Circuit breaker

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Four days of competition on circuits and rally stages around Britain looked tempting but there was a sting in the tail…

Words: Franca Davenport

A different race circuit every day is not a bad diet for any classic car enthusiast. Add to that rally stages, a hillclimb and scenic road sections and you have a four-day banquet of motoring sport.

Running now for its second year, Tour Britannia offers both a competitive and a touring-regularity category for classic cars. Myself and fellow journalist Martin Sharp were to take part in the regularity event, run in honour of the late great rally journalist David Williams who was a very dear friend of both Martin and event organiser Fred Gallagher. Our steed was to be Fred’s own Porsche 356B Super 90.

Each morning the event set off from Coombe Abbey, a majestic gothic hotel outside Coventry. The first day started with a stage at Cholmondeley Castle en route to Oulton Park. As with most stages this was run twice, so on the second attempt the regularity competitors could try to nail the average speed on the head while those in the competitive category could shave seconds off their original time.

At Oulton Park the aim of the regularity contestants was to replicate lap times — a testing exercise requiring restraint from the driver and rapid use of a stopwatch and mental arithmetic for the co-driver. Over lunch we watched the competitive group following their natural instincts for speed in an eight-lap race.

Next, the regularity contestants attempted their major test — a six-mile stage on open roads with two secret checks to measure average speed. We were a little on the fast side in the 356B. However, an intuitive wrong slot by yours truly put us back on a good time and moved us to third. Resting on our rather fortuitous laurels, we then blew a few points in celebration by blasting up the hill climb at Loton Park — twice.

On the second day we lapped Donington Park before moving onto an excellent three-mile stage on military land at Swynnerton. Following a stage at the Curborough sprint track we headed to Arbury Hall. Unfortunately it was on this road section that our 356B developed a problem with the steering on a sharp left-hander. Unable to do the final stage, we had the car trailered back to the night halt. The problem was diagnosed as a loose steering column pinch bolt and, once tightened, we were set to continue the next day.

The morning featured a magnificent road section, taking us through Leicestershire villages and onto a short stage at Belvoir Castle before heading across the Lincolnshire fens. Our circuit of the day was Cadwell Park which proved a favourite among the drivers. However, it was at here that the 356B had its final action. On our last lap smoke billowed from the exhaust — it appeared a piston was on its way out. For the second day the Porsche made its way back to Coombe Abbey on a trailer, whilst I jumped into the back of a fellow regularity competitor’s Bristol 401 for another stage at Belvoir. Now I was properly ‘on tour’.

On the final day we revisited Arbury Hall for a stage before heading onto Mallory Park. At this point I was still in the Bristol but thought it best to spectate for the final race. This meant I didn’t get my full dose of circuits, but it was fully compensated by the food, company and camaraderie that surrounded the event.

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