Chills and thrills – On The Road, November 2021

Club Racing News

The international motor sport scene might be drawing to close, but there was still plenty of racing to be seen up and down the UK

Minis at Brands Hatch 2021

Nothing says "traditional winter clubbie" like a full grid of Minis at Brands Hatch

Simon Arron

Historic Sports Car Club

Silverstone, November 6-7

If Silverstone Grey is not yet registered as an official colour, it should be. At certain times of the year – and this was one such – the sky has a particular shade I have always associated with Silverstone… and it is usually accompanied by a strong, horizontal wind.

If there is such a thing as historically accurate weather, Silverstone has it in abundance.

Max Esterson Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone 2021

Max Esterson leads en route to the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone

Simon Arron

The entry for the 2021 Walter Hayes Trophy was similar in number to the previous weekend’s excellent Formula Ford Festival – and produced racing of parallel ferocity. Intriguing cameos included appearances by former FF1600 champions Kelvin Burt and Warren Hughes, driving Van Diemen RF80 (the car raced by Roberto Moreno at Brands Hatch the previous weekend) and Royale RP26 respectively. The chassis were built and run by Jonathan Lewis, who also looked after both of them when their careers were at a formative stage.

They didn’t contest the main event – “There didn’t seem much point risking the cars when we’d be fighting for about 20th,” Hughes said – but focused on the Pre ’82 division. Burt was sidelined after becoming involved in somebody else’s accident during the preliminary heat, but Hughes took fifth in the final after a lively tussle with the evergreen Rick Morris. Samuel Harrison won that race for Classic Team Merlyn.

After a stirring drive to second in the Formula Ford Festival, Team USA Scholarship Max Esterson went one better at the WHT, fending off a pedigree swarm that included Oliver White, Ben Mitchell, Chris Middlehurst and Josh Fisher; after 15 laps, less than a second covered the top five.

Phil Barak’s wild-looking Lotus XI replica

Phil Barak’s “wild-looking Lotus XI replica”

Simon Arron

The only disappointing element of the weekend was a 45-minute lull preceding the finale, while officials considered protests and counter-protests relating to incidents during the semi-finals. On short winter days, the judicial process needs to be ruthlessly streamlined. Esterson’s moment of triumph should have taken place in glorious seasonal sunshine, but cars weren’t released from the assembly area – to ironic cheers from the busy BRDC grandstand – until darkness was fast descending. It was something of a contrast to the previous day, when racing ended 45 minutes ahead of schedule (and allowed me to keep track of Altrincham’s progress against Gateshead in the first round of the FA Cup, though having recovered from a two-goal deficit they went on to lose the replay).

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The balance of the programme comprised a poorly supported one-hour enduro for production cars (eight of them, in five separate classes), monoposto (delayed when a car caught fire on the grid and led to the circuit being smeared with assorted fluids) and a couple of what were essentially Formula Libre races for sports and saloon cars.

The first of these attracted a decent field featuring everything from Tony Hunter’s winning Renault Clio via a brace of Davrians to an MG Maestro and octogenarian Phil Barak’s wild-looking Lotus XI replica, which finished second.

Respected photographer Jakob Ebrey also took part and secured a class-winning fifth in his Porsche 944. “I’ll take that,” he said afterwards. “The cars that beat me were all on slicks, but I’ll be able to drive mine home exactly as it is.”

Motor racing as it used to be…

 

British Automobile Racing Club

Brands Hatch, November 14

A tripod is ever-essential at Britcar’s Into the Night event – now an annual staple – but conditions were so dark that I wondered whether I might need to unpack it before lunchtime. It didn’t help that a couple of friends kept messaging me from the Race of Remembrance, to let me know Anglesey was bathed in sunshine and that Snowdonia looked gorgeous…

Night

Brands Hatch looking fabulous at Britcar’s ‘Into the Night’ event

Simon Arron

For all that Britcar’s profile has grown in recent years, this still felt like a traditional winter clubbie in the manner of yore, the impression embellished by the presence of a full grid of original Minis. The overly frequent use of red flags served as a reminder, however, that this was the 21st century. I understand that safety is paramount, but stopping a session when a car is stranded adjacent to the Paddock Hill Bend tyre wall, well away from the track, does little to avert risk and serves only to frustrate. Interestingly, when time was starting to run short during the afternoon, a more pragmatic approach was taken when cars strayed deep into the gravel and racing continued.

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Shortly before the Britcar finale, Rod Birley scored his 700th race victory in a CMMC Super Saloon event bracketed by chaos. Cars were sent back from the assembly area to the paddock, to give drivers a chance to fit wets as a torrential downpour swept in, after which Birley seemed to have the race under control. Nick Sutton (Mitsubishi Lancer) then swept ahead of Birley’s Escort after a late safety car restart… but did so fractionally before the start line, when overtaking would once again be permitted. Birley thus crossed the line in second place, but was promoted once Sutton had been given a five-second impetuousness penalty.

The Britcar event catered only for cars in the Trophy category (slower than GT4) and, sadly, there weren’t really enough of them. The scale might have been reduced, but a fusion of sound and light is always worth watching.

 

Bangers & Rods

Standlake Arena, November 21

Bangers

Bangers at Standlake bring value-for-money entertainment like no other

Simon Arron

When I first moved to the London area early in the 1980s, it seemed inconceivable that it would ever be bereft of stock car venues. But…

Located 12 miles to the west of Oxford, Standlake is now one of the closest such tracks to the capital – a throwback to the days when action was everything and facilities were something of an afterthought (though the car of choice is nowadays more likely to be a Ford Focus than an Austin Cambridge). The past might have been grubby, but it was simultaneously glorious.

It was also absolutely freezing, the sparks from many an angle grinder providing absolutely no insulation.

I’d been to Standlake before to watch the Heavy Metal Classic, the equivalent of a major international in banger racing terms, but this was a comparatively low-key affair, with a small crowd and a blend of contact and (supposedly) non-contact formulae.

Nowadays, there aren’t many places where you can be royally entertained for 15 quid… but such things are still possible at Standlake and its ilk.