On the road with Simon Arron

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Northern Lights

Croft, August 8-9: wall-to-wall bygones… and chips washed down with curry sauce. The very definition of an idyll

It felt right from the moment you peeled past the security gate and into the car park. It was a fair trek to the media hut, but there was plenty to see en route and the paddock seemed to stretch most of the way to Wensleydale. Despite appearances, however, one or two entries were a little thin on the ground and you had to wonder why drivers seem averse to one of the land’s most challenging venues. Croft might be a long way from the populous south, but in reality it’s only Oulton Park-and-a-bit, and the HSCC traditionally draws a healthy number of cars to Cheshire.

The Croft Nostalgia Festival is now firmly established as an annual gathering of classic cars, aircraft and general militaria, an event that might draw a decent audience even without the racing. Some bits, though, seemed mildly surreal: during pauses between track activities, North Yorkshire’s natural tranquillity was frequently disturbed by the shrill sound of a George Formby tribute act.

Elsewhere, the busy paddock catering vans offered modern-day classics such as chips with curry sauce, although those with a palate for traditional northern delicacies could also order a smothering of gravy.

This being only my second visit to Croft, I determined to explore parts that were previously unseen – particularly the section at the back, immediately adjacent to sprawling farmland. This involved being attacked by the world’s most hostile midge collective, possibly attracted by a bright yellow media tabard, and negotiating a thistly copse (not a great idea when wearing shorts). The local marshals seemed amused by my route and pointed out their preferred choice: a nice, clear path around the back. It was worth a few scratches, mind, to observe the body language of Ford Mustangs and Hillman Imps as they skittered through the quick right-hander at Barcroft.

On Sunday afternoon, the race control tower was swamped by photographers – not because there was a sudden demand for images of the top three finishers in the ’70s Road Sports race, whose gongs were just then being awarded, but it seemed to be a good spot from which to capture Vulcan XH558 as it continued its farewell tour of the country.

This provided an elegant contrast to some of the frenetic racing below. The Formula Ford contests were particularly good, although the second had to be stopped after an accident that left the increasingly competitive James Hadfield with a broken leg. And the saloon car encounters had a bit of everything. Having been given a 10-place grid penalty prior to part one, for exceeding track limits, Tim Davies (Lotus Cortina) fought his way through to third and was then free to challenge winner Warren Briggs (Mustang) in race two. The pair engaged in a fierce, clean tussle that was settled in the Welshman’s favour after his rival missed second gear – a fleeting lapse, but enough to allow Davies to pounce. “I know I won yesterday,” Briggs said, “but this was a much better race.”

Absolutely the correct attitude, that.

Perfect long weekend?

Oulton Park, August 29-31: where else would you find a couple of giant-killers plus a Ford Corsair with numbers on its flanks?

It’s a touch alarming that this should be my sixth decade of attendance, especially as my brain seems fairly certain that I’m about 27, but I can’t recall ever previously having spent three consecutive days at Oulton Park. The correct term for this is probably ‘idiot’.

I mentioned 12 months ago that the HSCC’s Gold Cup meeting might benefit from a fresh showpiece for which the Gold Cup could justly be awarded – historic F1, perhaps, or a round of the HSCC’s excellent European F2 series – but the absence of such a thing seems not to deter the public. The track was almost as busy as the spectator banks, too, with 30-car saloon and Formula Junior grids, 35 Formula Fords and similar density in other disciplines.

Full fields are no guarantee of close racing, of course, but in this instance there was plenty.

Highlights included Mini driver Jon Milicevic beating the Cortinas and Mustangs in the first saloon race (held in the wet on Monday morning) and serial giant-killer Mark Charteris (Mallock U2) slaying his Derek Bell Trophy opposition in similar conditions. Charteris has a habit of hassling F2 and F5000 cars in the dry, so it was little surprise that he should trounce them all in the damp. Ray Mallock initially led the second DBT race in his own eponymous Clubmans car, but Charteris was catching and swept into the lead when Mallock pitted with a misfire.

Mark Dwyer (March 742) won the first race, which was stopped when veteran Ian Ashley flipped his Lola on the approach to Cascades – happily without injury. That was the only downside in an event featuring a 25-car infusion of F5000, F2, Formula Atlantic, Clubmans and F3 machinery. Earlier this year the BARC announced plans to create a new Formule Libre series, although a) it catered only for F3, Formula Renault and FBMW cars, so was really Formula Recent Cast-off and b) it didn’t actually come to pass. The DBT illustrates how things should be done.

Named in honour of long-time competitor Bob Trotter, who died in April, the ’70s Road Sports race proved to be a perfect tribute, with Charles Barter (Datsun 240Z) beating Jim Dean (Lotus Europa) by all of 0.089sec.

And finally, a note of appreciation for Alan Wheelwright. On a planet featuring more Lotus Cortinas than most of us remember racing in period, he has built a lovely Ford Corsair GT, a species I believe I’d previously seen only at banger stadia. Diversity is king.

King Edwardians

Mallory Park, August 22: the VSCC returns to one of its most appropriate theatres

Let’s deal with the important stuff first: the catering staff might have changed, but Mallory Park’s paddock breakfasts have not lost their zest. When I asked about current arrangements, I was told I could have one of everything for a fiver. I declined bacon and tomatoes in favour of secondary alternative portions and promptly had a pound deducted, even though I had just as much food as everybody else. Four quid for a fry-up and a cuppa, then: the café’s pricing policy has ever been a mystery, but there’s no faulting its produce.

That has long been a Mallory tradition – and I seem to be making a habit of frequenting the medical centre, too. On my previous visit it was triggered by a haemorrhaged left eye (which has since recovered): this time I simply stumbled after jumping from the barriers to cross the track between practice sessions. Figuring that Savlon and plasters are cheaper than photographic repairs, I held my cameras aloft and left significant chunks of knee on the apex at Devils Elbow. Marshals and medics were equal parts attentive, efficient and friendly, so I was soon back on duty (although tender kneecaps deterred me from attempting a Sunday trip to the Belgian GP, which I had hitherto been considering).

Between haute cuisine and mishaps, there was some wonderful action as the VSCC visited Mallory for the first time under the circuit’s new management. The Dick Baddiley & Edwardian Trophies event was a particular highlight, a 20-strong field of Edwardian racers rattling and thundering their way around the 1.3 miles. Tony Lees (1913 Vauxhall) posted fastest lap, at 71.22mph, but there’s much more to a spectacle than pure speed.