Last week saw the Motor Sport Vision Racing (MSVR) Media day at Brands Hatch. MSVR run a number of club series from the Trackday Trophy and Monoposto championship, up to the GT Cup championship and F3 Cup so it was good to head down to Kent again to see what was being planned for the coming season. It’s great to see the enthusiasm for club level motorsport and to hear that the race series are being well represented. You should never underestimate ‘Grass Roots’ motorsport as the action is just as good as any top level events and championships are just as hotly contested.
There were a number of cars filling the pit lane to represent the race series under the MSVR banner and most took to the track too, including a very special car. That of the 1989 Lotus 101 as driven by Satoru Nakajima in that seasons Formula One championships. As a young boy growing up in the eighties the latter part of that decade within formula one was an era I remember fondly so it was great to see the Lotus on track sounding like a dream. A very big noisy and almost deafening dream, but a dream none the less. It was also one of the cars which made up my very first Scalextric so it had extra meaning.
Now some of you may recall that at last year’s MSVR media day I was taken around the Iconic Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in a Radical SR3 RS. Well this time I got taken around again but in two very different cars. The first passenger ride of the day was in a Porsche 997 GT3 which will contest in this seasons GT Cup Championships. This was a superb opportunity for a huge GT racing fan such as myself so to be able to experience for myself what it is like being in a car that I have seen in many top race series from British GT & Blancpain to endurance races such as the Nurburgring 24hr & Le Mans.
The weather was overcast and the track was damp but it was going to be a ride I would enjoy very much and my chauffeur, Nick Whale wasn’t in the mood for hanging around. The acceleration was phenomenal from the pit exit and we straight onto the tail of a pair of DB5 Aston Martins, which we made short work of on the Exit of Paddock Hill bend. Breaking into druids on the greasy surface the Porsche remained so stable and took it in its stride. On the exit of the hairpin it was clear how much power this machine had at its disposal. Just a dab of throttle and the super wide rear tyres were struggling for grip as the 997 started to wiggle its rear but Nick was always in control and told it who was boss. On the edge of its limits we sped through Graham Hill bend and along the Cooper straight towards Surtees and McLaren. The Porsche remained planted through the bends despite the lack of grip the tarmac was providing only squirming slightly as it chomped at the bit desperate to unleash the horses which would enable it to power down the straight quicker than a scorned child caught with its hands in the biscuit tin.
Down the pit straight I watched the speedometer rise as it just passed the 200kph mark as the brakes were applied for Paddock Hill bend again. The Porsche and Nick took it all in their stride. Smoothly through the bend, down the hill and back up towards Druids within the blink of an eye. By now we were catching the Green Lotus Evora GT4 and it wasn’t long before we had passed it with ease. I was loving this. However, it wasn’t long before a couple more laps had passed and we were heading back into the pits. All good things have to come to an end but I was very fortunate to have experienced my ride in such an awesome machine. I’d like to thank Nick Whale who manned the wheel expertly and the In2Racing team for letting me experience firsthand what their car is capable of.
That wasn’t to be the end of my on track excitement though. My second passenger ride of the day came in something a little less powerful, a little more affordable, but by no means any less exciting. I was to be taken out by Luke Caudle in a John Cooper Works Mini. Luke had won the JCW Mini Challenge class in 2010 so he knew what he was doing behind the wheel of this not so small Mini and he was keen to show me. We blasted out of the Pit lane onto what was now quite a busy circuit. There were 3 or 4 other Mini’s out along with a few BMW 3 Series from the Production BMW Championship, a few cars from the Trackday trophy contingent and some VW Golf’s from the VAG Trophy and Golf GTI Championships. This was of course no bother as the Mini was quick. Very quick. I knew it was not going to be any slouch but even I was surprised at how fast this car was. It certainly felt it too as Luke made light work passing the other cars on track. Passing round the outside at Druids or darting up the inside at Graham Hill, the other cars seemed to be disappearing rapidly in the rear view mirror. I was pretty sure Luke was having a great time as he cut the kerbs and power slid round bends on the damp track. It didn’t matter whether he was enjoying or not though because I was having a great time. Only my crash helmet could conceal a grin any Cheshire cat would be proud of.
Blasting down the Brabham straight just inches from the pit wall the car topped 110mph as like the Porsche it remained stable braking for Paddock Hill bend. Ok, so it may not have been as quick or as powerful as the 997 by heck the Mini Cooper was fun. With all the traffic on track that Luke was supremely carving his way through it was probably the nearest I would get to experiencing a race situation. One thing was certain, I’d never seen any mums drive a school run in a Mini quite like this, but it wouldn’t half make it more bearable. As like last time it was all over too soon but it was great to experience a few laps in the Mini and it was just as fun if not more so than the Porsche and the Radical’s I have been in round Brands Hatch. So thanks to Luke, the EXCELR8 team and the guys and girls from the Mini Challenge for letting me have a ride in their small but awesome race car.
It was a super day at Brands Hatch and another day I won’t forget. It’s great to be gearing up for the new motorsport season and I can’t wait for it to arrive. You could do a lot worse than check out some of the MSVR race weekends at circuits around the country. They offer a lot of great racing in a variety of cars with very reasonable ticket prices so check out their race calendars.
A few months ago you may remember that I was taken round Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in James Abbott’s Radical SR3 RS for a couple of flying laps. Well I’ve now gone one better thanks to Will Brown of the Radical Owners Club and David Frankland, driver in the Radical Clubman’s Cup.
Will had read the article about my previous experience and got in touch to invite me to a track day organised by the Radical Owners Club with the prospect of being taken out for some passenger laps. Only this time, it would be on the full Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Those of you who know me will know I adore the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch so I naturally jumped at the opportunity.
Thankfully the weather was glorious at Brands Hatch on Monday and conditions were perfect out on track. My girlfriend Liz had the day off work so joined me for the day. we met up with Will and discussed the plan for the day. There were to be three groups of cars, one made up of all the radicals, taking to the track for 20 minute sessions each hour. My ride was to take place later in the day so it gave me a chance to take some photos of the selection of cars taking part. There were a few well known drivers there on instructing duties, including Martin Donnelly and Tony Gilham, who was spotted without his trade beanie hat!
At midday, I headed back to the garages and Will introduced me to David Frankland, my trusty chauffeur in his Radical SR3 RS. It was clear I was going to be out for the whole 20 minute, a prospect I was relishing. David also offered to take Liz out too later in the day. Of course she jumped at the chance too, although i’m not sure who was more excited, Liz or David! After being kitted up with a helmet and gloves and being strapped in, it was time to be wheeled out of the garage and onto the pit lane.
With the session underway, we were off. David had told me he would take a couple of laps to get up to speed, but straight away it felt like being fired out of a cannon. The acceleration of the 1.5litre machine was incredible, particularly as the gear ratios had been shortened to improve it. As we got into a rhythm I could start to take a bit more in. David had a countdown timer inside the cockpit timing down the 20 minute session which I used to get a rough idea of the lap time around the 2.3 mile track.
Now up to speed I glanced at the timer as we crossed the start line, I could also see the speed readout too in kph. Reaching 195kph before braking for Paddock Hill bend we sailed round the tricky downhill adverse camber corner with the car sticking to the tarmac like glue. As we hit the bottom of the hill I could feel it in my stomach before the climb back up towards Druids. Braking hard for the short blast to Graham Hill bend. Despite it only being a relatively short distance between Druids and Graham Hill, the acceleration of the Radical meant hard braking was still needed. Clipping the apex and then running onto the kerb on the exit onto Cooper straight. It was another blast up to 175kph before braking into Surtees as David took a wide line on entry to gain the best entry speed on exit for the long straight to follow.
As we headed out onto the GP loop I was now in uncharted territory. Hammering through Pilgrims drop in a blur, I kept an eye on the Speedometer which hit 205kph before braking for Hawthorn Bend. It was here that you realise just how good the radical is. We entered the 90 degree right hander at a staggering 160kph (100mph) and still the car wasn’t going to go anywhere David wasn’t directing it to. As David had said, anyone can drive in a straight line at high speed, not everyone can take tight corners at high speed.
Through the double Apex Westfield Bend the track takes on another feeling. The trees start to encroach either side and the dip and rise up to Sheene Curve give you a sense that you are on a country road. It’s a good job we weren’t though as the speed we were travelling David would have lost his licence on the spot and handed a very hefty fine. Through Sheene we quickly approached one of my favourite corners for taking photos at, Stirlings. The slight downhill entry into the banked left hander followed by the slight rise on the exit always gives great photo opportunities. However, I was left a little disappointed as from the passenger seat I didn’t really notice those things. Disappointment didn’t last long though as we were soon speeding along the tree lined run to Clearways and back out into the main Brands Hatch Arena. Relatively hard breaking was needed on the entry to Clark Curve, the final corner, but it was foot right down through it to ensure high speed down Brabham Straight and over the finish line. I checked the timer as we crossed, 1 minute 40 seconds. That was pretty quick and I timed a couple of other laps which were 1 or 2 seconds quicker. Even more impressive with a great lump like me, or was that success ballast, in the passenger seat.
The 20 minutes soon ended and we were back in the garage before long. David asked if I was ok. He couldn’t see the huge grin that was plastered across my face for the duration underneath my helmet. It was brilliant.
After the lunch break, It was Liz’s turn out on track, and although her session was cut short by about 5 minutes thanks to someone beaching their car at Druids, she loved it too. She wasn’t that bothered about the shortened session as she did feel a bit sick as she got out of the car afterwards. We both can’t thank David enough for taking us out, normally I’m a bit of a control freak but at no point did I feel fear. That might have changed had I been driving. I also am very grateful to Will for inviting me. It was a brilliant day and one I will never forget. It is unlikely I will get to drive the famous Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch, even less likely at the speed I had experienced, but being a passenger is no less exciting I’m sure.
Everyone has their favourite racing circuit, whether you are a racing driver, spectator, photographer or marshal. There are a number of different circuits scattered throughout the UK and most of them have various layouts. But for me, my favourite of all is the GP circuit at Brands Hatch. I love it not just from a photographer’s point of view, but from a motorsport fan’s as well. For me it has great variety, numerous vantage points and some brilliant corners. Add to that the undulations, climbs and descents and you have a stunning race circuit.
I understand that a number of circuits are built on old airfields and to be fair, it is a good use of the land, however this leaves you with flat, but by no means featureless race tracks. The undulating layout at Brands however adds to the excitement. We all know what an awesome sight it is to see cars thunder round Paddock hill bend, down the hill and then up to Druids. It is akin (well almost) to Eau Rouge at Spa Francorschamps. Having been out in the Indy layout at Brands in a race spec Radical SR3 RS, I can tell you, it’s a rollercoaster ride.
The GP circuit, steeped in motorsport history, provides some fantastic viewpoints not just a trackside photographer but as a spectator too. Obviously being trackside provides me with great photo opportunities but there was I time before I had media access and I loved the circuit then too. From the Desire Wilson and Paddock Hill grandstands you can see a great deal of the circuit thanks to the high vantage point. Around Paddock Hill bend, along Hailwood Hill and on the outside of Druids Hairpin provide great spectator viewing despite the high catch fencing. But if you like to take photos, the large area on the inside of Druids provides a great opportunity to capture some shots without the fencing being a Problem. I also love the Southbank parking area. It is ideal if you have the family with you, as you can watch from the comfort of your own car (great if it’s pouring with rain) but is a good central point to start from if you want to wander around the track.
Head out into the woods and you can also get some great unobstructed views of the GP section too. You can walk round pretty much the whole of the inside section with many great vantage points for the budding photographer. If you are there for a touring car head out to Westfield Bend. It may be a bit of a trek but it’s great to see the likes of Andy Jordan launch his car on to two wheels as he catches the inside Kerb, plus you can see it from just a few feet away. Another good spot, and one of my favourites is Stirlings Bend. A banked 90 degree left hander before the blast to clearways always gives good opportunities for a nice photo.
There are so many aspects of the circuit that come together to make it a very spectator friendly race track. Many people tell me how hard it is to take motorsport photos as a spectator due to all the high fencing everywhere. My response to them is that whilst catch fencing can be the foe to any photographer, it is there for a very good reason. It can be frustrating as well I know as I was a spectator too and sometimes still am. However, get yourself down to Brands Hatch and you will find you are spoilt with the amount of area’s you can take unhindered photos from.
I’ve been to Brands Hatch twice in recent weeks and both race meetings have been run on the full GP layout. I like shooting it and each time I’m there I manage to find a nice place to shoot from that I wasn’t aware of before. The most recent visit was for the Historic Sports Car Club meeting. I love historic and classic racing and it is something that greatly interests me. Although you won’t see Formula One at Brands anymore, it was there just 25 years ago so it was a great thrill to be there to see some of those cars back there, along with the Group C monsters that used to take part in the famous 1000km race there. You can read my report from the weekend on the Checkered Flag website here.
I’ve given my reasons for why I love the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch so much and I know it is a favourite among many racing drivers too. Although I will more than likely never experience it as a racing driver, I have been out at racing speeds on the Indy loop which you can read in a previous blog post. However, thanks to Will at the Radical Owners Club, I will be experiencing the full GP loop on Monday. He has very kindly invited me to their trackday and I will be sampling first hand what it is like to travel round the famous track at high speed. Of course, I cannot wait and I will be writing about my second Radical experience, but until then, I will be running around like an expectant five year old on Christmas Eve.
It’s been a while since my last blog, apologies to anyone who has been waiting in eager anticipation for my latest mutterings, but quite frankly, if you fall into the category then perhaps you need to find yourself a hobby! Thats not to say im not very flattered if you do though.
Anyway, it’s been a week or so of ups and downs and rather than dwelling on the negatives, I’ll talk about the positives. This week I headed off to Brands Hatch for the Motorsport Vision Racing (MSVR) media day. It seemed like an age since I was last at Brands Hatch but it did mean the new season of Motorsport was drawing near. A coffee and bacon roll on arrival was much appreciated before Jonathan Palmer discussed the season ahead and introduced the racing series to compete under the MSVR banner. My full report on the media day can be found at TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk which you can read here.
After the presentations of race series and discussions in the media centre, I number of cars from the various representative series were taking to the track. Some of which were providing passenger rides. Two cars to offer this were a pair of Radical Sports cars. As I headed into the garage, I managed to get a ride in the Radical SR3 RS. I was in for the ride of my life. A full report of my experience in the car can be read here. So after this amazing experience I was pretty made up. I’d never done anything like that before but would jump at the chance to do it again.
As I write this, it is three weeks until I will be heading to Snetterton for my first race weekend of the year. MSVR are hosting a number of race series, and one of which, the MSV Trackday Trophy will see the debut of my Friend Julie. She will be taking to the new 300 circuit in a Porsche 944. So I will be there to cheer he on, get some photos and reporting on the weekend.
Other news from the world of motorsport is the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Its been a long wait for the new season to get underway, however, there are far more important things happening in the world that are of higher importance than Formula One and the current situation out there is one of them. Let’s be honest, after last year’s season opening bore fest, it’s probably just as well it’s been postponed. Whether it will be slotted into the already congested F1 calendar at a later date remains to be seen. I had heard that it could slot in between India and Abu Dhabi towards the end of the year.
Lastly, both my 1966 GT40 Model has been finished and my latest model, a 1960’s Mini Cooper racing car. Having spent hours working on the GT40, meticulously paining and putting it together to get it perfect, disaster struck when it came to the decals. The kit was quite old and although the decals showed no sign of ageing or damage, when it came to putting them on some of them shattered and broke. I did the best I could to put them together and it did mean I had to paint the front wing decals. It was disappointing for this to happen after the model was looking really good. There were however no such problems with the Mini and that was completed without any problem. It looks really good and even has an opening bonnet to show off the engine which I spent quite a while working on. Its hard work painting very small parts for the engine but it was very worthwhile. I’m thinking of putting together a flickr album on my account to show the photos I have of them at various stages of the build. I now need to find some more models to work on.