Another year in Speedhunting has blasted by at full speed: another 12 months where our feet have barely hit the ground. Bed is often an airline seat, wardrobes are suitcases and home is, well, where the camera is. Some things are circular: after starting off several years with the Dubai 24 Hours, so now the Autosport International Show in the UK is the way for me blow away the January cobwebs and dust off gear which has been getting used to an easy indoor life of food and friends rather than rain and racing cars.
In just over three weeks time I’ll be making my way up to the NEC to see what new cars, teams and drivers will be hitting the track in 2013. Backpedal 12 months, and that’s exactly what I was doing for the beginning of 2012 – seeing the display of Senna’s racing cars, the latest GT racers and drift machines at the NEC. In previous years I’ve been more tasked with covering specific series, getting to the heart of a particular racing championship: World GT1 or FIA GT3 for instance. This year it’s been a much more varied time: I’ve ticked off a couple more tracks from my list, met some fantastic people and seen some amazing events.
It’s been a perfect mix of old and new: an in-the-flesh wide-angle of the history of racing and also the car in general, which has highlighted just how many amazing, accessible events there are out there, just waiting for you to attend.
The lure of the great outdoors didn’t come for another month and a half after the Autosport show though, after plenty of retrospective and remote coverage to take care of during February. I got my first look at a racing car in its natural habitat down at the Lydden Hill track in Kent, on the south coast of the UK. This would be Liam Doran’s mount for the year: his new Citröen DS3 Supercar: 600hp of crackling, snarling power.
A week or two later I’d be back to Lydden for the opening round of the European Rallycross Championship, and the DS3 in very different circumstances. New off the trailer so recently, by the end of the weekend the car looked like it had been in a major war.
The weather was cold and inclement: perfect for showing off all that is good about rallycross. The cars are neck-snappingly fast: as they hold for the line they are barely controlled on the brake before firing off like barely-guided missiles. The mix of loose and looser surface (soaking, broken-up tarmac hardly counts), half a dozen cars and short, brutal contests means that even the shortest attention span can’t help but be rapt but what the eyes are trying to keep up with.
My gear had just about dried off when it was time for the first European jaunt, to the hallowed ground of Monza for the first round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. It would be my first visit to the iconic Italian track: the home to so many legendary races over its 90 year history. An unexpected champion would be racing: seven-time MotoGP title-winner Valentino Rossi, who was swapping from two to four wheels for the weekend, out with an old friend in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 racer.
Monza was also the first opportunity to catch up with the Belgian WRT team, who we would be following across their multiple European GT campaigns. Our friend Edward Sandström would be on the WRT driving squad during the BES races; the team had already won the opening round of the GT1 World Championship in France. The bad news was that the #2 car was knocked out in qualifying – the good news for me was the lovely photo opportunity provided by the marshals pushing the car off the track and into the safety of the forest on the interior!
But I was drawn back time and time again to Monza’s banking. It’s a breathtaking sight: every line and crack and every section of barrier tells a story.
Back in the UK, May’s Auto Italia festival was held at Monza’s older sister: the Brooklands oval to the south-west of London. This was a spectacular gathering of Italian cars: the unmistakable shapes and sounds that make Ferraris, Alfas, Lancias and Lamborghinis so special.
The cameras had just about dried out from Monza. But yes. It rained at Brooklands. That didn’t stop the strong turn-out, or the wide range of cars that arrived. The car clubs did the event proud. The banking echoed to racing again as cars tackled the Test Hill and Mercedes-Benz World track, and Italy arrived in London.
I hot-footed it straight from Brooklands up the motorway to Donington for the final day of the Historic Festival: another phenomenal gathering of racing cars from the pre-war period which included the big Group C monsters, car perfectly suited to the big sweeps of Donington.
Old touring cars were out in big packs as well, whetting my appetite further to have a go in one of these cars in the near future. Low-tech, three-wheeling racing fun; incredibly entertaining to watch and I’m sure even more so when behind the wheel. Sometimes it can be very frustrating to be a photographer rather than a spectator or driver…
May also saw the first round-the-clock race I’d be tackling during the year: the Nürburgring 24 Hours. Although I’d visited the GP track before, I hadn’t had a chance to see the legendary Nordschleife previously, so this year I made sure that I took in all the classic spots around the track. The Classic 24 Hours teams in the build-up to the 24 provided a seemingly unbeatably eclectic grid…
…though when the 160-plus cars of the main event took their multiple rolling starts things just got even more crazy. The age cut-off point for entry into the 24 is so early that there were definitely cars that would have fitted into the Classic race which were going toe to toe with brand-new cutting edge GT3 racers like this Aston Martin.
It was a very different and rather calmer atmosphere just a week later back in the UK, at Crystal Palace’s Motorsport At The Palace festival. This has reintroduced racing at the remains of the home to the London Grand Prix of the 1930s, allowing modern fans to witness thoroughbred racers hammering through the trees within a bus-ride of the centre of the capital. And what a range of cars! 2012 was continuing to spoil me.
May to September are always almost insurmountably hectic, with races, festivals and shows coming at you week-in, week-out. The beginning of June heralded a trip to Silverstone, for another rainy and misty round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. For a series aimed at pro-am teams and absolutely stuffed with entries, the weather conditions for the first couple of races were certainly stretching everyone to the limit…
But then came the big one, in every sense. June means Le Mans, the biggest, most important endurance race in the world. The might of Audi looked set to crush all, with a quartet of R18 sci-flyers aiming to dominate. The scale of Le Mans is difficult to beat: the enormous grandstands that overlook the pit-lane are rammed with people and the noise of the crowd is comparable with the cars.
Win overall Audi might have, but along with the huge crowd I was cheering the Toyota TS030 Hybrids as they not only harried the Audis but even took the lead for a while. Accidents befell both cars, putting them out before the halfway point, but it had been a great battle to witness.
The Nissan Deltawing also showed well, and garnered strong support around the track. I love seeing the future of racing as much as I do the past, and sportscar racing is always the place to get a flavour of what might be round the corner.
Endurance races lead to a kind of punch-drunk glee: tiredness might be threatening to overcome us all, whether driver, mechanic, spectator or photographer, but the sheer joy of the event and the challenge it presents somehow keep everyone going. Just…
After an all-too short break, there was the massive contrast of the Goodwood Festival Of Speed. Lotus were celebrated this year, with the massive sculpture outside Lord March’s house showing a number of iconic Lotus racers suspended in the air.
The Rally Stage is still one of my favourite places at the Festival: it may be a relatively sanitised way to see railcars, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. And I bet that the crowds who made their way to the top of the hill-climb to see so many awesome rally cars are thinking, like me, that a visit to a real stage out in the wild is called for…
For me this was another busy weekend: I would be straight on the train from the Festival to get up north to cover the British Drift Championship round in Teeside. Thankfully the random sprinklings of rain rolling across the track every so often did nothing to dampen the smoking competition.
Lotus again… I was privileged to have a guided tour around a modern Formula 1 facility: a rare opportunity. The team at Enstone have gone through a number of name-changes, but the core team has a history of winning, originally as Benetton and Renault and now as Lotus. Supercomputers, 3D printing, precision engineering: the highest of high technology. They seemed to know what they were doing, so I left them alone.
Lotus again? This time it was at Brands Hatch a week later for the Time Attack crews to take on the compact Indy layout. Two classic F1 cars provided a spectacular display of power over grip in the horrible conditions…
…which certainly gave the TA drivers something to think about.
More spray, more rivers of water… With cars that are really not built for these kind of conditions the driving talents were clear to see.
Seeing a Ferrari F40 is a rare event. Seeing three in one place, as I did at Brooklands, is pretty amazing. How about 60? 60 F40s lined up, driving round a track. Not only did it set the Guinness World Record for the number of F40s, but also likely for the number of jaws on floor. Mine is still at the Stowe corner at Silverstone.
The F40 parade had been just one part of a spectacular Silverstone Classic Festival: a celebration of old F1 cars, Group Cs, GTs, sportscars and more. Highlight is the wrong word as every grid provided its own joy, but the sight of a full pack of Group A and SuperTourer touring cars charging round was sheer bliss.
Just a week later it was time to step back into the world of modern racing, continuing my tour through time, for the Spa 24 Hours – another round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. But even this provided an opportunity for some history hunting in the run-up. First we discovered the Mathoul garage, stuffed with restoration projects, and a place that F1 racers of the ’50s and ’60s used to hang out at in period.
Across the border in Germany, Sean Klingelhoefer and I then had a chance to visit the Kremer Racing factory: modified racing Porsche nirvana.
Openly sobbing was only just avoided when we were told that we would shortly see the model K3 spaceframe in real life…
Those visits gave us more than enough strength to see through the travails of another day-long endurance race. Spa proved to be another hard-fought classic, the only low-point being the bad smash for Edward in the WRT Audi so close to the end of the race.
August saw me in the West Country of England: firstly for the Rallyday at the Castle Combe circuit, which provide yet more devilish reminders about the glory of rallying.
Though again, it’s not just about the Good Old Days: Petter Solberg was on hand to show just how potent modern WRC cars are – and that he could likely be more than a match for the cream of a drift scene… Ripped rubber and a flayed Fiesta kept the crowd on their feet for the whole day, as Solberg proved just what a champion he is.
Hill-climbing was back on the agenda the next day, with Retro Rides at the historic Prescott Hill Climb. The Retro Rides team set up a glorious day, with legions of car clubs under the trees in the orchards lapping up the sun and the screeching sound of tyres testament to how hard people were pushing up the hill itself.
Trax at Silverstone saw the Speedhunters team back out in force, meeting up in Northamptonshire for the big UK auto show which saw the debut of Fredric Aasbø’s 86-X…
…plus the introduction of our #FeatureThis programme and our first deserving winner.
We do tend to go on about Gatebil a lot on Speedhunters. But there is very good reason for this. Like most of you I’m sure, one of the things I love about automotive culture is just how much there is to love. I’d been to so many amazing events already during 2012, and still Gatebil stands out. The Autumn festival might not be as big as the big Summer event, but it’s still the perfect event in the perfect location…
…with the perfect mix of cars. Rallycross, grip, Time Attack, drift, street, custom, drag… Everything and anything, in the nicest, friendliest atmosphere imaginable.
Joy of machine, applied at full force.
So did it seem strange to then attend the Goodwood Revival just a week or two later? Not at all. After all, would a mighty Mercedes-Benz or Auto Union feel out of place at Gatebil? I think it would slot in rather well. Perhaps you can think of the Revival as a retro version of Gatebil – or the other way round.
The two share one major emotion in common: it’s about enjoying what’s there, with no space for trying to be fashionable or snobbish about a particular style. Unadulterated enjoyment.
By the end of September, I was feeling overwhelming automotive bliss. I hadn’t been to a major car show in person for years, so the Paris Motor Show was a great reminder of happy childhoods spent drinking in all the latest cars and trends and hoovering up brochures. The most exciting thing for me was most definitely the launch of the P1, McLaren’s hyper car: proof that sometimes teaser pictures of a car an be misleading…
Things don’t really change though. The 300SL was the fastest production car when it was launched, showing off statistics as well as style. This one was at the Brooklands Autumn Motorsport Festival, provided by the Mercedes-Benz World collection that is housed just the other side of the Brooklands Museum area and showing that even the rarest cars can be pushed.
The Brooklands site is huge: one of many things that I’ve had to sit on due to timing constraints is a story on the Museum and an exploration of the remains of the oval itself. There’s far more still intact than you’d imagine…
As the dark nights drew in, the racing season began to wind down and the major series reached their climaxes. I’ve been watching British Touring Cars for years, and never fail to come away beaming after a fine day’s door-banging, wheel-to-wheel racing. The Brands Hatch finale didn’t disappoint.
Touring Cars rarely go night racing (though the BTCC did hold a fantastic event in the darkness some years ago), but with the cold evening descending early the final race of the year was held with headlights blazing. Wet but very happy, it was the ideal way to end the racing season – though one more event would pop up…
Fires rather than headlights were blazing at Top Gear Live, back up at the NEC in Birmingham. Whilst Clarkson and Co reeled off their lines, stunt drivers galore piled round in the background, creating merry havoc. It was all surprisingly entertaining.
I was there to see how Vaughn Gittin Jr was going to get on with his first driving visit to the UK. The answer was: wall-scrapingly well!
Top Gear Live was the precursor to Vaughn’s outing in Ken Block’s European Gymkhana, held at the Santa Pod drag strip. Fireworks most definitely flew…
I also got another chance to see Liam out in his DS3, this time in full tarmac hooning mode but still looking just as impressive.
Back and forward, old to new, new to old. I was invited by specialist restoration firm JD Classics for a tour of their factory in November: there was nothing that could have prepared me for what lay inside. Jaguars are the company’s speciality, but this Toyota was backed up by Astons, Mercedes, Ferraris…
Everything. It was like a static Goodwood Festival Of Speed. And the best thing is that the company are racers: whether on the tracks of Europe for the race cars or street and demonstration events like the Mille Miglia of the road cars, JD Classics can be seen out there tending to their glorious automotive toy box.
JD Classics also care for Jaguar Heritage Racing’s collection of classic racers: they brought out the incredible trio of a C-, D- and E-Type for a thrash around a soaking Goodwood track to celebrate the launch of the new F-Type – a most appropriate place for Big Cats to splash about. Being driven round in a Le Mans-winning D-Type is another unforgettable memory from the year.
Mid-November’s Classic Motor Show filled up the NEC with yet another unbelievable quantity of machinery. I was already feeling spoiled, but somehow all these shows manage to display unique collections, with little or no crossover.
Time is a frustrating thing: sometimes there just isn’t time in the day, or enough days in a week, to write up all the stories one would want to. Racing legend Stirling Moss headed up a breakfast event at JD Classics in November, regaling the audience with his mischievous tales of a bygone era (“Podium interviews? Thank god we didn’t have them. I wanted to be off chasing skirt!”).
I will be imminently be featuring an interview with another legend, Jacky Ickx: he headed up the Chopard Superfast event at the Ascari Race Resort in Spain at the end of November, demonstrating one of his Le Mans-winning Porsche 936 sportscars.
What Ascari have tucked away in their underground workshops is also coming up before the close of 2012…
So there was time for one final race of the year: Britcar’s finale back at Brands Hatch.
Bitter cold. Driving wind. A full grid of racing cars. Darkness. Lights. Magic. I wouldn’t miss this kind of thing for the world.
The Essen Motor Show provided a final top-up to get me through the Christmas break. Yet more unexpected treasures, yet more genres and eye-candy. Is it so wrong to be continually excited by cars?!
2012 has been a rich year, and I hope you’ve enjoyed riding along with me on Speedhunters. Pictures and words can convey part of the story, but the smells and sounds add another dimension: which is why you should make it your resolution to get out to a show or event you’ve always promised yourself but never attended. Make 2013 the year of action! Once you’ve seen an Auto Union, Sauber-Mercedes Group C or rallycross car in the flesh, you’ll never be the same again…