My Motoring Month



Mondeo shows its skills off the track

Spent a long weekend in a Ford Mondeo Estate, which you might think is one of the more unremarkable ways of passing such time. But not on this occasion. The weekend coincided with the Le Mans Classic, which I am ashamed to admit I’d not visited before. But having somewhat fortuitously found myself with a couple of drives, and having harboured a greater desire to race there than do anything else in a car, it was a chance not to be missed. So I duly loaded the Ford with all the weekend’s essentials and drove quietly and slowly to Le Mans, arriving just in time for both the old 911 and even older Bentley I was to be driving to be thrown out by the scrutineers.

But as Jaguar found out in 1953 when the C-types were also excluded on technicalities but later readmitted, patience and persistence can be rewarded in such circumstances, and by Friday practice we were back in, albeit racing the Porsche with a two-minute penalty for each of the three events it was going to do. Were we going to come anywhere, that would have been a trifle inconvenient.

In the end it was fun to start at the back, slice through the rear half of the field and return to the back of the grid once more. The only issue was that the Classic has six grids with races starting on roughly an hourly basis, and we were in grids one and four which, combined with the fact that you had to assemble an hour before your race, meant that sleep was something that happened to everyone else.

The races were fabulous, both cars running perfectly, and Le Mans transpired to be a circuit I hated on Friday, merely feared on Saturday and adored come Sunday. I had the honour of the last stint in the last race and, at its conclusion, I drove the Bentley (left) off the track, into the campsite to my waiting Ford and handed it back to its owner who, clearly deranged, then drove it to Austria, competed in the Ennstal Classic for three days and drove home.

My challenge was simpler: I just had to drive the Ford 550 miles back to the Wye Valley. But this was Sunday afternoon and the last time I’d got into bed was inadvisedly late on Friday night.

This is when certain cars show the quality of their design, not by going fast or cornering hard, but keeping an exhausted driver awake and alert. It’s about ride and refinement, ergonomics, throttle response, visibility, air-conditioning and seat quality. Only when I saw a non-existent man waving an oil flag at me did I think it might be time to stop, but by then I was cruising up to the tunnel and a crucial 40 minutes sleep. In the end I did 1500 miles in four days in the Mondeo. Ever since 1993, when it replaced the Sierra and started the transformation of Ford’s reputation in Europe, the Mondeo has been a consistent over-achiever, but rarely more so than now.

The dangers of driving too slowly…

Last week I was first a witness to and then a victim of a rather mild but nonetheless fascinating form of road rage. I found myself in a queue of traffic on a road I know well. At the head of this queue was a car, later identified as an Astra, being driven at 25mph. This is a road so wide and open that when it is clear, driving at the national speed limit requires saintly restraint.

Slowly cars struggled by the ambling Astra and, as each one did, so every single one pressed long and loud on their horns as a sign of their discontent. Or so I thought until, as I neared said Astra myself, it occurred to me that every horn sounded remarkably similar. In fact the car making all the noise was the Astra. And that wasn’t all. As I slunk past to receive my dressing down I looked in the mirror to see it came accompanied by gestures suggesting I spent too much time enjoying my own company.

It was, of course, a chance encounter with a random nutter, but it did make me wonder why no one ever suggests that driving too slowly can be dangerous as well. Rightly or wrongly, but certainly understandably, tensions build up in drivers impeded by those unable or unwilling to drive at even half the speed the law allows; ill-advised overtaking manoeuvres result, not all of which have happy endings.

Of course some will see what I say as an attack on law-abiding drivers, many of whom are elderly and depend on their cars as their only means of transport. But I’m not suggesting such people should be taken off the road, merely that they be encouraged to look in their mirrors once in a while and, if they see a queue of fuming traffic built up behind them, pull over to the side of the road and let them past. Until then I shall continue to be reminded of one of Jasper Carrott’s more memorable quotes: “She’d been driving for 40 years and never had an accident. Seen thousands though…”