Britcar 24

Ordinarily the prospect of camping doesn’t really appeal to me, especially camping in the UK in the Autumn!  However, camping is exactly what I found myself doing last weekend but it was for a good reason – to attend my first endurance race, Britcar 24 at Silverstone.   I’m not going to review the details of the racing itself here but want to try and give an idea of what the Britcar 24 event is like and why it is well worth a visit.

Camping

Having trekked down the M1 on Friday night after work, my friend and I arrived at a dark and damp Silverstone at about 10pm.  This was the first time either of us had been to Silverstone so we were pleased to find the camp site well signposted and were quickly being checked in and shown to our pitch.  The pitch itself was ‘compact’ and it was a bit of squeeze fitting a car and two man tent on but we managed!  Inevitably it rained while we were pitching the tent meaning it got wet, we got wet and thanks to a schoolboy error of leaving the boot open, lots of other stuff got wet too!  The worst was yet to come with the camping, it got slightly (extremely) cold and the extent of the temperature drop was only apparent when we got up on Saturday to find the car frozen solid!  Lesson learned about taking more cold weather kit!

Silverstone

We woke on Saturday to a cold but beautiful day and set off to get some coffee and go for a wander around Silverstone.  Access around the track was excellent and we were able to scout out some good viewing points for later that day.  After a good look around the track and a browse of some of the lovely Porsches at the experience centre we made our way across to the pits and paddock area.  Access to the cars was outstanding, we were free to look into the garages and it was great to watch all the preparation ready for the race.  Before the race kicked off there was a chance to get out on track for a pit walk and see all of the cars up close which was the perfect opportunity to get some photos.

Beautiful weather on Saturday…didn’t look like this on Sunday!

The racing

Before the main event started mid-afternoon we were treated to some fantastic on-track action from MX5s and F3 cars through to Porsches.  At 3:30pm, the racing got under way, it was quite a surreal experience watching the cars start lapping Silverstone and realising that they would be pushing hard for the next 24 hours.  All sorts of cars were competing in the race from a Mosler through to a 1 series BMW and everything in between!  There was little ‘fighting’ for position during the race but the entertainment came from watching the consistency of the laps and the accuracy of the driving over such a sustained period.  We quickly picked some favourite cars including the Leon that sounded like a jet engine, the Ginetta G40 that popped and crackled its way around the lap while holding off much faster machinery, the Honda Jazz which cornered like no slab sided mini MPV should and the eerily silent 1 series BMW which quietly went about its business lap after lap!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The human element of the race was also fascinating, the teams worked throughout the night to service and repair the cars and should be commended for their commitment and stamina.  The highlight of the weekend was watching the cars racing at night, we sat in the cold grandstands for hours watching the lights cutting through the Autumn darkness while having a few drinks.  On our way back to the camp site we were treated to the most spectacular sight of the weekend, watching the cars screaming down Hangar Straight into Stowe Corner braking so hard that their discs were glowing red hot and to top it off plenty of the cars were spitting flames as they went through the corner.  Undoubtedly one of my favourite racing sights this year!  By the time we woke on Sunday the weather was closing in and the later stages of the race saw heavy and sustained rain which confined us to the covered grandstands but we still saw some spins and shunts and had a great view of the finish, with a BMW M3 eventually taking the win.  The biggest disappointment though was the Leon and the Jazz being disqualified for excessive noise, a big shame!

Conclusion

All in all, despite coming away with an awful cold it was a fantastic weekend and I would urge anyone interested in motorsport to give it a try.  The access to the cars and the teams during the race was outstanding, walking around Silverstone in the dead of night watching cars pushing hard for hours on end is highly captivating and it’s simply a wonderful event to watch and has certainly got me tempted to go to Le Mans and watch some more endurance racing!  My main piece of advice to anyone thinking of going, buy some decent camping gear, it can get bloody cold!

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Miniature Hero: Daihatsu Charade GTI

For about six months in 2005/6 I had the pleasure of owning a 1998 Daihatsu Charade GTI, mine was a pretty ropey example but it was a very entertaining 6 months!

Daihatsu has a bit of a history with slightly mad small cars, I’m sure most car enthusiasts will be familiar with the little 3 pot turbo Charade GTti of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Daihatsu have since gone on to give us the 660cc turbo charged Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4 Kei car (surely a contender for the longest car name ever) and the bizzare but strangely appealing (to me anyway) YRV Turbo.

Fewer people however, seem to be familiar with the GTI version of the 4th generation Charade which was produced between 1993 and 2000.  By Daihatsu’s standards this was a fairly unexciting car, no turbo, no 4 wheel drive but what it did have was a pokey SOHC 1.3 16v engine producing about 100 bhp.  The first time I clapped eyes on the Charade it was sitting on a driveway with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window and neither I nor my friends had any idea what it was (this example had also been de-badged, making the guessing game even more difficult).  After passing the car daily for a couple of weeks, curiosity got the better of me and I went to find out what it was.  I was glad I did, after a good check over and a test drive it was clear that the car was quick and handled well and shortly afterwards I became the new owner of a Charade GTI.  The rarity value of the car appealed greatly and I loved that no one know what it was!

My old car, this was it before I owned it

This car had a fair few modifications (in fact, looking back on it, it was slightly chavvy) in the form of a 4 branch manifold and performance exhaust, lowered suspension and some white OZ multi-spoke alloys.  The high revving little engine and non-standard exhaust combined to make a lovely deep but subtle noise and the lowered suspension meant that the car remained very flat around corners, the pay off for this was a  harsh ride and serious arch rubbing if anyone sat in the back!  Ultimately the car was relatively unsophisticated but the engine was free revving and pulled hard, the gearbox was smooth and the brakes were strong.  The interior was typically Japanese but very comfortable and functional.

Life with the Charade ended after 6 months as it had quite a liking for Castrol and required frequent top ups, it then disgraced itself in an MOT station by filling it with white smoke – its head gasket had failed whilst it was sitting in the garage!  Faced with the decision of paying to fix it or just move it on I opted for the latter.  However, of all the cars I have owned, if I could go back and own one again this would be pretty high up my list, a rare and underrated car which was cheap to run and insure and was fantastic fun to blast around the B Roads of Mid-Wales.  In the 6 years or so since owning mine I have never seen another one the road and have only ever seen one other for sale, they certainly don’t seem to have attracted the following of the earlier GTti but perhaps one day I’ll find another.

Will

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Brief Drive: MK5 Golf GTI

When I arrived home from work last Friday I was greeted by a card from my local VW dealer inviting me to drive any car from the range at an ‘Open Drive’ event over the weekend.  Not one to pass up such an opportunity, I popped down to have a look at a MK5 GTI.

The car in question was a beautiful condition 2007 model with just 17,000 miles on the clock and optional Recaro seats.  A few years ago I owned an early model MK4 Golf GTI with the N/A 1.8 20v engine which was a nice car but ‘nice’ is probably the best way to describe it, it wasn’t especially remarkable.  Lowering myself into the Recaro seats in the MK5 it was clear that it was huge step up from the MK4 in terms of the interior quality.  The chunky and heavily sculptured leather steering wheel felt great to hold and all the controls felt precise and solid.  Shortly afterwards I found out that the driving experience had improved enormously from the MK4 too.

The test drive was just a few miles on a mix of urban 30 & 40 zones followed by a blast down a dual carriageway, but that was more than enough to create quite a lot of ‘want’.  The acceleration was smooth with power throughout the range, the gear change was short and accurate and the brakes sharp.  Crossing roundabouts and travelling down the sharply curved slip road to the dual carriageway the car remained very flat with excellent grip.  Despite just a short drive in the Golf, I now completely understand all the positive reviews of the MK5.   The GTI feels like a very complete and accomplished package and is probably the ideal all-round hot hatch, comfortable and practical enough to use every day but with power on-tap and excellent handling when you want to press on.  The only downside I can see is that the fuel consumption isn’t fantastic and with a 60 mile a day commute on the horizon this is the one issue holding me back, otherwise it would be the ideal replacement for my Fabia VRS!

Will

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In the beginning there was the Golf

Welcome to my first post on liftoffoversteer, I thought it might be a good idea to start with where the hot hatch fascination began back in 2004.  Being brought up in a VW loving family, it was somewhat inevitable that I would end up with a Wolfsburg export as my first car and during my teenage years, ideas ranged from Beetles to MK3 Golfs and everything in between.  Eventually the choices were narrowed down to MK1 & MK2 Golfs due to a mix of practicality and affordability.  For me though, the MK1 has always been the pick of the bunch and much to my delight, it was even possible to insure a GTI for a very reasonable price!

So in August 2004 a Mars Red 1982 1.6 GTI was sourced through a local garage.  As it turned out, this particular Golf wasn’t in great condition and the NOS kit that was fitted pointed to the fact that it might have had a hard life (sadly the NOS was removed before I ever got to drive it).  Things didn’t improve over the coming months, whilst I learnt to drive in an abysmal 1.5 diesel Clio, the Golf sat on the yard and frequently refused to start.  When I passed my test in December the Golf was in the garage for some repairs so I had to wait a few days before getting to drive it but from that very first drive I was hooked!

I loved everything about the Golf, the looks, the noise, the handling, the smell – it was perfect!  However, my time with the Golf was not an easy one, it’s faults continued and it found new an inventive ways to break down on what felt like a weekly basis, many of these faults were intermittent which made them even more difficult to trace.  For the first few months of 2005 my AA membership proved very useful but the frequent breakdowns became tiresome and I had to face the fact that the car was ultimately a bit of a dog!  The problem was I had fallen in love with the car!  Despite its worst efforts I still loved driving the Golf and couldn’t bear to part with it, but nor I could I afford to keep it running.  The decision was taken to take it off the road and 7 years later that is where it remains, looking like this:

I still can’t bring myself to sell the Golf, it kicked off my love of the hot hatch genre and provided me with some of my most memorable months of motoring, I just wish I could drive it now that I have a bit more experience under my belt.  I hope that one day I will be in a position to restore the car to its former glory and re-live my time with what is arguably the original and the best hot hatchback.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll follow the progress of liftoffoversteer over the coming months.

Will

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