| MY OCCASIONAL MOTORSPORT DIARY
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 1Ύ 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 theyve 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 its 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 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 couldnt 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 thats 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 dont. 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