Loton Park 16.4.17  

Easter and the regular Loton two day club fest. I drove there on Saturday afternoon, the roads deserted and a leisurely yet quick journey. The usual b&bacross the fields to the pub, always pleasant. The entry list looked large, bikes as well as cars. In the modern single seaters several new cars at their first competitive event, particularly in the 1100cc and 1600cc classes which remain very popular at present. I'm beginning to think that April is too early to start the season as conditions can be very poor.

Sunday was cool and dry, sadly a trike accident after the finish line delayed early practice, the driver and passenger needing hospital treatment. Consequently cars had only one practice run although, curiously, bikes practiced first and had their two practice runs which seemed  a bit unfair. After lunch the event ran easily enough although finished after 6.00 pm, too late and clearly the entry was (too) large – this despite some cars not taking their final run due to mechanical failure or driver boredom.

The Mallock ran easily enough, in a class of two with the Pheobe Rolt Elva 200 FJ. Sadly Pheobe tapped a steering arm on the barrier during T1 and scratched, brother Stewart driving home to look for a replacement steering arm. Returning to the paddock after T2 the Mallock's o/s 'long' halfshaft let go and emerged through a wheel centre, to the consternation of one or two officials whilst those more mature and familiar with Mallocks just laughed. That was then end of my weekend so the Mallock was packed away and I went to the pub. As the Elva ran again on Monday Stewart's long journey was obviously successful. Sundays results are here.

This is something Mallocks occasionally do although it's never happened to me. Suffice to say the Morris Minor Centre in Bristol have 'Mowog' half shafts off the shelf at a non motor racing price, so all is ready for Gurston Down. Looking at the results for Loton on Monday competitors did have all their runs although the programme again finished late, not great for those in the later batches with long journeys home after loading their transporter. 

Curborough Sprint 2.4.17  

Sunday was the time to give the Ensign a run, as in previous years using the MGCC sprint as my test day where they were again using the 'figure of 8' configuration. Originally Curborough sprints were a single lap, then a double lap and with the latest development it shows how a rather plain layout can evolve. Involving a crossover the resulting road works are an example of how this should be done, the entry kerbs rising steeply to discourage drivers from taking a shortcut inside to make the entry less intense, neat slatting and good concrete work so they should stand up to hard use. As I've previously remarked, something of similar quality would have enhanced Shelsley Walsh's recent replacement kerb at Bottom Ess. As luck would have it Gurston were holding their test day as well – like much of the 2017 season, too many events clashing. MGCC had some organisational problems too, a combination of the retirement of the incumbent husband and wife team who had had been C of C and entry sec for many years coupled with illness meant that Martin Price had to step in as entry sec at the last moment.

The forecast was for a warm, perhaps even hot day, a sharp westerly breeze but in April who minds so long as it's dry? As I tracked up the M5 at an ungodly hour the sky was clear as the sun rose over the Cotswolds. Less encouraging were the scudding clouds when I arrived at Curborough, the landmark electricity windmill rotating slowly above the sewage works alongside the track. Who says speed events are always at the most picturesque locations, although there's actually nothing much wrong here, close to the Fradley Junction of the Trent & Mersey meeting the Coventry Canal, picturesque, nice walks, pubs.... Many of the 40 or so entrants had already arrived and after I'd walked the course, an enjoyable ritual after 2 hours driving, the Ensign was unloaded and sorted. The same old routine although after last week at Combe with the Mallock I was reminded how the Ensign just takes more time to prepare. That said, there is nothing that compares with the driving experience of a single seater, which I suppose is why I continue doing it. 

Slowly the breeze was dying with more blue than grey overhead. Sadly and surprisingly I was the only single seater entered, much of the entry being road going saloon cars with some period MGs, Les' Elva Mk 7 sports racer and Andy's excessive 4.6 litre MGB! Les had entered his pretty Sebring Sprite but changed to something equally desirable from his stable, the Elva with a twin cam and 5 speed Mk 9 Hewland. With a small entry and track conditions verging on perfect there was no rush to get started as one run for the whole field took less than an hour, aside from incidents, of which there were few. The scute duly wandered around the Ensign and was satisfied and then we were off into P1. The track was clean and the older slicks that I was using had warmed in the sunhine; chassis settings were the same a my previous best here and I had no reason to disagree as the Ensign was eminently controllable. However, one small thing, the engine went flat at 7000 revs! Not life and death, as that Liverpool legend Bill Shankly opined, it's much more serious than that. With no immediate ideas I changed the spark plugs, as one does, without much expectation or enthusiasm.  

P2 soon arrived, just as well because the timekeepers were starting the season badly for despite timing Curborough forever they managed to lose the last few P1 times, which were ours! The Ensign twin cam was still lacked revs and an appalling start, although that was my fault, Andy's MGB surging ahead. I just had the engine issue to resolve, satisfied that the handling and brakes were up to standard. The runs ran immediately into T1 which was taken before the lunch break, times improving although Les was frustrated with his gear change, his beautifully newly fabricated lever and linkage still at odds with the 5 speed Hewland Mk 9. I also noted the neat mounting of an alternator above the Hewland. This time I made a good start and used third gear more because of the engine's lack of top end, probably a good idea anyway with smoother power delivery through the crossover and the twisty bits. 

The lunch break was early, not that I did much relaxing or wandering which I normally enjoy as part of the pleasure of these events. After checking the carburettor jets the front Weber started dripping fuel so I removed the float, everything was in order, the dripping ceased on reassembly! After balancing the Webers I remembered that the only adjustment made to the fuel system during the winter was changing some pipework and adjusting the fuel pressure, obviously with a gauge. More in hope than expectation I increased the pressure, mentally preparing for another expensive rolling road session. So we were into T2 although there was no rush as the Ensign was running last in the programme, although I generally get settled and strapped well in advance – we all have our own routines. Conditions were even better, warming track and bright sunshine, the slicks hot, conditions that suited everyone. Off the line the engine was revving higher and on the final straight pulling strongly at high revs although a missed gear did not help. I thought that I had possibly found the problem and increased the fuel pressure once again before T3, too lazy to remove the body and connect the gauge which I had with me. Les and his Elva had 2 runs as the timekeeper did not record his time for T1, the Elva's twin cam sounding delightful as it quickly left the start line.  

Although there was plenty of track time still available it was decided that T3 would be the last run of the day, midway through the afternoon. That suited me fine as loading the Ensign takes a while and there were problems with the transporter wheels to sort before the return home. The last run was drama free, no driver errors, the twin cam revving, good finish line speed although a little short of my PB here. Les won his class heading a fast Sprite and a fast Midget whilst Andy was alone in his class but won the award for fastest MG on the day and in the end the Ensign just slipped ahead. For those who have not competed at Curborough the figure of 8 format is challenging and rewarding, particularly on warm and dry day.  

Castle Combe Sprint 25.3.17  

As Diane, one of our neighbours, commented, 'it's that time of year again' as I hooked the transporter onto the back of the Audi. Indeed it was, despite last minute pressure to get the Audi MOT'd although no fault of Dialynx who stitched together a solution to get the handbrake working to the tester's satisfaction. This the first sprint event of the 2017 season, 1.75 laps of Castle Combe starting from the marshalling area exit, the finish just after 'Bobbies'. Blessed with almost perfect weather for the time of year, clear blue sky although a chill easterly breeze, the short journey meant I was early enough to walk the course and check the reported changes at The Esses and Bobbies, in fact not used and of a minor nature. The track was obviously dry, very clean but cold. Bristol Motor Club, the organisers, must have been delighted with the oversubscribed entry list, reserves allowed to practice should runners fall by the wayside, which some did, so all reserves had competitive runs. 

This event is the first round of several championships including the Hillclimb and Sprint Association and the British Sprint although for the latter there seemed fewer large single seaters than I remember from previous years. I chose the Mallock to start the season, in the 1100cc single seater class with several modern bike engined cars, carefully warning the startline marshal that I would be slow – very slow! The driver's meeting was at 8.30 but I left everything in the Mallock for the scrutineer; fortunately he knew the car and when I returned the signed approval sticker had been left. As an aside, after a winter of discussion and speculation about the MSA's decision to enforce their Blue Book regulations regarding ROPS – rollover bars to you and me - there were apparently no problems highlighted by the scrutineers. They have the unenviable task of dealing with this at the coal face and I do wonder if an unintended consequence of this will be a reduction in the number of scrutineers, a group vital to the future of our club motorsport.     

Following a tatty start line in 2016 this section of tarmac had been resurfaced so there was no loose material flying up as cars departed. The start area seemed better organised with less delay between arriving in the marshalling area strapped in and ready to go, and actually starting. That's to the organisers credit because there were delays in practice with mechanical failures and cars falling off, happily few with damage. Single seaters were run in the middle of the programme and our single practice run was called relatively quickly as the programme ran with 2 or 3 cars on the track simultaneously. Some of us were viewing driving with a degree of trepidation, this being the first event for everyone although a few might have done some non competitive testing. It certainly was for me despite the Mallock fitting like an old pair of shoes. Having disgraced myself in practice last year, spinning on cold tyres in The Esses, I drove with, perhaps, excess caution but at least nothing untoward happened, the Mallock running sweetly. In the past practice has comprised 2.75 laps so that after a lap heat gets into the tyres, on the Mallock's rather hard Avons the grip being immediately obvious and reassuring. With just 1.75 laps this could not happen. After P1 there was plenty of time to check the car and make a few small adjustments, check spark plugs although I was confident the fuel mixture was correct. Most single seat competitors were fiddling, body panels strewn about, someone looking for welding equipment as a suspension link had cracked, others engrossed with their PCs downloading data from their ECUs, some checking suspension geometry. 

It was pleasant catching up with people I'd not seen since last autumn. New cars purchased and interesting to learn that a Mallock Mk11 will be returning to the hills in the Aldon Classic Championship, although I expect someone will disapprove of it's original rear wing.The weekend sprint normally held in May at Crystal Palace has been moved to August Bank Holiday and it was useful to hear the background from Andy, competing at Combe with his quick Elan +2. Partner Jackie is the entry secretary, although they will both miss the event due to previous arrangements. Andy remarked about how his Elan lifted significantly at speed, Combe of course rather quick in places, the Elan a product of it's time and the available knowledge of aerodynamics. For a sprint like this Combe is perfect, plenty of space in the paddock with hard and level tarmac with roads to quietly drive the car around before the action to confirm that everything works.

After the customary break timed runs started at 1.00am. Again there were a few delays although nothing serious, until.....funnily enough, I was on the start line willing the light to turn green when a marshal loomed from the right indicating that I might as well turn the engine off. Not one but two problems – a car had stopped on the track whilst another was halfway down the return road, apparently on fire. Well perhaps - I thought that sounded more like oil which it was, something having left go in Bobbies and a proverbial Torrey Canyon oil slick from there, through the finish, continuing along most of the return road, to a point where the oil must have been exhausted. Of course I did not know all this but there was a significant delay laying cement and sweeping, during which I relaxed in the Mallock. Having competed for a few years now, I've become used to this sort of delay, so to pass the time I mentally drove the track logging braking and gear change points in my brain, this, of course, so much easier than doing it for real! The delay was at least 30 minutes and I had the dubious pleasure of being first on the track after the oil, although the C of C carefully explained where it was and anyway, it's not as if this hasn’t happened before. The first lap was good and the oil was off my normal line through Bobbies, obvious due to a copious amount of cement, which I had to then cross as I headed towards Camp. I confess to slightly lifting there but nothing happened and the Mallock sang through the corner and off down the straight. A significant improvement on my practice time was the reward, the Mallock feeling smoother than P1 although I expect that was due to more seat time, although I did reduce tyre pressures and the sunshine was providing some tyre warming. 

Everyone successfully navigated the oil. The programme ran steadily into T2 and track conditions remained good although the sun was dropping in the clear sky, the clocks not going forward until 1.00am on Sunday morning. This time there was little delay and the Mallock once again quicker by a decent amount as I was not worrying about the spillage and starting to enjoy the little motor singing away at 8500 in top. However it was soon over, precious little track time although some with mechanical problems will have thought differently. The Mallock ran effortlessly and mechanically only a small adjustment necessary to the gear mechanism at the end of T2. I understand the driver of the car that dumped the oil arrived at Combe having forgotten to pack his 'Hans' safety device and bought a new one from the onsite retailer Merlin. In the circumstances I admire his fortitude and commitmentI too visited Merlin but only to top up my stock of numbers for the forthcoming season. Due to the delays there was only time for one Sprint Championship Top 12 runoff before the 6 o'clock curfew whilst BTD went to Terry Holmes in his 3.5 litre Lola Judd on 116.84s. The results are here.

I'd little enthusiasm for Combe in the preceding fortnight, perhaps remembering the truly miserable weather that can happen at this time of year. I'm pleased I made the effort for if the weather's fine it's generally a good day - and for me it was. Quite a few competitors were off to Rockingham for a sprint on Sunday, also blessed with perfect track conditions. Next week it's an MGCC sprint at Curborough, their organisation with problems as their entry secretary is indisposed, although I understand that the sprint will happen. This emphasises the demographics of UK club motor sport where organisers and officials are often 'of a certain age' and there are few younger enthusiasts wishing to become involved. Now that's something that the MSA should be seriously involved with.

A Spring Start at Race Retro 24.2.17 

For many speed event competitors their season starts with this show, held for over 10 years at Stoneleigh Park, a convenient location south of Coventry where the main exhibition hall is quite civilised although some of the peripheral display areas are little more than clean cattle sheds. On and off I've been going since it first started, the early days helping out on the HSA stand, later as a regular punter. 

Plenty of hill climb and sprint supporters have always attended Race Retro, some interested in the older competition cars around which the show is based, others just enjoying a motor sport themed day out. Classic motorbike enthusiasts also have plenty to browse and discuss whilst the auto jumble area does offer an opportunity to stock up on small quantities of odd items that are otherwise never worth ordering online. At the same time there is what's quaintly referred to as live action outside, historic rally cars scurrying round an improvised course, popular with many people whose idea of motor sport is being 400 metres away from an F1 race. Inevitably there is also an auction with some competition cars although few single seaters or sports racers, plenty of the sort of road cars one would expect plus piles of 'automobilia' and wrist watches. Looking at the online catalogue the automobilia intrigued me, particularly the eye watering estimates for what I consider nasty and tasteless items of tat although what do I know? At least they are cheaper than a car. 

The last few years I've travelled with a small group of friends from Bristol, showing our green credentials as we piled into Andy's Disco with Chris and Christine at 8.00 on Thursday morning to enjoy a smooth ride to Stoneleigh and back, collecting Alan beside the M5 at Falfield. No prizes to guess the subject for conversation – the MSA and our dissatisfaction with the service provided by the main motorsport organiser in the UK. Alan's arrival changed the subject, to a degree, for as an MSA scrutineer as well as a competitor Alan was able to confirm the official line on a number of items. I was able to indulge my rather bizarre pursuit on long car journeys of counting church spires and towers visible at the same moment. This easier and probably safer when not driving although the restricted view from the back seat was a handicap and I did not expect to beat 3, nor did I, this on the A42 around Measham. Traffic was light and we soon parked close to the halls in Stoneleigh, Chris having a priority press parking pass in his elevated position as editor of Speedscene.

Surprisingly there were free A4 catalogues (although priced at £5) containing a good map of the stands, particularly useful for newcomers although the layout was familiar to past visitors. With this in mind I followed my usual routine of slowly walking up and down the aisles, stopping and chatting when something drew my interest. On the British Women Racing Driver's Club stand a small racing car was exhibited, Jeremy Rivers Fletcher explaining that it was built by his late father for speed events around 1964. This single seater sits on 10 inch wheels with rubber suspension and swing axle suspension front and rear, the restoration is 'work in progress' and it is intended to enter competitive events, now powered by a Triumph 650cc twin rather than the original 250cc Villiers Starmaker. It's lovely that modest cars like this reappear and there are people enthusiastic enough to tackle the project. Jeremy did observe that his Pa was less than impressed driving the final result – short chassis, small wheels, swing axle – a marriage made in hell? Staying in the main hall I had a useful chat with Hewland Classic who were positive about parts availability for the smaller Mk8 boxes which is good news for many who love this VW derivative. Shelsley Walsh had a smart stand and car display and familiar faces but I did not stop, having found in the past that too much chatting, whilst pleasant, creates time pressure as a rendezvous at 2.00 to leave had been decided. 

The main feature in Hall 2 is the central aisle with plenty of competition cars displayed with some clubs represented. Formula Junior always have a plinth so I was able to collect the latest magazine, followed by a brief chat with Richard and daughter Amanda, on their way to the Brian James stand to discuss collection of the new transporter for their exquisite B19. There was a bright orange Mallock Mk18, owner Dave Facer standing guard and I hope his weekend proves productive as Clubman Racing need all the help they can get despite quick cars at very affordable prices. Looking closely at the ex-Ian Taylor 1973 Baty March F3 it was amusing to consider that it would have raced beside my ex-Mike Wilds Ensign F3 in period. Whilst pondering the car I had a conversation with another who introduced himself as working with SAS Engineering in Peterborough. Too much of a coincidence when I remarked that I was satisfactorily using their head on my Ensign, albeit with a small loss in power compared with the original Holbay head. 

Moving to the smaller Hall 1 there were more display cars, rally orientated, together with several transporter manufacturers. I'm always looking to see if there's anything new despite having had excellent service from my small BJ Shuttle which will probably continue unless we move home to somewhere with more parking space - unlikely! A new outfit caught my eye, Eco Trailers, offering their new enclosed tilt bed Shuttle for £4300 excluding, on the face of it tremendous value and it looked well made and strong with a fully enclosed floor, very important because if floors are extensively drilled or slotted they allow dust, rain and filth to get sucked inside. Moving further from the centre into Hall 3 it was nice to see Charlie on the Mallock stand with the newly refreshed 1969 Mk9 Formula Ford, apparently one owner and, for a Mallock aficionado, delightful. Listed at a rather eye watering sale price on their website I gather it may no longer be available and I do hope it gets used, this of course the 50th Anniversary year of Formula Ford racing. More displays and lovely to see a Lotus 49 beside the one and only Cosworth F1 single seater, used once and then pushed aside as not thought a good idea. Close beside was the ex-Jim Clark Lotus 33 which had just been unveiled having been rebuilt – perhaps rather prematurely as it lacked an engine? The remainder of this and Hall 4 were devoted to smaller stands and autojumble, or automobilia? This I really enjoy as it's fun to browse the piles of old parts, some clean and tidily presented, some piled in a heap, looking in hope of the ultimate bargain which rarely happens. I was on the lookout for uprights, rear ones for the Ensign and Mike also needs spares for his Alexis F3. It's interesting to check out the prices being asked and I was surprised by many, particularly nasty looking, Lotus Ford cylinder heads. There again, doubtless related to what a new one will cost, alternatively old heads which are often now porous and not a good buy if the engine is actually used in anger.

At this point I literally bumped into Mike and Jeremy and we stopped for a brief coffee and chat, almost following on from out last in the paddock at Gurston, or was it Shelsley? Jeremy's new Lotus Elan is a contrast to his Merlyn FF but he's keen to get it on to the hills, the car otherwise totally roadworthy, an added bonus. As Mike has a Sunbeam Alpine we discussed the use of 60's cars on today's roads and how we are now spoilt with the quality of modern cars, even the cheapest. These sports cars are not much fun on motorways but get into the country, where road surfaces are often smooth and traffic non existent, they have an individual charm, particularly open on warm summer evenings with smells and sounds not experienced in your Beemer with aircon.

We all managed to meet at 2.00 and return smoothly to Bristol with little traffic. I did not spend a bean although nearly tried on some race suits, then decided that I was not in the right mood to make a decision when my existing OMS is fine, if a bit grubby. A day I really enjoyed, the halls quite empty after the early morning rush, fewer stands than I remember, probably worth the visit although I'll review before next year. A new competative show in London the same weekend but seems to have little to offer and they were giving away free entry passes online last week. I hear the traffic jams entering Race Retro on Sunday suggested that they may have got their plot right for the moment.


Motorsport at The Palace 29.5.13

Once again a section of the park at Crystal Palace in South London was closed for normal business and echoed with the sounds and smells of racing engines as 7Oaks Motor Club organised their sprint along some of the roads and wide footpaths which have associations with motor sport, dating back to the 1930s. Two days of sport over the May Bank Holiday, Sunday and Monday, full entry lists on both days and on arriving early Saturday afternoon everything was in place, including the substantial quantity of armco safety barrier that has to be erected and then removed for this event. The track was little different from last year although there was a new length of tarmac in the braking area for Big Tree Bend, apparently laid recently and necessary as the track was starting to break up at this point in 2012. It's a short track but in a unique environment inside a large South London park, an idea unlikely to be repeated elsewhere which could be thought a shame as this event gets lots of spectators, many of whom with no previous experience of club motor sport, just 'eff wun' on the box, enjoying the atmosphere and being able to wander past the cars and chat with the drivers.

At the final bend at North Tower the surrounding grass was wet; moisture spreading onto the track and this was given a thorough clean late Saturday afternoon which also removed some standing water. This inevitably leads on to my regular and tedious comments about the weather and whilst the preceding days had been wet the track otherwise looked clean and free from mud, the grassed paddock was dry and firm. Despite rather miserable predictions the weather on Sunday and Monday was perfect, blue skies and gentle breeze, great for competitors and also encouraging spectators in their droves, this event arguably the most successful at introducing the general public to what we enjoy. Alongside the sprinting there were plenty of complimentary activities with classic car and motor bike displays, trade stands and the significant presence of the lead sponsors, the South London based Ancaster Motor Group, supporting the event for a 4th year in a row.

With time on my hands after unloading the Ensign I wandered through the park to look at the dinosaurs, a feature of this park that I remember from the 1960s. In those days they were very overgrown and sad, the bright paint peeling from their, I assume, concrete bodies. These iconic dinosaurs were the Victorian approach to educating the masses, sculptor and fossil expert Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and founder of the National History Museum Richard Owen erecting these replicas in 1854 and they were thoroughly restored in 2002 and located in new landscaped surroundings below Crystal Palace low level railway station, adjacent to Anerley Hill. Well worth the visit, all now Grade 1 listed buildings (!) and on this sunny Saturday afternoon plenty of families presumably took the same view. As in previous year’s the overnight accommodation was convenient in the sports center’s accommodation block in the park, a 5 minute walk from the track, tow car and transporter parked for the weekend in the secure compound above the track.  

The entry on both days were predominantly road going cars from the 1950s onwards although also a small and interesting vintage contingent and it’s a shame there are not more as this is an ideal event for such cars. There were, of course, the modified classes and again a small class for alternative fuels where sadly John’s battery powered Vindicator had a small fire on Saturday due to a battery short circuit. As previously classes were defined by date and there were also the usual sports libre and racing car classes which I thought were poorly supported, possibly due to the fact that the competition was a trifle unfair, for example the Ensign’s class on Sunday otherwise included a Lotus 20 and Deep Sanderson 1100cc Formula Juniors and Iota and Juno bike engined 500s, all quick in their own right but at something of a disadvantage.

Anyway, that’s how it was and I’m sure the organisers would find a better system if they could, constrained as they are by MSA rules. On the track conditions were very good and there were 2 practice runs in the morning and 3 competitive runs in the afternoon, the programme running smoothly although there were one of two offs and a Ford Mondeo rolled after the finish line in the middle of the afternoon which caused a longer delay. I was disappointingly slow and untidy, the Ensign well off it’s usual pace and missing gear changes, on T1 actually spinning after the kink into the final section of the track, something I prefer to avoid. One of those days, I decided, the track certainly quick enough as shown with Tony Beesley’s excellent BTD in his 1000cc Jedi 4 on 34.84s.

Returning the Ensign to the trailer park I noticed that the gear selection was becoming erratic, for whilst the gear change mechanism on the Ensign has always been sloppy gear selection has never been a problem. Anyway, it was time for a bit of R and R and a meal on Westow Hill and I decided to have a serious look early on Monday morning. Closer examination revealed that the first swivel joint in the gear change linkage had failed, indications of which I’d had a few weeks ago and thought I’d resolved for the immediate future. The Ensign was scratched from Monday’s sprint and perhaps the dying throws of this joint had not been much help on Sunday.

A rather frustrating and annoying conclusion to the weekend but bad car preparation and no one to blame but myself! So I loaded up and headed home before many people had opened their curtains on this Bank Holiday Monday. The Ensign is now in Ian Dayson’s Rugeley workshop where I hope he can weave some magic and refresh the whole mechanism, making some virtue of necessity. Hopefully the new universal joints from springfixlinkages will be an improvement if they are as good as their customer service. Monday’s sport turned out just as good as Sunday and Gary Thomas set a scintillating new track record with his BTD on 32.87s, a superb conclusion to another fine Crystal Palace weekend.