Americana in the Cotswolds & BTCC's remarkable finale: On the road, October 2019by Simon Arron on 1st November 2019
Autumn added extra challenges to October's national racing calendar, with a mud-bath at Oulton Park, slippery conditions at the Brands Hatch season finale, and a deluge of horse chestnuts for Thundersport GB riders
John Finlay Mackintosh, Cooper Mk11 Photo: Simon Arron
It seems only moments since 2019’s race dates were confirmed and the calendar ahead looked long and inviting, but the nights are now drawing in and the campaign’s fading embers are upon us. Fading, but not yet fully extinguished...
Oulton Park, October 5
Jordan Johnson leads Ben Hancy in the 5Club MX5 Cup Photo: Simon Arron
I was on my way to Llandudno at the time, to deal with matters on the Lombard Network Q Rally of North Wales, or whatever it calls itself these days, but still it generated a nice, warm feeling to see a van bowling up the M40 on Friday morning. Its trailer-borne cargo was a Toyota MR2 plastered with 750 Motor Club stickers, so I knew that – eventually – we would end up in the same place. For the MR2 owner, though, the route was unlikely to involve the Welsh coast.
Rallying commitments concluded, I headed east to Cheshire and found a hotel about 185 miles closer to Oulton Park than my customary starting point. To awaken in such proximity felt like 1977 all over again (except that I’d have commuted by bicycle back then).
There is probably no such thing as a high-profile 750MC meeting, but even by the club’s customarily high standards the mood was delightfully informal, complete strangers wandering up to chat at 7.45 – presumably on the grounds that if we’re in the paddock at that time, we must be tied by the invisible bond that unites most motor sport enthusiasts.
Graham Malings, Toyota MR2 Roadster Photo: Simon Arron
Practice for the Toyota MR2 race was another throwback, like watching a one-make practice session from the early days of the Escort Mexico Challenge, when approximately every third car would run wide across the grass at Lodge (although there wasn’t as much of it to use back then). For the MR2s, the reception committee was a mud bath, presumably churned up when the Rally GB passed through 36 hours beforehand.
To illustrate the state of the outfield, one rescue truck had itself to be recovered after becoming bogged down while trying to retrieve an RGB Sports 1000 car that had suffered a suspension fracture in the middle of Cascades before slewing wide.
There was some very good racing, particularly in the early part of the programme, but one has to wonder why the club chose to use the Island version of the circuit for a meeting such as this. The more compact Fosters layout tends to keep things tighter, incorporates a challenging right-hander and would require drivers to skip only a couple of straights and one slow hairpin.
The shortest version of Oulton really should be pressed into service more frequently; the campaign begins here…
Prescott, October 6
Nigel Dowding, Aston Martin Mk2 Photo: Simon Arron
Despite more than 40 years of zig-zagging between motor sport events, this was a fresh route to add to the memory bank: overnight in Warwick, then a 30-minute Sunday morning flit along the fast, flowing – and almost empty – A46, one of several doors into The Cotswolds. The fact it was drizzling mattered not one iota; this was Britain at its most picturesque, unscarred by concrete (or, for that matter, politicians).
Prescott’s Anglo-American Autumn Classic comprises separate one-day meetings, the second of which featured everything from whatever might be the collective noun for Austin 7s (a spindle?) to Mark Hales in a Chaparral 2A replica via assorted US hot rods that understeered their way towards the summit. In truth most of the Americana was in the paddock (where suitably agile members of the public jived to a live band), rather than running against the clock, but its presence was welcome nonetheless.
One of the day’s unexpected surprises (probably because I haven’t been paying full attention) was the presence of Richard Robarts. After finishing level on points with Tony Brise at the top of the Lombard North Central British F3 Championship in 1973, Robarts stepped up briefly to F1 with Brabham the following season, only to be ousted by the somewhat better funded Rikky von Opel. After a stint in F2, his career fizzled out over the balance of the decade.
On this occasion he was back in F3, at the wheel of a 1950 Cooper MkIV – the first time I’d seen him in action since a snapped throttle cable forced him to retire from a John Player F3 round at Oulton Park, almost exactly 46 years beforehand (though it feels about 46 minutes).
Brands Hatch, October 12-13
BTCC lap one at Druids Photo: Simon Arron
Whoever drafts British Touring Car Championship ringmaster Alan Gow’s plots, one hopes they are well salaried.
BMW stalwart Colin Turkington came to the 2019 finale as clear title favourite, but took only fifth in mixed conditions in the first of three races as main rival Dan Cammish (Honda Civic) came through to win from 12th on the grid… and kept his victory, despite a time penalty for a safety car infringement.
When Cammish’s team-mate Matt Neal punted Turkington down the order at the start of race two, the balance of power shifted and the Ulsterman admitted he thought his chance had gone. He carved his way from 25th to sixth in the decider – not quite enough, with Cammish lying ninth – but the latter then suffered brake failure and crashed with less than two laps remaining, the only time all season that he has failed to complete a race distance.
If Carlsberg wrote racing scripts…
There are some illustrious names on the BSCC/BTCC honours board – Sears, Clark and Whitmore, to name just three – but Turkington now shares only with Andy Rouse the distinction of being a four-time champion. Usually a master of measured understatement, his emotional post-race reaction spoke volumes.
End of a long road for the Clio Cup Photo: Simon Arron
The weekend’s breathless pace was spoiled only by countless safety car interruptions – understandable when a Ginetta Junior is beached just beyond the kerbs mid-corner, but is it really necessary to drag a stranded car up against the Paddock Hill Bend tyre wall when it is less than two metres away to start with?
The meeting also marked the final start on the BTCC package for the Renault UK Clio Cup, modern successor to what was once the glorious Renault 5 Challenge: 5TS, 5GT Turbo, assorted flavours of Clio…
It’s a distinguished heritage.
Oulton Park, October 19
Lee Williams, Kawasaki Photo: Simon Arron
Brixton, 5.08am. It’s always a lively part of London at this time of a weekend morning, as fragments of night life emerge from assorted clubs and bars, but chances are that I’m the only person about to catch the tube to Oulton Park (with added help from Virgin Trains and a mate picking me up in Crewe).
About 200 miles to the north-west, a sea of souls is just starting to stir from within a vast parking lot featuring the European white van mountain – a practical approach that typifies any UK motorcycle clubbie. Simplicity, though, can have its flaws. The final Thundersport GB meeting of the campaign took place just a couple of days after three bikes were pinched from the Oulton paddock while riders were being briefed ahead of a track day. When motorcycles are seen being loaded into a van in that environment, it’s unlikely that many will bat an eyelid.
Some of the racing was wonderfully close, but there were exceptions: Lee Williams qualified his Kawasaki on pole by more than 2sec for the GP1 race and twice vanished over the horizon.
There was one seasonal novelty: marshals at Deer Leap had to fight a constant battle to keep the track clear of horse chestnuts, which tumbled from the canopy overhead.
There is, as yet, no flag signal for such impediments.
Photo: Simon Arron