Last weekend saw the long awaited return of the British Touring Car Championships. With everyone desperate to see what the season brings and who would set the pace in round one, the weekend wasn’t to disappoint.
The first shock of the weekend came in qualifying. It was Dave Newsham in the Team ES racing’s aging Vectra that claimed pole position against the likes of the new Honda Civic and the established teams of Ebay Motors BMW and Redstone Racing, formally Motorbase. With the new MG taking to the track without prior testing before the weekend, expectations were low, even from within the camp, but with the superb team of Triple eight and the highly experienced Jason Plato behind the wheel, there was always the possibility of a shock result. A solid sixth place on the grid for the first race showed this to be a real chance of good results. Despite its good looks, new team and driver pairing of John Thorne in the Thorney Motorsport in the new Vauxhall Insignia, struggled for pace and a huge off at paddock hill in practice meant there would be no qualifying session for the team and doubts were cast on the chance of seeing it take to the grid for the races. However, the team did well to get it repaired in time for race one the following day.
Rob Collard got the best start from race one and took the lead early on. Newsham had dropped to third behind Matt Neal with Plato doing well to gain places to reach fourth. But the main talking point from the first race came on lap 15. With places swapping throughout the race in the top few positions, an audacious move was to change the race in a big way. Newsham was doing well to stay in the front pack and on the start straight he had got the run on Neal to edge ahead for the lead. As the pair braked for Paddock Hill bend, Plato, who was third decided to try and take the lead and go up the inside of the pair from some way back. A move that just wasn’t there as Newsham was turning in. Plato inevitably made contact with the rear quarter of the yellow Vectra sending him into a spin and off into the gravel finishing his race.
Rob Collard went on to win the first race of the season, with Neal second, Tom Onslow-Cole third and Plato taking fourth. Collard was to receive a fine and points on his licence for celebrating with some doughnuts near pit entry, which seems excessive, but perhaps it was the fact that the doughnuts were, well, a bit rubbish that he got the fine. As for Plato, when asked about the earlier incident, he said he saw a gap and went for it. Well, yes, he may have saw a gap, but it was a long way away and was closing rapidly. He then stated that it was all part of racing. Maybe so, but the move ended Newsham’s definite chance of a podium. Do silly moves like that deserve to be part of racing? Hardly fair is it. No stranger to voicing his opinions on various aspects of the BTCC, I would have liked to have known what Plato’s response would have been had the roles been reversed. I think I could guess though and I am certain it would be an opinion that was very different. After the weekend, Plato was to be fined £750 and slapped with 3 points on his racing licence for his move on Newsham, but I couldn’t help feel that a drive through or time penalty would have been more of a punishment.
On to race two which again proved to be a close affair out front with Neal, Andy Jordan, and Plato tussling for positions. Plato did actually take the lead at one point. Very impressive for MG on its return to the championship. But eventually, Plato settled with third step of the podium behind the two new Civic’s of Jordan second and Neal first. Further down the field, Newsham fought back well from the back of the grid to claim ninth. Rob Austin took a very good fifth place in the Audi on a weekend when team made Mark Hazell announced his withdrawal from the championship leaving Rob Austin racing with a spare Audi. Many BTCC fans would love a certain likeable Liverpudlian to fill the vacant seat if a budget can be found. Lea Wood, shone in race two, also in a Vectra, running in the top 10 before a drive through penalty saw him drop down the field and Dan Welch in the Proton did well to recover after being tapped into an early spin to take 12th place. Nick Foster was also lucky to walk away unscathed from his BWM after losing control out of Druids and hitting the tyre wall on the run down to Graham Hill bend before coming to a rest in its roof.
Race three was also set to cause a major talking point and plenty of excitement. It was Ollie Jackson in the VW Golf starting from pole thanks to the reversed grid. Unfortunately he was to drop down a few places on the early laps. Then, a few laps in Mat Jackson ran wide at paddock hill which was to trigger some unbelievable consequences. Running through the gravel before making it back onto the track, Jackson had caused damage to the front of his Ford Focus which left a trail of fluid on the way up to Druids. Ollie Jackson was to find this fluid and lost control under braking sending him spinning into the gravel at the hairpin right infront of me. Ducking to avoid the shower of dust and gravel, I peered over the tyre wall to see a number of other cars follow suit. Protecting myself and my equipment, it wasn’t until the dust had settled before I saw the full extent of the incident. There now seemed to be a carpark in front of me with seven cars stuck in the kitty litter all in various states. The race was stopped while the Marshalls worked tirelessly and quickly to recover the cars and sweep the track.
From the restart it was Collard who took the lead before falling back behind the battle between Andy Jordan and Jason Plato, now for the lead. Jordan did well to keep Plato behind for a few laps despite constantly being put under pressure with a number of nudges from the MG6. It was eventually at clearways when Plato squeezed up the inside of Jordan pushing him wide and taking the lead to go on to take a victory that few would have thought possible from the new car on its maiden race weekend with no testing. Jordan was left very disappointed with his second place, despite it being his second visit to the podium during the day. Meanwhile, Dave Newsham was a man on a mission set to prove a point and after a superb drive, took third place and eventually got that podium place that was cruelly taken away from him in race one much to everyone’s delight. Jeff Smith took a solid fourth ahead of Rob Austin in fifth.
It certainly was an action packed start to the BTCC season which also saw carnage in the Clio Cup race involving a number of cars, which no doubt saw the Renault spare parts division working overtime on Monday, as well as a huge accident in the Ginetta GT Supercup which thankfully everyone walked away from. Usually, it’s the Ginetta Junior races that see the most incidents, offs and impacts but they were very well behaved in their close fought races.
As the Touring Car circus heads to Donington for the next round, there is still no clear favourite for the championship title and there are still a number of questions to be answered. Will the ES Racing Vectra still be on pace or was it a one off performance? Will Jason Plato in the MG be a real title contender? Can Gordon Shedden get used to the new Honda sooner rather than later after a poor weekend? And who, if anyone, will take up that spare seat at Audi? Only time will tell, but BTCC is certainly back with a bang.
It’s been nearly a month now since I bought my new car and most of you will know I am very proud of it. That’s just as well as it is the single biggest purchase of my life to date. However, there is one gripe I have. Despite the fact that I love driving it, I love the way it looks, and the fact that it is the SRi version so it has the big alloy wheels, the sports seats and trim, there are some people who have turned their nose up at it just prior to a comment along the lines of ‘Huh, it’s only a Vauxhall Vectra’
So what? It’s my car, I have to drive it, you don’t, that’s why it’s my car and not yours. Cars are very much a form of art in that they are subjective. What one person likes, others may not. Let’s be honest, I hate the Nissan Juke, I think it’s ugly, pointless and resembles the warthog from the Lion King. That hasn’t stopped others buying it though. Why? Because they like it. No one is forcing you to buy a car you don’t like.
I don’t have a massive budget and I know I will never be able to buy an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, so being sensible I bought a car that ticks all my requirements. If I’m honest, Kelly Brook may be stunning, but I imagine she is expensive to maintain and if she can’t cook at all, then for me, she probably isn’t really marriage material. So the Vectra is practical for what I need and the SRi variant makes it just that bit more special and I think looks great. Ever seen the film ‘She’s all that’? Average looking girl (who I thought was quite pretty anyway) gets asked to the High School prom by a Jock, has a bit of a makeover, then becomes über hot. (I promise you an ex girlfriend made me watch that film) Anyway, I guess to me the SRi is a bit like that. If you have an expensive flashy car then yes, maybe to you it is ‘Only a Vauxhall Vectra’ but with your trophy wife on your arm kitted out with expensive clothes and jewellery looking like a million dollars you may not take a second look at that gorgeous girl working at the checkout in your local Sainsbury’s. That doesn’t mean she isn’t hot and it doesn’t mean a lot of other blokes don’t fancy her.
Whilst testing the new sporty Vauxhall Corsa on Top Gear recently, James May got into a Fiat Panda and stated that life is about ‘Taking pleasure in the simple things’. He is of course right. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, a petrolhead is still a petrolhead. Whether you own a Citroen Saxo or an Audi RS4, you can still enjoy driving and taking pride in your vehicle. James May can probably afford any car he wants, yet he owns and drives a Fiat Panda. That’s the beauty of being a car fanatic. Your tastes can vary, you’re needs can differ, but we all share a passion for cars. I love seeing old cars that have been kept in immaculate condition and have been well looked after on the road as much as a brand new offering from the likes of Ferrari or Bentley. There is a guy in my Village who drives a 1983 Ford Fiesta Ghia in pale gold. It is as immaculate, if not more so, than the day it rolled off the production line all those years ago, but it still makes me smile when I see it. It may be just an old Ford Fiesta, but it’s obviously his pride and joy. I also saw a Triumph Dolomite Sprint in pretty good condition at the weekend doing what they were designed to do, being driven. Ok, So like all British Leyland products that is rare but, I still enjoyed seeing it.
So with a free Sunday, and having spent the day before cleaning and polishing my new pride and joy to within an inch of her life, I decided I would take her out and do two things I really enjoy. Driving and taking photos. I packed my cameras, lenses, and a few bits of other kit and headed out. I love to get motion photos and although I have built a car rig to take photos with, there are a few issues that need ironing out plus it’s pretty hard to fit it all and mess about with it on your own, so instead I took a pump cup, a few clamps and my Magic Arm with quick release plate. Using a quiet road on an industrial estate I set to work fitting my camera to various parts of the car and using a slow shutter speed and timer so I had time to jump back in the car and drive it before the shutter released. I spent quite a while trying different things with varying degrees of success whilst getting odd looks from passers by. Being restricted on what I could do on my own, I went away with a few hopeful looking shots for me to play about with on the computer when I got home. That was not before I went for a drive in the unseasonal weather we’ve been experiencing, the perfect excuse. Some people see driving as a chore or something to be avoided if they can, but I love driving. Even more so in my new car. It was good to get out and explore places and find new roads you didn’t know of before, you get to see quite a lot, and what’s more, you get to see lots of other cars and the people who drive them. Sunday was a good day.
Regardless of whatever car you own, whether other people like it or not, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. So, I may just have a Vauxhall Vectra, but…..It’s MY Vauxhall Vectra.
With the latest addition to my ‘Car’s Owned’ list arriving recently, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you my Car History. Many have questioned why I am so pleased with my new Vectra but after reading about the cars I’ve owned you might be a little more understanding. I’ve driven loads of various vehicles since I passed my test over 11 years ago, ranging from Land Rovers to Alfa’s, Vans (Including a refrigerated Mercedes Sprinter) to Mini buses, Various Tractors big and small, new and old, to telehandlers and diggers and a lot more in between. However my car ownership will probably leave a lot to be desired to most of you and is hardly head turning, but each car was paid for out right and usually served its purpose whilst I still had to be realistic and go for something practical with low running costs.
Car 1 – 1988 Ford Escort 1.3 in Silver.
Affectionately known as ‘Brucie’ as this was the 1.3 Bonus edition, the car used to be owned by my Gran. After she passed away, my brother used it for college, whilst I still got the bus and used my mum’s car on occasions when I needed. However on changing my Job I was given the car. It had dreadful white hub caps which I quickly replaced, a four speed gearbox which screamed at you if you ever went over 60mph whilst the bonnet would start to lift as if it was trying to act as an air brake to slow you down, and a radio which I swapped with a Blaupunkt CD player. However it was well looked after and despite only being a three door version, there was loads of room not only in the front but also in the back for passengers and the boot. The seats were pretty comfortable too. I had this car for about a year and I never really had many problems with it. It shrugged of most bumps and scrapes and parts were easy to come by. I found this out after hitting a pigeon at 60mph which smashed the indicator casing then flipping up and smashing the wing mirror glass before disintegrating in a cloud of feathers. It only cost a couple of quid to repair both and were easy to do myself. I eventually sold it for £350 to an Irishman so I could get something better for my early starts at work on cold winter mornings.
Car 2 – 1996 Ford Fiesta Encore 1.3 in Red
When I say get something better, I meant better than the Escort. Again this was nothing flashy but cost me quite a bit. Not only for the car but I was still young then so it was also very expensive on the insurance. It had a 5 speed gearbox which I thought was the bees knees. I had just about recovered from Brucie Screaming at me every time I drove him down the A12. Being the Encore Version meant it was the bog standard entry level version which meant the only luxury it came with, besides the four wheels and the engine was a driver’s airbag. No central locking, manual windows, not body coloured bumpers, and not even a radio. I did change take the CD player out of Brucie before selling him so that went straight into the Fiesta. Although the car was nothing special it was pleased with it. I had it for a few years which included a couple of years when I worked at the Oxfordshire golf club, so it often had to get back to the homeland of Essex every other weekend and it did pretty well. It was hardly ground breaking performance, but with me behind the wheel it could hold it’s own against other boy racers. It did cause me a few problems at times and I had spent a lot on it getting it repaired or fixed during the time I had it, including the ford dealer incident when they charged me a fortune to fit a new door lock barrel which I eventually found out they didn’t. But that’s another story.
I still had the Fiesta when I move back home and started a new job in Colchester. It was on the daily rush hour commute that the Fiesta saw its demise. Two days after spending £300 pounds on new tyres and brakes to get it through its MOT I wrote her off on a cold Monday morning. I had hit another car at low speed at a roundabout. As I was starting to accelerate onto the roundabout looking to my right as it was clear, the Peugeot 306 in front had other Ideas and was still stationary. I hit it with enough force to crumple the front of mine, but not enough speed to deploy the airbag. The Peugeot suffered only a broken number plate and a cracked bumper. Either it was built like a tank, or as I had expected, the front of my Fiesta was built of cardboard.
Car 3 – 1998 Renault Clio 1.4 16v RT in Red
I was given a good price from the Insurance company for my Fiesta, but It did feel like I had wasted the £300 on the MOT. However I used the money towards my next car, A Renault Clio. I really liked this car a lot. It had matching coloured bumpers, remote locking, electric windows, electric sunroof and power steering. It was a superb car to drive. Really fun, quick and handled well. I had a great time driving this and after fitting a full set of V grooved BFGoodrich tyres on it, the Clio stuck to the road like glue. Until an incident on an icy Sunday morning.
I had driven to work very early to do a few hours. The road wasn’t too bad on the way in to work, the way to work was on smaller B roads and country lanes that never got gritted in the winter. However unbeknown to me, the roads have got worse during the time I was at work and on the way back I took a slight left hander too fast and lost the back end. On full opposite lock to try and control the slide the patch of ice stopped and the front tyres gripped the tarmac instantly flicking me round into the opposite direction. I was heading for the slight bank and the ditch behind it on the right had side of the road and I just had to hold on and expect the worst. It didn’t quite happen how I had anticipated. The bank had launched me into the air and I had cleared the ditched in a way the General Lee would have been proud of. However upon landing in the field the Clio spun round 180 and ended up heading back towards the ditch I had just leapt. We came to a halt facing the road nose first in the ditch. I was stuck. I called my brother and with a push from him, the car got out and was miraculously in not too bad a state. I few cracks and scuffs to the front bumper but it was still intact and the car drove fine.
I had the car for a few months longer, but by that time my photography business was picking up and I was being asked to cover more and more equestrian events. I printed on site at these events and I had a lot of equipment to transport and the space in the Clio just didn’t cut it. It was sad to let her go as she was great fun and I will always remember her fondly.
Car 4 – 2003 Vauxhall Astra Estate 1.6 in Blue
I part exchanged the Clio in February 2008 for the Astra. It was never going to turn heads or pull the ladies but it suited what I ultimately needed. It was on a 52 plate but registered in 2003 and had low mileage. It was in really good condition and it was comfortable to drive. Performance wasn’t earth shattering but with petrol prices on the rise I had to be realistic and consider the running costs. There is a lot of stigma attached to drivers of Estate cars and I was well aware of that, but making money from my photography was more important and I needed a car like this to do so. As it turned out this was the most reliable of all of the cars I had owned. Until I replaced it very recently it had never had a problem, never failed and MOT or ever let me down in four years. I was happy with it and had become very attached to her. I had done over 60k miles in her, which included numerous trips to the Yorkshire Dales, and a few journeys to Le Mans, in which the space she had came in very useful, always taking it in her stride. As a petrol head I was always going to long for something fast and sporty but I couldn’t afford something like that and the running costs that came with it. The Astra suited me fine. It wasn’t filled with extras, but it had remote locking, electric windows, air conditioning and a CD player with steering wheel controls. She was also handy for the occasional time I’ve needed somewhere to bed down for the night. With the rear seats folded completely flat I could lie down almost fully stretched out. It was only recently that issues started to arise in which I spoke about in my previous blog post so it was time to move on to my fifth car.
Car 5 – 2008 Vauxhall Vectra 1.8 16v SRi in Lightning silver
I wasn’t intending on getting something like the Vectra. I had resigned myself to another estate for practical reasons. However the size of the boot in the Vectra had changed my mind and I opted to buy one. The Sri version is one of the top of range models and the sportiest of them all. With 17 inch alloy wheels, sports trim, sports seats and nice extra’s like cruise control and rain sensitive windscreen and wipers it was without doubt the best car I’ve ever owned. It looks nice, is comfortable and drives well. The onboard computer is also nice to have, telling me all sorts of info such as current MPG, Average speed, range etc and appeals to the geek in me whilst I try and get the best fuel economy. (Although it won’t always happen as I am partial to using my heavy right foot on occasions too). The numerous seat and steering column adjustments, mean it’s easy to get comfortable and the adjustable centre armrest is great for my somewhat arrogant/boy racer driving style of one hand of the gear stick and one on the top of the steering wheel. The variety of storage compartments are great and there are some good features for passengers too. As I’ve only had the car a few days I can’t talk about reliability, but buying from Vauxhall meant it has a year’s warranty as standard and a good service plan in place. If it is as reliable as my Astra was I will be very happy.
So this completes my somewhat dubious car history. It will probably have made you feel a lot better about you own cars. However I’d really like you all to get involved and let me know about your car histories. Leave a comment and tell me about what you’ve owned. What were your best ones and your worst ones along with any funny or interesting stories you have. It would be nice for me and others to read and share and it would be great to feature some on this blog in the coming weeks and months. So please get involved. I’d love to hear from you.
Those of you who follow me on twitter and the ones lucky enough to be a friend on FB too will already know I have just bought a new Car. Not brand new, I can’t afford that, but new to me. It’s been a bit of an experience, but thanks to Underwoods Vauxhall in Sudbury, it’s been a good one. So whilst car dealers often get a bad reputation I thought I would share my positive experience with you.
I used to have a 52 plate Vauxhall Astra Estate 1.6 bought from an independent garage in early 2008. The car was bought purely for practical reasons. I part exchanged my Renault Clio for the Astra because I needed the space as I was getting a lot of work as an equestrian event photographer and as I print photos on site I had a lot of gear and equipment I needed to transport, so the Astra Estate was ideal. I bought it with 39k miles on the clock and it had never failed an MOT or let me down in almost 4 years. That was until very recently. For some reason after finishing work, it wouldn’t start. It turned over but wouldn’t fire up. The immobiliser warning light came on and that could well have been the problem. I called the RAC and after the guy spent a long time trying to work out what the problem was, he couldn’t and had it towed to the local Vauxhall garage in Sudbury. After leaving it with them to look at the following day, I spoke to them to be told that it started after charging the battery (after it had gone flat while I tried starting it and being towed with the lights on) and they couldn’t find a fault.
This played on my mind for a while and made me worry about it happening again. What if I was miles away from home and it wouldn’t start? I knew I could have done with changing the car as I had just clocked up 100k miles. A psychological barrier most motorists dread. But the MOT was due soon, the tax ran out at the end of February and the exhaust back box needed replacing if I wanted to sell it, which was likely to cost me a small fortune. So whilst in the garage picking up my Astra, I asked if someone would be able to give me a trade in valuation for it. I was pointed in the direction of a suited young lady standing on the forecourt. Introducing herself, the young lady, Sarah, took me to her office so I could discuss my predicament.
Looking at various options she went and valued my car. On giving me the initial valuation she could tell I was disappointed and even said so. She was right, I was. I knew it probably wasn’t worth that much to them but even I wasn’t prepared for it being that low. With a bit of discussion and words with her boss, who I envisaged to be a guy in a big high backed leather chair sitting behind a desk stroking a white fluffy cat in a James Bond Villain style, whilst Sarah would cut a forlorn figure pleading in a way that would do Oliver Twist proud, for him to be a bit kinder, she came back with a much improved offer. Add that to the fact that I wouldn’t need to get the MOT done and anything repaired had it failed, replace the exhaust and tax it, it suddenly became an offer too good to refuse.
So what about my next car? It probably had to be another Astra estate. Discussing my needs, usage and what I would want from a car with Sarah, whilst telling her I didn’t really want an estate and the stereotypical views the driver receives, if it can be helped, she came up with a few options. The first option I flatly refused. I was not going to buy a Meriva. That would not just dent the ego as an estate does, but completely batter it and drag it screaming into oblivion never to be seen again. If I had a wife and 2 kids then it would have been a viable option, but I don’t. I’m not quite 30 (although I do often feel a lot older) quite recently single again and I wanted something a bit more fun and sportier. I will admit fun, sporty and practical are three boxes that are hard to tick when you are on quite a tight budget looking for a used car, but Sarah’s next option somewhat surprised me and was something I had never considered.
She took me outside to show me her idea and pointed me in the direction of a black Vectra. Somewhat unsure I followed. ‘You probably haven’t thought about a Vectra but check this out’ she said with a wry smile as she opened the boot. ‘Wow’ or words to that effect, I exclaimed. The boot was huge! It went on for miles and was ideal if you had plans to kidnap more than one person at a time. I didn’t, but it was more than ample for what I needed. ‘You can’t have this one though as we’ve just sold it’ I was told, but after sitting in it I was impressed. She’d come up trumps.
Back in the office she showed me two Vectra’s they had in stock. One in maroon, on a 58 plate and one in Dark Silver one on an 08 plate, both with very low mileage. Unusual for a car popular with travelling sales reps. The silver one had really caught my eye. I left the dealer in my Astra with my head full of thoughts of what I should do. It was a lot of money to spend and was it the best idea?
The following day, the Astra failed to start. That was it. My decision was made for me. After being a loyal girl for nearly four years, she’d now let me down. I couldn’t trust her now. A situation I’ve been familiar with before, but not from her. It was time to trade her in for a younger and better looking model. Dad towed me back to the garage and I was back in Sarah’s office drinking coffee again. I wanted the Silver Vectra. A 1.8 16v SRi with 18k on the clock. I needed to get the best deal I could. Spending a long while sorting out the best deal and the various options Sarah had come up trumps again and I was happy. She was good, very good. I was pretty sure she could sell Ice to Eskimo’s. Although after trying to haggle over half a tank of petrol, as my Astra was still half full, and realising what a genuinely nice person she was, I was left wondering if I should have been haggling on where to take her out for dinner instead.
The deposit was paid and the car was booked in to have its 114 point check before I could take it home. Initially it was going to be ready on the Wednesday, but on the checks the front tyres were showing signs of ageing and although they would have passed an MOT, Vauxhall didn’t want it to go away with the slight cracks in the sidewalls so a new pair were ordered to replace them at no cost to me. I didn’t mind waiting an extra day as it was £300 I wouldn’t have to spend. That’s pretty good in my book.
So the day arrived for me to pick it up and I was back in Sarah’s office drinking more coffee, which by now she’d become pretty good at making just how I liked it. The finer details were sorted out, the MOT complete and the monthly service plan was set up, which was also a good deal, before we took it for a quick spin to make sure it was all good. I’m always careful driving around with other people in the car so she probably thought I was a bit of a granddad behind the wheel. I had all intentions of putting the Vectra through its paces when I was on my own.
Payment was eventually made and the car was mine. By now it felt like Sarah was a good friend rather than someone wanting to flog me a car. She’d done a really great job, was a pleasure to deal with and I couldn’t praise her enough. As I left I imagined she would be soon back in the bosses office again, only this time he would be offering her a Cuban cigar whilst pouring two large whisky’s from a decanter. If he wasn’t, he should have been. I drove my new car out passing my sad looking Astra parked all on its own, whilst the other cars had ganged up together to one side. I felt some sadness as I’d grown attached to her and she had served me well. But she had let me down and it was time to move on and thanks to Underwoods in Sudbury, and especially Sarah, the whole experience was a pleasurable one.