| MY OCCASIONAL MOTORSPORT DIARY
Blyton Park 14th & 15th July 2018
Since Prescott, and for that matter Pembrey, the UK has enjoyed almost unprecedented hot and dry weather, although I’ve taken a break from motor sport for a week or two. Returning to the regular weekend regime heralded a journey to Blyton Park for a weekend’s sprinting, this track not far from Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. Yet another old WW11 RAF airfield and used by bombers in what is, of course, the bomber county of England. Closed in 1954 its subsequent use has been mainly agriculture although much of the original runways remain and it was converted into a motorsport venue in 2011. There are a choice of track layouts and they are entertaining to drive, if not quite the ‘wide open spaces’ of a circuit like Pembrey. Even better, I was staying at a delightful b&b just a short drive from the track so the right ingredients for an entertaining weekend.
Driving there on Friday the roads were surprising clear and the scenery amazing – golden fields either full of corn or recently cropped, balers tidying the straw to be removed. I gathered that the harvest has been early due to the recent hot weather, despite a cold and wet spring. Hot and dry when I arrived although there had been plenty of rain at home after I left, enough to fill the water butts, which was something. The paddock’s a mixture of grass and tarmac, the later in mixed condition and remembering last year I packed a stout broom as the Ensign was parked on the tarmac. In fairness to the organisers, it looked as if the tarmac had already been swept. The track itself is good, this tarmac recent enough and with a clearly marked white line edge, ever a subject for conversation these days on what defines ‘wheels off’. This was slightly confusing as the white line was inside the yellow painted kerbs and we were told the 3 wheels off were ok, but not 4 on pain of losing the time, assuming the misdemeanour was even spotted! I walked the track on Friday evening and noted that cones on corner apexes were supported by stout bales – best avoided.
Saturday morning dawned hot and dry and today this Westfield Sports Car Club event was using the ‘Outer Circuit’ with the long straight bisected with a chicane to slow us down followed by some challenging swerves heading toward the finish line. I drove the track last year in the Mallock and after last evening's walk the layout was familiar although driving the Ensign would be swifter. The race car classes were small although the Formula Ford class continued to enjoy its recent revival in the sprint and hill climb world. There was just one other 1600cc race car today, an OMS, whilst the Ensign had no company on Sunday, not entirely unusual with this category showing something of a decline whilst, of course, a classic class remains a rarity. Not that it really matters as I knew what I should achieve and had my own personal targets. Suitably replete following a proper cooked breakfast I was starting to uncover the Ensign when a scrutineer arrived post haste, so that formality was quickly dealt with. In this spacious paddock the transporter was parked beside the Ensign, a convenience I still appreciate when space considerations at many hill venues dictate otherwise.
The driver’s briefing confirmed the ‘wheels off’ criteria although we were allowed to have them off over the finish line on Sunday, a special dispensation due to its location quickly following a 90 right, MSA rules stating that all wheels must be on the track over the finish line and yes, some clubs do appoint an official to monitor this. They must have a very exciting day...? Following this practice was quickly away around 9.00am and the C of C suggested 2 practice runs and the first competitive run before lunch. That looked good. As befitted an event run by the Westfield Club the entry included many of these cars, with the odd Caterham and Silva interloper and quite a few Lotus Elise which make a decent car in which to drive to an event and then compete. Practice moved at pace, not surprising with 3 cars on the track most of the time and few delays. It's worth mentioning that Time Team, the official time keepers, did a good job with little time lost due to equipment failure, the most when a Formula Ford took out the finish lights on Sunday, that delay being minimal.
Running late in the field P1 still came around quickly. A quiet run in the Ensign, the first half ok but I had difficulty navigating the curves in the return ‘straight’ neatly. Whilst I was using the Ensign’s older set of tyres grip was excellent as they were hot before the start, whilst everything else was working perfectly. I was using a hard setup on the car which, as things transpired, was not the best choice. Before one almost had time to think, or indeed gossip, P2 arrived and the Ensign’s time was improved by less than one second, very poor and compared with other cars desperately slow, my driving rather lazy. Perhaps the fact that my class competitor Chris Thomas’s OMS was 10s faster than me limited my motivation, a poor excuse and I used a different gear choice for T1 which at least chopped around 2s off the time. Yes, all this was easily accommodated in the morning and it was the lunch break and more of an opportunity to wander and chat and enjoy the summer weather. Despite tyre warming being banned the layers of rubber were quickly accumulating on the start line and the grip excellent.
The plan was T2 after lunch and then a further 2 competitive runs, all times counting towards the final result, which seemed a good idea for those involved with close competition. For T2 the Ensign’s chassis settings were softened although I was not entirely convinced this a good idea which shows how little I know! The start was excellent with 2.04s for the 64ft and the overall time was better by less than a second although I made a mess of two corners which cost a lot of time. Excuses, but I was starting to get there. Most competitors, unsurprisingly, continued with their full quota of runs but I stopped after T2, still early around 2.15pm. The championship with which I’m involved only accepts the first 2 competitive runs for scoring so extra runs were merely wearing the car out for little reason other than proving it will go a bit faster – or not. However, it was interesting to relax and spectate near the finish line and enjoy the atmosphere. The day’s results are here and the 4.2 litre turbocharged SBR Chrono V8 Audi TT look-alike of Simon Bainbridge took BTD on 59.01s, a good effort as their day was dogged by an early electrical sensor failure that took a lot of discovering.
Sunday dawned with a repeat of Saturday’s conditions although perhaps a slightly smaller entry, enhanced by several Aston Martins ranging from newish to pre-war 1.5 litre Le Mans and Mk2. I’d walked the new ‘Eastern Circuit’ on Saturday evening, this incorporating the middle part of the ‘Outer Circuit’ with a complicated first section concluding with an awkward long right-hand bend followed by a sharp left onto the back straight of Saturday. Just the same as last year, of course, and I did not try to remember the first section although the initial entry from the starting straight was sharp and slow. For a change, we did not have to sign on again for this separate event and yesterday's scrutineering of the car sufficed unless the car had been damaged, all making life simpler for everyone. I kept the Ensign’s soft settings from Saturday and practice started just after 9am and moved quickly. This was due, on both days, to an efficient paddock marshal who ensured we knew well in advance and as a result there neither long queues of cars in the paddock, nor start line delays with no cars. The Ensign was slow off the line, slightly ‘bogging down’ although I gave that little thought as I was more interested in what was happening ahead. Curiously the early part of this circuit seemed to flow naturally although I cheated and selected 3rd gear early for an easy Sunday outing. Joining the ’Outer Circuit’ was well understood although the finish was easier with the curves now leading onto a straight, the finish at the end of this after a 90 left once again. This time there was little space after the corner so I’d decided to brake late in top gear and let momentum carry the Ensign over the finish line. I chickened out of my planned braking point but as the finish was free of drama perhaps I could be bolder. It was a slow time but for P2, after again bogging off the line, I stayed in 2nd gear through the early wiggles which seemed a good idea and shaved off 5.5s after later final braking, without too much effort. Once again P1 immediately followed the practice runs and this time more use of 2nd gear produced a further time saving although the poor start line launch was accompanied by slow 2nd gear acceleration onto the back straight.
Lunch time and I had a fiddle, checking the spark plugs and correcting the balance of the Weber carburettors. Nothing much wrong there so I decided on serious start line revs and using 1st gear briefly to launch onto the straight. This worked, as a 2.05s launch was accompanied by seamless acceleration onto the straight, braking before the finish about as late as safely possible and after scrabbling over the finish line a further 2s saved. The ‘Eastern Circuit’ is a bit slower than the ‘Outer’ and today the Ensign’s times compared more favourably with my bench mark, which was satisfying and I’m sure due to more track time. Again, competitors had the option of a further 2 competitive runs although I took Saturday’s option, loading up and on the road by 3.00pm with a surprising easy and uneventful 4 hours journey home. Today BTD went to David Tatham in his 1litre OMS Hornet on 64.40s, just heading the large Bainbridge car, the small single seater more suitable for today’s track. The results are here.
Despite the travel I found this an enjoyable and well-run club event, obviously helped with perfect weather and decent overnight accommodation. Whilst Ginetta Cars have taken over the ownership of the track from founder Richard Usher, he still runs the place with a ‘hands on’ approach and the venue reflects this attention to detail, exemplified with the main water supply being broken by the local farmer whilst harrowing an adjacent field and Richard’s efforts to sort the problem. I shall be inclined to enter again in 2019, all other things being equal, and hope standards are maintained if and when changes are made at the top.
Prescott 24th & 25th June 2018
Well who would have thought it, a hot and dry weekend at Prescott after the miserable and wet conditions earlier in the season. Of course, with its picturesque sloping grassed paddock complete with the fruit trees, Prescott is particularly vulnerable to the rain, not so much on track but the logistics of moving competition cars around and towing out immovable trailers and mobile homes from the grass car parks. However the venue recovered and dropping the Ensign off on Friday morning looked pristine. This was a weekend of two separate events, Saturday hosting a number of championships and Sunday a round of the prestigious Midland Hillclimb Championship, Porsche and The Hillclimb and Sprint Association Championships being invited to both days. Sadly, this weekend also clashed with a weekend of sprinting at Snetterton which was another HSA championship round. In this case 45 as opposed to 145 miles travel mads my decision easy although I'm sad that their entry was below expectations.
Saturday dawned with a clear blue sky, filled with the vapour trails of jets to and from Heathrow, a sight that makes me ponder about emissions and global warming and the strength of the airline lobby within the corridors of power. Nothing I can do about that other than join them, making my own contribution to emissions in a racing car, albeit we are taxed. The paddock was busy with early arrivals and always something to look at on a sunny morning. Apart from the Porsche classes there was one for Sunrise Speed Championship competitors, a recent innovation by the Midland Automobile Club, plus a Bugatti Owners Club class, handicap based. The HSA class was large and the field was completed by a motorcycle class and classes for Midland Speed and Ralli22. Cars were therefore a mish mash in each class, saloons vying with Locaterfields vying with single seaters. Particularly good to see were a number of Mallocks, this their 60th Anniversary year with Ricard and Ben sharing drives in a Mk26 and Mk25 with Richard Fry and Tom Brown. Richard Churchly was in his immaculate Mk24 although son Tim was unable to drive having having been summoned to his ship somewhere in the Mediterranean! There was also a Mk4 which sadly was one of the few incidents of the weekend and had to scratch. The HSA class contained some quick cars including two Impreza, a pair of OMS single seaters and the Locaterfield cars of Simon Jenks, John Bradshaw and HSA Chairman Chris Howard-Harris.
The day started promptly with the bikes and with Prescott having a return road, progress was fast although there were the occasional delays throughout the day, as is inevitable. The track was in perfect condition, hot and clean, the grass edges dry and firm. It was good to get moving on P1 and settle into the routine, the Ensign with softer settings and more 'front end' caught me out at Ettore, oversteering onto the inside grass although recovery was simple and the run completed. Happily, P2 was free from drama and straight forward, the chassis setup satisfactory so I can only assume the oversteer on P1 was due to cool tyres. Much the same after a prompt lunch break with the Ensign' times for T1 and T2 within 2 hundredths although I would have forgone neatness for more pace! I felt that the Ensign should enter The Esses quicker but over the weekend I was unable to take the left hander without lightly braking, here a case for left foot braking if it wasn't for the steering column in the way!
The programme ran quickly enough and finished around 4.30pm which was good. Many competitors were staying for the Sunday events and it was the usual case of changing race numbers and playing 'musical cars' with different paddock locations. On Saturday the HSA class were parked on the tarmac which was excellent and for Sunday the Ensign, running with the modern 1600s, was again on tarmac and now at the top of row A where the great and the good park with their transporters, motor homes and what have you. I grabbed this opportunity with both hands and moved my transporter to establish squatters rights before heading south and home. Like Saturday morning the M5 remained busy, the summer trek south with caravans and mobile homes a plenty. Mathew Ryder took BTD in his Empire Evo 2 Hayabusa 1600cc on 40.21s and Saturday's results are here and here.
Sunday morning was again hot and clear blue overhead. The paddock seemed quiet compared with Saturday and I suppose most people arrived the previous evening. Today most classes followed the pattern laid down by the MSA as that's how the Midland Hillclimb Championship operates. This was also another round of the HSA Championship and thanks to their sophisticated digital scoring system it did not matter where a contender was placed in the paddock – their best time entered into the system and points/position automatically allocated. Several Mallock cars remained to be joined by Peter's immaculate and shining Mk4 with a Lotus Ford twin cam. The fast end of the paddock was occupied by Gould, Dallara, Ralt, Raptor, Pilbeam, Force, Empire and OMS, a veritable' tour de force' of fast hill climb single seaters although several were missing, enjoying a round of the British Hillclimb Championship at Doune in Scotland. All exciting to watch, both mechanically and the skill of the drivers.
With the Midland Hill climb entry, the day was likely to drag due to a Top 12 runoffs after T1 and then T2, one of the reasons I tend to avoid Midland and National events. However, P1 started early enough and the programme buzzed along. The Ensign's 1600cc class was towards the end of the programme, number 155 says it all. For P1 I tried settings that I'd successfully used here in the past and they made no obvious difference so I returned to what I'd been using on Saturday. As happens all too frequently P2 was the Ensign's fastest run of the weekend, a second or so short of this on T1 and T2 for no good reason. Still, the sun was shining and plenty of time to wander the paddock and eat ice cream! Whilst by no means a definitive judgement many of the competitors T2 runs were slower than T1 and it was remarked that the very hot weather would not help the volumetric efficiency of engine breathing, even with electronic fuel injection and turbo/ supercharging. Whatever, the Ensign's twin cam felt good although an unrecognisable 1% drop in performance could be a much as half a second of lost time.
Leaving aside this weekend it was interesting to learn that the inovative HSA are preparing to revive the Sprint Leaders Championship in 2019, the MSA having given their approval pending the final regulations. The MSA Sprint Championship has been in the doldrums for a while and this might help to revive it's profile and certainly, if they have a class for old bangers in the Leaders, I'll be inclined to enter.
So the day finished and I was able to load up and slip away before the final Top 12 runoff. To squeeze through a gap another competitor's panel van was kindly relocated, seconds later the space to be claimed by a Skoda almost filling the space I needed to exit! Anyway, it's all a day out and bit of sport and the king of the sporting Prescott jungle on Sunday was Robert Kenrick, taking BTD in his diminutive GWR Raptor 2 BMW 1 litre on 37.94s, making the big beasts look a bit like dinosaurs. Sunday's results are here and here.
Gurston Down 16th & 17th June 2018
A weekend off before this Gurston weekend, absorbed in a family affair with an 80th birthday which was pleasant although as the allocated driver I was not at my zenith of enthusiasm. In the mean time the Ensign's ratios were changed and the usual preparation, including the tow Audi which developed odd leaks solved with new pipe and hose clips whilst the dreaded airbag warning light was due to bad electrical connections! The weather forecasts were, as usual, inconsistent and I planned for a wet Saturday and loaded the brand new A15 tyres as they needed a couple of runs to remove the mould release agent, wet conditions being ideal for this job.
I was again staying at a local farmhouse b&b so drove down Friday with time to prepare without rushing, followed by a walk up the track in the dappled sunshine with fellow class competitor Mike. Following the recent hot weather the tarmac was warm and a road sweeper had cleaned the hill so the surface was good, if slightly dusty. The grass edges were dry and there were no floppy posts beside the sharp left hander at Ashes so this could be driven aggressively. What might have been a red kite slowly wafted above our heads getting 'lift' from the tree line, joining us later in the weekend wheeling above the paddock.
The weekend comprised of two separate clubbies with a full entry list on Saturday which included a class for bikes. There were 8 cars in the classic class excluding a non-starting Gilbern and we were in various locations around the paddock, a shame and I think organisers sometimes fail to grasp the fact that for many hill climbing is a social activity and we spend most of our time standing about chatting! The sky was rather grey first thing but the clouds were moving and the sun appeared briefly throughout the day. Our class included the familiar faces, Jeremy's pretty Lotus Elan, Mike's delightful Alexis Mk17, the George family Chevron B19, Sue's smart Palliser WDF3, Brian's Gilbern GT and Charles 1100cc Cooper Mk7 which was ensconced with the other bike engine Coopers. Following its winter rebuild the Chevron's handling was still a trifle wayward, particularly in a straight line which was a trifle disconcerting for Richard and daughter Amanda. They adjusted dampers and roll bars throughout the weekend and there were improvements, their times certainty quicker. The Alexis was fresh from the workshop of Aldon Automotive following a lack of engine revs which involved replacement parts and detuning the electric rev counter, apparently returned from servicing a while ago set for a 6-cylinder engine.
Hill activities started soon after 8.30 and the bikes were unusually in the first batch, I gather new arrangements following missing their 'run off' at the last event here. With the Ensign's new tyres P1 was a slow run and I noticed how the car felt rather stiffer on these, someone remarking perhaps I was feeling the stronger wire carcass with the new tyres. I had been considering removing the tyres after this run but the weather remained uncertain so I left them, the old tyres now to be avoided in moist conditions. There was a hint of moisture in the air for P2 and whilst we waited at the finish paddock during some delays very light rain, which I always refer to a 'Scots Mist', gently wafted over us. Returning eventually to the paddock this had disappeared although it had made the track moist enough of a couple of offs in the final practice batch of cars.
That, in fact, was the worst part of the day, weather wise, afternoon track conditions were good. Remaining on the new tyres the Ensign's grip was, of course, excellent, with reasonable times for T1 and T2.The Palliser was fast and headed the Chevron and Alexis and the rest of the class. I was trying to take a wider line into Hollow, that fast left-hand bend at the bottom of the hill off the start line. I only managed that once, still too close and on the kerb which the Ensign's suspension absorbs well enough but at 100ish the car is unsettled and there is certainly a neater way of driving this bend. When walking the hill it was interesting to note that the 'clipping points' had been marked in yellow, for the convenience of the driver training events held here regularly. Always an interesting subject to inspect and discuss.
Sunday dawned much as Saturday with a breeze and clouds although the weather forecast was optimistic with little rain expected. The motor bikes appeared again and this was the second day for the Tony Marsh Trophy which would be won by the driver improving the most on his target time in the Gurston Championship, of which 4 rounds were being held over the weekend. The Ensign had been running excellently on Saturday so there was little to do other than check the tyre pressures, normally 16psi on the hills. I was lazy and left the new tyres on the Ensign consoling myself that I would anyway be using them next weekend at Prescott. The classic class were still spread around and today joined by an Alvis 12/50, Jensen C V-8 and James's familiar and unique Raven 4WD which he was listed sharing with daughter Georgina but she instead drove the family diesel Mini in another class, sensible girl. Geoff had entered his ex-Spencer Elton Lotus 22 but the car did not appear although Geoff was around the paddock. Mike with his Alexis and the Ensign remained in the filthy part of the paddock which, without rain, was bearable.
It was good to see the BOC Classic class with a delightful array of classic single seater and sports and saloon cars, all pre –1971 although I did wonder what a modern Leastone F5 was all about, with a Suzuki bike engine and second in the class on scratch. Andy had his recently refurbished Brabham BT30X-1 with a 3.5litre V8, I believe the ex-Mike Mac Dowel hill climb car, looking smart and surely to achieve great results in due course. Nick is always quick in his red Lotus 51B and Grant was driving his ex-Harratt family Braham BT21B, Jane coincidentally acting as club steward today. David Owen was driving the ex-Jeremy Smithson Merlyn Mk11 FF having forsaken his OMS, a slight culture shock although he was settling in well and just ahead of Les Buck in his ex-Mike Fisher Pringett Mistrale FF, David and Les once sharing an OMS. A nice class with plenty of sports and saloon cars as well, won decisively, on scratch at least, by Richard Jones in his swift blue Brabham BT29X
As usual practice started promptly and for P1 I managed to exit the start line on idle, total lack of concentration on my part although the twin cam looked after me and the engine pulled from 1000rpm, surely the slowest 64ft of the weekend at 3.42s! Everyone was going well although Mike in the Alexis and Jeremy in the Elan were today running in the aforementioned BOC Classic Class, rather confusing as Jeremy was listed in our class results whilst Mike, though still parked beside the Ensign, was listed in the BOC. I can just work it out although can the spectators, not that it matters.
Still dry P2 was better and after lunch a dry T1 was exhilarating, the Ensign recording 104mph down the hill off the line and again over the finish line. Sadly the overall time did not beat my PB but great fun nevertheless. The skies had been getting greyer and the 'Scots Mist' appeared for our final run and I adopted a cautious approach and both Amanda and Richard were quicker in the Chevron, to their credit. The moisture quickly disappeared so it was dry to load up for the journey home. The results for both days are here and Peter Smith took BTD on both days, Saturday 30.13s and Sunday 30.00s. Mark Crookall won the Tony Marsh Memorial Trophy in his Mazda MX5 for the second time in succession.
Pembrey 2nd & 3rd June 2018
A week or two doing other things but Friday morning I was on the road again, west along the M4 and this time to Llanelli and then the coast road to Pembrey. This race circuit is located at an ex-WW11 RAF station that was operational between 1937 and 1957, mainly for training. Famously, the first FW190 acquired by the RAF landed here on the 23.6.1942 flown by Oberleutnant Arnim Faber having become over excited after downing a Spitfire from Exeter and, low on petrol, subsequently landed here. The duty pilot at Pembrey grabbed a Very pistol and jumped onto the wing of the FW before Faber knew he had landed in Wales, disoriented and having mistakenly flown a reciprocal course. Thus FW190A-3 No.5313 from 11/JG2 was dismantled, shipped by road to Farnborough, reassembled in 10 days and extensively test flown until 28.1.1943. I suspect this the most exciting thing that happened at Pembrey throughout the war. Apart from the race track there is a small airfield with a single 805m runway and somewhat ambitiously named Pembrey West Wales International Airport, opened in 1997. Otherwise the site is used for agriculture although much of the original runways and hard standings can be found, the paddock being a part of the main runway. There was also a police heliport in use when I was here in 2012 which now looks expensively abandoned.
I planned to travel early as Friday motorway traffic is dire everywhere, but once arrived entry is normally not a problem. This time it was, vehicles and trailers parked outside the gates so I dumped the transporter and went off in search of my weekend accommodation. It wasn’t far away but as this was my first visit it seemed a good idea to check it out and indeed find the B&B through the rural lanes. Back at the track later the queue was growing and I learnt that we would not be allowed in because of work taking place on the track and we would be a health & safety hazard. Eventually we were officially allowed to enter although work appeared to still be in progress. With the possibility of having cars scrutineered at 6.00 I unloaded and prepared everything and then walked much of the course. A scrutineer indeed arrived at the appointed time and completed his formalities, following which I was then able to 'sign on' in the office, a different way of doing things but who cares? As usual the weekend was being run by BARC Wales and hosting several championships including the HSA and British Sprint Championship. There was a mixed entry which, on Saturday, included the Paul Matty Classic Lotus championship which I particularly enjoyed; many handsome cars being driven quickly. The Ensign was in the usual 1600cc single seater class, an interloper as the other cars in the class were competing in the BSC although I had nothing to do with them as the BSC people were located in a different paddock close to the start line marshalling area. On both days the event was 1.5 laps of the 'original circuit, nominally 3.5km and the opportunity of keeping the twin cam at 7500 revs for a while, in top gear. along the main straights.
Friday night and the mists came in making the drive to the local pub like something out of the Hammer House of Horrors. I survived and Saturday morning an excellent breakfast launched me towards the track. Whilst moist overnight the weather was clearing from the west and the sky was soon deep azure with the odd cloud - just perfect. Without a paddock marshal and an incoherent PA system, together with the threat that if we did not appear at the right time we would forfeit our run, battle commenced. Practice started at 9.10am and I was 31 on the official running order and appeared in due time. However, various BSC cars then wafted down from their adjacent paddock and took priority over the rabble and as a result I was sitting around for ages. This scheme continued throughout the event and as the weather was perfect, sitting in a single seater with all the kit for 30 minutes or more was character building. It could have been worse, of course, if it had been raining. It's times like this I appreciate the Ensign's excellent upholstery and nearly dozed off a couple of times, such was the excitement!
Eventually I was sent forth on P1 which I found rather daunting, the Ensign all over the place although the tyres started gripping at the end of the first lap and when considering the run afterwards I was clearly trying too hard on cool tyres, also not in their first flush of youth. Also, the track had just dried from overnight rain and obviously was not yet perfect. However I stayed on the track and the engine was running sweetly, my choice of chassis settings probably ok although too much understeer early in the run. I decided to leave everything where is was and listen to other driver's experiences and settle into the established routine of these events. The programme seemed initially to be moving quickly but later slowed, probably an organisational matter for sometimes there was only one car was on the track, where it is possible to simultaneously run 3, with slick management. The Lotus classes were running at the end of the programme despite being listed as 2G, normally an early running class in the normal course of events, which seemed rather machiavellian.
By P2 the tyres and the track were heating in the sunshine so I was more confident. Again the aforementioned delays in the marshalling area but on track the Ensign's run felt quicker and much more controlled, although only a small improvement in the time which was disappointing. Such are speed events, whether on the flat or the hills. After this run I checked the spark plugs and was delighted that they the proper colour for once as they generally have that nasty sooty look at shorter hill climbs.
Practice eventually finished at 1.45pm and the lunch break was shortened and I'm sure the marshals needed the break after a morning in the sunshine, clad in their overalls. The official timed runs followed the same pattern but as the programme was running slowly there were no Top 12 Runoffs for the BSC and indeed it was only with luck that all the Matty Lotus class completed T2, the last car running at 6.10pm which was past the official curfew time, although I do wonder just how important that is bearing in mind that apart from the wild life there are few local residents. Having completed T2 I wandered over to the track wall at the exit of Honda, a quick part of the course, looking at the line of cars exiting this quick bend. Most were running onto the runoff area, as indeed I found was necessary in the Ensign. Some stayed on the track and looked as quick, although appearances can be deceptive. Perhaps it was where people initially turned in and their cars behaviour, although it looked a lot slower from the wall than it felt in the Ensign's driving seat!
The entry list was much as usual at this type of event. Roadgoing cars included a Celica GT that had electrical problems on P1 when a 100amp fuse burnt, subsequently repaired enabling the car to run both days. A Volvo 940 estate was unusual and driven exuberantly and Gordon had his 'new' Focus, problems with its Brembo brakes at Llandow not having been identified by the Ford dealer although they were obviously working. Caterham and Westfield abounded in a number of classes with SBD head honcho Steve Broughton double driving his Westy and F3 Dallara to identify handling issues, or perhaps just trying to confuse himself. Single seater cars included all the usual suspects with Jedi, Force, OMS DJ, Ralt, Gould, Pilbeam and Lola although no example of Bill Chaplin's prolific Empire cars from Bridgwater, which have not made an impact on the sprinting world as yet. Classic cars included that hoard of Loti with Elan and Elan+2, no less than two exquisite monocoque 35 twin cams, a 20/22 FJ with a 1600cc engine, four 69 including Tony's pristine F3 twin cam, two 23B sports racers and more. Carole's regularly used Nike Mk11 FF, built by her late father Ken, was another rare car competing.
Saturday's sprinting having finished we repaired to Burry Port for supper and liquid refreshment. Sunday dawned with the clear blue sky interspersed with the vapour trails of aircraft heading to and from Heathrow.The organisers decided that there would be just one practice run today, then the two Top 12s from Saturday, then T1 and T2 which they naively thought might happen before lunch. Perhaps they do not realise that the reason many of us enter is to play hooligans round a race track for which we pay sufficient, so having our days quota cut by 25% was not met with universal joy. The field was smaller as most of the Lotus crew had gone, probably relieved that they actually had a 2nd competitive run on Saturday, unlike 2017. There were a few new arrivals just for the day and they would have been delighted with just one practice run, particularly if they had not driven Pembrey before. Conditions were now even better than Saturday and seriously hot. The Ensign was working perfectly although the tyres were slowly being destroyed, not that this was so important as this their 25th event and now need really hot conditions to work properly.The track was delightful and by this time I had an idea of where the Ensign should be and was concentrating on staying on the throttle more as there were only 2 braking points, Hatchers Hairpin at the end of the main straight and the 120-degree Brooklands Hairpin before the straights.
As things turned out the BSC crew had their two left over Top 12 runs in the morning after P1, this followed by T1 which finished the morning activities,T2 following after lunch and finally a further two Top 12 Runoffs.The day ran swiftly and perhaps there were more cars on the track now although I was released after long delays with a single car ahead of me. Still, what do I know about running a sprint at Pembrey? In the end the Ensign was 3 seconds off its PB which was disappointing but that's how it sometimes is with this sport.That said,it was a pleasure driving this track in almost perfect conditions when, I noted, my alternative choice of the Classic event at Harewood was wet and miserable. For once, I'd made the right call.
The results for both days are here, rather confusing with the BSC and Top 12s and what have you. In conclusion, I hear that two BSC specialists managed to a. miss a red flag although we all have at some time, and b. ran 3 laps instead of 2 and I'm saying nothing as the driver was old enough to be able to count. Happily summer seems to have arrived at last and local hill climbs beckon in the next week or two, Gurston Down followed by Prescott at the end of the month. Monday morning and the gears have been changed and now a 100mpg top gear for Gurston after the heady heights of 112mph top, 97mph 3rd and 75mph 2nd at Pembrey. That seems a small change but I assure you it isn't!
New Year 2018
An early start today but not too far to travel, just over a deserted Severn Bridge and past Cowbridge to yet another ex-RAF airfield at Llandow. I've been coming here, on and off, for years as it's useful for a morning's testing and the owners are very obliging. Resurfaced and organised in its present layout in 2000 the site is neat and tidy and the paddock seemed to have been swept recently, few flying stones. The track surface remains good although cracks are developing here and there although nothing to worry competitors. The day was organised jointly by the Bristol Motor and Bristol Pegasus clubs, actually rather slick for at times there were 3 cars on the track, the event using a 1¾ lap format. Timing was simple, without speed traps or splits, adequate although as the Ensign is not endowered with modern technology to record its activities these extras are handy. Once again this will be the only sprint being held at Llandow in 2018 and it is surprising that more clubs do not run an event here as the entry places were soon filled.
The entry was large and the paddock busy with cars and apart from the usual categories there were large MX2 and MG classes and classes for DEWS and HRCR. As last year the MX2 class was sponsored by our local barber's shop! There were two classes with just 2 cars, unusually 1400cc roadgoing and the 1600cc racing car class, the Ensign joined by Carol's Nike Formula Ford. The sky was overcast and walking the track it was obvious that rain had fallen in the previous hour or two although it was drying quickly and the day warmed and the sun shone occasionally. The track was much as I remembered although at the end of Hanger Straight the location of cones beside the narrow 'Kink' appeared closer and drivers were warned that they covered holes
Last week at Werrington and again today I was using different chassis settings, aimed at sharpening corner turn in. I'd left the same gearing in the Ensign as used at Werrington but changed the petrol in the car. For the early season events I've been using 4star leaded which is available from a garage on the A38 at Berkeley. For Llandow I reverted to Shell Optimax, or whatever they now call it. The tyres were looking a little used and this was their 24th event and whilst fine in hot weather I'm sure they’ve lost their 'edge'. Llandow is notorious for destroying tyres so the new set could remain in their bags for a while yet.
After the usual formalities of scrutineering and driver's briefing there were convoy runs for those that wanted, which were most of the entry although I did not bother as I'd already seen what I wanted to see. Practice then proceeded promptly and the 10 racing cars were running mid-field in numerical order so it was easy, located as we were not far from the start line. Like Werrington last weekend, and indeed many venues now, tyre warming was not allowed. On P1 the Ensign bogged down off the start lineas I was not concentrating. I'd been confused by an immediate green start light, there usually being a period on red. I was using insufficient engine revs although the twin cam took that in its stride. The odd damp patch remained but grip was good and the 2.1 miles were entertaining. Despite the entry of over 100 cars P2 came around quickly and I again made a leisurely start although this time made full use of the distance markers at the end of the two straights which improved the time. In the past I've always used 3rd gear through and after the 'Kink' at the end of Hanger Straight. I was now finding the Ensign quick enough to remain in 4th gear, round the Glue Pot and up Paddock Straight, before braking at the Bus Stop.
The fastest cars were in the 2 litre race car class in which Steve Miles in his Van Diemen RF96 and Dave Sims in his Ralt RT33/34 were closely matched, the shared Formula Vauxhall of Gary Buckingham having a curious problem of jamming in the 1st gear of its Reynard/Hewland gearbox. Subsequent dismantling showed just a scrap of metal in the wrong place and after reassembly car then ran correctly. As always Luke Trotman was very quick in his bike engine Mallock 18b, sharing the Sports Libre class with Roy Sims in his 'new' methanol burning Singer Californian Imp, although there was not much Imp to be seen with its forced induction bike engine with 8 injectors and a plenum chamber location reinforced with webbing straps to stop the inlet charge pressure forcing the connections!
The lunch break soon arrived and with it warm sunshine. Following my tardy departure from the line during practice I did the job properly on T1 which saved a second. The twin cam was running perfectly on the Shell fuel, without the occasional flat spot that had happened with the 4star, although in fairness some of the days had been cooler. More to the point, being a tad under geared in 4th the engine was running to over 8000revs in top without distress when braking for Bus Stop, so the fuel seemed an improvement. With more 'front end' and compliance with the antiroll bars the Ensign was delightful through the twisty parts of the circuit without spoiling the faster bits. It was great fun and whilst a PB on P1 I was unable to improve on P2 despite conditions remaining excellent.
In the battle for top spot Dave Sims took BTD on 70.02s which was well deserved, particularly as he was helping organise the cars in the top paddock last weekend at Werrington. The results are here.
Werrington 5th & 6th May 2018
Heading further south this weekend for the 'Jewel in the Crown' of South Western hill climb events, Werrington Park, 2 miles north of Launceston. As oft repeated, a weekend in early May on an agricultural estate who open their access roads to Torbay Motor Club and one of the finest hill climbs in the UK. In the 1980s the Ensign took several BTDs here in the erratic but devastatingly fast hands of Coprnish driver Kevitt Payne and also in the hands the previous owner to me, the late Nigel Bigwood. I relish this hill although the paddock grass is generally much too long for single seaters. There was a surprise this year as the cold spring had slowed the growth. The forecast was hot and dry, the way we like it.
It was mostly motorway and dual carriageway travel to Launceston although this a bank holiday weekend which suggested traffic chaos? The roads flowed easily and a quick journey, without rushing. During the week I'd received an interesting email from a hill climb competitor who had acquired a handsome and smart Ensign from Germany. He is planning on hill climbing the car, much the same as his previous Lotus 61, again entering the Aldon Classic Championship which will provide them with something fresh. More gossip and I was pleased to learn from an inside source that Crystal Palace is likely to reappear in 2019, good news for this South London refugee. The Ensign was easily unloaded and sorted in the Werrington paddock, followed by an early evening stroll up the hill to see the sights, to be sensibly followed later by a steak in the local pub and even better, St Austell Proper Job on draught. A small pleasure!
Saturday dawned misty but this quickly cleared to a clear blue sky and sunshine. The track was ok, dusty but clean, a mechanical sweeper had been up on Friday although small lumps of mud and the rough edges remained. As I walked the hill a contentious soul was thoroughly cleaning the track edges approaching the kink. More protection, although for who's benefit, was apparent with extended tyre barriers secured with convenor belting, just more work for the indefatigable members of Plymouth Motor Club. After the usual formalities practice started early and to speed matters two cars were being run on the hill, the second being 'released' when the preceding car had exited the 90-degreeleft after the manor house. This worked well and the programme ran smoothly over the weekend, apart from the occasional 'off', the barriers at said '90 degree' getting a bit of a beating, as did those involved cars. The Ensign was running in the small racing car category with the other 1600s - Empire, OMS, and Carol's delightful Nike FF, built by her late father Ken who finished his successful career just up the road in Bradworthy. Track conditions improved as the surface warmed and scrubbed by the traffic. This was my first time with the Ensign for a while and the approach to the cattle grid seemed a bit quick, whilst additional water filled road barriers to the right of the subsequent braking area created something of a tunnel effect, initially strange but then useful to access the braking distance. Good conditions, clean track, nothing to complain about other than I was not fast enough, but what's new?
P1 was a trifle moist and anyway, most people were naturally cautious, their times depending on their personal interpretation of cautious! It was immediately obvious that Ben Wheeler in his immaculate and well-prepared Empire Evo 1550cc would be setting the pace although Mike Lee and Andy Forsythe were closely contesting the next place in their respective OMS 3000M and CF04 cars. For P2 everyonewas settling into their routines and I was more assertive in the Ensign although happy enough to improve as in the circumstances, a good time in the car would be largely irrelevant. Lunchtime and KeithRichards in his OMS Hornet dropped a chain and had to scratch for the rest of the day although knew he could collect a replacement in the evening. In the large race car class Dave Gardner and Andy Dinner battled with their immaculate Pilbeams, closely matched although Andy took the class by 0.07s.
In our 1600 class Ben reigned supreme with 33.50s which also secured BTD and I believe there were 3 new class records. Plymouth Motor Club had organised a barbeque in the evening but I decided to return to the local pub at St Giles on the Heath.
Sunday dawned as fine as Saturday, the track now thoroughly 'scrubbed' by the competition traffic and a large entry looking forward to the day. The event ran equally smoothly with fast times. I might of course be wrong but there seemed fewer spectators on both days although they might have spread themselves more; a shame if this was the case with two hot and dry days and interestingly, the North Cornwall coast was shrouded in a cold mist. As on Saturday Ben won the 1600 class and took BTD on 33.19s. The results for both days are here.
Wiscombe 28th & 29nd April 2018
The notorious first event in the Wiscombe calendar, infamous for wet weather, slippery track and challenging grass paddock but with the charming and relaxed attitude of officials in the face of every possible adversity. The previous weekend we heard that the event was 'on' following positive weather forecasts, then severe rain during Thursday and Friday called for all the ingenuity Wiscombe hands could conjure up. I had long since decided that the Mallock would be ideal as this was an event to quietly enjoy with no pressure for results or points or whatever. I'd used the family front wheel drive for last weeks Gurston following damage to my regular Audi tow barge but this weekend 4wd would be at a premium so I left Bristol with the car's front secured with nylon cord. A new plan as rather than commuting I chose a pleasant B&B close to the hill.
The choice of 4WD was wise as the sloping grass paddock was very slippery although, arriving early, it was easy to park the transporter in my 'usual' spot beside a large tree, single seater and sports libre cars being allowed to park with their transporters, where they prefer, in the allocated area. Whilst damp the track looked clean enough, more than could be said of the surrounding lanes as I headed for my accommodation, covered in 'soil and gravel run off' and plenty of large pot holes which were difficult to spot as they were full of water!
As usual the entry was predominantly from the West Country with a modest selection of single seaters and sports libre. Rod Thorne was driving his well-known Pilbeam MP43 sports racer but had an accident after Sawbench on P2 and whilst unhurt, the Pilbeam was scratched for the rest of the weekend. The 1100cc class included two Jedi (one double driven) and two OMS whilst the 1600cc class had three OMS and an Empire, Mike Lee's newish OMS3000M looking smart with a bare carbon fibre body. Two Pilbeam and the KMD made up the 2000cc class. The weekend hosted rounds of several championship including Wiscombe's own, the ASWMC, ACSMC, WAMC and DEWS, if you can work that out.
For Saturday practice the track was slippery although it improved for the competition runs. Sunday started drier and times showed an improvement over Saturday although the track remained very cold. The Mallock ran smoothly and slowly on Saturday and it was a pleasant change to drive the little car after the Ensign. Sunday was annoying as, having strapped in for P1 the starter would no turn, just that clicking of the solenoid. A quick check suggested the starter motor and I was not in the mood for a paddock repair session on a cold day so I packed up and left at lunchtime. Stripping and cleaning the starter motor on Monday resolved the problem - sticking brushes. That said, having to remove the manifolds to gain easy access I'm also stripping and checking the Webers and respraying the exhaust! The results for both days are here.
Gurston 21st & 22nd April 2018
A return to the South of England and the hill climb at Gurston Down, located in and surrounded by swooping chalk down lands and from first sight a simple hill to drive – the farm tractors do it every day. However, like every speed venue the real problem is driving the hill at speed when simple curves take on a life of their own and even the finish line, complete with a kink, requires concentration at speed.
Opting to stay at a B&B for the weekend I delivered the Ensign to the track on Friday, the day dry and warm so my preparation work could be completed leisurely, followed by a walk up the hill. This did not reveal any secrets although the right-hand slope beside Hollow had been cleared of vegetation to provide more accommodation for spectators. The short-term downside of this was soil washing on to the track as the naked slope had not yet stable with grass. The whole hill was dusty although it appeared to have been mechanically swept. However, it was dry and even warm in the sunlight, a good omen for the weekend.
As usual with Gurston, practice started early and just as well as the entry was large, also including bikes and trikes. The Austin 7 class is always interesting although this time I did not browse their cars. A large Porsche class, a TVR class and Classic Marques also with a very large entry, on both days in fact, a popular place to compete with road going sports cars. Various standard MSA defined classes followed and our class ran in the penultimate batch. Like many others our class were conservative in their approach to P1, particularly Richard and Amanda in their shared B19, not having driven it following the extensive rebuild. It was running well and some of the rebuild team assisted during the morning, getting the suspension settings correct and keeping a general eye open for issues. Of interest were the finish times being recorded, 107mph for the Ensign – no way! Sports Libre and the race car classes followed in the last car batch, the 1600s looking like the class of the day.
Like last week at Loton Park it was delightful to have a congenial B&B close to the hill, the treat of a cooked breakfast and no rush. I'd left the Ensign in the trailer park as yet again our class was located beside those disgusting farmyard sheds, the Ensign close to the large water drain and with virtually no ground clearance, something that I am no longer going to accept if the organisers insist on placing historic racing cars in an area suited for trails cars. With no rain and none expected over the weekend I was hopeful, although had no intention of remaining here if it came on to rain. Our classic class included the George family's Chevron B19, resplendent with a new finish with a maroon tinge – very desirable. During the winter the car had been apart and had extensive repairs to the chassis and body so not only the body but the chassis glowed and the metal shone. They too had problems with this part of the paddock as there's also disintegrating concrete which was scraping the low front of the Chevron. Surely road going cars could be parked here? Mike had his familiar Alexis twin cam with a new Hewland gearbox casing following the failure last year. Jeremy was driving his Lotus Elan Sprint FHC which looks so pretty. The Tearle family Ginetta G12 and Sue's Palliser twin cam completed the class, the Ginetta fitted with a modern bike engine which was rather out of place in this pre-1972 class whilst much had been done to the Palliser during the winer, most obviously a new paint finish and new exhaust system. This weekend hosted the first rounds of Gurston's own Championship sponsored by Skoda dealer Meadens and different from the past in that each timed run counted for points and for the final score the best from 10 rounds from 14 scouring opportunities.
Conditions remained dry and the track benign but the Ensign was not performing quite as I would have hoped. Perhaps unfamiliarity with Gurston following the winter layoff – who knows. Anyway, T2 came around and the B19 was being driven with aplomb now that Richard and Amanda were comfortable that it was working, more or less, as planned. Mike was finding the starting of his twin cam slightly inconsistent and annoyingly, the rebuilt gearbox was leaking a small amount of oil which I'm sure he didn't need. The Elan time improved by 4 seconds so Jeremy was getting used to its behaviour, so very different for the Merlyn FF that he previously ran. I had my usual fiddle with the Weber carburettors which had slipped out of balance once again, making small mixture adjustments as the front 2 cylinders seemed a trifle rich. I'm sure these had little effect but I enjoy fiddling in the sunshine and when there's no pressure; this time the Ensign went over the finish at 116mph, according to the infallible timekeepers!
A shortened lunch break came and went and we were into the official runs. There were a few drops of rain but track conditions were unaffected. The Ensign showed a slight improvement over T2 and this time the finish speed bore a semblance to reality at 97mph, this time making a decent launch off the start. Times were much the same between T1 and T2 with some improvement and some slower, like the Ensign, following a diversion onto the grass at the top of Karousel. Peter Smith took BTD in his Force on 30.72s and the results are here.
Saturday evening was fun and scary as after a pleasant meal with good company up the road in Dinton there was a serious thunderstorm with sheet lightening and plenty of rain, and if rain had to happen this was the right time as far as we were concerned. Sunday dawned moist and still but the air was warm and a breeze developed which dried the track. I had again left the Ensign in the trailer park and so avoided it being washed away in the storm, although there was a large puddle in the cockpit, a plastic sheet fortunately containing the water. The heavy rain had washed away much of the dust and the track looked cleaner. Many of Saturday's entries stayed on with additional classes for Triumph, Austin Healey and Morgan cars with the popular MX5 class and the other standard categories.
The result of the first practice runs depended upon ones view of track conditions – there were dry and damp patches but unless the track had been walked it could be something of a lottery. In our class Chevron exponents Richard and Amanda adopted the positive approach, disappearing and hiding on P1, their car clearly exhibiting its form. Richard continued his dominance in P2 although the Ensign was faster now the track was dry, third gear at the top of Karousel inhibiting progress and as the run was obviously spoilt I left it there through Ashes and up the hill. The Ensign improved on T1 and for me, happily, everything came together on T2 with a good launch off the line and everything working well to make a decent time although the Chevron remained devastatingly fast on the final uphill sprint between Ashes and the finish. Gurston being the sort of hill that it is, split time comparisons can be confusing as a missed gear can make a significant time difference, although that is how it is with hills and sprints – it’s doing everything correctly at the same time on the same run!
Once again the day dragged on a little and having taken P2 I loaded the transporter but did not exit the hill until 6.30pm, missing the prize giving although that did not appear to be happening anyway. We were very lucky with both days remaining dry despite the dire forecast, a good track surface and the usual efficiency of the officials. Peter Smith took BTD in his 1600cc Force on 30.44s and the results are here.
Loton Park 14th & 15th April 2018
The season is starting to move along and the Ensign headed north last Friday to Loton Park in Shropshire, the well-establishedhill climb in the deer park of Sir Michael Leighton's estate at this park at Alberbury,sometime an ammunition dump which makes an interesting contrast, those buildings long since flattened although their foundations remain. As the book says, this is a technical course and, spanning 1475 yards, one of the longest in the UK. For lower powered cars it is also slowish and the Ensign runs an 88mph top gear, having one brief moment touched 89mph through the speed trap on the euphemistically titled Cedar Straight. With the camber change and bends this is a marvellous place to check whether or not your car suffers from bump steer. That said, following the track's resurfacing it is a pleasure to drive with excellent grip, whilst pleasant officials and, for single seaters at least, a tarmac paddock, combine the right ingredients for a pleasant weekend.
Two days motorsport was the plan, staying at a familiar B&B although their local pub was closed, hopefully briefly, whilst the new owners battle with their unexpected rotten roof, which cannot have been a surprise as one look at the ridge suggested further examination. Arriving on Friday there was plenty of time and space to unload and walk the course, which looked the same as last year apart from the water sodden soil and the pond beside the start looking high, following the winter's rain and snow. There was a promise of pleasant weather, for April, although does anyone ever trust a UK weather forecast?
However, it wasn't raining on Saturday morning although the track remained damp with little breeze to dry the surface. The usual formalities were straight forward and it was good to chat with Jerry Walton who scrutineered the Ensign, having not seen him for some time, Jerry the official who issued the Ensign's hill climb 'log book' on a cold March day back in 2005. There was a small class of 1600cc single seaters and the OMS parked alongside was having starting problems although they were eventually overcome. Practice moved alongquite leisurely, I believe pheasants causing delays on the hill! It was obvious that the hill remained slippery, the way many cars twitched sideways when changing into 2nd gear off the start a clear warning. No improvement when P1 arrived and with the Ensign loose when accelerating out of the first left hander I opted for a leisurely run. This gave me the opportunity to use 3rd gear rather than 2nd gear through Triangle and Museum and the Ensign accelerated easily enough despite the slow entry speed. Despite the slippery track there were few incidents and by the time P2 arrived track conditions had improved. I again followed this different gear selection whichworked well apart from understeer exiting the corner so I started playing with damper settings, trying to confuse myself.
Practice ran into the early afternoon but there was a short lunch break before the official timed runs. In the meantime, the track had further dried and was offering much more grip with the times of early runners improved compared with the morning and with no obvious slipping and sliding off the start line. I continued with the new gearing routine using 3rd rather than 2nd through various corners which seemed a good idea, a better time on T1 although T2 was slower as the sun which had warmed the track had now disappeared, that being my excuse. Competitive runs did not finish until much before 6.00pm but that was not as issue for me with accommodation just down the road Wil Hall took BTD in his demon Xtec 2litre turbocharged Force on 47.16s and the results are here.
Sunday looked overcast as I ate my breakfast a mile down the road from the track although stepping outside the air felt dry and the BBC said that rain would appear in the afternoon. Quite a lot of new faces compared with yesterday together with plenty of Caterham 2 seaters as the Lotus Seven Club were invited. Following on from Saturday there were again plenty of motor bikes and Morgan 3 wheelers, the latter including a pair of 'new' cars with 5 speed gearboxes although they looked as spartan as the early trikes. In an attempted to speed the programme practice started early and continued through the church service, following the test last year. Running 2 cars on the hill also reduced noise levels sufficiently to avoid inconveniencing the neighbouring service although one sage did wonder what happened in the days of open exhausts? The bike classes were also run 'back to back' in practice which also seemed to speed the programme, quite a few car competitors always wary when there are bike classes in the expectation, probably unjustified, of delays.
Track conditions were good this morning, dry and cool but the grip was there and the start line provided an excellent launch. Today I decided not to bother with tyre warming for whilst the Ensign did a sub 2s launch on Saturday it did not make a significant difference to the time, Loggerheads just one hundredths of a second quicker with transmission destroying tyre warming! With no other 1600s entered the Ensign was dropped into the large and interesting Formula Ford class that had been present on Saturday, very unfair on them. Conditions were good for both the practice runs and I continued my hunt for front end grip by hardening the rear dampers. This worked and the Ensign handled correctly on P2, undoubtedly assisted by being 'flagged' after the Triangle on P2 with an almost instant rerun with hot engine and warm tyres. Having missed red flags in the past I was delighted that this one caught my eye as explanations to the C of C can be a bit embarrassing.
Sunday's programme moved hastily forward which was as well for the sky occasionally looked dark and odd specks of water fell. Our class ran in the dry and the Ensign a little slower than P2 which was a dissapointment. Returning to the paddock rain was lightly falling and that was enough for me to pack the Ensign into the transporter as no improvement in times would happen and anyway, it had been a good weekends sport. It is now becoming apparent that the tyres are no longer at their best but I'll continue using them when the weather is hot (?) of for sprints, as I'm planning to visit Pembrey and perhaps Snetterton later in the season. Will Hall again took BTD on 46.44s from Trevor Willis, the results are here. After some doubt Wiscombe is 'on' next weekend, the notorious paddock apparently dry enough although at the moment rain is forcast for the weekend. It's the little Mallock's turn to get wet, or perhaps I'll just frequent the beer tent?
Curborough 8th April 2018
Organised by the vast MG Car Club, who I gather in passing, has over 40000 members, Sunday's event had around 50 competitors, much better than in 2017 so I hope the organisers will continue to run this early season event. Arriving before 8.00am the paddock was quickly filling so having squeezed the Audi and transporter into its allocated space I quickly walked the track, amongst other details noting some fresh tarmac at the end of the finish straight. With the recent snow and rain the grassed areas were wet and to be avoided, which is generally the case anyway.
Following the outing to Castle Combe it was time to get the Ensign active and I've used this event for a number of years solely for this purpose. Curborough is quite basic as a small sprint venue, located on the wartime Fradley Aerodrome site which was a busy airfield during and after WW11 and today it's covered with large transport warehouses. It has a simple charm and these days I have a soft spot for it, although over the years have voiced some cruel comments. Certainly, the development of the track layout with a cross over enabling the 'figure of 8' format has made a significant difference to the driving experience. There are basic catering and lavatory facilities and happily the grass is cut infrequently, if ever, so one does not feel out of place not wearing a tie.
The entry were mainly MG cars – no surprise there. Only a couple of early TCs, one looking original and apparently a new acquisition by its driver, the other a smart special bodied car in the style of a Brooklands Riley. Quite a number of road going saloons and sports MG, various Sprite and Austin Healey with their own class, which fitted in pretty well. There were 3 cars in the single seater class, the Thomas family with their 1098cc bike engine Delta, very well presented and looking at the chassis it was obviously designed for a Ford engine. Mark Dalton arrived with his 'new' Empire Evo 1.6 litre, ex-Eddie Hollier so a seriously quick single seater, this it's second outing with Mark after the wet Loton Park a week or two ago. The Ensign made up the class of three red cars!
The usual routine followed smoothly although the scrutineer asked, amongst other things, to expose both brake fluid reservoirs which he has, of course, every right to examine. Proudly flourishing my recently acquired laser cut spanner to loosen the plastic caps was the hit of the day and it was only in passing that liquid was noted in the containers. I was recommended this tool by a fellow competitor who bought online and I expect there will be another purchase shortly. Duly complete, the bodywork was secured, tyre pressures adjusted, ready for practice. This started at 9.15am and, despite a week of dire weather forecasts, the day was dry and warm and still. So much so that that the blades of the electricity windmill located on the sewage treatment works next to the track barely moved throughout the day.
Considering the time of year track grip was good, even off the start where the Ensign achieved a best of 2.10s for the first 64 ft., this without tyre warming and many places now ban this activity. Practice moved along quickly enough although there were inevitably the odd incidents with spins and offs, mostly with little harm to cars and drivers all ok. For example, P1 and the shared Delta in our class was spun by both drivers, either side of the Molehill, thereafter they behaved impeccably. The Empire Evo lost the top element of its front wing on P1, probably the result of wear and tear although the location looked a tad fragile. It was repaired for P2 and there were no further problems. The organisation worked smoothly although the marshalling area before the start did become rather full, with, I thought, an unnecessary long wait for drivers on some occasions. P2 followed immediately and then T1 before the lunch break, a good idea for whilst conditions were dry there was the slight impression that rain might appear from nowhere! The Ensign was moving about a bit on the track with little heat in the tyres, front end grip over the new tarmac uncertain when taking the sharp left to return up the finish straight towards the left-hand crossover. I stayed close to the apex allowing room for understeer, and there was plenty.
So, an unexpected dry day with plenty of runs and after loading I was away by 5.15, the M42 and M5 surprisingly busy early evening but I guess, these days, that's how it is and with the transporter on the back, what's the rush? The entry list and results are here. Checking the spark plugs the following day the soot had dissappeared - how strange!
During the breaks between runs I made good use of the time. The twin cam was obviously running well but it benefitted from having the twin Webers balanced, and at the same time I made small adjustments to the dampers although my decision to run fairly soft settings seemed the right idea. The spark plugs were sooty but I did not fiddle with the mixture as once off the line the engine was pulling peak revs with no misfire and 101mph across the finish was what I would have expected. More to the point it was useful just driving the car and settling into the routine once again as I missed gears and managed a few leery moments, fortunately not getting much out of shape. After lunch there were a further 2 timed runs although I was disappointed that my final run was not timed due to a timekeeping error. I was offered a rerun but by that time I was ready to pack up and anyway Mark had secured our class, together with BTD, with an excellent 58.43s.
24th & 25th March – Castle Combe & Gurston Down
Yes, it is March and this month we've had snow drifts and sunshine, the typical UK climate that made the previous weekend event at Goodwood something for hardy spectators, for that matter hardy drivers as well. True to form Bristol Motor Club ran their Castle Combe sprint last Saturday, always the first of the speed event calendar and as usual oversubscribed with entries. I entered as a Bristol MC member which gave me a little priority although the Mallock was almost alone in the world of classic single seaters here, if it had not been for enthusiastic Carole's bright yellow Nike FF, she the daughter of the late Nike manufacturer Ken Nicholls. In fact, Ken was involved with many other projects apart from the various Nike chassis and even neatly fitted an adjustable steering column to the Ensign.
Saturday morning dawned damp and grey although there was promise of a dry day, grey clouds scudding above the track as I searched for my parking spot, curiously located on wet grass. With a hard tarmac paddock the size of Castle Combe I was rather unimpressed and parked elsewhere, moving again after the Mallock had been scrutineered, to an unfilled gap in the midst of the 1100cc class, where I thought I should have been to start with. The driver's briefing was unusually brief although we were warned about straying over the edge of the track – red and white stripes were ok but green, be it paint or grass, forbidden on threat of excommunication. The 1100 class was running mid field so there was plenty of time to get organised, remembering the familiar routine although tyre pressures were nearly forgotten. When our class was called to the marshalling area the rain had more or less stopped although the track remained very wet with plenty of large puddles.
There was to be one practice run of 1.75 laps which was the same length as the competitive runs. The plan is to normally run several cars simultaneously on the track but this was proving rather difficult as cars were falling off in the wet. Organising the release of cars here is something of a black art, particularly as the slower cars run at the end of a group to reduce the risk of them being caught – no overtaking being allowed. I was sent on my way well in advance of the rest of the class and having gone up through the gears decided to remain in top as the best that might be expected would be a spin, which I avoided. Desperately slow, of course, but back to the paddock in one piece and the little car feeling comfortable if lacking a bit of top end and a curious overrun backfire. Browsing the spark plugs it was obvious that the engine was running weak – they were almost spotless, that back firing a warning. Never short of bits the 135 main jets were located in my 'weber' cigar tin, replacing the 130s whilst I then checked the balance between the two carbs. It all worked so time for a cup of tea and gossip, always plenty of non-competing competitors at this early season event. Regular hillclimber Karl showed me pics of his new, kart like single seater, in the past running at Shelsley Walsh in the much depleted 'Shelsley Special' class. As a consequence of him having to run in the overflowing 1100cc race car class he felt a change of direction was necessary so the car will reappear as a sports libre with enclosed wheels. Karl's cars are totally eccentric and I expect his new offering will cause more stress, both for him and the officials.
As a round of the National Sprint Championship there were a lot of quick single seaters who specialise – long gone the days when top hill climbers and sprinters competed across the two disciplines, although many 'B' list competitors today find pleasure in both spheres and some club championships like the HSA have a range of venues catering for all tastes. The morning seemed rather slow but 3 classes had their first competitive runs before the lunch break, the sky looking a little brighter and the track was steadily drying. By the time for first competitive run for the 1100s conditions were quite bearable, a dry line round the track making driving more of a pleasure. The Mallock was happy with the jet changes and running rather well with more use of third gear and the brakes, like everyone much faster than practice but slightly off my PB here, the tyres not developing any warmth and the car understeering, as Mallocks do.
Better track conditions meant fewer delays and we were being called for the second runsooner than I expected. Now track conditions were about as good as might be expected in late March, driving much easier although track time, even on this limited basis, does make a difference. The start line was quicker and all going well until exiting Camp I saw a car in the distance, unexpected as the single seaters were much faster than the Mallock. As I was then not close enough to worry I pressed on but approaching Tower the Mallock was getting close and flags were out so I followed sedately through Bobbies and into the paddock. Judging by the marshals sweeping there had been an off on the entrance to Bobbies. However, there was the opportunity for another run which seemed a good idea. I took the precaution off stopping for a few moments to collect my thoughts and check the dials. Altering the cooling system during the winter was a success with the water temperature stable, oil showing some heat for a change, unlike hillclimbs.
This time the start was better still and the track remained clear and an improvement on my PB was the gratifying result. Now with warmth in the tyres it was noticeable how the understeer was reduced and I could certainly have carried more speed though the corners. The results are here and I understand that for a change there were 13 cars in the first Top twelve Runoff! For me it was a good day out and for once a quick journey home, Gurston to follow on Sunday.
No track driving for me on Sunday, just road miles south to the downland not so far from that chemical warfare strong hold of Porton Down and the latest nerve agent battle field of Salisbury. Enough has been said already but a scary situation for all living in that area, leaving aside the dire effect on the local economy, or the wider political implications. The roads were surprisingly busy, passing beside sodden fields after the recent snows and this extended to the hill where the wet trailer park was closed. Consequently, the paddock was a disorganised muddle of trailers whilst tow cars were parked in the public car park. With plenty of empty spaces in the paddock I would have thought a more liberal attitude could have been adopted regarding trailer parking, but there again I was not the traffic warden. The club is now charging £5 for entry to the practice day and apparently had plenty of takers on this dry day, presumably Sunday shopping no longer an option for the locals for the time being.
Once again there were plenty of familiar faces and Mike had his Alexis out for the first time following the rebuild of its Hewland gearbox, whose casing fractured last summer. The new casing looks bullet proof – a 'rhino' casing from Brazil. A number of 'new' cars to be seen whilst familiar cars obviously had been refreshed during the winter, some with smart new paint finishes. Activities had already started when I arrived so I could not walk the track, alongside which I gather there have been improvements for spectators. Cars ran in batches as normal and there was always a queue. After lunch two batches were run specifically for single seat and libre cars which was a good idea, these cars difficult to insert into a line of traffic without appearing rather brusque.
Times were obviously fairly conservative although the faster cars generally wish to establish their 'bragging rights' on this otherwise noncompetitive day. The start was not particularly quick as might be expected and the faster single seaters were into the low 30s for their quick runs. I gather the track was a little dirty early on, not surprising considering the recent weather and the farm traffic on this road. Otherwise it was Gurston Down as we know the place and pleasant to be there.
Mike's Alexis twin cam was running well although probably needing a little use after the winter, for as we all find both car and driver can be a little 'rusty', just like brake discs after a winter's storage! He felt the clutch was dragging, whilst a sticking throttle later in the day will certainly be a linkage issue. The rebuilt gearbox was behaving itself and now is fitted with a lower ratio final drive will be a great advantage on the hills. Times for the day are here.
It's the New Year so we are past the Winter Solstice and the days are getting longer, although it's difficult to see this at present. Christmas here was quiet as usual, the close family and the usual treats of food and drink, for us no travel although Felix had to battle with the railways from and to the north, apparently the return from Bristol to Manchester was via Cardiff which he viewed stoically.
Winter's always a time for fiddling and sorting and, in my case, selecting parts that I shall not be needing and moving them on via one of the online sales sites. I tried a different one which resulted in an immediate sale – just luck I suspect, someone looking at the same time that I was selling. Also the time to give the transporter a service which as it's parked outside is not my favourite job but as most of the mileage will be done with the transporter.....
The new radiator is fitted to the Ensign and the engine started and run up to temperature. This was initially a bit fraught as the Webers were dramatically out of balance after being removed and consequently the twin cam refused to run smoothly. However, I was patient and followed the usual routine and the engine eventually settled into a quiet idle at 1000rpm. When really hot there was no leaking from the water system although, as usual, various airlocks had to be discovered and dealt with. All just takes a little time although our immediate neighbours were away so there was less time pressure to extinguish the engine.
In the same vein I decided to modify the cooling system on the Mallock to incorporate a swirl pot as a filler, the usual system on their front engined cars. Patient sourcing discovered a neat used stainless-steel pot and my inevitable box of bits had pipe and hose offcuts. I was kindly donated the original Ford thermostat cover to complete the package and after obtaining a 180-degree hose length everything fitted easily and once again, running an engine in the workshop to temperature, no leaks and a satisfactory result. I'm planning on running the Mallock in the early sprint at Castle Combe in 2018 which will be a good test, to be followed by a number of hills, assuming it has not found a new home. I was expecting to cut a hole in the engine cover but the swirl pot does not stand too proud of the engine block and the cover fits, with a small amount of persuasion.
Not quite in the same league but the Audi tow car has always had a problem with the covers at the bottom of the front and rear doors, rusting away as a pastime. They have plastic outers bonded to a mild steel inside runner – why that isnot s/s you may well ask, decidedly un-Audi? Over the years these items have gradually disappeared from their parts availability although suddenly they have reappeared on Audis new and inaccessible Heritage Web Site. With patience I navigated through to expensive order and happily the parts arrived just before Christmas. Yes, they cost the earth and need spraying as well, but the worst problem is being totally unable to source.
Clubs programmes have started to appear for 2018, the most prompt as usual the HSA with a varied selection of sprints and hill climbs in their 33-round championship, many places I enjoying visiting irrespective. Nice to ponder and consider – avoiding events which were underwhelming in 2017, for any number or reasons about which I could not possibly comment!
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