National ‘A’ Required

Pete had bad news. It transpired that, although he’d had tried to get us a permit to race under our Non-Race National ‘B’ licenses, the Belgium race required National ‘A’ status. In order to gain this license, you need six National ‘B’ events to your credit to apply for the upgrade. Pete had already done his homework, and had identified a two day sprint race up at Blyton Park between Gainsborough and Grimsby, on the weekend of the 13th and 14th of July. This was going to be another unforeseen expense, another weekend away, and a 250 mile trip each way!

Phil Sherwood was in the same boat as me, but he was even more stuck because his Mallory damage wasn’t yet repaired – he had no car. We came up with a number of ideas of how to get my car up to Blyton so we could share, whether to use one of Pete’s, and even how to logistically do it, given that I had a company event on the Friday. It was looking like a complete nightmare.

I’d spent our Anniversary weekend trying to work out a way forward, having contacted the Blyton organisers. We’d deliberated over which category our cars could legitimately race under, understood the format and rules, and negotiated late entries for Phil and I. We had until 9pm on Monday to enter and pay. But by Sunday night I had decided enough was enough.

I couldn’t do Belgium. I’d lose the money for the ferry crossing, but I’d get the weekend back and save me the entry fee, hassle and ancillary expense of a trip to Blyton simply to get two more ticks on my license upgrade card. I just couldn’t justify the money or inconvenience.

First thing on Monday, I phoned Pete and said I simply couldn’t do it. He didn’t try to persuade me, clearly detecting I’d made up my mind. It was logistically impossible and money I could ill afford.

I came off the phone feeling physically upset and down. I was so dissappointed. I’d been looking forward to the trip to Belgium for months having booked the ferry back in April. I really wanted to support British Rallycross and the Swifts on continental soil, and be part of the show at Kris Fruru’s home race. It has also been nearly six weeks since Mallory, and without Belgium it would be off to Lydden at the end of August after a ten week break and no running, with additional home-race pressure.

I called Sarah (wife) and told her how disappointed I felt. As usual, she had supported my decision not to go, but also understood now how much I wanted it as well. She said to go for it – forget the money. If there was a way to get to Blyton, that’s what I should do.

Calling Pete back again, things started falling into place. At some time between our calls, he’d contacted the Blyton organisers again, and they’d come to the conclusion that “racing” our everyday road cars was the simplest way to compete. As the sprint is split into many classes, my 3 year old BMW 320D simply slotted into the “Road Cars Up To 2000cc” category. Phil, likewise, had (amongst other things) an Audi TT which was the simplest solution for him.

Entry form and fee paid by Monday afternoon, everything was back on. The rest of the week I had lots of mini-tasks to undertake. Getting race numbers for Phil and I from Rally Design in Swalecliffe, fabricating a timing strut for the front of my car and ensuring I understood the rules and had everything I needed for the sprint. There was therefore little chance of me not completing the two required timed runs (one on Saturday and one on Sunday) unless I did something stupid like putting my Beemer on it’s roof. Everyone recommended I remain restrained and simply get the job done. No spins, rolls or damage please.

A sprint race is essentially a single lap time trial where you set off at intervals. The timing strut crosses the timing beams at the start end finish of a single-lap sprint. So the evening before my company event, I was busy cutting, shaping, drilling, fitting and painting black a piece of aluminium scavenged from my dad’s garage to exact dimensions. The recycled metal was from one of my old school projects – I think intended to house speakers in my first car. How random to think that 20 years later they’d be re-incarnated as a motorsport timing device!!

So at 4am on Saturday morning, after leaving my company event early at 10pm the night before, I climbed into my everyday road car at the hotel in Milton Keynes for an extra 150 mile journey north to go “racing”. Now that’s commitment.

The drive up the M1 was great. No traffic, sun rising, and the expectation that the weekend would be good fun – even if it wasn’t racing in anger. I even took the opportunity to stay the night at my old friend Matt’s house in Nottingham, and have a few beers and impromtu catchup with him and his young family.

At the track by 7am, I quickly found where I needed to sign on, had a bit of banter with the old boys setting up the timing equipment and set off on an early morning walk of the track. Phil hadn’t yet arrived.

The track surface was perfect – not something I’m used to in rallycross – and at least a mile long. Straights interspersed with a couple of tight chicanes and fast sweepers. By the time I got back to the paddock, Phil was arriving and the scrutineer was doing the rounds. Stickers applied, scrutineer’s label stuck on, we went to sign on.

More banter followed with the ladies checking us in. I’m not sure they are accustomed to the light-hearted, informal and chirpy conversation we rallycrossers had with them!

The drivers briefing followed at 9am, and being road cars, we were the first group out to practice. Donning full racewear, I climbed into my rep-mobile. A few strange, single, restrained laps later, we had one timed lap under our belt. It was only lunchtime, but Phil and I had what we needed.

We checked out by leaving our upgrade cards, and made our separate ways. Me to my good friend Matt’s in Nottingham, and Phil back home to Rippon.

Sunday was exactly the same format. I was charged with driving a “company car” by some comedian, which I flatly denied – but it was a bizarre situation! By the end I had the DTC off, and was getting wheelspin off the line and feeling the car squirming under braking and out of the corners. I decided to reel it in and come home after the single timed run on Sunday. Much as I would have loved to continue.

Alan Smith and Nick Algar, who had accomodated our late entry, were gentlemen. Phil and I are indebted to them for helping us out. Strangely, Alan knows Tony Lynch, an equally fine gent racing Swifts last year, and Minis this. It seems British motorsport is full of genuine, nice people who go out of their way to help you out.

Monday morning, I dropped our upgrade cards into Willie Woods at Lydden on the way to work. Fortunately I did, because he was off to the MSA that morning. He called me on the way home to say he had our National A Licenses. Job done.

National A License

And you know what, sprint racing could easily be a good way to shake my rallycross car down and play with settings in a timed environment. It won’t be my last sprint – it’s a great format, and the “man vs machine” time trial really appeals. Who knows, maybe a hill climb one day…

As I type this on Friday night with beer in hand, Maud has new shoes, she’s polished, hoovered and has some new clothes. She’s got her wired-in transponder fitted, exhausted trimmed and refitted, bumper valance attached. She’s loaded with gazebo and spares.

Maasmechelen, I’m looking forward to meeting you at last.

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