| MY OCCASIONAL MOTORSPORT DIARY
New Year 2018
Gurston 21st & 22nd April 2018
A return to the South of England and 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 when exiting the start line a cars position and behaviour can make all the difference.
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 the 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 stabilised with grass. The whole hill was dusty although it seemed to have been mechanically swept. However, it was dry, even warm in the sunlight, a good omen for the weekend.
Like last week at Loton 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 thetrailer park as yet again our class was located beside those disreputable farmyard sheds, the Ensign close to the large water drain. With no rain and none expected over the weekend I was hopeful, although had no intention of staying 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 the chassis also glowed and the aluminium shone. They too had problems with this part of the paddock as the disintegrating concrete was scraping the low front of the Chevron. Mike had his familiar Alexis twin cam with a new Hewland gearbox casing following thefailure 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 Ginettafitted with a modern bike engine so was hardly pre-1972 whilst much had been done to the Palliser, new paint finish and exhaust amongst other things. This weekend hosted the first rounds of Gurston's own Championship sponsored by Skoda dealersMeadens and different from the past in that each timed run counted for points and for the final results the best of 10 round from 14 scouring opportunities.
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 the cars. A large Porsche class, a TVR class and Classic Marques with a very large entry, on both days in fact. Various standard MSA defined classes followed and our class ran in the penultimate batch for cars. Our class were conservative in their approach to P1, particularly Richard and Amanda in their shared B19, not having driven it following theextensive rebuild. It was running well and some of the rebuild team assisted during the morning, getting the suspension setup correct and keeping a general eye on things. Of interest was 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.
Conditions remained dry and the track benign but the Ensign was not performing quite as I would have hoped. Perhaps unfamiliarity at 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 more 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, it being very different for the Merlyn FF that he previously ran. I had my usual fiddle with the Weber carburettors which had slipped out of balance once again, making small mixture adjustments as the front 2 cylinders seemed a trifle rich. I'm sure these have little effect but I quite enjoy fiddling when there's no pressure and, anyway, the Ensign went over the finish at 116mph according to the infallible timekeeper!
A shortened lunch break came and went and we were into the official runs. There were a few drops of rain but conditions were unaffected. The Ensign showed a slight improvement over T2 and this time the finish speed bore a semblance to reality at 97mph, this time a decent launch off the start. Times were much the same between T1 and T2 with some improvement and some slower, like the Ensign, a diversion onto the grass at the top of Karousel. Peter Smith took BTD in his Force on 30.72s and the results are here.
Loton Park 14th & 15th April 2018
The season is starting to move along and the Ensign headed north last Friday to Loton Park in Shropshire, the well-establishedhill climb in the deer park of Sir Michael Leighton's estate at this park at Alberbury,sometime an ammunition dump which makes an interesting contrast, those buildings long since flattened although their foundations remain. As the book says, this is a technical course and, spanning 1475 yards, one of the longest in the UK. For lower powered cars it is also slowish and the Ensign runs an 88mph top gear, having one brief moment touched 89mph through the speed trap on the euphemistically titled Cedar Straight. With the camber change and bends this is a marvellous place to check whether or not your car suffers from bump steer. That said, following the track's resurfacing it is a pleasure to drive with excellent grip, whilst pleasant officials and, for single seaters at least, a tarmac paddock, combine the right ingredients for a pleasant weekend.
Two days motorsport was the plan, staying at a familiar B&B although their local pub was closed, hopefully briefly, whilst the new owners battle with their unexpected rotten roof, which cannot have been a surprise as one look at the ridge suggested further examination. Arriving on Friday there was plenty of time and space to unload and walk the course, which looked the same as last year apart from the water sodden soil and the pond beside the start looking high, following the winter's rain and snow. There was a promise of pleasant weather, for April, although does anyone ever trust a UK weather forecast?
However, it wasn't raining on Saturday morning although the track remained damp with little breeze to dry the surface. The usual formalities were straight forward and it was good to chat with Jerry Walton who scrutineered the Ensign, having not seen him for some time, Jerry the official who issued the Ensign's hill climb 'log book' on a cold March day back in 2005. There was a small class of 1600cc single seaters and the OMS parked alongside was having starting problems although they were eventually overcome. Practice moved alongquite leisurely, I believe pheasants causing delays on the hill! It was obvious that the hill remained slippery, the way many cars twitched sideways when changing into 2nd gear off the start a clear warning. No improvement when P1 arrived and with the Ensign loose when accelerating out of the first left hander I opted for a leisurely run. This gave me the opportunity to use 3rd gear rather than 2nd gear through Triangle and Museum and the Ensign accelerated easily enough despite the slow entry speed. Despite the slippery track there were few incidents and by the time P2 arrived track conditions had improved. I again followed this different gear selection whichworked well apart from understeer exiting the corner so I started playing with damper settings, trying to confuse myself.
Practice ran into the early afternoon but there was a short lunch break before the official timed runs. In the meantime, the track had further dried and was offering much more grip with the times of early runners improved compared with the morning and with no obvious slipping and sliding off the start line. I continued with the new gearing routine using 3rd rather than 2nd through various corners which seemed a good idea, a better time on T1 although T2 was slower as the sun which had warmed the track had now disappeared, that being my excuse. Competitive runs did not finish until much before 6.00pm but that was not as issue for me with accommodation just down the road Wil Hall took BTD in his demon Xtec 2litre turbocharged Force on 47.16s and the results are here.
Sunday looked overcast as I ate my breakfast a mile down the road from the track although stepping outside the air felt dry and the BBC said that rain would appear in the afternoon. Quite a lot of new faces compared with yesterday together with plenty of Caterham 2 seaters as the Lotus Seven Club were invited. Following on from Saturday there were again plenty of motor bikes and Morgan 3 wheelers, the latter including a pair of 'new' cars with 5 speed gearboxes although they looked as spartan as the early trikes. In an attempted to speed the programme practice started early and continued through the church service, following the test last year. Running 2 cars on the hill also reduced noise levels sufficiently to avoid inconveniencing the neighbouring service although one sage did wonder what happened in the days of open exhausts? The bike classes were also run 'back to back' in practice which also seemed to speed the programme, quite a few car competitors always wary when there are bike classes in the expectation, probably unjustified, of delays.
Track conditions were good this morning, dry and cool but the grip was there and the start line provided an excellent launch. Today I decided not to bother with tyre warming for whilst the Ensign did a sub 2s launch on Saturday it did not make a significant difference to the time, Loggerheads just one hundredths of a second quicker with transmission destroying tyre warming! With no other 1600s entered the Ensign was dropped into the large and interesting Formula Ford class that had been present on Saturday, very unfair on them. Conditions were good for both the practice runs and I continued my hunt for front end grip by hardening the rear dampers. This worked and the Ensign handled correctly on P2, undoubtedly assisted by being 'flagged' after the Triangle on P2 with an almost instant rerun with hot engine and warm tyres. Having missed red flags in the past I was delighted that this one caught my eye as explanations to the C of C can be a bit embarrassing.
Sunday's programme moved hastily forward which was as well for the sky occasionally looked dark and odd specks of water fell. Our class ran in the dry and the Ensign a little slower than P2 which was a dissapointment. Returning to the paddock rain was lightly falling and that was enough for me to pack the Ensign into the transporter as no improvement in times would happen and anyway, it had been a good weekends sport. It is now becoming apparent that the tyres are no longer at their best but I'll continue using them when the weather is hot (?) of for sprints, as I'm planning to visit Pembrey and perhaps Snetterton later in the season. Will Hall again took BTD on 46.44s from Trevor Willis, the results are here. After some doubt Wiscombe is 'on' next weekend, the notorious paddock apparently dry enough although at the moment rain is forcast for the weekend. It's the little Mallock's turn to get wet, or perhaps I'll just frequent the beer tent?
Curborough 8th April 2018
Organised by the vast MG Car Club, who I gather in passing, has over 40000 members, Sunday's event had around 50 competitors, much better than in 2017 so I hope the organisers will continue to run this early season event. Arriving before 8.00am the paddock was quickly filling so having squeezed the Audi and transporter into its allocated space I quickly walked the track, amongst other details noting some fresh tarmac at the end of the finish straight. With the recent snow and rain the grassed areas were wet and to be avoided, which is generally the case anyway.
Following the outing to Castle Combe it was time to get the Ensign active and I've used this event for a number of years solely for this purpose. Curborough is quite basic as a small sprint venue, located on the wartime Fradley Aerodrome site which was a busy airfield during and after WW11 and today it's covered with large transport warehouses. It has a simple charm and these days I have a soft spot for it, although over the years have voiced some cruel comments. Certainly, the development of the track layout with a cross over enabling the 'figure of 8' format has made a significant difference to the driving experience. There are basic catering and lavatory facilities and happily the grass is cut infrequently, if ever, so one does not feel out of place not wearing a tie.
The entry were mainly MG cars no surprise there. Only a couple of early TCs, one looking original and apparently a new acquisition by its driver, the other a smart special bodied car in the style of a Brooklands Riley. Quite a number of road going saloons and sports MG, various Sprite and Austin Healey with their own class, which fitted in pretty well. There were 3 cars in the single seater class, the Thomas family with their 1098cc bike engine Delta, very well presented and looking at the chassis it was obviously designed for a Ford engine. Mark Dalton arrived with his 'new' Empire Evo 1.6 litre, ex-Eddie Hollier so a seriously quick single seater, this it's second outing with Mark after the wet Loton Park a week or two ago. The Ensign made up the class of three red cars!
The usual routine followed smoothly although the scrutineer asked, amongst other things, to expose both brake fluid reservoirs which he has, of course, every right to examine. Proudly flourishing my recently acquired laser cut spanner to loosen the plastic caps was the hit of the day and it was only in passing that liquid was noted in the containers. I was recommended this tool by a fellow competitor who bought online and I expect there will be another purchase shortly. Duly complete, the bodywork was secured, tyre pressures adjusted, ready for practice. This started at 9.15am and, despite a week of dire weather forecasts, the day was dry and warm and still. So much so that that the blades of the electricity windmill located on the sewage treatment works next to the track barely moved throughout the day.
Considering the time of year track grip was good, even off the start where the Ensign achieved a best of 2.10s for the first 64 ft., this without tyre warming and many places now ban this activity. Practice moved along quickly enough although there were inevitably the odd incidents with spins and offs, mostly with little harm to cars and drivers all ok. For example, P1 and the shared Delta in our class was spun by both drivers, either side of the Molehill, thereafter they behaved impeccably. The Empire Evo lost the top element of its front wing on P1, probably the result of wear and tear although the location looked a tad fragile. It was repaired for P2 and there were no further problems. The organisation worked smoothly although the marshalling area before the start did become rather full, with, I thought, an unnecessary long wait for drivers on some occasions. P2 followed immediately and then T1 before the lunch break, a good idea for whilst conditions were dry there was the slight impression that rain might appear from nowhere! The Ensign was moving about a bit on the track with little heat in the tyres, front end grip over the new tarmac uncertain when taking the sharp left to return up the finish straight towards the left-hand crossover. I stayed close to the apex allowing room for understeer, and there was plenty.
So, an unexpected dry day with plenty of runs and after loading I was away by 5.15, the M42 and M5 surprisingly busy early evening but I guess, these days, that's how it is and with the transporter on the back, what's the rush? The entry list and results are here. Checking the spark plugs the following day the soot had dissappeared - how strange!
During the breaks between runs I made good use of the time. The twin cam was obviously running well but it benefitted from having the twin Webers balanced, and at the same time I made small adjustments to the dampers although my decision to run fairly soft settings seemed the right idea. The spark plugs were sooty but I did not fiddle with the mixture as once off the line the engine was pulling peak revs with no misfire and 101mph across the finish was what I would have expected. More to the point it was useful just driving the car and settling into the routine once again as I missed gears and managed a few leery moments, fortunately not getting much out of shape. After lunch there were a further 2 timed runs although I was disappointed that my final run was not timed due to a timekeeping error. I was offered a rerun but by that time I was ready to pack up and anyway Mark had secured our class, together with BTD, with an excellent 58.43s.
24th & 25th March Castle Combe & Gurston Down
Yes, it is March and this month we've had snow drifts and sunshine, the typical UK climate that made the previous weekend event at Goodwood something for hardy spectators, for that matter hardy drivers as well. True to form Bristol Motor Club ran their Castle Combe sprint last Saturday, always the first of the speed event calendar and as usual oversubscribed with entries. I entered as a Bristol MC member which gave me a little priority although the Mallock was almost alone in the world of classic single seaters here, if it had not been for enthusiastic Carole's bright yellow Nike FF, she the daughter of the late Nike manufacturer Ken Nicholls. In fact, Ken was involved with many other projects apart from the various Nike chassis and even neatly fitted an adjustable steering column to the Ensign.
Saturday morning dawned damp and grey although there was promise of a dry day, grey clouds scudding above the track as I searched for my parking spot, curiously located on wet grass. With a hard tarmac paddock the size of Castle Combe I was rather unimpressed and parked elsewhere, moving again after the Mallock had been scrutineered, to an unfilled gap in the midst of the 1100cc class, where I thought I should have been to start with. The driver's briefing was unusually brief although we were warned about straying over the edge of the track red and white stripes were ok but green, be it paint or grass, forbidden on threat of excommunication. The 1100 class was running mid field so there was plenty of time to get organised, remembering the familiar routine although tyre pressures were nearly forgotten. When our class was called to the marshalling area the rain had more or less stopped although the track remained very wet with plenty of large puddles.
There was to be one practice run of 1.75 laps which was the same length as the competitive runs. The plan is to normally run several cars simultaneously on the track but this was proving rather difficult as cars were falling off in the wet. Organising the release of cars here is something of a black art, particularly as the slower cars run at the end of a group to reduce the risk of them being caught no overtaking being allowed. I was sent on my way well in advance of the rest of the class and having gone up through the gears decided to remain in top as the best that might be expected would be a spin, which I avoided. Desperately slow, of course, but back to the paddock in one piece and the little car feeling comfortable if lacking a bit of top end and a curious overrun backfire. Browsing the spark plugs it was obvious that the engine was running weak they were almost spotless, that back firing a warning. Never short of bits the 135 main jets were located in my 'weber' cigar tin, replacing the 130s whilst I then checked the balance between the two carbs. It all worked so time for a cup of tea and gossip, always plenty of non-competing competitors at this early season event. Regular hillclimber Karl showed me pics of his new, kart like single seater, in the past running at Shelsley Walsh in the much depleted 'Shelsley Special' class. As a consequence of him having to run in the overflowing 1100cc race car class he felt a change of direction was necessary so the car will reappear as a sports libre with enclosed wheels. Karl's cars are totally eccentric and I expect his new offering will cause more stress, both for him and the officials.
As a round of the National Sprint Championship there were a lot of quick single seaters who specialise long gone the days when top hill climbers and sprinters competed across the two disciplines, although many 'B' list competitors today find pleasure in both spheres and some club championships like the HSA have a range of venues catering for all tastes. The morning seemed rather slow but 3 classes had their first competitive runs before the lunch break, the sky looking a little brighter and the track was steadily drying. By the time for first competitive run for the 1100s conditions were quite bearable, a dry line round the track making driving more of a pleasure. The Mallock was happy with the jet changes and running rather well with more use of third gear and the brakes, like everyone much faster than practice but slightly off my PB here, the tyres not developing any warmth and the car understeering, as Mallocks do.
Better track conditions meant fewer delays and we were being called for the second runsooner than I expected. Now track conditions were about as good as might be expected in late March, driving much easier although track time, even on this limited basis, does make a difference. The start line was quicker and all going well until exiting Camp I saw a car in the distance, unexpected as the single seaters were much faster than the Mallock. As I was then not close enough to worry I pressed on but approaching Tower the Mallock was getting close and flags were out so I followed sedately through Bobbies and into the paddock. Judging by the marshals sweeping there had been an off on the entrance to Bobbies. However, there was the opportunity for another run which seemed a good idea. I took the precaution off stopping for a few moments to collect my thoughts and check the dials. Altering the cooling system during the winter was a success with the water temperature stable, oil showing some heat for a change, unlike hillclimbs.
This time the start was better still and the track remained clear and an improvement on my PB was the gratifying result. Now with warmth in the tyres it was noticeable how the understeer was reduced and I could certainly have carried more speed though the corners. The results are here and I understand that for a change there were 13 cars in the first Top twelve Runoff! For me it was a good day out and for once a quick journey home, Gurston to follow on Sunday.
No track driving for me on Sunday, just road miles south to the downland not so far from that chemical warfare strong hold of Porton Down and the latest nerve agent battle field of Salisbury. Enough has been said already but a scary situation for all living in that area, leaving aside the dire effect on the local economy, or the wider political implications. The roads were surprisingly busy, passing beside sodden fields after the recent snows and this extended to the hill where the wet trailer park was closed. Consequently, the paddock was a disorganised muddle of trailers whilst tow cars were parked in the public car park. With plenty of empty spaces in the paddock I would have thought a more liberal attitude could have been adopted regarding trailer parking, but there again I was not the traffic warden. The club is now charging £5 for entry to the practice day and apparently had plenty of takers on this dry day, presumably Sunday shopping no longer an option for the locals for the time being.
Once again there were plenty of familiar faces and Mike had his Alexis out for the first time following the rebuild of its Hewland gearbox, whose casing fractured last summer. The new casing looks bullet proof a 'rhino' casing from Brazil. A number of 'new' cars to be seen whilst familiar cars obviously had been refreshed during the winter, some with smart new paint finishes. Activities had already started when I arrived so I could not walk the track, alongside which I gather there have been improvements for spectators. Cars ran in batches as normal and there was always a queue. After lunch two batches were run specifically for single seat and libre cars which was a good idea, these cars difficult to insert into a line of traffic without appearing rather brusque.
Times were obviously fairly conservative although the faster cars generally wish to establish their 'bragging rights' on this otherwise noncompetitive day. The start was not particularly quick as might be expected and the faster single seaters were into the low 30s for their quick runs. I gather the track was a little dirty early on, not surprising considering the recent weather and the farm traffic on this road. Otherwise it was Gurston Down as we know the place and pleasant to be there.
Mike's Alexis twin cam was running well although probably needing a little use after the winter, for as we all find both car and driver can be a little 'rusty', just like brake discs after a winter's storage! He felt the clutch was dragging, whilst a sticking throttle later in the day will certainly be a linkage issue. The rebuilt gearbox was behaving itself and now is fitted with a lower ratio final drive will be a great advantage on the hills. Times for the day are here.
It's the New Year so we are past the Winter Solstice and the days are getting longer, although it's difficult to see this at present. Christmas here was quiet as usual, the close family and the usual treats of food and drink, for us no travel although Felix had to battle with the railways from and to the north, apparently the return from Bristol to Manchester was via Cardiff which he viewed stoically.
Winter's always a time for fiddling and sorting and, in my case, selecting parts that I shall not be needing and moving them on via one of the online sales sites. I tried a different one which resulted in an immediate sale just luck I suspect, someone looking at the same time that I was selling. Also the time to give the transporter a service which as it's parked outside is not my favourite job but as most of the mileage will be done with the transporter.....
The new radiator is fitted to the Ensign and the engine started and run up to temperature. This was initially a bit fraught as the Webers were dramatically out of balance after being removed and consequently the twin cam refused to run smoothly. However, I was patient and followed the usual routine and the engine eventually settled into a quiet idle at 1000rpm. When really hot there was no leaking from the water system although, as usual, various airlocks had to be discovered and dealt with. All just takes a little time although our immediate neighbours were away so there was less time pressure to extinguish the engine.
In the same vein I decided to modify the cooling system on the Mallock to incorporate a swirl pot as a filler, the usual system on their front engined cars. Patient sourcing discovered a neat used stainless-steel pot and my inevitable box of bits had pipe and hose offcuts. I was kindly donated the original Ford thermostat cover to complete the package and after obtaining a 180-degree hose length everything fitted easily and once again, running an engine in the workshop to temperature, no leaks and a satisfactory result. I'm planning on running the Mallock in the early sprint at Castle Combe in 2018 which will be a good test, to be followed by a number of hills, assuming it has not found a new home. I was expecting to cut a hole in the engine cover but the swirl pot does not stand too proud of the engine block and the cover fits, with a small amount of persuasion.
Not quite in the same league but the Audi tow car has always had a problem with the covers at the bottom of the front and rear doors, rusting away as a pastime. They have plastic outers bonded to a mild steel inside runner why that isnot s/s you may well ask, decidedly un-Audi? Over the years these items have gradually disappeared from their parts availability although suddenly they have reappeared on Audis new and inaccessible Heritage Web Site. With patience I navigated through to expensive order and happily the parts arrived just before Christmas. Yes, they cost the earth and need spraying as well, but the worst problem is being totally unable to source.
Clubs programmes have started to appear for 2018, the most prompt as usual the HSA with a varied selection of sprints and hill climbs in their 33-round championship, many places I enjoying visiting irrespective. Nice to ponder and consider avoiding events which were underwhelming in 2017, for any number or reasons about which I could not possibly comment!
The hill and sprint season is now complete, the clocks 'going back' one hour on the last weekend in October heralding the effective end of 2017 speed events although there were the odd few over the following weekends. Finishing my season early with the Prescott American and Classic weekend I missed several opportunities the following weekend there were Curborough Sprints on the Saturday and Sunday and then a weekend at Anglesey Circuit also welcoming the National Sprint Championship. On the 21st of October Bristol Pegasus MC held their sprint at Castle Coombe although no open wheel cars were invited and on the Guy Fawkes weekend the FN/BMW sprint at Goodwood on the 4th November. This time of year can be mixed from the weather perspective although the recent weekends have been fine enough for dry track conditions, if rather cold.
Early in October there was a classic race meeting at Castle Combe which made a pleasant outing which I combined with a little shopping at Merlin Motorsport whose shop is in the paddock. Clearly a successful day for the organisers with large crowds, both in the paddock and round the track, entertained with several races for sports cars plus Juniors, 500s and vintage. In addition, demo runs by cars displayed in the paddock which included the Bronson Scarab, powered by Offenhauser, Mason's 1970 ex-works Ferrari 512S, 1974 Hesketh 308 ex-Hunt, 1977 FW06 Williams ex-Jones and the Lotus Judd driven by Nelson Piquet in 1989. Several F5000 cars including a McLaren M10B and the Harrier and amongst other cars a pretty F3 Lotus 59 and the Joe & David Fry renovated Freikaiserwagen. Apart from this there were plenty of car clubs with their displays and walking round the track was a pleasure with plenty to see on this rather chilly although dry afternoon.
Conditions not unlike a fortnight later when Bristol Pegasus MC held their annual Castle Combe Sprint, seemingly a success with a full entry of enclosed wheel cars, single seaters not wanted or indeed needed. I arrived mid-morning,halfway through the practice runs and the track was drying well with a very strong breeze, rain forecast later in the day. By way of contrast to a fortnight earlier there were few spectators round the track on which drivers were behaving sensibly, for this was a single lap affair and little time for tyres to warm. Starting from the marshalling area exit drivers had a full lap with the finish line exiting Camp Corner, drivers then doing a 180 to enter the marshalling area once again. Cars were run in batches of 4 which seemed to work well enough, the programme moving smoothly with few delays. I've spectated at the November Goodwood Sprint once in the past and despite the time of year might consider entering next year as it's a great track to drive.
In the meantime I've started on various jobs around the Ensign although nothing is major. Cleaning and lubricating as usual, looking for damage and signs of excess wear, really much of what one does on a regular basis throughout the season. I'd quickly established the reason that the cooling water level have been falling, a pin hole leak in one radiator and a new one has been ordered. The Webers have been removed for examination and cleaning and nothing amiss although I planned replacing the internal butterfly return springs which can only be accessed on the bench. As it turned out one was broken, the loop at one end sheered, luckily falling into the large tray I was using so I knew it was not lurking somewhere in the carburetor. I'd not noticed any alteration to the operation of the throttles so the external return springs were doing their job. Another choice is to remove these internal springs and rely on the external return springs alone. Otherwise two of the securing nuts sized onto their studs, easily resolved. Reassembling I treated the Webers to new Misab manifold washers and Warner grommets and plates, not overdue as the originals looked tired although no evidence of air leaks. I expect this will have upset the carb balance and adjustment but that can be dealt with later.
The liquids have been drained, petrol easily through a drain plug beneath the Ensign and nothing nasty there. The rear mounted oil tank is easy; either remove the bottom hose and screw on a blank to remove the tank complete, or let the oil drain into a tray. The latter is best for season end as I then spin off the oil filter and rotate the engine on the starter motor, clearing oil from the sump. The oil looked dirty as might be expected, although nothing else apparent. I know I should do this with the oil hot but circumstances are never right, short of draining the system after the last run at an event which is rarely practical.
The Ensign now awaits a new radiator before I can run up the engine and adjust the Webers. Everything's tucked away for the winter with the Ensign and Mallock in the workshop with more space as I've had a serious clear out. The transporter's off the road, moved into one of our driveways and, for the first time in months, a thorough clean both inside and out. In the next few weeks I'll examine the suspension and underside although there's nothing to suggest problems. A job for a warm and dry day!
Prescott American Classic 30th September & 1st October 2017
A second year for me at this busy weekend of Americana with music, song and dance, the motorcycle Wall of Death in the paddock, even the Prescott wall of death around Semi Circle. I decided to try and stay relaxed about the parking and congestion and just enjoy the sport, to drive as quickly as I could, taking pleasure from my little F3 race car which, back in the day, I'd never image having the opportunity to drive. Perspective was refreshed a week ago with back to back TV on Stewart, Hawthorn, Hill and Clark and it's appropriate to consider that Jackie is the only one who survives today. Always doing other things on Saturdays the box stayed live and I dipped in and out finishing up rather sad - these were my times. But less of the past, song and dance in Gloucestershire was the action this weekend.
The Ensign was delivered on Friday morn, simple although the empty paddock was wet, like the trailer park off the side entry lane and anyone without 4WD was in for trouble. Throughout the week there had been a miserable weekend weather forecast; apparently the remains of those destructive Caribbean hurricanes were heading our way. I walked the hill and there were no particular surprises although odd green patches which seemed unusual at the end of the summer. I refreshed my brain about Orchard, the fastest bit of the track although this is relative as the Ensign's best through the preceding speed trap is 77mph.
Curiously relaxed I headed north early on Saturday morning, the atmosphere grey, wet and uninviting as I entered the side road at Prescott where a traffic jam had developed, at 7.15am no less! I gather the staff on the 'gate' were asking for passes from competitors entering the paddock, although they had not been posted! Eventually I sneaked the Audi into the mud park and walked into the venue with my bags, successfully sneaking behind a van to avoid inspection of my nonexistent pass. After that it was easy with the Ensign parked and ready to go, time for a cup of coffee and then the usual signing on, a driver briefing which they like to do here, then the scrutineers. The Ensign was in the race car class for members of invited clubs, irrespective of capacity with a mix of OMS, Force, Formula Fords and James Baxter's refreshed ex-Tony Marsh 2.5litre Gould GR55, refinished in a pleasant shade of maroon, this arriving in a vast pantechnicon which somehow found a parking space. A truly magnificent 5.7litre GN based vintage special with a Gipsy aero engine was parked beside the Ensign and it was interesting to hear the story of its evolution. The Harrison family had their 1980 Tolman with a 2litre Hart that was at Classic Shelsley, sidelined today with mechanical issues. The 1966 Cooper Daimler V8 was spluttering on Saturday although someone looked at the spark plugs on Sunday and things improved amazing what a bit of preparation achieves. Our class were parked on the wet grass, with chosen exceptions on the tarmac, as usual Prescott's paddock layout verging on the chaotic
This being the American weekend the place was naturally packed with American cars of vary ages, modifications, condition in my eyes varying from the superb to the downright nasty. Plenty of bikes as well and of actual interest, a Penske PC22 with, apparently, it's correct 790bph Ilmor 265C engine certainly a devastating package as it left the start on several demonstration runs over the weekend, opening the hill on Sunday although only rounding Ettores and back to the paddock. Like many of cars here it was not subject to Prescott's paranoid concern about vehicle noise, unlike competitors who were subject to the usual statutory noise check, which seemed a trifle pointless. However, the whole point of this was to have a large car show enticing lots of spectators and despite the poor weather I suspect this worked for the Bugatti Owners Club. Probably more spectators than the Midland Automobile Club saw at Shelsley Walsh's classic weekend in July, the other big car show in the world of what used to be hill climbing.
Back to the coal face and practice started on time and for P1 the track was awful green and slippery truly nasty! However, the skies started to clear and whilst not sunny, temperatures rose and the track slowly dried so that it felt safer for P2. Interspersed between the timed runs were demonstration runs for the many visiting cars and bikes, particularly a lunchtime. This was popular with the spectators, sometimes two or three deep beside the track. This was well organised and the afternoon competition runs started in good time although, like the morning, there were a number of delays due to exuberant driving, the red lights in the paddock a useful indicator to the state of play. The Ensign was running midfield so by the time T1 came around the track was reasonably dry with good grip off the start line, times falling. For both timed runs the Ensign was in the low 47s, my driving untidy and missing my established gear changing points. I found Ettore's challenging but faster entry and power oversteer in the second half smoothed the Ensign's progress. The Esses remained moist but I'm always slow here so there was no drama. With fewer delays on the second timed runs the programme finished at a reasonable time and I was fortunate because the Ensign only needed moving across the access road to its Sunday paddock slot. Less easy was escaping to the real world with the trailer park access now blocked with Sunday arrivals! In our class it was Darren Gumbley who won, also taking BTD in his latest 1litre Force TA on 40.97s, the official results are here and complete results here.
Sunday again dawned grey with intermittent rain showers so that conditions for P1 were similar to Saturday. Most cars must have arrived the previous evening so there was no traffic pressure and the paddock was serene. Today I was in the pre-1971 Race Car class yes, I know the Ensign is May 1972 and I assumed I was not eligible for an award although Tim, Prescott's resident handicapper, had selected the Ensign's PB as handicap. It was a lovely class of cars with Lotus 51 & 61, two Nike, two Brabham BT21 twin cams, an Alexis, Elva 200, Pringett Mistrale, MG Special and the aforementioned Cooper Daimler. The whole class entry had arrived, unlike some classes with gaps where drivers were possibly concerned about difficult track conditions.
As we were running early in the programme I made sure everything was ready to go although apart from number changing it was the same as Saturday. The scrutineers were upon our cars whilst we attended the drivers briefing and when I returned all had been checked and even a pass sticker on the car. The light rain showers continued and T1 was as nasty as Saturday and I drove quietly up the hill, lifting well before the finish. With Sunday's programme devoted mainly to older cars there were few delays throughout the day and both practice runs were completed very quickly. Having checked other times for T1 it was obvious that I'd been too cautious so I made a little more effort on T2, saving 6s without getting out of shape, which bode well for the rest of the day as I was now settling into Prescott's track foibles.
Taking advantage of practice finishing early the organisers carried straight on with the demonstration runs and kept the place buzzing which I'm sure suited everyone. Even more spectators today and at the driver's briefing the Clerk said to be careful when driving in the paddock; one naturally is although reversing a single seater into its paddock slot whilst wearing all the kit is truly a leap of faith. In this sense the paddock marshals had no idea, because they've not been properly trained. Happily, the sun was occasionally appearing and it seemed likely that track conditions would improve, which they did, whilst the demo runs also contributed to squeegeeing the track. It was pleasant talking to many people I'd not seen for ages, amongst whom Richard and Sue Mallock were here supporting a 1500cc Mallock Mk4 which Richard had driven at Bo'ness hill climb in September. Also nice to see Mike Fisher, the previous owner of the Pringett Mistrale here today being driven by Les Buck, Mike kindly dropping off a useful spare part he no longer required. As our class runs would finish early and trailers are not allowed into the paddock before the end of the meeting, I played musical trailers so I could drive the Ensign into the trailer park and quietly load, much as I do at Shelsley. Too much escape planning and there were still the afternoon runs to contend with.
These started promptly and perhaps the fact that BOC had not printed any times in the programme had something to do with this just times for 'Entertainment and Peformances'! The track was dry for T1, so I took things a little more seriously and was in the 47s as on Saturday, getting a bit out of shape exiting The Esses but fortunately the Ensign found some grip. This happened to a few drivers and is something I've never experienced previously, which suits me fine. Clearly The Esses were still moist. Our final run came around quickly with no delays on the hill: I decided to do everything as T1 and it was a smooth run, staying in shape and into the 46s which I should have been doing on Saturday. Everything went to plan and I drove the Ensign into the trailer park and quietly loaded and departed. Our class was won on handicap by Peter Hannam in one of the Nikes, the Ensign fastest on scratch which made my efforts worthwhile. It was also nice to see a Mallock winning, Peter Thurston and his Mallock Mk4 twincam taking BTD on 46.23s, the official results are here and overall results here.
Overall, I enjoyed the weekend despite the mixed track conditions and that underlying feeling of uncoordinated planning that seems to pervade a Prescott event and impacts on competitors, particularly off track. The nice thing is that attendance is not compulsory at any motorsport event and we do have plenty of choice. This was the last event of my 2017 season, 27 days of sport with the Mallock and Ensign, two BTDs, two 2nd BTDs and some class wins, so nothing to be dissatisfied about. I'd been considering having the Ensign's twin cam refreshed but after the last two weekends have decided to postpone the decision. There's nothing major to be done and after stripping the Ensign on Monday I decided to check a water leak as the level has been falling, although nothing apparent in the engine oil. The dry workshop floor betrayed a pinhole leak from one of the radiators which can be rectified. I was running the Ensign on a different pump fuel for the last two weekend which I might continue in 2018. The racing wheels and tyres cleaned and stored inside black plastic bags in the cellar, the Ensign now sitting on unique and original Ensign magnesium wheels which look rather cool, although best not used in anger these days. Plenty to do and consider during the 'off season' and I'll continue to pass on my thoughts.
Shelsley Walsh 16th & 17th September 2017
More autumnal days and the end of the Shelsley Walsh competitive season with two clubbies supported by rounds of various championships including Ferrari, Porsche, Midland Speed, Paul Matty Lotus, Classic Marques, Revington Triumph and the SBD Hillclimb and Sprint Association, so there was something for all tastes. Most of these championships had their bespoke classes on the day whilst the SBD/HSA is multiclass with a scoring system enabling competitors to compete in the class, on the day, appropriate to their car. With the choice of 1600cc racing cars or the pre-1975 classic race car class I'd chosen the latter, possibly not giving this enough thought as I was last runner on Saturday and penultimate runner on Sunday.
Saturday dawned dry and warm although heavy Friday rain had left the track damp in places. Reports from intrepid early morning mountaineers were of the dreaded Top S actually being dry! Delivering the Ensign on Friday I'd already scaled the heights before the rains, surprised how some high sides of the track were being eroded by rain, soil washing down the track edges. I gather the track had been swept but there were steel fragments littering the track, apparently broken steel brush filaments. I thought this a bit curious as normally polypropylene brushes would be quite adequate for Shelsley's smooth track and paddock surfaces. Intrigued, I read this sort of brush is designed for weed and grass removal and is not recommended for race tracks. Well that's good to know although I understand that the track marshals were to clear the track of these prior to the event starting.
Back to Saturday and many competitors had their cars scrutineered on Friday afternoon which was convenient, taking pressure off scrutineers on Saturday morning, if not on Friday afternoon. With practice starting at 9.00am there was no reason to rush but old habits die hard and I was up with the lark and in the paddock too early. The weather was mild and dry and there's always something to look at and ponder. Also from Bristol, and from that mine of useless information, born in the same South London hospital as me, Karl Scholler was running his evergreen 998cc bike engine Spectre Mk7 in the 1100 race car class. Designed and built by Karl the Spectre has a wooden body and kart wheels, alongside some original solutions to competition car construction. Karl competes regularly here and his Spectre is a change from the relative uniformity in race car classes. There were plenty of Triumphs and two classes of the Matty Lotus Championship, the first something of an Elan fest which the race cars are always interesting and this time a red 35 I'd not seen before smart and quick. Moving through the Porsche and Classic Marques the small road going class included a Nissan Leaf that occasionally disappeared, presumably to be fed from the mains. Plenty of road going cars in their various forms and classes before the standard race car classes and at the end our small classic class, competing against etherial 'target times'.
Exactly like Gurston last Sunday, P1 hinted at the track being slippery but the track was drying and not at all nasty. Even better for T2 and by this time it was late morning and the rest of the field had done plenty of cleaning. I was running slightly softer settings but they were probably unnecessary as I adopted a new approach of not getting too excited in practice, doing everything by the numbers and 5 seconds off my pace so having time to consider lines and what's happening around the car. Probably the wrong time for this as I was given an absurdly slow target time for the competition, but these days the organisers have little or no knowledge of cars or drivers so what can be expected?
Official timed runs started promptly just before 1.00pm although nothing to get too excited about as Richard Weaver conducted his wrecker up the hill several times during the afternoon to recover cars unable to return under their own power after incidents, happily no one hurt. By early afternoon the track conditions were excellent although it remained cool and there was little heat in the tyres at the end of runs. By the time T1 arrived I was looking forward to a run and made a serious effort, warming the tyres and actually off the line on the green when it suddenly switched back to red. Sharp as a nail I stopped immediately, although later I wondered why I was not concentrating on the kink at the top of the brow. No disaster, Briony just tapping the bank in her Lotus 51 and some soil on the track that presumably neeed sweeping. Then an official decided it was necessary to scuttle up the track in his course car so I thought I'd add to the delay by asking to be reversed back to warm the tyres again! Given the ok to proceed I was concerned that the course car had not returned, remembering the early July meeting in 2016 when one was coming down the hill as I crested the brow in the Mallock, an occasion I'm unlikely to forget. Against my better judgement I started, the run tidy and quick, no PB but in the 30s and 2.13s for the first 64ft - ok. I was even timed at 106 before Bottom S - no way! The rest of the Classic Class had good runs with Graham's 1.6 litre Heaton Rudd Monoposto steadily improving after a small accident at his first appearance here earlier in the season. Sadly, Mike's immaculate Alexis twin cam suffered a split gearbox casing after T2 so was unable to compete, the more frustrating as he was entered for Sunday and his car is a delight. Having consulted Mark Bailey apparently it will be a new casing and fingers crossed about the condition of the Hewland's final drive.
The sky was darkening and after a further delay when a TR7 V8 rolled in the Esses, I decided to pack up early as apart from anything else I knew my time would not be improved. Chris Green took BTD in his 1.6 litre OMS 28 on 27.05s, the official results are here and all times are here.
Sunday proved to be more of the same and the weather forecast suggested dry conditions all day which proved correct. There were many different cars in the paddock today although several from Saturday joined our class including the handsome red Lotus 35 and a quick pale green Lotus 23. Mike is a regular here in his historic 4 litre Chapman Mercury Special although he scratched after practice. The George family's B19 appeared for the day and Michael brought his Lotus 51 FF, his driving slightly detuned following an incident in his Lotus Elan on Saturday. With pleasant track conditions the competition followed much the pattern of Saturday and many of the times were similar. The B19 was back from France having competed at Etretat at the end of August. Happily, we remained in the same area of paddock so there was little need to play musical cars between the paddock sheds, although car numbers needed changing. The new regime of identical numbers and sheds for 2-day events arrived and apparently has now departed, another helpful innovation seemingly discarded despite the numerically expanding office staff now residing in their tasteful restored farmyard offices.
Practice proceeded smoothly and today there were no incidents of note which suited everyone. The dry start line and track were good to drive although, once again, there was little obvious heat in the tyres. There again, both days I was at the end of Batch 5 so I remained in the car and immediately returned down the hill no chance to immediately check temperatures. A good day's sport that finished in good time. The new traffic arrangements in and out of the paddock, which some still manage to ignore, worked well and a valuable improvement to the venue's logistics. Personally, I was pleased with the Ensign which was running perfectly, another 2.13s off the line and a tad faster overall although not into the 29s which I hope for at this event. I also ran in T2 although, as I expected, the time was slightly slower with conditions cooling; I gather it started to rain an hour or so later. Richard Hollingworth took BTD in his 1.6 litre DJ Firehawk on 27.09s, a time close to Saturday's winner. The official results are here and all the times are here.
One more event entered this season, the American and Classic fest at Prescott at the end of the month. Saturday will be within a mix of mainly modern single seaters so the Ensign can revert to its correct place in the competitive food chain whilst on Sunday the Ensign is too modern in the pre-1971 class! Whatever, I'm sure it will be a pleasant conclusion to my 2017 season, with a busy winter ahead.
Gurston Down 10th September2017
The final meeting of the season at Gurston Down, one I invariably miss as I prefer their two-day affairs. However, in 2016 I entered the MIRA Sprint the day before Gurston and the weather was miserable on that flat and exposed ex-RAF station. This year I gave MIRA a miss and headed south to Gurston early Sunday morning, the sky heavy with moisture and low-lying mist and fog. For a change (!) our class was once again paddock parked in the filthy farmyard and indeed my official position was in the middle of a small swamp where Saturdays heavy rains had washed the yard's surface muck. After unloading in a cleaner area I was able to park the Ensign on the raised concrete pad in front of the club`s equipment store, courtesy of Alan Joy and Murray Wakeham who's OMS had been moved there as their farmyard slot also uninhabitable. A gazebo was erected immediately below Gurston's resident water feature, the broken roof gutter no risk of that ever being repaired. Added to this one of the Ensign's tyres had deflated, curiously one I swop with the narrow slave wheel. Therefore it couldnt be a puncture and I noticed the metal valve body at an angle, probably caused by tensioning the elastic cord used to stop the wheel rolling around the transporter. The securing bolt was loose and tightening this solved a small yet significant problem.
By this time the sky was looking brighter, a steady breeze moving the clouds with occasional patches of blue. I'd no enthusiasm to walk the track but once practice started it was obvious that the start line was slippery whilst the track was merely damp in places. A large entry today and nice to see a number of 500s which always enliven the paddock. Today was the last round of Gurston's own championship but most classes and major awards were already decided although it is nice for a venue to have a member's championship. Our classic class was small with Mike and his F3 Alexis, Sue's twin cam Palliser and Richard's Jensen CV8, fresh from the August Bank Holiday Crystal Palace and for today, a car with a roof which seemed a good idea.
Infact we were fortunate in the morning for track conditions steadily improved, P1 safe enough and for P2 the track was dry and felt safe although there was no heat in the tyres. Some of the speeds registered by the time keepers looked a trifle optimistic although there was a strong tail wind up the finish straight which might have contributed. The start line grip also improved although I chose to start off the 'rubbered' line, which worked for me. Practice was generally uneventful and T1 started at 1.00pm, light rain 15 minutes after this, a trifle early as I was hoping the forecast of 'light rain after 2.00pm' would be delayed even further giving our class one dry run at least. Not that the rain was heavy, just enough to make the track surface slippery and uncertain. By the time for our class T1 it looked as if this light rain had settled in for a few hours and after the Ensign's run I headed for the transporter as I'd previously decided to not do a second if the rain arrived. Annoyingly Mike had a spin in The Hollow, no harm done and he drove straight back to the paddock, suitably annoyed I'm sure. Just he and Richard in the Jensen took T2 and track conditions were worse, light rain keeping the surface slippery. By this time, I'd loaded the Ensign and watched their start with Geoff who was not competing in his Lotus 22 twin cam today. The rain spoilt the afternoon but thats living in the UK and outdoor events for you the weather makes or mars the day. Mike Rudge took a well deserved BTD on 33.54s in his Westfield on T1 The results are here.
Motorsport at the Palace 27th & 28th August 2017
I've been clearing my collection of magazines over the last month or two. First to go was the vast quantity of Motorsport I started buying these regularly in 1964 and it was my pleasure to pass my coins over the Smiths counter at Streatham Hill Station and devour the contents on the train to Victoria, before walking across the park to St James's and the Dunlop office where I worked. Much later, having moved to Bristol, a neighbour, understanding that I had an interest, kindly donated many earlier copies going back to the 20s, in passing mentioning that he had once owned the Sunbeam Tiger. There was no answer to that. Anyway, the other day a local enthusiast kindly took an estate car full of all my beloved Motor Sports which I hope he will value and enjoyed as much as I have done.
Similarly, I was donated a vast pile of early 70s Autosport Magazines years ago which have proved excellent for researching the history of my Ensign and Ensigns in general, apart from just good reading! This was in the golden period after the original founder, Gregor Grant, had sold out to Haymarket Publishing who installed youthful Simon Taylor from Castle Cary to edit the mag. This he did perfectly, loads of gossip, news, track tests, whilst at the same time keeping excellent reporters onboard the original John Bolster, of course, and that American icon, Pete Lyons, amongst others.
Bolster was eccentric and original, becoming involved with AS when Gregor Grant started the magazine and following Bolster's serious track accident in an ERA. He had loads of race experience and also became the voice of television and radio and now 'news from John Bolster in the pits'. Perhaps today it's easy to denigrate his patrician style but if you read his articles in AS he had a lot of interesting and topical things to say, sometimes ahead of his time and lifestyle, encouraging small economical cars and denigrating the appalling build quality and unreliability of 60s and 70s cars. He loved serious road burners, as we all do, but made balanced comments about them and certainly knew when they were liable to fall off the road too easily.
I only recognised Pete Lyons in later years but he was one of the best race reporters around. I tended to read him in Motor Sport but for me he was always overshadowed by the exquisite writing of Dennis Jenkinson, who seemed to deve himself into the most interesting places and have the confidence of the most significant people. We all know about him riding shotgun for Moss in the '55 Mille Millia, surely the best piece of motorsport journalism ever, even my father buying that copy although he hated MS! There again, in 2017 many dont. I remember paddock marshalling at Shelsley in the later 90s where Jenks was running his sprint bike and clearly 'in charge' of the other bikers so cool and relaxed I was in awe. Anything he wrote was worth reading although, in retrospect, showed his age when criticising Jackie Stewart's progressive stance towards track safety. Looking back to the late 60s and early 70s the carnage was horrific by today's standards, although many still viewed this in relation to the carnage of WW2 when most people were killed in circumstances where they had little or no choice. However......
Back to today's world and last weekend was the annual speed fest at Crystal Palace, organised by 7Oaks Motor Club in that beautiful South London park. The date had moved from the usual May Bank Holiday at the behest of the professional event organisers who apparently know about these things? Without discussing details, the entry was smaller than previous years, particularly Bank Holiday Monday when the whole field's runs absorbed but 55 minutes. The organisation was good but not to the high standards of previous years, silly details too boring to discuss although the farce of competitors being docked 10sec for 2 wheels off the track on Sunday was pathetic. Walking the track on Sunday lunchtime I could see the paths of wheels clipping the corners and slightly on the grass, the same as all the past events here. Happily, the light dawned on Monday morning when the C of C was propositioned about this and stated that now an odd wheel was not a problem although one third of the car over the grass would incur his wrath. At the same time, it was stated that tapping a marker cone would carry no time penalty, this seeming rather counter intuitive. None of this means much other than there has never been a problem in the past, so why this weekend?
Saturday practice started promptly at 9.00am and flowed quickly, as did the whole day, without any significant incidents. The track was truly horrible for P1, slippery and shiny, tyres wet and covered with grass clippings from the moist paddock. The three modern single seaters with their cling film wrapped tyres avoided this although they were in a different world. Morning practice was completed by 11.30am so after the early lunch break the official proceedings with 3 timed runs started on time at 1.00om.The sun had risen and the paddock and track were hot, the ground drying and plenty of spectators enjoying the proceedings. First runner in the programme was Jo Tisdall in his pretty bright orange 750cc Austin Ulster, setting the scene. I liked Robert Woods 1596cc Lotus Cortina in the next class, a class winner as was Jo. Kevin Diamond's 1998cc Volvo looked well prepared with a traditional black coachwork, running in the middle of his class. Classes for more modern roadgoing cars included several MX5s and fast 4x4 Subaru and Mitsubishi, these quick off the line although the hot and dry conditions not in their favour. A lone 1410cc Wolseley Special comprised the vintage entry and the bright red 1293cc Turner of David Waterhouse seemed just the right sort of car for the event, in the same class as Richard Lovell-Butt's 5916cc Jensen CV8 which is occasionally seen at Gurston Down. There were several larger classes of more modern road going cars, headed by the Caterham's of Chris Bennett and David Rayner who were closely matched, Chris taking the honours by 0.23s. There was something for everyone, GSM Delta, Hillman Imp, Minis, Austin A30s and an A40 Farina, Escort, Sierra, Viva, large Audi, BMW they are all in the days results here.
The programme finished with the faster specialist and racing cars. A 1996cc Ford engined Sprite was pitted against the 5700cc V8 Fraud Corina and won, whilst David Seaton had his work cut out in his 4941cc BMW engined Pilbeam MP43 sports racer against a 1049cc Seat Marbella, which emphasised the weekends problem of some small, unbalanced and amalgamated classes. The Ensign ran with GaryThomas's 13977cc Force and Ian Perrin's 1300 Formula V whilst the last class comprised a pair of 2012 single seaters, a 2000cc Force and turbo 1598cc FF200. Gary took BTD on 32.46s whilst the other Force was sidelined with bent front lower wishbones.
The programme finished at 4.30pm and all the cars were removed to the secure trailer park on the plateau above the track. The prize giving was held beside the start line and competitors could relax, or depart, or await another day's sport on Bank Holiday Monday.
Which many did although the overall entry was smaller than Sunday. Again a perfect morning although a heavy dew again left the grass very moist until mid-morning. I stayed both nights in the accommodation block for the National Sports Centre, economical and convenient, early cooked breakfasts and just a minute or two to the trailer park or indeed the headonistic charms of Crystal Palace and Westow Street. Newly arrived cars or those parked overnight were driven off the plateau down into the grass paddock whilst any bulky items were transported by a shuttle van service. This plateau was originally the site of Paxton's famous Crystal Palace, the exhibition hall erected in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and subsequently moved to the top of Sydenham Hill in 1854, to spectacularly burn down late in 1936 although its name was bequeathed forever to this district of South London. The driver's meeting was just after 8.30am and practice started promptly at 9.00, two runs in the morning before an early lunch as the main event was to be started promptly at 1.00pm by the Mayor and Mayoress of Bromley. The sun was high in the sky and it was hot, one of the hottest Bank Holiday Mondays on record, the track conditions good with a hot surface and well 'rubbered in'.
The first class included Jason Andrews 4700cc Mustang which looked a handful but was quick, an Allard J1 also 4700cc and presumably side valve, these cars built not far away in South London. The 4x4s in the next class were all fast enough to get in the Top 10 and how nice to see Andy Elcombe, usually C of C here, completing both days in a MX5. The red Turner had stayed for the second day, David Waterhouse today sharing with Dave Nursey, better known for Clerking at Shelsley Walsh, so this would have been an education, apart from sucessfully heading his class. The Bankhurst family were out in force for both days, father Alan in his 1680cc TVR Vixen whilst son Ian and grandson Matthew shared their recently acquired Elan 26R, Alan leading their pack. The Bennett vs Raynor Caterham battle continued from Sunday with Chris Bennett heading the class on 37.18s, a PB. From the practice the whole programme absorbed 55 minutes for each run which was as well because a Sierra had an incident on T2 and needed to be recovered, this delay not upsetting the overall organisation and no one hurt. The final classes were small as on Sunday, the Pilbeam MP43 with a BMW E30 and the Ensign accompanying Andy Greenen in his 2017 998cc Empire Evo, fresh from a weekend at Gurston Down. David and his MP43 won his class on 34.97s, a tad slower than Sunday, whilst Andy Greenan took BTD and a new track record on 31.30s making the Ensign's 35.02s look pedestrian. The results are here.
Despite the delay the programme finished before 4.30pm and we still sweltered in the late summer sunshine, many of the days modest crowd having evaporated. Time to load up and escape although for some, including me, Fishermans Gate was open allowing easy access to the top of Sydenham Hill onto Crystal Palace Parade and a shortcut, avoiding the Palace one-way system, via the bottom of Gipsey Hill. This set the tone for the return journey, no delays and 2 hours 40 minutes door to door compared with 4 hours 10 minutes on Saturday. This is always an excellent weekend although, at a competitive level, personally this year felt little different from any other race weekend when the Ensign competes with cars up to 45 years it's junior in regular 1600cc classes. Perhaps moving the 2018 event date back to the May Bank Holiday will improve the entry list we will see. Overall though, in my opinion, this is one of the 'must do' events for owners of classic and vintage cars, if only to say they have been here. Not Goodwood, but just as much fun and without the pomp.
Shelsley Walsh 13th August 2017
With nothing much happening this weekend a trip to Worcester was on the cards, either Saturday or Sunday as the Midland Automobile Club were making their life very complicated by holding back to back British Hillclimb Championship with Top 12 runoffs on each day. Why, I wondered apparently the complicated annual programme of events had caused the loss of an earlier Championship meeting so this year's allocation was being crammed into one weekend. A possible nightmare for the organisers and competitors but excellent for spectators, of which I was one of many to make the pilgrimage on a sunny, yet somewhat autumnal, Sunday morning.
Arriving just after 9.00 practice was already in full swing, the paddock comparatively empty as the total number was for a single day event. I gather that this had caused some consternation as a large number of prospective competitors had their entries refused and plenty of last minute telephone calls from and to the Shelsley office. One interesting and underlying comment was the fact that whilst the backroom might be efficient, there is no one there who actually knows who the competitors are, be it past or present, the departure of the last comp sec and his office assistant leaving a void. I gather there might be an attempt to rectify this failing with, possibly, a well-known commentator bridging that gap.
The paddock was full of familiar faces, many of them spectating. The contingent of 500 owners were a little weary having had, on Saturday afternoon, their second timed run moved from the start of the programme to the end, around 7.00 as it happened. I think I've already bored enough on this particular hobby horse of mine and I commiserated, although it begged the question of why the 500s were given two days of sport whereas the Paul Matty Championship just only Saturday or perhaps that was their choice. It was obviously an entry with a bias towards the quick single seaters and there were plenty of 1100s as is inevitable this season. Their current nemesis, Robert Kenrick, had reset Brodie Branche's 8 year old record with a 25.76s on Saturday, a repeat performance today on 25.48s. Of no particular consequence I believe the turbo 2.8 litre Pilbeam MP53-4 of Rodney Eyles in the pre-1985 class was previously owned by said Brody Branch and before that, a long list of illustrious drivers. Nice to see Mike Pilbeam and David Gould keeping an eye on things in the paddock. The 1600cc Heaton Rudd was out again following a small incident at the Classic Shelsley, as was Philip Stader's Mallock Mk11 which was quick through the Esses as Philip gets more seat time; a class win for his trouble heading the George family's exquisite Chevron B19.
Almost a pleasure to walk the hill in the warm August sunshine, always a bit cooler the higher one goes, spectators already lining the path and seated in the Esses. Practice was running smoothly and no delays of consequence, something that had beset Saturday's event. With excellent spectator viewing the fast single seaters are impressive to watch, particularly through the Esses and their turn in at Top Ess with immediate traction onto the final straight quite unbelievable. Since competing I've always found more pleasure from spectating, perhaps understanding a little more of what's happening in, and to, cars climbing the hill. Returning to the paddock I spent a little time watching cars and their pre-start line antics. The latest edict from the MSA hit our in-boxes last Friday afternoon, amongst other things saying that tyre 'heating by mechanical means' will not be allowed from the start of next season. This has inevitably raised a new discussion to fever pitch and clarification will be necessary to understand if pre-start line wheel spinning is included in this new regulation. In the meantime, it was all happening at Shelsley with tyre coverings being removed, tyres being brushed, engines stalling and booster batteries being attached, to start the engine once again then the ferocious tyre burnout prior to the start. Is this heating or cleaning I suspect a debate will continue although drag racing comes under the 'Speed Event' banner and they will be unwilling to dispense with their famous burnouts prior to each run. Contrary to expectations Steve Owen tricked quiietly to the start line, my prefered option.
In the paddock there was an interesting display of championship winning cars, several of which did a demo run at lunchtime, some on open pipes and I'm glad that I started regular hillclimbing when the silencer era was already well established! Some drivers drove cars from the paddock, for example Charles Wardle drove David Seaton's Pilbeam MP43 sports racer, the first chassis built in 1980. Roger Moran borrowed the B19 and seemed pleased with the experience.There was also a photo shoot of past champions, an appropriate record of the day.
Morning practice had finished in good time and the lunch break was short, competitive runs starting about 1.00. It was surprising how quickly the time passed, particularly not being involved with running a car which tends to be time consuming if everything is running correctly, and if not..... Too much talking but eventually I headed up the hill with the plan to watch the faster cars and the first Top 12 beside the Esses. During practice Terry Davis had shown the best piece of car control to recover serious oversteer of his OMS in Bottom Ess, not helped by the cement dust laid following an oil laying incident. On TI everyone were neat and tidy and I thought Paul Haimes swept through the Esses beautifully although, when dissecting the numbers, by no means the quickest. Both runoffs were won by Will Hall in his turbo 2 litre Force, some compensation for the very long development process to make this car competitive. Saturday and Sunday results are here.
Following the first runoff it was nearing 4.00pm and looked like being another 7.00pm day so I left. I'd enjoyed what I'd seen and heard and this was a successful weekend's hill climbing for spectators, perhaps more issues for some competitors.
Loton Park 5th & 6th August 2017
Loton is a popular hill climb, west of Shrewsbury and easily accessible from the Midlands and elsewhere via the M54. Not that I use this route as northbound on Fridays the M5 and M5/M6 junction are places best avoided and I head for the hills west of Worcester where roads are slower but generally free flowing. So it was last weekend although my regular short cut through the lanes from Minsterley was closed, involving a rather lengthy diversion, although what was the rush? It's nice to be able to park the transporter in the paddock, on tarmac, although there's little space between with everything becoming larger, this weekend the Kenrick family lorry squeezed alongside just! Not that any of this made any difference to me as I'd long since parked and walked the newly resurfaced track.
It certainly looked impressive and with the thickness of tarmac the track edges had been raised, although it will take a while for the grass to thicken and the roots firmly bind the aggregate. Certainly, at this stage it seemed best to keep on the black stuff, but isn't it always? Some trees and undergrowth had been felled to the right of the start line allowing more light, whilst most of the white lines were painted including the dots marking the 'clipping points', presumably to locate cones when training days are held. It was amusing walking the hill and deciding on these points before reaching them, in most cases getting this right which suggests that whoever made the decisions is probably as incompetent as I am! Anyway, it was all looking good, even the return road at the top of the hill resurfaced, a complete job. That was it for Friday and I repaired to my local B&B and then the local pub for refreshment and pleasant company, remembering my secateurs as the gap in the hedge opposite the pub is always overgrown, undoubtably to discourage walkers or drinkers, or both.
Saturday dawned warm with clouds from the west. The paddock was full and there were an adequate number of scrutineers who were soon upon us. The 1100cc 1600cc class was running in batch 4 so there was a bit of a wait, several cars also falling off during practice, at least two needing the wrecker. One drove out of the paddock to either return home, or perhaps park a mile down the road and telephone their recovery service. There were lots of road going and production cars that seems right and proper for a club event, nothing really catching my eye although in sports libre the yellow Stratus looked a neat replica of the real Lancia and also yellow was the Rawlson Stiletto Imp, all with a handicap against the Mercer family Force LM. Loads of 1100cc race cars and the Bennett, Jones and Gumbley Force TAs might have been dominant if the Kenrick's Raptor was not here to spoil their party. Following this three FFs and the 1600s where I was lodged. Following the larger capacity race cars, a small pre-1971 group and a championship outing for Classic Marques with their mix of sports cars, followed by TVRs and TRs. A small modern rally car class finished the programme. I was most impressed that on both days the TVR Championship had their own catering van, presumably concerned that starvation might be an issue.
The morning tended to drag a bit and the rain started for P1 and our practice batch, not bad but enough to feel the need to be sensible, this suiting me as I needed a trip up the hill to get my brain in gear, happy with a tidy slow run. Waiting at the top there was lightening, thunder and black skies to the north, not much rain where we were although the paddock received a soaking. The skies cleared and the sun appeared,the track drying quickly so P2 was more interesting and a chance to examine the new surface in more depth. Intimidated by the company I spun up to warm the tyres before this run and had a startling launch although the overall time was nothing special although improved grip everywhere and rather fun. Competitors agreed that the new surface had transformed the hill. Following the morning delays the lunch break was shortened and competition runs started in sunshine and generally pleasant conditions, the Ensign's times continuing to improve but not by that much and the best on P2 of 55.69s, sufficient to hold last place in the class which was won by Gary in his Force PC on 50.07s.
The overall results were interesting with Jason Mourant taking BTD on 45.24s in his 4 litre Gould GR55 whilst Robert Kenrick, driving the 1 litre Raptor, took 2nd BTD on 46.43s, at the same time resetting the 1100cc class record, that had stood since 2008, by over a second. The results are here.
Duly fortified overnight with fish & chips and ale, Sunday morning promised more of the same. The weather forecast was encouraging although the opaque sky continued for most of the day, with little sunshine. I'd learnt earlier that it was planned to continue running the event through the 11.00-12.00 church service on the recommendation of Loton's land owner, tests carried out on Saturday suggesting that noise levels there were lower than generally perceived. There has always been this gap in the Sunday programme and a good idea to test how valid it was in today's world. Sunday's entry was smaller with HSA members departing following their single day championship round, more breathing space between the single seaters in the paddock and our class reduced to three cars. Classic Marques, TVR and Triumph cars remained for a second day on their championships which is more convenient for those having to travel distances and a shame the same could not have been done for the HSA. Once again scrutineering was prompt and it interesting that this the first time I was questioned regarding the validity of the ROPS (rollover protection) of the Ensign. If unmodified from new the car comes within the FIA historic categories so everyone was happy. Another year and all will be forgotten, just like the fuss when non- return couplings were required on fuel lines so a sample could be taken for testing I've not heard of a single case of this happening at a speed event.
After a short delay when we were briefed about the church service noise test, practice moved forward quickly, our class in batch 3 which quickly arrived. Track conditions felt slightly better than Saturday and certainly excellent on P2 when I nearly matched my PB, something that never happens these days. The Ensign was running hard settings and for Sunday I did not warm the tyres. Apart from the fact I dont think the launch makes that much difference to the first split time unless incredibly slow, I'd had a look at the rubber couplings on the drive shafts remembering that the only two failures have been at at Loton. They looked used but satisfactory, despite which I decided to fit new when preparing the Ensign for Crystal Palace at the end of the month. Approaching 11.00 the programme was altered so our noisy single seater batch ran out of order, allowing the quieter road going classes to practice between 11.00 and 12.00. I dont know whether this test was a success and if it was I suspect it won't be widely publicised. As it was the programme rushed through, afternoon runs starting at 12.45 and with few delays an early finish to the day, which is what I like. The Ensign was slow on T1 and T2, no particular reason although the car was moving about and perhaps I should have softened the settings as clearly track conditions had deteriorated slightly, the track surface cooler. Steve won our class in his Empire Evo on 50.77s, also a bit slower than the morning practice and short of the elusive 49s be has set his heart on! Again, the Ensign was last in class, probably it's correct place in the hill climb 'food chain'!
As Saturday Jason Mourant took BTD on 44.91s with Robert Kenrick 2nd BTD on 45.53s to again reset the 1100 class record and complete very successful weekend. The results are here.