Category Archives: I Like Cars

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Brands Hatch (Round 9)

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The last sprint of the season, and where better to be than Brands Hatch? Brands Hatch! I felt lucky and nervous. We’ve been there a few times (like that time we went to the truck racing and Mark delighted in finding a ketchup covered umbrella in the bin), but we’d never driven there.

It felt like ages since we’d been in the car, we’d missed round 8 of the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship at Curborough because Adam drove into a wall and I had an operation to remove my unicorn horn.

We arrived the night before, stayed at the Mecure Brands Hatch hotel, hung out in the bar with our racing driver pals. We talked about cars and puzzled at the thinness of Nigel’s peppercorn sauce.

The bedroom was nice. The wallpaper above the bed depicted a speedo display (not the swim trunks, thankfully) and everything was all grey, red and white, like a boys bedroom from the eighties.

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We woke early in the morning, stumbled across the chequered flag patterned carpet and checked out. Actually, Adam checked out, I took pictures of the carpet.

We met everyone in the paddock, went to get scrutineered, and picked up copy of the programme. That’s me on the front cover! I’d like to say it’s because I am their star driver, but it’s possible that I was the only person going slow enough for them to get a clear shot.

I wore my (un)lucky shoes. You know, the ones that got covered in concrete last month. They had to be broken from their cast and forced into the washing machine before un-crisping with wear.

In a change from our normal order, I was first driver and Adam second. We took the car up to the holding area and waited for the VW qualifying to finish so we could go out for our practice – two runs, back to back.

The air was damp, and a light drizzle began to fall. I headed off the start line, slowly, trying to remember my way round, telling myself, as I swooped down Paddock Hill, ‘Don’t let off, don’t let off, don’t let off!’ Completing my one and a half laps I headed back across to the pit lane to swap over with Adam. Except, I didn’t turn into the pits, I turned back onto the track… whoops! I didn’t know which way to go, so I just went, and, well, as I drove round and saw the angry faces of marshals mouthing who knows what at me, I realised it was clearly wrong. Double thumbs up, and with a forced grin on my face, I drove the half lap back round to the finish again, where luckily there was now a marshal to direct me (with very vigorous arm movements) back to safety.

Practice number two got underway and as the drizzle let off the track felt a lot drier. I was over 13 seconds faster than my first practice, which was a relief.

Mark Swarbrick managed to spin off 3 times in one run, bless him. Martin Roberts, Nick Emery, Rob Holt, Terry Baker, Stuart Cheshire – they all went spinning, and Martin Scarfe broke his car on track – something to do the the distributor cap, I think.

And then it was time to wait for the afternoon to come round. To sit around and talk, look at expensive watches, and to eat cake. Luckily Mark’s Exige came readily equipped with a built-on cake serving station, and the bright orange paintwork complimented the lemon drizzle cake perfectly.

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The track was dry, and it was time for the three timed runs. As I came down Paddock for the second time, I saw a red Cup 220 Elise in front of me, in the distance. The thought of, ‘Hey! I’m catching them up!’ then became a reality and turned into, ‘Uh oh!’ I’m catching them up!’

I let off the throttle for fear that I might put them off or make them jump by sneaking up on them. It may have slowed me down a second or so, but it didn’t matter, I still had two more runs to go and the car was getting warmed up. To be fair, it was probably karma for my accidental wrong-turn sighting lap earlier!

Run two 144.21, run three 142.65. In total I knocked just over 25 seconds off from my first practice, to my last run. Considering I’d never driven there before, and also that I didn’t need to carry a map, I feel pretty happy with that. It put me 11th out of 14, and to be honest, I thought I would probably be 14th. Adam, on the other hand wowed us with a time of 135.78 and 4th place. He didn’t need a map either.

The results…

Production:
1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Phil Stratton-Lake

Production Modified:
1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Simon Foley, 3rd Andy Pidgeon

Supersport:
1st James Tubby, 2nd Stuart Cheshire, 3rd Russell Whitworth

Supersport Modified:
1st Nick Emery, 2nd Rob Clark, 3rd Paul Neale

Jez Braker was in a class all of his own, wafting round the track in the comfort of his Z3.

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It was a fun and successful day, but what had been on almost everyone’s minds throughout it’s entirety was the Championship.

Xavier Brooke was crowned the champion in Production, and Duncan Fraser in Supersport. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get to parade them around on our shoulders, but their trophies would have been too heavy for us to carry.

Nigel Hannam missed winning the Production Championship by just 1 point. One. Duncan already had the Supersport Championship in the bag before Brands, which was lucky, because he didn’t have a car to drive.

Overall for the year I came 14th out of 38, and 6th in the class I was competing in – Production. (7th in Production and Production Modified combined). That sounds good. Well done Karen!

Adam came 4th… overall, in the combined championship results, 4th out of 38. Bloody brilliant. I taught him well.

Onwards!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Hethel (Round 7)

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Last time we were sprinting at Hethel I had a bit of a bad experience with a small but angry man. I was put off. I did think about not doing this round, but I really do love the track, and I didn’t want to miss out. I’m also now prepared with my windscreen washer jets ready and aimed, just below waistline for the embarrassment factor.

Back into Norfolk we headed, through villages with funny names, passed fields of free-range piglets. We arrived in good spirits and drank milky tea, stood in the warm wind.

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One of the organisers asked if we had our club trophies with us, I wasn’t sure, but, remaining positive, I said we could always make some. I reckoned I could find some old half eaten sandwiches later on, and they’d do the trick. I once got stuck on the M6 for four hours and fashioned a birthday card for Adam from rubbish I found in the footwell. Crafty.

We were soon underway with the first practice. Adam did an incredible 140.46, the fastest practice in class, and I did an embarrassing 150.10. Not really a terrible time, but seriously, almost 10 seconds behind Adam… come on!

Returning to the paddock we heard the scream of tyres and a loud thud. Clouds of gravel dust filled the air, and as it settled we saw that Simon Foley had hit the barrier. It felt like ages before we knew that he was okay, he seemed to be in the car forever. At first we thought he was in there, then we thought he must have got out, then we wondered if he’d got bored and jogged off.

They pulled his car out of the barrier and back into the paddock. Simon was fine, his car was a mess. Adam, Duncan and Mark took the under tray off, and other things, and everyone chipped in somehow. I stuck extra large googley eyes on the back of the car, and Martin Scarfe stamped on a wasp.

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It was soon time for the second practice, and I stood waiting with Jill at the driver changeover point on the pit lane, watching the cars go by. Adam was going well, he really was. ‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘Adam’s really going for it!’ as he whizzed past and spun into the pit wall, hitting the large painted Lotus emblem with the hind quarters of the car, like a big-butted target practice. He dragged the car off, finished his lap and came back in. We took the car back to the paddock, pulled off the loose bits, and asked the scrutineer over to check he’d be happy with us going out again. The consensus was gaffer tape, and a lot of it.

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There was too much taping to be done, and not enough time, so I had to forfeit my second practice and get the cake out instead. A nice old-school sponge, with raspberry jam and buttercream. (Later on Xav said the cake was the highlight of his day. I had to agree, and I didn’t even have a slice!)

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Mark and Phoebe headed off to Waitrose and returned with a haul of ice creams for everyone. I had a Fruit Pastilles lolly and it was rather nice, but very difficult to eat in the hot sun.

Back to the sprinting, Adam’s first timed run was over 3 seconds slower than his first practice… I wonder why that was?! Mine was 148.98. Parp.

Swiftly, or not so, onto the second timed run, and Adam managed 141.75, which was damn good. Putting him just 0.43 seconds behind Xavier Brookes who ended up taking first. Eventually!

I did 146.74, which is not my fastest time at Hethel, but it was still not bad, and enough to gain me 4th place, which I do believe is the highest position I have achieved in sprinting (unless you count ladies trophies, of course).

Some drivers got called back to have another go because there had been a fault with the timing gear. They rushed their race suits back on, and rolled their cars off the trailers, heading back to the start line.

Somehow something went wrong with the timing gear again. We waited patiently. And then we went home. The guys from Borough 19 must have had some serious number ninja-ing to do, because it wasn’t until four nights later, that the result arrived.

What’s this? Oh yeah! It’s the results from Hethel…

Production:
1st Xavier Brooke, 2nd Adam Ruck, 3rd Phil Stratton-Lake

Production Modified:
1st Martin Scarfe

Supersport:
1st Stuart Cheshire, 2nd Andy Hughes, 3rd Jill Cheshire

Supersport Modified:
1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Nick Emery, Jason Weatherall

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I was sad about the car, Adam was sad about the car. But, let’s look at the positives – it’s all about the experiences, and about learning news things.

So, here’s two top things I learnt from the experience: however good my mum is at knitting, she still can’t be persuaded to knit a new rear clam for the Elise, and, however much suncream you use, sunburn can still have a debilitating effect. I couldn’t lift my left arm for three days.

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Blyton Park (Round 6)

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We checked in at the Wortley House Hotel. They took a swipe of my card, just incase I tried to steal a tele. Getting to the room, Adam realised he’d forgotten to pack my special driving shoes (clapped-out old Converse). ‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘We’ll go and find a Tesco’. I’ve never had supermarket shoes before, but I know that they are cheap, and I also know that they are probably made by children.

We got in the car, and, almost immediately, we got out again. The battery was flat. After a few minutes of flapping, I phoned Mark. ‘Any chance you could pick us up a battery charger?’ I asked, half joking, half desperately hopeful. His response was quick, of course he would, he was near Grantham and would take a detour. ‘No Problems. Anything else you need?’ he asked politely. ‘Yeah, could you get me some shit shoes?!’

An hour later Mark and Phoebe arrived bearing gifts – a battery charger, and £10 plimsolls from Sainsbury’s, gratefully received.

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We had dinner, we had drinks, we chatted with other LCUK Speed friends, and then we headed off to bed. On our way up Phoebe noticed flyers on the windscreens of the cars, she suggested we go and remove them so our windows weren’t slurred with papery wet stodge by the morning. I handed them to the guy on reception, they were from a rival hotel. He seemed unfazed. ‘But they’ve spelt corner wrong!’ I prodded at the capital K. ‘No, that’s how they spell it,’ he said, matter-of-factly. ‘This isn’t the nineties!’  I said, as I stomped off to bed.

We slept to the hum of the battery charger and woke to the thought of breakfast.

I couldn’t get the room door to lock as we left, so I told reception that it was still open, and that if anyone had done a dump on the bed, it wasn’t me. I mean, they already had the idea that I was illiterate and might do a runner with the tele, so I was just forestalling any other judgements they might have made of me.

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We arrived at Blyton Park. The grey sky hung over us, still and unmoving. As the first practice got underway, the rain started to fall. Lightly at first, but as we queued, it got heavier. My optimism turned into disappointment. 87.21, slow coach.

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The rain stopped play, and we all gathered under the gazebo for shelter. I shuffled round, trying to avoid conversations about Brexit. The rain began to slow, Xav brought out the chocolate brownies (props to his lovely daughter for sending them along with him) and we were told we could take our second practice, if we wanted to.

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It was wet. I eased my way round the track, splashing through puddles and taking in the view. 100.41, surprisingly not the slowest car out there.

After lunch the sun came out. I actually shouted ‘Sun! Sun!’ and might have come across a little bit deranged. Again.

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The track was still slippy, and my shit shoes were giving me gyp, sliding around on the grass and mud covered pedals (thanks Adam!) and feeling like I was wearing heavy cardboard shoe boxes, not shoes. I got an 83.09 and Adam got a DNF as he wasn’t fully on the track as he crossed the finish line. We cleaned the footwell with an old towel and vowed to be better organised with shoes and useful things in future. (Who are we kidding?!)

The track was dry for the second timed run, but I just didn’t feel that confident, until I’d gone all the way round and was back in the paddock wishing we could have another go. 78.47 for me, and another DNF for Adam. He was going so well, I mean soooo well, but then, just a second from the finish line, he spun off, firing a cone in the air like some kind of disappointing £3.50 fireworks finale.

I was 9th out of 13. Adam was 13th. Unlucky.

And now, over to the winners enclosure…

Production: 1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Richard Hardwicke

Production Modified: 1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Andrew Pidgeon (Coincidentally, both the fastest and the slowest drivers of the day – unless you count Adam of course, who didn’t even get a time!)

Supersport: 1st Andy Hughes, 2nd Martin Roberts, 3rd Russell Whitworth

Supersport Modified: 1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Paul Neale

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We drove home, weaving along the country roads across the fields of Lincolnshire, and, as the lights faded we knew what was to come. Bloody alternator!

The rest of the journey involved poor Adam pushing the car uphill, the most massive disappointment in the AA, a recovery driver who couldn’t recover the car the 8 miles we had left to travel because his tacho had nearly run out, a taxi ride, picking up the Mercedes, and limping the Elise home.

You know how some days you realise that you should have just stayed at home?!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Silverstone (Round 5)

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We drove over to Silverstone the night before and met up with some of the other drivers. They’d been to Abingdon CARnival for round four of the LCUK Speed Championship.  We’d not been at Abingdon for several reasons, one of them being that I don’t like portaloos. We got scrutineered, signed on, walked the track, and chatted to people.

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We found food in Milton Keynes, at Middleton’s. It was kind of weird because there’s a Middleton’s in Middleton, Norfolk and it’s a pub-type place, with their own little butchery at the back. This version was busy and ‘trendy’ with industrial ceilings and steel mesh room-dividers. I’m not usually into chains, but this one is small, and good. Somebody smashed a plate and our waitress Ioana told us that in her country (Romania) it was customary to throw plates and glasses out of your upstairs windows in celebration.

We listened to Salt-N-Pepa in the car. Parked in the petrol station, ate ice creams and discussed what ‘cool’ cars we could buy and drive fifteen hundred miles to Romania.

Back at the Hilton, the room smelt of oldness, like my nan’s purse. There was a fly circulating. The bed creaked and graunched with the slightest movement. I discarded the dirty pillow and slumbered off.

I woke at 4am to the sound of city bird song; vocals influenced by ringing phones and car alarms. It was so loud, surprisingly loud. Turns out Adam had opened the window – that’s why I had itchy hay-fever eyes and it sounded like there was a pigeon on my bedside table.

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The day started off foggy and cool. At Silverstone Stowe we were briefed by the MG Car Club team. There were little historical tit-bits thrown in, it was clear that they were proud of their connection to the site, and rightly so.

Whilst we prepared for the sprinting, elsewhere at Silverstone it was day two of the world’s largest MG event, MG Live, and Lotus Cup Europe racing was underway.

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For some reason, I felt nervous. I wasn’t the only one. It might have been the massive and intimidating tyre walls that were striking fear into us all, or maybe it was just excitement. The track looked awesome. Bendy bendy awesome.

First practice got underway, Nigel met with the tyres, Xav bypassed them by going straight on through the chicane. My time was 65.63 and at that moment I was 6th. That moment soon passed!

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The sun started to break through, and we got on with practice two. I was slower than I had hoped to be, I didn’t have enough wang, and I couldn’t quite remember where I was going. I don’t think any of us had driven here before. But you know, in my first year of sprinting I used to have to take a map with me at all times (see here) so really, for me, I was showing excellent improvement!

We had our first timed run, and a bit of fun as Martin Roberts pirouetted  over the line. Then it was lunch time. I drank a can of ginger beer/liquid sugar. I love ginger beer, but not this one.

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The sun was shining properly now, we took our second, and then third runs. I got my time down to 61.51. I really wanted to be below 60, but I’m not that good.

There were a lot of cars to get through, over 100 of them, but we still managed 2 practices, 3 timed runs, a lunch break and a peace-and-quiet break for the local vicar to deliver his sermon. Nice.

Adam ended up 3rd, with there not being much between his time and the four drivers behind him. I was 9th, out of 11. I was exactly 3 seconds slower than Adam. That’s too much.

Overall I was 44th out of 104. That sounds alright.

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The roll of honour looked like this…

Production: 1st Xavier Brooke, 2nd Nigel Hannam, 3rd Adam Ruck

Production Modified: 1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Barry Savage

Supersport: 1st Russell Whitworth, 2nd Martin Roberts, 3rd Dave Pollard

Supersport Modified: 1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Nick Emery, 3rd Jason Weatherall

And hey, guess what? I won a trophy! MG Car Club Best Lady Driver. Yes, that’s right, fastest womb on the track. Woot woot!

It was such a great day. A wonderful track, and a brilliantly organised event. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to see LoTRDC main man Paul Golding – but then I saw a photograph of him dressed as a (female?) Brazilian volleyball player, and felt just a little bit relieved that our paths had not actually crossed!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – MIRA (Round 3)

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When we left for MIRA, the wrong side of 6am, the sun was already out, forcing it’s way through the early morning mist and promising to make the day warm and lovely.

Personally, I’m not hugely keen on MIRA as a track, but The Bentley Drivers Club are such a lovely bunch (they really are) and they are so welcoming to us, that it balances things out for me somewhat. Plus they have a Tag Heuer touch screen timing station, or ‘log machine’ as Adam called it, and proper toilets, with glass basins and clean floors. Winning.

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After the briefing we all climbed into (and onto, for those vintage Bentley drivers!) our cars, and drove out for a convoyed sighting lap of the track, which was brilliant. Much better than walking the course (because, at least for me, I think it enables you to judge distances and track conditions much better) and I do believe it may have actually encouraged more cars to stay on the tarmac for the rest of the day!

Simon Foley had a brief moment of worry when his car decided it couldn’t make the whole lap and wafted the strong scent of fuel at him. He was quickly recovered by the marshals and in the paddock the issue was found and fixed. Job done.

I’ve been to MIRA twice before, and I still have no idea where the track goes! Sitting low in the car, driving the track, with the raised grass around me and flat landscape, I struggled to find things to familiarise myself with. You cannot use wild dandelions as reliable marker points, it seems.

The two practices weren’t too bad, first one for familiarisation, second one for trying a bit more to push myself round blind corners with confidence. Pah!

Somehow we managed an almost two hour long lunch break. The sun was bright and warm, there was a slight breeze, and I’d been well behaved and baked three dozen Portuguese custard tarts to share round. Seriously, we could have been in the Mediterranean! (Hmm, maybe I do live in a utopian bubble?!)

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After a wobbly start off the line, I managed 60.03 for my first timed run. Adam managed 58.22 with more wobbles, and a flame from the exhaust pipe. I should have just given up there and then!

I was ready to be an amazing on my second run and surprise everyone with my rad skillz. I started well and I was off to a good start, I felt, but then… what’s this? As I began to gather speed I spotted some kind of debris in front of me. Oh no! Big black boulders of doom! On the track were massive chunks of tarmac, egg-sized, and scattered across the first corner where I was still accelerating.

I slowed a little as the car went over them, I had to, it felt like it slid one way, then the other. I carried on, but it had slowed my speed into the next section of track, which happened to be a place where I could go flat out, so there was no way of gaining anything back here.

I did keep trying but I was disappointed. Xav and Simon had also been put off by the boulders. I went and reported it to the marshals. I thought about asking for a re-run for us all, but the rain had started and the opportunity had passed.

It turned out to be Pidgeon mess on the track – Andy had had an over-excited spin!

I had managed to get my time under 60, at 59.91, and only 0.19 seconds behind the next driver, but, that still put me at the bottom of my class. (Now, had I been in another class, this could have been a different story and I could have been cheering about trophies instead of whinging about being last!)

Production class definitely seems to be the most competitive, and I’m not just saying that to appease my ego!

Stuart and Mark both got 56.78, and Adam 56.79. That’s close, and kind of weird, when you think about it.

In Supersport, after both timed runs Russell and James both had exactly the same times with 55.96, but the win went to Russell as his first timed run was faster than James’.

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And our winners are… drum roll… Prince impression by Phoebe… whooping and cheering in the marquee…

Production:
1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Phil Stratton-Lake
Production Modified:
1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Simon Foley, 3rd Andrew Pidgeon
Supersport:
1st Russell Whitworth, 2nd James Tubby, 3rd Martin Roberts
Supersport Modified:
1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Paul Neale

Such a good day – great people, great cars, and Simon Foley had a stash of lollipops with him. Hooray!