Category Archives: I Like Cars

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…

1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Phil Stratton-Lake
Production Modified:
1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Simon Foley, 3rd Andrew Pidgeon
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!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Hethel (Round 2)

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It had been six weeks since our last sprint and it seemed like forever. I had a couple of weeks without being able to drive anywhere, being chauffeured to work by Adam and wrangling crutches like a weak armed monkey.

The physiotherapist had been adamant it was too early for me to return to driving, but listening to him would have been boring. Then there was the guy in the supermarket who randomly started telling me about the dangers of motor-racing and how he’d seen a lot of old footage of cars launching into the crowds and decapitating everyone. Listening to him was not boring, but it was a bit weird.

I wasn’t expecting to have a good day, or to do well. After Snetterton I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to sprint anymore.

We released the chickens into the garden and headed off into the wilds of Norfolk. I followed Adam down the road in the Elise, using the journey to get used to driving the car again. He hit a pigeon with a smash, sending a large feathery fountain over the car and I couldn’t tell if I should take this as a good or bad omen.

The sun was shining over lovely Hethel. I felt ready to see what would happen when I got out onto the track of awesomeness.

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We stood in the pit lane, second drivers, waiting for our turn, watching over the track as the cars rushed past. An orange single-seater came to a halt on the other side of the track, perfectly placed in front of a marshal, flames licking from the engine. The driver leapt from the cockpit and we looked on in amazement. ‘Fire!’ shouted Xav, running to grab an extinguisher and offering to help. The marshal on our side of the track said that he couldn’t let Xav go onto the live track, which is totally fair and safe, but we felt for the driver as he watched the marshal meander over to him and struggle to get the fire extinguisher working as the car burnt on for just a few more seconds. Eventually, they put it out.

Adam was queueing up, second from the start line at this point, so I thought, to save him worrying about what might be happening the other side of the pit wall, I’d go and let him know. Turns out, he was asleep. Asleep!

Once the track was clear, and Adam had woken up and taken his practice, it was my turn. As I drove along the pit lane I stopped and asked if they wanted to send the car behind me, Xav, out in front of me, because he is a much faster driver. I was worried he’d catch me up and I’d ruin his practice. I was told to let the guys on the start line know, and they’d leave a bit of extra space.

I really did try to tell them when I got there, but I was met by rage! I stopped about two metres from the line, to speak to the man there, but he was furious, he wanted me to get to the line. I wanted to speak to him – at least, I thought I did! He told me he didn’t have time for my questions, that I was ruining the day, that I’d ruined the racing for everyone! I can’t remember everything else he said because I was just so shocked, but it did involve a lot of aggressive shouting on his part, and a bit of frustrated crying on mine.

I went off the line, tears bulging on the edge of my eyelashes, vision blurred, disappointed that I’d let such a ridiculous man upset me. My time was actually okay, considering. Phoebe said that I needed to find more anger for more speed. I went and found Martin and told him what had happened. Everyone took it seriously, which was good. Nobody thought I was a silly crying girl, which was good. The angry little man had run away, which was good.

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Organisational problems (that were nothing to do with me, I hasten to add!), and the fact that it was already lunchtime and they’d only just got all 100 cars out, meant that we had to agree to not to take our second practice and to have just two timed runs, otherwise the entire day would not count towards our championships.

Luckily Xav’s daughter had sent him well prepared with an excellent array of cakes, so the disappointment was appeased, for me, by a very good and sticky cornflake cake.

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The time for the timed runs came round and I headed off the line with gusto. 1st gear, 2nd gear, 5th gear… balls! Then I got cramp in my foot. The involuntary muscle spasm dispersed and I carried on, reaching the second chicane, braking too late and trying to use the power of wang to get me round the corner. The car spun to the left, then snapped back to the right. I was facing the wrong way on the track, ‘Bloody hell Karen!’ I said as I turned it around and carried on. ‘What next?’

Well, next, I caught up with the car in front of me! I know, so wrong, but so funny! I sat behind him, trying not to be pushy, but willing him to go faster. I think I might have helped him to get his fastest time of the day. Hooray for teamwork!

I pulled into the pit lane and was sent straight up to the start line for a re-run. ‘Don’t worry Karen,’ I was told, ‘The track is completely clear, you’ll be the only car out there, you’ve got nothing to worry about.’ The lights changed to green and I floored the throttle, then I spotted the red flags. Hang on a minute! I couldn’t work out what was going on, but I brought the car back in, again. Turns out it wasn’t a clear track after all, might have been a bunch of men and a transit van out there, you know!

Re-run number two went without any problems, aside from the slipping clutch because the car was too hot. My time was 147.97 and I was alright with that.

It was all kind of fun. A bit ridiculous, but funny.

My second run was good. I felt happy with my driving and the car. My time was 145.26 and this put me in 6th position, out of 12. Yes, I’m pretty chuffed with that!

Just for comparison, and so I can show that I really have improved and the competition really has got tougher – this time last year my best time was 157.12, and if I could time travel back a year with this new result I would have achieved 2nd place!

What started off as a bad day, and was actually quite bizarre, turned into a good day. Sometimes when you expect nothing you are rewarded with something.

Anyway, less philosophising, and more appreciating how well everyone did…

1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Adam Ruck
Production Modified:
1st Martin Scarfe, 2nd Simon Foley, 3rd Andrew Pidgeon
1st Andy Hughes, 2nd Martin Roberts, 3rd James Tubby
Supersport Modified:
1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Jason Weatherall, 3rd Nick Emery

A round of applause for you all!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Snetterton (Round 1)

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Spring has sprung and we are back to the sprinting. Hooray for early morning starts and huddling together in random carparks, whilst wishing for sunshine and extra driving skills (spelt with a Z).

It’s all changed a bit for 2016, an unavoidable but last minute update to the regulations led to four classes instead of two, and the need for us to either fit roll-over protection, or swap our dear sweet ZZR tyres for something else. In the rush and hurry we decided to buy a set of secondhand wheels with tyres already on them – Toyo R888’s. The rears are okay, but the fronts happen to be five years old and not very useful.

We arrived early to sign on and be briefed, and then had a good couple of hours to spare, catching up with everyone and having breakfast. I decided to have a mushroom roll because Adam had been talking to me about animal welfare standards and I had no idea where those sausages had come from. The fear of eating a mistreated pig was too great a risk.

We were very lucky to be at Snetterton for the MSVR ‘Season Starter’ alongside the Elise Trophy, Lotus Cup, MSVR Allcomers and Monoposto racing.

Just after noon we got started. Two back-to-back practices, and a timed run, to be followed by three timed runs after lunch.

Spoiler: this is the one where Adam does extremely well and I shame myself with uselessness and you’ll probably think I had never driven a car before, or want to patronise me like one of the marshals did and ask me if I’m too busy doing my hair in the mirror to actually drive the car.

Now obviously I have to get my excuses in early. Martin Styles gave me a Cadburys Creme Egg and I really think that was what did it.

Several new drivers joined the Speed Championships crew, and many others had made updates and improvements to their cars since last season.

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Andy Pidgeon had a new helmet painted especially for him by a man on the Isle of Skye who I totally believe has sheep as studio assistants. True to his usual dedication to speed, Andy came off on his first practice. He really needs a good spoiler to hold him down. Later, a dinner party plan was hatched to provide the perfect opportunity to Rohypnol newcomers and harvest their cars for parts. I have no idea where he gets his ideas from!

This is the first time I’ve driven the Snetterton 200 layout and I was surprised at how many straight bits there were. It’s what they call a ‘power circuit’ and I shouldn’t have had a problem with it, especially with all the improvements we’ve made to the car. No excuses, I just did really badly.

Like, really. I could try using the tyres as an excuse as they were shockingly bad, but Adam managed to cope with them and I should have been able to too. I was just terrible!

On my second timed run I came off at the hairpin. I glided my way onto the grass for a bit of gentle off-roading. Turning back onto the track the front tyres slid around and for moment I thought the car was trying to take me back to the start line. I do not have the skillz. Bloody Creme Egg.

I ended up with a best run of 1:21.35, disappointingly positioned 9 out of 11, and Adam, well, he managed to do it in 1:15.95, and took 3rd – his first ever podium place!

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Trophy time was fun, and with the extra classes and new drivers, it was great to see people being recognised for their driving, and everyone else cheering them on.

Unfortunately the original trophies had all arrived smashed, but the LCUKSC team very kindly got last-minute stand-in trophies, in the form of an army of terrifying little men.

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Adams trophy is having to go and live in his office, before I bury it in the garden incase it tries to attack me while I sleep. I’ve already had to googley-eye it, so it can’t see me, and I am more enamoured with it already.

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So, the roll call of car wrangling champions goes like this:

1st Phil Stratton-Lake, 2nd Mark Swarbrick, 3rd Adam Ruck
Production Modified:
1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Jez Braker, 3rd Simon Foley
1st Mads Petersen, 2nd James Tubby, 3rd Martin Roberts
Supersport Modified:
1st Jason Weatherall, 2nd Nick Emery, 3rd Paul Neale

Fastest of all the drivers was Jason Weatherall, a total natural at podium standing. I told him so. He is going to add it to his CV.

Although I was rather let down by my own performance, I was really very pleased for Adam, and for everyone else. It was great to see the speed champs massive (as they are known, in the hood), although we did miss some of our pals – I’m looking forward to the next round where nearly all of us will reunite, like a supergroup, or the Spice Girls, but with better costumes, more finesse, and cake.

A Ford Escort & A Field – Rally Driving Experience

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Roughly a bazillion years ago, Adam bought me a rally driving session as a Christmas present. I was most excited and finally booked it before the voucher ran out.

Last weekend we drove up to Seaton Ross in Yorkshire. It was an early start with a bad pastry. The highlight of the journey was seeing two very marvellous Shetland ponies. Funnily enough Adam managed to find a different route home, away from the ponies, scuppering my cuddle plans.

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We were introduced to TI Rally School and asked if we’d had any previous experience of rally driving. A couple of people put their hands up. I kept quiet about the time we got Rocky’s written-off Polo, let the tyres down and drove it round Keith’s field doing J-turns, upsetting the neighbours and accidentally setting fire to the engine. Probably not an ideal anecdote for that moment, but one that brings me much joy.

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I grabbed a suit that was big enough for my bum, but the helmets were all too small for my oversized head.

The zip was broken on the suit, so I had to hold it closed with the belt. Feeling (not looking, I hasten to add) something like a 1980’s teen in my baggy Top Gun style flight suit, I received the helmet I was to wear. Bright red, open faced, and like a tomato. I was ready to roll. Apart from I couldn’t tighten the chin strap up properly because it was rusted. Adam said I looked like a Power Ranger, or a Japanese firefighter.

You know how cool some people look in their rally gear, race suits and helmets? Think again!

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I headed off for my first session, where I was to handbrake-turn my way around a small course of tyres in the rally prepared MkII Escort. It started well, but then my helmet slipped over my eyes and I couldn’t see where I was going. I persevered, the instructor tried to hold my helmet back, which he said was a first, but he was holding it quite low, and between that and my cry-laughing, I couldn’t see much at all.

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Adam said that I looked like I was going really well, and then not, and he wondered why I wasn’t doing better, but then he realised it was because I couldn’t see and my spine was being compacted by the nice man who was trying to hold my helmet back whilst I drove about willy nilly.

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I got a different helmet. This one was full faced and wedged on, so at least my eyes were uncovered. Our second task was to drive round the whole of the course, which was definitely more fun, with the added bonus of being able to see. We did a couple of laps, came in, swapped with other drivers (there were 2 cars and 10 drivers) and had another go. Somebody got stuck in a muddy hole and I had a cup of tea.

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Our final lap was timed. Competitive. Uh oh!

I actually thought I was doing alright, until right at the end of the course where the instructor pulled the handbrake on for me (!) and I got slightly confused. (A bit like that time Martin Donnelly was pulling on my steering wheel and saying, “Why are you letting off the gas Karen?!” and I was like, “I don’t know where I’m going Martin!”) Any way, I came 6th, and the man who came 1st got given a bottle of something fizzy to spray from the steps of the portacabin and I felt a little bit embarrassed for him so I did some extra clapping.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning. Good fun, good people, awesome little cars (I’ve been wooed by a Ford!) and totally worth a go!

I came away with two things: the desire to use my handbrake at any possible opportunity, and a full body rash.

Bentley Drivers Club Lunch & Other Motorsport Stories

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Yesterday we joined the Bentley Drivers Club for their annual Competitions Day at their beautiful clubhouse in the Oxfordshire countryside. We’ve sprinted with the BDC a couple of times at MIRA, they’re are a bunch of awesome chaps, so it was a pleasure to be able to spend some time and find out more about the club.

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We were greeted with tea and biscuits, and invited to peruse the exhibits – the stylish trophies, the maginficent engines and the delightful onyx ashtray awarded in 1936 to CT Baker-Carr for his victory at the first club race in 1936 where his lap speed was 104.19mph. I could barely make that in 2015 in the Elise!

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I also admired the selection of teaspoons.

In the main room I noticed the acrylic frieze that bordered the top of the walls, showing the names of those who had contributed to the club. I like names. Barbara Fell, Anthony Hater, Donald Day (D Day), David McBean and Wolfgang Traut, all gave me joy to read.

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We sat on bright emerald green plastic chairs that reminded me of the dentists waiting room from when I was a child. I loved going to that dentist. He was a nice chap, and very kind (he said I had special spit) but the thing I liked most was his waiting room – glossy green chairs, white walls, matt black doors, interesting prints and plants. (Unwittingly I think I’m trying to recreate that look in my studio right now!)

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Trophies and lovely glass tankards were given as awards to drivers, the marshal of the year, and others, and then Martin Greenslade, Competitions Secretary, was given thanks and gifts for his ten year service to the club. The applause went on, and on, and he looked happy and humble. I think he’s a nice man.

The discussion topic raised was ‘How do we avoid considerably aggressive driving?’ My answer – sedation, or, more cakes.

By the end of the meeting I was convinced, and still am (although it’s only been 24 hours) that we need to buy the cheapest, fattest Bentley we can find and race the bejesus out of it!

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Lunch was sausages and mashed potato with vegetables (the lady serving the food was kind to me and picked out the peas!) and we were seriously well looked after with a choice of three puddings – Bailey’s bread and butter pudding, apple and summer fruits crumble, or sticky toffee pudding. Carol took some spare sausages home and I wished I’d asked for a couple of toffee puddings for my pockets.

It was a lovely and encouraging experience, with a charming and welcoming club who really do want people to get involved at all levels.

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I came away feeling lucky to know good people and good clubs like the Bentley Drivers Club, and of course, LoTRDC, the club that has introduced me to a whole new world of decent people. Big up the LoTRDC massive!

Not everyone is as kind, or encouraging!

Just the other weekend I was kindly offered tickets to Autosport International and the Performance Car Show by Landsail Tyres who were sponsoring the event. I jumped at the chance, having had a great time last year.

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We headed straight to the LoTRDC stand to say hello, then met up with Mark and Phoebe and wandered to the BRSCC MX5 Championship stand. Mark asked a few questions, saying we were all sprinters, and their representative Bob spent about 20 minutes talking directly to Mark and Adam about the championship.

“What will the girls do?” Bob finally turned his attention to me and Phoebe.

“Well I was rather hoping to drive!” I exclaimed.

Bob didn’t look convinced. I continued to ask if they had any female drivers, but Bob said they came and went, as they split up with their partners. He thought the girls could organise the barbecue, he seemed hooked on the idea of luring girls for tea and cake duties. He said they had a lovely time though. “We’re always taking the shit out of each other!” Bob exploded with a gleeful snigger.

We decided we didn’t want the shit taking out of us, so we moved on.

We headed straight over to the 750 Motor Club stand to ask about their Five Club Racing series, and were greeted by Alyn.

“You need three of these!” he exclaimed excitedly as soon as he saw us approaching, pointing the MX5 behind him. “One for you,” he pointed at Mark, “One for you,” he pointed at Adam, “And a shopping car for the girls!” he said with a smile on his face and a look of anticipation. I think he expected to get a laugh, but he just got a wall of sighs.

“Are you serious?” I said, as he ran away muttering and didn’t come back. Really, he ran away. So that was the end of that!

We went and got chips. Men wandered the aisles clutching plastic pints of beer, Phoebe and I got offered to get our hair done by a lady on a frilly pink stand, and I decided I never want to go to Autosport again.

Luckily, only a week later we were at the Borough 19 Awards Dinner (another club we sprint with) and my faith in motorsport related humanity was restored. We had a brilliant time, sitting on the same table as Tim Coles and his family (Tim is the champion who leant me his race suit on my first ever sprint!) and being thoroughly entertained by ex-F1 driver and original Stig (apparently they wanted to call him the Gimp but he said no!) Perry McCarthy.

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This really is like Jerry Springers final thought, but, I suppose in all things, you have to take the good with the bad, and although I was really disappointed by the attitudes of Bob and Alyn at Autosport, there’s still good to be taken from that experience and I’ve learnt two very important things – bad people make you appreciate good people even more, and, nobody should take the shit out of anyone without their consent.