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Next section meeting - Thursday 26 October at The Bull Hotel, Bull Lane, Wrotham, Kent, TN15 7RF.

Motorsport at the Palace - Sunday 26th May 2013

The Sprint course at Crystal Palace is just what remains of the old motor racing circuit which finally closed, mainly for safety reasons, in 1972. The full story of this historic course, which featured races with the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Clay Regazzoni and Jochen Rindt amongst many others, can be seen on their website www.motorsportatthepalace.co.uk. It is one of the most beautiful racing venues imaginable, with the course passing through parkland lit up at this time of year with Rhododendrons and the fresh new foliage of specimen trees. The paddock is also a tree-lined park set in attractive dappled shade. It is one of the most informal of venues, there is no “them and us” – just petrol heads together. So, when our Secretary sent around an email asking for volunteer classics for the AROCKES stand on Bank Holiday Sunday, your correspondent jumped at the opportunity.

The day dawned bright and clear, as Barbara Cartland might say, so I knew we were in for a treat. I arrived in my 1978 Alfetta GTV Strada just before 9.00am and was directed to our allocated club space by enthusiastic marshals, who seemed to be directing all the cars to the same 3 square metres of space in the park. I was followed in by an enormous bloke (and I mean enormous, and bearded) in a yank hot rod with a seismic rumble that could be heard, and felt, in Truro. He proceeded to park next to my car. The Alfa suddenly looked very small and very Italian. I had to be a bit English in my grovelling suggestion that one of us might (just) be in the wrong place and (pretty please) could he reconsider his location (if that wasn’t too much trouble…). I then stood back a dozen paces. First impressions can be rubbish, can’t they, and he quietly agreed that he was in the wrong place and smiled gently. The rumble shook the park as he moved up the hill.

So, our location was sorted, and at that moment the others arrived in convoy – David Smith in his pretty metallic blue S2 Spider Veloce; Mark Rayss in a well-presented S4 Spider as a fascinating contrast; and no fewer than two fine 2600 Spiders of Doug Field and Gordon Robinson, which were quite a treat. All lined up, they did us proud and attracted a lot of attention through the day. Even the gazebo was (fairly) easy to put up by a group so proficient and multi-skilled, although more on that later.

After the all-important bacon sarnies with brown sauce, which somebody said were the main reason for a visit to motor racing circuits, we headed off to the paddock. Such is the informality of this place that I didn’t even realise where the public viewing areas ended and the paddock began. Suddenly we were among numbered and stickered cars arrayed beneath the trees, with the drivers chilling before their practice sessions, like gladiators. Some of the cars were lovely historic vehicles, notably a 1913 Vauxhall Viper 12 litre, a 1926 Chrysler G70 Roadster, a 1931 MG C-type 750, a 1934 Aston Martin Ulster, a 1935 Fiat Ballila 1100, two 1937 Riley Brooklands and a 1938 Fiat 508CTT 1100.

Democratically, there were also a number of very ordinary road cars, not least of which was a brand new Nissan Leaf electric car. It was strange for a competition sprinter to make no noise at all apart from the swish of tyres. Quite a contrast to the Chaparral V8 with eight separate angled tailpipes like soviet missile launchers which rattled windows right around South London.

Alfas were well represented amongst the participants, as usual. Wayne Ellett’s 3.5 litre 75 assisted well in the “lovely noise” stakes, and Steve Fox’s lime green Sprint late of the AROC championship acquitted itself superbly, as did James Wright’s modified 75 TS. However my favourites of the day were the local Berties of Christian Brewer (Whitstable) and Duncan Richardson (Canterbury), both running hotted 2 litre TS engines. Christian’s silver Mk1 1750 has just emerged from an impeccable restoration and looks wonderful, while Duncan’s red early step-front car has that lovely workmanlike patina that only a good competition car ever quite achieves.

Car dealers Ancaster, sponsors of the event, had a range of modern Alfas on display in the trade area. The MiTo SBK special edition stood out, with its decalled black paint job and red roof; 170 bhp turbo MultiAir engine; 18 inch alloys (perfect kerb-catchers with their 35 aspect ratio tyres and protruding rims!); body kit and Brembos. There is a good publicity video of this car being “undertaken” by a motorbike on YouTube which you might have seen. A cool twenty one and a half grand, though…

There were obviously winners and losers through the day, but this seemed to matter less to everybody than the enjoyment of watching people doing the run in their own cars at their own pace. (That is shorthand for the admission that I forgot to keep a record). Fortunately, the full results can be seen on the website mentioned above. There was only one big off, but I didn’t see that. I was told that it was a Ford Mondeo, so it didn’t matter much, and nobody got hurt. It held things up a bit though…

I am no racing driver and I do not have a competition licence, but I felt that I would really like to try this Crystal Palace sprint, perhaps in my 147 GTA with its paddle shift?

Eventually the time came to take the gazebo down…

You would not believe that the assembled company had benefitted to such an extent from the excellent education system that this country has to offer. We needed several honours degree engineering graduates to fold it up and another set to get it into its bag. Somebody (naming names, it was Dave) said that a woman would have done it in half the time. He then said that he hadn’t said that.

Then we went home, somewhat later than we had intended.

Clive Baker

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