Welcome to a fusion of thermal underwear, woolly hats, rainproof jackets, Gore-Tex boots, soup flasks and M&S pork pies…
5 Nations British Rallycross Championship
Lydden Hill, December 5
One of the highest points in Kent, accessed via the A249, Detling Hill is prone to lashings of snow and looks partially, pleasantly white on this fine, crisp morning: clear skies and a powerful cabin heater are persuasive reasons to lower the roof of your 10-year-old Peugeot 207 CC, even if the dashboard is flashing a warning that the external temperature has yet to reach the lofty heights of zero.
Mornings such as this surely justify the cabriolet’s invention?
Conditions are reminiscent in some ways of a rallycross event at Longridge (RIP) on New Year’s Day 1977, except that back then I was slightly too young to possess a driving licence. When the meeting was abandoned late in the morning, as snowfall became ever denser, my mate Phil and I had to do our best to find shelter for several hours while awaiting parental collection. There were no mobiles back then – and Longridge wasn’t sufficiently developed to possess anything as sophisticated as a phone box (or if it did, we didn’t know where to find it).
You try telling that to the kids of today…
Originally, the 5 Nations BRX had been set to embrace England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Holland, but that was before pandemic pandemonium set in. One by one the rounds were postponed or cancelled until it distilled down to a 1 Nation BRX, with all qualifying rounds at Lydden Hill. The last of those was supposed to have taken place in January 2021, before that too was eventually scrapped.
This, then, would be the opening element of a two-day finale – the second and third championship rounds, in effect – although nobody knew as much at the time.
That week’s legislation forbade the presence of paying spectators, but the venue felt busy enough – thanks to a sizeable entry. And while it had never been intended that the series should run this late into the year, winter feels very much like rallycross’s natural stage; they just need to add a bit more mud to certain sections of Lydden Hill for the sake of bygone authenticity.
Motorcycle road-racing star John McGuinness was trying a supercar competitively for the first time, but driveshaft failure pitched him off the road and into a roll early in the day. Predictably, this didn’t deter him in the slightest.
Those of a certain age still go dewy-eyed when thinking back to the natural vim of Minis (lower-case variety), Ford Escorts and VW Beetles that brought rallycross to televised life in the 1970s. Their modern counterparts might be infinitely more efficient, but when well driven they are still thrilling to behold. Liam Doran’s Audi S1 is a case in point. The son of venue owner Pat doesn’t so much drive around the circuit as hammer it into submission, an approach that netted victory in Saturday’s floodlit finale and a result he repeated the following afternoon.
Mark Donnelly (Citroën DS3) came away from the weekend with his points lead intact – and on December 29 would be confirmed as champion, without having had to complete another lap. A sawn-off campaign, yes, but better than no season at all.
As a footnote, Lydden’s very fine paddock café comes into its own on days as chilly as this: chips and mayonnaise have rarely, if ever, tasted finer.
750 Motor Club
Donington Park, December 12
In 50-odd years of loitering at racing circuits, this was the latest I had done so for a conventional clubbie (a label that can’t really be applied to the traditional Boxing Day meetings at Mallory, for which grid positions are determined by the order in which entries arrive).
The mood was set before daybreak, as the M1’s early-morning freight traffic mingled with a plethora of racing cars on open trailers – silhouettes of the 750MC’s very essence. It’s fairly typical that I should arrive at Donington Park circa 8am, but never before had I done so when it was still pitch dark. The backdrop seemed strange, but the cheerful paddock banter sounded wholly familiar.
As at Lydden a week earlier, this was to be another event run behind closed doors, with access limited to competitors, officials and a sprinkling of media. The only real light in the paddock emanated from Garage 39, the spruce dining facility that features one of Justin Wilson’s old Champ Car Lolas as a poignant centrepiece.
Sausage bap and a black coffee, please.
The first practice session began on time, at 9am (a good job Renault Clios have headlights), and set in motion a very fine day of racing notable for some extraordinarily strong grids given that Christmas was only a couple of weeks distant: 35 cars for the combined Hot Hatch Championship & Type R Trophy event, 39 for the Tegiwa Club Enduro – testament to the 750MC’s enduring ability to provide racing that is relatively accessible.
There weren’t quite so many Clios – and their number was reduced further when Oliver Waind rolled at McLeans in the opening race, though he finished up sufficiently far into the gravel that, for once, the safety car wasn’t scrambled.
Race of the day was probably the second BMW Car Club tussle, in which M3 drivers Michael Pensavalle and Paul Cook were separated by only 0.153s after 15 laps
It was a pleasing way to end a peculiar year, one that had been weird for all and was in my case also beset by an unexpected personal tragedy (On The Road, August). Throughout, motor racing in all its forms had remained a comforting distraction.
What happens next?
Who knows? The Heavy Metal Classic – a banger racing staple at Standlake Arena – has already been postponed and, as previously mentioned, the 2021 round of the 2020 5 Nations BRX has been abandoned completely.
This column will return just as soon as there is a road upon which we are allowed to travel.