A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to take part in a couple of demonstration races with the MicksGarage Future Classics guys at Mondello Park. The demo's were part of the show at Classic Car Live which is an annual classic car event that features on-track action as well as all the usual static displays. The last proper race I did was 3 years ago in a Formula Sheane single seater which you can read about here
should you so wish. I remember being incredibly nervous for that race...and incredibly hot. But that was a proper race meeting and a championship round too so there was a lot more pressure to not completely embarrass myself in-front of the crowd and fellow competitors! This event was very different, there was zero pressure and thanks to the torrential rain there was virtually no-one in the crowd. The Future Classics class is a lot more relaxed as well and nobody really takes the racing too
seriously, not that it feels that way when the lights go out!
I've got a Mini that myself and a mate co-own and I could have used that for the race but it had quite a few reliability issues. Last time out it was overheating, misfiring, the cabin had been filling with fumes and all the windows were steaming up! I'd done a fair bit of work on the car to try and rectify all the problems but I wasn't at all confident it would last the distance.
I only get the opportunity to do this kind of thing once in a blue moon so when Ken Byrne's offered me a drive in his race winning
Toyota Celica with all of its Japanese reliability I jumped at the chance.
Not wanting to leave the Mini out of the equation altogether we brought it along anyway as backup, complete with some new retro graphics i'd mocked up the day before and handed over to Darran at 99 Red Balloons at the 11th hour. (I think he finished the car at 4am and had it at the track by 8.30am!)
Seasoned campaigner Robbie Parks had never driven a Mini before and was keen to have a go despite the likelihood that it wouldn't last very long. I was also keen to see how it would fare at the hands of an experienced racer so handed over the keys. The appalling weather meant that some of the classic motorbikes wouldn't be venturing out on track and that in-turn meant we would have
even more track time available to us. We headed out on to the rain-soaked circuit for a practice session at about 10.30. The Future Classics pretty much all semi-slick tyres such as Yokohama A048's or Toyo R888's which are great in the dry but pretty lousy in the wet so needless to say there wasn't a whole lot of grip, but bar a couple of cars who were running full-wet race tyres we were all in the same boat. Practice passed without incident and I found the Celica very easy to drive. It had plenty of straight-line speed compared to some of the other cars around me and being a big heavy car probably cut through the water better than some of the lighter cars. Lack of front-end grip was the main issue I was struggling with and I was having to wait for what seemed like an eternity until the car was virtually straight before I could get on the power otherwise it would just wash out.
Starting positions were pulled out of a hat and I drew 14th place for race 1. Following a bit of organised chaos lining the cars up on the grid we were ready to go. I was expecting to be bricking it at this point but surprisingly I was extremely calm and loving every second! The 5 second board went up and the lights went out. I got a pretty decent start and the power of the Toyota motor had us past a good few cars on the run up to turn 1. In the middle of the pack visibility was diabolical and you had to be very careful not to run into the back of anyone in the braking zones into turn 1 and 3 especially. The race went by in a bit of a blur to be honest, a few cars got passed and I got past a couple of cars and had a great dice with Will Tigh in his 205gti in the process.
What was immediately evident was the difference between myself and the real
racers out there. Now granted I was taking it fairly handy and was acutely aware that I was in a borrowed car in atrocious weather conditions but the pro's were going for gaps, finding grip and generally being so much more aggressive in a way that I just wasn't. It was actually really great to watch the likes of Kev Gillespie pass me and the 2 cars i'd been following for lap after lap in just a few corners - certainly a fantastic lesson for the future. I think I finished race 1 in roughly 9th place which I was very happy with. It was great fun to be out there in the thick of it and despite this only being a 'demo' there was no shortage of proper racing!
Again starting positions were drawn from a hat, I was to start 9th this time. We've got my on-board from this race below so I won't go into too much detail as you can just watch what happened. I don't know what I was playing at at the start, I actually thought everyone had jumped the start, but watching the footage back I must have been looking at a different set of lights to everybody else or something. Needless to say my start sucked! It didn't get a whole lot better after that either as cars streamed past I got boxed in behind a much slower Fiesta, again a more aggressive approach would have had me past in a jiffy as the Celica could have just driven round the little Ford. The rain worsened and large amounts of standing water started to form, particularly on the main straight. You can hear the wheels spinning in the video as the car aquaplanes coming up to the bridge. For me, the two highlights of this race involved the 2 Mini's out on track. The first being Robbie Parks wrestling my Mini up through the field (and past me) with much of his time spent completely sideways! I couldn't believe it, he was flying! I was delighted to see it though as it meant the car definitely had potential, although it might be a different story in the dry. The 2nd highlight, although highlight is the wrong word, lets go with incident, was Mike Meskell in his full-race Mini Miglia. Mike was one of the two cars on wet race tyres and had lapped virtually everyone. This was a seriously quick little car! He flew past me on the inside at Southside corner but then hit a huge patch of standing water on the straight and did a complete 360 degree pirouette right in-front of me.
Miraculously I didn't hit him and he didn't hit anything else. He kept going and was past me again in just a few corners. I have to say he was remarkably relaxed about the whole thing when I was chatting to him afterwards, but Mike is a bike racer and has that slightly mad twinkle in the eye that most bike racers have....I suspect he's had a lot worse incidents!
Despite the abysmal conditions the mood in the paddock was amazing, the rest of guys had clearly had as much fun as I did. Lets hope it's not another 3 years until I'm behind the wheel again!
Thanks to Al Cully for the loan of the GoPro and David Mc Lachlan for the images. For more info on Future Classics Racing visit http://www.futureclassics.eu/