Photos – FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone 2013

I was at Silverstone in April for the European Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship weekend. I took along a new zoom lens to its first motorsport event, and by Sunday I think I was getting the hang of it!

I’ve attended the 6 Hours (and predecessor 1000km) for the last few years, this year it was moved from Autumn to Spring with the expected change in conditions. Saturday’s ELMS was run in torrential rain. Thankfully Sunday was much brighter and was mostly free of rain, but again the thermometers flattered to deceive, and while it was warmer than the day before it still felt much colder than readings indicated. In previous years I did it as a day trip but with the addition of ELMS I decided to stay in Northampton to see both races, and also to attend Sunday’s pit walk.

Saturday – See my post about Saturday’s European Le Mans Series race here.

Sunday April 14th – FIA World Endurance Championship

The first order of business was to get to the pitwalk. This was easier said than done. The free shuttle buses were few and far between and it took a good 30 or 40 minutes to walk from the Abbey/ex-Bridge area to the new Wing paddock complex, as there is no crossing point nearby. All this walking meant I missed the day’s Formula 3 race which happened at the same time, though I did bump into these guys. Was it worth the effort? Definitely.

Continue reading “Photos – FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone 2013”

Photos – ELMS 3 Hours of Silverstone 2013

I was at Silverstone in April for the European Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship weekend. I took along a new zoom lens to its first motorsport event, although Saturday was a bit of a washout.

Saturday April 13th – European Le Mans

Saturday was very cold and only got colder, until the rain arrived at which point it got even colder but also very, very wet causing racing to be abandoned for the day. I spent the ELMS and WEC qualifying sessions on the grass bank between Maggotts and Village, before ensconcing myself in the Woodcote stand for the 3-hour ELMS race, trying to stay warm. Thermometers may have read 9 or 10C but with windchill it felt like 5C at best, 1 or 2C by the end.

Formula 3 Europe:

I only saw one Euro F3 race but it was good, lots of passing albeit not much of it near me. Harry Tinknell (blue car) is local to me so I was rooting for him, he was leading for a while but fell back to 3rd I think it was at the end.

ELMS:

 

The ELMS race was good as well. I’d call it a traditional race, not the sort you see very often any more. Everyone had slicks for the start but as the formation lap got under way it started raining! Half the field pitted straight away but mysteriously half of them did not, and it cost them dearly as the Safety Car came out. Big gaps then appeared in the field as the conditions worsened but it wasn’t boring – quite the opposite, over two hours a lot of cars went sliding and spinning off, or had drivers uncomfortable with the conditions, so the order was changing quite a lot despite the gaps.


Eventually the rain got so bad everyone was running around in 2nd-gear to avoid aquaplaning, the Safety Car was called out but even after 20 minutes a lot of the field still hadn’t caught up with it, they were being so cautious! After a good 30 or 40 minutes under SC the red flags came out to end the race half an hour early. At the time, freezing in the stands too stubborn to move while the track was live but so cold I wished it ended, I thought it was a good idea. But looking back I almost wish the SC hadn’t have come out let alone the reds flown, everyone was going slowly for the conditions and it would’ve been interesting to see who made the best of it.

I was sat in the stands with Carole @revs_rule, and after the race was stopped we made a beeline to my car and to Silverstone village for a hot meal and cup of tea in the White Horse pub, which were very nice indeed.

More photos from Saturday are at Picasa. As I say, I was still getting used to the new lens and with the cold and rain it was quite tricky anyway!

My next post is about Sunday’s World Endurance race.

All You Need To Know: 2013 FIA WEC Silverstone 6 Hours

Are you going to Silverstone this weekend for the 6 Hours of Silverstone? I wrote a little guide ahead of last year’s race and I thought I’d do the same again this year.

It should be an interesting change in dynamic with the race having moved to April from a mid-season August, it has now become the opening round of the series. It’ll be our first chance to see the competitiveness of the teams and drivers particularly those that did not make the trip to Sebring in March. The weather and temperature will be other factors to consider, though in fairness they may not be too different to the years the race took place in September.

Racing This Weekend

FIA WEC, ELMS, and FIA European F3.

What Are They?

The FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is a world series for the cars and stars of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and 2013 is the second year of the revived championship. Four classes of car compete on the track at the same time, two sets of ‘prototypes’ and two sets of GTs. This weekend features a six hour race on Sunday.

The European Le Mans Series is a regional series also linked to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It also has four classes, two of which are identical to those in the WEC and two are ‘entry level’ in nature. This weekend they’ll race for three hours on Saturday afternoon.

FIA European Formula 3 is a single-seater category for aspiring drivers, if F1 is the top tier of single-seater racing then F3 is the 3rd-tier. In reality the talent from F3 graduates into all types of racing including WEC and the like. They will have two races on Saturday and another one first thing on Sunday.

What To Bring

Tickets! You could get a 3-day weekend ticket for £35 in advance and they should still only be £40 on the gate, obviously single-day tickets would be lower!

Appropriate clothing! It is April – expect a mixture of sun and showers. It also a cold Spring so bring a thick jumper and a coat. It’ll be hard to choose between a heavy coat for warmth or an anorak to stay dry so put both in the car and decide when you get there! Bear in mind Silverstone can feel cold on a warm day so if the day is cool already, be ready. Bring a hat too. And sun cream! Seriously!

Shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Although Silverstone spent a lot of money on path improvements around the start/finish straight, and that area really does look impressive now, they don’t extend around the whole track and in any case you might not want to go where the paths go. With all the rain we’ve had the ground will be muddy.

A radio! When the cars are running you will struggle to hear the PA system around much of the track so you will need a radio tuned to 87.7FM Radio Le Mans, and a supply of batteries.

You might also want a camera, with a supply of batteries.

Andy Blackmore’s Spotter Guides. You might want to print these:  FIA WECELMS  Wait as late as you can as they’re being updated.

Bring food or plenty of money to buy some. I usually buy my lunch on site. Silverstone’s food sellers have markedly improved in quality over the years, unfortunately they can now make a hefty dent in your wallet. At least it isn’t as pricey as Goodwood! Don’t bank on getting anything on your way back to your car though, they’re all packing up by then.

On the plus side, parking is free and very simple. Go along Dadford Road all the way down, past the main entrance until you get to the 2nd roundabout and turn left there signposted Public Parking. You’ll discover you are near the end of the Wing, by Club corner. Follow the people wearing orange or yellow and they’ll have you at a nice spot barely five minutes walk from the gate, which is about a half minute’s walk from the track. Obviously if you have to queue to buy a ticket it’ll be longer, but if you’ve brought your ticket with you, you can be out of your car and trackside within 10 minutes if you want to be. I usually follow my ritual of getting a cup of tea first, maybe a bacon roll!

If you don’t feel like walking the track there are free buses circulating the perimeter road, also visiting the pitlane, so you can still make that journey to Becketts or the Hangar Straight if you want to.

A lot of the grandstands will be open for no extra fee. Not all of them are open all weekend, Sunday is the day with most availability.

WEC teams will be based at the Wing paddock. ELMS and F3 teams will be based at the National paddock (the old pits).

Want To Watch The F1 Race Too?

Greedy so and so, but, me too! And there’s good news – if you can get to Silverstone early enough, the Paddock Diner in the National paddock will be open from 7.30am Sunday and they will be showing the Chinese GP on their TV screens. That race starts at 8am and should run until about 9.30. Racing starts at Silverstone at 9.15am on Sunday with F3, by then you should have a sense of whether it is worth staying for the end of the F1.

Info from the most excellent FIA WEC Twitter feed which you should definitely follow.

Timetable

Friday

  • 9.00am – 10.00am ELMS Practice
  • 10.15am – 10.55am F3 Practice
  • 11am – 11.40am F3 Practice
  • 12.25pm – 1.55pm WEC Practice
  • 2.10pm – 3.10pm ELMS Practice
  • 3.25pm – 4.10pm F3 Qualifying
  • 4.30pm – 6pm WEC Practice

Saturday

  • 9.00am – 10.00am WEC Practice
  • 10.20am – 10.55am F3 Race 1
  • 11.10am – 11.30am – ELMS Qualifying – LMGTE & GTC classes
  • 11.35am – 11.55am – ELMS Qualifying – LMP2 & LMPC classes
  • 12.10pm – 12.30pm – WEC Qualifying – LMGTE Pro & LMGTE Am classes
  • 12.40pm – 1.00pm – WEC Qualifying – LMP1 & LMP2 classes
  • 1.20pm – 1.55pm – F3 Race 2
  • 2.20pm – 2.40pm – ELMS Grid Walk
  • 3.00pm – 6.00pm ELMS Race

Sunday

  • 9.15am – 9.50am – F3 Race 3
  • 10.00am – 10.45am – WEC Pit Walk & Autograph Session
  • 11.10am – 11.40am – WEC Grid Walk
  • 12.00pm – 6.00pm – WEC Race

When you leave I recommend allowing time to watch the podium ceremonies. Each of the four classes gets their own podium ceremony. Not only is it good to show your appreciation to the drivers it is a great way to let the car park empty before you hit the road. All traffic merges together into a single road and that means everything backs up, it takes a long time to get out, so instead of stressing in your car you might as well stick around for 20 minutes to congratulate all of the class winners.

Tweets

I’ll be tweeting from @toomuchracing throughout the weekend for as long as signal and battery allow, unless it is too cold to use it! And do remember to follow @FIAWEC as well.

See you there.

Photos: 2012 FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone

I’ve attended the 6 Hours of Silverstone (and previously the 1000km) annually since 2009, last year was no exception. I’d meant to put up a few photos of the day and although I uploaded the album it seems I never linked to it here, so I hope you enjoy this little taster.

Silverstone is very open and windswept so it can be tricky to get good shots but I think I did a reasonable job. This year I should get some good ones as I’ll be bringing another lens.

Last year the race was held in late August, the best time it has ever been held. Previously it has been a chilly, windswept September. This year it has moved to a chilly, windswept April – just next weekend on April 14th. This was done to help the costs of the teams and to make the race more important in the run-up to the big one at Le Mans. Speaking purely as a trackside spectator it was far better in August.

I’ll be there next weekend to see the WEC on Sunday and the ELMS and F3 on Saturday – a weekend ticket booked in advance costs a mere £35 and that gives you access to multiple grandstands so it is an absolute bargain. That’s for a combined 9 hours of sportscar racing plus three F3 races! If you’re unsure whether to come, and you should come for the WEC at least, have a look at these photos to see if it appeals to you.

I may write a little something during the week, just some tips for those attending.

Click here to jump straight to the full Picasa album.

The grid:

 

Olympic Gold-winning canoeist green flaggers:

Side by side.. wait.. wait.. Go!

Audi vs Toyota:

 

Prototypes and GTs both racing at the same time:

Ferrari vs Porsche (vs Aston vs Corvette)

 

You can get a nice bit of exercise as you wander the track perimeter:

And back for the Chequered Flag;

And the podium!

All photos are clickable for a higher resolution. There are a lot more where that came from in the full album: 119 photos in all!

I hope you come along to this year’s race next weekend.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012 – Photo Diary

After the lengthy delays getting in on Saturday, the first thing I did was go to the sculpture outside the House to see if I could catch anyone still there for the planned meetup. This year’s focus was Lotus and the sculpture was another variation of the now-traditional ‘hanging nearly-priceless racing cars at crazy angles’.

Disclaimer – I must’ve used the wrong setting on my camera because the colour seems to have washed out.

This Year’s Sculpture in Honour of Lotus

It just so happened the sculpture was roped off to put some cars around it, so the mass of people which usually gathers at 1pm to enjoy lunch on the lawn was disrupted, as was our gathering. I did find them fairly easily though. Of course just then Stirling Moss appeared and I rushed off straight away to try and get a photo!

It was difficult but I got a couple of shots albeit obscured by heads, but it was good to see him even though at times he had to be supported by his wife as he walked. He got in a car though! John Surtees and Lord March were also nearby. I stood to watch the cars depart, preferring to enjoy them rather than try and take a photo among the throng, then returned to the group for a chat. It was quickly decided to have some lunch at the new RAC stage the other side of the F1 paddock.

The RAC Stage is a great idea. In past years the area above the main paddock was largely empty with just a few team trucks parked up. After last year (or 2010?) creating a second exit to the Drivers’ Club which emerged in the vicinity, this year they moved the media centre up there and put an interview stage alongside it, complete with raised seating creating a little arena or square.

This was far, far better than having to traipse all the way across to the courtyard near the Supercars if you wanted to hear an interview! I really do hope this arrangement is retained for future years. When we arrived the main screen was playing live video and commentary from the hill. After a little while someone appeared and was introduced as BSB rider Tommy Hill.

Tommy Hill and Louise Goodman

Drivers can leave the private area via the side exit, work the autograph line (which was much longer than last year’s), then pop over to the adjacent stage and media centre. It is a much more fan-friendly way of doing it. The old entrance/exit still exists complete with autograph line, so you if you plan to collar a driver you have to think where they’re likely to be!

It was just Tommy Hill’s luck that his namesake Damon appeared through the wall, followed just a few minutes later by Sebastian Vettel. Cue the crowds, cue me and a couple of others rushing over! Of course with so many people around it was difficult to get a clear photo, I do have a clearer one of Damon but I prefer the fan interaction of this one.

Damon Hill
Sebastian Vettel

It’s great being able to get near to the heroes of racing, especially those from F1 who are usually roped off in the paddock with no access allowed to us plebs. Sadly this does also mean they get mobbed at Goodwood! To their great credit both Hill and Vettel spent a long time working this line of autograph and photo hunters.

When these guys disappeared I felt I’d hung around long enough, it was nice to have a de-stress after the traffic problems but now I was keen to explore the paddock for an hour before the F1 cars appeared on track.

While the current F1 stars get roped off garage areas, everwhere else is a little more accessible. Derek Bell and Andre Lotterer were hanging around the paddock – Bell seemed to be there quite a lot!

 

I always love the mix of historic cars and modern classics. This is just a small selection.

A nice feature was the small collection of F1 six-wheelers, from the famous Tyrrell to the less famous Williams and March.

 

We headed trackside – or tried to. The place was absolutely packed out as the RAF Tornado display was taking place, as it was to be immediately followed by the batch on the hill featuring the modern F1 cars (usually cars from a season or two ago – current enough to be representative).

A word here for the Tornado pilots who crashed in Scotland this week. I believe the pilots from the Goodwood display were also based at RAF Lossiemouth. Thoughts remain with them and their families.

With the main viewing area beyond the paddock full of people we went further up, to the clearing on the inside of the exit of Molecombe corner. A good place to see vehicles up close (you’d struggle to get closer), however the entry was obscured so cars and bikes appeared almost from nowhere, and sadly the protective bales blocked the view a bit. F1 cars are so low they were half hidden. Still, it was good to see them.

Brendan Hartley, Mercedes GP

Gordon Shedden, John Surtees, burnouts!

I’ve never understood why F1 cars run in the same batch as the legends of motorbike racing. Bikes have their place at the Festival and it is great to see them, but they should surely run in their own segment while the modern F1 cars run with some more classic F1 cars. You’re trying to cater to two types of fan here – F1 fans aren’t always into bikes, and bike fans aren’t always into F1. Right now the bikers lose out because the F1 fans clog up the hill, and the F1 fans are sitting around waiting for ages for their cars to appear.

One of my favourite things to do is get back to the paddock in time for the F1 cars to reappear. It is very busy but if you time it right you can get a good spot. This year we didn’t quite get it right as we were shuffled around left to right, and we all got split up. They headed to McLaren to find Jenson Button, I went to the opposite end to see Vettel (since Button is more likely to come back next year). I also thought Heidfeld would be at that end, forgetting he was in a McLaren not a Lotus/Renault.

Sebastian Vettel

Brendan Hartley, Marc Gene, fans flocking to Vettel

After that it was a visit to the bottom end of the site for a look at the Cathedral Paddock featuring more old racers and the Supercars which were forming up ready for a run up the hill.

We stopped at the link road to watch some old cars go out. Suddenly from the other direction a 1960s Brabham approaches. I looked at the driver. It was Jackie Stewart! In a Brabham! Now I was impressed. Naturally we had to head to the paddock to find him!

Along the way we stopped briefly to see Lord March being interviewed by Tim Harvey, but with JYS around we didn’t we didn’t stay – and it was perfect timing as just as we reached the access path for the paddock, striding out purposefully comes Jackie Stewart himself! At this point I’d love to say the four of us were all smart and witty and chatty and got his autograph and a series of photos. What all four of us actually did was stop and stare because it was Jackie Stewart. Four starstruck fans. He gave us the briefest of looks then strode away to a waiting vehicle. Moment lost. Camera fumbled. Here’s a photo of the man’s back, you’ll just have to trust me. Andy Wallace followed him out, Karun Chandhok too but I missed him.

We’d hoped to spy some more famous people in the Supercar Run. As it was I only saw Rupert Grint (from Harry Potter) lining up for a McLaren ride, and Oliver Webb (British driver in Indy Lights). Lacking more famous people I realised it would be good to see these cars moving, so we headed to the exit lane to watch there. As happened earlier the previous batch of cars (that we saw leave here a bit ago) drove back in whilst the supercars were leaving.

We were treated to 1910s-1970s race cars passing yet-to-be-released 21st Century automotive luxury. Only at Goodwood!

Past and Future

These were the last cars of the day. After a quick stop at the exit of the Drivers’ Club to try and see people it was time to go, another day at Goodwood Festival of Speed was over, and for me that was it for another year.

After the trials and tribulations of the morning (read more here) I was glad to have an enjoyable afternoon. It didn’t completely cure me of the blues but it went some way towards it, and I was pleased to get so much done in the shortened space of time, and to do so with good company.

Will I be back next year? I’d like to think so – but perhaps not on the busiest day of the weekend. I think Saturdays are off-limits now. I will happily try the Friday or Sunday again until such time as they also become oversubscribed.

You can see my full album of photos here.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012 – A Festival of Stopped

I attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed on Saturday, sadly before I can talk about the sights and sounds of a good afternoon I have to first go into the reasons why it was just an afternoon, and why it was only ‘good’ and not the usual ‘amazing’. The morning was an unmitigated disaster and it needs to be addressed.

Logjam

Never have I been stuck in a traffic jam as long-lasting as this one, at Goodwood or anywhere else. This was on a par with all those stories you used to hear from the British GP. Okay so there was that time on the M25, but I got off that pretty quickly..

I left the house at about 8.45am. Not especially early but not too late since Chichester is 1hr 45min from here, and the Festival is open until 7pm anyway. I had planned to get away between 8 and 8.15 but I’d stayed up way too late.. no matter, I’d be in the gate by 11am anyway and I’d still get a solid 8 hours on site. Right? Er, wrong.

Having attended every year since 2009 as well as two earlier events I knew the routine: Arrive at Chichester somewhere between 10.15 and 10.45am, sit in traffic for half an hour before parking up and hustling the long walk to the gate overtaking dawdlers ambling along. This is what I’d prepared for.

What I had not prepared for was a wait of two and a half hours before reaching the car park. An extra two hours above the norm. The event was a sellout that day – okay fine, I could’ve put up with maybe an hour for that. I just can’t understand why it took so much longer.

I realised at best I was covering a mile every ten minutes, sometimes it took much longer. I’m stubborn enough that for £55 I’m damned well going to try to get there but I was close to giving up – after all the race cars do two runs per day on the hill and I had already missed the entire first run. It was disappointing but not surprising to learn of others who did decide to turn back.

I have no idea if there were other problems on the local roads, perhaps there were accidents and road closures for which you couldn’t blame the Festival. However I only saw one minor closure and no accidents or blockages. It leads me to strongly believe it was down to the event management.

Perhaps there was a problem with the main car park, when I eventually got there  it was closed, so it was either full or something had happened there. I had to spend an extra 10-15 minutes being directed along some lanes to another car park – the saving grace being that the walk to the House was much shorter from this place – maybe if I drive again I’ll take some back roads and go to this car park!

Really though, the lesson is that their traffic management can’t be trusted, get one of the frequent trains to Chichester and make use of the free shuttle bus. Thankfully this is an option at this event, unlike Silverstone for the British GP which I have always avoided partly due to the widely reported horrendous traffic levels. Perhaps the other lesson is to go on the quiet Friday until that becomes as popular.

Calming Down

I eventually got in and met up with friends, saw some great cars and drivers – all the good stuff the Festival has to offer. Tomorrow I’ll follow up with a a post about the afternoon in which I’ll include some photos. It was a bit of a rush to get around the paddocks and still find time to see some cars on the hill. And as I said, it was a sellout – sadly there were so many people you could hardly find a space trackside and you had to elbow your way around to see the static cars.

The traffic and the volume of people spoiled the day for me. I ended up missing the entire first run of cars (including F1) which is stupid if you’re only going for one day. Then when we went trackside the only available place was a quiet little clearing where the bales obscured most of the cars.

Goodwood: please restrict the numbers and sort out your traffic management.

I consoled myself with a tiny little sausage in a soft bread roll which fell apart when you tried to eat it, which cost £5.70. Apparently the words ‘Goodwood’ and ‘Organic’ give you the right to charge an extra £1 each.

Thoughts After Attending Brands Hatch BTCC

Until the other week I hadn’t been to a BTCC round since Silverstone in 2008 (where did the time go?) which ended a 6-year run of visiting at least one round per year, at various circuits including Thruxton, Donington Park and even Knockhill. I hadn’t been to Brands Hatch since 2005’s A1GP meeting. It was time to revisit both.

In this post I’ll focus on my thoughts, for photos from the day please see my previous post or my gallery on Picasa.

Trackside

Isn’t it great to be trackside? Especially so when not long out of winter, having been stuck indoors for most of it, and you’ve got your nose up against the fence on a warm, cloudless spring day as cars race by at 140mph or more. Just perfect.

Perhaps it felt all the more sweeter after a 3-hour drive to the track. I was glad to find the entrance fed me directly to the spectator bank overlooking the pits so I didn’t need to spend time finding somewhere to watch, where I arrived as the BTCC was on the grid for race 1 of 3. However once the race began I quickly found I didn’t like it there as the fences (and the people) obscured the racing going on up at Paddock Hill or back at Clearways. Cars flashing past is great but I came here to see racing. It was great to get so close to the grid and it would be an ideal place to watch a race with pitstops as you can see right into pitlane – but touring car racing doesn’t have any stops so it was time to move!

I watched the rest of the race from Clearways. In 2005 I was lucky enough to be in the big hospitality building here which offered a great view. I was surprised to find it was almost as good at ground level, with the added bonus that this time I was watching a race on the Indy loop. There was some great side-by-side action here as you’d expect. Even doughnuts from Rob Collard… for which he was later penalised. An American sanctioning body would celebrate it.. a UK/European body awards a penalty. Idiots!

After lunch I went around to Paddock Hill Bend. I was surprised at how little room there is to watch – there’s an earth bank which suddenly drops away to a path. People were perched on the edge of it, I went up there and couldn’t see well over the people. Scratch that idea.

I found the absolute ideal spot was just where the tree line begins on the uphill approaching Druids. An unobstructed view of Paddock Hill Bend (as unobstructed as can be with this many people around), very fast cars very close to you just as they get off the gas and on to the brakes, and a nice view across to Graham Bill Bend to boot. Trees nearby to shelter under if the sun gets too hot or if it rains. Perfect.

I watched BTCC Race 2 and a few supports from here, and after a walk in the support paddock I came back for BTCC Race 3. This is one of my new favourite places in racing. I would consider the nearby grandstand if only to get above the heads of other people, but I don’t think I really missed anything. The only thing I lacked was a view to the left of me, or ‘downstream’ on the track, so I couldn’t see Druids corner or the 7-car shunt caused by oil on the track. Of course, you can never see everything unless you’re at an oval, and I did see Jackson run through the gravel right in front of me as he laid that oil.

The one thing I didn’t do all day was get a pass for the BTCC paddock. The support paddock was freely accessible and I saw Nicolas Hamilton signing autographs there. I did slightly miss getting up close to the BTCC cars and drIvers too, however I was too busy enjoying myself trackside!

Food

The lunch break fell after BTCC race 1. It was then I, as expected, found racetrack food prices to be as high as ever. £8 for the burger and chips I wanted. I settled for a sausage roll for £3. I will say the food selection at most UK racetracks is immeasurably better than it was 10 years ago, commendably so because it often used to be dire, but now they all stick the word ‘premium’ or ‘quality’ on the van and jack up the price. They were selling hot Cornish pasties for a fiver. I can get a hot one 500 yards from my house for less than that and they pay all the costs of renting a shop not a trailer! The price for being a captive audience and not wanting a squashed sandwich from a hot rucksack.

Chrome Horn

The BTCC has long had a poor reputation as a championship which not only rewards the use of the ‘chrome horn’ but encourages it. Everyone loves a bit of doorhandle to doorhandle racing, that’s a part of this type of racing and long may it continue, I’m not advocating removing it, that’s why we love touring cars. The trouble is, in this series it goes to another level. It was why I stopped attending races after 2008 and stopped watching the series altogether two years ago.

What isn’t acceptable is the continued practice of getting a nose inside and just pushing the guy on the outside, into the gravel. The worst offenders are the biggest name drivers Jason Plato and Matt Neal, who are probably popular because they act a bit ‘bad boy’ on the track, pushing their way around. Most of the rest of the grid doesn’t go in for this type of thing, which is great to see.

I really did miss watching the series so I have actually started watching the races I missed from 2010 and 2011, and I’ve been laughing at some of the post-race quotes. Someone like Onslow-Cole or Shedden would come on, standing next to someone like Matt Neal, and say right in front of him: ‘Well I could’ve easily had him off, but that’s not the way I like to race.’ Even though the guy next to him had already done it to someone else that day. Ha!

I make this point because I’d really hoped the series would’ve clamped down on it by now. They haven’t. Newcomer and polesitter Dave Newsham, underdog hero of the day, was unceremoniously dumped off track into the Paddock Hill gravel by Plato. Penalty? A £750 fine and 3 points on his racing licence. Hardly any penalty at all. I haven’t seen the most recent rounds at Donington Park this past weekend, I understand it stepped up another level with cars off left, right and centre.

Perhaps the more frustrating thing is that both Plato and Neal come across as really nice guys (even when they are complaining about the technical rules!), it isn’t as if they are utter evil bastards, they are merely taking advantage of the series not clamping down on certain actions – they do it because they get away with it. Still, it provokes discussion and ratings and the crowd at any BTCC meeting at every track I visit has always cheered the loudest when Plato wins, so he must be doing something right.

Supports

One of the hallmarks and attractions of the TOCA/BTCC package has long been the plentiful support card. This is again true this year. It was a touch weaker compared to past times, with the closure of FBMW UK a few years ago and the sad failure of FRenault UK this past winter, which is by far the bigger loss for British motorsport being the traditional feeder into British Formula 3. A disgraceful loss and I don’t understand how it was allowed to happen, I really do hope something is done to resurrect it for 2013. FRUK offered the chance for up and coming drivers to make a name for themselves in front of a big crowd on live TV, I doubt the many other FR 2.0 series in Europe offer the same.

Despite being two races down the day was still full of action, there was barely 10 or 15 minutes of dead track all day (excluding the lunch break and red flags). A collection of Renault Clio Cup, Porsche Carrera Cup and both big and Junior variants of Ginettas kept the crowd entertained all day long. Hard to believe they let 14 and 15 year olds loose in the Juniors!

Back For Good

Despite the poor driving standards I still love the BTCC. Everything about the day was perfect and I’m sad I was away for so long. The feeling was just as it was a decade ago. There’s an intangible atmosphere at a BTCC meeting you just don’t get when you visit other series. I don’t know if it is the wheel-to-wheel racing, the near-constant track action from a collection of short, sharp races, or the fact it is our big home-grown success story with passionate fans filling the banks and stands all the way around the track. There’s something about a BTCC meeting you just can’t beat. And I didn’t even buy a paddock pass this time!

I’ll be back. See you at Silverstone? (I’m wondering if I made the right choice in booking Silverstone). I’m tempted to go to Thruxton.. but we’ll see about that. Just maybe, funds depending, I’ll go back to Brands Hatch for the race on the GP circuit later in the year.