Starting Out Part 2: The Dashboard Christmas Tree of Doom!

I am reasonably ashamed to say that I have never quite got my head entirely around electricity and the way it behaves, and cruel irony has decided that the theoretically reliable MR2 shall be beset by yet further electrical infidelity.

I last wrote about this topic a couple of months back, with the MR2 abandoned on the drive in a cloud of smoke and a broken (brand new) alternator belt. Well the problem was eventually diagnosed as a seized alternator (rather unsurprisingly). A few new parts later and we were back up and running and I rather naively thought that would be the end of it.

As I while away the days waiting for the 2016 season to kick off, I am constantly on the lookout for ways of playing with my toy in a slightly more liberal environment than the open road, and an opportunity presented itself with a charity drive.

MR2 with rather more impressive company!
MR2 with rather more impressive company!

Every year the property industry in Birmingham have a drive out (technically classified as a reliability run – maybe more apt for me than most) in aid of a charity (This year was The Starlight Foundation who grant wishes for seriously and terminally ill children – they’re wonderful people, check them out http://www.starlight.org.uk/).

Every year a group of industry petrol heads will head for a drive out and end up at a specific venue, such as Mallory or Donnington or wherever, via a series of check points. This year the venue was Shelsley Walsh – obviously providing me with an incentive to actually get the car repaired!

The only draw-back to all of this was managing to embarrass myself quite impressively in front of the members of the MAC (of which I am also a member) and assembled industry peers…oh, spiffing.

I blame Phil Nuthall personally*.  He did mention with a cheery smile as he placed the chock under the rear wheel of the Toyota – ‘I don’t need to tell you what to do, do I?!’

Maybe I shouldn’t have decided to try and show off.  Maybe I should have been more circumspect and played myself in. Maybe Phil shouldn’t have jinxed it (it can’t POSSIBLY be my fault after all).

I'm ready - clutch isn't
I’m ready – clutch isn’t

Either way, I built the revs up to 5,000 RPM and did such a lazy job of releasing the clutch it over heated and slipped its way up through first and second gears, thereby treating the assembled to the majestic sight of a very loud (and by now quite smelly and smoky) departure with no really discernible forward motion.

Eventually I found third and some actual progress was made – but by now I was too busy trying to hide my face from marshals and make my way up the hill without really being noticed – as much as that is possible when being pursued by a cloud of your own burned clutch.

Bugger.

It cast something of a pall on my afternoon really. I dropped the car to the back of the group to try and extend clutch cooling time. Though it didn’t stop Phil chiming in on the start line with ‘would you like a push this time’ – you could argue I deserved it.

Anyway – by now I expect you think that the next tale of reliability woe will be clutch based, but no! It’s that great and continuing unfathomable, the car’s problematic electrical system.

The Dashboard Christmas Tree of Doom!
The Dashboard Christmas Tree of Doom!

It focuses the mind when you start the car and every single warning light stays on – and produces that ‘oh, what now?!’ feeling that I last truly experienced with my Alfa Romeo GTV (paragon of reliability that it was…no, wait).

Whilst a flick though the manual just told me to go to a dealer (useful, thanks), a quick glance at the dipstick told me that the low oil light (at least) was telling porky pies – and so the rest probably were as well. Not really having time to spend, the car ended up parked for a couple of weeks, sat on top of life’s ‘too hard’ pile.

In the naughty corner...
In the naughty corner…

When I finally looked back at this weekend – I found the battery flat as a pancake and unwilling to accept any charge. Having delusions of being Colin Chapman, I replaced it with the lightest battery that my meagre budget would find – thus making it also the most gutless!

Now, here is where it gets confusing and why electricity is the work of the devil and its maintenance best left to his minions.  I was hoping, in my ignorance, that the new battery would be a sort of automotive ‘Ctrl Alt Delete’ for the car, and the ECU’s confused state would be alleviated.

And it was. Sort of.

If anyone here has any clue, any at all, why every single warning light should be illuminated below 1,500 rpm, but not above it, I would welcome answers on a postcard.

Seriously!

I have a theory, but not being electrically minded I am too embarrassed to share it.

Either way. My pursuit of a consistently working car continues. I was also passed by an RX8 the other day.

Smug git.

(*Obviously none of that can really be blamed on Phil, but let’s keep that between ourselves, eh?)

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Vote for Scott: Hillclimbing vs The World!

VOTE HERE:

https://apps.facebook.com/my-polls/rocfactor?__mref=message_bubble

I am sure most people, if they feel compelled to read this, will be at least broadly familiar with the concept of the Race of Champions.

First organised in 1988 by former works Audi rally driver Michelle Mouton and Frederik Johnson using a format that would now be recognised as a head to head rally super special stage (only in the same car). In the 1990s it established its reputation by being held on sunny Gran Canaria. As end of term bashes go, it’s not a bad one.

The idea has evolved over the past 28 years, and now instead of being between rally drivers exclusively, the wider racing world has been dragged in. Drivers involved in 2015 will include F1 stars Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean, Fellipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg. But its not just F1 either as multiple Motorcycle World Champions Jorge Lorenzo and Mick Doohan will compete alongside tin top drivers Susie Wolff, Jason Plato and Le Mans Legend Tom Kristensen, amongst others.

In short, it’s kinda a big deal.

The location has changed, with the sunshine and sangria exchanged for the glitz and noise of a packed Olympic Stadium in London. But the event is bigger than ever and will test the drivers across several road and racing cars, from Ariel Atoms and Audi R8 LMS’s, to the sand buggy like ‘ROC Car’ and Stadium Super Truck (basically a pick up on a LOT of steroids).

The drivers all race in a round robin format, with the top 8 drivers heading in to a knock out competition to decide the Champion of Champions.

This is all well and good you may say, but what exactly does it have to do with us? Well I was just coming to that.

IMG_2338This year, the organisers have created that rarest of beasts – a worthwhile talent competition. They have launched something called ROC Factor, which is designed to increase exposure to drivers from less well known series – and give them the chance to test their mettle against the best.

The link to the website is here, and anyone who has attended a British Hillclimb Championship event in the past 10 years will be very familiar with finalist number 6.

http://www.raceofchampions.com/london-2015/roc-factor/

They are asking us to vote for a winner by commenting on the video on their Facebook page . Seeing as we all know how good a peddler Scott Moran is, and will all be dead keen to see him racing against world class drivers at this event (especially given the trash talk that the other finalists seem to be indulging in on their profiles)

It would be great for him and also great for our sport nationwide – it’s time to use social media to share the hell out of it!

Fitting Finale to a Fantastic Season

IMG_2240The end of the summertime in the English Countryside always puts you in a good mood, and this good mood abounded in Shropshire over the weekend of 26th/27th September. With Alex Summers having secured his first British title the previous weekend at Doune in Scotland an end of term atmosphere had descended over the paddock, despite there being the serious business of the runner-up spot to decide, as the de-mob happy British Hillclimb Championship circus rolled into Loton Park for the concluding rounds of the 2015 season.

The enduring appeal of the British Championship is that it embraces all of the parishioners of the broad church of British Motorsports. Entrants include anything from a Proton Coupe in the road going class; to the high-tech, carbon tub single seaters running in the ‘racing cars over 2000 cc’ category,     (to which some have given the rather more snappy sobriquet ‘unlimited class’).

Racing conditions improved as the morning wore on and temperatures increased, which meant that with the earlier runners especially battles were principally confined to the second runs producing an entertaining ‘one shot showdown’ situation in the classes for road going cars.

These road going classes are in many ways the purest form of motor sport you can get. Buy car, apply number, drive up hill faster than anyone else. Easy.

Trevor Lacey heads up Cedar Straight
Trevor Lacey heads up Cedar Straight

This means that the two classes, one each for cars below and above 2 litres, attract a varied entry and result in very competitive sport. In the smaller class, it usually takes something very special to match a Lotus Elise on the day, though Richard Brant in his Clio Sport very nearly pulled off a shock. He led after the first runs, using his trademark attacking driving style to good effect meaning Clios were in fact running first, second and fourth at lunch. However, the usual order was restored in the afternoon with Paul Jones stroking his Elise home to a class win in 61.86 seconds.

Alisdair Suttie and David Finlay ended their season of car hopping with the crowd pleasing Volkswagen Touareg
Alisdair Suttie and David Finlay ended their season of car hopping with the crowd pleasing Volkswagen Touareg

There was a closely fought battle in the larger engine class as Nigel Burke in the Subaru Impreza lead after the first runs, a little over a tenth ahead of the Porsche 911 of Robert Lancaster-Gaye. After the break Lancaster-Gaye lowered the marker in the class leaving Nigel Burke to chase, and whilst the Subaru man was able to improve his first run time, it was not by quite enough and the Porsche was victorious by 0.1 of a second.

The competition was equally robust in the Specialist Production Car category, which has come to be dominated in recent years by those pedalling their ‘Caterfields’ (Caterham or Westfield 7s). The 1997 British Champion Roger Moran has been enjoying a season driving in the (only slightly) less frenetic class in a ‘7’ having stepped away from the Gould single seater driven by son, Scott and Alex Summers at the end of 2014.

He took the fastest time in the class in the morning and after lunch lowered his class leading mark to 54.21. However it was David Warburton who, on the very next run, improved his morning effort by 4 seconds to 53.67 to snatch the class away from the Ludlow man.

Andrew Russell heads into Keepers on his way to 2nd place in Class C(i) for modified production cars
Andrew Russell heads into Keepers on his way to 2nd place in Class C(i) for modified production cars behind the Mini of Carl Jones
Steve Bailey heads up Cedar Straight on his class winning run in the spectacularly driven Mk1 Escort
Steve Bailey heads up Cedar Straight on his C3(ii) class winning run in the spectacularly driven Mk1 Escort

The single seater classes at British Championship events seldom disappoint, and a bumper entry of 21 drivers in the under 1100 cc class show just how accessible and competitive the entry rung into wings and slicks hill climbing is becoming.

Simon Fidoe heads to victory as the shadows lengthen in the late summer sun
Simon Fidoe heads to victory as the shadows lengthen in the late summer sun

Simon Fidoe made up for a failure to record a time on his first run of the day by taking the class in his dramatic looking Empire Wraith with his second effort garnering a slender 0.16 of a second advantage over Steve Marr who had improved his first run time to lead the class prior to Simon’s effort.  Simon Andrews completed the podium with a time around half a second behind Marr, though the leader at the lunch break, Tom Poole, unfortunately fell out of contention as he could not improve on his first run.

Richard Spedding heads up the Cedar Straight on his way to victory in Class J(ii) in the GWR Raptor after trading fastest times with Eynon Pryce's Gould GR59.
Richard Spedding heads up the Cedar Straight on his way to victory in Class J(ii) in the GWR Raptor after trading fastest times with Eynon Pryce’s Gould GR59.

The main business of the day however, was to decide who would be the runner-up in the British Championship behind runaway winner Alex Summers. First blood went to Wallace Menzies as he was fastest in the Saturday practice runs with the Scot pushing the ex-Martin Groves Gould up the hill faster than his rivals for championship runner-up, Trevor Willis and Scott Moran.

Outgoing champion Scott Moran pushing the limits on the exit of Fallow
Outgoing champion Scott Moran pushing the limits on the exit of Fallow

However in the first qualifying class runs, it was the local hero and 5 times British Champion Moran who recorded the fastest time in the qualifying class runs with a time of 44.60 seconds, 4 tenths ahead of Wallace Menzies and champion elect Summers in third.

However during the Round 33 run off it was the champ, Alex Summers, who posted a time of 44 seconds dead to take maximum points during his lap of honour. It was in fact the first time he beat the quickest time he had done in the DJ Firehawk he ran in the class below – a warning shot to his rivals that there is so much more to come from the Summers/Gould combination. The battle for the runner-up  spot in the standings heated up very quickly as Menzies took second, Moran third and Willis fourth with all 3 separated by a little over three tenths of a second, keeping the battle alive into the final round.

Wallace Menzies exits Museum during the class runs
Wallace Menzies exits Museum during the class runs

After lunch it was Scott Moran who once again took the honours in qualifying, with Menzies and Summers once again in hot pursuit. The star of the final round was out-going champion Moran. He flirted closely with his hill record of 43.52, by recording a time of 43.66  – by far and away the fastest time of the day. Alex Summers took second, cementing another all-conquering season for the remarkable Gould GR61.

Trevor Willis enters Museum
Trevor Willis enters Museum

Another podium position for Wallace Menzies wasn’t quite enough, and he remained tied with Scott Moran on 205 points (taking third in the Championship on countback however) with Trevor Willis’ brace of 4th places being enough to retain the number 2 on his OMS for next season.

The Champ: Alex Summers
The Champ: Alex Summers

Next year will see an even more engrossing battle for honours, what with Will Hall moving from car to car towards the end of this season as his Force XTec is repaired following his shunt at Shelsley and the always spectacular Jos Goodyear’s injuries leaving him looking on for the final third of the season having taken them out of overall contention in 2015.

2016 has a lot to live up to.

2015 Final Standings:

1 Summers 244pts;

2 Willis 210;

3 Menzies 205;

4 Moran 205;

5 New 128;

6 Uren 121;

7 Hall 118;

8 Crawford 90;

9 Bradburn 90;

10 Goodyear 87

What Value One Man’s Life? (What I did on my Holiday)

I want to start by saying two things. Firstly, after about 1000 miles of driving in Italy over the past week I am no closer to understanding the Italian driving psyche. Secondly, I was quite happy to see my hire car was a Fiat 500 – until I got to the car park and the car my remote unlocked the larger and uglier 500 L family bus (complete with diesel engine). The joie de vivre that comes with the idea of small (petrol powered) Italian cars rather died at this point. This is not, and will not be turning into, a car review column but that car is without redeeming feature that I can find. I don’t mean to offend anyone who may have bought a 500 L, but what were you thinking?

Anyway, as you may have guessed by now I have been away the last week, which means two things; firstly the MR2 still sits broken at home and secondly I don’t have much club motor sport stuff to write about having not seen it with my own eyes.

However, my week in the late Italian summer sun has given me pause to think about life and the wider motor sport universe. Naturally I made my way down the autostrada to Modena and Maranello to pay due deference to the great marque. But first and foremost, I felt compelled to go and visit a location which, 21 years ago, made an indelible mark on my not yet quite 9 year old mind.

The evocative terraces on the exit of Tosa at Imola
The evocative terraces on the exit of Tosa at Imola

Throughout their history sports have their watershed moments; Cycling had the death of Tom Simpson and the Festina affair and the football community suffers still with the ongoing agonies of Hillsborough. Formula One had its moment during the weekend bridging the months of April and May in 1994, in the pleasant mid-Italian town of Imola.

5 serious incidents, a number of serious injuries and 2 fatalities lead to a safety revolution in the sport. Whilst motor sport will remain a dangerous sport the sad deaths that weekend of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were not allowed to be in vain.

International memorabilia beside the Ayrton Senna Memorial
International memorabilia beside the Ayrton Senna Memorial

The international support and adoration that Senna still commands is remarkable. There is still a plethora of mementos such as flags and flowers at the crash site on the outside of the Tamburello corner, and yet more on the inside. These range from flags of multiple nationalities to fresh flowers, T-shirts and even the odd poem. The man’s reputation is still such that 21 years on in the brief period we visited the memorial we shared the experience with around 10 others, on a not particularly special Thursday in September.

A statue to reflect its audience - deep in thought
A statue to reflect its audience – deep in thought

The monument itself is beautifully pitched, incidentally. A full size bronze statue of the great man sat in deep contemplation in a tranquil corner of Imola’s Parco delle Acque Minerali on the inside of Tamburello. The poignancy of the tribute is truly remarkable and it is impossible not to be quietly seduced by the atmosphere there.

However, on a personal level, something equally poignant in a different way can be found 250 metres along the track. I was struck by a slightly uneasy feeling. Roland Ratzenberger was by all accounts a friendly and universally liked man. At the age of 34 he was a late-comer to Formula One with the troubled Simtek outfit, but a capable driver – he had won his class at Le Mans and finished 5th overall the year before. He died the day before Senna in an accident which still sends a cold shiver down the spine of anyone who saw the footage of his lifeless body in the car as it came to a rest at the inside of the Villeneuve kink, the next corner along from Tamburello.

A lonely, long deceased rose the only momento for Roland
A lonely, long deceased rose the only momentio for Roland

I am sure he would be more widely remembered if it were not for the events of the next day. However, one long since departed rose hung limply on the catch fencing at the site of his accident and served as the sole representative of any thought for him. I am not given to placing tributes if I am honest (I didn’t contribute to the pile at the Senna memorial for instance), however I profoundly regret not having brought something to leave in his memory. None of the other ten joined us here.

This does beg the rather philosophical question of; by what measure can we judge the life of a man? Why should one life have such a high value placed on it over that of another, by all accounts, decent human being in terms of the sorrow it commands? Both men were gladiators in a dangerous sport, with the only differences ultimately being their track record and the end of the grid at which they competed. I understand the impact Ayrton Senna had as a driver and an individual on motor sport fans – the shower of tributes is a testament to that. However that lonely, dead flower made me feel profoundly sad.

Imola is a beautiful place and worth the 4 hour round trip I made to see the memorial and the location. I’d urge anyone to visit there. However, whilst paying your respects to one of the giants of the sport, please also take 10 minutes to walk a little further and spare a thought for Roland and his more quietly sad story.

PS: Unfortunately the ‘other woman’ of sport, rugby will be occupying me next weekend – so I will miss the National B meetings at Shelsley. I will be back for Loton on the 27th.

Back to Basics: Motor Sport First Principles

Get in car, drive car to venue, put foot down, drive car home. What could be simpler?  The grass roots level at any form of sport is vital – you will often hear politicians wittering on about it when talking about rugby, cricket or (if they want to look ‘of the people’) football.  Motorsport is no different.

Loton Park: Quintessentially English
Loton Park: Quintessentially English

 I am not talking about trying to find the next generation of superstars either, that is something that kids are basically devoting a life time to from the time they are old enough to sit in a kart these days. There are a few exceptions to the rule (Andy Priaulx for one), but not many.

I am talking about the amateur scene: the guys and girls who invest a huge amount of time, money and devotion into their passion. I’m talking about people like Andy and Debbie Dunbar (for example), who dragged themselves to Loton Park in Shropshire over a bank holiday weekend and spent their Saturday evening outside, in the pouring rain, replacing a drive sprocket on their motorcycle engined Force. What this is, ladies and gentlemen, is the sport for the sport’s sake. It is love.

This passion is never typified better than in a National B meeting, especially at somewhere as exquisitely English as the aforementioned Hagley and District Light Car Club venue.

IMG_1753

This is a subject I spoke on at great length from my commentary box there this Sunday gone. From competitors like the Dunbars in their single seater, the Newells in the MX5 and Andrew Rollason in the lowly but keenly driven Ford Ka, to the marshals and officials of the meetings (who all volunteer their time) – amateurism (in its most positive sense) is the pounding heart beat of the sport in this country.

The meeting drew all manner of the automotive life under the sun ranging from road cars of under 1.4 litres – including that Ford Ka and an electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV – to the veterans of Formula 3 driven by Jonathan Varley and Simon Keen, which enjoyed a battle for Fastest Time of the Day.

Most importantly and fundamentally, what the meeting generated was fantastic sport. Sunday especially produced some remarkable competition with the battle for victory governed by less than a tenth of a second in several classes.

Phil and Dave Newell enjoyed an entertaining tussle sharing the road going MX5 (is there a purer, more ‘everything you need nothing you don’t’ route into competition?) with both drivers posting an identical 67.68 seconds on their first runs (having also tied it up on one practice run), with Phil only breaking the deadlock on the cars last run of the day when he got his head down and pulled an entire second out of the hat.

The class for cars over 2 litres was equally exciting, as the Meeks in their classic Subaru Impreza and Hutchinson’s in their wonderful BMW 1M did battle for honours over the afternoon. The Hutchinson’s held a fairly comfortable advantage on the Saturday of over a second. However in the first runs on the Sunday Geraint Meek fought back, going under 60 seconds (his first time doing so at Loton) with a time of 59.97. Simon Hutchinson was second after the first runs only three tenths in arrears on a 60.28.

The Hutchinson BMW 1M rounds Museum
The Hutchinson BMW 1M rounds Museum

The second runs then produced a flurry of intense competition as this time, Simon Hutchinson produced a time of 60.27 to go second.  In response to this Mike produced the same time as Meek’s first run, a 59.97 to retake the place, but only after the Subaru had posted a 59.96 to take the class by one one hundredth of a second. Gripping competition in every sense of the word.

There were class records in both the Downton Mini’s Championship with Martin Watts taking the benchmark to 57.17 seconds and the Westfield Sportscar Club Championship as Adrian Clinton Watkins went on a remarkable streak, continually lowering the class record he already held on three consecutive runs over the weekend.

In the single seaters, the Dunbars found themselves separated by only four hundredths of a second on the Sunday, with Andy taking family honours on both days and the overall win in their class. The battle for fastest time of day between Varley and Keen was covered by nine hundredths of a second, with both men dipping under 50 seconds on their first run. The competition came to a halt with the second runs however as Varley lost it on the outside of Fletcher’s Dellow, sending his March nestling in the undergrowth, and Simon Keen going off on the inside of the same corner before coming to rest harmlessly in the shade of an oak tree on the very next run. At least both drivers and marshals got a work out extracting the cars from the garden and pushing them to the paddock from the escape road at the next corner.

Simon Keen's Dallara F302 exists Triangle and accelerates towards Keepers
Simon Keen’s Dallara F302 exists Triangle and accelerates towards Keepers

If nothing else, meeting such as this one show the vitality of the sport at all levels in the United Kingdom – especially with hill climbs becoming increasingly over-subscribed with competitors. So long as this streak of amateurism remains in the British spirit and the love of being involved in motor sport continues to lure the marshals and officials into giving up their time free of charge – the grass roots of our sport will keep going and keep growing. So at least I will have plenty to talk and write about.

Starting Out Part 1: Buy Japanese, its’ the obvious choice…isn’t it?

To some casual observers, starting out in motorsport is a case of having more money than sense. Well, in my case it involves having a paucity of either. I like to think that doing motorsport, competitively, on a shoestring is the opportunity to use a little bit of imagination – to channel the spirit of the great British ‘garagistes’ Colin Chapman and John Cooper. At least that is the logic I used as I was halfway through my second pint in the paddock bar at Shelsley Walsh and the world was bathed in the golden glow that somehow makes everything a good idea at the time.

Hill-climbing is the obvious answer to the first part of the cash problem – you are on your own, you only need a license you can basically send off for in the post and more importantly you are out there on your own – no one to hit, no one to hit you and no one to make you do something maybe you don’t have the capability of. Well, that’s the theory. Of course what will actually happen is that enthusiasm will overtake talent fairly quickly and an itchy right foot will probably end up seeing you in a bank wondering why you bothered – but you can’t think too hard about these things.

Because I am doing this on the cheap (REALLY cheap), a road going class is sort of Hobson’s choice. Buy car, fit timing strut – go. No need to cage it; no cut offs; no HANS device. Cheap, cheerful and cheeky. By now, the second pint is nearly empty and I am accepting the offer of a third, and without really knowing it, this is now something I am doing rather than a nice idea.

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A motoring column shouldn’t really have the need to reference Ernest Hemmingway at all, let along twice in three editions, but he did once say ‘always do sober what you said you’d do drunk, that way it will teach you to keep your mouth shut’. But what does he know? This is by now the best idea I have ever had.

My first (fun) problem was what car? The days of a chap heading to the smallest room with a copy of auto-trader are fading in reality. However, there was a lot of reasonably excited scouring of the internet – followed by a large degree of overthinking, second guessing and generally suffering paralysis by analysis.

With a car budget of £2000 though, and the certainty that I didn’t want to get myself into the above 2 litre class and just spend a year having my arse kicked by 911s, I decided that buying Japanese would be the move of an intelligent man. The elephant in the room here is the Renault Clio 182 – but I just couldn’t get excited about buying a hatchback. I don’t want one and there is an end to the issue.

I kept having my head turned by Mazda RX8s. A manufacturer headline figure of 231 bhp is attractive for the money. However, there is the traditional rotary engine reliability issue….those graphite tipped rotors are an achilles heel. Every single thread on every single forum you visit has a post saying ‘oooh I hope you are ready to replace the engine’. Now some will argue that these issues are either a myth (they’re not!) or that they only impact the examples that haven’t been loved (that may be, but if you think this isn’t an issue I will refer you back to my budget and ask you to reflect on your opinion).

So I took the easy way out. BHP and success be damned. I was a moral coward and decided that I am just not in a place where I can treat the engine as a consumable item, like the brakes for example – which may actually outlast the engine.

I stuck with what I know. I never thought this would happen to me, and this is possibly not a sentence that any petrol head should ever say, but I am a Toyota man (by accident). My old Mk3 MR2 was a jinxed car, it never went wrong (stuff sort of just happened to it – it was never its fault) and the Celica I replaced it with just won’t die.

So it was time to embrace a grey oblivion and choose a Mk2 MR2 in British Racing Green as my weapon of choice for the coming season.

At 175 bhp (…when new) it’s not too far off the Clio – however it is a heavy old hector if I am brutally honest – and this isn’t great for gravity defying motor racing. However, this goes back to what I said about ‘Garagistes’ earlier – the opportunity for the application of imagination and creative engineering in the art of the automotive crash diet has appeal. Simplify and add lightness!

The one thing I was absolutely convinced of however is that my car would…not…break. I would not be the mug that bought a Mazda and had a car that wouldn’t start because of crap compression. I was wise.

I was also very smug. I spent £1400 on that car (I knocked some money off due to some parts of the sub-frame that were corroded to the point of actually doing nothing) and I had £600 of budget left to spend on overalls, gloves, a nice set of tyres. This was just getting better and better. It even had had its alternator belt replaced recently…and yes, I am going somewhere with that.

I even took it to Shelsley Walsh’s driving school. However, the fact that they recommend putting 5 psi more pressure in the tyres than normal for fast runs and I actually had to take air OUT of the tyres should really have given me hints about the previous owner’s level of mechanical sympathy.

Anyway – you all know where I am going with this one. The car goes well, it really does. I very much enjoyed my morning crawling around under it replacing the rotting sub-frame as well (the rest of which is fine incidentally).

knackered frame

But, it’s not the component failure itself that bothers me, it just seems so unheroic. A man is delivering a sofa to HQ, so I move the car off the drive to be helpful. Hell of a screech on starting the car, but it subsides and so I move. Its only when I park it back on the drive the screech reaches a crescendo and then abruptly halts and suddenly I’m in a cloud of smoke coming from the engine bay. I am not extracting myself from some mangled wreckage at the top of Eau Rouge, I haven’t blown and engine in pursuit of a bitter rival. I am on my drive, at home. Having moved for a delivery van. It’s not a swashbuckling story.

The smell of burning rubber now coming from the engine is no longer a tedious sporting cliché, just the dismal bringer of bad tidings and a reminder that sooner or later (in this case sooner) motor sport will find where you keep your wallet.

IMG_1692

(Problem, and short term solution)

New alternator belt my arse. I should have bought the Mazda.

For KC.

The sad story of Justin Wilson, and just how many more ‘1 in 1 million’ injuries will people tolerate?

In this information age in which we now live, news travels so quickly and travels to people who would never have normally received it as recently as ten years ago.

Public displays of grief were historically reserved for very, very few – Princess Diana is a good example.  It is now 20 years on and with the sheer level of information generally on offer to everyone basically meant the world woke up to the news regarding Indycar driver Justin Wilson as one.

Justin Wilson at 2007 San Jose Grand Prix: credit Allan Hack
Justin Wilson at 2007 San Jose Grand Prix: credit Allan Hack

The big difference is that Justin was a recognised name amongst the initiated, but a comparative stranger to the masses.

As the world absorbs the events surrounding a third single seater driver to die following serious head injuries in 2 years, what will this mean for the sport in general? Given its’ now truly universal exposure, can it continue on with open cockpits as it has since people started racing cars?

I recently wrote about the modern business world intruding onto the grand old traditions of the sport.  The modern world is now intruding in a different – and more important – way.

Whatever you may think of the now ubiquitous #hashtag effect, it is now a fact of life. I have seen opinion fall both ways over the #JB17 and #CiaoJules campaigns for young Frenchman Jules Bianchi. Whether it allows people to express their sadness, condolence and support better, or whether it cheapens it into a throwaway gesture – like an emotional fashion statement – has caused much, often heated, debate. However, what it undeniably showsis that interactive media is set to have a profound impact on how the sport behaves in relation to these events.

Since 1950 motorsport has had a handful of real watershed moments: The 1955 Le Mans disaster, where 83 spectators and a competitor died when a car crashed the engine entered the crowd enclosure; 1968 saw the crescendo of a dangerous decade with the death of Jim Clark; and in 1994 the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, along with a litany of other serious injuries shocked a world of 3.5 litre V10s with cut down cockpit sides into deep soul searching and a safety overhaul which evolved to several years in the making.

21 years on and the deaths of Maria Di Vilotta, Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson in a 2 year period (the last 2 closer than 2 months together) look set to make another.  Their demises were very different in their nature: Maria Di Vilotta went on to live a full life after her accident until a sudden trauma related to her injury claimed her life; Jules Bianchi (and more significantly his family) endured a protracted and very public ordeal between his accident at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014 and his death last month and Justin Wilson’s was as sudden as it was shocking.  However, what they all have in common is a significant head injury incurred whilst sat in an open cockpit car.

In the single working day since the news about the most recent incident broke, the debate over cockpit canopies has been dusted off for the first time since 2009 when the seemingly luckless Felipe Massa copped a heavy spring in the head in practice for the Hungarian GP. However, of course, his luck held when it mattered most and he made a full recovery. But Henry Surtees, son of World Champion John, had died the previous month after being hit on the head by a wheel in a Formula 2 race.

Felipe is starting to look like a worrying minority.

The FIA (including Charlie Whiting) have issued statements, those skilled with Computer Generated Imagery are already speculating on what a covered cockpit grand prix car could look like and images are all over the internet.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote that there were only 3 real sports anymore; climbing, bull fighting and motor-racing. However, in the modern world this opinion is seen as irrelevant and outdated.

The internet age, the sheer profundity of information around and the ability of everyone to take their opinions out of the pub and into the wider public arena via social media is starting to make its presence felt in a significant way. This new democracy has the potential for public opinion to rock the historically insular motorsport community like never before.

Whether it will or not remains to be seen. But interesting times are ahead and it feels like enough will soon be declared to be enough.

Photograph: Allan Hack – https://www.flickr.com/photos/aehack/ – used under creative commons license.

Will The Last One Out Please Turn Off The….Oh Sod It, I’ll Do It.

When history and business collide in the modern world, there is only one winner. The ongoing charade that is surrounding the continued inclusion of the legendary Monza circuit in next season’s Formula One calendar is merely the symbolic confirmation of this depressingly self-evident truth.

In many ways no one would be surprised by this. In a sport where you pay around £20 million a year for your engines, something similar to host a race and ticket prices just to stand on a grass bank at Silverstone are over £100 – the imperative of the financial squeeze is never far away.

By looking at the situation totally rationally, if that is your sort of thing, it makes sense. You can’t go racing for free and F1 teams are not a charity. Full time employees work the big hours and give the big commitment – all small cogs in one massive machine. Money funds the pursuit for perfection and ultimately, arguably, this is what the pinnacle of motor sport should be about.

And yet…

I’d love for it to have been a great poet who once said ‘where is the love?’, however it was Will.I.Am – but the point is valid. Maybe it is that at heart I am a hopeless romantic, with an emphasis on the hopeless, but I just cannot get excited about the clinical march to the future the sport seems so ruthlessly engaged in- at least not in isolation.

I am not entirely sure what got me in to motorsport – I think it was probably my father.  However, I remember being bought up mostly on stories of daring do. Formula 1 echoed with the great names of Fangio, Clark and Senna.  Historic marques like Ferrari, Maserati and Lotus reverberated through the record books and between the concrete walls of Imola and trees of Hockenheim – before the latter was made into an anodyne shadow of its former majesty.

With its current clean cut, media savvy pin ups, what mystique is there to capture the imagination of the next generation of youngsters?  Keke Rosberg was always synonymous with the image of his era, the irreverent gladiator, smoking and stroking that fantastic ‘tache. The clean shaven Nico however takes his answers straight from the PR playbook, with all the interest and controversy of an accountancy seminar.  But at least the Mercedes PR bodyguard hovering no more than 1 metre away won’t have any fires to put out later on.

I used to stare goggle-eyed at racing when I was young. It all felt so important, so laden with atmosphere and the weight of half a century of rich history that it couldn’t fail to be captivating.

However it feels like this has now been eschewed. With 20 races shoehorned into the year, there are nearly as many races in a season as there are games in the Rugby Union Premiership.  It isn’t special. It isn’t an event. It’s just another fixture.

Two weeks time sees the visit to the sport’s most venerable and romantic venue, the home of Ferrari and the last bastion of true racing passion – the Tifosi. Autodromo Monza’s historic banking is haunted by the ghosts of Jimmy Clark, Mike Hawthorn and the other proper boys own heroes of history.

Once apon a time in Monza

However when the F1 circus congregates in that famous Royal Park to the north of Milan this year, after featuring in every season of Formula One, it may be for the last time.

Bernie has spoken and Monza, it seems, cannot pay the bills. The sponsors, makers of energy drinks and grids full of celebrities will follow the new money and head off to the welcoming arms whoever can afford a race this year. But they’ll move on again when, like Korea and Valencia, the money runs out and the cycle will go on.

In the meantime, us historians and hopeless romantics are left behind with only our memories for company; running our fingers through the dust of history.

The price of progress.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/88134187@N00/6201252476″>Once upon a time in Monza</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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