On the road with Simon Arron

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Flat, but not broken

Cholmondeley, June 10 & Oulton Park, June 11: Cheshire double-header highlights calendar congestion at its most extreme

“Is it my imagination or have things become a little flat?” I heard the question asked several times. This event began in 2008 as the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power (CPOP) and morphed this year into Cholmondeley Power and Speed (CPAS). It would be a gross exaggeration to suggest it should be renamed CRAP, but a little remedial work is required.

From humble beginnings, the CPOP soon developed its own character, with
a feature sprint through castle grounds supported by vintage scrambling, air displays, powerboat racing and much besides. There was some commercial support, from such as Bentley and Breitling, but this was purposely capped to make sure things didn’t become too corporate. The balance was perfect.

Competitive zest set Cholmondeley apart from events such as Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, with a few demonstration runs but most drivers and riders attacking the 1.16-mile course with maximum gusto. That, though, was less the case this time. There were pockets of spectacle – Niki Faulkner (Ariel Atom), Oliver Webb (BAC Mono), Duncan Cowper (Dax Rush), anybody on a supermoto – but they were fewer and much farther between than hitherto. The weekend had a supercar theme, but so pedestrian were some of those entered that they would best have been left as static exhibits. And science is powerless to explain how or why a Chevrolet 3600 truck qualified for the Pre-66 Sports Racing & Touring category…

There were some interesting entries, such as Tony Wallen’s ex-Carlos Pace Lotus 59, Pete Flanagan’s gorgeous Unipower GT, Nigel Garrett’s Toyota Supra (as raced by Barry Sheene in the 1985 British Saloon Car Championship) and Chris Williams’s customarily riotous aero-engined fleet, but a few significant former patrons (including Hall & Hall, The Donington Collection and Sinsheim Museum) are no longer involved.

It’s a wonderful venue – and still potentially a fabulous event – but without their ilk it has lost a little vim.

***

Plan A had been to spend a couple of days at Cholmondeley, but with the most interesting content being digestible in one I decamped instead to Oulton Park, 11 miles away, for a North Gloucestershire Road Racing Club motorcycle meeting.

The NGRRC is fairly prolific as a promoter of bike meetings across the land, but it was the second time this year that I’d attended an Oulton event organised by a regional motorcycle club (the first being run by the Wirral 100 MC, which has been involved with the circuit since October 1953).

It was a reminder that such events are all but extinct on four wheels. Time was that car meetings would be organised by the likes of Peterborough Motor Club, Romford Enthusiasts Car Club, Mid-Cheshire Motor Racing Club or Nottingham Sports Car Club. Until the mid-1980s, indeed, such names would pepper the season at Silverstone – and upon the triangular club circuit, too, still to my mind the finest layout ever to have graced the site. The profile might have been low, but the atmosphere was always good and you often saw cars that rarely competed elsewhere.

But no more. As the cost of circuit hire has risen, local clubs have all but vanished from car racing’s promotional landscape and their disappearance has buffed away a little bygone charm.

There is as yet no sign of the same thing happening with bikes. The NGRRC event clashed not only with Cholmondeley, but also with motorcycle meetings at Anglesey and Aintree – respectively 95 and 30 miles distant.

Despite this, the entry was rammed.

Rainbow warriors

Prescott, May 28 & Brands Hatch, May 29: You can pack a lot into a single weekend, but a Tardis would still be useful

The London end of the M40 was all but deserted, save for a spectacularly lime Lamborghini Miura filtering in from the left. It’s not every morning you see one of those, but about two hours later our paths would cross again as the Miura peeled into a classic car display within the Prescott paddock. Notionally this was a French weekend with subsidiary Italian – La Vie en Bleu incorporating La Vita Rosso – but it drew colours from across the spectrum.

There were no potential record-breakers in action, just a range of lovely cars – many of them neither French nor Italian. Barely had the day begun than the red flag flew to signal the end of Terry Drinkwater’s participation, his hitherto pristine MGA sustaining a bent corner following loud contact with the Esses tyre wall. In terms of volume, though, nothing could compete with Duncan Pittaway’s Fiat S76. From the top of the hill, the Beast of Turin could be heard as it fired up at the bottom – and it might well have been audible in Cheltenham. You wondered whether the S76 would have sufficient steering lock to negotiate the tight Pardon Hairpin, but it completed the course successfully – if a touch steadily.

Following two practice runs, competitors were restricted to just one against the clock after the timing system failed and caused a lengthy delay, which seemed not to temper the mood. Most people just shrugged and descended to the paddock to admire the cast and/or queue for an ice cream.

Parked away from the central area, Chris Williams’s correctly blue Renault 4CV was the most defiantly French car in the paddock. Originally built for hillclimbs in the 1960s, it runs on Alpine A110-style Gotti wheels, is powered by a 12 Gordini engine and is a vision of period loveliness.

Had it been the only car present, the trip would have been worthwhile.

***

It might have been nice to stay for a second day at Prescott, but there were simultaneous attractions at Crystal Palace and Brands Hatch, not to mention a British GT weekend at Oulton Park, or the Monaco Grand Prix. The draw of 20-odd F1 cars on the Brands Hatch GP circuit trumps most things, though…

With noise considerations preventing any racing before 10am on Sundays, there was a pre-race pit walkabout – the kind of thing that used to be a staple at contemporary F1 races, until it became the preserve only of a gilt-ticketed minority. Having caught an overnight coach from Manchester to Kent, I took part in such an exercise at the 1979 Race of Champions and it’s very striking that historic racing pits now look much more sophisticated than their F1 counterparts ever did in period.

It was a fairly typical Masters Historic meeting, with glorious diversity and races that lasted long enough to entertain drivers and punters – but not so long that they would test the cars’ endurance (not all of them, at least). Craig Davies (Ford Mustang) slithered to victory in a one-hour Pre-66 Touring Car race that initially featured a fierce, clean lead battle between several cars. Nick Padmore took his second Historic F1 success in as many days, in his first weekend aboard Max Smith-Hilliard’s Williams FW07C, and Mark Piercy/Martin Stretton (Lola T210) dominated the Masters Historic Sports Car event.

Standing out in the woods, it’s a treat to watch this stuff. The pits might be smarter than once they were, but parts of the circuit and many of the cars look largely as they did more than 30 years ago.

A transport of delight, then.

A for effort

Oulton Park, May 21: lots of 1950s tin-tops at a Vintage Sports-Car Club meeting? Strange, but true

It seems odd to stroll through a VSCC paddock and find it awash with Austin A35s, but such is our sport’s changing tapestry. The host club had made a couple of race slots available to the HRDC – and together they created a formidable cocktail.

The forecast had predicted ‘showers’, but Cheshire was at its most tropical during the late morning – and one could feel only sympathy for the Morgan Three-Wheeler crews who bore the brunt of the storm. Conditions subsequently perked up, however, and competition at the sharp end was firm but fair in the modern VSCC manner – all arms, elbows and handshakes. A couple of A35s tipped over during the day – bringing the tally to five at the two HRDC meetings I’ve thus far attended – but damage was limited to pride and panels. The racing was uniformly wonderful, ditto the cars’ body language when they were the correct way up.

Traditional VSCC staples such as ERAs (there were but two at Oulton) and Maserati 250Fs (none) nowadays tend to perform on loftier stages, but who needs straight sixes when the BMC A-series is in plentiful supply?

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