Sunday Drive

My poor MR2 has been taking a bit of a back seat recently, which is slightly ironic as it doesn’t have any back seats… These days most of my Sunday mornings are taken up with mountain biking, so the MR2 only gets used if I’m driving somewhere and don’t need to take a bike or Owen with me. However this weekend both my bikes were broken, awaiting parts to be delivered to fix them, so I decided to take the MR2 out for a blat!

I had been thinking of driving to the Elan Valley in Wales, somewhere I have wanted to check out for a while, but I didn’t really have time before family duties kicked in again in the afternoon. So instead I kept it fairly local, the first part of my route to the Elan Valley started in Alcester, so I decided to drive there – taking the fun way of course! Coming out of Balsall Common, I ended up following an MGTF for a while. Back in 2005, the MGTF would have been one of the main competitors to the MR2 Roadster, I imagine that road tests in magazines would rate the handling and driving dynamics of the MR2, but that the MGTF would ultimately win out due to being more practical. I’m certainly glad I bought the MR2 though!

I continued cross country to Wooten Wawen, where I picked up the B4089 to Alcester. This is one of my favourite local(ish) roads, and it was great to have a clean run at it. The road has both corners and gradient changes in abundance – the sort of road where the MR2 shines! From Alcester I joined the A422 towards Worcester. I’d only ever driven this road in Jen’s Fiat 500 enroute to the Pistonheads Sunday Service at the Morgan factory after the MR2 had a tyre blowout the previous day, so the 500 was promoted to show car. I had wanted to return in the MR2 ever since.

The A422 did not disappoint! Starting off with great views over the farmland on both sides of the valley, then progressing through pretty villages as it snaked towards Worcester. I enjoyed this section of road so much that I decided to turn round and drive it again! Unfortunately the traffic had picked up by this point, especially the Lycra clad road cyclists, so I stopped for some photos, and took a detour off the main road, towards Redditch. After a while I started to recognise some roads from when Jen and I hired a classic Fiat 500 on our first wedding anniversary and pointed the MR2 back in the direction of Coventry. With the roads now busier, and the sun already beating down on me, the pace slowed and I enjoyed the sensations of being out in an open top car, cruising though the beautiful Warwickshire Countryside on a warm summers morning!

I was only out for less than two hours, covering ninety miles, so I had plenty of time left to work on my bike and wrangle Owen whilst Jen ran some errands. Whilst getting caught up in mountain biking I had forgotten just how much I enjoy an early morning hoon in a sports car. Plans are currently being made for that trip to the Elan Valley before the summer is out!

Pistonheads Monday Service at Silverstone: Damp on track (again)

Monday Service? You may be thinking that it is usually a Sunday Service… The reason for the Monday Service is that there was a Sunday Service scheduled in March, but snowpocalypse happened and it was moved to Easter Monday instead. Unfortunately, despite it now being April, the weather wasn’t that much better, with a lot of the country under snow and suffering from general traffic chaos.

It wasn’t that bad in the Midlands, it was just very wet. So, much like last year, I led a convoy of cars down a very wet motorway to Silverstone and drove carefully around a wet track. What was different is that the circuit had been resurfaced, so there was less standing water, with the exception of Brooklands corner, which was very wet. Given the conditions I was taking things easy – I would rather be slow than in the gravel trap/pit wall. I still had fun and even managed to do some overtaking, albeit only a replica A-Team van! There was a red flag towards the end of the session, after a Caterham had got stuck in the  gravel trap. I was first back into the pits and lined up ready to go out again, but everyone else, bar two other cars, decided to call it a day. So when the track re-opened there were only three of us out! The clip above is from one of these laps – as you can see I had no traffic. Perfect!

I’d met my Dad and his friend Mark, for breakfast before going out on track. I then convoyed back to Chipping Norton with Dad, where Jen, Owen and my Mum were waiting for us. We spent a lovely afternoon all together, followed by possibly the best meal I have ever had – Mum’s roast gammon with corn in cheese sauce and Jen’s Creme Egg brownies with ice cream. By this point the weather had improved enough to drive home with the roof down. A great end to a bank holiday!

Ferrari: Under the Skin at the Design Museum

The Design Museum, now in Kensington, currently has an exhibition called Ferrari: Under the Skin, all about the brand and most importantly – their cars. So when my Dad suggest a trip to London to see it, I didn’t take much convincing – especially as he’d planned it to coincide with Porsche night at the Ace Cafe!

The journey to the Design Museum took in car (Porsche of course), tube and bus. Whenever I’m in London I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in Coventry, walking/cycling distance from most places I need to go – getting round London is a faff. A very slow faff. I was impressed that I could travel on the tube and bus, just by waving my iPhone at the machine though.

The Design Museum’s new location is impressive in itself and much bigger than the old site near the Tower of London, that I visited with Jen in 2015, for their bike exhibition. We were on a tight schedule, so unfortunately only had time to look at the Ferrari exhibition. The first few sections were about Enzo Ferrari and the background to the formation and early years of his most famous racing team. I particularly liked the original design drawings from the 1950’s. I work with automotive CAD at work, so seeing similar drawings done by hand was very impressive. The next section – about the design/construction of Ferraris, as an automotive geek I was in heaven. There were wooden, wireframe and clay styling bucks from over the years, a rolling chassis from a 250 GT and various bits of engines, paired up as rough castings and finished parts. I love seeing how cars are put together!

The rest of the exhibition was cars, first road cars, including the gorgeous 275 GTB4 (the blue one in the photo), which was my favourite. Then race cars, on a large banking, starting with the Ferrari 500 F2, which Alberto Ascari drove to victory at the F1 championships in 1952 and 1953 to the Ferrari F1-2000 driven by Michael Schumacher, which also won a world championship. The F1 cars were impressive, but I liked how close to the road cars the GT cars were, including one which Stirling Moss won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, whilst listening to the race commentary on the radio! The final part of the exhibition was “the future” and the star car was a white LaFerrari Aperta – one of only 200, this one owned by chef Gordon Ramsay.

The car that made me smile the most though, and grab my phone to get a photo, was the little Fiat 500 driving up Kensington High Street, at rush hour, in the rain. I love seeing classic cars being used, but after having driven one I had even more respect for the driver – it was difficult enough to drive on empty country roads, London rush hour in a Fiat 500 would be way too stressful for me!

From the Design Museum, we were back on the bus/tube/car to the Ace Cafe, taking about twice as long as the way there, due to London rush hour. We were still one of the first Porsches there, so grabbed a burger whilst waiting for more to arrive. I’d forgotten just how good a flat six Porsche engine sounds, hearing them all pulling up had me thinking that it may be good to have one in the garage instead of the MR2…

Unfortunately we had to leave before it got really busy, we had a long drive ahead and my Mum was babysitting Owen whilst Dad and I were out looking at nice cars. I can’t wait until we can bring Owen along on our automotive adventures!

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Silverstone: Damp on track

Being at Silverstone for the WEC race reminded me that I hadn’t blogged about the Pistonheads Sunday Service I’d attended at the circuit last month. It was similar to the event I attended last year, except it was wet. Very wet. I was leading the convoy of cars down from the Midlands forum and had to slow right down on the M40 due to standing water.

The weather wasn’t much better at Silverstone, with the first track session being cancelled. By my session the rain had stopped and the track was mostly dry, except for a river across the track where the access road to the international paddock cuts across the National Circuit, between Becketts and the Wellington Straight. Copse corner was also extremely slippery, it felt like the MR2 was understeering, but was ready to snap into oversteer at any moment. It took some delicate balancing on the throttle to keep on the track. I found it a lot trickier than the wetter trackday I did at Donington Park last year. The wet weather seemed to have put people off attending, so I managed to get some relatively clear laps, including the one in the clip above, and coping with different track conditions is all part of the fun!

When the MR2 had its MOT test recently the tester pointed out that it really should have a suspension overhaul before I do any more trackdays. Following on from the big bill on the BMW and my plans to buy a new bike, that may have to wait until next winter, so this short session at Silverstone may be my only track action this year.

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Prodrive

Prodrive Factory

Prodrive are a company that I’ve admired for years – they ran the Subaru Impreza rally cars that Colin McRae drove in the ’90s. So I was excited to hear that Pistonheads were holding their first Sunday Service event of 2017 at Prodrive’s new HQ in Banbury.

Before I could go I had the small matter of finishing my winter jobs on the MR2; in summer it makes sense to put off these jobs until the winter, when the car isn’t being driven, but the reality of lying on a cold concrete floor is less appealing at the time! With all the jobs, and a brief shakedown completed yesterday – I was ready to join up with some friends early this morning for the drive down to Banbury. Via the country roads of course.

At Prodrive I met up with my Dad for a look around the factory – I was surprised to learn that they do some much more than building race and rally cars. What initially started as something to keep their motorsport engineers busy during the off season has evolved to 60% of their business! Motorsport is what I am interested in though, so seeing numerous Aston Martin GT cars in various states of build was a highlight. The workshop looked so much more appealing to work in than my garage too.

Their heritage collection brought back memories from my childhood, alongside a few Impreza WRC cars there were Honda Accord and Ford Mondeo BTCC cars and a Metro 6R4. My favourite however was the ’80s 911 Safari Rally car in Rothmans livery,

Being a Pistonheads event the car park also had some interesting cars, alongside the usual selection of Porsches, BMWs and Loti there was a lovely little Connaught sports car but it was another Porsche that I’d have loved to take home – a 356 Speedster. It was parked between a Cayman GT4 and a 911 GT3 RS, but they barely got a glance, to me the little Speedster is the coolest car ever.

Peak District Hoon

It is that weird time between Christmas and New Years Eve where you don’t know what day it is, I actually enjoy it, as I rarely have time off work with nothing planned. So when I saw that a group from the Pistonheads midlands forum were planning an early morning hoon to the Peak District, I ignored my own rule about not driving the MR2 on salty roads and joined them. Fortunately my Christmas gift from Jen was a chassis cleaner attachment for my pressure washer (I had dropped a hint) so I’ll be able to wash off the salt.

It was a clear, cold morning with a heavy frost and patches of mist/fog. The countryside looked beautiful. I should have been out with my camera but I was enjoying the drive too much! The slippery roads meant that the MR2 could easily keep up with the other cars, which ranged from modified MINIs to a Cayman GT4, which sounded awesome. Andrew’s M3, which I was behind for most the drive also sounded amazing.

We stopped for a cup of tea at Flash Bar Stores, in Flash, the highest village in Britain at 1,519 ft above sea level. Whilst we were inside the sun came out, so we retraced our steps and actually got to see what the scenery looked like over some of the twistier roads.

I did 150 miles in the MR2 and loved every moment of it, now all I need to do is clean it…

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Silverstone

Since Owen was born I haven’t been able to get out in the MR2 much, so when Pistonheads announced another one of their Sunday Service events at Silverstone, I had to go.

Rather than driving straight to Silverstone, a few of us met up between Coventry and Birmingham to drive down together. I’ve joined a few of these convoys previously, but this was much bigger – around 30 cars, ranging from my MR2 all the way up to a Porsche Cayman GT4 and a brace of Italian supercars. We took the scenic route to Silverstone, somehow managing to arrive all together, despite the group splitting up and following different routes. I made a time-lapse of the drive.

At Silverstone I met up with my Dad for breakfast and some tyre kicking, before heading out on track in the MR2. I had driven the National Circuit at Silverstone a few times previously, but I felt like I was faster than before, I expect that this is due to having a few more trackdays under my belt in the MR2. I really enjoyed myself, the driving standard was better than the same event last year, where Jen drove the MR2, and I was surprised to have the track pretty much to myself for the last few laps – perfect.

To finish off a great morning I followed my Dad back to his house – via the cross country route. I has been a long time since we’d both been out together in our sports cars, and driving together through the Cotswolds, with autumn leaves being kicked up by Dad’s Boxster in front of me, was just as enjoyable as convoying with the supercars or taking the MR2 on track earlier that morning. Including driving back to Coventry I did 170 miles in the MR2 and I can’t think of a better way to use 2/3rds of a tank of petrol.

Classic 500

Jen in the 500 To celebrate our first wedding anniversary Jen and I hired this little Fiat, and spent the day pootling around South Warwickshire in it. Jen has got her own modern 500, and both of us love the 1950s classic, so when I found out that Great Escape Classic Cars have one available to hire, a plan was formed.

The 1966 model is a lot harder to drive than the modern version, especially as this one was LHD. Both brakes and steering are unassisted, the 4 speed gearbox didn’t have synchromesh so double clutching was needed. Top speed was 40mph – you wouldn’t want to go any faster!

We both enjoyed our trip in the little 500, it could have been a case of “never meet your heroes”, but it wasn’t at all. Despite the trickiness to drive we would buy one if we had space for another car, even a really small one.

Donington Park Track Day

MR2 at Donington Park

After drag racing last month I had my first real track session of 2016 last week at a rainy Donington Par with Circuit Days.

Checking the weather forecast the evening before the track day I knew it was going to be wet, so I dug out the old bottle of RainX from the car cleaning box and applied some to the windscreen. The MR2 had recently been treated to a big service at Rogue Motorsport so that was the extent of my trackday prep.

The weather forecast was right, the track pretty wet to start with, a lot of the race cars stayed in the pits so the speed differential between the MR2, which in my hands is usually the slowest car on track, and the faster cars seemed lower than normal. The lack of power probably helped me to stay out of trouble. As I was on my cool down lap after my first session the red flag came out for a radical which was backwards into the pit wall, right by the pit entry. Possibly the worst place to crash as everyone else has to drive past you on the way in from their cancelled session. Later in the morning I had some instruction, which was especially useful for finding the right line in the wet and telling me where I didn’t need to brake.

In the afternoon the rain stopped and the track dried out, the MR2 was still going really well, and after my instruction I felt like I was going faster than the trackday I did at Donington last year. I was able to lap with other cars too which was fun, notably an Austin A30 race car. Just like last time I was there, about 15 minutes before the end of the day the rain started again, last year I pulled into the pits and went home, but with my new-found confidence from the morning, I pulled into the pits, put the roof up and went out for a few more laps! By this point the track was almost empty, but I spent the remainder of the session lapping with a Caterham, swapping places every few laps, probably the best experience I’ve had on track. The car had been moving under me all day, especially at Redgate and Coppice, but on my penultimate lap I had a bit of a tankslapper coming out of McLeans, fortunately the Caterham was well in front at that point and I managed to keep it on the black stuff – I did catch this on video, so hope to share it with you soon!

I was happy with the 185 miles I clocked up on track, I was doing 15 mins on/15 mins off with no trouble from the car. I had a few people come up to me and say how the MR2 is so underrated. After the last month of drag strip, road trips and a track day I really need to treat the MR2 to a good wash!