Tuesday, June 18, 2002

New Car Photos, Speedway GP, I Get Let Lose on a Real Race Track with Somebody Else's Ferrari 355 and do Over a Ton in it

Paul Denton from CA. has sent some nice car photos over which are now to be found in the brand-new Guest Gallery IX.

I went to the very impressive Millenium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday 8th June for the British Speedway Grand Prix. Since Wembley was knocked down and the whole sorry saga of "Oh dear we've run out of money to rebuild it let's try and get the Government to bail us out" began Cardiff has pretty much had all of the events that would have occured at Wembley fall into it's lap including the FA Cup. Which means the showcase of English football now takes place in Wales(!). It's a stunning modern stadium but the infrastructure really isn't there - Cardiff just doesn't have the parking for the stadium. Still we managed to park out of the centre and get the free bus in OK but those who came later were reduced to dumping cars on the pavement in the city centre and hoping they didn't get a ticket or towed away.

Speedway, in case you don't know, is motorcycle racing, 4 laps on a shorttrack dirt oval with the bikes powersliding around each bend in spectacular fashion. The event was televised live on Sky Sports, it was highly entertaining, British riders stayed in until the semifinals and there was a great atmosphere. Unfortunately the two stroke oil and dust in the air meant that I had a sore throat for the next day and irrirtated eyes left me unable to wear my contact lenses, but all in all it was great motorsport and a good day. Ryan Sullivan of Australia was the GP winner, Wolverhampton rider Mikael Karlsson finished third.

Got home late then up early the next morning (Sunday) to attend the Midland Militaire show where we were running our jet combat game. We didn't take A&A and I saw nothing for sale that was suitable for it so I'll skip over that show and onto:-

Monday - when I went to more speedway, Wolverhampton versus Kings Lynn Knights but it got rained off.

Wednesday - Now for some real research for A&A! A Christmas present had presented me with a voucher for a track day at Thruxton, Hants. Thruxton is one of the fastest circuits in Britain as it hasn't had first/second gear chicanes added to it - it's chicane and right-left-right complex are both 3rd gear at lowest. Luckily it also has the longest run-off areas of any circuit in Britain.

I got to blast around the course in an MG ZS (the 180 bhp version of the Rover 45), a Ferrari 355, Formula Renault single-seater and then be driven by a professional in a BTCC MG ZS.

First up was being a passenger as one of the course instructors showed me the track from the wheel of the ZS then three laps with me driving and him giving instruction. I didn't get on with this I have to say as I was too busy listening to him and trying to take his instructions on board to actually drive well. In retrospect I wish I had ignored him once I had taken the wheel and concentrated on enjoying myself. Three laps of being scolded and failing utterly to adopt the fixed input method of steering and throttle control wasn't that enjoyable.

Then, the highlight of the day - clamber into a left-hooker F355 for four flying laps. A stunning motor car. Unbelievably composed, I was coming through Village (a long right sweep) with the needle flicking around about 180km/h (European spec car - about 115 mph in English Money) with the V8 bellowing a wonderful angry noise in my ears yet - the car was as beautifuly poised and balanced as if I was creeping around a car park. Very easy to drive, I expected the beast to spank me if I made a mistake yet it seemed almost without vices. Life might be a bit trickier at the upper end of 6th gear though...

I want one, but two things rule against this - one, obviously I lack the serious money needed to buy one and then look after it and two, the Ferrari has a very hard gear change. You can't cut corners with the stick or change gear diagonally (like you can with many modern boxes which feel more like stirring porridge than they should) which makes it hard work, and it was on the 'wrong side' but I think you really need some miles under your belt to get to grips with it. Big Grin City though, definately and the nicest loud pedal in existance.

I'm too big for the Formula Renault singleseater (think mini Formula One) due to being 6'3" and having size 12 feet. So I got given a Sport 2000 for my single seat part of the day - this is basically a Formula Ford but up-engined to 2 litre (FF were 1600cc Ford crossflow engines as fitted to the Mk1 XR2) and sitting in a closed-wheel fibre glass body, very much like a 70s Can-Am. I had six laps in this. Phenomenal grip and braking performance, but you really do need to be fit to get the most out of one. I found during hard cornering that I was pulling enough Gs to discomfort me before the car was discomforted. In six fast laps where I was banging off the rev limiter in top all the time I only had one bit of rear-wheel slippage and that was more of an easily-controlled gentle drift than a heart-in-mouth tankslapper.

Bit chilly too without any form of windscreen and an 80mph wind swirling around inside the cockpit. Cracking fun though.

End of the day was a ride in another MG ZS but built to Touring Car spec with a full roll cage and Willans harnesses. This was an excuse for one of the pros to really show off, bouncing off the rumble strips and putting it sideways through the corners.

Great Day. Despite only driving for 13 laps, I slept like a log on Wednesday night :)

On the auto-combat front I did think about running a Division 15 Car Wars game at my club but have decided to wait until the vehicle construction rules are out and I can build some supercars from a high Division before bothering with CW again.