Category Archives: I Like Cars

Tyre Trials: Bridgestone Weather Control A005

This is a sponsored post. Scroll to the bottom of the page for full details.
I’d been waiting for it to snow. Wishing, waiting, watching, refreshing the BBC weather app. I didn’t want to go and do handbrake turns in Tesco carpark (I did) I just wanted to put my new tyres through their final trial.

Last year Bridgestone invited me to test tyres with them at Donnington Park race circuit. They were working with their Turanza T005 and developing the new Weather Control A005. I got to join a bunch of other drivers and throw a brand new, Bridgestone clad, VW Golf around a wet track. I also got a sausage sandwich.

The tyres were amazing, grippy and predictable. But, what would they be like on an older car, one without a super shiny clever computer, one that was almost 20 years old?

I absolutely love this car. Some might call it a banger, but I call it a design classic (I also call it Richie, but that’s another story). £150 of joy and the longest 3rd gear you’ll ever find.

In 2001 the Golf Mk4 was the best-selling car in Europe and I can see why:

Turbo p-p-power.
Cassette deck (and CD player).
Walnut trimmed dashboard for added style and class.
Twin cup holder for garden centre pot plants and chai lattes.

I’d been tolerating terrible tyres for too long. I must admit I found it pretty funny how much they would squeal round corners on a hot day, but adding time onto my journeys if the weather wasn’t perfectly dry, and slip-sliding all the way to my destination in the wet, wasn’t ideal (or safe), even if I do like a challenge.

I was given the opportunity to put the Bridgestone Weather Control A005s on my old Golf and I was totally up for it. I was interested to see how they’d perform, especially in comparison to the new Golf I’d driven at Donnington.

So, here’s my five-line, key-point, review of Bridgestone’s all-season touring tyre:

Loads less road noise.
Incredibly improved braking.
Superb grip in all weather (even wintery conditions).
Much better cornering, less understeer.
The car  generally drove much more smoothly.


Today was the last test. After a couple of weeks of driving in sub-zero temperatures, on black ice and muddy Fen roads, the snow finally arrived. It was a winter wonderland out there!

The roads were wet, snow covered and icy in patches, and in all honesty, I couldn’t tell. I do spend a lot of time driving, on the road and the track, so it’s not that I’m totally oblivious, it’s just that these tyres are amazing, like, truly amazing. No one paid me to say that. I take your safety seriously.

I’m not an expert at technical details and scientific explanations, I could try to explain, but I won’t – Bridgestone say it better:

‘The tread design features a V-shape layout, innovative ‘Z’ side shape and high-volume slots in the shoulder of the pattern. It works with the optimised body construction and contact pressure distribution to ensure the tyre performs to the expectations of end-users in terms of grip, fuel efficiency and wear. The use of Bridgestone’s proprietary Nano Pro-TechTM technology and a high silica content further support the performance of the tyre. The longevity of tyre is also extended to make sure the tyre lasts for longer, no matter the road conditions, driving style or frequency of driving.’

I’ve been driving on these tyres for a couple of months now, and I’ve not got complacent, they are still impressing me every time I get in the car and head off across the Fens – along mud covered roads and beside long deep ditches, with that feeling of nostalgic freedom that only an old car and a cassette player can provide. I absolutely love this car!


This is a sponsored post. I was a guest of Bridgestone at Donnington Park last year and they gave me a set of Bridgestone Weather Control A005 tyres so that I could try them out and write about them, if I chose to.  This post contains affiliate links. As always, my opinions are my own. I take this super seriously and would never compromise your safety for my gain. 

Supercar Driving Experience at Blyton Park with Bose & PSR Automotive


As a child there were two cars I wanted, a Marcos Mantis and anything with a Lamborghini badge on it. Possibly even the ‘Countach’ that was blatantly an MR2 and always parked on the road outside my friend John’s house.

I also wanted a motorbike, an Aprilia Replica (I had a poster of one on my wall). And a helicopter. And a pig. I digress.

I was invited to join Bose for a day of supercar goodness at Blyton Park with PSR Automotive. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I’d stopped listening when I heard the word ‘Lamborghini’.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes.

The Red Arrows were practicing in the sky as I drove up through Lincolnshire, smoke trailing from their tails, I hoped they were going to write something. They wrote ‘O’ and it dragged down in the sky into nothing but a blur.

Whilst everyone tucked into their bacon sarnies and hot tea the rumours started to circulate, ‘That’s Dan from HQ, he’s a racing driver, but so modest!’ and, as the briefing began, ‘That’s Ben, he does track days!’ said the man next to me. There was a sense of nervousness, awe and excitement in the air.

I spoke to Ben ‘he does trackdays’ later. It was he who’d organised the event for Bose, using it as a sales incentive to drive business in stores across the UK, he also knew the joy and positivity that would come from such an experience and be carried forward in performance long after. Bose have sponsored Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 for the past three years, so there’s an obvious motorsport affiliation there, but it’s not every day the sales team get to drive a fleet of supercars, without limits!

We were split into groups of six, I was in the green team. We headed off to our first activity, the Autotest. Green team were excited, so excited that one of us had to go for a pee behind a shed. (Not me, this time).


The Autotest was a challenge of car control (in a BMW 130i) through a short course of cones – flat out, braking, turning, zigzagging, reversing into a ‘garage’ and slamming the brakes on at the finish line. The rest of green team talked about their cars and their abilities, one of the lads felt he’d suck at reversing as he wouldn’t be able to see through his own bicep. I was last to go, we were running out of time so I didn’t get to take all of the practice runs, but I still managed to be 2nd, much to my team’s surprise!

Later on we’d each have six cars to drive, three short laps per car, with the same instructor all day so that they could complete an assessment sheet on our lines, pace, progress etc.

There was a buffet lunch and a hot lap in an Aston Martin. As I got out of the car Marc, the driver (who also races a KTM X-BOW in Europe) handed me a USB stick containing footage of the lap. You’ve seen these things, where people scream with fear and joy, and try to grab on to things that aren’t there? Not me. When I watched mine back I was embarrassed. What is a ‘flappy paddle doo dah’, and why was I basically interviewing him about his life and telling him where I was born?

Then we had to go against the clock on a driving simulator. I was most terrible at this activity. All I did was shout ‘Jesus’ and ‘someone help me!’ No one helped me.

But let me tell you about the real cars.

Lotus Evora (3.5l V6, 300bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 170mph). Of all the cars this is the one I was most familiar with and I felt quite pleased it was the first supercar I’d be driving. Actually, I felt quite pleased that a Lotus was classed as a supercar! I’m a big fan of all things Lotus, and I love that they hail from the depths of Norfolk. I found it very comforting to drive, a real joy, but the gear change was lagging. This Evora had one of the earlier boxes, and apparently, the new ones are awesome – but how will I know until Lotus send me one to drive, hey?!


Porsche 911 turbo (3.8l Flat 6, 530bhp, 0-60 in 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). I have never had any interest in Porsches. I lie. The Le Mans ones are wicked, and in my first job (at Britain’s oldest newspaper!) I did photograph a lot of Porsches, mostly in trees and walls. I was so surprised to enjoy driving this car as much as I did. Whilst I still struggled with the flappy paddle gearbox (my fault, not the cars, I am used to driving a manual £150 Golf!) I loved the smoothness of the drive and felt immediately at ease driving it. So much at ease that I made the instructor /car guardian squeal and grab the steering wheel!

Audi R8 (5.2l V10, 532bhp, 0-60 in 3.4sec, max speed 196mph).
This car felt like a super-fast heavy weight. It didn’t feel as easy to drive as I thought it would, but that might be because I’d just stepped out of the more dainty engined 911 and this thing had way more grunt, felt more responsive and gave much more feedback than the Porsche. The R8 also sounded magnificent!


Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 ( 5.0l V10, 552bhp, 0-60 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). What was that, a choir of angels singing? I thought so. I never thought it would be possible to fall in love with a car, but, wow! When can I get one? Driving the Gallardo was like reaching another plane of understanding, like some kind of ethereal out-of-body experience. It was such a beautiful experience that I could barely concentrate on anything else, to the point that I didn’t even hear the instructor when he told me to go in, so I accidentally took four laps instead of three. Oopsie!

Ford Mustang GT (4.6l V8, 315bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 150mph). I would have actually been happy to only drive one lap in this car. It made a great sound, but it wasn’t for me. I like to be able to go round corners and not feel like I’m sitting in a massive box. Of course it was left hand drive, but after my death trap driving experience (now there’s a concept for you!) in Rwanda the other month, this was not something that fazed me. But, that red leather interior, I’m still not over that!


Aston Martin Vantage (4.7l V8, 430 bhp, 0-60 in 4.0sec, max speed 180mph). After the Mustang, this was the car that least interested me, so I was surprised to enjoy it much more than I thought I  would. It certainly wasn’t a track car, but I can see why people would love this on the road. It was very comfortable, and fun to drive. It could have been more fun if the instructor hadn’t grabbed at the wheel as I got the back end out on the last corner though!

All in all, a very enjoyable day. There was one major disappointment for me though, I didn’t get to bring the Lamborghini home.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes!


I was a guest of Bose and PSR Automotive. I did all my own driving, wowing and wooing, and as always, my opinions are my own.

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

2016-10-29-brands-hatch-lotus-cup-uk-speed-championship-02

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.

2016-10-28-mercure-hotel-brands-hatch-kent
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.

2016-10-29-brands-hatch-lotus-cup-uk-speed-championship-04
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.

brands

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)

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 02

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.

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 01

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.

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 05

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 08

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 10

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.

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 28

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 34

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 16

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 29

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!)

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 35

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

2016 08 07 lcuk speed championship hethel round 7 37

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)

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 43

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.

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 41

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 40

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.

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 31

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 32

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 30

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.

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 33

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 35

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.

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 36

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.

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 29

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

2016 july karen harvey i dont like peas 42

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?!