On the road with... Simon Arron
Back in the old routine
Mallory Park, July 22: a cheap fried breakfast can mean only one thing…
The programme cover bears the motto “Revival Meeting”, but that’s probably overstating the case. It feels more as though Mallory Park has slightly overslept after missing an alarm call and is rubbing its eyes as it prepares to host its first – and only – car meeting of 2014. The motorcycle community, of course, had been thundering around since earlier in the season.
Following the noise row that almost silenced it permanently, Mallory’s salvation came too late to allow its inclusion in this year’s mainstream national racing schedules. Even so, the Classic Sports Car Club was able to stitch together a programme including three Special Saloon/Modsports races, plus non-championship fare for Monopostos, Caterham Sevens (plus derivatives) and a pleasingly diverse amalgam of sports and saloon cars – 10 events, all told.
First, though, there can be but a singular destination: Mallory might be under new management, but the canteen retains its long-standing staff and the calibre of its breakfasts remains untarnished, ditto their value.
It’s a low-key meeting in the overall scheme of things, but you can sense the anticipation. It’s hazy and cool first thing, but there’s a nice warm glow around the paddock and everywhere you stroll you can hear drivers relishing the imminent reawakening of a great British motor racing staple.
As you can read elsewhere, in Gordon Cruickshank’s technical appraisal of the reborn Special Saloon & Modsports movement, Mallory attracted a packed 31-strong field. Reliability of the species was never particularly strong in period – and remains a potential weak point – but 30 cars started the first race, 23 the second and 16 the third. Mark Ticehurst won all three in his Porsche 935, but his domination didn’t dilute the spectacle. We’ve become used to one-make everything in this day and age, so it’s refreshing to see knots of cars including Jaguar XJ12 and Hillman Imp or Lotus Elan and Ford Anglia. And given the regulatory breadth, nothing looks much like anything else – not even when cloaked in ostensibly the same body.
As a foretaste of things to come, the paddock also contained several non-competing cars that might soon join the fray. One is a slightly longer-term prospect, the ex-Robin Marquand Renault 5-Chevrolet V8 hillclimb car recently discovered in a London lock-up. On the day, V8 racing entrepreneur Bernie Chodosh and colleague Richard Wos were trying to lure a buyer. “It starts, runs and has great oil pressure,” Chodosh said, “but it does need a little work.” Even when tatty, though, it looked fantastic.
Elsewhere in the paddock, a completed project was about to return to action in one of the general sports and saloon races. Josh Sadler, boss of Porsche specialist Autofarm, acquired a factory 911S prototype – chassis 12 – in 1978, but it was in poor condition after an accident and was soon dismantled. About seven years ago, though, the decision was taken to resurrect it. “We’ve tried to keep it as close as possible to the way it was,” Sadler says. “It’s suitable for club racing and events such as Tour Britannia – I’m looking at it as a bit of versatile fun. I’m not going to pretend it is all original, but we took it apart so I felt we had the right to put it back together.”
He’d chosen absolutely the perfect occasion for such a relaunch.
Better late than never
Croft, August 2: now only Pembrey remains unconquered
The emotions are mixed, heading from Kent to North Yorkshire in the early hours of a Saturday morning. Eastern Britain is bathed in serene tranquillity, but also littered with discarded Little Chefs, boarded up and beyond repair when they should be serving the itinerant. The good news, though, is that I’m finally en route to Croft – one of only two active UK mainland circuits that had hitherto escaped me.
I had planned to attend in 1981, when its forthcoming closure was announced, but didn’t have my own car and was unable to get there before the fateful day. Rallycross continued while the race circuit lay dormant, but it was pleasing to see the latter revived and upgraded during the 1990s… although there is still no rational explanation for my subsequent absence.
Conditions weren’t ideal for the opening day of the HSCC-run Nostalgia Weekend, with feeble, flickering sunshine bullied by sullen skies and one torrential downpour triggering a brief suspension of racing (and overnight postponement of the Classic Clubmans race).
That didn’t detract from first impressions of a venue that has made no attempt to mask its airfield origins – and indeed celebrates them during a weekend such as this. There are great vantage points around the circuit – some of the spectator banks offer better photographic opportunities than the trademark trackside trench – and the paddock is a pleasing blend of sprawl and clutter, which is exactly how things should be. Mini drivers Roger Godfrey and Pete Morgan demolish the Cortina and Mustang opposition in the wet – and Chris Glaister is a joy to behold in his Ford Anglia 100E, putting it sideways as he glides through Hawthorn and maintaining the same angle of attack almost all the way to the chicane.
At one point, in the assembly area, I hear a muffled voice from somewhere within the cockpit of a Chevron B8. “I see the only man with media passes for F1 and Mallory Park has also obtained one for Croft,” says Hugh Colman.
True enough, but it had taken quite a while…
VSCC Concentration Run, August 4: co-driving a world-class co-driver
"There’s a train from Waterloo at 7.53am, arriving in West Byfleet at 8.21. I’ll see you there…”
You’d expect nothing other than precision from Fred Gallagher, winning co-driver on five world championship rallies and FIA cross-country world champion in 1997, alongside Ari Vatanen. Today, though, I’ll be navigating him as the VSCC commences its 80th anniversary with a Concentration Run leading from various points to the East of England Showground, near Peterborough.
We’re due to begin from Brooklands, if we can get there…
“I sometimes leave the keys in the ignition,” says Fred, “because I’m not sure many people know how to start a 1939 Lancia Aprilia.” He completes some finger gymnastics, actuates a few buttons and levers and… nothing. Turns out the brake lights have been sticking on, which has a deleterious effect on the battery, but with a helping push we’re under way in time to grab a pre-start coffee.
On paper the details sound unpromising – commuter-belt Surrey to the Cambridgeshire equivalent, via the west of London – but the VSCC has concocted an improbably delightful route that features more trees than traffic. We cross over many a main artery (and the Thames, several times), but rarely set a wheel anywhere near one.
The only slight knot occurs close to Berkhamsted High Street, where roadworks block the route and lead us to plot by instinct. By chance, we happen upon the glorious Ashridge Estate – previously unknown to either of us, and a pastoral idyll that looks more like upstate New York than rural Bedfordshire – then edge gently back towards the prescribed course.
I have very little experience of pre-war cars, but the Aprilia seems remarkably advanced – and stylish – for something 75 years old: four-speed transmission, adjustable damping, effortless absorption of 21st century obstacles (speed cushions, mainly), brisk enough to keep pace with modern traffic and sufficiently quiet to permit civilised conversation.
As the journey draws towards its conclusion, we pause for fuel in the village of Sawtry and spot a BriSCA F2 stock car on the garage forecourt. Our pump attendant (yes, they exist still) reveals that it belongs to her son. That would be Allen Cooper, whose credits also include winning the Reliant Robin banger world title. His mum goes on to reveal that her pride and joy is a 1937 MG TA.
It’s a delightful note on which to wind down a trip that proves motoring events don’t always have to be fast to be fun.