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Posts tagged ‘motorsport’

Racing circuit remains at Brooklands

From Brighton we were in reach of another old racing circuit and as it was only mid afternoon, off we went.

Brooklands in Surrey opened in 1907 and was the world’s first purpose built banked race track. It closed temporarily during World War I but closed for good in 1939 when World War II started. With an airfield also on the same land, the facilities were needed to produce military aircraft.

I love visiting old circuits. I am fascinated by the remains of tracks and buildings, knowing that cars and perhaps bikes once hurtled around under the rapt attention of huge crowds; the contrast between places that were once so full of life and noise now lying in a state of quiet abandonment and deterioration. A couple of years ago when Mike and I were in Europe I was thrilled that we could visit the old track at Reims in France and the old Monza oval while at the Italian grand prix.

So I was super keen to go to Brooklands.

When finally we were in the area the TomTom was a bit misinformed. His ‘point of interest’ directions took us into the grounds of a commercial office complex. Scolding him had no effect so it was a case of going back the way we came until the old fashioned method of navigation kicked in: we saw a sign to the Brooklands Museum.

The museum captures the history of the circuit and airfield and gives you access onto part of the track. It is located down a long access road, past Mercedes-Benz World, a huge site combining car show room, offices, museum, venue and driver experience facilities. Our Mercedes rental felt at home, if a little inadequate.

Mercedes-Benz World opened a few years ago on part of the huge infield area within the racing oval. That’s a purpose built handling track in front of the building

I made a beeline for the museum entry, to have my spirits dashed.

Bugger – it was almost closing time!

All the faffing around trying to find the place had unfortunately taken us over the last entry time. Soon my disappointment would increase when I would discover that there seemed to be no other way to access or properly view the track.

O well. I was going to have to come back another day with Mike in any case. But all wasn’t lost as the visitor centre and excellent gift shop was still open and well worth a poke around. I asked where the toilet facilities were and as they happened to be within the museum buildings I was allowed to go through – which let me have a quick peek at some of the exhibits.

A quick and unfortunately blurred snap of some of the fabulous machines on display, taken en route to the ‘ladies’

These sheds could be rented by drivers and motorcyclists

Then I scurried out of the museum grounds and down the road to see if I could find any other track viewing points.

The best angle I could achieve through the fence!

This was the second production Concorde and flew between 1974-1981. After being used for spare parts until Concordes ceased flying, it was given to the museum where it was restored and opened as an exhibit in 2006

This wee building from 1911 is thought to be the world’s first flight ticketing office

I found a path which I followed off the road down toward some trees beside the river – and through what seemed to be a section of missing race track. Vegetation is taking over but it looked like a sodding great slice of track had been cut out and the ends patched up. It wasn’t possible to see any of the track, just big green-covered ends. I felt robbed yet intrigued (what-happened-and-where-did-it-go?), not to mention a bit awed by how massive the track and banking had been.

If I have associated correctly my research findings for this post with my location on the day, it had been a section of banking called Hennebique Bridge that went over the River Wey. In 1969 this section was indeed demolished to provide a bit more room so that big jets could take off.

A glimpse of the Members’ Banking. Very disappointed I couldn’t get closer!

Beyond the missing section of track is an old access tunnel under the railway viaduct

Back out on the road I continued along a bit further to where I could finally see a decent stretch of track – albeit flat.

Top of Railway Straight where it comes off Members’ Banking, and part of the track near Mercedes-Benz World now owned by M-B for parking and driving instruction

The circuit ran anti-clockwise. This is looking down Railway Straight, the blue cones being part of M-B’s setup

In writing this up I have come across this excellent reference which, while a few years out of date now, points out where to find a huge section of track that still remains at the opposite end of the circuit. If I had known the difficulty I would have I might have researched things a bit better.

By now it was early evening and we needed to start heading for home. Can’t wait to return!

Goodwood Circuit

Motorsport has been a long-time interest of mine and I was keen to weave that into the trip somehow. I figured the best option was to see if I could visit a race track or two, and had a few scoped out which were reasonably close to our main path of travel.

The first couple of options earlier in the trip bombed due to time constraints. But during our week in Hampshire I was able to instigate a day trip involving a visit to the Goodwood Circuit in West Sussex.

If I had to visit only one track, I really wanted it to be this one. As well as being an historical circuit well-known for its classic car events, Goodwood is where the founder of the McLaren Formula One racing team, New Zealander Bruce McLaren, died in a testing accident in 1970.

I was excited to arrive here on what was a beautifully fine mid-week day.

Yay I’m here!

The track came into being after World War Two on land which had been the RAF station Westhampnett. Its opening in 1948 brought the first major racing event in the United Kingdom for nine years.

The name Goodwood is much bigger than just the circuit. It is an estate covering 12,000 acres on which is also housed a race course (for singular horse power), golf course, airport, Rolls-Royce plant and HQ, hotel, the very grand Goodwood House (which we didn’t see) and that’s not an exhaustive list.

Start grid

The circuit was in use, I think for a ‘track day’, the term given for days where drivers have the chance to take their cars out for a fang in a non-race environment.

Pits, clock tower and keen track day entrants!

A few weeks after our visit was the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, a hill climb event held not at the circuit but in the grounds of Goodwood House. That would be brilliant to attend.

But today it was enough to just wander around taking it all in.

British Racing Green phone box 🙂

Being a flag marshal myself I always take note of where flag points are. You don’t get shelters like that at NZ tracks!

Woodcote Corner. Bruce McLaren’s fatal crash occurred just before the entry to it, and a few weeks prior to our visit a driver was killed after crashing into the tyre wall just after the exit

GT40 having a bit of a blow out

I immersed myself in their excellent gift shop when I found myself in the vicinity of it. Their fantastic selection of vintage style posters had me deliberating for several minutes (which reminds me, I must get mine block mounted and up on a wall somewhere!).

Tummies were insisting we find some lunch so after getting directions to the cafe, we drove through the underpass into the infield area.

Tunnel under the track to get to the paddock and aerodrome. Dad is just poking into view above the fenceline at the top!

The cafe was in the aero club. While in the process of wandering around in the grounds nearby we came across a few memorials in a nice quiet (well, on that day at least) well cared-for corner of the circuit. I didn’t know for sure if there was anything remembering Bruce McLaren at the track, let alone where it would be, but that was soon answered. I was really pleased to find it.

Memorial to Bruce McLaren who is arguably the world’s most famous New Zealander for his Formula One legacy. It looks like a headstone but his grave is in Auckland, NZ

Memorial to British racer Mike Hawthorn and Jaguar team manager Lofty England

The fighter ace Douglas Bader flew his last mission from the RAF base that was situated here before the racing circuit was built

Beyond the memorial garden is the Aero Club where we had lunch

After lunch it was time to think about going. It had been a great visit but we still had a big afternoon ahead.

High octane weekend

I drafted this a few months ago but then other things got in the way. Now seems a good time to get caught up finally, before the year disappears, and for another reason I’ll explain at the end. So, let us rewind….

In April, the city of Hamilton hosted the New Zealand round of the Australian V8 Supercar series. Arguably the country’s premier motorsport event, it is the one sporting occasion that I try to attend in person each year. In a working capacity, as a flagmarshal.

Flagmarshals fulfill an important safety role at race events, their main function being to use a set of flags to signal certain messages to drivers. They are organised into small teams, each with a post chief, and put at specific positions around the course. Usually a day at the track is pretty long and tiring and sometimes it can be very full on. You expect an exciting, busy weekend with the Aussie V8s!

I was disappointed to give it a miss last year due to work. This year things were no less busy but there was no critical implementation dates, so I lodged my application. A few weeks later my place was confirmed.

A couple of weeks before race weekend I attended a briefing in Palmerston North, a small city a couple of hours north of Wellington. As well as getting some useful information, we also received the coveted entry pass and the standard issue white overalls. While not designed to look good (or even vaguely fit well), at least we would look all the same and, hence, somewhat professional.

We also found out where we would be assigned for the weekend – a keenly sought after piece of intel. Every flaggie wants to get on a prime corner spot with lots of action. Of course there are few of those places and 300 marshals so some people are obviously going to miss out.

Such as me! Still, it was a thrill to just be involved.

The days ticked over and finally it was Thursday, marking the start of my long weekend. I hit the road for the drive north, very happy to be driving my car instead of my desk.

Morrinsville is a small town in the Waikato and I find it to be a good base when going to the V8s being not far from both Hamilton and my grandmother. It has a couple of good motels, a good supermarket, and that’s about all I need. It also has tractors.

Friday is the start of the race weekend and the first of three long days for those involved in making it happen. After navigating the dark city streets to the assigned carpark (always a bit hit and miss on the first day), marshals are typically all signed in by 6.30am and waiting at Turn One by 7am for a ride around to the flag points. I and the other point chiefs detoured to pick up the communication radios.

Standing en masse in our white overalls, it if wasn’t for the context of the racetrack we could easily be mistaken for a gang of house painters. At most other race events in NZ marshals are in orange gear which is a little more unique.

Of the 23 flag points around the street circuit I was around the back on point 15. As forewarned by the circuit diagram I could see that we would be sufficiently far away from a corner to be assured of a quietish weekend. Sigh. I met the other three flagmarshals, the fireman assigned to our point, and the guy who was manning the nearby emergency escape hatch. We set up the equipment and I got plugged into the communications set. Essentially a hard wired telephone system, I had a leash of around six feet which kept me from straying off point.

Eventually, after various course vehicles had completed various laps around the track to check for various things, the sessions got underway. It was great to be back on the front line, even on our humble flag point!

Marshals have to behave in a professional manner and this extends to not taking photographs while on duty. Hence there aren’t photos of any actual action. Being professional doesn’t rule out having fun: I was with a good bunch and we had a lot of laughs over the weekend.

We also had a resident rabbit. Clearly a bit of an urban bunny he (she?) was quite happy being near people and within a few metres of fast noisy V8s. It also only had three legs which made me less worried that it would amble under or bound over the barriers onto the track.

The weather forecast was not brilliant and Saturday was w-e-t. We were next to a traffic overbridge which provided some shelter when nothing was happening – that is unless you were tethered to the point like I was. The support classes rotated through their stints on track and provided some good entertainment and a little bit of flag action for us. Luckily it wasn’t tooo wet and race one of the Aussie V8s went ahead as scheduled in the afternoon. This was what we all came for!

Without the benefit of any commentary or a big screen it is tricky to keep up with what’s happening on track, especially once the pit stop strategies come into play. And especially when spray at times stopped us from seeing beyond more than a few metres. The conditions caused dramas elsewhere around the circuit, which did create a little bit of excitement for us when the track came under full-course yellow.

It is usually a relief to get to the end of the day after standing on concrete for the best part of 10 hours. I gave the ZZ Top concert a miss as I was meeting my mother for dinner back in Morrinsville. Hard to believe it is 24 years since I saw them play at Western Springs back in their heyday.

Sunday saw the weather gods in a better mood as there was only patchy rain. I think most of us had been able to dry out our wet articles from the day before. By this stage of the weekend my back and legs were regularly needing a bit of relief from standing and my ear regions were feeling very tender from the tight head-set.

Another feature of our remote outpost was the absence of other humans, aside from the ones hurtling past us on the track. There were no spectator areas nearby so apart from the rabbit, we were visited only occasionally by race officials and police officers on foot patrol.

The build-up to the second 59-lap race for the Aussie V8s included the drivers parade. Marshals will typically applaud all drivers at the end of every race and it is nice to get the occasional wave back in return. Just about all of them acknowledged us, though some did seem a bit preoccupied talking to the obligatory decorative female sitting beside them.

Race two got underway and we soaked up the final opportunity of the weekend to see these cars in the flesh. It was an exciting race and resulted in a brilliant first V8 Supercars win for one of the NZ drivers.

Afterward we did the usual equipment pack-up. I walked back around the track to HQ which provided a good perspective of the various corners, especially where there were obvious signs of cars having connected with walls. I didn’t linger at the track on account of paying my grandmother and mother a final visit.

The next day I was busy with the 500km return drive home, a couple of weather related stops helping to break it up.

Our flag point

Waiting for the day to start

Our 3-legged bunny

The drivers' parade

Returning to base

With gran and mum

Amazing weather on the Desert Road

Quick stop on the Kapiti Coast to watch the sunset

And now back in the present, the end of 2011, it was recently announced that the V8 Supercars have been pulled from Hamilton after the April 2012 event. In short it has been a financial disaster. Quite possibly this also spells the end of New Zealand round altogether. There is one promising alternative venue at the Hampton Downs racetrack south of Auckland and hopefully they can pull it off.

But 2012 could well be the last time the V8 Supercars are in NZ. And unfortunately they’ll be doing it without me. I’m travelling to the UK in May and my resources are going toward that.

My memories and photos from the 9 or 10 Supercar events I did marshal at will have to sustain me!

Another Indianapolis must-see

So I caught the bus from Mississippi, where I had earlier abandoned the evacuation flight with my cousin. My travel diary makes special mention of the many strange people I waited with in that bus terminal – though on my Greyhound travels, this was not unusual.

Indianapolis was the eventual destination, foremost because I had a date to see exceedingly quick and noisy cars as mentioned in my last post.

And in a similar vein, since I was going to be in the neighbourhood there was another big sight to go and see.

I booked a rental car which was my first driving experience of the trip. Had the usual dose of nerves about driving on the other side of the car and road but after deftly negotiating a couple of laps of the Budget carpark I deemed myself ready.

Like Daytona, no event was scheduled at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but it is such a prominent place in motorsport that it was a highlight to go there all the same.

It may have been open for tours, but you could not get close to the actual track without making the security staff antsy.

Also on site is the I.M.S Hall of Fame Museum. I’m not normally a fan of museums but this was more my cup of tea.

Afterward there was still a few hours in the day and a full tank of gas that I’d prepaid, so I got in the car and drove. Which happened to be about 60 miles in essentially a straight line. I chanced upon the Grissom Air Museum.

Another museum, I was doing well! This was a great bonus to the day. One of the elderly gentlemen at the counter picked up that I was a Kiwi, said he was a PoW in WWII and had been imprisoned with a New Zealander.

Drag racing the following day and that was the end of my visit to Indianapolis.

A day at the (drag) races

Of the little assortment of motorsport activities I had planned during my trip, this was the biggest one. I had seen the event was scheduled and was able to plan around it. So the day tickets went on sale I jumped online and secured a seat to the Mac Tools 50th US Drag Racing Nationals.

I was a fan of the drags before I got caught up in circuit racing and flagmarshaling all those years ago, and I was pretty excited about seeing it on a big scale: lots of top fuellers and huge crowds!

My seat was under sunshine and blue skies and opposite the start line.

It was a great day and I was so glad I made the effort to go.

Daytona racetrack tour

I wanted to work a couple of motorsport activities into my trip. Based on the time of year and my general route I wasn’t able to coordinate with any NASCAR or Indycar events, but I did the next best things.

First I took my petrol-head to Daytona International Raceway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is hallowed turf in American racing culture and I would love to be there for the full-on experience of the Daytona 500. While it was the end of season the complex was still open for tours. Even better, it was walking distance from my cousin’s place where I was staying.

Me and my fellow tourists were driven around in a long cart thing with open sides. It was fantastic to be there and see the size of the track in person – and the steepness of the banking.

One stop was at the winner’s circle. I wear it well, no? 🙂

Unfortunately we couldn’t be taken around the track – though soon understood why…

This is a memorial to one of the most famous names in the sport, who died here in a racing accident 10 years ago.

A-marshalling I will go

I have just organised a five day trip up to Hamilton next month, so thought I would preview that. Hamilton isn’t somewhere you’d ordinarily broadcast a visit to, or even visit in the first place*, but once a year it hosts the Australian V8 Supercars and this counts as a worthy reason to enter the city.

*ok it really isn’t too bad, it just gets a bit of stick.

In 1992 I took up an opportunity to be a motorsport volunteer, being very keen to step beyond spectator status, and found myself out on a flagpoint. I fell in love with this pastime and for the next 10 years I was a regular out at the Pukekohe circuit, and occasionally other places – highlights of which were street races in Wellington (the good old Nissan Mobil 500), Whangarei, Hamilton and Whenuapai (brilliant classic car events), and Paeroa for bikes. When it was announced the V8 Supercars series would include a round in NZ I was sooo excited. For the first few years they were at Pukekohe before relocating to Hamilton in a street race format.

Moving to Wellington nine years ago meant giving up regular flagmarshalling, but I have travelled back up north for at least one event a year. Last year I had to miss Hamilton, though substituted it with something else, so it will be great to go back. Three long days at the track will take the stuffing out of me, especially being as out of practice as I am, but it will be fantastic being so close to the noise and action again.

And I will get to visit my Waikato-based Gran too!

My flagpoint when I last went to Hamilton in 2009. Somewhat unfortunately it was on a straight piece of track

V8 Supercars in 2007 at their final Pukekohe appearance - here exercising my right arm down at the hairpin

Visiting Gran during the 2009 event weekend

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