1932 Trophy For Silverstone 500 Winners

The overall winning drivers of British GT’s blue riband Silverstone 500 race will lift a historical piece of silverware next weekend (June 10/11) following the unveiling of the event’s new standalone trophy.

British GT organisers announced the prize at the end of 2016 and have since worked closely with Silverstone’s owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, to identify a suitably significant piece of silverware. Its archive contains many such examples but, together, the BRDC and SRO Motorsports Group have selected the ‘RAC Trophy’ that was previously awarded for a 500-mile race at Brooklands on 24 September 1932.

Back then it was common practice for prominent sporting bodies and organisations to sponsor individual awards. The Royal Automobile Club was no exception and presented its cup to BRDC Member William Alexander Cuthbert and his co-driver Cecil Wingfield Fiennes who finished fourth in 1932’s race driving a Riley 1100.

Almost a century ago the ‘500’ was considered one of the BRDC’s and Brooklands’ showpiece events. Indeed, Motor Sport Magazine’s season review, taken from its December 1932 issue, described it as “one of the finest races staged at Brooklands in years,” and “The ‘500’ added still further to its reputation as the finest race of the year at Brooklands.”

But when the circuit was requisitioned on the eve of WWII and subsequently sold in 1946, so the Club’s attention switched to another RAF base: Silverstone.

British GT has staged its own version of the ‘500’ there since 2012, which The Home Of British Motor Racing is now keen to formally recognise as a flagship event in its annual calendar. As such, this year’s race weekend will feature a prominent ‘Supercar Sunday’ display as well as family entertainment, open paddock, free grandstand access and pit walk.

Benjamin Franassovici, British GT Championship Manager: “The Silverstone 500 has gathered momentum since we first staged the race in 2012 and is very much seen as our season’s blue riband event. We were keen to further emphasise this by awarding a historically significant trophy to the overall winners and, thanks to the BRDC’s efforts, will be doing so for the first time this year. The trophy is stunning and a wonderful way of aligning our season’s biggest race with a genuine piece of British motorsport history. Whoever wins it can be mightily proud to see their name engraved on its silver and mahogany base.”

Adult tickets for next weekend’s Silverstone 500 start at just £12 while children aged 15 and under can attend for free all weekend. Visit www.silverstone.co.uk/events/british-gt-championship/ for more information.

SILVERSTONE 500 SCHEDULE

Saturday 10 June

09:30 – 10:30: Free Practice 1
12:25 – 13:25: Free Practice 2
16:05 – 16:15: Qualifying – GT3 Am
16:19 – 16:29: Qualifying – GT3 Pro
16:33 – 16:43: Qualifying – GT4 Am
16:48 – 16:58: Qualifying – GT4 Pro

Sunday 11 June

10:05 – 10:15: Warm-up
13:35 – 16:35: Race

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

(c) Photograph and press release courtesy of SRO Motorsports Group

 

 

WRX – Farewell Lydden – Part Two

Of course, being the Sunday of World Rallycross the crowds flocked and the queue on the A2 backed up. We managed to slot into the queue and from the dual carriageway I could see that the cars were being directed into the top field above the circuit, adjacent to a field which the previous day had been clear. We negotiated our way into Lydden Hill and made our way down the dusty track to hopefully where we parked the before, in the VIP and media car park behind the grandstand, but our hopes faded as the security guard on the point directed us to…yes you guessed it, the top field adjacent to the field which I had seen on the way in. It was going to be a longer trek down to the circuit, but the sun was out and the cars were revving. It was a perfect day.

Our first stop-off point was the garage of Oliver Bennett. He was guesting in the WRX for this round. His Ford Fiesta was parked under an Xite Energy drinks marquee, his major sponsor and there were plastic shot containers on a desk with a variety of different flavours to try, of course it would be rude not to take full advantage of the complimentary offers so I did. He was being spoken to by Liam Doran who was in Bennett’s garage this weekend and they were discussing tactics and how the next two qualifying heats should be approached. Bennett took on board what Doran had to say and then donned his racing helmet to jump into the car whilst Liam Doran picked up the radio headset and headed off towards his spotting position.

Time was ticking down and I could hear the cars making their way through the paddock into the pre-grid area situated in front of the Monster Energy tower. We wandered in that general direction and I sauntered by the Team Peugeot garage and spotted the Frenchman who I spoke to the previous day who sponsored the team. He walked over to me and we started chatting and he asked if I was still interested in speaking with the drivers, which of course I said yes. He grabbed the team PR lady and we arranged that I would visit the hospitality area at around 4.30pm. First job of the day complete.

It was time for Q3

Petter Solberg would go top again in a weekend he was beginning to thoroughly dominate. He was over one and a half seconds in front of his team mate, Kristoffersson and over three seconds ahead of Ekstrom. All three drivers maintained their position from Q2

Solberg led the race and took his joker on lap three, re-taking the lead when Kristoffersson took his joker on lap four.

Behind the top three, Norway’s Andreas Bakkerud and Sweden’s Timmy Hansen battled over fourth place in the race and were fifth and seventh in Q3, Hansen’s Team Peugeot-Hansen team mate Sebastien Loeb was fourth and America’s Ken Block sixth, the two drivers continuing their battle from Saturday at Lydden Hill.

Like he was in Q1, Finland’s Topi Heikkinen was eighth fastest in Q3 to return to the top twelve after he was slowed with an engine problem in Q2. Sweden’s Kevin Eriksson also won his race in Q3 and was ninth fastest, with Heikkinen’s EKS team mate Reinis Nitiss 10th. Finland’s Niclas Gronholm was also inside the top 12 along with Sweden’s Kevin Hansen. Great Britain’s Andrew Jordan wass currently in the semi-final places for the MJP Racing Team Austria team, in 11th, despite being slowed with technical problems at the end of his race in Q3.

The postitions looked like this, with qualifying points:

1st – Petter Solberg – 150pts

2nd – Johan Kristoffersson – 135pts

3rd – Mattias Ekstrom – 126pts

4th – Andreas Bakkerud – 119pts

5th – Sebastien Loeb – 115pts

6th – Timmy Hansen – 115pts

7th – Ken Block – 113pts

8th – Kevin Eriksson – 101pts

9th – Timur Timerzyanov – 98pts

10th – Janis Baumanis – 97pts

11th – Andrew Jordan – 95pts

12th – Toomas Heikkinen – 94pts

——————————————

13th – Guy Wilks – 89pts

14th – Jean-Baptiste Dubourg – 86pts

15th – Niclas Gronholm – 85pts

16th – Rene Muennich – 84pts

17th – Kevin Hansen – 83pts

18th – Oliver O’Donovan – 80pts

19th – Gregoire Demoutier – 76pts

20th – Reinis Nitiss – 74pts

21st – CSUCSU – 73pts

22nd – Martin Kaczmarski – 73pts

23rd – Oliver Bennett – 68pts

24th – M.D.K. – 67pts

Q4 was going to be so important and with some very talented drivers outside the top twelve it would take some big efforts for a place in the semi-final heats. From Timerzyanov to Heikkinen, those drivers would be looking over their shoulders for those contenders chasing a place. All drivers down to 16th place would gain championship points during the qualifying heats so there were further battles down the order to be completed.

Sweden’s Timmy Hansen set the fastest time in Q4 at the World RX of Great Britain to end Norway’s Petter Solberg’s runs of fastest times.

Hansen took the joker lap early in his race and won on track to be fastest, as in the last race of the Q3 session Johan Kristoffersson beat his team mate Solberg for the first time of the weekend, Kristoffersson second behind Hansen in Q4 with Solberg in third. Solberg was top qualifier at the Intermediate Classification and as a result would start on pole position for semi-final one, while Kristoffersson would start on pole position in semi-final two.

Hansen’s Q4 time means he moved to third in the Intermediate Classification and would join Solberg on the front row for semi-final one, Kristoffersson joined by his countryman Mattias Ekstrom on the first row for semi-final two. Ekstrom who was eighth fastest in Q4 after a battle with Sebastien Loeb, the nine-time World Rally Champion would start on the second row of the same semi-final race, next to MJP Racing Team Austria’s Kevin Eriksson and in front of Latvia’s Janis Baumanis and Finland’s Topi Heikkinen.

Hoonigan Racing Division team mates Andreas Bakkerud and Ken Block were fourth and fifth in Q4 and would start together on row two of semi-final one, with Andrew Jordan and Timur Timerzyanov also making it into the top 12 to join the semi-final one grid on the third row. Reigning FIA European Rallycross Champion Kevin Hansen, who was celebrating his 19th birthday at Lydden Hill, was ninth fastest in Q4 but just missed out on a place in the semi-finals due to technical problems he encountered the previous day.

The semi-final line-ups would look like this:

SEMI-FINAL 1

ROW 1

Petter Solberg – VW Polo GTI

Timmy Hansen – Peugeot 208

ROW 2

Andreas Bakkerud – Ford Focus RS

Ken Block – Ford Focus RS

ROW 3

Janis Baumanis – Ford Fiesta

Timur Timerzyanov – Ford Fiesta

SEMI-FINAL 2

ROW 1

Johan Kristoffersson – VW Polo GTI

Mattias Ekstrom – Audi S1

ROW 2

Sebastien Loeb – Peugeot 208

Andrew Jordan – Ford Fiesta

ROW 3

Kevin Eriksson – Ford Fiesta

Toomas Heikkinen – Audi S1

We had watched Q3 at the back end of the circuit opposite Chessons Drift. We looked down at the entrance to the joker with the packed car park in our view on the opposite side of the circuit. The bank rises up and to the right the trees block the view of the start/finish line, but my can you hear the engines as they rev up. It’s a weird mix of acoustics as the sound of the revving cuts out and there is this low grumble which grows louder and louder until eventually the cars pop into view. Remember, these beasts can accelerate off the start line quicker than a Formula One car, so by the time they reach the entrance into the drift or the joker, whichever a driver decides, those cars are going at a rate of knots. They burst into view with the sound of screeching tyres, the smell of burning rubber being pushed up your nostrils and the dust from the drift billows up into the air and as the wind catches it the cloud switches direction and hits you in the face. It is a most incredible experience.

Q4 we watched from the banking directly in front of the Monster Energy tower, the view is good. You can see all of the circuit from this vantage point if you are standing high enough up the banking. It was from here that we decided to walk back through the paddock after the Q4 excitement to grab some lunch back at the car and to see what faces I could bump into.

I had a Pit Crew Staff t-shirt which was tucked in my waistband and I had decided I was going to get some drivers to sign it, for prosperities sake. The first person I managed to grab on the way back to lunch was Janis Baumanis. There was a little translation problem at first as he took my marker pen, I thought he was saying “write”, which I thought was odd as I wanted him to write it, but turns out he meant “tight”, so Viv pointed out to me that he wanted me to pull the t-shirt tighter. That little obstacle conquered and signature number one out the way.

Sebastien Loeb walked out the Peugeot garage, he was in jovial mood and was smiling for photographs. I asked him how preparations were going for the semi-final and he winked, giving me a thumbs up. I took that as things were going pretty well.

Managed to get Andrew Jordan to sign the Pit Crew t-shirt and we decided to head back to the car for lunch.

The cars were lining up in the pre-grid for the semi-final heats, there was a World War Two fly-by and the national anthem. I had arranged to meet Neil Cole, the WRX television reporter, and I could see him interviewing Petter Solberg and feverishly walking around the paddock so I walked round, leaving Viv on the public side and entered the pre-grid area. I wandered over to the race office and leant over the wooden fencing and called Neil’s name, he was leaning against the wall. He smiled and shook my hand and I could tell he was busy so I let him get on.

I walked down into the pre-grid area where the cars were assembled, mechanics performing their final checks, media personnel buzzing around and VIP guests standing to one side and watching. I had the crew from Hoonigan Racing Division standing next to me, a mixture of nationalities but I managed to make out a few Americans and British accents. They were discussing the upcoming semi-final and judging by the conversation there was a lot of confidence about Bakkerud making it through.

The Frenchman I met yesterday was standing above me on the gantry and he smiled. “Four-thirty!” he shouted down, giving me the thumbs up. I returned the greeting and said that I would be there.

The cars for semi-final one were being moved out onto the grid, I was standing just inches away and it wasn’t just the noise but the heat coming from the cars was unbelievable. Neil Cole ran back through, he intimated to me by touching his ear-piece that the live show was on so now wasn’t a good time to talk. I understood.

The Hoonigan mechanics were right with their feelings as Andreas Bakkerud qualified in 2nd place just under a second behind Petter Solberg, with Timmy Hansen bringing his Peugeot through in 4th. The second semi-final would see Solberg’s team mate Kristoffersson win convincingly over Loeb and Ekstrom, who was having by his standards a particularly quiet weekend, in 3rd. The final was set. I also managed to get a photograph with Kevin Eriksson.

ROW 1

Petter Solberg

Johan Kristoffersson

ROW 2

Andreas Bakkerud

Sebastien Loeb

ROW 3

Timmy Hansen

Mattias Ekstrom

During the final I stood underneath the Cooper Tire inflatable with Kevin Eriksson next to me. We greeted each other and as the final got under way he commented how Petter got an electric start.

The final was underway.

Petter Solberg took an emphatic win with Johan Kristoffersson making it a one-two for PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, while Hoonigan Racing Division’s Andreas Bakkerud took the third podium spot in his Ford Focus RS RX Supercar.

Kristoffersson’s runner-up position this weekend catapulted the Swede to the top of the drivers’ standings – four points ahead of Mattias Ekstrom who finished fourth in his Audi S1 EKS RX Quattro. Ekstrom, who suffered a puncture in today’s final, had the fastest reaction off the start awarding the reigning World RX Champion with the coveted Monster Energy Super Charge Award. In the overall teams’ standings, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden continue to dominate – 69 points ahead of Team Peugeot-Hansen who remain second.

“This is the victory I needed,” beamed Solberg, who took his first win since Portugal 2016. “The team have been flat out over the last couple of months – the car is good but it’s the little details that the team have been working on that has given us the consistency we need. It’s been good team-work with Johan too – we give and take a little bit from each other and it’s been working very well. Now I’m looking forward to my home event in Norway – we have done some testing there and know the track well so this will help. It’s a very special place for us – we are a small country but with over 25,000 fans attending Hell RX the atmosphere is always fantastic. I have competed in motorsport for many years and things can happen very quickly – we must remain consistent and stay smart. Regarding Lydden Hill, I have to say thank you – the atmosphere is always amazing and the volunteers have been great.”

New Championship leader Kristoffersson commended Solberg on his Lydden Hill victory. “Congratulations to Petter, he has been brilliant all weekend,” explained the 28-year-old Swede. “He has had the upper hand since the draw and managed his tyres very well. It’s all about the points now, I am now leading the Championship and the Teams’ Championship is looking very good too. My launches are now feeling better and the reaction times are getting faster every time – it’s been a good team effort. I’m really pleased with the weekend and this is the fourth Volkswagen podium in a row. Now I’m leading the Championship for the first time on my own and it’s a great feeling – I will definitely be fighting hard to keep it that way!”

Third-placed Andreas Bakkerud added: “Huge congratulations to Petter and Johan – both have been quick from practice onwards and for me, this weekend was about being the best of the rest. The whole team did a fantastic job – we tried our hardest but it was not quite fast enough. It’s just a small window of time before Hell, we have some developments to try so I must push that weekend and I hope that we can get back to the top.”

Rounding out the top five this weekend was Frenchman Sebastien Loeb – the Team Peugeot-Hansen driver fighting hard with Ekstrom for the majority of today’s final. Timmy Hansen was sixth overall, the Swede slowed after spinning his Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar on North Bend and later losing time with a left-rear puncture.

I headed to the media centre where I caught up with Petter Solberg for a one-on-one interview. He remembered me from our interview on top of the Monster Energy stage last year and smiled whilst shaking my hand, which I thought was a really nice gesture.

“I know you like it at Lydden. Last race here, what did that mean to you?” I asked.

“For sure it means a lot, it’s sad that we are going.” Petter replied.

“I was looking at the times of the session across the weekend and at times you were one to two seconds above everyone else. What made that difference?” I asked.

“The driver.”

We both laughed, what a great response. Petter shook my hand and thanked me for the questions, he wished me well and said “See you again,” before wandering off to the stage to be interviewed for the television with Kristoffersson and Bakkerud.

I listened in to the press conference surrounded by all the other media outlets, journalists jostling for places to get the best audio recordings.

I headed away from the media centre after the drivers had spoken to meet up with Viv who was taking in the sights of the circuit being cleared up and we headed off to the Team Peugeot garage. The PR lady took myself and Viv through to the hospitality suite and she informed us the drivers were having their debrief and she wasn’t sure how long they were going to be.

I sat down and readied my questions and we waited as the Peugeot staff cleared away the equipment and other media representatives waited patiently. Time moved by and it appeared the drivers were busier than had been expected. The PR lady walked in and said she wasn’t sure how long they were going to be as there had been a lot to discuss. Not knowing how long it was going to take, we had been waiting for about half an hour and also not wanting to look like a pest I said that I understood they were very busy and that maybe we could arrange an interview with all three drivers another time. She agreed to this and seemed a bit relieved I wasn’t being pushy about the interview which had been arranged.

I have this outlook on interviews that if I came across as a pushy and impatient writer then any future articles would be lost because people remember. I use Petter Solberg as an example, he remembered how I spoke to him the previous year at Lydden and although he was due to get to the stage for TV, he took the time to come and talk to me, because he remembered. I hope the same applies to the Team Peugeot representatives.

If you have read my Adventures From Lydden article last year and this two part live special, you won’t need to be told how much of a fantastic time I have at World Rallycross events. This weekend in particular was just an amazing adventure. I got to meet some great people, spoke informally with drivers in a relaxed atmosphere and had an extreme amount of fun. This was Viv’s first visit to a World Rallycross event and she also enjoyed the whole race weekend experience. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if you have never been to a WRX event, then I highly recommend you put this on your to-do list.

Thank you World Rallycross. Thank you Lydden Hill.

Here are your championship standings:

See you at the chequered flag.

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Twitter: @world_racing

Photographs © – Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

The Lydden Frontier – Part One

World Rallycross

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Although Lydden Hill Circuit is not too far from our home, it was an early start as we prepared the provisions for our day at World Rallycross, the last one to be held at Lydden Hill.

We arrived in good time and were directed to the media car park behind the grandstands. The swirling clouds had gathered and it looked like our decision to wear summer tops and shorts was a bad one. We had nothing to fear, the sun would shine and shine very bright on this fantastic event and superb circuit.

As soon as we got out the car you could hear the WRX cars in free practice and noise of the engines, not far from us. “Oh my!” Viv said with a smile on her face. She’s a petrol head and I just knew from that opening statement she was going to enjoy today.

The first visit was to the paddock to cast our eyes around the garages and marquees. I saw Janis Baumanis wandering down the pit lane and decided to ask him how he thought things were going. He was in good spirits and appeared happy with how his preparations were going. Baumanis was sitting 9th after the free practice which had been dominated by Solberg and Kristoffersson, Ekstrom a further six tenths behind the PSRX drivers. Bumped into Reinis Nitiss, he smiled and looked upbeat. I also wandered over and spoke with Mattias Ekstrom at the area where they scrutineer the cars. He was his usual smiling self and stopped to have his photograph taken with fans. I thanked him for doing my Quick 10 interview recently and he said it was a pleasure. I wished him luck as I could see he was in a rush to get to his car and I didn’t want to hold him up.

This was Viv’s first time in the WRX paddock so I decided to give her the tour of the circuit. We walked round each paddock in a zig-zag formation, through to the area where they scrutineer the cars and then up to the Monster Energy stage. A quick “pit stop” there to grab some energy drinks and then off round the side of the Canterbury Straight, but through the camp site set behind the trees and at the rear of race control.

We had a great view of the circuit, wandered up on top of the Monster Energy tower and I managed to get my photo taken with a Monster Energy girl, as you do.

The path winds through a beautiful wooded area and if it wasn’t for the sound of the popping, whizzing and cracking of the rallycross cars just metres away it painted a picture of tranquility. We continued to walk up a steep rise to stand behind the joker between Pilgrims and Chessons Drift. The WRX cars were out and we stood just metres away as they came round to practice their joker laps, dust flying up into the air and into the crowd. Mattias Ekstrom nearly lost his back end coming into the joker. That could have been costly!

After grabbing a few snaps we walked into the massive grass car parking area down the side of Dover Slope. The rallycross cars were still flying round but our attention was also drawn to some fantastic spectator cars parked up, Viv, being a massive Ford fan, had her attention drawn to the selection of Ford Focus RS’s and Ford Fiesta’s on display and an Aston Martin. In fact throughout the day I think we visited the garage of Hoonigan Racing Division more times than any other team, not that I minded.

We finished up standing at the North Bend looking down Hairy Hill and it was the RX2 cars who were now skirting round the circuit. The sun was now blazing down. It was time to grab some refreshments.

Once refreshed, I decided to visit the garage of MJP Racing, having interviewed team boss Max Pucher and Kevin Eriksson this week in my build up. Max had told me in a conversation we had to stop by the garage. I spoke to one of the team members who informed me that Max was racing in Italy this weekend. I managed to see Kevin before the qualifying heats, he was standing in front of the television in the team hospitality area studying the times. As he turned I called him and Kevin walked over smiling.

I thanked him for doing the Quick 10 interview questions with me and he said it was a pleasure and he enjoyed the questions. He leant on the barrier and we just spoke informally, it didn’t feel like I was interviewing him, it just seemed like a normal converstaion. He told me he was feeling good this weekend and was hoping for a final slot. Kevin added that with everybody so close together in terms of timing, it was difficult to predict anything right now. I asked him what it was like having Andrew Jordan stepping in as team mate instead of Timo Scheider this weekend. Kevin smiled and said that Andrew was great to be around but it was strange having him as a team mate as he had now got used to Timo being part of the team. Kevin looked extremely relaxed and happy. Not wanting to take up too much of his valuable time, I wished him well, thanked him for his time and we shook hands. A genuinely nice person.

I love wandering around any racing paddock but there is something truly remarkable about the World Rallycross paddock. The teams are friendly, the personnel very accommodating and it is just a really relaxed atmosphere. Knowing that this is going to be the last WRX weekend before the championship switches RX Great Britain to Silverstone did fill me with a little bit of sadness and I truly hope the paddock stays as it is when it moves.

Heading into Q1 the following grid was decided (Pole is situated to the right of the circuit):

RACE 1

Mattias Ekstrom (Pole)

Andreas Bakkerud

Ken Block

Niclas Gronholm

RACE 2

Petter Solberg (Pole)

Johan Kristoffersson

CSUCSU

Rene Muennich

Timur Timerzyanov

RACE 3

Andrew Jordan (Pole)

Reinis Nitiss

Oliver O’Donovan

Timmy Hansen

M.D.K.

RACE 4

Janis Baumanis (Pole)

Kevin Eriksson

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg

Toomas Heikkinen

Guy Wilks

RACE 5

Gregoire Demoustier (Pole)

Oliver Bennett

Kevin Hansen

Sebastien Loeb

Martin Kaczmarski

The story of Q1 was that Petter Solberg would finish just under a second ahead of his team mate Johan Kristoffersson who was also two seconds ahead of championship leader Mattias Ekstrom. Andreas Bakkerud, Timmy Hansen, Ken Block, Sebastien Loeb, Toomas Heikkinen, Kevin Eriksson, Andrew Jordan, Janis Baumanis and Timur Timerzyanov would make up the top twelve, the drivers who after all four qualifying heats would make it through to the semi-finals.

Reinis Nitiss received a thirty second time penalty for not taking his joker lap and Niclas Gronholm had a terrible accident after his car rolled several times exiting onto the Dover Slope. The driver emerged from the car unscathed and scrambled over the barriers to safety.

The grids for the second round of qualifying read like this:

RACE 1

M.D.K. (Pole)

Oliver Bennett

Reinis Nitiss

Niclas Gronholm

RACE 2

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg (Pole)

CSUCSU

Martin Kaczmarski

Gregoire Demoustier

Oliver O’Donovan

RACE 3

Janis Baumanis (Pole)

Timur Timerzyanov

Kevin Hansen

Guy Wilks

Rene Muennich

RACE 4

Ken Block (Pole)

Sebastien Loeb

Toomas Heikkinen

Kevin Eriksson

Andrew Jordan

RACE 5

Petter Solberg (Pole)

Johan Kristoffersson

Mattias Ekstrom

Andreas Bakkerud

Timmy Hansen

In Q2 it was business as usual for the three fastest drivers from Q1 who held those positions again with Solberg, Kristoffersson and Ekstrom leading the way. Ekstrom was still two seconds off the Polo pace and he must be wondering how to claw that gap back. Solberg, as always, enjoys Lydden Hill.

“It’s not easy,” said Solberg afterwards. “it’s quite a special track, but it’s a fantastic feeling. Some improvements we have done from the last race have made me more comfortable and faster. It’s great, to be fastest on this track is always a dream and I’m happy I must say.” Petter then eluded to his team mate. “Johan has also done a fantastic job, so a good team effort again.”

The GRX mechanics worked quickly and superbly on Gronholm’s wrecked car from Q1 and the Finn managed to put his car into 10th. Reinis Nitiss retired after contact with a barrier at the first corner.

We had been sitting at the joker when Nitiss collided with the barrier and came to a grinding halt. There were a large group of Latvian supporters next to us and they groaned. Nitiss climbed out the car, hopped over the barrier and sat down on the grass watching the remaining cars complete the race. He had his head in his hands and looked very upset. The only time he looked up was when the Latvian supporters proudly chanted his name and he slowly raised his hand to acknowledge their support.

Heading to the last two qualifying heats tomorrow the heat will definitely be on for Toomas Heikkinen as he sits just outside the important twelve places. A great set of qualifying sessions for Andrew Jordan who sits in 8th place and must be confident of a semi-final place barring any unfortunate accidents.

The two other British entrants also taking part this weekend, Guy Wilks and Oliver Bennett find themselves 12th and 23rd respectively with Ireland’s Oliver O’Donovan in 17th. The Ford pairing of Andreas Bakkerud and Ken Block from Hoonigan Racing Division look fast this weekend and are looking at making some improvements overnight to put them even more in contention for honours.

As with my last visit, it was an incredible day. We managed to be present at the Rig Riot, the music blaring, Monster Energy girls dancing on stage and throwing out t-shirts to the crowd with Andreas Bakkerud, Ken Block, Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson. It’s amazing how many people will jump, push and bump their way into position for one of those t-shirts. In the VIP/Media car park you get to meet all sorts of people and I struck up a conversation with a man who was visiting from France and informed me that he was staying in Sandwich, a small Cinque Port town not far from the circuit. He asked me what my role was here today and I showed him my media pass and explained I was the WRX Editor at The Pit Crew Online. That is when he told me he was the main sponsor for not only Team Peugeot but for IMG, the event organisers. In the next breath he invited myself and Viv to the team hospitality suite to talk with Timmy Hansen, Kevin Hansen and Sebastien Loeb. Add that to the invitation we had to the RX2 after race party and, well, you can imagine we were extremely pleased with our day of “meets-and-greets”.

We wandered around the historic car marquee and then sat in the shade by the trees as they put on their show on track. Yes, the same as last year the sun beamed down and I have sunburn. We both left having thoroughly enjoyed the racing, the spectacle and the show which is World Rallycross, it never fails to deliver.

That was our Saturday adventure and tomorrow we get to do it all again.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Photographs: (c) Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

A WRX Farewell To Lydden

(c) Image courtesy of Lydden Hill Circuit

 

World Rallycross bids a tearful farewell to Lydden Hill Circuit this weekend in what will be an emotional send off.

Situated in East Kent between Canterbury and Dover, Lydden Hill Circuit is a historic track with a fantastic, sweeping layout. A friend of mine once called it “The Monza Of Kent”. Yes a little enthusiastic, but I can see where he’s coming from.

It is the shortest racing circuit in the UK and from the late fifties it attracted stock-car racing and with motorcycles, grass-track racing. In the mid-sixties tarmac was laid and it attracted Formula Three attracting such drivers as Roger Williamson and Tom Walkinshaw. it was around the same time which Lydden Hill gave birth to Rallycross and the first race was won by a Porsche 911 driven by Vic Elford. James Hunt recorded his first race win at Lydden Hill, driving a Russell-Alexis Mk14 Formula Ford and returned just under one year later to record a second win.

Since that time, British Rallycross, European Rallycross and FIA Rallycross events have flocked to Lydden Hill and it is tagged with “The Home Of Rallycross”. It truly is.

Since 1993 the circuit was leased to the British Motorcycle Club and it allowed both cars and bikes to use the track.

World Rallycross came to Lydden Hill on 24th May 2014. In that first year names who will grace the circuit this season raced and won. Andreas Bakkerud won the final and it was one year later when Petter Solberg took the spoils. Last season Mattias Ekstrom reigned supreme in what was a fantastic weekend of racing.

Andrew Jordan, who returns this year for MJP Racing in place of Timo Scheider, won Heat 3 at Lydden Hill in 2015 and he would love to repeat such a performance in 2017.

Yes, World Rallycross is moving to Silverstone, the championship is growing not only in stature but in numbers and popularity. Many Rallycross fans are sad to see WRX leave Lydden Hill, I am one of them, but emotions aside it has to be said that if World Rallycross as an FIA event wishes to grow and move forward in the world of motorsport it needs a bigger venue. Is Silverstone the correct venue? That is soon to be found out.

This weekend I will be attending Lydden Hill with my good lady (as photographer) for what appears to be the last time for a WRX event. It is going to be the usual fun, chaotic weekend full of mayhem and excitement but behind the smiles there will be a tinge of sadness. I won’t stop going to Lydden Hill as it will still host some fantastic events and the owners of the circuit will already be working on how to promote the track further.

It is going to be a hell of a weekend. Join us tomorrow at @PitCrew_Online as myself – @world_racing and my photographer @viv_simmons enter the heat of the bowl.

The time has come. It’s Rallycross and anything can happen.

See you at the chequered flag.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

Weekend With…..Chris Wheeler – Part 3

Part 3 – “Left-Quick 10-Caution-Dodgy-Right-Question”

The calm atmosphere of the paddock was now broken.

Where previously people were milling around, talking and laughing, most with cups of tea or coffee in their hands, the mood changed in a heartbeat.

Cars were arriving back, mostly caked with mud splattered up the side of the bodywork. A couple had damage. One came back via the recovery truck!

We waited in the garage and Chris arrived with the same amount of mud splatter, but fortunately no damage. Mud aside, it was a clean stage for him again. He got out the car, removed his helmet and was greeted by Kirsty and Dawn. I noticed the huge smile on his face. Dawn was totally correct when she said ‘he was in his element’.

I stood back to allow the team a chance to talk about any changes, faults or improvements and once the critical furore had died down I stepped forward to talk with a beaming Chris Wheeler. I wanted to know how it went out there, though judging by the massive grin on his face I think I already knew the answer to this question.

“The second run was a lot better than the first. Less grip though. Lots of spinning up.” Chris said.

We, as spectators, had noticed this when myself, Viv, Dawn and Kirsty had gone to the start line. I was looking around taking in the atmosphere and whilst she was taking photographs, Viv alerted me to the fact that cars were spinning their wheels off the start. The surface was very greasy. There was a lot of noise, but not much movement. Dawn was one step ahead. She too had seen what was going on and dutifully alerted her two men in the car.

“It’s very slippy,” continued Chris. “I watched the car before me go off the line. All he did was sit there and wheel spin.” Chris imitated with his hands when he spoke. “He wasn’t going anywhere. We tried to control the start with the clutch to get rolling before we got pace up.” Chris smiled at the fact his cunning plan was right. “Seemed to have worked, definitely got a better start that time.”

We moved on to the subject of the circuit itself. What was it like out on the rally battleground?

“We met a couple of cars on the merges. Slight drizzle of rain and as I said, definitely greasy. Going down the long bumpy lanes into the chicanes it’s literally just full of mud. First lap round I went onto the brake pedal. The whole car just wanted to lock-up, we just managed to get through alright.” Chris glanced back at the car that was serving him so well. “We improved by seventeen or eighteen seconds, which is massive. Couple of changes made for the second time round.”

Steve was by now out the car and wandering around checking every piece of bodywork and looking at the wheels. Chris was watching his every move.

“Dad’s learning the pace as well. The pace is better, all round improvement that run.” Chris takes a deep breath and as with his driving style, he looks immediately ahead to the next challenge, not wanting to rest on his laurels. “Stages three and four next, these change again and they are slightly different.”

I hear Steve laugh behind and this makes Chris and the rest of the team chuckle. He had just got to grips with the first two stages and now it was all change again.

“How did you find it out there?” I asked Steve as he came by.

Chris moved out the way to let his dad through and walked over to the battle bus where Kirsty handed him a drink. He took a seat and relaxed for a moment.

“I’m absolutely loving it.” Steve replied with a smile that rivalled Chris. He points to his son, now taking on fluids. “He can pick up the pace so quick. Getting back into it though is a whole different ball game.”

I had been told by Chris that his dad used to rally and I was interested to know how long since Steve was previously in a car competing.

“I had a three or four year gap.” He said.

“2015!” Dawn shouted, jogging his memory, like the organised assistant team manager that she is.

“Yes! It was. Chris co-drove for me.” Steve clicked his fingers and nodded in appreciation at Dawn for kindly reminding him. “Right now though, we want to get Chris back into the driving experience after what happened.”

I found this very interesting. Steve answered my question and quickly returned his focus to back to Chris. There was a slight look of reflection to that moment last year on Steve’s face, but only for a milli-second and it was gone. No time to dwell. “We’ve had a bit of time with the building of the car, so there has been a big gap. We want to build it up on a small scale and then get out there for six months with this car.” Steve points to the trusty Fiesta, now shiny and ready for more action. “Then Chris gets back into the big car.” Steve gazes across at Chris and we talk about the co-driving side of rallying.

“There’s a lot of trust.” Steve said to me. “I’m just trying to make sure everything is clear and precise. Now and again I’m looking up because he’s so many notes ahead. That’s not what I’m seeing so I then repeat what’s coming up as well. That’s all because I’m a novice at it. Chris is already way pass that and already accepted it, but unless I say it.” Steve shrugs and smiles.

He explains to me that officially notes are read from a map. I am intrigued to know about the terms and language used inside the car between the driver and co-driver.

“It begins on the start line, giving information on how much start to give. The start here is very slippery so we give a Plus-Plus sign which is accelerate away into a Left-One corner.” Steve pauses for a moment to give me a little more insight. “What you have to bear in mind is that co-driving is for the driver. Co-driving notes are different to individual drivers. As I give those notes it’s only what Chris will take into his brain. Another co-driver can give you totally separate information as they know what those notes mean.” Steve returns to the information being given. “So, in this particular case, we’re going Plus-Plus, Left-One and then we’re calling Merge, because there’s a second loop coming through. Then we’re calling a Right-Two, Left-Two and Caution, because it’s a muddy track. All the mud has been pulled on to the track.” Steve points over to this driver who is watching and listening to us. “That gives him information on what’s coming up. We’re then giving distance, so we’re 60 to the next corner and then we’re going Left-One, Left-One, because it’s literally ninety degree turns. We’re then doing 80 to end, then he gets all the information that I fill in between like watch your braking, muddy and then Right-Two which he can throw it round, Right-One tight, watch your inside because they’ve put a bale there.”

I look across at Chris and ask him, as a driver, how quick does he process all this information at such speed?

“As soon as you’ve done that corner, your mind switches to next note instantly.” Chris states. “Because you’re in the moment and you know how you work as a team, it’s just instant. If we’re really fast, you try and take all these notes in one hit.”

I then feel slightly cheeky and ask Chris what his dad is like as a co-driver. Everybody chuckles.

“He’s alright.” Chris laughs. “He’s doing a good job.

I thank Steve for taking the time to talk to me and let him and Mike get on with checking the car over. I wander slowly over to Chris and stand with him and Kirsty. I smile and I can see Chris has no idea what is coming next. So I hit him with my next segment, after checking I have time.

I inform him that he is the next subject in my Quick 10 feature that I created for the Pit Crew Online. For those of you unaware what this is, I take the same ten, fun and informative questions and I ask those in racing to answer them.

He is the 2016 BRC3 Champion. He and his team generously invited myself and Viv along to spend a race weekend with them. He is currently on his comeback from a major crash in 2016, he is a bright star of the British Rally scene. These are his Quick 10….and he is Chris Wheeler:

1. What is your favourite rally and circuit….and why?

I would say my favourite rally is Rally Isle Of Man and favourite circuit would be Thruxton.

2. Who is/was your racing idol?

Colin McRae

3. Who would you regard as your toughest opponent?

That’s a good question. In BRC we had Top Gear presenter Chris Harris in our class. That was our main rival last year. As time goes on your opponents change, competitors change. So, whoever comes along, we go with the flow, do our own thing and push on.

4. Considering rally drivers of all time, you are a team principal and money is no object. Which two would you have in your team?

Colin McRae and Sebastien Ogier

5. If you could invite four famous people to dinner (past and present), who would you invite?

Colin McRae, Ed Sheeran, Ella Eyre and Thierry Neuville

6. Personal racing number? If you could have one, what would it be and the reason behind it?

#19. Because it’s my lucky number and it’s my birthday.

7. What is the best rally you have been involved in?

Jim Clark International a few seasons ago. I love it because of the roads, it’s all on public roads. Stages are between ten and twenty miles, it’s really fast so you’re carrying 4th, 5th and 6th gear all the time. It takes an awful lot of commitment.

8. Is there a race or series you have not competed in, that you would like to or had wanted to?

World Rally Championship.

9. How did you get into motor racing? What ignited that spark?

I was four or five years old. I used to watch World Rally on television and I used to be glued to the TV watching it. I had all the DVDs for it, every single year. I used to spend hours watching them back over and over again. Even back in the days of video tapes when I was a kid, I used to record every single rally of the WRC and then the same night I’d go in my bedroom and watch them all over again, make my own pace notes. I used to have my own map and pretend I was making my own rally.

10. What is the best advice in racing you have been given?

Not to be too pushy. Take your time. I believe life is mapped out for you and what’s going to happen will happen at the end of the day.

The quick 10 is finished but I let Chris carrying on talking because I can see the delight in his face and hear the utter enthusiasm in his voice.

“Every time you come into a rally, just do the same thing, nothing changes. Keep it all as we know. Go and do our best. We know what we’re doing, we know where we want to go. If we manage to get there then dreams come true. But if not, I don’t want to be in five years time looking back thinking I wish I’d done it. I know what I’m like, unless I try it now to be where I want to go. It’s never going to happen unless you try.”

I was eager to ask a few more questions, outside of my Quick 10. We had a little time and I remembered a conversation I had with Dawn earlier about how she loved World Rallycross. I wanted to know Chris’ thoughts on this and asked him this question:

“We know BRC and WRC are your goals. If somebody walked up to you tomorrow and said there’s a ride coming up in World Rallycross or say European Rallycross. Would you be tempted?

“I would be tempted. I would actually have to think about it because it is slightly different to where and what I want to be. But if someone wanted to put me in a top team, in say WRX or the Europeans, then yes I would consider it.”

I then asked about circuit racing, for instance GT’s or Touring Cars, is that something that may be on the agenda in the future?

“I guess if it was a big team I would think about it, but I think circuit racing is a bit too off-line of where I want to be. Sometimes I think if you know what you want and where you want to go, you’ll stick with it and do your best to achieve what you want to be. I’d be more tempted for rallycross than circuit racing.”

Chris explained that he does like rallycross with the mixture of gravel and tarmac all in one lap. He is aware that you would need adjust very quickly to what is going on around and what surface a driver is racing on.

“Getting used to nobody beside you.” Chris said with a wry smile. “Big change, but I would like to give it a go one day, without a doubt.”

I wanted to know where he was focusing this season, what event did he have his eye on?

“First half in the Fiesta, literally event by event. Picking and choosing what we want to do and we have another event coming up first weekend of March. I’m looking forward to that one. I mainly have my eyes set for when the DS comes back. When that comes back I’ll be testing on tarmac and gravel. September is the Rally Isle Of Man. If I was to make it to that event. Happy with the progress made so far, even on this event alone. I get more and more confident.”

I was curious to know how Chris would feel on returning to the Nicky Grist, the event where he had his crash. How did he think he would feel?

“Next year, if it’s in the championship and I’m in the DS3 again and it comes to that time of year where it’s the Nicky Grist 100, I would be excited for it, to be honest. I’m actually quite a big fan of the event anyway. It’s one of those places that if you drive it perfect, the car is faultless and the notes are perfect, there is no better feeling on that sort of road. It is incredible to drive, it’s absolutely stunning. When it goes wrong it does bite, then again that’s rallying in general.”

Would Chris be focused on the event and what needed to be done or would he cast his mind back to last year and reflect a little?

“It will be natural to reflect on it a little bit, but as the event draws near, we start travelling to the event, I’ve just got to push it out my head. Then I just concentrate on the job in hand. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Time is ticking down, I shake Chris by the hand and throughout the entire interview he was smiling. I found his answers incredibly interesting and insightful and I could genuinely feel his passion for rallying as he spoke.

Chris jumped down from the bus and the team were back in action, getting driver and co-driver ready.

The time had come to do battle on the muddy circuit once more.

In Part 4 and the final feature for a Weekend With…..Chris Wheeler, I’ll be listening to Steve talk to me about the make-up of a rally car and I look back at a wonderful day with this friendly bunch of rallying-addicts.

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Twitter: @world_racing

Photo Credits – Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

Weekend With……Chris Wheeler – Part 2

Part 2 – The Calm And The Storm

I gazed at Chris and Steve strapped tightly into their seats. I was standing about five feet from the car. It was ready. They were ready. The time had come to go back out for another stage.

Mike The Mechanic stood in front of the Fiesta, arms raised in the air and as I gazed through the window towards Chris I saw a different look in the eye of the young man who just five minutes previously had been sitting in the battle bus, laughing and relaxed. He now had a steely look in his eyes. He gazed down at the steering wheel and I saw a deep breath, the kind of inhale that said ‘I’m ready’. He looked up and there was a quick nod of the head. I moved my head and saw Steve, loving father and dependant co-driver glance across to his son, an equally determined stare in his eyes. The two men and the car were now one.

Mike waved them back and the satisfying grumble from the Fiesta engine signalled the start of another adventure on this day that spurned rain and teased with sun. I got the feeling it wasn’t just Chris and Steve who were eager to get back out on track, this blinding little Fiesta was also eager to rumble across the greasy surface, flick a back-end out round the turns and metaphorically wave to the adoring crowds. The time had come.

I watched Mike wave the car out, his eyes were everywhere and I asked Kirsty what he was actually looking for?

Mike Sees The Car Out

“Everything.” Kirsty replied. Seemed like a sensible answer to me. I nodded. “Guiding him out, making sure everything is fine on the car. Last second checks just before they go to make sure it’s all absolutely fine.”

Kirsty was talking to me but she was looking straight ahead at the car as too was Dawn. I’ve mentioned it before, but the focal point right now was the car, that gorgeous little Fiesta being reversed out from underneath the marquee by Chris. THAT, was what everybody was concentrating on.

Chris pulled away down the paddock and I saw his mum, Dawn, gazing off as they disappeared out of sight. I asked her how she was feeling.

“Alright,” replied Dawn straight away with a smile on her face, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Because I know there’s no pressure today. If this was the BRC, different matter to be honest.”

That last sentence from Dawn drew nods of agreement from Kirsty and Mike.

I comment on how relaxed Chris was before he got into the car and whilst being strapped in. Dawn nodded and I noticed her smile grew wider.

“Yes, oh he is.” Dawn replied. “He’s in his element. Been like it since he started when he was fourteen. Took him up the rally school and that was it. He was away.”

Right there, that moment as I looked Dawn in the eye, I could see the pride and the anticipation all mixed up into one ingredient of excitement. Those last comments made me realise on the spot how much it means to the family of a driver, as well as a the driver themselves. It is a collective passion.

We talk about how this local Brean Rally differs from a BRC rally, there is no time to relax because everything is, as Murray Walker would say, “Go-Go-Go!” Panic and petrified were two words I heard used standing there.

“From the second he goes until the second he comes back, there is no relaxing.” Kirsty said.

“You don’t see him from four to five hours.” Dawn stated.

“You’re trying to check times, make sure he’s come through a stage. If you can’t find his time, you’re thinking ‘what’s going on?’”

I’ve been round motor racing most of my life, whether it is with press writing, hospitality or organising events, but I had never had this moment where the driver (and co-driver on this occasion) had gone and the team were left back at base camp with, well, just their hopes and emotions. It was quite an emotional experience seeing the look in their eyes, the calm before a possible storm and the fact that when the car and driver were in the garage there were things to prepare, information to process and checks to be made. Yet, now, with that gone there was an ambience of disturbed calm. That is the only way I can describe it.

Dawn Checks Chris Is All Good As Mike Concentrates On Steve

I wanted to mention the Nicky Grist Rally and what happened with the horrific crash last year, not because I had a sadistic side that needed to know the details. I wanted to gauge what they felt like, his girlfriend and his mum. What was that like? How long did it take them to find out?

“Well, it was quite long,” replied Kirsty. “They’d been off for about forty-five minutes to an hour.” Dawn nodded and glanced down at the floor. “We didn’t actually find out directly. We found out because we saw on Facebook there had been a post saying a car had been off and that the rally had been stopped.”

I could see in Kirsty’s eyes as she spoke the re-enactment that they didn’t believe it was Chris. Not Chris? Surely?

“We thought, oh god!” Dawn exclaimed.

“We thought…oh, okay. We feel really bad for whoever that was.” I could sense that realisation of ‘that can’t happen to us’. “And then about ten minutes later, we realised Chris’s time had not come in.” Kirsty’s eyes changed. There was the realisation, right there being re-lived in front of me. I had no words. I just listened. “Five minutes after that we got a call from Yan (Griffiths – co-driver) saying we’ve had a massive accident. I’m on the way to the hospital, Chris has been cut out the car and is being airlifted to hospital” Kirsty’s lips curled and Dawn stared at the floor. For a moment I felt awful having asked the question. I could sense the anxiety. “It was quite long I suppose, but for us instant.”

I’m not a sensational writer, I never have been. I don’t like asking prying questions or wanting to know gory details of what happened. In Kirsty and Dawn’s company I felt relaxed and politely, softly, I asked what their reactions were to the phone call. If they didn’t want to answer then I was completely fine with that and would have moved on. They replied.

“Your heart sinks. You think the worst.” Dawn said.

“Terror!” Kirsty paused as she said that word and I felt a chill come over my body, because I could feel the emotion as she uttered the words. “Especially when you hear being cut out the car.” Kirsty smiled, a relieved smile I could tell.

“The plus side was Yan’s okay and we’re sure he would have said if there was something majorly wrong with Chris.” Dawn said. “Yans out the car, that’s good. Your mind is going a hundred miles an hour trying to think.”

If you need to read those last words again, please do. For me standing there it was a moment I will not forget. A mother and a girlfriend reliving the moment they found out their son and boyfriend had been cut out of a car after hitting a tree at about 100mph. I was left standing speechless and that doesn’t happen very often.

Yan had injuries to his vertebra, Chris had a blood clot on the knee, bruising of the chest and lower back pain. I would later find out that photographers would be snapping pictures of the car in the trees whilst Chris was still inside crying out in pain. My heart sank at that thought.

“They were both so lucky.” Kirsty said. “Honestly, we thought it was going to be so much worse. When we heard they had gone into a tree at 90-100mph, we thought oh god!”

“That is your worst nightmare.” Dawn continued. “It hits you.”

“It’s the thing we all hate about rallying.” Kirsty said.

I stood motionless, I had no reply. I did not even know where to begin from those words. I felt the emotion and the fear as they spoke to me. Viv shivered and shook her head. It was a very poignant and sombre moment.

A Wave Goodbye From Steve. They’re Off

Mike The Mechanic brought us all back to some semblance of reality when he asked if we were going to check out the next stage. We all shook ourselves and we were back in the room, so to speak.

I wanted to know more about the team. I asked Kirsty the role of everybody concerned as we walked down to the start.

“Steve, Chris’ dad. He’s team manager, does everything. Looks after Chris, the car. Looks after the team.” Kirsty pointed ahead to Dawn who was eagerly rushing down to the starting point to see her husband and son go out. “Dawn, Chris’ mum. She looks after Chris.” Kirsty paused. A perfect pause because let us face reality, mums look after their boys. End of. “She makes the tea, prepares the food, cleans the car and arranges all the hospitality.” Mike wasn’t with us as he had stayed behind to look after base camp. She pointed back towards the garage. “Mike, he’s the mechanic with Steve. He’s Steve second really. Mike cleans the car when he can but looks after the mechanical side of things.” Kirsty pointed to herself and in a coy manner looked down at the floor. “I’m Chris’s girlfriend. I do the PR, try and do all the admin when I can. I clean the car, do the food, the drink.” Kirsty looked up and shrugged her shoulders. “We muck in and do what we can.”

I Look On As Kirsty Has A Last Minute Chat With Chris

Through that whole introduction from Kirsty I could feel the friendly, family atmosphere which was this racing team. From the moment myself and Viv rocked up to the circuit and presented ourselves at their garage, it was there in abundance. So how did Yan Griffiths, Chris’s usual co-driver, fit into this equation?

“Facebook.” Dawn replied looking back as we walked by Chris’s car, Dawn giving thumbs up to her boys. “Chris put out for a co-driver, Yan replied and the rest is history.”

“Six years now.” Kirsty said.

“They did Nationals, that was the first big year. Won that.” Dawn said proudly. “2013 was the BRC Challenge. 2014 we went to BRC. 2015 BTRDA, won that.” Another smile. “And last year BRC3, won that.”

The mood had changed on the walk to the start line. We had gone from reminiscing about Chris’ crash to the achievements. It seemed a perfect curve of topic and one to end on as Chris and Steve edged forward to the start line. There had been a big hold-up due to a crash on track, Dawn had commented that an ambulance had gone out on circuit.

That is rallying. The calm. The storm. The calm and then the storm again.

My next question was a very important one.

Where can I get a cup of tea?

Part 3 of “Weekend With…..Chris Wheeler” will be published tomorrow. Chris comes back to the garage, we do his Quick 10 and his dad Steve educates me on a rally car.

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Twitter: @world_racing

Photo Credits: © Viv Simmons

Twitter: @viv_simmons

Weekend With…..Chris Wheeler – Part 1

 

Chris Wheeler And His Co-Driver Father, Steve, Get Ready For Another Stage

Part One: Rallying, Presents And The Return Of Chris Wheeler.

I had no pre-conceived ideas as to how our weekend with feature was going to pan-out. I had a plan of what I wanted to achieve but was willing to go with the flow.

What I actually walked away with was a sense of humility, an overwhelming desire and passion to succeed. A determined, yet friendly attitude towards racing. These were the traits that Chris Wheeler and his team oozed. We were made to feel so welcome from the moment we arrived and I can genuinely say, with hand on heart that Chris, Kirsty, Steve, Dawn and Mike are some of the loveliest people I have met, inside and outside motor racing.

This is where the feature begins. A friendly welcome with Chris heading out on track for his first stage.

It had been a pleasant drive from our base in Sand Bay to Brean Sands. We parked up in the official rally car park, so the sign indicated and waited for the mini-bus.

As we stood there I could hear in the distance the revving, popping and hissing of rally cars. I felt my skin tingle and an excited buzz in the pit of my stomach. This was my paradise, my first racing event since WRX Lydden Hill last year. We were here and we were ready.

Chris And Steve Wait Patiently For The Start

As I mentioned, Chris was heading out on track. Kirsty, Chris’ girlfriend and all-round PR guru, had informed us that he would be in car number 59. We walked down the line of cars and Viv spotted Chris in his #59 car with Steve, his dad and co-driver. They were chatting and going over the last minute preparations whilst they waited in the long line of rally cars waiting to go out on track.

I sent a message to Kirsty and she informed us they were waiting down by the red marquee towards the start line with Chris’ mother Dawn. We met up and after the initial greetings Kirsty pointed beyond the golf club towards the flags and awnings on the far side of the paddock. I spotted the CWR (Chris Wheeler Rally) flag and so we let them get ready for the first stage and we wandered off to give the location a quick recce.

We arrived at the base-camp of Chris Wheeler Rallying, the hub of the team where everything is prepped, planned and pondered. The car was back in and the team were busy round the car.

The Team Hard At Work Preparing The Car For Another Run

I stepped back and watched them at work. Mike Yates (mechanic) and Steve, quick change from co-driver to body-work inspector, were busy checking the car over. Kirsty and Dawn were cleaning the car off whilst Chris fed back a few pieces of information.

It was a greasy surface and the rain previously had caused a few spills on circuit. The side of the Fiesta had dirt cascaded down the side. Kirsty and Dawn quickly wiped down the beautiful beast and within minutes it was spick-n-span, bright and shiny as though it had just arrived at the circuit. The team worked quickly and once I knew that the initial flurry had calmed down, I stepped forward to speak with Mike.

I asked Mike about the car, a Ford Fiesta MS1. He looks after the car along with Steve and told me that it had previously been a complete road car from M-Sport.

Mechanic, Mike Yates, Sees The Car In To Be Checked Over

“It was stripped back to the cages, all the bits were put on it.” Mike said and stepped back to gaze at the car. “This was pre-built with gravel suspension. Steve converted it to tarmac, the rides are completely different.” Mike continued.

I was interested to know how long it took to convert the car from gravel to tarmac and Mike told that it took around two days.

Chris had just completed his first run, I could see Steve walking round the car checking the arches, the wheels, the bodywork and bumpers like a caring soul. Making sure that this baby was fit to go again. I asked Mike what was being looked at.

“The wheels and tyre brushes are checked. The first thing we do is speak to Chris, any faults or any rattles we need to know about.” Mike pointed to Chris who was standing at the rear of the car. “We deal with the issues first and after that it’s preventative maintenance. Tightening nuts and bolts up.”

It became apparent straight away that Chris is key to this part of the process. If there is anything he is not happy about then Mike and Steve need to know straight away as they do not have long to get the car ready for the next stage.

“Brakes and tyre pressures are checked, usually around 6psi.” Mike pointed down to the tyres.

I wanted to touch on the subject of converting the car from gravel to tarmac. What were the main differences?

“Tarmac and gravel?” Mike asked with a wry smile. “Horrendous,” he chuckled in his jovial south-west accent. “After the first 18 mile stage this car looks ten years old. The sides are pebbled-dashed, takes all of the twenty minutes we’re given, even with four lads, to clean all the muck from underneath. Bolts are checked.” Mike shook his head and laughed. “Different ball game is gravel. A whole different ball game.”

Mike then nodded and happily told me his ultimate tarmac surface is the Isle of Man before moving the subject back to the Fiesta Chris was driving today.

“Roll cage into a standard Fiesta stiffens the shell up. Between events the helmets and hand devices are always taken off and put in the seats for safety. If you drop a helmet on the floor, it’s useless.”

I gazed inside the car and could see what Mike was talking about. Chris and Steve had placed their helmets on the cushioned racing seats. Chris sauntered over to joins us and I asked how he was feeling. I knew full well this was his first event since the crash and this was the first time I had properly spoken to him. He was smiling, I took this as a sign that he was well and extremely happy to be back racing.

Chris walked over at just the right time, with his lovely girlfriend Kirsty, as I had posed two questions to Mike who had tactfully and politely deflected towards Chris to answer. The first was about speed on the Fiesta.

Last Minute Words For Chris From Kirsty And Dawn

“Chris,” said Mike, professionally taking over the role of interviewer for the moment. “What top speed you getting out of this?” That was my first question.

“Top speed, I would say 110-115.” Chris replied nodding.

Mike moved round to the front of the car to make some final checks and I then moved onto my second question about the Citroen DS3, the car he would again be driving this season. When was this being delivered?

“Delivery on the DS3 should be within a month or two.” Chris replied. “We’ve got a livery guy on the case. First test will probably be on tarmac.”

“Because of the way it ended.” Kirsty continued. “We want to make sure the car is right.”

“Everything on the car had to be changed, because it took such an impact.” Chris said, nodding in agreement with Kirsty.

Kirsty would later show me the official camera footage from the crash as the DS3 came over the bridge, came down and then each frame showed the aftermath. To watch these frames was very humbling for me. To read about a crash such as this or even see one on television during a race is bad enough, but to watch each frame as Kirsty clicked through whilst the driver of that car was now standing next to me was quite an experience.

I was intrigued to know about the differences between the Fiesta Chris was driving today and the DS3.

“First of all, the gear box.” Chris said pointing towards the Fiesta as Steve and Mike made the last checks, Dawn standing in the background talking to Viv but also giving the car the once over. The car was the focal point of everything at the moment. “This is a five-speed, H-shift where the DS3 is a six speed flappy-paddle sequential, so that car (the DS3) changes in 0.01 seconds.” I was flabbergasted by this. 0.01 seconds!

Chris wandered round and was showing me inside the Fiesta now with feverish excitement and passion, you could feel the energy that he was back racing just oozing from him.

“All you see in the DS3 is the number on the counter in front of us change. We set for what surface we’re on, changes to the ECU to suit for how much power between gravel and asphalt. We have other modes on the DS3, which are S1 and S2. S2 is anti-lag which will only work in gears 4, 5 and 6. In S1 it is all gears and is extremely violent.”

Chris was showing me with feet and hand signals the reaction of the DS3 under braking.

“As we come under braking if the anti-lag goes off, it keeps the turbo spinning at god-knows how many rpm, so on the exit of the corner when I hit the throttle again, the turbo’s already in and you’re gone. So it just throws you out.” Chris gave me a demonstration of the effect with his hands mimicking a steering to give an example of the force. “Also, there is an extension for the hand-brake in the Fiesta, where the DS3 is hydraulic. When, say, we’re coming into a hairpin we literally just breathe on the hand-brake. Rear wheels will lock and we’ll just spin round, plant the throttle and we’re off.”

I was curious to know whether Chris had any preference on the surface he raced on, this thought had popped into my head after speaking with Mike The Mechanic, make your own song title jokes from here-on-in.

“I prefer tarmac in a way,” replied Chris. “Basically because of speed, it’s more exciting. You’re going that much faster when you’re coming up to tighter corners. It takes a bit more judgement. On gravel I find it very forgiving actually, because the gravel allows the car to slide round corners. It gives you a nice feeling, but on a whole I am fifty-fifty on surfaces. I don’t really mind what I drive.”

“As long as you’re driving and racing.” I replied with a smile. Chris smiled back, yes he was definitely ecstatic about being back. “How long before you go back out?” I asked.

Chris’ Co-Driver For The Brean Rally, His Father Steve

Chris glanced across at his dad, mechanic and co-driver, Steve.

“At 11.25. Coming up to four minutes past now so we’re going out soon.”

I wanted to let Chris get focused for the next stage, but it was at this point Chris and Kirsty presented myself and Viv with our presents.

“By the way, these are for you and Viv.” Chris said offering us two ‘Chris Wheeler Rallying’ hats with ‘BRC3 Champion’ logo sewn it.

Presents already and we’d only been here an hour.

A very warm and friendly welcome by the Chris Wheeler Rallying team.

This was going to be a great day.

The Fiesta

Don’t miss Part Two of a “Weekend With…..Chris Wheeler” – where Chris takes my Quick 10, we talk more to Mike The Mechanic, Kirsty tries to dodge the camera and hands out crisps. I find out Dawn (his mum) loves World Rallycross and Steve (his dad) gives me a technical lesson on rally cars.

To be continued……….

Neil Simmons Twitter: @world_racing

Photo credits: © Viv Simmons Twitter: @viv_simmons

Brean Blog Part 1: Sea Of Tranquility

Man-flu and thoughts.

Yes, that is the start of this article.

This weekend myself and Viv (for those Pit Crew readers she is not only my good lady but now my photographer) are spending the weekend at the Brean Rally with Chris Wheeler and his lovely lady Kirsty.

Now, I had always intended to write a blog on our three days in Brean and I wanted a special build-up, but that was somewhat rudely interrupted by that awful pandemic called man-flu. Yes, I can hear the good ladies of our lives now sighing and tutting at just the mere mention of that hypher-nated symptom.

Though scientific tests have proved it is real, I know this because Google (c) told me so.

I had been feeling rough the last few days (there goes that collected female sigh again) and today I went home early to continue dosing myself up with remedies (Is he still going on? Cry the ladies of our lives). Whilst sitting here feeling sorry for myself (Collected groan) I decided that fresh air was needed and seeing as the coastline is, say, two minutes walk from the door, I decided to liven myself up a bit, get some fresh air. (Man-up for crying-out-loud!).

I wandered down to the sea (full puffer-coat, hat, gloves….the works) and was met by the sound of the rippling waves splashing against the shore. This is where the blog takes a turn.

I stood and listened to that sound. I rolled my shoulders and watched the gulls and the birds swoop in to take advantage of the receding tide which now bore the rocks and pools it left behind. It was at this point my senses became used to my surroundings. I could no longer hear the splashing of the sea upon the shore, it was more of a calm hiss. The birds did not squawk, they sang. The sea was of glass, it was like it never moved really. I looked out beyond the shoreline and there was a mist covering the sea. In the distance I could hear the sound of a ship sounding its way through the unknown. Behind the mist was the horizon which I could not see and this is when my thoughts turned to the rally weekend.

When we first arrive at Brean there will be noise, just as there was when I walked to the seafront earlier, but then our senses will become accustomed to the sounds and we will relax. At the rally there is also a horizon which cannot be seen, by those competing. The one which none of us, whether driver, pit crew, fans, friends or family can see. The horizon of opportunity across the sea of tranquility.

This all sounds very idyllic and easy. It’s not. Beyond the hissing, calming waters are waves. Beyond the mist there are dangers. However, that is the adventure. What really does exist behind that mist?

When I decided to arrange this weekend with Chris in the garage at the Brean Rally, the initial idea was to document the story of a team at an event so that everybody could read and see (through Viv’s photographs) what it was like. That was the plan, but standing at the shoreline today looking out into the unknown made me re-evaluate the weekend ahead.

It’s not just going to be about the race weekend. This story has much more to it. The horrific crash Chris suffered last year, his comeback, the willing sacrifices of his friends and family, his loving lady standing by his side with support and utter enthusiasm. The will to succeed, the need to go on, the desire to be the best that you can be, even if you are unable to see beyond the mist.

It dawned on me right there and then as I gazed out across the glassy waters that this weekend is not just a ‘jolly’ to write a story or to watch drivers do things with cars we can only ever dream of. No, it is much more than that.

Myself and Viv are being invited along to share the dream of another person, to participate in a part of someone’s life and to experience their absolute desire. That, right there, is a privilege. So this blog has taken another turn, like the tide I watched earlier which revealed some unexpected images.

I forgot about my man-flu because I was mesmerised by the sea of tranquility and the unknown beyond.

This weekend is a special moment for Chris Wheeler and his loved ones. We are honoured that you have allowed us to share it with you.

Thank you.

See you at the dirty chequered flag.

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Neils’s Twitter: @world_racing

Viv’s Twitter: @viv_simmons