Silverstone! The most famous circuit in the country and one of the fastest in F1. Home of the British Grand Prix and scene of me and my Midget’s sprint debut.
Just typing that has made my heart beat a little faster.
Like all sprints the Silverstone round of the Nuffield MG Car Club Speed Championship has a standing start. You potter up to the line and the marshals roll you backwards and forwards so your beam breaker lines up with the starting line. While being manoeuvred I like to check that the car is in gear. About eighty times.
When the lights go green you are free to start in your own time. I check I’m in gear for the 81st time, rev the engine until it sounds quite loud, dump the clutch and set off. My helmet hits the cage behind me. This had never happened before so I take it to be a good sign.
The Hangar straight (yes, the Hangar straight) is wide and smooth and isn’t especially challenging in my car. I imagine some of the V8 monsters or the prewar cars with skinny blocky treads require skill and concentration to manage wheelspin but I just put my foot down so far I can feel the cable stretching. The straight is long which gives ample time to worry about where to brake for the tyrewall chicane that has been erected about ¾ of the way along.
With its mildly tuned engine my car is fairly quickly into forth which feels plenty fast enough when you are driving straight at a wall of tyres.
Hard on the brakes and left, right, left between the tyres, cutting it as close as possible and exiting in second. I was genuinely surprised not to hit the wing mirror on the tyre wall. Photos later showed I was a foot away.
Up through the gears and into fourth and approaching Stowe Corner. Yes, the Stowe where I watched Mansell sweep past Piquet ‘87 and Schumacher break his leg in ‘99. I didn’t mention the leg breaking to wife-to-be who was already spooked by the helmet and fireproof suit sprinting requires. In her logic it must need safety gear because it is dangerous. In mine safety gear shows how safe it is.
Stowe is exciting (ie a bit frightening). Approached in fourth I dab the brakes and change to third just before turning in. My car’s lowered suspension meant there was surprisingly little roll and the slightly less skinny tyres gripped well. This might mean that I wasn’t going fast enough.
On my last run I fumbled the down change and had to catch some oversteer which felt heroic and exciting in the car but was apparently so slight as to be invisible to those watching.
This is one of the strange things about sprinting. You get so few goes (Silverstone was exceptional – I got 2 practice sessions and 6 (!) timed, at most venues it’s just 2 of each) that with my level of skill you are not consistent enough to test different lines and braking points. That final run was my fastest and set a new class record. But I’ve no idea why.
I exit Stowe flat in third and grab fourth with a clang as I head down to the section I found hardest; Vale. (Yes, the Vale etc). A hard left that then turns right into Club and the finish. I never got this right. On my first practice I very nearly spun.
Part of the problem is an unused section of track which plays tricks, even when you know to look out for it, and starts a power struggle between brain (“It looks like you have to slow early but you don’t”) and instinct (“If you don’t slow down now you are going to crash and die”) that I never quite mastered.
And that’s it. In my car it takes about 65 seconds. The fastest car, a V8 engined B roadster with slicks needed less than 50. After a run you can drive straight back to the start and chat to rivals while waiting for your next go.
One of the excellent things about the MGCC sprint championship is the fact that you can compete in any MG. At Silverstone there was a huge range from pre war supercharged special bodied racers to bog standard B’s, ZRs and a Maestro turbo. And, theoretically at least, you are competing. Each car has a target time and your job as a driver is to get as close as you can or even exceed that time.
This means that any car in any class could win the championship. The winner being the driver who does best compared to their target.
I managed to beat my target and set a new record (the target is set at 98% of the record. So I was really pleased.
I loved every minute and am now praying for Silverstone to host another Grand Prix. I can’t wait to say “yes, it’s always difficult to judge the entry into Vale” as some hotshoe runs wide.