Having built my kit car and put it on the road in September 1995, I entered a couple of sprint events in 1996 just to see what they were like. I also attended at a number of track days, something I had done for some years using my Alfa GTV6 and the 75.
For 1997, I registered for a number of speed championships. Two reasons for this; one is that event regulations are normally sent out to registered competitors, the other being for the additional level of competition that this provides. Aiming for a championship position is a bit better than just looking for results in individual events. As a member of Hart MC, I registered for the two ACSMC championships. I also registered for the CCC Speed Championship, which required that I also joined BARC.
The season started with an event at Brands Hatch on March 8th. I had driven this circuit before but never in my kit car. The sprint was held by setting a timed lap of the Indy (club) circuit, which had been resurfaced over winter and the sprint cars were the first to use the track in this condition. A very enjoyable day saw me placed fourth in class, with various Westfields setting better times than me.
My next event was a visit to North Weald on 23rd March. This is held on a small area of tarmac at the end of a runway, which is actually in use at the same time as the event. There is a wooden fence to mark the end used by the cars, but it was occasionally disconcerting to see planes coming low overhead on their approach to land. The weather for this event was dreadful. A windswept location anyway, it rained heavily. This meant that plenty of opposite lock was called for being a bit 'ambitious' due to the safe nature of the circuit (not much to hit with the car, other than the marker cones). This event was won by the four-wheel-drive Cosworth Turbo DAX of Duncan Cowper, with a few Westfields behind that and me again fourth in class.
Next up, for me, was a BARC sprint at Goodwood Circuit on 6th April. This is a track which I know rather well, having driven it on many track days. Up against some serious competition in this particular event, I only managed to get fifth in class.
19th April was the date for the BARC hillclimb held at Gurston Down. This was new for me and the hill was quite daunting, made worse by a damp start to the day. Not the easiest way to learn the ropes through the bends on this course. According to my records, I came third in class here - although my memory seems to recall a lower placing. No point in checking the paperwork now, but I really enjoyed my day here.
Lydden Hill was the next venue, on 26th April. This was only my second time at this track, but I like the layout of this circuit and the fact that you can see most of it as a spectator. This was not the case on this date, as thick fog meant that you could not see cars from one the end of the track to the other. A greasy track only got worse when it rained later in the day. Yet another fourth in class, with a few dubious slides along the way, but still with the car intact for the drive home.
My first visit to Debden was on 11th May, held at another airfield location. Also windswept, as is the nature of an airfield I suppose. And it also rained, but not all that hard. The surface was quite abrasive so still had reasonable grip as it started to dry. That didn't help me when I almost got lost through the cones on my first run, nor on my subsequent runs. I ended this event with only eighth in class, my worst result (but not last, since I think there was one other car behind my in our class).
Back to Goodwood on 24th May for the Southsea sprint. Great, a circuit I knew, dry weather, going on holiday the next day. At last managed to get the right sort of mindset and aimed on reducing my lap times. Well, if you exclude my spin coming out of the chicane, due to over-exuberance on use of the throttle. Well, they do tell you not to lift off in a Stratos when things go wrong! A nice sequence of pictures in CCC magazine showed why my tyres needed replacing sooner than you might expect. Unfortunately the photographer didn't continue the sequence as I did a reverse flick before the car stopped and still crossed the line to set a time quicker than a lot of the other cars. That got me an ovation from the marshals and the spectators, as well as second in class at the end of the day.
Returned from holiday to do my next sprint the day after on 14th June at Abingdon. This event was held by FDMC and used two courses at the airfield location. I did not get my concentration together on this event (I blame jet lag, number 52 in the excuses handbook I believe) but the sprint itself went very well. I managed another spin at this event too, going through the timing beam doing a high speed pirouette (from 80mph). This was shortly after Mike Withie had spun his car through the cone and wrecked the fire extinguisher, so I managed not to emulate that particular stunt. Fifth in class from this event, still not quite last placed, but it felt like a very poor drive to me.
A further return to Goodwood on 3rd August and I had decided to think straight again and try to set sensible, but fast, times without throwing the car into another spin. I was fastest in class during practice, but those times do not count for the results. What then happened was that one of the cars in my class put in a timed run before our class was due to run. This was just before the lunch break at the circuit. During lunch, the heavens opened with a solid downpour for most of the hour. I, and others in my class, was in the second batch of cars to go out straight after lunch. Times for this event were for two laps from a standing start. With standing water everywhere, my wet time was about thirty seconds slower than my dry practice time. Driving in these conditions was a feat just to keep the car driving in the correct direction, let alone in attempting to set a fast time. I did manage to avoid a spin and set the fastest wet time in my class. Unfortunately, the car that went out before lunch had a dry time and was therefore to be given first in class. As it happened, this car was slowest in dry (practice) times and also slowest in wet times. A few other cars in different classes had also put in their times 'out of order' and some of the drivers protested at this. Besides the positions from that event, championships were also likely to be affected for some of the drivers. I did not protest, since if the organisers allowed cars to run out of order then I suppose it is hard luck if someone takes advantage of this loophole. I hope that they don't allow cars to run out of order in future and I'll keep a close eye on the other driver if I am at events with him in future. One further lesson learnt by me, second in class and not first.
9th August and I was back at Lydden Hill. Not much to report from this event (what are the causes of short-term memory loss? Dunno, I've forgotten!) other than that I got second in class and it then rained (or did it?).
Yet another visit to Goodwood on 7th September. A dry day and some concentration and commitment netted me first in class. And this was on a CCC round. I was pleased with this result, not unsurprisingly, as I had managed to repeat my target of breaking the 100 second barrier for a standing lap at this circuit (I managed this earlier in the year). Still a few seconds adrift of what CCC multiple-championship winner Trevor Willis can do, but best in class on the day.
Final event of the year was a non-championship round held at Lydden Hill on 11th October. Held just for fun (aren't they all) there were only two cars in my class. You could say this was my worst result of the year as I came last. You could also be kind and just say that I came second. However you record it, I was half a second behind the other competitor.
The result of all these events, besides worn out tyres and a slightly tired car, is that I achieved first in class in the ACSMC Cranleigh Tyres Speed Championship and came second in the Hart MC 'Outside Drivers' championship.
For 1998 I hope to compete in some of these events again, but have set my sights somewhat higher and will be racing my Hawk in the Auto Italia race series. Let's hope that I can keep the concentration up and that the skill level is not too low. This race series is also to be televised on Cable channels and possibly Sky and/or Euro Sports channels. So, keep a lookout for a bright orange Stratos Replica being driven by a Novice. That'll be me!