Archive for the 'Motorsport' category

Retro Rides Gathering 2014

Last weekend I journeyed off with some old friends for a weekend of curry and cars. What a weekend it was! Naturally I began proceedings on Saturday morning with more than a hint of a hangover, so put in a can of beans on toast and awaited the arrival of Ste, my taxi driver for the weekend.

Chariot

It was pretty cosy in there. And hot. And very, very loud. Ideal for a 120 mile journey on a Saturday afternoon.

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I did try many times to chat to Ste about the car. He told me all about it in great detail. Sadly it was like one of those nightclub conversations where I caught the odd syllable while nodding and smiling a lot. Suffice to say both the engine and Ste were happiest bouncing off the limiter and the car was rapid, light, and insanely grippy in the bends.

The other car in our convoy was an old favourite, Ian’s S50B32 powered E30.

Ian's S50B32 E30

Following a lively curry we stayed the night at the frankly terrible Mount Pleasant hotel in Malvern. I had a room with a view.

Room with a view

In the morning I topped up the can of beans and curry with an appalling fried breakfast and we jollied off to Shelsley Walsh, firing on all cylinders.

Then came the cars. Oh the wonderful, wonderful cars. Here’s my favourite.

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How good is that? What do you think about this?

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Then this.

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These all followed us into the car park within minutes. It was hilarious.

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What I enjoyed most was the obvious respect shown for motoring heritage.

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There’s nothing quite like an immaculate, unmolested MkI Golf.

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Okay okay. So it wasn’t all comedy. Let’s try and fix things, starting with that Golf.

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There were plenty of RS representatives.

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Ste summed up this amazing MkI Escort carrying an RS Cosworth lump very well: “This is a beautiful conversion. It’s really tidy and a great combination of car and engine. However it is four wheel drive, and that makes me very sad indeed.”

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Then I found RS500 number 159 and time stopped.

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Once I’d tidied myself up we headed to the paddock at the bottom of the hill sprint route, where some interesting kit was waiting for us.

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We walked up the hill. It was knackering. We should have taken a car like the sensible folk.

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Ian even stretched the old girl’s legs…

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But entertaining as that was, the comedy cars really were the highlight for me.

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This Volvo had a T5 engine under the bonnet. And one in the boot.

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This thing was powered by something insane – probably a Porsche engine. Went up the hill like a rat up a drain pipe!

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To finish off, some more photos from the paddock. All in all, an amazing day out. At £7.50 a ticket, great value for money and highly recommended!

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All 106 photos can be found here. Any photo both here and on the all photos page may be clicked to view a high resolution version.

Wyedean rally 2012

Yesterday I made my annual trip to the Welsh border to see Alex and spectate at the Wyedean rally. I think this is the sixth consecutive year we’ve been, and the first time I’ve not taken a BMW.

I took the Impreza, and as you can see, we had another snowy event. I must now wax lyrical about that car’s practicality. We arrived in the snowy car park to find it full, so we simply made the car park bigger by parking on a frozen, muddy bit of bog-land on the edge. When we needed to leave I popped the car in reverse and it happily chomped back onto the then ice-rink-like car park, and we naffed off, leaving others in two wheel drive vehicles spinning their wheels and generally rueing the day they failed to acknowledge the glory of proper all wheel drive, no matter how unsubtle it may appear.

So, back to the rally. With well over 200 cars running at (we guess) 60 second intervals we figured two special stages should be about right for the day. We chose to spectate on Serridge 1 & 2, basically because we’re a bit lazy like that. As ever, we hunted down corners that were most likely to provoke mistakes. As it turned out we can’t have done such a good job as previous years, as we didn’t so much as need to push anyone, but we certainly saw some action.

Now here’s another testament to four wheel drive and good tyre choice. After a 360° spin, this Evo rolls backwards off the track. Both rear wheels are suspended over that ditch; the front wheels are on sheet ice. Did it need pushing? No. They just boiled it up, and the Evo dragged itself forward on its belly panels to the point where the rear wheels could get a good purchase on the edge of the ditch, whereupon it leapt out, ripped up the ice and shot off back on track.

Even so, my real heroes are of course those who manage all this, quickly, with just rear wheel drive. Legends, one and all.

In the afternoon we carefully located a really slippery 90° corner. It didn’t disappoint!

I’m annoyed that – yet again – I took too many stills and not enough video. The juniors and classics run though the course first, but then the open competition come through. The top seeds – cars potentially worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – come storming through the forest like monsters. It starts with popping and cracking exhausts in the distance, escalating rapidly to a full roar accompanied by dump valves hissing, straight-cut gears whining, tyres scrabbling, hot brakes, flaming exhausts and general rage. Car 21, a Lancer Evo IX, sounded absolutely terrifying and only after it had passed it occurred to me to take some video. Sadly by then the real animals had been and gone, but hopefully this selection gives a good idea of the atmosphere.

Here’s a wonderful bit of RWD from a MkII Escort. Note I’m silent during filming, but one of the other spectators was clearly getting a bit nervous!

And now an Impreza turbo demonstrating superior traction up the hill, but perhaps a little too much pace into the corner.

An Impreza digging itself out of a small ditch:

And finally, taken from slightly further round the corner, a general demonstration of the ice-rink conditions competitors had to handle:

Overall a very interesting (and cold!) day out. 45 miles of special stage in the forest on mud, snow and ice. I was fascinated to learn that while the winner was a WRC Focus, and second place went to a Lancer Evo, third place was awarded to a 1.4l Vauxhall Nova, proving that the conditions really were a playing field leveller.

All my stills from the day can be found here – note that’s a 40MB page though. ;)

Castle Combe Drift Day

Today Alex and I popped along to Castle Combe circuit to spectate at their Spring Performance Car Action Day, the highlight of which was to be two drifting sessions. I’ll start right now by saying that I wasn’t disappointed in any way – today was nothing short of awesome! There were a huge variety of cars present, and a full gallery of photos is available here. Also, for those with a shorter attention span, here’s a video clip to help convey the general atmosphere of action!

So, down to the usual blogging business. After an early start I found myself parked next to Alex’s van trackside at 9:30.

M5 & Alex's van

We spent the morning watching those brave enough to take to the track on get to grips with our little corner.

Of course plenty of people were doing very well, some were a bit slow, and some were a bit bland. But then the mistakes started to happen, and we were happy! :)

Just before the first drift session was a about to begin, I found myself exceptionally entertained by this gentleman doing apt justice to his Vauxhall Omega – it’s hard to get more sideways than this!

Here’s the above hero at work:

Soon the first drift session was underway:

It wasn’t long before we saw the first wheel loss of the day…

Here’s the video clip that leads to the above!

And some classic E30 action:

We then went for a wander along the pits where we saw lots of wonderful cars (and some, er, dubious ones…). Let’s start with this – if you know me, you’ll know how excited I was…

The afternoon sessions saw two more cars lose wheels (that we saw on our corner – who knows how many wheels were lost in total today!), and another epic drift session that went a bit like this:

I’ll spare a special note for this E39 M5 – it had lovely multi-pot AP brakes and the tyres looked well used, but I couldn’t help thinking that the poor chap looked a bit slow. It really made me want to take to the track to fly the M5 flag, but I didn’t because I know what I’m like and I had no spare wheels and tyres to get home on. As this conversation was taking place, said M5 came past us and simply popped a wheel off for me to inspect – almost as though it was offering to help!

Really, a BMW dropping a wheel off on the circuit? Outrageous! He clearly should have been going faster – those nuts rely on a good dose of V8 to self-tighten, don’t you know. ;)

Here are a few more of my favourite photos, starting with a Ford Capri:

This Lancia Delta Integrale was showing a level of decay typical for its age:

This reminded me a bit of Smith’s Chavbo:

And this definitely reminded me of our old 106 Rallye.

Carry on racing – there’s nothing to see here…

POWER, POWER, POWER…

What a glorious day to chuck a wheel…

Always good to see the show cars in top notch condition – in particular I liked the rear wheel arch.

Raah!

Best place for a Corsa, really.

The king of the forests needed a bit more grunt on hot sticky tarmac.

What a scene!

Anyway – there are loads more photos on the gallery page, and of course there are more videos on my Youtube channel. I’ll conclude by saying that it really was an excellent day, and by thanking Paul Stewart for letting me know about it. If you’re one of my friends who so often thinks “damn, I wish I’d gone along” then why don’t you actually do that next time? ;)

 

2008 Impreza STI

My friend Tom has just been round to show me his new purchase: a 2008 Impreza STI. Typically I didn’t take a photo of the whole car, but I did take a picture of its brakes.

Ok, so they’re not floating or drilled like the 330d’s, but that is a multipot caliper, so I was pleased. I was significantly more pleased to be given the keys for a test drive. Turning from a T-junction onto a trunk road, let there be no doubt that despite a 100hp disadvantage, this car would ruin the M5. Grip grip grip grip grippy grip grip all the way through 90 degrees to the speed limit all in just a passenger’s gasp. Nice solid brakes, sharp steering, joyous.

It’s got a fancy trick variable centre differential. I tried to molest this in such a way that would, shall we say, make it behave more like the M5. Instead it just got a bit twitchy, and eventually my mechanical sympathy made me stop.  Having calmed down, I decided it’s a lovely place to be, despite not being as opulent as the big 5.

The turbocharged 2.5 litre engine certainly seemed to drink as courageously as the M5 too – around 21mpg for a mixed bag it would seem.

I love the way that the rpm dial takes centre stage on the dashboard, with the speedo as an apparent afterthought. The seats are dead comfy, and the controls are nicely driver focused – I especially liked the short shift gearbox.

The power all lurks relatively high up in the rev range and there is of course some turbo lag, but this is without doubt an extremely fun car, and on the road, undoubtedly a quicker A to B machine than the M5.

So bravo to Tom – it’s been over 7 years since his last Impreza, and indeed about 3 years since Smith moved on his WRX wagon, so I’ve certainly missed these machines.

I wonder if we might see this, the M5, and a certain E46 M3 at the Nurburgring later this year…?

Wyedean Rally 2011

Yesterday marked my annual trip to the Wyedean rally. Last year I took Brenden, the year before Robin, and prior to that Diane, but this year I took Snoop…

… to meet Barden…

I got up at 5:20, was out the door with the dog by 6:15, and met Alex at the Shell garage in Monmouth at 8:25. Alex had certainly done his homework, and we headed straight to Speech House to park up and find a tasty corner on SS3 where the first car was due to run at 9:51. On our way to what on the map looked like the best bet, we stumbled upon a chicane which, as a navigator (and indeed I imagine as a driver), would have shocked me. Foolishly I didn’t take a wide angle shot of the situation, but here’s an attempt:

So you arrive from the right of the photo in the distance, and the notes will tell you that you face a right-then-left chicane.

The track curves about 70 degrees right, then curves left again which is the track you see in the foreground. However, that’s roped off to the tree, as you can see, and the correct line is, as demonstrated by car 327 here, to continue right and then do a 90 left around the tree. However, let me assure you that at competitive pace that red and white tape from the tree isn’t really obvious at all, and it looks like you’re supposed to pass to the left of the tree. Which happened repeatedly, as demonstrated here:

Sometime people would get it right. Sometimes people would plough under the rope, then turn right around the tree, get confused, and then get stuck. Sometimes people would realise too late that they needed to turn right more, and oversteer into the tree. That happened twice. As a spectator, this was fantastic; I’m sure the competitors weren’t quite as happy about it.  Still, we saw some of our old favourites:

And then the really pacey cars were out:

There was one rather interesting point where some deer crossed the track, but fortunately they got out of the way before the next car arrived.

In the afternoon we moved to SS6, and found a more traditional corner, hoping for some tasty sideways action. We weren’t disappointed!

There were even a couple of E30s out to play – sorry about the blurry photo Robin!

Finally, right at the end of the day, I got to do what I love best – car rescuing:

This chap had managed to get the car to turn 90 degrees right okay, but simply slid off the edge of the track where he got wedged on his belly panel. A team of around 10 spectators got him going again, although he lost nearly 10 minutes in the process.

On the way back we encountered this sad sight – I hope they get it re-shelled okay.

Overall, another great day out. Thanks to Alex for his hospitality again – I’m already looking forward to next year!

M5 spring loving

Having suffered some criticism last weekend for daring to permit my topic to stray from cars, here’s a long overdue update on the M5. It has had relatively little use over winter – a notable exception being a trip to Wales for the Wyedean rally.

I actually forgot to blog about that. Fortunately, Brenden did so. Anyway, the M5 still had the Michelin Pilot Sports on the front that were fairly worn when I got it.

Legal, but tired, if you’ll forgive the pun. I therefore nipped out and got a pair of Good Year Eagle F1s – a quick £270 for 245/40R18s.

After a brief pit-stop at Vines BMW to pick up some bits for the tractor (more on that next weekend I imagine), I decided to pay to have the car cleaned.

With a new set of boots and a bath, the super saloon was once again restored to its former glory!

There were a couple of other niggles I resolved too. Firstly, as ever, it needed a dash of oil (E39 M5s use oil at a rate comparable to petrol it seems). Also, regular readers may recall I mentioned the windscreen washer jets were broken. I bought the replacements before Christmas, and this weekend I finally got around to fitting them!

In the above photo the old ones are on the left – note that one of the inputs is completely missing!

The new items were really easy to fit, and now they’re aligned I’m pleased to once again be able to say that everything works on my M5 – not bad for a 10 year old car with all the bells and whistles! Next weekend: tractor time. Until then, I shall admire my lovely new boots.

 

A decade of driving

As this decade draws to a close I thought I’d reflect back on the motoring changes I’ve experienced. As we celebrated the new millennium I was the almost proud owner of a 1992 Ford Escort estate. With a lusty 1.4 litre engine it could barely pull the skin from a rice pudding, but it was mine and I could deploy that 75 horsepower to take me wherever I chose. As this period pre-dates my digital camera ownership, I only have this rather sorry excuse for a photograph:

What a beauty! I upgraded those 13 inch wheels to – wait for it – 14 inch wheels. With extra driving lamps I ranged across the country – I shared my first trip to the Lake District and even nipped across the border to Gretna in this machine. It had manual windows and mirrors, no central locking, no power steering – not even ABS. Looking back this was useful, as it provided an excellent bare bones introduction to motoring.

Yet this wasn’t the only Dagenham Destroyer in my fleet – hell no! I was also the extremely proud owner of a 1990 SWB Transit – used to cart around my sound and light gear.

A real rust wagon – powered by a 2.0 litre petrol engine that offered neither performance nor economy. Whether I was in the Escort or the Transit, I was always seen tearing around the streets with all the apparent vigour of a tortoise with gout.

Having had the Escort since acquiring my licence in 1996, during 2000 I began to look towards moving on. I was driving my dad’s car occasionally – a Vauxhall Vectra SRi (pictured here in 2005 at the Nordschleife entry gate – an episode I’ll cover later).

Suddenly I had all the modern luxuries – electric windows and mirrors, 15″ alloys, air conditioning, remote central locking – even traction control. Perhaps most importantly for me, its two litre engine developed 136 horsepower, with – compared to the Escort – very useful low down torque.

2000 was my first year of full time employment, so as 2001 arrived it was certainly time to stop borrowing the Vectra, and replace the Escort. Being 21, my needs weren’t very complicated: I needed to be faster than anyone else I knew, I wanted it to be reliable, and I had heard that rear wheel drive was A Good Thing. This ruled out the Peugeot 306 GTi6 I was considering, and the Audi A6 Quattro that wasn’t pure RWD, so I got myself one of these:

This car introduced me to a whole new world of motoring – both on-road and virtual. It absolutely ignited my passion for driving (and perhaps, oversteer) and also introduced me to car internet forums. The latter provided a double-edged sword – such forums attract all sorts – but one forum in particular led to some absolutely fantastic road trips around the UK. The first of these was a visit to the Lake District in early 2003.

While all this was going on my sound and light business had outgrown the little old transit, so I “upgraded” to a 1992 LWB 2.5 litre diesel effort. Look how beautiful it was!

Okay, so it was an eyesore. But it did offer significantly more load space and payload, and with power steering and a classic diesel chugger it was far more the freight machine I was looking for.

Still, back to the cars. With almost 200hp and over 200 lb/ft torque at my disposal, in the 328i I was fast, it was reliable, and RWD was good. After two years though it was time to move on, so in February 2003 I took the next natural step: it was time for an M3.

Still to this day this has been my favourite car. 321hp, 258 lb/ft of torque and a proper LSD. I didn’t care that the interior was a bit manky, and I liked the fact that it was a saloon and not a coupe. I used this car a lot. I shared my maiden voyage to the Nürburgring with this car, multiple trips to Cornwall, the Lakes and Wales, and had an epic tour of Scotland.

Sadly I was separated from this car by a local garage who rather carelessly wrote it off for me in March 2005. While the insurance wrangle was taking place I once again took ownership of the old family Vauxhall Vectra SRi. Of course, this was quite a step down, but as a utility wagon it was very useful. The transit had recently died, I had wound down my sound and light business, so it was a good one-stop interim solution.

There was however a complication. I had a trip to the Nürburgring already booked before the M3 was written off. I therefore had to take the Vectra – a grim prospect at the best of times – but significantly more so given that its gearbox was obviously broken. I therefore fitted a refurbished item and headed to Germany.

In convoy with an E36 M3, an E34 M5 and an E39 M5 the SRi was completely out of place – an utter embarrassment. However, it redeemed itself with some massive lift-off oversteer:

All jolly hilarious, until on the way home the car once again spat its gearbox. Having to come home from Bonn on a flat-bed transporter is horrible, and the entire trip was perhaps the low point of my motoring decade. The Vectra therefore finally left the family, and I was car-less.

By this time Diane and I were living together, so we got by using her Peugeot 106 Rallye. Despite being of French origin I feel this little car was certainly good enough to warrant more than a passing mention in this post. It was light, had over 100hp, and developed a good chunk of torque from its little 1.6 litre 8V unit. So despite being a touch unreliable and a FWD scrabbler, it was a lot of fun.

We had this car from 2004 to 2009, so it certainly made its mark on our motoring decade. So, back to March 2005 then when I was car-less. After much research, I concluded that for the money I’d received for the green M3 I simply couldn’t do any better, and so bought another M3!

Rather than the all-I-could-afford green saloon, this was perhaps my ideal E36 M3 Evo. Techno-violet with heated silver leather – this thing even had electric rear vent windows! :)

I had this car for a year, ensuring it took in all the usual Cornwall/Lakes/Curborough/Nürburgring trips, and even a camping holiday to La Rochelle. At the end of 2005, we once again – but briefly – became a three car family. Robin and I invested in a £50 Ford Sierra Ghia for our charity “Staples 2 Naples” rally trip.

The car was of course horrific, but everything worked, and it didn’t let us down at all despite thorough abuse all the way from Woking to Naples. We scrapped it in Rome and flew home; something I really regret.

By early 2006, despite the M3 Evo being a fantastic example, I felt it time to move on from the E36, so I traded it in for an E46 330d sport touring. This represented a significant step down in terms of performance and a shift away from motorsport in general. Yet the new car was a lovely place to be, extremely practical and pleasingly efficient.

In our first month together we went to the Lake District, to Birmingham, to Wales, to Scotland, and to the Nürburgring – some 5,000 miles! I chopped off the droopy tail pipe and sorted some nice straight tips, and changed the wheels to the more recent items (more recent above, originals below).

As we leave this decade, this is now our primary family car. We sold the 106R in 2009 when it became a little too unreliable, and frankly basic, for our liking. We’re now married, own a dog, and this is our car. I write this article from the Lake District – marking this car’s 4th visit there with me. However, this doesn’t end my motoring decade review – not by a long shot!

I realised that, much as I love my tractor (330d, above), it lacks a certain bit of motoring soul. I filled this in January 2007 with the purchase of a 1988 E30 M3!

With a screaming straight four and LSD I was back in the M-club, and what a party it was. I loved it so much I decided in July 2007 to upgrade to a 1990 E30 M3 Evo II.

I held onto this car for another year, during which it featured in two BMW Car Magazine articles and two trips to the Nürburgring.

In amongst all this I decided to take up a spot of rally navigating. Pictured here with driver/owner Simon Stevinson, I spent a few shifts in 2007 in the nav-seat of his E36 M3 Rally Compact.

It was a great little car, and Simon an extremely composed driver, who I can’t thank enough for being so patient with me while I learned the ropes. I had a massive amount of fun in that car – we had many battles, and I’ve even got a trophy or two as a result somewhere. It was fantastic having to deal with the elements, and at times fix the car, to get us through to the end of the day. I would have loved to have taken the next step to driving and car ownership, but I sagely (and perhaps boringly) concluded that I couldn’t afford to allocate funds in that way.

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Ultimately though, when I became married in August 2008 I decided that both rallying, and E30 M3 ownership, and all the oil and rust which was involved, wasn’t really becoming of a husband. I therefore packed in the rallying and sold the M3. Immediately I realised that in doing so I had lost much of my identity, so 4 hours later I rushed out and bought a nice sensible family car:

That’s right, it’s a 2000 E39 M5 – 400 horsepower to you. This basically brings us up to date – we’re a two car family with a wonderful E46 330d sport touring and a V8 M5. The 330d is a great utility vehicle. I’ve modified it to play DVDs on the move to entertain my passengers, it has iPod integration, stealth sub and a built in inverter. It’s a fantastic, quick machine, boasting 200hp and 40mpg. We love it, and it is backed up by a super saloon sporting an astonishing blend of performance and comfort. While both cars have been around the block a few times (both just under 120,000 miles), they still scrub up nicely and provide everything we currently need on the road. Oh, with the exception of four wheel drive – that’s my prediction for the 2010s!

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This sums up my review of the decade. Throughout these years I’ve documented a good deal of motoring action which has, in some parts at least, been well received. I’ve even landed a regular slot writing for BMW Car Magazine. I’ve had an absolute ball these ten years thanks to my cars and my motoring friends. I can’t thank those friends and family enough for their support of my crazy ventures, and as my last blog post of the decade I’d like to thank you all for reading, and wish you a very happy new year. :)

Palmer motorsport day

Diane kindly bought me a PalmerSport driving day for my 30th birthday. What’s that then? I’ll let them explain:

In one perfect day you will drive a selection of the world’s greatest track prepared road and racing cars, and you will be encouraged to push yourself – and our machinery – harder than you may have imagined possible, and all in outstanding safety. It’s the experience of a lifetime.

So this Thursday I was up at 5am, ready to pilot the M5 to Bedford Autodrome. An interesting place!

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I arrived to find myself 1 of 30 participants – a mixture of individuals and small corporate groups. While all very informal, it was to be a competition, with awards for each car driven. Some other attendees had their own lid and racing boots – all rather intimidating! A glance around the car park saw the M5 in good company – M coupes, 911s and the odd DB9. Even more intimidating! After a quick cooked breakfast, I was delighted to discover that the track was damp, and my first car was on slicks. Time to jump into a romper suit and pixie boots!

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First car of the day was a Formula Jaguar single seater, billed as “a window into the world of F1”. I can certainly say I’ve never driven a car which requires the steering wheel be removed to get on board before.

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Some stats on this car.  A 3 litre V6 generating 250bhp. The car doesn’t weigh very much, so it does 0-60mph in just 3.1 secs. The brakes are magnificent: no servo assist, but given plenty of beef they offer eyeball squashing deceleration. It has a clutch pedal, but gear changes were all applied through paddles on the steering wheel, and with the exception of setting off in 1st and returning to a standstill, there’s no need to use the clutch pedal. The throttle can be mashed to the floor, and the car manages the upshifts perfectly. Changes are fast, the steering is fast, the car is fast. It’s the perfect go-kart!

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This certainly woke me up! I could tell I was doing well – despite some hairy slides I didn’t spin and I’m pretty sure I was in the minority there – but one or two others were certainly moving quickly. I can’t think that I’ve ever been in a faster car, and given how badly I cope with G force at theme parks, I’m a bit surprised I didn’t notice any issues when nailing the throttle, or on the brakes.

Interestingly – perhaps because we weren’t accompanied – the organisers chose not to rank our performance on best lap times (as they were to on most other cars), but instead on lap data. Needless to say I didn’t win this, but I can’t tell how well I did compared with my competition.

So we moved on. Mainly for a bit of fun to fill some time before the next real car was ready, we indulged in a spot of karting. Single engined, but in good condition, outdoors (wet), with enough room for the odd overtake. I was pleased to hear I obtained the 4th quickest lap time across the day (from that field of 30), just 0.96 seconds behind the quickest man.

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Next I hopped into a Palmer Jaguar JP1 two seater, for my first experience with one of the trained instructors.

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Now the trouble here is that I’ve never really been particularly interested in going fast. I am especially interested in driving fast machinery at least a little bit sideways. So here I had to put that to the back of my mind, and focussed on being smooth, studied my lines, and above all listening to someone who really knew the car and track. I quickly realised I could have driven the single seater considerably faster in places! Another 3 litre V6, but a slightly heavier car – still a 0-60mph time of 3.5 seconds though. Like the single seater, plenty of grip, plenty of power, loads of brakes and that fantastic paddle gearbox.

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Certainly the quality of my competition became painfully apparent: I posted 18th from 30. Again I hadn’t spun, but I soon realised I had to try harder!

The 4th car of the day was one of the two I have been particularly been looking forward to – a Caterham 7. A traditional H-gate gearbox this time, but still a far cry from any car I’ve ever owned. Here’s my kind sponsor Diane modelling with a road prepared Caterham.

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Fast, and grippy to a point, but then – the tail would wag. This led to a strange first lap while I got used to the car and my instructor got used to me. But then, we all clicked together and we were off!

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Once my instructor had the confidence to shout “keep the power, keep the power” while we’re oversteering at goodness knows how many miles an hour, I had a whale of a time. Afterwards my instructor was most enthusiastic, telling me it was a great drive and a decent lap time. I came 14th. Hmm. Interestingly the 13 who were faster than me ran in the other session (we were divided into 2 groups of 15 for the day), so I wonder if there was a subtle change in the course, or perhaps if the track was dry for the other session.

Finally before lunch, we moved to the first normal car of the day: a race prepared Jaguar XKR. A 4.2 supercharged V8 producing 420 bhp, with paddle shift gearbox. So it should have been a lot more fun to drive than the M5, right?

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Wrong. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, I just didn’t gel with my instructor. He was enabling and disabling the car’s traction control system to keep things in shape. I wasn’t trying to power slide everywhere (really, I wasn’t), but when he was bellowing “more power” while effectively engaging and disengaging the throttle like a digital switch it made it rather hard to control.

But significantly more irritating than this was the car’s woeful, awful, and frankly retarded automatic gearbox. That’s right – while it has paddles like the Formula Jaguar cars, this was just a remote control for the pot noodle that appears to sit between the car’s engine and the prop shaft. As such I concluded that the car was rubbish – the M5 was significantly better – at least a league ahead.

All this said, I came 6th, so clearly everyone else had similar issues.

After a sumptuous luncheon we arrived at the moment I’d been looking forward to most of all: the Porsche 911 JP3. This was the first time I’d ever driven a rear engined car. These 911s had the 3.6 litre flat six that delivers 320bhp, gifting a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds. I thought this was going to be great.

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It wasn’t. Same story as the Jag XKR really. An instructor that I didn’t gel with (to be clear, all the instructors were good, but some more on my wavelength than others), and another shonky gearbox. I don’t like changing gear by appointment, especially when the engine is, most unnaturally, behind me.

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A really interesting exercise certainly, but it did quench my thirst for a Porsche. I posted another 18th place. What a shame.

Without pausing for breath, I was straight into the next car: a Renualt Clio cup racer – the only FWD motor of the day. With a 2 litre four-banger and a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds, it should have been fun.

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It was! I got on well with my instructor, and the gearbox, and we scrabbled our way to an 8th place. More interestingly, we ran the Clio on the same course as the 911, and not only was I faster in the Clio, so were most participants.

Moving on, we encountered what transpired to be the best part of the day: a Caterham 7 pursuit challenge. Put simply, we got back in a Caterham, and had to punt it around a tiny circuit in a manner that required sideways action, culminating in a donut into a parking bay. I came 3rd! What luck – it seems that a smooth, calm driving manner escapes me; yet when yanking all the controls like an organist on speed is the order of the day, I excel.

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Finally, an off road challenge. I’ve always fancied a spot of green laning, so I was looking forward to this. The course involved vehicle position tests, loose surfaces, insane gradients and towering ramps. Really good fun, and a 6th place to boot.

Land Rover Defender

Overall, a stunning day. I really hurt for the following 48 hours – chest, back and shoulder pains which reminded me that while I didn’t really notice at the time, I had subjected my ageing frame to considerable forces. I’m very happy that I learned plenty more about driving, and about various vehicles that I would not normally have the chance to sample. I loved the Caterhams, but they’re not something I’m hardcore enough to own. I was disappointed by the 911, hated the XKR, enjoyed the Clio and really would quite fancy a proper 4×4. I can’t express enough thanks to my wonderful wife for not only making this happen, but so diligently documenting proceedings with the camera.

Despite my varied results, I came 6th overall – perhaps a sign that if nothing else, I’m more consistent than most.

The best thing about it though? It reminded me how much I love the M5. With the exception of the off-road challenge and the karting, I could have done all the other events in the M5, and I strongly suspect I would have done better in most. It’s an exceptional car – the super saloon indeed.

Wyedean forest rally

I’ve had a brilliant day out yesterday with friends Robin and Alex, spectating at the Wyedean Forest Rally. We were up at the crack of dawn to get to the Welsh border at a reasonable time. It was a really thick frost – opening the car’s doors at 6am reminded me of the time machine in Back to the Future! The electric windows didn’t start to work until we were passing Swindon and there was still frozen ice on the roof when we eventually arrived in a rather snowy car park.

330d in spectator car park

Maneuvering the car around that car park was hilarious. Needless to say we quickly became stuck in a trough where it was necessary to climb a hill to either get out or get in to a parking space. With wide summer tyres and rear wheel drive it looked for a few moments as though we’d never even manage to leave, let along park and get to see any rally action. Lateral thinking came to the rescue: Robin and Alex sat in the boot, and with the extra tonnage over the rear axle we were able to easily drive up the hill and park neatly. Result!

We arrived at special stage three well before the first cars ran. It was covered in snow and ice – the organisers were doing their best to get it cleared.

JCB clearing the course

We took our time wandering along the track, soaking up the scenery and deciding where the best place would be to see the most action. The Wyedean forest looked stunning as the sun lit the winter landscape.

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Before long the first of the special cars was out. Just look at how icy it was!

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This was a strange looking chariot:

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There were some larger than normal intervals between the cars. We don’t know why but it would make sense that there were many crashes and difficulties getting to the start point; even the public roads were treacherous! Robin went for a brief skate up the track to warm himself.

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The specials were mainly Novas and Rovers, so with all due respect to the rally juniors, I didn’t take many photos. Robin was a little nonplussed.

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There were some cars we liked though, like this little 106 romping along.

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This MkII was fantastic, permanently oversteering all the way, even on the straights! I wish I had videoed him.

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After the specials had run (those with numbers starting with a ‘2’), the vintage class came out (numbers starting with a ‘3’). Some real heroes here! Let’s start with an Opel that was beautifully steering from the rear:

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A classic 60’s Volvo doing the same:

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Lovely MkI Escort:

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This Saab was FWD, yet managed to oversteer in front of us into a bit of a ditch. We were on hand to assist, but he managed to do most the work himself and get on his way.

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At least I think that’s a Saab. In any case, we’d found a nice icy corner, and after a spot of lunch we were ready to see the rally proper. The fastest cars sound like dragons in the forest. Where the earlier cars has tip-toed their way across the ice, the four wheel drive monsters just dug in, tore up the surface and charged on. In the next sequence of photos, look how quickly the surface changes from ice to ploughed mud.

Car one, Andy Burton, in his Peugeot Cosworth. Andy suffered a horrible accident at the Wyedean last time we saw it in the snow (2007), so I was pleased to once again see him at full attack.

Andy Burton

Andy won last year, but that wasn’t to be the case this year – he finished third. First place went to car 5, Nik Elsmore. He was really shifting!

Nik Elsmore

Nik Elsmore

As you can imagine, I took hundreds of photos, and I won’t put them all in this post; instead I’ll put them on a web page and link to them all at the end. Here are a few choice pictures to whet your appetite from throughout the day.

Focus

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Impreza spray

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Overall, an excellent day out. I’m pleased I finally managed to drag Robin to a decent British rally event – something he is unlikely to see often as he is emigrating to California in two weeks.

Want to see more? Here are all of my pictures from the day. If you would like a high resolution version of a particular image, please get in touch.

WRC GB – Wales

Yesterday Diane & I took the tractor to South Wales to catch some views of the World Rally Championship. We got very close to the action to say the least – here are Loeb and Sordo’s cars photographed from inside the 330d!

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And in fact, it would appear that Diane managed to photograph five times world rally champion Sebastian Loeb relieving himself before the stage.

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It was very cold and had we planned our day better we’d have got to see a bit more action, but it was absolutely worthwhile for the experience. Seeing the leaders flying over jumps was just awesome.

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The 330d made itself an excellent tool for the job – but more of that in another post. :)

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