Friday, 23 May 2014

Number 3 - Thruxton

After the historics at Donington, the next morning saw me up bright and early and leaving Leicester by way of the M69 to get to Thruxton for the BTCC meeting. It is about 140 miles but the route is mainly motorway or dual carriageway - M69, A46, M42, A34 - and on a quiet Sunday morning it was easy to get settled at a decent speed and let the miles roll by. One of the interesting points about travelling on a Sunday is to see groups of people obviously heading off to a venue you have just passed and so it was this day as the Kit Car show at Stoneleigh, near Warwick was obviously attracting kit cars from all around as I was still meeting some when I left the A34 to join the A303.

Approaching Thruxton on the A303 from the East on a major race day, spectators are signed to carry on past the circuit and to come off at the next junction and enter the circuit from the West via the entrance off the A338 . Last year I did what I was told and found myself at the end of a reasonably moving queue on the access road off the A338, but this year the traffic was queued back up onto the A303 and I settled down for a longish drive in. However as I approached the roundabout on the old A303 / A338 junction where the queue was turning up the A338. as I expected, the actual sign for public parking was back along the old A303 towards the main circuit entrance. Nearly all the traffic was still going up the A338 but I decided to follow the sign, along with a few others, and 10 minutes later we were parking our cars in the circuit, very close to the main gate.

So the question I have is - why did others not similarly follow the sign along the old A30, and how long did it take people to get from that sign to the car park via the A338?

Anyway, enough on that. I always like to walk around the paddock at race meetings as it is a good chance to find cars sitting out just begging to be photographed and last year I bought a paddock ticket for the BTCC meeting at Thruxton only to be disappointed  when so many of the cars (practically all in fact) were in awnings and not able to be seen - so this year I spent my time walking right around the circuit as far it is possible to go to the entrance of Noble and there on a high bank I found a great place to take photos and see the cars coming through the complex and even going through the club chicane (from the side) away across the other side of the circuit.

So here is a picture of the complex taken from that viewing bank:

and here is a photo taking of track action in front of me:

The BTCC field was a stunning site with the cars immaculately turned out and in the races the action was pretty much all the way down the order, but I have to admit to being fairly uninspired by the supporting races which apart from a few exceptions were pretty much bereft of excitement. The Pro-Am dice at the back of the Porsche races was good, and the odd bit of Ginetta Junior action made those races lively, but too many of the others were follow-my-leader for the entire duration, except where a faster car had to start from lower down the field. Here are a couple of Porsches enjoying themselves - Kevin Fletcher (17) and Peter Kyle-Henney (22):

I drifted off during the Formula Ford race for a coffee and took a walk behind the viewing bank to get round to the start line area a bit quicker, but from what I did see the Fords are now as exciting as those previous one-make (yes I know FF is not one-make but it 99% is) slicks and wings thrillathons of Formula Renault, Formula Vauxhall, Formula Forward, F2000- the cars sound flat, they do not move around and there is never any overtaking - bring back multi-makes, skinny tyres and wing-free cars!! Rant over.

I left after the last re-start in the BTCC Race 3 because I reckoned getting out would be more of a problem than I had getting in and I had a dinner date to get to at my friends where I would be staying before going to Castle Combe the next day.

Thruxton is a great circuit because it is so fast and it has a couple of good overtaking opportunities at the complex and the chicane and one hopes that there is no knee-jerk reaction to the accidents in the BTCC races this year - the problem is not the layout of the circuit, it is the protection for the cars after they go off and it would seem entirely feasible to increase that protection on the outside of Church as there is plenty of room there.

That was my 5th visit to Thruxton, the first few were back in 1983, 1984 and 1987, when my sister-in-law and her family were stationed at Tidworth, and so it was easy to nip out and say I was just going to be a few hours when we were visiting - and I tried to make sure the visits were arranged for the right weekends - BTCC in 1983 and 1984 and a historics meeting in 1987. So last year was my first visit for 26 years and it was pretty much the same as it had been - I would like to go again when it is not a BTCC meeting, when the crowds are fewer and it is possible to get a good view at the chicane for example.

So to finish off here are a few photos from 1983 and 1987, I have none for my visit in 1984.

With apologies for the Kodak Instamatic photos again, here is the midfield of the Touring Cars with Alfasuds, Metros,  Escort, Scirocco and Toyota going through the complex:

and then this is the entire FFord field with Van Diemens and a Lola leading the way.

And finally from 1983 a view of the Padock at the end of the day - this is Hamish Irvine's privateer Mazda but look at the set up in the background for Andy Rouse's Alfa GTV - looks like a converted bus is being used as his transporter - wonder where it is these days?

By 1987 I had a better camera and here a few from the historic meeting:

Firstly we have a Ginetta G16 being driven by Roger Fowler, and this make and model is winning these days in the hands of James and Graeme Dodd in Guards GT Trophy races.

Next is Marcos founder, Jem Marsh in one of his original cars

And then 2 McLarens in the hands of John Foulston - firstly a Can-Am M8 which my notes say is an M8B, though it has the later M8D bodywork

and finally a glorious M19 in evocative Yardley colours.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Number 2 - Donington

The first question is what to call these blogs I am writing and after much thought I have decided just to number them as I go through, ticking off the 15 circuits.

The May Day Bank Holiday is always the opportunity for a triple-header for me as my wife goes off on a weekend to Wales with her friends and for the last four years I have tried to cram in as much motor racing as I can. This year, as last, it was Donington on the Saturday, Thruxton on the Sunday and Castle Combe on the Monday - more about the last two in future postings.

Donington of course has a very chequered history and it is really great to see it gradually getting back to some form of normality after the bid to host the Grand Prix a few years ago ended up in it being left as an unfinished building site. My first visit to Donington as a venue was in 1987 to a F3 meeting as a result of winning tickets in a magazine competition. In the days of only having one car, my wife had seconded it that weekend to take our new born son to visit her parents and I managed to persuade a friend that she would really like a day out at a motor racing event just so that I could get there. It was to be another 13 years before I returned, however, but I have managed to get there at least once most years since then, mainly for the major sports car races or the historic festivals.

That F3 meeting was not my first visit to Donington, however. In October 1976 as a student in Birmingham I caught a bus one Sunday to visit the Donington Collection. This was at the time when Tom Wheatcroft was just preparing the circuit for its re-opening and I was able to walk out into the circuit and take some photographs which I hope you might enjoy seeing - apologies for the poor quality but in those days a Kodak Instamatic was the weapon of choice. All the photos appear to be looking back along the track - and the first one is from the Old Hairpin looking up the Craner Curves.

 Next we have looking back to Schwantz Curve and the old bridge

And the final one, which I think is the most amazing is actually taken looking back from Mcleans! - what a lovely tree-lined circuit it looked in those days!

But enough of history, how was this year's Historic Festival? I arrived early on the Saturday having spent the night before in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and, unlike previous years there was qualifying first which is always good for enabling you to get a good idea of what you will see later. With the whole meeting lasting three days I was only to get a view of a proportion of the entrants but, fortunately, the racing on the Saturday included some of my favourites - 2 litre Sports Cars of the 1970s, Historic F3 of the 1960s and big saloons of the 1980s.

One problem I have with Historic Racing is that over the years it can get quite repetitive seeing the same old cars coming out to race and so it is always exciting when new ones appear on the scene. This year there were a number of 2-litre sports I had not seen before, notably Kevin Cooke's Royale RP17, Julian Hire's Chevron B26 (though I have no doubt I have seen it before in different hands) and Mark Richardson's Lola T290 - pictures of them all below:

Similarly in Historic F3 I had not seen Mark Witherspoon's Tecno before - an earlier example than those usually seen of Dean Forward and Peter Hamilton, while the sight and sound of the Group 44 Jaguar XJS was awesome.

For spectating at Donington there are a number of great viewpoints around the circuit - the outside of  Hollywood or the Old Hairpin -  but once again there is a problem with fences getting in the way of photography. One place to get a good view of the cars is from the Grandstand at the Pit Entrance where you can get photos of cars on the main circuit leaving the chicane or as they enter the pit lane (or even sitting on the grid), while the new fence position on the inside of the Craners gets you closer to the action without the dreaded wire mesh spoiling the view.

Here are a couple of examples from the grandstand -

while this Aston Martin got it wrong coming down the Craners and it took a few laps to get it out.

As you can see from the photos it was a bright sunny day but there was still a bit of a chill wind and of course there is always the smell of aviation fuel hanging around if the wind is in the wrong direction as planes take off from East Midlands Airport. It has been a while since I saw planes landing at the airport over the circuit but I will never forget the sight of a Boeing 747 more or less skimming the treetops it seemed as it slowly descended to the runway.

One impressive addition to Donington this year is the HQ of the new Formula E which looks amazingly large for a fairly small number of cars, and obviously they will be hoping for constant expansion, but if people are fussed about the perceived lack of noise from the current Formula 1 how will they treat the much quieter Formula E?

And finally how was the racing that I saw? The best dice of the day was between Martin Stretton in Lotus Cortina and Sean McInerney in BMW 1800 in the Under 2-litre Touring Car race. Before the pit stops McInerney, driving solo, had a lead of around 8 or 9 seconds I think, but he stopped a couple of laps after Stretton's co-driver and those laps were enough for Martin to make up the gap and be right on the BMW's tale after its pit stop. A further 15-20 minutes of great racing ensued with the cars running nose to tail or alongside each other until finally Sean managed to hold on and take the win. It was the last race of the day and sent everybody away happy.

I must admit that much of the rest of the racing was fairly tame, but the sounds of the Broadspeed Capri, the Jaguar XJSs and the XJC were enough to keep us smiling. Most unusual car of the day must have been Graham Robson's Standard Pennant

though David Wylie's Armstrong Siddeley was probably a close second:

So at the end of a varied day it was off to the Premier Inn at Leicester ready for the early morning start to the trip to Thruxton on the Sunday morning - but that is the next episode of my story.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Number 1 - Silverstone

Well here we are nearly half way through May and I have visited 4 of the circuits on my tour of the 15 major motor racing circuits in Great Britain and so far, touch wood, it has been a fairly mild start to the season with only Silverstone at Easter suffering from poor weather.

Silverstone, as my nearest circuit was my starting point for the year’s travels and as I have done for many years, I went to the 6 hour race meeting, though only on the Saturday for the qualifying and the ELMS 4 hour event. The weather forecast for the Sunday was not very good and so it turned out, with the main event being curtailed because of a flooded track.

I have really fallen out of love with Silverstone in recent years and I will try to explain why. When I first went in the late 1970s – the 1977 F2 meeting  was my first experience – it was pretty well flat out around the 6 corners and I will never forget the sheer feeling of speed watching Mike Thackwell qualifying the Sauber-Mercedes around Club seemingly without lifting. And it was not a case of peering through a wire fence either – this picture was taken at a very wet 6 hour race in 1981 and if I was standing there today I would be staring straight across at the monstrosity of the “Wing”.

The “Wing” has seriously cut the viewing for spectators at that end of the circuit – no more can you stand between Stowe and Club and see the cars heading up through Abbey and not only that the new GP circuit takes so long to circumnavigate that you see the cars less frequently for shorter intervals!!  To my mind the GP circuit is just too long especially for historic racing – with the majority of historic cars taking 2 minutes plus to get round and the great speed differential between them some of the slower runners only get maybe 7 laps in a 20 minute race. 

One of the great joys of going motor racing is taking pictures to remember your day by when you look at them later - and another confession   I still take photographs using film – so much easier to show the results to your friends later, though I have recently bought a digital camera to enable me to populate this blog. But, to return to the point, there are very few places around Silverstone where the spectator can take a picture without that darned wire fencing blocking your view – and don’t think I am going to reveal my secrets of where those are – I am sure most readers know anyway.

I now prefer the National circuit to the full GP /International circuit – it is not very different to what was called the Club circuit when at the end of what is now the Wellington Straight the cars turned right, around the end of the pitlane, and onto the start / finish straight – the sight from the Grandstand of hordes of Formula Fords racing down towards you and braking as late as possible to get round to the finish in a typical Silverstone style finish was one of the great sights of motor racing. You certainly found out who was the latest braker!! 

Back to this year, however, and as usual when I go to Silverstone these days I packed my bicycle to get around the place as easily as possible. Having both paddocks / pit lane in use was not a real problem as there was no way to see into any of the garages and so the most one could hope for was to see the European F3 teams in the open paddock. But if any of you have a bike at home then I would seriously think about taking it to Silverstone as it is so effortless to get around with the lack of hills – the worst part is getting over the bridge into the old paddock area!! I noticed a few more than previously and so maybe the Olympic cycle craze is having an effect on motor racing fans as well.

Now you might be thinking – why go to Silverstone if there are all these issues – I just love sports car racing – the variety of manufacturers and the combination of the different classes means that there is almost always something happening  for the whole of the race, somewhere in the field. The absolute speed of the Audis, Porsches and Toyotas was astounding  and they were just like Scalextric cars through the Becketts complex in particular – but am I alone in thinking they are so ugly looking – I know the central fins are there for safety but side on you could mistake the profile for that of a van – and especially with the new more upright nose treatments as well!!

The ELMS 4 hour race was riveting as the various driver skill levels in the LMP2 cars saw much shuffling of position and the final 30 minute dash to the flag was incredibly tense. Without the help of the radio of course it is almost impossible to follow what is happening and that is another recommendation for the casual spectator – take a small radio as well and tune in to the commentary on FM – it will add so much to your day’s enjoyment.

I sat at home and watched the race on TV while my sons went off to the circuit and as the rain poured down later in the afternoon I was glad to be snug and warm at home – I was at the 1978 International Trophy and survived!!!

Getting to Silverstone is usually quite easy from Bedford – again the prudent use of back roads avoids the crowds  - but how do you get there without a car? One experiment that was tried back in 1978 was a bus service which ran from Northampton Bus Station to the circuit in time for the first race with a return service about 5 pm. This was laid on for all meetings, not just the International meetings , and I used to catch the bus in Northampton having travelled up from Bedford on a connecting service. It was always a double-decker but on the majority of occasions I was the only passenger using it!! It was obviously contracted for a year as it kept running to the end of the year but it never appeared again as far as I am aware.

And to finish off a few more photos from my collection of Silverstone outings over the years.

First - a young Nigel Mansell with plain white March in 1978

Ginger Marshall's Reliant Kitten estate in 1983 - I had had one of these as a road car a few years previously and loved its nippiness and handling:

The sports car grid at a BMRMC meeting in 1985 - that is Phil Barak's Esprit on pole.

The old Dunlop Tower with field of F1300 cars waiting to go.

The short lived Woodcote Esses with Damon Hill negotiating them in 1987, the first use of this new corner installed after the Woodcote chicane was removed and the start of the major changes which led to the circuit as it is today.