Category Archives: Motors

Unusual Views of a Welsh Forest

Interesting but rather muddy experience Last Sunday …

Charity Passenger Rides for Wales Air Ambulance.

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted an opportunity on offer in the August edition of Outpost, the BMMC Northwest newsletter — for a donation of £25 to the Air Ambulance, you could get a passenger ride in a rally car somewhere in the middle of nowhere in North Wales. Obviously too good an opportunity to miss! Posted off my cheque forthwith and in due course got instructions by email to head for a location on the B4501 between Llyn Brenig and Alwen Reservoir.

After doing my duties at the 9 o’clock service at St Lukes, we dashed home to change into suitable attire and set off for the specified location. Opted to go via A55 to St Asaph, thinking the good roads would be quicker, but was frustrated by a lot of slow traffic on the A51 when we set off; and when Google Navigator on my phone elected to take us on a rather tortuous and at times quite narrow route avoiding Denbigh, began think we should have opted for the direct route via Wrexham. Still, we got there in good enough time, in the end.

Arriving at the site, we were directed up a forest track, lined on one side by loads of parked cars; guy arriving ahead of us dived into a vacant slot quite quickly, and we began to understand why as the route became muddier, narrower (with sharp drop-off both sides) and more crowded — wondered what we were getting into! Eventually arrived at the end, and had to be directed backwards to an empty slot where we could park.

Signed in and had a “briefing” — this amounted to, “Don’t touch anything. If you feel it’s too fast for you, raise your hand. Use the sick-bag if you need to!” There was obviously going to be a bit of a wait, so I returned to the car and we ate our butties. Then I joined the queue to borrow a helmet, then stood around for maybe a quarter of an hour until my turn came to get in a car.

My ride was in a 40-year-old Saab, probably a 96, though could have been a 93, driven by a guy who looked like he’d been rallying for about the same number of years. The run lasted about three or four minutes, I guess, though I didn’t time it. Definitely an interesting experience! Most noticeable thing I think (apart from the speed at which the trees flew past) was the noise of the gravel, rocks or whaLlangoltever hammering against the underside of the car. You’d probably want to do it a number of times, to fully appreciate the skill involved.

Once I’d handed back the headgear and exchanged a few pleasantries with the lass in charge, the remaining challenge was to N-point turn the car without sliding of the edge of the track. That accomplished, we made our way back to the main road.

Returned home via Llangollen, with a stop “for comfort” in Corwen. Llangollen absolutely heaving — I’d thought we might have a coffee there in passing, but the car park was rammed, so we kept going up to the Horseshoe Pass and drank our flask there. Thence to Wrexham (bypass) and so home.

Spent some time on Monday morning removing quite a lot of North Wales from the wheel-arches and driver’s foot-well!

British F1 GP 2011

To Silverstone for my first experience of marshalling a Grand Prix (or, as the scoreboard near us announced it at one point, the “British Garnd Prix”) …

Travelled down on the Thursday afternoon, being required to sign-on between 3.00 and 7.00pm that day. The journey began badly, with M6 Junction 16 partially closed, due to some kind of incident — duly diverted myself via Keele to the Stoke South junction; thereafter, a pretty straightforward run down the M6, taking the A46 round the east of Coventry, and so to the Rugby Dunchurch Travelodge. After booking in and dumping luggage, headed for Silverstone, using the satnav-recommended route via the M45+M1 — big mistake! — the motorway itself was quite busy and the junction at the exit for the A43 was snarled up, just due to traffic, I think. Eventually got myself to Silverstone and to the marshals camp site, where I signed on and collected program, tabard and badge. Short look round to get my bearings, then set off back to the Travelodge: this time, took the scenic route — A5+A45 round Daventry. Stopped at a quite decent Marsden’s pub, the Boat House, at Braunston; enjoyed a nice curry and a pint of Pedigree.

Friday
Left the hotel about 6.30am (5.30 alarm) after breakfasting on yoghurt and cereals; arrived circuit 7.05 and was on post by 7.50.

I’d been assigned to the “Luffield In” marshal post, which proved to be a pretty good place to be. There were two Post Chiefs (one Andy Holly, who I know from Oulton) and two IO’s, and eight track marshals. The number one IO gave a not very impressive briefing and then paired us off and assigned positions — well, actually he didn’t really: it was one of those “does anyone want to go with anyone in particular? — the rest of you get yourselves into pairs” affairs (I really hate it when an IO is not decisive in what he wants and firm in direction!)

Found myself at the midpoint of the Luffield loop with a guy from Kent named Neil. We got on well all weekend.

The day was pretty much wet throughout, leading to some “almost…” moments, but no direct action required by Neil and me. The cars really weren’t able to achieve much apart from establishing wet-weather handling; F1’s didn’t even bother to come out until halfway through in their second practice session.

Back to the Travelodge around 7.00pm Dined at the Little Chef on “The Works Burger” — pretty stuffed by the time I finished!

Saturday
Alarm at 5:15, leaving hotel 6.00, arrived circuit 6.35; sat in the car for 15 minutes or so and on post by 7.20

Forecast was for a better day, and so it proved, though still more rain than we would have liked: there were some quite good dry and even sunny spells, but it seemed every time the cars were due on track the rain would start.

We were visited by Alonso shortly after the start of F1 final practice session, but he somehow managed to keep going through the gravel and back on track.

Two races at the end of the day began to get us properly in the mood.

Little Chef again for evening meal — gammon steak and griddled egg: pretty good.

Sunday
Alarm set for 4.40am but I was awake at 4.30; on the road 5.20, not knowing if there’d be traffic problems getting in on raceday,  but it proved to be “no problem” and I was at the circuit by 5.55; sat in the car again for a while and was on post by about 7 o’clock.

Weather much more promising than previous two days, with only a little cloud at first and then hot and sunny from mid-morning.

The morning program was GP3 and GP2 races and the Porshce Cup: all quite good, but GP2 undoubtedly the most entertaining (as you’d expect, I guess). The track-side inspection was then followed by the F1 driver’s parade.

With the race scheduled to start at 1 o’clock, we could hardly belief it when 15 minutes before, the rain returned once more! Some debate about whether they would start on intermediates or take a chance on slicks; (apparently the rain was quite localized, with a heavy shower in our area, but only light rain on the southern end of the circuit) — well, all I can say is, it’s a good job they chose intermediates, because not many would’ve got round Luffield on lap 1 if using slicks!

The race itself was a good one, with Ferrari ensuring the Red Bulls didn’t have things all their own way, and the Brits giving us something to get excited about for while, even though in the end they didn’t quite make it. The experience of watching live, rather than on TV, was quite different — made more so, of course by having to keep focused on the task of marshalling.

Getting away after the event inevitably proved to be a pain. Even with special traffic arrangements, getting 100,000 people away all at the same time is bound to be slow. Took me over an hour to get clear of the area (i.e. to the A43/A5 roundabout west of Towcester); but once clear I had a pretty good run home. (Stuck to the A5 until joining M1 at J18.)

All-in-all … a good experience, generally very enjoyable; I thought beforehand, it was something I’d do once for the experience, but now: will I do it again? — almost certainly, probably next year, if possible!

I Love to Go A-Wandering …

Last Saturday in Nantwich saw the annual classic car event, the Weaver Wander.

The cross-country run was due to leave town at 10:00, so we made our way there after a late breakfast, arriving just in time to see the first car flagged off. Forecast threatened rain, and though there was a bit of a sprinkle, it turned out to be a nice sunny morning.

There was a good selection of what you could call “proper” classic cars, of varying ages, followed (in a seemingly endless stream) by a lot of not-very-old but interesting motors. I think the event was open to “sports cars” as well as “classics”, in an attempt to ensure a good number of entries, I guess. Not sure you could justify a 21st century Mini Cooper as either classic or a sports car, to my mind at least; but never mind — good to see people with an enthusiasm for a local motoring event.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Weaver Wander, posted with vodpod

Senna The Movie

To the cinema yesterday, for a matinee screening of SENNA, the movie.

Can’t remember the last time we went “to the pictures” but it must be five years or more. On this occasion we went to the Vue screens at Cheshire Oaks. The attendance for a 3:35 programme was, as you might expect, pretty thin.

The film was good, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more driving footage; but this movie is not really aimed at motorsport fans first-and-foremost — it’s obviously intended to have wider appeal.

It was particularly interesting to get the background to Senna’s life, to see the spiritual dimension to his personality (though I’ a bit dubious about his theology!), and to be shown something of the inside view of F1 motor racing as the context of his all-too-short time at the top.

The behind-the-scenes politics that affected his career, and specifically the influence and behaviour of the FIA president at the time, struck a particularly resonance in view of the present goings on re the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix!

Inevitably, the film has a bias in favour of Senna, and I have to say I think there are negative aspects to his attitude and approach that were played down. An interview with Jacky Stewart was especially relevant: in that interview, JS pointed out the astonishingly high incidence of “contact” in Senna’s overtaking manoeuvres, as compared to any other contender for the soubriquet “great racing driver”; Senna had no response beyond indignant bluster.

There is no question, though, that the man was a genius behind the wheel, albeit a flawed genius. This insight into his family, background, personality and influences, is on-the-whole well done; and well worth seeing for anyone with an interest in motorsport.

(update) Tiff Needell summed it up pretty neatly on Twitter:  http://twitter.com/#!/tiff_tv/status/79303597136949248

Supercar Track-Day

While at the Autosport International show, back in January, I signed up for a “free supercar trackday” with Supercar Lifestyle. The deal was, you paid £99 up front, as a “fully refundable deposit” and then would be invited to drive some supercars on track at some point later in the year. Sounded too good to be true, of course, but the guy was insistent it was a genuine offer — all you had to do was listen to a sales pitch for the company, during the course of the day.

So, today was the day I set of for my free trackday.

The blurb had led me to expect I might get a go in a Lambo or Ferrari, but it turned out what was on offer was not quite so exotic. Still never mind, at least I got a go in a couple of pokey machines.

After the initial “safety briefing” (nothing was actually said relevant to safety, but it was mercifully short) we had a chauffeured couple of laps to see the track layout, and then got to drive three cars, with in-car instruction.

The track was Prestwold Hall Circuit, as used by a host of track experience outfits (e.g. Trackdays) —  yet another old airfield site: not all that attractive, and a
somewhat limited experience, compared to places like Oulton and Cadwell.

First up was and M3, which was pretty tame, to be frank; but this was mainly learning the circuit, so it didn’t matter that we never really got going.

Then came the TVR Sagaris, which was a different class altogether! Sadly, laps were limited, so I was just getting the hang of it when we had to come in.

Lastly I had a go in a Porsche Oakley GT3. This one I really enjoyed, despite taking a long time to conquer the sequential gearbox! Probably the best experience of the three, simply because the instructor was less conservative.

Then it was indoors for the Supercar Lifestyle sales pitch, which was not too hard-sell, but tediously long-winded.
Once they accepted that I wasn’t going to spend any money, the day was pretty much over!

So the “supercar trackday” turned out to be a half-day, and not quite as “super” as I’d hoped, but pretty good fun while it lasted. I never got my £99 back, having blown it on a few “extra laps” that were not clearly explained until the money was mostly spent.

Oh, and there was also the non-event of the “hot-laps with a race driver” — billed as being in an Ascari, which would have been fun, but it was broken, so we had an Ariel Atom instead; actually there was only one hot lap, and not all that hot — I’ve had more fun at Oulton with Paul Sheard in an MX-5!

All-in-all, a bit of a curate’s egg: interesting but ultimately not all that satisfying. Still, when would I otherwise get even a few laps in those cars? — so, worth doing.

Donington BTCC

Excellent weekend at Donington for the second meeting of the 2011 Touring Cars.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny in Crewe, but a good deal of the journey there was in moderate fog. Donington was clear by the time I got there, and the day soon developed into a warm one.

Assigned to Post One, which is just beyond the start/finish line. Didn’t anticipate much action there for Day One, being mostly practice/qualifying sessions; and so it proved. Not a bad day, though, finishing with three races.

Sunday promised to be even better, weatherwise, and did not disappoint — obliged to remove thermal vest during the lunch interval!

We had some good racing and a reasonable amount of marshalling activity during the course of the day.

Major talking point was of course Plato’s dramatic happening in  BTCC Race 2, and the remarkable way they actually got the car back into usable condition for Race 3.

Write-up here: BTCC Donington

Videos here: Race 1, Race 2, Race 3

A Cold Start to the Season

Last Saturday saw the start to my 2011 marshalling season, and a cold start it was.

The meeting was a Masters Historic Racing event at Oulton Park. This was the opening motor racing meeting at Oulton and a first time for Masters Historic at this venue.

Proved to be a not-too-strenuous day, with plenty of slack in the timetable: five qualy sessions and five races. We finished in good time, with the last race finishing not long after 5.00, though it was getting pretty gloomy by then, so any more races would have been pushing it.

This was an unusually early start to the season, so it was only to be expected that thermals were the order of the day. The sun never really got out, and though I started out bravely in just my new orange fleece as top layer, by mid-morning I had added the padded waterproof over the top! I was at the Shell Hairpin, and the breeze fairly whistled across when stationed by the box and in the middle; bit more sheltered at the other two positions, but was glad to get a full lunch break to retreat to the car for a bit.

The only thing approaching excitement, marshalling-wise, was when a Ford Falcon pulled off abruptly with a broken front wheel.

The races were, frankly, a bit too long for sustained interest: especially the last, which was 1hr 20min, featuring only a dozen cars.

Next outing is April 2nd for a BRSCC NW meeting — hope for a bit more action and warmer weather then!

Marshalling 2011 – Sorted

It’s taken me a while to figure out my marshalling program for this year, but I finally got it done, and the volunteering forms completed. It was handy to be able to use online forms, including Oulton Park this year.

I’m doing OP mainly, of course, but also four visits to Donington (including BTCC and WTCC), plus Mallory, Anglesey and Silverstone.

Particularly pleased to be doing the F1 British Grand Prix, though three days could prove to be a bit of marathon. Finding overnight accommodation within reasonable reach was a bit of a problem – finally settled for Travelodge at Rugby! (there were vacancies nearer, but at a huge premium).

So now, it’s training day in just over a fortnight, and then look forward to first meeting on March 12th at OP.

Nothing is ever simple …

I thought I would try and get a handle on the Lotus Affair, but when I had ploughed my way through this item in Joe Saward’s Grand Prix Blog I found I had lost interest!