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Motorsport Aspirations

I am not sure when I first wanted to be a racing driver, but it was probably in the mid-sixties when I was about 15. I had no clue about how to become one, despite being surrounded by motorsport history. Brooklands was a ten minute bike ride away and near to that was Cooper’s new yard with Allan Mann a few doors away. My big sister was a secretary at Thompson and Taylor and knew Roy Salvadori (one of my heroes). Ken Tyrrell’s legendary woodyard was a twenty minute bike ride away (if you knew the way through the woods). Bruce McLaren lived nearby and I saw him on the road in the M6GT. I’ll stop now, because you get the picture.

In 1969 we moved away to the comparatively motorsport free zone of Upminster in Essex (little did I know) where I made friends with a lad a year older than me who was an apprentice car mechanic who shared my dreams of getting into racing cars. We decided on trying Formula Ford and, because he liked the name (and had more money than me) wanted to buy a car called the Mistrale. Pete and I took ourselves down through the Dartford tunnel to Brands Hatch where we quickly decided that FF was, perhaps, quite a crowded category and that we should look elsewhere.

Enter Pete’s uncle who was sales director at a Rootes dealership. He was very supportive, agreed that FF was maybe oversubscribed and that if we were to go with a Rootes product he could raise some funds for us. He knew of the legendary Fraser Imps and of Bull McGovern cleaning up in the RAC tin top Cham,pionship with his Sunbeam Imp and pointed us that way. We were not convinced though and so we came to Formula 4 where the Imp powered Vixen was the way to go.

Pete’s uncle was on board and promised that, if we raised £1000, he would give us another £2000. From Motoring News we could see that a chap named Mike Wilds was the class of the formula and Pete’s uncle suggested that, if we got our side of the cash together, he would come in and buy Mike’s car at the end of the season and we could run it in 1971. That August we went off to Thruxton, taking the train to Andover and walking to the track (every penny saved was one towards our dream). We talked to some of the F4 boys in the paddock and were hooked. The Vixen looked more like a proper racing car than an FF and would be our passport onto the grid.

Then it all unravelled. He and I were both big fans of Jochen Rindt. We had watched him at Thruxton and Crystal Palace in F2 and were confident that he was on his way to the world title that year as luck began to go his way. Then came Monza and that dreadful Saturday. Pete saw it as a sign that he should not get into motor sport, joined a Pentecostal Church and got religion in a big way. Motor racing was not God’s work and with that my plans ran aground, my sinking completed when I met a girl…

A couple of years later I had scraped together the money to start the MRS course at Brands where, on my first day, my instructor was none other than Mike Wilds. My cash ran out though and I got into marshalling instead. It was the nearest I was to get to racing. Such is life.

Playing at 007

The Aston Martin DB5 was a favourite car before the James Bond connection and although I actually like the look of the DB6 better they are both cars that I wanted to experience and now I have managed to have a go in the former.

The DB 5 operated by Car Chase Heroes is done up as a Bond car with the appropriate number plate and all of the switches and buttons in the arm rest although it does not have the full kit; no machine guns for example.

On first experience it is heavy and, without power steering, needs a bit of effort to get out of its parking space, but once rolling it is fine. I had been warned that the front brake discs and pads were new that morning so late breaking was not an option, but I only wanted to drive it.

Out on the Bicester Heritage test track it was a joy. The engine pulled well and with a nice growl. My 6’2″ and eighteen stone made it a tight fit in the cockpit and there was not a lot of elbow room, but I was otherwise very comfortable. You can see the video of my drive below.

A wild ride

Well not that wild because hooligan behaviour is frowned on at track days and this was a chance to experience the car on the track rather that get too carried away, but this E Type Jaguar was a bit special and track prepared rather than a standard road going version.

An E Type experience at Bicester Heritage

So there you are. Four laps of the Bicester Heritage track and they passed so quickly that you can hear me query whether or not I had had my full four as I get told to come back in.

This was filmed in July 2020 during the Covid-19 outbreak, hence the face masks.

Great fun. If you would like a go too then check out Car Chase Heroes. They have all sorts of cars available at a variety of UK locations.

Ouch!

With the country in lockdown and our space at Cirencester Antiques Centre closed we are still running our ebay store, but as things are quiet I thought that I would have a clear out in the office. One thing that surfaced was the set off photos that go with this post. A salutary reminder of the truism that you can’t relax on a journey until you have parked the car at your destination.

I had been working in Chesterfield and had left home at around 0600. In was the Friday before one of the May bank holidays and I jknew that the run home to Swindon would be a tough one regardless of which route I took. Getting away in the early afternoon helped and I chose to come back M1/M42/M40/M5 and then the A417/9 back to Swindon. It was a bright day and my Mondeo estate was running nicely. I had no ‘phone calls come in and was doing quite nicely as I peeled off the M5 at Gloucester and ran up the first half of Birdlip Hill, the Western escarpment of the Cotswolds.

As I swung around the Air Balloon roundabout to start the second half of the steep climb I reckoned that I was around 30 minutes from home all being well. This stretch is a short three lane one with two lanes climbing the hill and one coming down separated by just a pair of solid white lines. I had a green Peugeot 407 about 4 lengths behind me as I cleared one artic and closed on the next, a flatbed trailer. I had plenty of speed advantage to clear him before the road narrowed at the top of the hill and there should have been room for the Peugeot to get through too if I got on with it.

But as I closed to about a car length from the back of the trailer the rig swung out to straddle both lanes. With a solid line of cars queuing downhill for the roundabout I had no option buy to lift and dab the brakes. My attention was focused on avoiding the back corner of the trailer when: Bang! The back of my car came up off the road and all hell let loose around me. I hit my right temple on the A pillar, went back into the seat so hard that I snapped the recline mechanism and then come back up and hit the steering wheel.

Both I and the guy who had hit me, the green Peugeot managed to get across to the side of the road and stopped to sort things out. As we did so an elderly man in full Tour de France lycra struggled past us, then another, then another. Was one of their companions what the truck had pulled out to avoid? Who knows. It was bank holiday Friday and two of us had bent motors. Fortunately we were both, on face value, OK although a couple of weeks later my back went and I was diagnosed with various whiplash injuries.

The photos show the Mondeo back home where it was first recovered to.

Half an hour from home, what could go wrong? I didn’t lapse my concentration fortunately, but got whacked anyway. At least I was not creamed head on into one of the poor souls queueing down the hill.

The Peugeot 407 must have left an impression on me as well as on the Ford because it was with a 407 that I replaced the Mondeo later that year (1999).

For some years after I did my best to avoid Birdlip Hill and even now I will use the slightest excuse to go a different way. Daft really, but there you go.

Dan Gurney

It was just over a week ago that I found a group on Facebook celebrating Dan and his AAR team. It was a closed group and I applied to join, mentioning that I had been a Dan fan since the sixties. The next day I received a welcome message from the group, but within days came the news that we had lost Dan. Continue reading

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