The worst part of the BARC sprint meeting at Goodwood was that all the way round the circuit I could feel Jackie Stewart on my shoulder like Long John Silver’s parrot, trilling: “Och, no no no no no…” Looking back, there wasn’t much that was right but it was a lot of fun. Like most things that aren’t right. It was like Jackie’s Grand Prix Mechanics’ clay pigeon shooting weekends at Gleneagles. An expert would show you how to do it and you went out and did it your way. You hit one and you had no idea why. You missed the next one and you had no idea why.
Harry Calton in Ford Public Affairs was to blame for it all. In April or sometime early in the year he had suggested that Maurice Hamilton and I might like to try our hands at a sprint in August. I didn’t like to ask what a sprint was and since August might as well be Christmas when it’s mentioned in April, we said yes. Stuart McCrudden runs the Escort RS2000 Rallye Sport Series for Ford and makes cars available for £18,000, including the safety and speed package. Competitors then take part in a championship made up of three races, three rallies, three sprints, three hillclimbs, three autotests and an economy run.
Some of them take it enormously seriously, other have seriously good time playing racers. Our competition as non-combat F1 scribes was obviously going to be each other. As an early piece of gamemanship I arranged to borrow an RS2000 to get the feel of it, assuming that it would be a standard, road-going RS2000. But when I arrived home, there was a full-race silver number in the drive, decalled, rollcaged, the whole bit. Our race car, no less! This bit of hoodwinking Hamilton proved nothing, except that it all seemed rather more serious than I had imagined. Over the undulations of Ranmore Common it spent more time in the air than on the road. It was popular at the Barley Mow, though. One pub wag suggested that it would be fine in winter. Why? “Because the pipes are lagged!” The bottom rail of the roll cage over which you had to fall to get into the seat, was wrapped in sponge rubber…
McCrudden ‘phones to ask if we might be free the Friday before the sprint. I cautiously ask why. Testing, he says. Testing! And I thought we were skiving off for an afternoon at glorious Goodwood thrashing Mr Ford’s motor car. Testing…
Autosport F1 reporter Nigel Roebuck fell about, hooting with laughter. “Testing! You’re not turning into some sort of Riccardo Patrese racedriver, are you? What are you doing Friday? Testing! Good God, I never thought I’d see the day…”
Peter Gethin runs a performance driving school at Goodwood and it was suggested that we go for a drive with instructor Chas Caffyn in one of the school’s Honda Civics. It was pretty soon apparent that Chas was going faster four-up in the Civic than Maurice and I were going to be on our own in the RS2000. He had the enormous advantage that he knew where he was going, but we were able to enjoy the fact that there were marker cones to show apexes and signs telling you when to brake. A piece of cake. Not a very large piece, admittedly, but reassuring. Sunday and the cones and brake markers were gone. Someone had torn up the instructions. We were in trouble. But if we were in trouble so were the others who turned up to race their RS2000s, because they had only one flying lap of practice and Maurice and I had had an hour each “testing”. Much good it did us.
I suppose I would have to confess that the best bit of race day was wearing a racer’s uniform, although after nine house at Goodwood for five minutes of track time, even being dressed like a racer tended to pall. Can it really be like that for Nigel Mansell? No wonder he gets touchy.
I couldn’t believe how busy it was in the cockpit and how boring it looked from the outside. It certainly felt fast, hanging on to the edge of control, but the cars are so quiet on the outside that they don’t look or sound exciting. I always seemed to arrive at the famous Goodwood chicane faster than I had intended and I was braking, grabbing something lower than I was in by way of gears, and scrambling through in a thunderous slide and screaming engine. Must watch Maurice through there, I thought. He looked as though he was going shopping. He told me I did too.
Practice had been one standing lap, one flying lap and a slowing-down lap. And that was it. The sprint was just one standing lap, cross the finish beam and on the brakes. Thank goodness for Friday, but Friday had been to flatter because we had been pounding round and the tyres were well up to temperature. Excuse this slight lapse into the technical here, but even hot Escort tyres make a huge difference as we discovered when the sun hid on sprint day, there was a chill wind across the airfield circuit and the car was a different animal, sliding front end, back end and they’d taken away our reference cones.
I asked the Ford preparation whizz, Paul “Chippy” Wilson (Chippy for the things he can do to Cosworths with a computer chip) what the form was for starting. “Six thousand and dump the clutch,” he advised. So I did. McCrudden said I’d been awarded the Bridgstone award for most smoke off the line.
Qualifying was great. Best part of the day in fact. It was a mishmash of what I thought I could remember of what Chas Caffyn had told us, and where I thought I could remember the marker cones had been. 112.33sec. Faster than Maurice by 4.5sec. Excellent! Obviously I have an aptitude that I had previously imagined was lacking. This is pride preceding falling.
I pretend to commiserate with Maurice. Maurice is hard to find. Then I was helmet-on and being clamped into the six-point harness and lined up waiting for the green light to flash. If I was that quick in qualifying, this time I’d really give it some stick. There was a corner or two that didn’t seem to be in quite the same place as I’d remembered from previous laps. Basically I was battling a medley of what I imagined to be the right lines and apexes and an armful of missed and wrong-slotted gears. I was five seconds slower and the Jackie Stewart parrot had been doing overtime. My time was 117.15sec. Maurice did 115.47sec.
Now he wants to talk about ‘Which gear are you in at St Marys?’ and ‘How fast are you going through the left-hand kink and how many revs are you getting?’. We decide we must be talking about two totally different circuits and I sink into the desolation of five missing seconds. The five I’ve lost are far worse than the five I thought I had over Maurice. No wonder Formula 1 stars are like bears with a sore head on race weekends. This stuff is mind damaging. You don’t know you’ve got an ego until it gets dented.
Up front there was a tussle for the lead between Tony Dron and Ian Gwynne, who were only 12sec faster than us. Dron offered us a circuit consultation between runs. We told him to sod off, as politely as we could manage. Never mind the professional pothunters, we were supposed to be enjoying ourselves and it was being all very difficult.
When I first looked at the entry list there was line of names I’ve never seen before, but I singled out Lucy Pope in my best Male Chauvinist Pig manner. At least I could beat a mere girl. Lucy turned out to be quick. Well, quicker than us by a smidgeon, but for an MCP that was a smidgeon too quick!
On the second run I decided that having advanced backwards from my qualifying time I should pay some heed to the Stewart parrot and I cooled-it, abandoned the heroics and hanging on to tippy-toe tail-out slides and smoothed my way round the lap, somehow knowing I was quicker and furious that the parrot would be saying “Y,see, Eoin, I’ve always told you that zzzzz…” The lap is 115.76sec. Maurice goes out again and does 117.40sec. All of this seems to prove that we are bad as each other. When the final timesheet comes out he is 16th and I am 18th, just 0.29sec apart. It seems like a chasm. I think I’ll stick to writing about it and let the Maurices and Mansells of this world stick their necks out. E S Y