Goodwood

Proudly standing outside the Goodwood circuit

Next up was a sprint at Goodwood. Very posh and a long way away. You can see where all the money from the festival goes and it is an excellent venue complete with vintage aircraft taking off. Our day was gloriously sunny.

The circuit has a reputation as a car breaker so I splashed out and hired the cheapest (and ugliest) car transporter I could find and Hayley came with me to see what it was like (though she wasn’t particularly impressed with the rent-a-wreck transporter and her mood worsened when she was given the job of unloading the boot and only discovered that everything was covered in oil part way through…)

But Goodwood was brilliant. After resetting the timing the car was flying. And so forgiving. I didn’t really know the course and there is very little runoff before the earth banks that surround the track but the little car is slow enough and very predictable so if you misjudge an entry you can sort it out in the corner. I had a touch of understeer, a touch of oversteer and a few glorious moments of four wheel drifting.

Goodwood is fast. Almost all of the circuit is forth gear and I was still expecting the big end to go so backed off a few times when the revs got too high. Until the last run.

Two laps from a standing start takes 230 seconds in my car. On the last run I ended both laps staring at the oil pressure gauge with my right foot hard down and my left hovering over clutch. The rev counter needle swept through the orange and kept climbing to the red and at around 100mph the steering wheel started to shake. I felt like Scotty begging the Enterprise’s engines for a few more seconds of warp speed. Those thrilling 30 seconds justified the entry fee on their own.

Another pretty good time – 95% of the target and I’ve no doubt I could beat this if I was more consistent in my lines.

Brilliant!

Unfortunately the camer had a funny turn so no on-board for this one. Just me pulling away.

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Gurston Down

In the paddock at Gurston Down

With the new shells and super expensive competition big end bolts in the Midget and after more evenings spent running-in I set off on a five hour drive to Salisbury and the Gurston Down hillclimb. An event I was keen to do because I spectated there as a child.

I really enjoyed it though I was being careful with the engine. Look how early I change-up. (this was before I knew how to edit so you might want to skip forwards)

I didn’t give it the full beans until the last run to protect the engine and the car felt a bit flat at the top end but I’d been very conservative setting the timing so I knew there was more to come. Then it drove home without making any noises that it wasn’t supposed to!

Results showed I was about 2% of the record so this bodes well!

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Hughes 2010

The plan was that this would transform us from zero to hero

We had done the Hughes in 2009 and finished almost last but with a second fastest time on the airfield stage. For 2010 we had a special rally trip meter (about £300 all in – don’t tell Hayley) to improve our navigation and the carrot that there was a special award, in memory of Warren Chmura, long time supporter of the Hughes, for the airfield stage.

To cut a long story short the navigation went well but too much red mist and a misfire meant we came home mid table. The misfire struck just when we didn’t need it – on the timed sections. It felt a lot like vapour lock and, since we were against the clock I felt we had no option but to drive through it and we popped and banged through the stages. This decision may have been the cause of later problems.

To add insult to injury, when we got to the airfield stage ready to win our award I managed to spin the car twice on the greasy grass.

I got a bit grumpy and blamed Rob – totally incorrectly

We finished 38th out of 49, mostly due to mistakes on my part. Still fun though!

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Deciding on new engine spec

The engine had most of the good bits already but the standard class allows balancing (which should help the week bottom end) and I ordered a new electronic ignition and an electric fan should have freed-up a few more horses. People laugh at this, but if the fan saves 3½ bhp that’s 5% more power!

David at Anglian Triumph Services rebuilds these engines all the time and has done so for donkeys’. He did me an excellent price and is local so I delivered the block to him for a strip, balance, rebore and rebuild.

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Disastrous drive home

After a long delay for the final run Rob and I set of home from Prescott (near Gloucester) to Norwich. Car was getting smoky during runs (see below) but seemed to be running fine.

Half an hour after we left we got stuck in a huge traffic jam due to some roadworks. Suddenly the car stopped and we had to push it into the middle of a dug-up area of ground. Quick checks showed no fuel at the carbs. We put more in from a saintly fellow competitor who was passing by (very friendly championship) but it didn’t help as there was already plenty in the tank. I sent Rob off to find where we are so we could call the AA. In the end by the time he came back the car was running – I assume the problem was vapour look and we set off again. Hours behind schedule.

It went from bad to worse. The engine quickly dropped back to 3 and was producing more and more smoke. We had to stop every 30 minutes and fill up with oil. By the time we got back to Norwich, having used 8 litres of oil and very tired and exhausted it was nearly Midnight.

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Prescott Autum Classic

Prescott Speed Hillclimb MG Midget 1500 at Pardon. Oil Smoke

Prescott Speed Hillclimb MG Midget 1500 at Pardon. Oil Smoke

Prescott – what an amazing place to make a hill climbing debut. 80 years of history and a spectacular venue. Car running fine as we approached and found our spot in the paddock. Whole paddock full of exciting machinery. There were a few Bugattis scattered about but my favourites were the 500s. Beautiful little cars and spectacular to watch, particularly as the drives have to lean out and hold onto the side as they corner.

A 500 racer at Prescott

A 500 racer at Prescott

I took it slowly for the first couple of runs (practice is practice as the sages say). First timed run went well but I saw a photographer and attempted to get a bit of oversteer for him exciting Ettores. I also braked later than I meant to for Pardon but this made me run wide which turned out to be the right thing to do. It’s a funny corner and so steep it seems to be faster to keep away from the apex and go round the outside (Martin Brundall would have called it a wall of death). Check out the video below. I was very slow on the top half though. Someone has said “the Eesses are definitely not flat” and I was timid. Also used second rather than third while rounding Semicircle. Return to paddock and Rob tells me the commentator was making comments (I guess that’s his job!) about the amount of smoke coming from the exhaust.

Final run was very late after a long delay while a crashed car was removed from the undergrowth somewhere. I set my fastest time, despite being too tight in Pardon because I was much faster through the Esses and Semmicirlce. Best time 98% of target. Not bad for first attempt with now very smoky engine. Loved it! I’ll be back!

Prescott Speed Hillclimb Timing Clock

Prescott Speed Hillclimb Timing Clock my best run in an MG Midget 1500

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On the way to Prescott

Bugatti Engine

Very excited as Rob and I set off to drive to a hotel close to Prescott to stay over night and get to scrutineering bright and early. Unfortunately the car started misfiring fairly early into the journey and producing occasional puffs of smoke. By the time we approached the hotel it was running on 3 more often than 4 and I was really worried (and a little bit snappy, if I’m honest!) We called out the AA who sent a very nice man who reset the timing (which had been wound right forward on a rolling road in the quest for top end power) and got it back on 4. Satisfied, Rob and I had a couple of beers. Really excited – used to read about Prescott events in Motorsport as a child!

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Cadders Hill Production Car Trial (SCCON)

Resting at the top of the hill. Unfortunately we'd clipped a gate on the way up!

The venue was in North Norfolk which does have hills. Well, little ones. I had bought a foot pump and pressure gauge especially because I had read that one trick is to lower tyre pressures to increase traction. I also put the spare diff, some tools and a spare driveshaft in the boot, ostensibly in case they were needed but really in the name of traction. Serious triallers often use Midgets with a boot full of parts and twin spare wheels on the lid.

They also have raised suspension while mine is lowered.

We arrived in plenty of time, ready to walk the course and work out the best route. Then immediately fail scrutineering. The last event was the hugely bumpy grass autotest and the battery bracket has fallen off and is missing.

Rob, appointed Master Bodger after his heroic fabrication of a beam breaker from a clipboard at Silverstone, is about to set to with bungees when I discover the bracket under the battery. The nuts were still tight – so tight the bracket was bent. That it had come off shows just how brutal the car’s recent life had been. Unfortunately this was not to be the first mechanical problem of the day…

It is easy to see where we are supposed to go as we attack the first test. Potter up a gentle slope, plunge down into a hole not unlike a bomb crater, turn left, along a bit and then right, then hoof it up and out. Well, up anyway. We got pretty close to the top before coming to a halt, engine roaring and wheels spinning. We fail to convince the marshal that we had made it to the second gate from the top but not bad for a first go.

Then came the hard bit. Reversing down the hill and getting out of the hole. In the middle of the world’s most awkward thirty point turn the engine went flat and unresponsive and I got worried. Turned out the end of the exhaust was buried in the hill. I like repairs that are as easy as driving forwards!

The next test is much longer and starts at the top of a slope of at least a one in three. Going down is easy in today‘s dry weather. A loop round and then a weave back up between the trees and over the crest. In theory anyway.

This was the most frustrating hill because we so nearly did it brilliantly. Momentum is critical and early on the hill you need to go fast in order to carry enough speed for later. In the Midget this produces dramatic oversteer; fantastic fun and our undoing. Rules are that if you touch a gate as you go through it, that’s the score you get. On every attempt at the second hill the rear of the car swung wide and clipped a gate so despite making it over the top we got the same score as if we had got stuck half way up.

This was also the only test where ground clearance was an issue. To get over the top we had to skid the car on its bottom / exhaust / axle with the rear wheels briefly pawing the air. This may explain what happened on the next hill.

The third hill was long and very steep with narrow gates and an awkward 90 degree turn near the top. Like most of the people there, Rob and I were double driving (ie taking it in turns) and had both failed at the first attempt. On the next go I decided to show Rob what passengers can do to help. What they can do is bounce up and down in their seat like a demented kangaroo. According to the on line guide this is known as “bouncing”. Told you it wasn’t complicated.

Bouncing massively increases traction and, as hills steepen, wheelspin builds and the car slows to a noisy stop an energetic passenger can give it a sudden bite and send it scurrying to the top of the hill.

My car is perfect for bouncing – the roll cage provides a handle and, with my assistance, Rob clears the hill. Time for him to repay the favour and we set off. With Rob bouncing like a jack hammer, I am approaching the top for the first time. Suddenly the engine revs shoot up and the car rolls backwards. Something big in the axle has broken.

Investigating the lack of drive.

We roll into the paddock and optimistically I set to work. With the wheel off and the drum removed I pull out the driveshaft to find its splines twisted like a helta skelta. I could fit the spare but a fiddle with the diff produced a terrible graunching. I briefly consider trying to change the diff but with limited tools and no clean oil to go in I decide on a better plan.

We get a tow from a fellow competitor round the corner to a lovely pub, call the breakdown people and wait for a lift home.

What killed the diff? Midget axles are week and this one had already been through a season of standing starts in rallies, hillclimbs and sprints so whether it would have gone without the bouncing I don’t know. I do know that it was full of some fairly substantial pieces.

A premature end to an otherwise fun day. Everybody should have a go at it at least once. I’m definitely going to do it again. Once I’ve rebuilt the axle.

Time to go home. Not what we had planned!

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Sporting Car Club of Norfolk Grass Autotest

How dusty? This can't be good!

My old mate Pete came all the qway from Sheffield for this one.

My third autotest was on a ploughed field, baked hard by a long East Anglian summer. This meant that at times the car was going with the ridges we could really fly but going across them was torture with the axle crashing against (and denting!) the bumpstops and the exhaust smashing against the boot floor. Combined with huge amounts of dust that forced us to run with the roof up on a very hot day this was potentially a real car breaker – one rival, driving a modern car, destroyed his engine mounts – but the tough little Midget seemed to lap it up.

Dusty autotest!

One frightening moment when a stone got lodged between the steering column and cross member which locked the steering solid. Imagine if it had happened on the road!

On this occasion there was only a small number of competitors but I was pleased with second place, all the same.

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Silverstone event proper!

On the Silverstone Start line for MG CC sprint

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.

Negotiating the temporary chicane on Silverstone's Hangar Straight

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.

Midget at Stowe corner during MGCC Silverstone Sprint

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.

My Midget 1500 loved sprinting at Silverstone and so did I!

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.

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