From Aintree to Zolder, he’s visited almost a complete A-Z of venues. Where next?
It still takes me by surprise almost every time I go. Snetterton used to be one of the least accessible circuits on the planet, unless you lived in Attleborough or East Harling. The endless stop-start chug through Leytonstone, a brief bit of respite on the northbound M11 and then endless, tractor-infused misery on the (mostly) single-lane A11. The journey’s only saving grace was a Little Chef, conveniently located by Snetterton’s main entrance. That has long since been bulldozed, but quicker roads compensate for the loss of an omelette breakfast (and in any case the circuit’s own café is a fine substitute).
The entry for July 8’s Aston Martin Owners Club meeting varied from appalling (there was some lovely machinery in the Innes Ireland Cup for pre-66 GTs, but seven cars spread out around a three-mile lap does not a spectacle make) to uplifting. The Equipe GTS series attracted 38 mostly wheel-waving entries (not all of them MGBs) and remains one of the most appealing inventions in modern racing, even though it isn’t even slightly modern (it, too, caters for pre-66 machinery, albeit with smaller engines).
Simon Cripps took pole for the latter in his stupendously quick B, but his 2min 23.702sec lap spoke volumes for the Snetterton 300 layout’s unsuitability for events such as this. When the safety car came out – almost inevitable during a 40-minute race, in an era when races tend to be neutralised almost as soon as somebody misses a gear – it took an age trying to harness a field of such magnitude and still hadn’t succeeded by the time racing resumed. When the VSCC returns to the venue in September, it will use the shorter 200 layout – and with good reason.
And then there was the MRL Historic Touring Car Challenge (for racing saloons that competed between 1966 and 1990), which means the original BMW M3 four-pot is now classified as an antique.
That can’t be right.
Time was that the rest of UK motor sport would all but shut down when the British Grand Prix was on – Lydden Hill played renegade by hosting minor events from time to time, but generally all would be quiet but for the rasp of V10s given free rein on converted roads around an airstrip formerly used by Wellington bombers.
But no longer.
This year’s alternatives included a Pembrey sprint, club meetings at Snetterton and Castle Combe, karting almost everywhere and two events featured here: Dragstalgia (Goodwood in a straight line, if you like), about 30 miles from Silverstone, and a British Motorcycle Racing Club event on what I still consider to be Britain’s finest Grand Prix circuit, even if it hasn’t hosted one for more than 30 years (clue: it’s in Kent).
As its appropriate moniker suggests, Dragstalgia caters for a bygone age, when tuning was done with screwdrivers and socket sets rather than laptops. A stroll through the paddock is like a tour through a 1972 edition of Custom Car – and is none the worse for that. For a better idea of the ambience, turn to Lyndon McNeil’s sumptuous photo documentary later in the magazine.
You would never have known that there was an FIA world championship event just half an hour away. The camping facilities at Santa Pod might not quite be on the same scale as those at Silverstone, but by 7.10 on Saturday morning they were at least as densely packed (even though the inevitability of rain meant there was unlikely to be much action in the short term, as indeed there wasn’t). It mattered not: if you couldn’t see the cars moving, they remained impressive to behold in the open paddock. And it was amusing to note bewilderment in the drag community about the fuss that had been made about Valtteri Bottas’s 0.201sec reaction time at the start of the Austrian Grand Prix – and whether that should have counted as an infraction. Such numbers are no big deal in drag racing (check out below the YouTube video of Jonathan Gray vs Erica Enders-Stevens at Pomona in 2014, when both recorded reaction times of 0.000sec… in the same race).
CLUB RACING SPOTLIGHT
Eddie Williams epitomises a new breed of VSCC racer
The timekeepers didn’t need a transponder to determine pole position for the VSCC’s Geoghegan Trophy at Cadwell Park in July. The body language of Charlie Gillett’s Frazer Nash (driven by Eddie Williams) told its own tale: he was 2.89sec clear of his rivals, prologue to a dominant display that brought the 28-year-old his first outright victory.
It was far removed from Williams’s race debut, also at Cadwell. “I was 17,” he says, “and turned up with my Austin 7 – a trials car that had a top speed of about 50mph. I finished solidly last.”
The son of David Williams, who founded restoration specialist The Austineers, Eddie was surrounded by cars from an early age. “I’m not sure I had enough drive to consider racing professionally,” he says, “and besides you need so much money just to start. I think I’m lucky to race these older cars – and they are probably at least as much fun, because they slide so much.”
His work – as an engineer at The Classic Motor Hub, Bibury – has created opportunities. “I’ve demonstrated a Delage V12 this year and drove Neil Dyer’s Maserati 250F at Chäteau Impney – the result of a chance conversation at Goodwood. Right time, right place.
“I’m lucky to work where I do – there are lots of cars around, they all need fixing and I get to drive them. I’ve learned pretty much all I know on the job, starting from Austin 7s. There are no training courses for cars like this –chain-drive Frazer Nash apprenticeships are few and far between…”