On climbing hills, friendship and beer – in no particular order

 

I am a vain and insecure person. There you are. I said it.  It’s not a usual start to something like this, granted, but I think it’s probably true, at least in a small way.

 

For a start I compete in a tatty rat bag of a Mazda RX8 – and whilst it is one of the biggest hammers in the class power wise…it is also the fattest.

 

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Carpool Dave Warner waiting on the start line

So the only reason you would race one is the fact that it is a bit different (and I bloody mindedly insist on that ) when sense demands you should start with a French hot hatch of the sort that has kept me 5th all season – and so there is an element of attention seeking involved, really.

 

 

At the start of the season, and in moments of weakness even now, I found myself making endless excuses to provide some sort equivalency formula in my head – wondering how I would fare in a world where my car wasn’t so damn fat….

 

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Dave took 10 seconds off his time over the weekend and got a PB

I suppose we all start this because we are competitive fellows.  There is going to be a degree of ….needle, when the chips are down. We like to drive fast and we like to win – and prove we are good at the sport we love.  Who doesn’t want that at the end of the day?

 

However I was guilty I think of letting it get the best of me, I have to admit.  I even threw a bit of a hall of fame hissy fit in the top paddock at Shelsley on one occasion – something that my classmates in their infinite discretion didn’t buy a plastic tiara for me to wear after, which I am thankful for!  It doesn’t matter of course…and I feel like a plank for letting it matter.

 

The last weekend at Loton was something of a revelation really.  There is always something of an end of term feeling of Loton, especially when everyone has their tails up because of lovely grippy tarmac and PBs and class records are dropping like flies.

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Loton Park most comely in Autumn

It is however a chance to have a really good socialise with your fellow drivers and chew the fat over a meal and a pint or three –  this blog is sponsored by Allswage incidentally – and until this is done, the real beauty of this sport will be lost to you.

 

 

 

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Not the quickest in the world (or the class) – but I’m really happy with that

Anyway – I did drive rather than just imbibe things. My first timed run was the absolute highlight of my season – not because I took 1.75 seconds off my PB (about par for the course for the new blacktop), but because I got out of the car at the top with the shakes, knowing I was right in a great fight with Nick West for 4th – the fact the class lead was 3 seconds away didn’t matter.  Nick eventually won, enjoying his own Senna at Monaco moment with a 62.5 – whilst my pursuit was cut short by getting two wheels on the green stuff on the outside round Keepers after sliding wide (I thought I could do it on a microscopic lift….I cannot).

 

But I don’t care. It was a good fight well fought, Nick deserved his position and I know that I didn’t leave anything out there.  What more could you want?

 

At the end of the day, anyone who does hill climbing is a competitive soul. But amongst all of the competition with your classmates, once the gloves come off the key word, I think, is mates.

 

And if that’s not the case, you’re missing the best part. Honestly.

 

P.S

(Thanks in no particular order to the great folks I have met through hill climbing; Big Dave, Nick, Rich, James, Scottish Dave, Paul, Duncan,  Ben and Sammi, Phil, Olly and Anna, Scott, Alex, Will, Ian, Clio Dave, Jamie, Cossie Dave* and last by no means least the original, Carpool Dave and Cheryl  – all for making the paddock such an excellent place to be all year).   That was excellent; I think I’ll do it again.

*why are there so many damn Daves?

 

P.P.S

 

Where’s the drill….you’re going on a diet rat bag!

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FIA Hillclimb Masters Preview

Hillclimbing in itself is a niche sport with a hardcore following. However, this mother of all end of term bashes go to demonstrate what a broad church the sport is. The biggest names in national and European hill climbing will descend on the Ecce Homo hill in Sternberk near the border with Poland in the north east corner of the Czech Republic. It hosted it’s first hill climb 111 years ago and in 2016 the national champions from Britain, France, Austria and many other countries will join in the leading participants from the European Hillclimb Championship and the FIA International Hillclimb Cup for one last hurrah.

The Hill Climb Masters is a bi-annual event and was first held in 2014, in Eschdorf in Luxembourg, and has gained a second running at a venue that has been in regular use in a longer form since 1905.

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6 time British Champion, Scott Moran, will lead the UK charge

European and British Hill Climbing have a very different culture and background. Rooted in the tradition of settlement in Europe’s mountainous areas and the grand European road race tradition, European Hillclimbing has always had the sense of grand theatre. The British scene, alternatively, has always been away from the big mountains (the UK’s idea of a big mountain and Europe’s being rather different anyway), and towards the more gentle rolling hills of the west of England.

 

It is on these rolling hills that the British culture of hill climbing was formed. Narrow private roads – racing on public roads historically illegal -, gave birth to a unique culture of steep, narrow lanes one car and a half wide. The hills are, at their longest, less than 1.5 kilometres.

Whereas the European Hillclimbs take place on wide sweeping roads, with many medium and high speed corners and long straights. The courses are much longer, with the European Championship mandating a course length between 5 and 18 kilometres. They are much shallower as well, given the type of roads they are.

It is these European hills that the bi-annual FIA Hillclimb Masters is held on. In 2014 the inaugural competition was held in Eschdorf in Luxembourg. The first meeting of the European and British scenes ended up with the fastest time being taken by the dominant forces in Hill Climbing at the time with 5 time French champion Nicolas Schatz triumphing over 5 time British Champion Scott Moran.

 

Moran arrives fresh from securing his sixth title and Nicolas Schatz has added two more French titles to his name also. However, only the former will be making the trip to the Czech Republic, with the Frenchman not returning to defend his Masters title.

Instead the French entry headed up by national championship runner up Sebastian Petit in

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West Midlander Will Hall will hope to improve on his 2014 result of 3rd in category

the Norma. Other serious challenges will be mounted by the Italians, including hill climbing legend and 9 time European Champion Simone Faggiloi and Christian Merli, who only missed out on a debut European Title this year by a whisker.

 

Faggioli is the favourite for the Category 2 victory, despite a shock defeat in 2014 when he finished second to Eric Berguerand. Also, despite the deficit in displacement you cannot discount the Italian from taking the fastest time overall (Though there is no specific prize for this).

The Track

Scrutineering and paddock actually lie in the small town of Sternberk itself, with the cars moving through the pretty gothic town square to the start at the edge of the town, which heads into the mountains. The course used in the European Championship is over 7 km long. However to appeal to the breadth of runners invited the course has been shortened to run over the first 3.3 km of this. It is comparatively shallow, with the average gradient running at less than 5% (1 in 20 in old money) – compare that to the 11% Average at Shelsley Walsh (1 in 9). The hill also presents a very consistent gradient without any sharp changes.

There is a combination of medium and high speed corners on the course, with the only highly technical offering being two open hair pins to the top of the course. Prescott, it is not.

This means that power and aerodynamic downforce will be King,, rather than torque and traction, which arguably will play into the hands of the extravagantly be-winged single seaters, which whilst creating more drag than the prototype sports cars favoured by the European Championship contenders, will work the air harder.

The Cars and Format

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Category 3 will consist of the likes of Scottish debutant Wallace Menzies

The wide variety of cars is split up into three categories, broadly based on the European Championship System, with Category 1 being for production type cars (GT and the venerable Group A andN rules) and Category 2 being based on competition cars with an engine capacity of up to 3 litres. This latter entry draws a mixture of sports prototypes from the likes of Norma and Osella and former Formula racing cars made by the likes of Lola and Reynard. The use of sports prototypes especially marking a distinct separation from British hill climbing culture.

 

A final category, Category 3, has been introduced for the event. This acts as a catch all open class for cars that do not meet the European regulations, but comply with the various national championships – including all of the British entry with the exception of David Warburton in the Caterham 7. At Eschdorf in 2014 the Category 3 cars were the fastest, but only marginally as the top 20 times were a truly shuffled deck of 7 Category 3 cars and 13 Category 2.

There will be a gold, silver and bronze medals available for drivers in each of the three categories. For those interested in national pride, there will also be the Nations Cup to compete for.

The Nations Cup

The nations cup will be awarded to the team with the greatest consistency across the timesIMG_2202 of their 4 nominated drivers. This will allow all drivers in all cars, regardless of class, to compete for the outright victory. With Moran, Willis, Menzies and Hall all left to be contesting for individual honours alone, national pride will be resting on the shoulders of Dave Uren, Darren Warwick, Colin Satchell and Dave Warburton – the 4 nominated team members..

 

 

The Brits

The challenge that lies in front of the British entrants is both a physical and cultural one. The hill is considerably longer and quicker than any British hill, which will stretch concentration and pull the drivers into areas of their cars performance they rarely have the opportunity to exploit.

Given the technical regulations, the balance of probabilities leans in the direction of the 4 domestic Class L British entrants to be the ones fighting it out for the honours in Category 3, and potentially the unofficial honour of the fastest overall driver.

Scott Moran has virtually nothing left to add to the trophy cabinet should he secure a Gold medal and given his performance in the season so far, he surely takes the mantel of favourite. However, he hasn’t had it all his own way as the final round of the domestic season showed, as fellow British entrants Wallace Menzies snatched another victory and Will Hall finished second, with all three men one hundredth adrift of each other.

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Trevor Willis in the OMS

Trevor Willis has been one of the most consistent performers of recent seasons and the 2012 champion (the OMS driver the only man to break Gould’s decade long monopoly on the title) has a clutch of records to his name after a rapid 2016 season. Dave Uren in the forced induction Force has also broken his Top 12 Run Off duck in 2016 – giving the entry a tremendous strength in depth.

All these men are run off winners and the entry shows the ‘on the day’ unpredictability of the sport, and how each competition still provides each driver with an opportunity for a shot at glory.

The nations cup team features Dave Uren, who despite relentlessly punching above his weight in the run offs of 2016 may find himself out-muscled by the big V8s on a long fast hill. He will combine with Gurnseyman Darren Warwick in a F399 Dallara Formula 3 car. Darren secured a top 20 finish in the last competition, and has a stellar record on the Channel Island hill climbing scene, securing him a wild card entry.

The remainder of the team for the nations cup gives a nod to the British Hillclimbing

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Scott Moran on the way to another run off win

heritage of Roadgoing and modified production cars. Colin Satchell will be competing in his familiar and beautifully engineered Peugeot 205, which has provided him with the 2016 British Hillclimb Leaders Championship (ahead of Dave Uren). The under 25 entrant that completes the team will be David Warburton, in the specialist roadgoing Caterham 7. It is fitting that this absolute stalwart of the British scene is represented, the only example of its kind in the entire Masters. David managed a top ten in category last time out – against some very significant opposition.

 

The team will be looking to improve on 7th from the last edition of the nations cup.

The competition takes place this weekend (8th and 9th October) and will be broadcast live on both days. Streaming will be available on YouTube and via the FIA Hillclimb Masters Facebook page on the following link:

I will be making a brief entry on each day and we can also be followed on Twitter:

@alasdairlowe

@williamdgrace

The Expenditure Cometh

I’ve never been brilliant with advice. No matter how sensible, logical and rooted in experience this little tidbit of wisdom may be, I will almost always decide it doesn’t apply to me and will soldier on learning the hard way until I realise that it does.

Motor sport is a slippery slope. You start out thinking, I am going to spend nothing, I’ll be competing against myself and it’s going to be about self improvement and enjoying it..  But, he’s got stickier tyres than me. I could just upgrade the air filter. Those Corbeau seats look light…..

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The Traditional Shelsley View

Well my slide into a lifetime of Motorsport penury continued at Shelsley Walsh – my particular vice on this occasion being a set of used Toyo semi-slicks. Granted, at £100 sets of tyres don’t really come cheaper, and so my logic is it does sort of fit in with my do it on a shoe string ethos. Though that argument is rather voided by the fact I had a perfectly usable set of normal road tyres… and possibly further voided by the Thursday night sprint to Oxford to pick them up and rush to fit them on Friday.

Anyway, the British Championship circus was rolling into town for the first of two visits to the historic venue, and if that isn’t worth getting your cars party shoes on for I don’t know what is.

My weekend – as did most of yours I suppose – started on Saturday though. There was a hint of murk in the air, which turned into mugginess as the day heated up and I spent my day trying to figure out how to make these new tyres work – having bolted them to the car immediately prior to the first practice run.  However, unlike my last blog entry at Prescott, this was a track I actually knew, so surely that’d soften the learning curve.

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Kit all laid out – and back onto the orange wheels for now.

The first run was a mixed bag. I crept the revs up to a bit  more than usual on the start line to test the new levels of grip, and was rewarded with a massive bogging down – evidently I can give it much more clog of the line than before!

Shelsley being so steep, it does mean that a bad start in a less powerful car really is game over – however, despite being a second in arrears of my PB going into Bottom Ess (a tight left hander around ¾ of the way up and the only braking point on the hill), I was only 0.25 of a second down over the line…’oooh’, I thought, ‘that’s promising’…my target of a sub 38 second run may not be so fanciful after all.

As a result of this I decided that I was just going to give it an absolute shoe full off the line. Bloody hell – that worked. Also, by basically forgetting everything your previous tyres taught you about physics, you don’t half shift round corners as well. After one run, which clocked 37.86 – precisely 1 second faster than my previous best, I swiftly came to the conclusion that this was the best £100 quid that I had ever spent!

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Ticking itself cool after the fastest run it would do that weekend

The only problem with this is that after 2 out of 5 runs in the weekend I had beaten my personal objective. Where do you go from here? Supposing that 37.5 was the next logical step, with the assembled having been offered a third run by Shelsley on the basis of good behaviour.

I’m not entirely sure what happened next. All I know is that when I got to the top the clock said 37.34 seconds, and I’d done 2.64 seconds over the first 64 feet.

The trouble I am finding with the learning experience of hill climbing is that I am currently writing cheques on the Saturday that my competition performance can’t cash. This weekend was to be no different. It’s why I wish I could remember what I did on that start!

The Sunday was both sunny and very, very hot. Seriously, sitting in a black car, in amongst other cars, all with their engines on – in the flame resistant romper suit and helmet and gloves…I have never been so warm in my life.

This paled into insignificance though, as the starter button has decided it no longer wants to bloody well start the car! I had to park it nose down all day to bump start the thing – fortunately I was at the top of the paddock and it’s an easy bump start!

Despite leading the class ahead of a Westfield after the first run, I was now struggling to describe the run as anything other than a solid opener. I was back in the high 37s again, and I was losing it all at the start – though as a token of consolation I was less than a tenth of breaking the 10 second barrier between the Esses, which isn’t un-nifty for a family saloon.

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Class A2/B2 lined up

The second run was even worse – as I succumbed to my worst enemy and found myself trying far too hard in the quick fire left right turns of bottom and top ess, pitching the nose of the car in too vigorously and scrubbing off speed. The result was a 38 second run – and then the short wait to see the Westfield go under my first run time.

I have found one key skill that motor racing is teaching me is that you need to learn to deal with an anti-climax.  And the harder you try, the slower you go.

Unless you buy performance of course – thanks Toyo!

It’s ALL About the Bikes!

It is fairly amazing, when you stop to think about it, how many services that you sort of take for granted – because you see them whizzing round day in day out – are totally dependent on the kindness of strangers dipping their hands into their pockets.

This includes bodies like the RNLI, the Air Ambulance (the friend of racers and rugby players – of which I am both – alike) and the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes that criss-cross the country providing blood and organs for transplants and surgery. All of them can be sensibly classed as emergency services.

The Prescott Bike Festival, at the Prescott Speed Hill Climb in the Cotswolds, was created to provide a fundraiser for the Severn Freewheelers. They provide the out of hours support for hospitals in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and North Wiltshire, providing transport for blood, organs, samples, human milk – everything.

Every day of every year.  Christmas, Easter, a week next Tuesday.  You name it.

However, they need to fund themselves completely. It’s bloody hard work! And that is what the bike festival is all about – helping raise funds.

Money was raised through money on the gate, selling passenger rides on racing sidecars or Morgan 3 wheelers and charging riders for the chance to take their own bikes up the sinuous bends of the hill climb. People also got to watch the amazing paddock specials, like the mono-wheels and custom bikes.

I was a veIMG_3329[1]ry welcome opportunity, when I was asked to provide commentary and comparing for the festival, not least because I was able to interview some brilliant and interesting people who had come along and given their time to support this great charity.

When one meets people from the tele, you are never sure what you will get – I mean you hear stories about celebs don’t you? The stereotype couldn’t have been further from the truth with Amanda Mealing, the enthusiastic biker best known for her roles in TV dramas Casualty and Holby City. It was Amanda’s debut event in her new role as an Ambassador for the charity, and one in which she excelled with time for everyone and anything at the event, and an obvious enthusiasm for the work that the blood bikes do – a solid gold ambassador for the charity.

In addition we got to see nuclear scientist and engineer Allan Millyard, with 7 of his fantastic creations. Whether it was the bespoke 5 cylinder Kawasaki, the Flying Millyard – which is powered by a 5 litre V-Twin (which is actually from a B-25 World War two bomber),  or the amazing Viper engined motorcycle that is basically sitting astride an 8 litre V10, with a wheel on either end, the crowd were delighted and amazed in equal measure.

Then there was Matt McKeown – who decided to fit a Jet Engine to a shopping trolley – as IMG_3335[1]you do, or Kevin Smith, with the world’s fastest mono-wheel. Both of which were challenging to get up the hill to say the least, but provided both pilots with something of a triumph over adversity!

A massive amount of motorcycle experience was added by adventure rider and author Nick Sanders, who has written 4 books on endurance motor-cycling. In 1997 he rode around the world in 31 days and 31 days and 20 hours – an exhausting odyssey that involved some days covering over 1000 miles of riding.  In 2011 he rode from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – and back – in 49 days and 17 hours.  A brace of truly remarkable achievements, from a man whose agenda seems purely to be living life.

A final word has to go to the lads from The Bike Experience.  This amazing charity helps people with life changing injuries get back out there and ride bikes. One of their beneficiaries, Andy, who represented the charity on the hillclimb, is paralysed from the chest down. However, with a thumb gear change and rear brake added to the bike, £10 toe clips from Halfords, and Velcro to keep his knees close to the fuel tank, he now does track days once more on his Yamaha R6.  One less thing that has to change – and that’s worth a look!

The combination of a wonderful venue, great bikes, great weather and truly interesting and generous guests has meant that the festival was able to have its best event since its inception in 2011.  A pleasure to attend, a pleasure to work at, and what’s even better – the Freewheelers left with a helmet load of cash!

 

http://www.severnfreewheelers.org.uk/

http://www.bikefestivals.co.uk/

Learning to Walk Again

Steep learning curve this racing lark.

To think that I was the most worried about the basic minutia of the day when I started out. Wondering where I am meant to park, when I am meant to get going to get to the start line – all of that stuff.

Maybe it was arrogance, maybe it was the fact that I didn’t think it through enough – but for some reason I wasn’t worried too much about the driving side of it. On reflection maybe I am a bit dim!

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The Crowd Assembles
Either way, I arrived at Prescott nice and early for the Midland B License Championship, in order to go through the normal pre event routines of applying numbers, walking the hill, getting to know my class mates and so on a so forth.  I was worried it was too early to get there and I would end up looking like a bit of a plum.

But what with signing on, sorting the car out, getting scrutineered, attending the drivers briefing and trying to have a walk up the hill – you don’t have time to stop!

The first thing I noted about Prescott was what a dynamic surface it is. You don’t get a sense from YouTube videos of the angle and gradients of the road in the first couple of corners, and you never really understand how you have to wrestle a car through Pardon’s (a tight, steep left hand hairpin) until you drive it.

As a beginner you always (or at least I do!) have these fantasies of sort of winging it up the hill, playing it by ear and relying on your natural talent to get the car up there quickly – we all like to fantasise about being a natural talent and that we could all be Gilles Villeneuve if we wanted to.

For 95% of us (me included) this is fairly quickly dispelled.  One run up the track to get my bearings and the process of figuring out what to do at each turn begins.  I have discovered that I work best when I am going through a process for driving – it’s like learning the steps of a dance, there is no flying by the seat of your pants, no improvising. You brake at a certain point, change into a certain gear, turn in, change up at the same time, its all completely timed, and once you figure out your dance, you repeat it.   Occasionally you will change the steps depending on how it all feels, but it’s certainly a re-active process, not a pro-active one.

It also highlights to you how little you know your car, when you have only the opportunity to drive it on the road. Finding out where the really useful power is, just how far you can push it before it understeers away from you (joys of FWD) is an adventure in itself.IMG_3369

For example, what would have seemed totally counter-productive to me (dropping down to first round the tight parts) actually works well, when I thought it would kill the momentum. This is a polite way of saying you are going slower than you think at first!

So these are all steps you add into your new dance. And you do that dance, step by step, and just try and make your steps cleaner and crisper and change them if you think you have a better idea. Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t.

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To the victor…

Either way, the voyage into the unknown was a little compromised by the loss of a practice run (the reasons for which no one will be questioning however!) – so a certain amount of going for it was involved in run 1 – and then again in run 2, where I took some learning points from run 2 – like going into first round Ettorie’s (the second turn) and not changing up to third before semi-circle (the last turn).

Despite an improvement in time from 60.95 to a 56.61 at the end of the day to secure the class, there are still steps to add. I will be down in first gear for Pardon’s hairpin for a starter! There is a lot more to come.

 

In the meantime…keeeeeep dancing.

 

I don’t believe I said that. I feel dirty.

Fast Times at Bromyard Speed Festival

(Cover Photo: Rob MacDonald)

Sleepy Herefordshire market towns aren’t what you’d readily associate with speed festivals – though I suppose neither are grand country piles (though Lord March of course had the benefit of the heritage offered by the racing circuit).  Well who needs heritage, when you have a man taking his dear old mum to the shops in a Mini? As a start to the Commentary year, it was certainly a decent one!

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Start of a Legend – The First Bluebird

Either way, there was a wonderful carnival atmosphere for this season opening event in Bromyard. The event attracted a varied array of 140 cars headlined by the monstrous 350 BHP Sunbeam – the very first car to which Malcolm Campbell gave the epithet ‘Bluebird’.  As always with these things the 5000 strong crowd that lined the street were captivated by this particular piece of rolling thunder, which became the first car to pass 150 mph, 91 years ago.

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Tracy Cameron

That wasn’t all there was to be enthralled by –the genuinely unusual sight of single seat racing cars heading up the narrow roads, with drivers sans helmet at some times, has an old school appeal all of its own – and one that clearly appealed to the spectators who stood three deep along the length of the High Street to watch the action.

From the single seater racing cars to a large group of classics, Austin Healey’s and modern supercars like the Lamborghini Gallardo there really was something for everyone.  The variety wasn’t confined to the entered cars either, with the course cars including a Morgan 4 seater, a 300 bhp ‘Costello’ MGB and a Jaguar F-Type ‘Project 7’ (the seriously exclusive D-Type homage).

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Barry ‘Whizzo’ William’s historic go-kart

There were two more stars to the show aside from Bluebird. The first was the aforementioned gent taking his Mum to the shops.  The first batch of runners was lead round by local racer Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams – still a mainstay of the historic scene even now late in his late 70s – in the Mini in which he won the Welsh International Rally in 1962 – this time with his 100 year old mother taking a proud place in the passenger seat as he hustled the car around.  Anyone who has seen the Le Mans Classic or the Goodwood revival will be familiar with Whizzo, who specialises it seems in taking on much bigger, more powerful cars like an excitable terrier, something predictably reflected in his idea of a ‘demonstration’ run!

He was also at pains to point out, incidentally, that this was the car in which both he and Mini took debut international victories (sorry Paddy) before the first of the famous Monte Carlo triumphs.

The other special guest was the Morgan Motor Company who, though now long associated IMG_2652with Malvern, were in their very early days proud sons of Bromyard. So rich is the company’s history that they had their own dedicated class of runners that opened the festival. This showed all manner of cars from the company’s history, from the complete 8 decade time line of the Plus4, to the modern Plus8, which is one of the lightest production V8 cars in the world. Most eye catching for the crowd however were the variety of 3 wheelers. This, what was technically a cycle car, was a staple of the company in its early days when HFS Morgan founded his firm in Bromyard – and they have gone on to define the brand. From the charming ‘family’ three wheeler with rear seats sufficient for small children to Ewan Cameron’s amazing tuned example (no one knows a V-Twin like Ewan, and he unleashed his with enormous crowd pleasing burnouts) the history of the brand was on full display. Of course no line up of Morgan’s would be complete without a modern 3 wheeler, the run-away sales success that has re-defined how driving enthusiasts see ‘fun’ motoring all over again.

The Bromyard Speed Festival has an awful lot to love about it. There was early spring sunshine in a lovely rural location, a large crowd making the best use of the town’s local businesses and plenty of smiles, laughter and fun.

One suspects they will get another go at it. I hope they do, they deserve it.

F

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Starting out Part…3? For God’s sake

The off season has been something of an up and down affair. Since the Dashboard Christmas Tree of Doom affair, there has been a bit of a saga with trying to get the MR2 functioning, in order to fund the purchase of the tangerine Honda, which itself decided to have a bit of a paddy of its own.

In short, rather than the endless thumb twiddling I was concerned that would occupy my winter, I ended up with one Toyota that wouldn’t hold charge in its battery, and a Honda that just steadfastly refused to start.

I purchased a nice new battery charger to try and kick the battery in to life and try and sort out the Toyota so I could at least get it MOT’d. But after a week or so of trying to charge the battery, I got no result and feared it was broken. That was before in my infinite wisdom I decided to check the charger….which was broken.  So whilst feeling like something of a half-wit, at least I now had a charge battery, so I could take the car to be MOT’d. I headed to the MOT station with the car disposing of its charge at an alarming rate, and the car running increasingly lumpily I managed to deposit it at the MOT station – whereupon miracles happened. Finally the problem was diagnosed as being a faulty alternator. Another faulty alternator. Fortunately replaceable under warranty this time.

This would all have been fine and dandy if the Honda hadn’t have taken the time to have its first tantrum of my tenure – a mystery ailment where it decided that it wanted to flood, and then resist any attempt to purge the cylinders of fuel and get the damn thing to fire.  It took 3 weeks of playing with every suggestion the internet had to offer (the scariest suggestion being a failed head gasket) to find the fix (* a little somethin’ for the mechanics enthusiasts at the bottom). However, said fix managed to fill the garage with smoke upon starting the car – facilitating a McLaren style desperate fumble where there should be efficiency, where I tried to leave the garage, hit a chock on the floor, had to move it, and then quickly ran back to the car to emerge spluttering in to the fresh air.

I will write it off as an amusing mad scientist moment….

 

Anyway. I can get onto the fun things like livery now….

 

I managed to

*removed the fuel pump fuse and turned over to blow remaining petrol out of the bores, fuse back in, drop of oil into the plug holes (a bit much as it turned out) and some new spark plugs.

The Off Season Blues

The nights are drawing out and the Autosport International Show is now winding down and packing up. There is the sound of gentle rustling as the motor sport community starts to stir in the makeshift nests they made in their garages in between the cars – the new season is just around the corner.

If you’re not the sort to sit on the sofa and watch Mercedes cruising their way quietly around Albert Park there is still stuff for you to do as the leaves continue to sprout on the trees, the lights draw out and the circuit and sprint community nervously pokes its collective nose round the garage door.

Autosport is something of a season curtain raiser, and a good opportunity to catch up with folks in the community, get some deals on equipment and have a gawp at the exotic (and not so exotic) machinery that is on display. However there is the itch of competition that we all need to scratch either as spectators or competitors – there’s a few things going on in the Midlands.

 

13th March – Peter Blankstone Trial at Shelsley Walsh

Trialling really is grass roots (fnar fnar) motor sport at its most basic and entertaining. The idea is simple, in that you need to get your (highly specialised) car up a steep off road course, in between some gates consisting of marking poles, arranged in a snaking slalom course.

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The best part of this from a spectating point of view is how close you can get to the action, as you are free to wander round and are able to stand very close to the cars as they make their way up the hill.  You will be able to marvel at the skill of the drivers and just generally have a laugh in a relaxed environment.

Trials happen all over the country throughout the colder months, though this one takes place at Shelsley Walsh (on the steeper reaches of the spectator car parks) and will be held on the same day as the breakfast club – so enjoy a fry up and then try and burn some of that off with a stroll up into the field.

3rd April – Bromyard Speed Festival

As spring really starts to get into its stride, you have the opportunity to see something new! The market town of Bromyard is no stranger to festivals, currently hosting several music and culture events throughout the year.  They have now decided to add a speed festival to the mix as well, and allow visitors to enjoy both the town and a fantastic array of cars making their way around the closed roads of the town.  Car categories will include road and racing cars from local marque Morgan,  Austin Healeys, and a selection of racing and rally cars from local hill climbers and rally drivers.  Some great cars in a great spot and worth checking out!.

17th April – Prescott Bike Festival

If 2 wheels are more your thing, then head to Prescott in the middle of April where you will be able to enter your own motorcycle for a ride up the hill, or just come along to watch the action and enjoy the numerous exhibitors and paddock specials that will be at the venue for the week and even the On the Edge, trials stunt team.   A great family day out where you can meet the likes of TT winner James Hillier and racer turned commentator Steve Parrish. Last year Charlie Borman and Hollywood actor Eric Bana could be seen lurking around also.

Also – its all for charity. If you have ever seen the blood bikes pounding round the regions road transporting vital blood between hospitals for transplants and operations (and I suppose you have) and like me assumed it was part of the NHS – unfortunately that’s not true. They are operated in the South West Midlands by a group called Severn Freewheelers, and they will be benefitting from the event.

Worth a watch, I reckon!

 

Many readers will be familiar with Hill climbing, but there are a couple of dates for the diary as Spring really gets underway.

25th April – Rounds 1 & 2 of the British Hillclimb Championship at Prescott

If you enjoyed the bikes, you may as well come back to Prescott one week later as the British Hillclimb Championship will be back underway.  Watch Alex Summers commence the defence of his title at the 2015 curtain raiser on a tight and technical course, and face a stuff challenge from the likes of Wallace Menzies, Trevor Willis and Scott Moran all of whom followed him home last year in the powerful sing seaters that make up. There will also be Midland Hill Climb Championship action at the same meeting.

30/1 May – Speed in to Spring at Shelsley Walsh

The next round of The Midland Championship will follow on the very next weekend, as Shelsley Walsh opens its account for the 2016 season and the its Nelson 111th year (little reference for the cricket fans there).  Speed into Spring in a 2 day meeting on the May Day bank holiday weekend, and a great way to spend it.FTD Man Simon Moyse

 

I will be commentating and/or competing in my Honda Accord Type R at all of the above (except the trial, when I will stand in the mud). Come and say hello!

The new squeeze…

It was a whirlwind romance that started on the internet.  Some said it couldn’t possibly last. She was from Japan (via11219043_10155923097605613_6346311937837280253_n Liverpool), how could a boy from the Black Country ever relate to that? Admittedly acquiring these relationships on eBay is a tricky old game. But it just became too high
maintenance. We are going our separate ways….

 

So the MR2 is getting sold. We’ve had a bit of fun, but ultimately it’s a little fat and underpowered for hill climbing. Also, despite the electrical gremlin-ary that is still squatting somewhere in the system, like the cousin you don’t know so very well who keeps you up after you’ve offered them the spare bed after a wedding – which I will find – its is a very solid example. It seems a shame, when clean ‘OEM’ examples are the exception not the rule these days, to change that by taking out the interior and modifying it.

So the MR2 will find its way to someone who will treat it right – and I am moving on. I have invested my money iIMG_1146n something a little bit more fit for purpose.

Anyone who is a regular visitor to hill climbs will probably remember seeing a Honda Accord with bright orange wheels – it’s a fairly distinctive colour scheme!

Well, I will be taking over the Accord Type R from Steve Davey, who will be graduating into single seaters. The upside is a quick, properly prepared saloon car (rather than a totally unchanged road car).

The down side is that I will end up going up a class, and will have my arse kicked by Nissan GTRs and Porsche 911s – but, hey, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, right?

I am getting that excitement you always get with nIMG_1148ew cars – where you basically want to work your way through a couple of tanks of fuel in the first 24 hours.  God knows how you cope if your new car is a single seater. Who has the patience to waste on booking testing…road going all the way!

 

Anyone want an MR2 (with fixed electrics)?

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