Italian Road Trip 2016 – Part Two

It’s a wrench to drag ourselves away from Weggis with its blissful isolation and cleansing atmosphere but we have progress to make and our next stop is glamorous Lake Como. I finally relinquish control of the wheel and Mrs Motorcardiaries is given the opportunity to experience some Swiss motoring. The early driving is along easy, winding roads along the lakeside, with the usual views of the water framed by high mountains. To our left are jagged rock formations interspersed with high, green fields. Soon we’re ducking between tunnels and we must ease through a hundred of them over the course of the day; some long and illuminated, others just short sections of concrete; open-sided and cantilevered above our heads. I take the opportunity to savour the views and indulge in a bit of car-spotting, with a number of interesting motors heading towards us, including a fabulous two-seat racing bodied Riley special of the sort so beloved of our Continental cousins.

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Silverstone Classic Preview – by Chris Pickering

Monterey may have the sunshine and Goodwood may have the ultimate ‘timewarp’ feel, but it’s the wide open expanse of Silverstone that plays host to the world’s largest historic motor racing festival. This year’s Silverstone Classic, running from 29-31st July, promises to bring together an unparalleled number of classic competition cars, ranging from the rolling thunder of 1,000 hp Can Am machines to the waspish fury of Historic Formula Junior.

Silverstone Classic Media Day 2016, Silverstone Circuit, Northants, England. 27th April, 2016 Touring Cars at the Silverstone Classic Copyright Free for editorial use

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National Motor Racing Museum, Bathurst

Nestling on the Mount Panorama outfield just before Murray’s Corner sits the National Motor Racing Museum. For a country steeped in proud racing tradition, this is a significant building housing a fine collection of cars, motorcycles and associated automobilia.

The museum’s location is a crucial aspect of its status and it was originally founded in 1988 by the Bathurst Light Car Club before being subsumed by the Bathurst Regional Council. The museum’s mission statement is simple: “The…conservation and preservation of material relevant to Australian motor racing history, and to enhance the understanding and significance of motorsport within Australia.”

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VSCC – Prescott Speed Hillclimb

The VSCC must rank as the world’s coolest car club. It’s not cool in the Dubai chrome Veyron sense. It’s cool because the members not only adore their cars, but also use them properly. Where else would one find priceless treasures from Bentley and Aston Martin being hooned up a hill in the Cotswolds during a storm? Eccentricity pervades in the most gloriously charming and informal fashion.

I’ve been to several VSCC race meetings before, but this is the first time I’ve seen one of the club’s hillclimbs. Prescott is always over-subscribed and the paddocks are full to bursting with 16 classes of pre-war racers eager to prove their hill ascending capabilities. As Secretary Mike Stripe describes in the programme, this is the jewel in the VSCC’s crown.

Away from the hill there are rambling car parks full of every kind of vintage brilliance – from Bugattis to Frazer Nashes, BMWs to Bentleys. Even in the torrential English summer rain, there was the usual VSCC spirit in adversity and a steady flow of old motors populated the fields adjacent the hill.

Prescott is picture postcard perfect. The hill meanders quite steeply at times and where there is run-off it exists only for a moment before giving way to unyielding barriers. It’s certainly not a place for the faint-hearted, even less so when one is aboard a giant pre-war jalopy motivated by an engine which started life in a WW1 bomber. Crazy mob, the VSCC lot.

There’s great spectating all the way up the hill on the ‘outfield’ (excuse my rhetoric but can such a thing exist on a hillclimb?) and for the opening few metres on the ‘infield’. Highlight here is the splendid new clubhouse, recently erected above the paddock. The clubhouse serves tasty hot food all day and afford visitors a panoramic vista across the site including the startline and those sprawling vintage car parks. It’s a great facility and sheltering from the rain showers with a coffee while still enjoying the on-track action was a daily highlight.

The track dried rapidly in the afternoon and times were tumbling when the quickest of the three ERAs took their final runs, right at the end of the day. James Baxter snatched the lead with a 44.14sec before Mac Hulbert hammered his trusty R4D up the hill in 43.78sec, having missed the morning’s timed ascents. The sound of that glorious straight-six peeling through the woodland and the scent of Castrol R on the breeze…it doesn’t get much better than that.

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Unique Texton-bodied Rolls Royce gained this amazing glasshouse in 1930s Boston.

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I usually hate wicker but this extraordinary monoposto looked fabulously delicate and decidedly dangerous. Road legal too.

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We completely missed the chance to explore the museum but it’s a good excuse for another trip for the the British Hillclimb Championship next year.

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Bit rainy.

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Extraordinarily tight hairpin gave rise to differing lines. Huge gradient change looked a pretty useful challenge.

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Evocative twin rear wheels on MG Special spat huge rooster tails of spray high in the air.

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James Baxter guided ERA R4A to second fastest time of the day as the track dried.

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Chris Williams performed his usual heroics in the Napier-Bentley special.

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Mac Hulbert looked relaxed in the paddock before blasting ERA R4D to FTD.

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Glorious Coltswolds backdrop to the ludicrously treacherous Semi-circle corner. Marshals remained pretty relaxed though.

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Charlie Martin was spectacular in the Morgan Special.

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FIA GT 1997

Back in 1997 the GT landscape was markedly different to how we find it in 2012. The FIA GT Championship and Le Mans ran GT1 and GT2 machinery with the top class being dominated by the long-tail homologation special froms McLaren, Porsche and AMG Mercedes-Benz, ably supported by Lotus with their wild V8 engined Elise derivative (!) and the thundering Roush-motivated Panoz ‘Batmobiles’.

The FIA Championship visited the UK twice in 1997. Early in the year deluges left Silverstone treacherous, with Peter Kox and Roberto Ravaglia splashing their way to victory in the McLaren F1 GTR #23R – now owned by Lawrence Stroll. I recall it was several days before we had dried out and warmed up, having spent the race shivering under an umbrella on the infield by Becketts.

By September the AMG Mercedes team had really hit their stride, having moved from the defunct International Touring Car Championship over to GT1. Their CLK GTR bore no discernible resemblance to the road-going CLK. With dramatic bodywork and a monster 6L V12, these were Grand Tourers in name only.

However, that is not to dismiss spectacle of seeing these mighty racers in action. The field comprised a useful miscellany of GTs, with 6, 8, ten and twelve cylinder engines across the two classes. The AMG team were supreme and watching the mechanics simultaneously service two cars at once in the pits was a sign that the level of professionalism in GT racing had just moved up a notch. By comparison, the previously dominant McLarens were left breathless as the silver arrows swept to a 1-2-4, with only the genius of JJ Lehto allowing McLaren onto the podium. Lehto was never less than totally committed in hustling the big GT cars everywhere.

Atop the podium was loyal Mercedes driver Bernd Schneider, accompanied by Alex Wurz. The Austrian would be in Formula One within 6 months and is still a leading sportscar racer today – leading Toyota’s mega LMP1 programme.

It was an honour to see the GT1 cars in action. Despite their somewhat dubious GT claims, they were among the most charismatic racers in sportscar history; and as handsome as anything which has followed since.

Photos courtesy of R W Swift.