| MY OCCASIONAL MOTORSPORT DIARY
Autumn November 2018
All quiet on the hill climb and sprinting front and, for that matter, in my workshop as well. Season end can be a little depressing although any negative thoughts soon disappear as one starts fermenting plans and ideas for next year. As I have remarked, the Hillclimb & Spring Association has rather boldly obtained agreement from the MSA to not only resurrect the Sprint Leaders Championship but to also take over the management of the MSA Bristol Sprint Championship. In the former case this is something of a green field so within certain parameters anything is possible. In the latter case there is, for good or evil, an established format and I think it unlikely that much will change although, from the outside, a breath of fresh air might revitalise this championship which for so long has been something of a poor relation of the MSA Bristish Hillclimb Championship.
Since the last wet weekend at Curborough I’ve been busy in the workshop making the most of the mild autumn weather. I generally strip down the corners of the Ensign to check, clean and lubricate everything whilst I also like to clean the engine bay which is difficult without removing the twin cam, not part of the plan this year. The exhausts always need wire brushing and respraying whilst the starter motor is removed and checked, easier with the exhausts removed. It’s always difficult deciding which parts to replace and I suppose I’ve learnt from experience. For example, I expect a serious competitor would annually replace the rubber 'rotoflax’ couplings on the drive shafts. I examine them regularly and listen, as I was told that if they are deteriorating, they squeak! Perhaps he was just kidding me? This year there will be no change although I always carry one in the spares box – they are easy to change providing a securing ‘stud’ has not also been damaged. The cooling system had a small water leak during the season which a turn on the appropriate hose clip resolved and it remains drip free. It's easy to drain the fuel tank and apart from petrol nothing nasty appeared. Looking closely, it’s easy to become depressed about scratches and marks on the bodywork and I avoid this by quickly moving the bodywork into the cellar or garden room. The small incident at Shelsley in late July did cause an odd dent and fracture plus dzus fasteners ‘pinging’, places not easily restored will be put down to patina! However, I have resprayed the chassis rails at the front of the car, an awkward job but necessary as some of the paint applied after the Werrington incident was lifting where I’d not adequately removed brazing flux. Funnily enough, the major problem here was matching the grey chassis colour, originally achieved with an acrylic Valspar aerosol from B&Q no longer available. The web can be so useful in these circumstances and I found the identical aerosol, confusingly being marketed under a different name.
In much the same way matching the red bodywork developed into a problem with the original colour no longer available and just one or two aerosols left. The replacement seeming a choice between Audi Laser Red or Post Office Van Red although I’m sure an accurate match could be expensively found elsewhere. Unlike previous years when the engine and gearbox were removed, I’ve left the Ensign on wheels to make life easier in the workshop. That provides the opportunity to use my original Ensign magnesium wheels which look so handsome on the car although, for obvious reasons, I’ll not use in anger. Obviously, oil and filter changes which should perhaps be carried out more frequently but I choose annually, regularly checking the oil tank for signs of water. The workshop fills with leaves in autumn, although with such a colourful ‘fall’ this year I have accepted this with good grace and deriving pleasure from the local streets full of leaves, road sweepers a bit like policemen these days, a rare breed. That said, it’s no hardship to clear up outside one’s home although not being a green bin supporter the compost heap is starting to overflow.
As I’ve previously remarked it is interesting to eavesdrop on the issues that upset various areas of our sport although sometimes it’s best to mind one's own business. Inevitably season end is a time for thought and reflection and perhaps changes to be implemented next year. It is a shame that sometimes the issues and complaints are the same that were being voiced 10 years ago and fascinating to be privy to discussions in the world of classic single seaters racing on the circuits. Whilst accepting speed events are different from the circuits in many respects the issues are similar and draw attention to how much is owed to the volunteers who chose to be involved with the organisation of events and championship, many even competing as well.
More excitement in the motorsport world as the governing body, always referred to as the MSA (Motor Sport Association), has decided to relaunch itself as Motorsport UK which I shall now refer to as MUK? This has been accompanied by fine words and we all hope that change is afoot. Shortlyafterwards, the 25th of November to be precise, the HSA held its annual awards luncheon at Prescott to which was invited David Richards, who assumed the position of non-executive chairman of the MSA (now MUK) at the beginning of 2018. I gather the HSA was honoured as he had the alternative of spending the weekend in Abu Dhabi for the last F1 Grand Prix of the season. There was an audience of nearly 100 competitors and supporters, covering the speed event disciplines of hill climb and sprint and I’m sure all were interested to hear what he had to say in his brief yet detailed address. He initially covered the relaunch of the MUK management of our sport, moving from a brief outline of professional motorsport to what interested us, competing at an amateur level. He highlighted the fall in numbers of competition licence holders and the fact that most competitors spent less than £5000 per annum on motorsport and then proceeded to explain part of his vision for the sport during his 3 years tenure at MUK. He felt that motorsport was losing its relevance in today’s world, amongst other things no longer developing technologies that passed road vehicles, for example the disc brakes.
Referring to club motorsport he echoed most competitors' recent concerns, highlighting the almost obsessive safety culture - for example the requirement of replacing the seats in rally cars after 5 years and the regular replacement of safety belts, even though seats and belts in road cars are allowed to last indefinitely with merely an annual MOT inspection. He suggested that within certain parameters competitors should be given more responsibility for their own safety, cutting back on the cascade of F1 inspired regulation on club competitors. MUK should concentrate on the safety of officials and marshals and spectators. Importantly he did not want club motorsport to become financially only within the resources of the very rich, or commercial organisations running heavily promoted championships. Some small revisions have already been implemented and he asked to be judged over the next 2 years. Apparently there have already been changes in the management of MUK to help implement the new thinking. So, a wind of change and the fact that Richards attended this club event and answered questions can only offer encouragement to those who support club motor sport.
Prior to this we had a decent lunch and afterwards the presentation of the awards for the SBD/HSA Speed Championship together with other odds and ends. In all a well organised event that ran smoothly and swiftly and a pleasure to attend.
My Christmas tail piece, exiting Fallow at Loton Park in 2011 - how time flies. The end of my 2018 motorsport year and Happy Christmas and New Year greetings to everyone in the motorsport world.
HSA Curborough Weekend 13th & 14th October 2018
This was my last competition of the 2018 season and a new venture by the Hillclimb and Sprint Association with a ‘double header’ weekend at Curborough sprint course, Saturday using the cross over track layout and Sunday the traditional single lap. Surprisingly the Saturday entry was larger, getting close to the maximum normally run on this layout whilst Sunday was comparatively empty. There again, the cross over track is much more fun and better value. The entry was the usual mixture of road going saloons and sports cars, specialist cars and single seaters, all fairly standard stuff.
I chose to drive up on Friday afternoon and inevitably the afternoon traffic was dire and I was glad to drop the transporter in the paddock and head for the local Premier Inn, not my usual choice but close. Saturday dawned grey but the rain was light and there was every hope of the track drying, which proved to be the case. After last weekend at Prescott there was little to do on the Ensign other than change the gear ratios, whilst I chose to use the old set of tyres, this a relative term but they certainly look old after hard treatment during our hot summer. Alone in the classic racing car class, I was moved to another on both days, not that it mattered. Curborough is normally well run, the venue itself overseen by custodian and sometime clerk of course Dave Pattison, who lives nearby.
Practice started in good time with Gary Thomas, a regular competitor, managing the paddock effectively, calling cars to the start line just in time so that the drivers of open cars were not sitting in the rain for long. As it transpired the light rain soon stooped but Gary maintained this routine throughout the day, long queues even in the dry being tiresome. It was drying on track for P1 but I was cautious after watching the single seater in front weaving off the start and later spinning. Much drier on P2 and a satisfactory time, running the Ensign with soft settings. The start line was surprisingly quick and an excellent launch on T1, the run ruined by a spin half way round, too much speed and cold tyres my excuse. The final T2 went well enough although only a tad faster than the best practice run, perhaps
my caution after the spin. The day finished quite early and it was good not having to pack up and tow the transporter home. The results are here.
The weather changed overnight and it was cool and wet on Sunday morning. I viewed the paddock with considerably distaste as the rain continued to fall, initially planning on taking just one practice run but after due consideration and discovering a soaking wet driver's seat in the Ensign I found every reason to scratch. A poor end to the season but that’s how it is sometimes and I would have had no pleasure getting wet and cold paddling around Curborough. The results are here.
Another season concluded, quieter than past years with 30 events entered in the Ensign and Mallock, the direct cost about £6500. This excludes car maintenance which this winter should be quite straight forward as no major, meaning expensive, jobs are planned. It will be interesting to see what is being proposed by organisers for 2019. The HSA, who organised this weekend, are planning a major assault on the sprinting world in 2019 by resurrecting the Sprint Leaders Championship and at the same time taking over responsibility for the MSA British Sprint Championship, this apart from running their familiar club championship sponsored by SBD Motorsport. Clearly major changes for a club that is manned by volunteers and I wish them well in these ventures. Noises emanate from other championships but whilst these often excite gossip, meaningful change is rare, most preferring the ‘status quo’, the simple solution hiding any problems away.
Prescott 6th & 7th October 2018
Chilly nights and sometimes chilly days now and then the Prescott ‘American’ weekend had weather for every taste. This is their season end classic extravaganza filled with every taste of American cars and bikes on display and at the far end of the main car park the ‘Wall of Death’, music and dancing. There was something for those totally disinterested in hill climbing, plus the usual bars and fast food emporiums. The classes on both days are a little confusing when I read the regulations but I sent my entry off suggesting that Martin, Prescott’s competition secretary, selected the most appropriate class for the Ensign. This he duly did so mid-morning Friday I was unloading the Ensign in a dry and empty paddock long before the rush. Prescott is about the closest venue to home apart from Castle Combe and it makes sense to attend events here although over the years I’ve found some of their organisational aspects difficult to accept. However old age brings resignation, so I'm told.
True to the forecast Saturday morn dawned grey, wet and cold. Today single seaters were correctly parked on the tarmac which avoided trying to drive off grass with mud in the tyres. Better still we were running quite early in the programme, a large handicap class with everything from the latest OMS to James’s Raven Ford 4wd built by his father many years ago. Considering Prescott boast a ‘proper’ handicapper his figures were laughable, for example a sparkling new 2018 2.6litre OMS TKD handicapped on 48.32s as compared with 1972 1.6litre Ensign on 45.64s. I’ve stopped bothering, other than occasionally observing how I must be considered an elite driver! It rained on and off throughout the morning, finally stopping around 2.00pm although the track remained damp to the end of the day. The entry was varied and interesting and the programme moved swiftly, drivers being cautious due to the conditions or had scratched having looked at the miserable weather forecast. Saturday’s results are here.
With the better weather the entry was full, today mainly classis cars and the Ensign a positive youngster with its 1972 build date. There also seemed more American display vehicles so the programme was full with their demonstration runs adding to the track time. Our class was again running quite early in the programme, P1 appearing quickly and uneventful, track conditions good. By the time T2 arrived the track had been well scrubbed and times improved and everyone had more confidence with the conditions although the start line remained slow. Lunch time arrived although the track marshals were kept busy with the demo runs and it was a while before competition again started. Most of our class were again quicker on P1 and Mike had overcome the misfiring in his Ensign’s twin cam, whilst my Ensign was a tad quicker although annoyingly too much understeer exiting Ettores wasted time. As T1 proceeded with the other classes there were various ‘offs’, immediately signified in the paddock with strobing red lights. The Morgans seemed to being particularly prone but that is not surprising as the cars are ill suited to narrow slippery hill climbs and the drivers do well in the circumstances. Approaching 4.00pm I decided that the Ensign would be no quicker on T2 and slipped into the trailer park to quietly load and slip away. I find that being an early morning person I’m ill-suited to afternoons sitting around waiting as the weather cools and the sky dims.
A clear sky for Sunday morning, no rain in the offing and the track had dried overnight although it remained cold. The sun shone intermittently during the day but it was autumnal warmth, cool in other words. Happily, chaos is still alive and kicking in the hill climb world as cars entered for both days had to move their locations and change numbers, something that even Shelsley Walsh seems to have changed for good. The single seaters moved to the sloping wet grass rather than level tarmac, this now reserved for road going cars, just another feature of Prescott’s seeming lack of understanding to the needs of competitors and their cars. There was little room between the single seaters when parked and a chaotic Sunday morning with new arrivals having to unload on the steeply sloping access road. Due to the space problems one car was even parked in the scrutineering bay although the scrutes understood! As always everything was sorted out by the drivers and I was delighted to have another Ensign parked alongside, Mike’s car recently brought back from Germany, apparently a 1971 chassis and looking very smart although Simon Taylor’s track test and article in Autosport 30.12.71 did not mention it. I found it interesting comparing the cars whilst of similar age, Mike’s car not featuring the period modifications made to cars that regularly raced in 1972/73. Its smaller side radiators looked neat and the top front radius rod chassis mounts fabricated into the top chassis rail, later changes by Dave Baldwin being designed to improve the front suspension geometry. Mike’s car was quick and fast off the start line although apparent spark plug issues made for inconsistent running, a shame for him. After a cold night all the cars were covered in condensation and even ice on the exposed nose of the Ensign although it started quickly, the exhaust condensation as the twin cam idled looking very autumnal.
I enjoyed this Prescott weekend and Saturday, despite the rain, was enjoyable as the programme flowed and track conditions encouraged smooth and tidy driving. Sunday conditions were much better but, like Shelsley Walsh's Classic event, the venue over loaded with competition and demonstrations, for me at least. The results are here.
Shelsley Walsh 15th & 16th September 2018
Still some life left in the hill climb season and a weekend double header at Shelsley Walsh, two ‘B’ clubbies with a varied entry and generally avoided by the faster and high-profile cars. There were rounds for several championships including the Hillclimb & Sprint Association, Classic Marques, Midland Speed, Porsche, Lotus, MG, Ferrari and others. Sufficient to fill the paddock on each day with many competitors enjoying both days and in this connection the paddock was organised so that cars staying for both days retained the same running number and the same paddock location. In itself not life changing but nice that the MAC seems to have at last permanently eliminated the farce of ‘musical cars’ on Saturday evenings, following their successful arrangements at the Classic meeting in July. Whether the day would be filled with extraneous activities like music, dancing, interviews, demonstration runs and so forth remained open to conjecture and most competitors just hoped for a dry track and a car that behaved. In fact there was but one ‘demonstration’ car, an early fifties Indy car on display courtesy of owner Dean Butler and doing a couple of demo runs up the hill. Truly something from another age, constructed like the Forth Bridge and difficult to drive on the hill with an Indy 2 speed gearbox.
This weekend the Ensign was again in use although I felt a degree of trepidation, somehow being the one that takes things apart and then screws them together again sharpens one's senses to the effects of bad workmanship. Driving up on Friday and staying at a b&b in Bromyard removed the pressure and a pleasant paddock location, backing onto the grass with plenty of space and clear of the start line assembly area. Running in the merged classic class with a mixture of cars; Lotus Elan and Elite, TR2 and MGC, Austin A35 together with Chevron B19, Alexis F3 and Lotus 51 FF, the class levelled with handicaps although on what basis and by whom was a well-kept secret, although who cares? Many touring cars in the overall entry with Empire, OMS and Force in the small racing car classes, five Formula Fords apart from the one in our class, masses of Loti in the two self-contained Paul Matty classes whilst some Minis finished the day’s program.
Practice started promptly, the dry track had been swept and looked excellent when I wandered up to top paddock on Friday afternoon with Mike, still ruminating why it had been necessary to place wooden sleepers the whole length of the finish straight. However, what do we know? Our merged touring and racing pre-1975 class were running in the middle of the programme and for P1 I used the ‘old’ tyres for reasons to be explained. Still running the experimental ‘higher’ gear ratios with a 16:36 start gear the launch was poor, using insufficient revs but still excessive wheel spin, otherwise the run was tidy but slow although sitting in the finish paddock afterwards I was satisfied that the car was working correctly. For P2 I changed to the ‘new’ tyres as I wished to check that one wheel, the rim of which had been bent, was running true although it had balanced perfectly. At the same time a small damper adjustment to increase rear end grip. The start was quicker with the new tyres and more revs, the damper adjustment giving understeer at Crossing so removed for the afternoon, overall 3s faster although slow for the conditions. All our class seemed happy with their results, the Lotus 51 also returning after an ‘off’ at the last meeting here, the Formula Ford quickly repaired although I’m sure Briony was a bit detuned, like me.
With an efficient morning practice official runs started at 1.15pm and the programme continued to flow well. Apart from two serious incidents the day was generally trouble free and whilst those cars were returned to the paddock on Richard’s wrecker the drivers were unharmed. Conditions remained excellent and the Ensign’s two official runs were similar, a bit off my pace and separated by 0.01s! A good day for most of the competitors and there seemed quite a few spectators, doubtless brought out by occasional sunshine. Annoyingly the Chevron B19 had gear change issues, Richard and Amanda opening the gearbox to examine the dog rings. Inevitably they looked perfect so the box was reassembled with the rings fitted the opposite way, the box working perfectly but disconcerting when the cause of a problem was not found. On T2 their times had been separated by 0.02s! Our class was won on handicap by Mike in his 1845cc Alexis F3 and a contrast with Philips Austin 1275cc A35 the runner up. The overall BTD was a surprise with Stuart Bickley’s 1 litre Jedi taking the win on 27.08s against some theoretically faster opposition, several of whom succumbed with mechanicals. I bet Stuart was happy. The results here.
Sunday morning was again dry with dappled sunshine although the threat of a ‘front’ blowing through with rain showers. A peaceful Sunday morn with no rush, cars from Saturday not having to complete the signing on or scrutineering formalities, so much so that I decided to again stroll up the hill although this time just to the Esses. Always a crucial part of driving this hill and approached quite quickly. I know exactly where I should brake but always lift too early and brake too gently before the entry to Bottom Ess, simultaneously dropping to 2nd gear for the sprint between the bottom and top. For those of us without personal GPS timing arrangements the timekeeper provides a sector split time here, this weekend around 7% off split PB which was much the same as the Ensign’s finish time, which says something, or nothing?
Leaving aside the statistical ruminations today there were sufficient entries for pre-1975 touring and racing cars to have their separate classes, the racing class joined by several Lotus staying on from Saturday and Ed in the family Ginetta G16 BMW 230bhp 2 litre, a handsome and rare sports racer driven by his father back in the day. He too had trouble with gear selection but found a solution as the engine had been fitted with a rigid stabiliser after its last outing. As on Saturday the George family B19 was parked at the other end of the paddock which made socialising tiresome. Their car was as quick as Saturday despite occasional light rain showers which made little difference to the track although several Saturday runners, including the Ensign, a bit slower. I was using the same settings and tyres that worked well enough on Saturday so clearly it will be back to the established lower gearing in future. Handicap scoring once again and won by the Ginetta with Richard in the B19 runner up. Overall today's BTD went to Neil Coles in his 1.6 litre OMS 28 on 26.85s, the results here.
An enjoyable weekend and I am happy to say that both days finished in good time although running in a mid-field class does help on Sunday with transporter loading and travel home. As I've mentioned previously the competitor trailer parking arrangements are excellent here, a vast trailer and camping field with a separate members car park. It is good that paying competitors are treated properly in this respect, compared with other well know venues. The general organisation was good as one expects at this old established venue although traffic jams in the paddock continue as a new batch of queuing cars sometimes stop the previous batch from accessing their sheds. Yes, it’s always been this way but a solution has been found for sheds and numbers in 2-day events so perhaps this could be the next paddock management objective?
Classic Curborough 8th September 2018
Following the Ensign’s ‘off’ a Shelsley Walsh the season has not been
disrupted too badly, although not helped with a failed brake cylinder on
the Mallock the following weekend at Loton Park. This more in the
nature of annoying rather than disruptive and I took the opportunity of
comprehensively servicing all the hydraulics, even replacing the master
cylinder seals, none of the parts costing much and available from Powertrack
Braking. In the meantime, new front suspension arms for the Ensign were
being fabricated by Peter Denty near Thetford whilst I sorted out those silly
oddments like ‘forced’ dzus fasteners, bent wheel rim, marks on the
paintwork and the underside of the nose, the latter not due to the 'off' but grinding in the rubble of the Gurston farmyard paddock. The recovery off the hill at Shelsley had been carried out
fastidiously by their recovery expert Richard Weaver and the track side
marshals without additional damage, unlike Werrington in 2014. Aware
that fast dismantling can lose items I did not remove the suspension at
Shelsley, which made loading the transporter difficult, subsequently
finding that with everything removed it rolled easily on 3 wheels!
Peter was prompt with the replacements which I quickly fitted, Ian
Dayson at Force Racing Cars then corner weighting and adjusting the
chassis so it’s now sitting in the workshop on 4 wheels looking normal again!
Summer is moving into autumn and the weather starting to
cool although many days are hot and dry. Hill climb events towards the
end of August were disrupted by wet weather, much as the Classic
Shelsley weekend, with the Shelsley National damp and slippery on the
Sunday and wet the following weekend at Gurston Down National. I
normally enter this 2-day event but not this year, the
right decision for whilst track conditions for Saturday practice were
good, Sunday was wet enough fo the officials to abandon the event
towards the end of the first timed runs. This meant that no competitor
was awarded a time which must have been frustrating for those drivers who drove to the conditions, finished, and recorded a time. Last
weekend that delightful Classic Scottish hill climb at Bo'ness happened
once again and was apparently a success although I gather there is
discussion about the veracity of the new hill record time, established on a wet track. I decided to enter Shenstone Car Club's first
attempt at a classic event at their Curborough sprint track on the 8th
September, taking the Mallock as the weather forecast decreed wet so, if
nothing else, an opportunity to test the brakes and if necessary
adjust, drum brakes always being difficult to set perfectly in the
The entry was modest with road going cars like Mini, Escort,
MG and Triumph, a smart and original C Type Jaguar, Mustang and Scimitar SE6. A few
sports libre cars – Ray Rowan’s Pilbeam MP43 which looked the BTD
candidate together with a Davrian Imp, a delightful Lotus 23 and an
immaculate Mallock Mk11 with later side boxes and sitting on period
Mamba Solar split rim wheels which have 16 bolts holes rather than the
usual 18. My Mallock was in the 1600cc racing car
class with the 1600cc McNamara of Gary Thomas and finally two Formula Fords, Merlyn and
A well organised day with 2 practice runs, then demo
runs by around 20 display cars with the first competitive run before
lunch during which the display cars had another outing. There was an
interesting mixture, with Keith Harris’s Chevron B25 heading the pack
that included TVR, Mustang, Cortina and Escort and the rare 1968 Jomo
F3, looking like a Brabham of that period and possibly copied? A Lister
Bristol was due to appear but it’s tow vehicle would not start. The
commentator Jeremy Bouckley was excellent, making what could have been a
rather boring procession into something of real interest to
spectators. The plan was for as many competitive runs as possible in
the afternoon, a refreshing approach, in fact only 2 as the rain became
more persistent after a day of light showers with rare periods when the
track was dry. Certainly, P1 was slippery and I spent that day
driving cautiously, having established that the brakes were working well with the Mallock stopping in a straight line. Unsurprisingly times were
slow and no significant incidents other than cars occasionally
spinning or demolishing lines of cones guarding the wide kerbs, placed to make the
track layout a replica of its original layout.
A pleasant and relaxing day
out although I’d had sufficient after T2 and slipped away before the final damp run, the
2 hour drive back to Bristol becoming tedious having done the return trip twice earlier in the week as Ian Dayson is based just a couple of miles from Curborough! I hope the organisers felt the day was a
success as it would be nice to see it become a regular fixture, a simple
approach to a classic day and without the razzmatazz some consider
essential to encourage paying punters, at least for the moment.
Classic Shelsley 28th & 29th July 2018
Again, hot and dry, Friday evening although I wandered in during the afternoon to dump the Ensign which was consigned to a 'posh' and noisy location close to the start line. Jobs done and the transporter in the trailer park I walked the hill, the first time in '18 and it didn't seem too steep, always good for someone of deteriorating physique, the surface perfect although the finish straight is starting to break in places. Just a fine walk in the sunshine although the forecast suggested that the hot weather was due to finish. Standing at the finish line and looking down the valley is too beautiful for words. Back in the paddock more cars were arriving and there was a vast array of interest although, hot and dry, I needed a glass of ale!
Saturday dawned with mixed weather and threatening skies and so the day progressed. Lots of peripheral activity and interesting stalls in the car park including one selling a vast selection of Spanish olives - I think they had lost their way as they asked me what was happening! The olives were perfect and I collected some more Sunday morn and enjoying as I write this epistle. With sunshine and showers the runs were tiresome and, in the case of the Ensign, the high gears fitted for the very hot weather at Blyton and Gurston unsuited to launches on a slippery start line here. So, it passed throughout the day until T2 when the rains seriously descended and many of my class declined to run as I should have done, but being silly and bold and old I took on the rain and had a minor off, probably a front link failure. Little harm done, a couple of suspension arms and my ego – and what does that amount to although more people got too wet for which I apologise. Richard Weaver did a perfect job lifting the red car onto this 'wrecker' by the roll hoop and depositing in the paddock to be stuffed into the transporter with the assistance of Keith Thomas, here from Cumbria with his Buckler and with constructive suggestions in moments of stress!
Having left early on Sunday morning I gather the driving was difficult with moisture and later oil in the Esses. More pics of delectable cars on the site and happily fewer words!
After stripping the suspension on Sunday afternoon the red car might be out again fairly soon, with the support of Peter Denty's Thetford workshop. This morn the Mallock started on the button and will make a delightful substitute for the next weekend or two.
Gurston Down 21st & 22nd July 2018
The summer continues and this weekend the track conditions at Gurston were perfect. I towed the Ensign on Friday morning when it’s peaceful to unload and do the chores, the car then parked in the farm yard and covered, a little rain forecast for later. This was overnight which served to wash the dust off the track, the surface dry and clean for Saturday morning. With time to spare I walked the course and across the fields to the village, very peaceful with just the wildlife and pheasants running ahead of me on the path, not thinking to flying away as they are just too silly. This weekend the classic class was minute, just the Ensign and Sue’s Palliser that was going quickly although, with only slick tyres, rather restricted if the weather is damp, as the previous event here. I left the same gearing in the Ensign as I’d used at Blyton, effectively one ratio higher through the box and with the advantage that the higher1st gear could be used at the sharp right at the top of Karousel until exiting Ashes onto the final straight. Otherwise it was wait and see.
Running later in the programme there was no rush on Saturday morning and driving from Bristol the roads were deserted, a blue sky and dappled clouds suggesting perfect weather. Being located beside the 1100cc class it was amusing becoming involved with different discussions, with Steve and his 1100 OMS alongside who always seems to lead a fraught life, competition wise. As usual practice started promptly just after 8.30am, motor cycles in the first batch. The Ensign was in batch 5 which soon came around and my expectations about the track conditions were confirmed, with an easy and quickish run, without drama. The taller first gear was fine off the line and selected easily at the top of Karousel, proving to be a good choice and exiting Ashes providing a good launch into the final straight. It was much the same on T2, boring really but making me think about the details, in particular carrying more speed through Hollow Bend, or in other words being braver, as the Ensign’s time into the bottom of Karousel seemed to have plateaued.
Looking around the paddock there were most of the familiar cars that attend Gurston’s club events and this weekend a large Formula Ford class with newer and older chassis and good competition for them, a new class record being established on Sunday. With what seemed to be a smaller field than usual practice finished not long after midday and it was a relief to remove the race overalls although I was using kit bought during the winter, slightly thinner 2 layer and cooler than 3 layer I’d otherwise use. With time to spare I walked the first half of the course, looking for inspiration which was sorely lacking. Along the way I enquired of the timekeepers why the Ensign did not get a split time at the top of Karousel. Interestingly, they knew all about this, the Ensign sharing this anomaly with two FFs, apparently due to the timing beam being at a steep angle due to the massive camber of the track here – apparently the Ensign going beneath the beam! Yes, I too thought that odd but it was good to know that these things are noticed, whilst the lack of this split time was not significant. Why worry as in these conditions a good time was easy, a very good time or PB needing real effort.
Into T1 and in the 33s similar to P2 although I wanted the 32s! A little slower on T2 as I inadvertently selected second gear at the top of Karousel, no problem other than the time. At the top paddock we had a delay until Steve appeared with his OMS on the wrecker. I expected the worse but he cheerfully climbed out of the passenger seater to apologise and explain that the drive sprocket on his engine had fallen off! This was recovered and the car quickly repaired for Sunday with no harm done. Peter Smith took BTD in his Force PT on 29.68s and the results are here.
More of the same on Sunday, weather and cars (in the main). Once again England was asleep as I wafted along quiet roads to Gurston, and not much happening in the paddock. This quickly changed and the track was soon busy, motor cycles again starting the proceedings. The Ensign’s two practice runs were almost identical in the splits and 0.17s difference in the time, still on that plateau! Making more of an effort on T1 I forced myself to be a braver into Hollow Bend which showed a decent saving in time, followed by an aggressive late turn in at Ashes and the quickest run up the final straight to the finish line and a low 33s, ok but again not a 32! Still in the 33s T2 was a little slower but I now know the Ensign will go through Hollow faster, particularly if I keep off the inside kerb, which I have a tendency to follow and which upsets the car. Peter Smith again took BTD on 29.57s and the results are here.
A really enjoyable weekend with perfect weather and track conditions giving the opportunity of driving the Ensign as hard as I could. Almost worryingly the car continues to run perfectly and I have been using significantly softer chassis settings the last few events, which might or might not mean something. Interestingly, Gurston's award luncheon is scheduled for October 13th, before the end of the hill and sprint season and clashing with competitive events elsewhere. Bad planning, lack of thought or consideration of other clubs - what do I know? Anyway, this coming weekend it with be the MACfest at Shelsley Walsh with their annual Classic jamboree, promising a very busy weekend with all the fun of the fair during which there might even be the opportunity to drive the hill a few times. Could be fun.
Burning 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 became over excited after downing a Spitfire from Exeter and now, low on petrol, made the biggest error of his life and landed. The bright 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 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 remain, 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, like most public spending or rates and taxes!
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!
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