only sprint meeting they organise annually and it was obvious that they make an effort. The track's easy to find, less than a mile out of Blyton, heading east and look for the flags! As a newcomer it's interesting to see how easy the organisers make things like access, paddock layout, scrutineering, paddock management – the usual stuff. For starters the finals included a paddock plan, useful as we were to park in class groups. Quite a lot of the paddock is level grass, transporters parking beside what was once a tarmac taxiway which had seen better days.The paddock marshal swept the whole length Friday afternoon, almost beyond the call of duty but he remarked that with the National Sprint Championship present he wanted things to be as good as possible. Whilst patches of the access road and paddock had been repaired, a bit of deterioration would be expected from roadways up to 75 years old and despite his efforts even the Mallock's hot tyres were collecting the stones.  

Arriving early on Friday afternoon at Blyton Park it was possible to sign on and have the car scrutineered once their trackday had finished. It also left plenty of time to walk the course with an experienced competitor who gave me advice and pointed out the highlights. Saturday it was to be one lap of the 2300m 'Outer' circuit, interesting and quick in places, corners signposted and an excellent clean surface. The Mallock was in the 1100cc race car class with a number of modern bike engined cars, probably the oldest car entered. A delightful b & b was close, perhaps a mile up the road although getting things organised the previous afternoon meant there would be no rush in the morning. The organisers wished that all drivers attend a briefing as if their privilege although I was surprised the C of C felt it necessary to read out the list of officials on both days, information already supplied in our pre-event documentation. Of more interest the track's previous owner, Richard Usher, made a few pertinent comments including the plans that the new owners, Ginetta Cars, have for this venue. It was clearly a family affair with Richard very visible both days, checking the site, changing the course layout on Saturday evening, even competing in a Ginetta whilst his wife managed the catering. 

There has been a spell of hot dry weather and Saturday morning was no different, the forecast was good and fair weather cumulous clouds moved slowly across the big blue sky, a beautiful feature above Lincolnshire's flat topography. Saturday's entry allowed for 2 practice and 3 competition runs with space at the end for the BSC top 12 runoffs and that is what we got. Sprint courses, unlike many hills, allow runs to continue ceaselessly and here often 3 cars on the track simultaneously. There were short delays with cars falling off and the odd mechanical but these were hardly apparent. Our class ran about 2/3 through the programme and the first run soon arrived. Driving the Mallock again I always need to readjust but I soon settled into the different routine when compared with the Ensign. Slower, less grip, more understeer – time to think and look at the tacho, more braking distance required although the drum brakes continue to work well and stopping the car surprisingly quickly although without the immediate feel you get with discs. Very slow but this course is not difficult to learn despite the inevitable potential for confusion with parts of the track marked out across the old main runway.

Our class contained a quick Force TA, OMS 2000M, Bewley 806, two Jedi and the RBS 8. The shared Force was the quickest car in the group throughout the weekend, looking smart with it's unpainted carbon fibre body although all the cars were immaculate, as indeed were most of the field. As an aside, our b & b also entertained the owners of an Audi R8 and Aston Martin convertible, unique and stunning cars in their environment but so easily overlooked inside the paddock when surrounded by more prosaic yet often unique competition machinery. Saturday's competition continued to follow a smooth path and our class was emphatically won by Chris in the Force, who also qualified for the Top 12 runoffs on both days against more powerful cars. The Mallock continued to improve by small increments after a major misfire on T2, rectified by the simple expedient of 4 new spark plugs, simpler than looking for the faulty one.  

Sunday followed a similar pattern which included the weather, at times feeling even hotter. The course was changed to one lap of the 2262m 'Eastern' circuit, slightly slower overall as following the starting straight there was a slow and twisty section. This was a little more difficult to remember although nothing was too complicated and two practice runs were fine. The track then followed Saturday's layout with a slight change towards the finish. With a larger entry the third competitive run was not going to happen although again the meeting ran quickly with few delays. The paddock marshal had a busy weekend as classes were spread about but anyway, after a couple of runs, we tend to know when to appear at the start area by the familiar cars ahead. I was pleased with the Mallock on T1 and decided as there was nothing much at stake I'd leave before T2 with a long schlep home. I cannot really comment as the Calder family, who were overall winners on both days, commuted from Aberdeen, daughter Heather now leading the BSC. The results for both days are here

A pleasant and well organised weekend's sprinting and the track is worth revisiting, although on a wet weekend with the paddock damp and dirty one might have a different opinion.                  

VSCC Shelsley Walsh 2nd July2017 

Unusually I had a break from competing last weekend so a trip to the Teme Valley on Sunday morning seemed a good idea, the Vintage Sports Car Club's annual assault on Shelsley Walsh. Actually there was rather more than usual this year as the Saturday has, in the past, been a normal club event but this year two days were donated to the VSCC and consequently Saturday gave their competitors 4 practice runs which was followed by Sunday's 3 competition runs. I presume that this was done to enhance the spectator revenue as activities at Shelsley are now driven by finance, although Sunday seemed no busier than previous VSCC events on a fine day – perhaps everyone came on Saturday? 

There were the usual and familiar cars in the paddock, many seen at Harewood last month. Shelsley can be a difficult hill for some older cars for unless they have been modified, or have powerful or very large engine, the steep climb can be challenging. On the other hand spectators have more time to look at cars as they pass by and on a sunny day what can be more pleasant than sitting in the sunshine at Bottom S watching the vintage world waft by.

Which is what I did for a while. The event has started promptly at 9.00am and runs were proceeding swiftly as I wandered into the paddock half an hour later. Therefore, what could be better than a stroll up the hill, as much as anything to check out any obvious changes from last year, as I hope to be competing later in the month with the Ensign. It was obvious that there had been comprehensive industrial pruning on the landscape – I gather this activity now entrusted to contractors and everything was neat. The track looked much the same up to the Esses although after Top S the finish straight is now completely enclosed, boarded either side with 'sleepers' to the entrance at Top paddock. Best to make no comment until I've driven the hill in anger, although chatting to someone who's been coming here for even longer than the 37 years I have, he remarked that times change and perhaps we've seen and experienced the best and now the commercialisation and gentrification steam roller will continue to flatten everything in its path. The contractors had obviously not been instructed to strim the top field beside the finish straight, not that I expect many people at a VSCC event are able to ascend to these heady heights.

There is always interest wandering the paddock and apart from the usual Austin 7s in the small capacity cars there was a 1933 Vale Special, 898cc which was presumably a side valve Triumph. Not many were built, good quality but very heavy and slow for what might then be considered a sports car although the wind deflectors in front of driver and passenger are large, containing equally large tachometer and speedo – a period sporting look? I like Sunbeams and there was a delightful 1926 3.3 litre twin cam tourer. That perennial A7/Morgan special Grannie is now travelling very quickly with its 1100cc JAP engine, much more entertaining than when I drove the car with a JAP side valve back in the dark ages. The GN Salome has been competing forever and looked delightful, in much the same way as the earlier 1923 Spider was quick and neatly driven through The Esses, Basil Davenport's record holder at Shelsley back in the day. Post war racing cars comprised a Cooper Bristol, Cooper T56, Ralt RT1 and Chevron B25. As much as I love RT1s, and this BMW powered example was immaculate, quick, and to die for, the Ralt and Chevron seemed a tad out of place today.

The programme was going so quickly the first runs were completed before 11.00am and I think the officials must have had trouble making things last, despite 3 planned runs. Luckily there was a contingent from the German Treser Club so they were given a demo run up the hill which wasted a little time. Treser modified Audi and other German makes in the 1980s and there were two ur Quattro convertibles in the group which are interestingly unusual. Anyway, it all adds to the fun for spectators and I had a good time in the sunshine whilst the members car park, in The Orchard, is a great innovation as it's quiet and peaceful yet so close to the paddock.  


Gurston Down 17th & 18th June 2017 

Gurston Down's June double header – two clubby days in the heart of sunny Wiltshire in the valley of the River Ebble, one of Salisbury's five rivers that join the River Avon. Leaving the Ensign in the paddock on Friday I was depressed that once again our class were parked in the farmyard although the pile of scrap metal to the left of the farmyard had, in the main, been removed and it looked cleaner as the road sweeper had done a thorough clean and, more significantly, up the hill. Excellent; perhaps the fact that this was a special 50th Anniversary meeting was an encouragement. The stretch of sheds, up the slope, were little changed and of course Gurston's resident water feature from a broken gutter remains intact although no rain in sight this weekend. Friday was hot and I took the opportunity of walking the hill and then through the fields to the village, returning to the paddock with a dozen eggs, along the way and noticing the watercress beds nestling at the foot of the valley, more things to see when we are on walking. 

Saturday dawned with a clear sky and it promised to be very hot, and it was. Our classic class comprised Mike and his Alexis F3, Richard and Amanda in their Chevron B19, Oliver in the family Chapman Mercury, Peter's early Lotus 7 and best of all, the reinvigorated Marsh Special being conducted by Peter Marsh whilst brother Simon assisted when not driving a Golf R in the over 2000cc roadgoing class. A full entry was expected and there were bikes as well. I invariably arrive early although there was no rush as our batch was later in the programme so there was plenty of time to look around. There were going to be several demonstration runs – shades of Shelsley Walsh who thrive on that sort of thing and judge that spectators love seeing cars being driven slowly up the hill with celebrities waving, like a television pagent. 

The 4wd Marsh Special was built by Tony Marsh, a very successful car that took BTD at Gurston's first event and a formidable competitor with it's 4500cc V8. A unique drive train was devised, a connection off the rear Hewland gearbox driving an exterior prop shaft to a casing to the left of the driver, another shaft forward to the central differential for the front driveshafts. Curiously the front brake discs are smaller than those at the rear. The casing contained a clutch arrangement to mechanically disconnect the drive to the front wheels when cornering, an attempt to overcome the terminal understeer that beset a generation of 4wd cars. Tony did his best to confuse the opposition by having a dash mounted switch and wiring in place! The car has had a major refurbishment and looked fabulous. 

Another family heirloom was the 1957 Chapman Mercury, built by Phil Chapman and in the same family ever since, today being conducted by Phil's grandson Oliver who was also oily ragging for mother Sandra in their 4000cc Pilbeam MP97. Phil designed and built the chassis and made the mould for the GRP body. The Chapman has also had a recent refurbishment during which it obtained 4.6litre of serious V8 with 4 down draft twin choke Weber carbs exposed to the weather. Getting these to run smoothly has been a major issue as Oliver did not want to fit an airbox to stabilise the induction air. As a consequence the ram pipes are curiously angled to achieve the best result. Apparently around 400bhp available driving through the skinny tyres must make for a character building experience.

Peter's Lotus 7 is an early car, recently fitted with a rebuild 948 'A' Series on twin SUs and must be a pleasure to drive, particularly as it's road registered. Not in our class but along the row was a Citroen 2CV – 1100cc BMW power which naturally offends the purists but something different from which Alexander gets a great deal of fun. Following possible fuel pump issues at the last meeting Richard reported that the B19 had actually run out of petrol as they had been driving down the hill with the brakes on to bed them the pads in, as a result using more petrol than usual. Mike had been playing with his gears once again and returned to a 3 gear selection for the hill which he felt held promise. Unable to leave things alone I'd slightly richened the Weber air bleed screws one half turn which smoothed the transfer from idle to main jets, if nothing lse making making it easier to traverse the paddock without stalling. The now' less than new' treaded tyres remained on the car for whilst it would be dry enough for slicks the Ensign was feeling good on this new rubber, so why not? Sadly Geoff and his evergreen Lotus 22 was not around as he had a gardening accident earlier in the week and was indisposed. 

In P1 all our class were going well in the perfect conditions albeit I found the start a little slippery. The Marsh Special did a 2.06 launch time which was impressive considering the fresh return to a hill. The Chapman did an identical 86 mph through both speed traps which reflected Oliver's driving experience - excellent. Following this the Marsh Special had a gearbox selection problem that could not be quickly fixed so they scratched although the car remained on display. On P2 Richard was still winning the B19 battle with daughter Amanda although they were split by Mike, the Alexis doing well with the new gear arrangements. Following lunch Mike led both of them on T1, missing the lead by just 1.30s and my excuse was total brain fade changing gear at the right hander at the top of Karousel – truly a box full of neutrals. The Chapman crossed the finish line at 93 mph, 2nd in the class at this speed trap, very quick. Most of our times improved on T2 for whilst it was getting quite late for a Gurston meeting the conditions remained hot and still. Mike, Richard and Amanda taking half a second off their T1 times. 

In the wider worldther was a close finish for BTD with Sandra heading the pack on 29.82s, just one hundredths ahead of Andy McBeath in his 'for sale' OMS 25.The car demonstrations were modest with the March and Geoff's Lotus 22 unavailable although there would be others on Sunday. The results are here.


The forecast threatened an even hotter day on Sunday and it was clear blue first thing. With plenty of rubber on the track and start line perfect driving conditions were on offer. Even the roads were quiet as I travelled from Bristol – after leaving town completely deserted, some cloud developing although of no concern. Our class changed with the B19 having left, the Alexis moving to the large Bugatti Owners Club Classic Championship class whilst James joined us with his Ford powered Raven 4wd. Delightfully we were joined by two vintage Alvis which added interest to the class and different things to discuss about cars in general. One was returning home from a VSCC event the previous day at Brookland's, so a real contrast for Chris, his first time at Gurston.. A long discussion trawled the infinite depths of vintage carburation, one 12/50 fitted with twin SUs, the other with an original u/draft Solex MV. From past experience with my Austin 7 Ulster, so much quicker and more economical with an 1 1/4" SU rather than a Solex 30MOV, the answer was the same with the Alvis pair, although VSCC regulations disapprove of SUs.

We were quickly scrutineered as one of the Brookland scrutes was here today and headed straight for the Alvis pair, quickly seeing off the rest of us. Much like the Marsh and Chapman, the Raven has family history as it was built by James father after his partnership with Jack Heaton-Rudd which resulted in the Rudeani hill climb special. James reacquired the Raven quite a while ago and after the tortuous rebuild and making the complex 4wd work reliably, he is now enjoying the car. This time it had a different nose that replicates the original, the water radiator being at the rear. The green 'deux chevaux' was still in our row and so also was a vast 7500cc Camaro V8 with all the serious bits as it also competes on the drag strip! As yesterday a bike class filled the end of the programme. 

Again the class was in a later batch and if there had been an queries about early conditions the track was now perfect. Inevitably the Alvis were in their 'own class' and enjoying the friendly rivalry. The Raven settled in well on P1 with identical speeds off the start and finish line, which I understand is as it should be. The Ensign was launching quickly off the start although the first speed trap not as quick as I would have expected, the rest reasonably ok on P1 and P2. After lunch conditions must have improved a little and the sun was now blazing away. Chris had problems restarting his Alvis in top paddock, the starter motor on it's last legs although the car easily 'bump started' on an incline. He missed T1 but the small paddock incline was sufficient for him to participate in T2. James was delighted to get the Raven into the 30s for his first time, on T2. That's the nice thing about this sport – small things making a lot of difference to the day. The Ensign did a decent, if not startling time with half a second off the previous best split time to Karousel, on the face of it a vindication of the changed suspension settings today, soft roll bars and soft front dampers. It felt as if more chassis compliance suited Hollow and quicker to get traction after hogging the kerb at Ashes.

In the meantime the day had been busy with a number of Gurston celebrities being driven up the hill and demonstration runs which included the aforementioned Rudeani which I last saw to Curborough around 2005. Of personal interest I was told early in the day that Mike Wilds, the first driver of the Ensign, might be present. He did, and I was delighted to meet him and we had a delightful and, for me, informative conversation about his experiences with the Ensign and other things in general, he now living quite close to the track. Later he was interviewed by the start line commentator which was delightful and it was good of him to spare the time. This interview confirmed a question I have always had regarding a peculiarity on the Ensign chassis – mentioned to me by the previous Bristol owner Nigel Bigwood, when I bought the car. The day ran it's course and Oliver, driving the family Pilbeam this time, took BTD on 27.92s. The results are here.

Curborough 11 June 2017

Returning to a degree of sanity after Thursday's General Election in the UK it was off to a Curborough sprint, organised by the Owen Motor Club. A simple venue and easy to find, just off the A38 close to Lighfield, the Fradley Inustrial Estate turning. Happily the track is quite rural, as the crow flies not far from the Fradley Canal Junction. The club has it's roots with the BRM cars from the original V16 onwards and Rubery Owen, who took over BRM from the original trust in October 1952. The Owen family were the main shareholders, from which the club's name is derived. Crossroads comes to mind as it was the 'figure of 8' course on Sunday, a busy day with over 70 cars entered which I suspect is over the reasonable maximum for this track configuration. It was another outing for the Ensign, taller gear ratios fitted for this and Gurston Down next weekend. The trophy for BTD is Graham Hill's steering wheel, suitably mounted on a plinth. Or it was, as sadly nothing lasts forever and I gather the real thing has been nabbed for a museum exhibit so the event trophy is yet another replica. I thought it rather takes the shine off the award, not that I'm ever likely to be in the frame!

A sharp breeze, scudding clouds and an occasional sight of the sun, the weather menu for the day. For a change the Ensign was the last runner in the programme but the paddock location was close to the office and track which was convenient. The usual mixture of saloons and sports cars, specialist variations of those themes together with a small entry of single seaters comprising 4  1100cc, 3  1600cc and 1 over 2000cc. There were 2 cars in each of the classic classes – an Elan S3 and Alfa Romeo Berlina in road going with the Ensign and Les driving his Elva Mk7 twink – identical to the previous Saturday at Harewood. The instructions were comprehensive, even including the time when we were to be scrutineered, very efficient and of course totally wrong! The course looked clean, light overnight rain having mostly dried.  As the forecast suggest the likelihood of showers I was using the new treaded tyres again to avoid any need for wheel changing.

After the weekend at Harewood they were looking rather nasty and today would be no improvement, masses of 'dead' rubber attached to their soft surface. Practice started promptly at 9.00am and actually went quickly with few delays, the paddock and start line officials getting everyone organised to minimise delays between each run, in the latter case the red light changing to green exactly as the preceding car finished it's run. Someone remarked on whether 2 cars might run simultaneously – possible, I suppose, although difficult to implement safely.

Many of the classes were closely run which makes for interesting competition and the sort of thing most of us look for at a low key club event like this. For example, in the 2000cc  standard production class a Clio took 1st by 0.8s from a Fiesta, in the modified 2000cc road going saloon class Ist and 2nd were separated by only 0.04s, this time both Mazda MX5s, exactly the same gap in the 2000cc modified road going sports car between another MX5 and a Lotus Elan Plus 2.Top of the pops were the 1700cc roadgoing Locaterfield class with a gap of 0.01s between a Westfield