Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Number 6 - Snetterton

Early start on the Saturday morning for the trip to Snetterton for the HSCC meeting featuring the Autosport 3 hours. I do not usually go to both days of a two day meeting but with the 3 hours on the Saturday and the single seater races on the Sunday it was difficult to decide which day to choose and so I found myself a bed and breakfast place on the Internet for the Saturday night and set off for what would be a packed weekend of racing with the majority of the HSCC classes featuring.

When I first went to Snetterton from Chelmsford I was able to avoid the dreaded A11 and also Thetford, which was at that time not bypassed, and used a cross country route that included some lovely quiet East Anglian roads. When I moved to Bedford and the prospect of using the A11 loomed I continued to avoid the direct route which was getting busier and more congested as they, piece by piece, built the dual carriageway. Now the new road is almost complete and it remains to be seen whether I will continue to use my 'pretty' route or if I will exchange it for the blast up the A11. I remember the days when Norfolk County Council used to boast that they were the only county in the country without a dual carriageway!!

And speaking of that first visit, here is a picture taken in 1989 of the view back towards Coram showing the layout at the time - this I think was after a very sharp Russell Bend had been removed from the track and replaced by this gentle curve - I must admit to getting very confused about  what has happened in that area over the years - what fascinates me about this picture is the distinct kink in the white line marking the edge of the track, on the right as you see it in the picture (on the left as you drive it) - can anyone explain its purpose?

You will see also cars parked quite close up to the track on the inside of Coram and just to the left edge of the picture the old grandstand at the Bombhole.

The next picture was taken in August 1992 and shows the  the alignment of Russell at that time with a field of Monopostos racing through. From the state of the ground on the right of the picture I would say that the new section was fairly new at this time.

Now of course the bend is called Murrays and has a faster entry - as can be seen from the photo below.

Snetterton of course is owned and operated by MSV, and as with Brands Hatch (and I presume Cadwell Park and Oulton Park which I shall visit later in the year) it has been transformed since MSV took over - everything is tidy and well looked after and investment has been made which was lacking before - one small indicator of the care which they take over the condition of the place, and which I hope is reflected by the spectators, is the sheer quantity of litter bins around the track - all smartly painted red and regularly emptied during the day if required. It may seem a small point but it all adds up to the place looking good.

I had never attended a race meeting on the new 300 circuit and I will say that I am a bit ambivalent about it still. Maybe the historics were not the best classes to see there because, as with the Silverstone GP, the cars do take a long time to come around and I think for the slower cars the spectators would get a better value from using the 200 circuit which is similar to the old Snetterton and would cut  30-40 seconds off the lap time. I do not know what others think but to me the best way to keep casual spectators interested is to have the cars coming past as often as possible.

It did not help that some of the fields at Snetterton were in single figures and I will admit that I resorted to reading a book during some of the races while waiting for the cars to some around again.

As the fields were small I wondered why some of the classes had not been combined for the races - for example the Historic and 1970s Road Sports which had practised together, as had the FF2000 and Classic F3. I suppose the question to be asked is why were the fields so small - it is not as if the cars are not out there as they have appeared at other rounds - but what made people decide to miss out on Snetterton - is it too far away - will the new A11 help to increase its attractiveness??

Of course the old adage says that it takes just 2 cars to make a motor race and certainly the dice between the Lotus Europas of Oliver Ford and Jim Dean and the TVR of Peter Shaw (OK that is 3 cars!!) in the Roadsports enlivened up the race in spite of the small entry but the races of the day were the Formula Fords where a 5 car battle for the lead in the first race was great but even that was overshadowed by the 3 car dice in the second race with victory being taken by just one-thousandth of a second. Pity that that was the last race of a long weekend and so was missed by quite a few but the prospect of it occurring was enough to keep me there through a couple of dreadfully boring Classic F3 and Classic Racing Car races.

However, one word for the drivers - do we need to have so many RED Formula Fords - I am sure the commentators would be grateful for some more variation in colour!!

The actual racing is of course only one part of the enjoyment to be gained from going to a motor race meeting - the actual cars themselves are the stars - and I am probably out of kilter with the rest of the world here but I have never been interested in hero worship of a driver - I will go and see motor racing no matter who is driving - even if all the drivers are amateurs they will all be doing their best and racing flat out. The question was asked in Autosport about the low attendance at the Silverstone Blancpain Endurance round and the answer suggested was the lack of big name drivers, but whoever was driving there was driving faster than I could ever go and they were still providing an exciting race. I think the main reason for the small attendance was probably that it was Bank Holiday weekend and there were conflicting attractions both motor racing and non motor racing.

So for me it is the cars that are the stars and once again I caught up with a few which I had not seen before or had not had a chance to study close up. My favourites from the weekend are shown below in no particular order. Next trip on the agenda was to Lydden Hill and more on that next time.

A rare Tui BH2 Formula Super Vee

Mike Painter's gorgeous Brabham BT16

The one off F3 Belgica of Dick van Amsterdam

My namesake in his Merlyn Mk9

The McLaren M1B of Marcus Mussa

The Merlyn Mk 6 of Bob Brooks and his daughters

A very rare saloon racer - Richard Conway's Volvo

Anybody recognise this as a Gilbern GT?

Jeremy Bouckley's North Star FJ

and finally an immaculate Brabham BT35 of Andrew Thorpe

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Number 5 - Brands Hatch

After the hectic Bank Holiday weekend when 3 tracks were visited I had a weekend off before heading down to Brands Hatch for the return of International Sports Car Racing to the circuit - the Blancpain Sprint Series races on the full GP layout.The last International Sports Car races had been there in 1996 when the Global GT Championship race was won by Hans Stuck and Thierry Boutsen in a Porsche 911 GT1 followed by 3 McLaren F1s. Photos from that race below:

The winners - Stuck and Boutsen

Second Place - Wallace and Grouillard

Third place - Raphanel and Owen-Jones

 Fourth place - Nielsen and Bscher

You will maybe recognise that three of those photographs were taken from the inside of Surtees with not a fence in sight but of course that is not possible these days but there are still a few places where you can get fence-free photos at Brands and I got a few of this year's entries from there. Once again McLaren's were involved, though perhaps not as prominently as in 1996 and this year the top three were from Lamborghini, Mercedes Benz and BMW. There were two one hour races and the results were the same in each one:

The winners -  Proczyk and Bleekemolen

Second place - Gotz and Buhk

Third place - Jimenez and Bueno

I cannot remember too much about the race in 1996 and so whether or not it was thriller escapes me but I must admit to being underwhelmed by the races this year - there were very few place changes and the high speed train did start to get a bit boring after a while. Although the Brands GP layout is a great one to drive it does not have too many overtaking opportunities and so stalemate sets in quite quickly.

The support races were for Formula 4 - a typical boring one make single seater formula, Radicals and the GT Cup - great variety in this field even if the results were a bit predictable. Some of the more unusual cars in the GT Cup field are illustrated below:

An Aquila:

A Noble

and this one is called a SIN (yes really)

and the new Radical coupe

I have recently treated myslef to my first digital camera - yes I know I am a bit behind the times - and am still getting used to the best settings etc. but was pleased with this shot of a Porsche sliding off at Sheene Curve - in particular the high definition of the gravel!!!

I first went to Brands in 1987 - on the 1st March which I can remember as being a bit chilly. Top of the bill that meeting was FF2000 and it must have been a bit cold as I only managed to take a few photos, the best of which is below - of Pat Mannion's Stiletto from the Special GT race. Other races were for MGs, Triumphs, Formula Ford, pre-65 Saloons and Formula Vee.

The following my family and I moved to Chelmsford and Brands became our 'home' track and my two boys grew up with many Sunday trips across the river to see the great variety of motor racing that was staged there - Trucks, karts, Rallycross and a multitude of motor racing classes including one of my favourites - the Interserie races of the mid 1990s which showcased a wide variety of wacky conversions from single seaters to 'sports cars' - judge for yourself with apologies for the poor quality of some of them (the pictures that is not the cars!!):

Brands Hatch is still a great circuit to visit and spectate at - it also has an on-site bookshop which is usually bad news for my wallet and since MSV took over it is really looking very smart and tidy - and I will talk more on this in my next blog when I visit Snetterton, another MSV circuit.

Those of you who are interested in Sports Car Racing and its history might like to visit the Racing Sports Car website -  here you will find masses of information about Sports Car Races over the past 50 plus years - it is a contributory site and maybe if you have photos or old programmes you could send them in and add to what is a fascinating database from around the world.

Next stop on my tour was Snetterton for the Autosport 3 hour race and a full weekend of HSCC races - watch this space.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Number 4 - Castle Combe

A leisurely start for this visit as staying just a few miles away and decided to give morning practice a miss. Still a bit chilly but at least it is dry as I drive into a surprisingly quiet, I thought, Castle Combe. Managed to park close to Camp Corner and wandered into the paddock where there was a definite lack of entries - for the first time that I have been there - and my experience only stretches as far back as 3 years, the overflow paddock was not being used for competitors but as a public car park, which explained why I had seen an unfamiliar direction sign pointing to Chippenham Road parking.

The programme included the usual Castle Combe Championships, of which more later, while the visiting championships were for the Nippon Challenge / Tricolore Trophy and the Toyota MR2 / Hyundai Coupes.

As I said above I first visited Castle Combe 3 years ago as it seemed quite a long way from Bedford, though the reports about it were always very enthusiastic.I wish I had seen it before the chicanes were put in mind you as it must have been quite a sight to see the cars barrelling down to Old Paddock or Camp Corner at full speed. As far as distance - well it is actually less than 100 miles, closer than Shelsley Walsh to which I regularly travel, and although the roads are cross-country I have usually found them to be quite quiet early on a Sunday morning or late on a Sunday evening. I have now found a friend who lives close to stay with and so that certainly cuts down the feeling of distance.

It is a great viewing circuit although obviously there are high fences at certain points - which were well needed when a Toyota barrel rolled at Camp this year - and it is possible to get close to the track and get some good photographic viewing points. While it is relatively flat, the land in the middle of the circuit is a slight rise and so you cannot really see right across to the other side, and when the crops are in even the tops of helmets are hidden.

It is a good circuit for close racing between closely matched cars as an element of slip-streaming is possible and there are 3 or 4 overtaking opportunities so the local Formula Ford, for example, usually provides a good scrap.

As I wandered round the paddock there was a good selection of cars from the guest categories - here are a couple of shining Hyundais - of Adam Shale (66) and Paul Manyweathers (10):

and here are a couple of the front running Japanese cars - Nick Holden's 5.0 litre Toyota GT86 and Adam Lockwood's very quick Nissan 200SX:

One good thing about Combe is the ability to get into the assembly area and take pictures of the cars / drivers preparing to take to the track. The freedom to walk around the paddock has always been one of the attractions and this year when I arrived and wandered in at lunchtime I had no problems - however later in the afternoon - about 3 pm I was stopped and asked for my paddock pass - apparently I should have had one before but it was never mentioned at the gate when I drove in and I had wandered in easily enough earlier. As I had never needed a paddock pass at CC before I wondered if this was somebody trying it on and so I wandered along the track past the startline / pits to watch a race from there before entering the paddock through the car park with no sign of anybody wanting a pass to be shown.

I was now a bit paranoid but on wandering around I did notice a few people with passes on and so obviously I should have had one earlier or been stopped. I must admit I would actually have had no idea where to buy one from if I had wanted to anyway!!

Castle Combe has always had a set of thriving local Championships. Being a bit out on a limb geographically it has a wide hinterland which sees the circuit as its local one and so the fields are often large and varied, none more so than the saloon car championship. An excellent field of 34 cars formed up on the grid for what turned out to be a thrilling battle at the head of the field between 3 turbo-charged cars - a SEAT Leon, a Vauxhall Astra and an Audi TT:

With such a diverse range of cars - lap times varied from 1min 16 secs to 1 min 34 secs - there would always be lappery in a 20 minute race and interaction with one or other of the leaders spread them out or squeezed them up until inevitably, perhaps, one went off and eventually Gary Prebble in his first drive in Rob Ballard's SEAT (left in the picture above) won the day from Tony Hutchings' Audi TT (number 33 above and below).

So all well and good on the Saloons front, and the Formula Fords had their usual fraught battle, though a smaller number of starters than previous years I think, but the Sports / GT / Sports Racing Cars were a shadow of their former self.

Much more so than with the saloons, lappery has always played a major part in these races with sometimes a much higher speed differential between the front runners such as Simon Tilling's Radical which was down in the 61 secs mark I believe last year and some much slower saloon based entries. So this year the entry has been split into 2 races - one for the out and out sports racers an one for the others - the result has been 2 small fields - in May there were 7 Sports Racers and 12 Sports / GT.

Regular readers will know my passion for sports racers by now and so it was great to see Simon Tilling out in a new Ligier - with a turbocharged Honda engine:

As he had qualified 3.4 seconds faster than anybody else there was obviously only going to be one winner and he duly did so, easing off by half a minute. All 7 cars finished but the last was 3 laps behind and the only really close gap was 2.3 seconds at the end between a Nemesis and a Radical.

In the Sports GT field, practice times indicated a closer race with just 0.7 secs in qualifying between Simon Norris' Mitsubishi Evo and Chris Milner's Caterham CSR. And this was a better race with a number of 2 / 3 car scraps down through a field of variety ranging from the above 2 to a Ford Fiesta ST and a VW Golf VR6. In the end Norris held on to win by 2.3 seconds from Keith Dunn's Caterham (below)

So the question to be asked is - should the fields be merged again. At the May Bank Holiday meeting the entry numbers were 8 Sports Racers and 11 Sports GT - together they would make a decent size race - only 4 Sports Racers finished in fact in their race.

The lap times varied between 1 min 07 secs and 1 min 21 secs on that occasion (and between 1min 04 and 1 min 22 secs when  was there) and so the speed differential is no greater than in the Saloon Championships, though at a higher absolute speed. I am presuming that the format will remain for the rest of 2014 but maybe a re-think is necessary before next year?

So that was the end of my triple header Bank Holiday - a varied selection of the good and not quite as good in British motor racing  and it was time to head the Suzuki in the direction of home and my own bed. Next on the calendar was to be Brands Hatch - and a step up in prestige for the Blancpain Sprint GT Championships - 18 years since top-flight International Sports / GTs had graced the circuit - would it be as good as the days of McLaren F1s and Porsche GT1s? -  we would soon find out.