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 yearís the overnight accommodation was convenient in the sports centerís 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 itís 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 Johnís 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 Ensignís 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, thatís how it was and Iím 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 itís 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 Beesleyís 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 Iíd had a few weeks ago and thought Iíd resolved for the immediate future. The Ensign was scratched from Mondayís 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 Daysonís 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. Mondayís 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.