On The Road – May 2022

Club Racing News

From pre-'66 Ford Falcons to historic F1 cars and everything in between, Simon Arron has once again traversed the UK to bring you the best of the historic and club racing scene

Hewitson lodge

The art of balance: Alexander Hewitson guides his Austin-Healey 3000 through Lodge

Simon Arron

The British racing summer is now upon us, but the historic and club scene has already been in full flow for some time. Simon Arron keeps us up to date in his May 2022 instalment of ‘On The Road’ – with a little extra GT action added in.


Fanatec GT World Challenge

Brands Hatch, April 30-May 1

The signs might have read ‘Welcome to Brands Hatch’, but in truth it felt as though Mugello had been airlifted from Tuscany and relocated next to the M20. The queues weren’t as long as those that stretched outside in the days when Nigel Mansell was winning back-to-back grands prix in Kent, but Brands Hatch hadn’t looked this busy for quite some time.

It wasn’t because the wider world had started to appreciate the full power and poise of a modern GT3 car (though it’s about time everybody did), but because Valentino Rossi – who won kart titles in 1990 and started competing on two wheels not long afterwards – was about to race at the venue for the first time, at the age of 43. Wherever you looked there were Rossi flags, Rossi caps, Rossi T-shirts and every other imaginable form of fan apparel.

The Sunday morning pit autograph session was possibly the most lopsided of all time. There were 50 drivers taking part in the two Fanatec GT World Challenge races, but only one signature was truly coveted – so much so that crush barriers were erected to create a theme park-style queuing system that maintained a modicum of control in front of his pit.

It was extraordinary, exhilarating and the atmosphere was brilliant.

The same couldn’t be said about some of the driving, mind.

Valentino Rossi GT World Challenge

More than 30 years after he first took up racing, Valentino Rossi finally got to experience the sweeps and undulations of Brands Hatch. He and Frédéric Vervisch finished 13th and eighth

Simon Arron

For a series that purports to showcase some of the best in GT racing, it is populated by a significant number of competitors who appear not to have the vaguest idea what kerbs represent. During qualifying, a succession of cars ran wide through the gravel at Paddock, repeatedly kicking up plumes of lingering dust that compromised the view of rivals, marshals and spectators (not to mention rendering photography almost impossible).

It might have been quite spectacular, had one been able to see what was going on…

From the archive

Fewer liberties were taken around the back of the circuit, where the consequences of such exuberance would require more than a damp cloth to fix. And here, well-driven GT3 cars are in their element, a broad range of silhouettes linked by a baritone bark, a sonic presence unmatched by almost anything else in the sport.

And Rossi?

He qualified 17th for the race he started, little more than a second from pole, and sharing with Frédéric Vervisch he finished 13th and eighth. (Victories went to Ferrari F488 duo Ulysse de Pauw/Pierre-Alexandre Jean and the Mercedes of Timur Boguslavskiy/Raffaele Marciello).

Kurt Mollekens, the 1996 British F3 runner-up, is nowadays jointly responsible for running GT operations for WRT, a team that runs four Audi R8s – including the Vervisch/Rossi car. “You know,” he said, “I’m very impressed that Valentino is within about a second of the pace so quickly, especially when you consider how much experience some of the guys at the front have in these cars. He says he’s doing it for fun, but that’s not the impression you get when you watch him working with the engineers.

“It’s incredibly easy dealing with him and the time he devotes to the fans is just amazing. When he agreed to sign up for 10 races, I think it took about three phone calls to raise a full budget for the season. It must have been one of the easiest sponsorship deals in history, which tells you everything about him…”


Classic Racing Motorcycle Club

Brands Hatch, May 7


Mark Cronshaw focuses on the road ahead as he leans his Matchless G50 into Druids

Simon Arron

One week beforehand, the circuit had been packed to the rafters as folk flocked to watch a motorcycling legend drive an Audi. The chance to watch gifted amateurs ride legendary motorcycles appeared to be somewhat less of a magnet, but this sense of calm did nothing to dilute the event’s charm. For starters, the programme – decent value at £4 – looked like something that might have been produced when some of these bikes were new, a minor but complementary detail.

During one early practice session, for smaller bikes, the commentary team mentioned that some riders were able to extract “as much as 20bhp” from their steeds, a boast rarely heard at any circuit in the third millennium.

Sidecars of any vintage are photogenic – but some of the older ones are also prone to leaks, perhaps a corollary of running Hillman Imp engines, and period temperament inevitably leads to a few delays. This, though, is surely a barometer of authenticity.

Events such as this might not command much attention, but they bristle with commitment – and the irresistible musk of Castrol R is on its own sufficient to justify attendance.


CRMC’s rather retro programme


Historic Racing Drivers Club

Mallory Park, May 15

Get my drift? Robert Burdett hammers through the Esses in his Austin A40

Get my drift? Robert Burdett hammers through the Esses in his Austin A40

Simon Arron

The clock hasn’t quite turned full circle, back to the days when Britain’s competitive calendar was peppered with meetings run by such as the Mid Cheshire Motor Racing Club or Nottingham Sports Car Club, but there is an increasing tendency for smaller promoters to run their own events in conjunction with other clubs – and this was one such (the HRDC hooking up with the BRSCC)

First things first, though: a new catering team recently took charge of operations at Mallory’s Lakeside Diner, but the breakfast matches the high standard that has been set across many generations. Assorted fried fragments and a mug of tea for £7? Works for me.

The rest of the menu featured four sets of cars (HRDC Allstars, Classic Alfas, Pre ’66 Minis and Jack Sears Trophy) racing twice apiece, with a soggy afternoon succeeding a sunny morning.

“I absolutely love these meetings,” said regular campaigner and past BTCC race winner Mike Jordan, out in his unmissable orange Mini. “Later this year our team will be running a selection of cars in the Le Mans Classic, which clashes with the HRDC meeting at Lydden Hill. I’ve told the rest of the crew they can look after Le Mans; I’ll be going to Lydden…”

Jeff Smith won both Pre ’66 Mini races, despite having Nick Swift all but glued to his rear bumper during the second of them

Jeff Smith won both Pre ’66 Mini races, despite having Nick Swift all but glued to his rear bumper during the second of them

Simon Arron

There was some fine, spirited action throughout the day, the highlights perhaps being the two Alfa races, in which Angelo Perfetti (2000 GTV) and Chris Snowdon (Alfetta) each took a narrow win. Perfetti clinched aggregate victory by little more than half a second after a cumulative total of 43 laps.

There was a delay of about 60 minutes after Mini drivers Will Dyrdal and Bill Sollis left the road at the Esses, inflicting significant damage to the circuit furniture (as well as both cars), but the Minis were sensational to watch through that part of the lap, the quickest drivers maintaining extraordinary momentum from an equally extraordinary variety of angles.

Appropriate to see such poetry in motion at a location Lord Byron once graced, albeit 140-odd years before it became a racetrack…


Equipe GTS

Oulton Park, May 21

The sky looked fairly clear at 4am, so the choice was obvious: one of the benefits of an 11-year-old car with a folding lid is the availability of cool, bracing weekend starts, as effective a form of ignition as several espressos, but without the downsides of caffeine.

Next stop would be Oulton Park’s warm (not necessarily true in the literal sense), welcoming embrace. The paddock might have moved on from the days when its constituent parts were rutted grass, puddles and charm, but the cars at an Equipe GTS meeting (run in conjunction with MSV Racing, similar to the HRDC model above) hark back to the days when the pecunious used vans and trailers, while others drove to the track, stuck numbers on their MGBs’ flanks, raced them and, all being well, returned home in the manner they came

There is no formal championship, either. Drivers can pick and choose the events they enter and consistently high entry levels reflect the appeal of this approach. In its PR spiel, the organisation writes, “By carefully selecting eligible cars, the series delivers close and exciting racing with an emphasis on competitive yet high driving standards.”

They could probably make a bit more of that last point…

With practice starting at a relatively relaxed 9am, there was time for a pint of black coffee (thereby negating the benefits of not having drunk the stuff several hours earlier) before strolling to Lodge Corner, where there seemed to be an unofficial contest to see who could balance an Austin Healey 3000 at the most outrageous angle. The meeting had been running for about 10 minutes, but already I was willing the day to pass slowly, so I had more time to appreciate it.

It was a similar story at the top of Clay Hill, where the left-hand kink – officially known as Water Tower, in deference to a landmark long since demolished – doesn’t appear to be much of a corner on a two-dimensional map, but the elegant attitudes of capably driven Healeys and MGBs certainly make it look like one.


Masters Historic Festival

Brands Hatch, May 28-29

Two days, big crowds, nice cars – and that doesn’t apply only to those on the track. On Saturday morning I parked alongside an immaculate navy Jaguar E-type FHC, 24 hours later it was a Mini Cooper of similar hue and condition – bygone icons that looked wholly complementary on a weekend such as this.

By 8.15 on the opening morning, the campsites were busy too, a clutch of youngsters encouraging parents to step on the gas in the interests of bringing their sausages to an edible temperature.

Ford Falcon

Former BTCC star Sam Tordoff leads away at the start of the Pre ’66 Touring Car race. He overcame a 20sec ‘elite driver’ penalty to take his Ford Falcon to victory

It felt like an event before a car had turned a wheel.

There were, though, a couple of downsides.

The ‘Masters Racing Legends’ series (excuse me if I call it ‘historic F1’, even though Masters isn’t allowed so to do) attracted only nine cars, partly because carnet chaos remains a deterrent for competitors based in mainland Europe. (I have no wish to be deflected by politics, but there were many very obvious reasons why leaving the EU was a terrible idea – this isn’t one of them, and it matters not a jot in the overall scheme of things, but it’s an irritating by-product).

From the archive

It was a similar story in the Holland-based Youngtimer Challenge, which attracted a good entry (everything from Glenn Dudley’s Sports 2000 Lola to Bert Lemaire’s Trabant, which was more than half a minute per lap slower than any other car), but the vast majority were from the UK. It didn’t feel quite the same without so many high-spirited series regulars.

The small F1 grid didn’t necessarily mean poor competition. The first race was initially a cracker, Miles Griffiths (Fittipaldi F5A) driving beautifully to keep Steve Hartley’s newer McLaren MP4/1 at bay for several laps. Hartley did eventually squeeze through, but a misfire then obliged him to pit and Griffiths won easily. Hartley took race two, which only seven cars started.

In 2014 there were 19 on the grid…

The main highlight (apart from a fight between two greater-spotted woodpeckers, which broke up just as I aimed my camera at them during the Saturday lunch break) was the Pre ’66 touring car race, for which 43 cars practised and 41 started.

For all that Cortinas rarely now corner on three wheels (or fewer), they are still spectacular when hurled through Paddock, or any of the quick sweeps around the back – and the same goes for almost everything else that was out there. Sam Tordoff overcame a 20sec ‘elite driver’ pit penalty to win a race that was richly entertaining throughout its duration.

Such a pity there weren’t two of them…