Fuel scams, level crossings and one of the UK’s freshest racing initiatives
Three round trips and another 970 miles covered in a 14-year-old Fiat… all worth it for some very fine breakfasts and even better racing.
The journey was bracketed by the greatest of contrasts. At its dawn, in Catford, I was asked to pay in advance for unleaded – a compulsory measure introduced through sheer exasperation. The cashier explained that, on average, more than 20 drivers per week had been refuelling without bothering thereafter to pass via the till.
Welcome to modern Britain.
A couple of hours onward, after an unimpeded run across some brisk, flowing A-roads, windows open to appreciate fragrant petrichor that signalled the temporary cessation of a heatwave, I queued awhile at Hubberts Bridge, to await reopening of a manually operated level crossing.
Welcome to 1965.
A pity that the passing locomotion was powered by diesel rather than steam, but it was a charming bygone and delayed my impending Cadwell Park fry-up by no more than a few minutes.
Another 25 miles yonder I peeled right to find another throwback. If ever you needed to explain the concept of club racing to an alien, you’d simply parachute them into the metallic tangle of a 750 Motor Club paddock (preferably one with a grass coating, of which Cadwell possesses a very fine example) and allow them to savour the ambience. In common with almost every organising body, the 750MC promotes its fair share of one-make racing but it is also blessed with some of our industry’s most creative Meccano – not least in the form of its eponymous 750 Formula.
In one part of the meadow, veteran Anthony Reid was preparing to drive a Spire in the RGB Sports 1000 Championship – happy still to be competing, 40-odd years after he first set foot in the sport. He’s no stranger to the 750MC, mind: he has raced in both the Stock Hatch and Historic 750F categories in the relatively recent past. Such are the hallmarks of a genuine enthusiast – and one who remains quick, too. Elsewhere, a couple of blokes were torquing the wheels of a diminutive 750F racer while chatting idly about Force India, freshly placed in administration in a wholly parallel racing universe.
Given the 30-degree temperatures that preceded the meeting, I’d left home in shorts but arrived in Lincolnshire to discover that a weatherproof Berghaus was more appropriate apparel. One of Cadwell’s great delights is its abundance of trees – no longer as close to the track’s fringe as once they were, but a fertile backdrop and still near enough to shed a stream of debris across the track on a day as blustery as this. Thanks are due to the ambulance crew at The Hairpin, for supplying an antiseptic wipe to clean up the consequences of a sizeable chunk of tumbling branch striking me on the temple…
It wasn’t the weather that provoked delays, however. One of the great joys of the 750MC has always been its ability to make optimal use of available time – but modern red-flag culture can derail tightly packed schedules, no matter how well structured. And so it came to pass, although the occasional silences permitted greater appreciation of the surrounding landscape, and its wildlife – a diverse range of butterflies, rabbits bounding through gaps in the tyre walls during stoppages and the very audible click of grasshoppers.
There really isn’t anywhere else quite like it.
I’d seen it reported on social media that the quality of Mallory Park’s breakfasts has diminished, but fear not. As far as I could taste, it seemed as good as always – and still decent value, at £6.50 including a cuppa. The local wasps seemed quite keen on it, too.
Away from matters culinary, the Vintage Sports-Car Club’s annual trip to the Kirkby Mallory suburbs is ever a delight. The track might be tight, but it is blessed with a couple of brisk sweeps that allow veterans to slide in the manner period technology intended. Perfectly suited, then, to the VSCC.
Although it was founded in October 1934, presumably as an antidote to dreary ‘modern’ cars, the VSCC hasn’t run out of ideas. Mallory innovations included a handicap race for drivers under 30 – there are already many who compete at such meetings, but this provided further encouragement – and an event for Austin 7 racers from both the VSCC and the 750MC, each represented by 12 drivers. It’s thought to have been the first designated A7-only race – an opportunity for drivers to compete against each other without being dwarfed by Talbots or Bentleys – and a positive reception means repetition is almost certain.
The only things missing were any ERAs, increasingly scarce at meetings that really should be their natural habitat, but a field of 17 Edwardian contraptions provided gloriously bonkers compensation.
Another column, another appearance for a circuit I’ve frequented once or twice – but on this occasion it’s a matter of happenstance rather than impartiality.
This was the first opportunity I’d had to experience the new-for-2018 TCR UK Championship, launched amid much fanfare (although its original media day had to be scrapped because insufficient cars turned up). And for all its professional veneer, it remains somewhat short of competitive depth. There are, though, encouraging signs.
Series newcomer Ash Sutton – a British Touring Car champion in his spare time – wiped the floor with his opposition. Guesting in Finlay Crocker’s Honda Civic, a car that hadn’t previously troubled the podium, he qualified on pole and twice disappeared into the distance – assisted partly by starting out with 40kg less ballast than series leader (and fellow BTCC racer) Dan Lloyd’s VW Golf, but mostly by the fact that he is, quite simply, a class act.
There was some close racing in an adjacent county, but only 11 cars lined up for the first race – and a sizeable accident on the second lap wiped out two of those for the balance of the day (triggering a 30-minute interlude to allow a stretch of flattened Armco to be repaired).
The cars look and sound the part, but they need twice as many.
Other points of note included a bad-tempered swan, which emerged from the small lake to the outside of Cascades (there is insufficient take-off room for large avians) and was hell-bent on walking across the track to rejoin its family on the main body of water beyond. Unfortunately, there was a VW Racing Cup contest in progress at the time, which meant marshals had to add cygnine defence to their usual repertoire, but a timely red flag allowed them to lower their guard and permit the swan free passage.
And the second National Formula Ford race was simply superb. Niall Murray had cantered to victory in the first, but subsequently selected third gear at the start and dropped down the pack – catalyst to a splendid recovery drive.
In the end he finished second, just 0.032sec behind Joey Foster after a race that featured almost as many positional swaps per lap as some championships experience in a season. The top seven were covered by less than 1.5sec – and the sight of well-driven FF1600 cars being hurled into Lodge Corner is surely as uplifting as any in the sport.
It was like 1976 all over again.