Tuesday, April 28, 2009


A thought occurred to me the other day. Nipping up the handbrake on entrance to a deserted gravel car park at my local mountain bike trail, the Focus’ squat rear end arced gracefully round, unleashing a plume of dust that settled across the clearing as I cut the engine. And then, sitting there, it popped into my head; was that possibly the tiniest bit immature?

It’s not just the odd spot of precision parking we’re talking about either, what about all this tearing around in sports cars? Surely mature people wouldn’t do that? After all, mature, sensible individuals don’t have TVRs - they have mortgages. And dinner parties. It’s doubtful any of them have ever sneaked out to practise (laughably poor) attempts at heel and toe or indeed grinned manically to themselves while driving through a tunnel with the windows down.

And yet you have to ask what these people really do fill their lives with? Conformity is all well and good, but it’s hardly what you’d call exciting, and doing anything out of the ordinary could be seen as equally pointless. Climbing Everest is bound to be a bit cold and dangerous, painting the Sistine Chapel would doubtlessly have been quicker with some Dulux and a roller, and piloting a rocket to the moon simply won’t get you of negative equity. So what’s the point of any of this?

Hopefully if you’re reading this you have at least a passing interest in cars, hence I’d be preaching to the converted if I listed the simple joys of being in the right car on the right road. But beyond that I’d say there’s also a fundamental link between driving for pleasure and any other hobby; all involve choosing to take something beyond the mundane level that most people will experience it at. In which case perhaps, rather worryingly, the answer is that mature, sensible people don’t actually do a lot at all. They just slowly corrode, running through a series of pre-programmed actions designed to appease society, the bank and the boss.

Ultimately I suppose, yes, hand brake turns and power slides are all a bit immature by the standards of polite society, but isn’t everything that’s worth doing? Come to think of it, perhaps the question isn’t so much whether, as petrolheads, we show maturity, but whether we should even bother trying to.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hung out to dry

I had something akin to a religious experience last Thursday. You see, ever since the TVR’s rather sobering performance at North Weald I’ve been slightly concerned about its wet weather handling. The new setup certainly works well in the dry, but there was no way of knowing if it had cured the vicious snap oversteer which presented itself on that soaking airfield. And so, as torrents of rain lashed against my office window in the morning, I couldn’t help feeling more than a little bit apprehensive about my track session that evening.

Things didn’t improve in the afternoon either as I trundled along the M25 in a dense cloud of spray while the heavens continued to open. Memories of Brands Hatch’s unsettling gradient changes and cambers remained lodged in the back of my mind, along with the notions of minimal run off area and solid-looking barriers. ‘Oh dear’ I thought, ‘what have I let myself in for?’ Yet, as I turned off the A20 and into the circuit’s familiar gates, something very strange happened - the downpour eased off. Then, despite 24 hours of incessant deluge, forecast to continue for the rest of the day, the rain stopped completely, the clouds parted and miraculously even a hint of golden sunshine appeared.

There was plenty of time to meet the other attendees as the organisers first delayed our start time, then announced they were shortening the session by half an hour. Next came the noise test – often an issue for TVR’s more vocal offerings, but I was quietly confident, having carried out a DIY test at well below the session’s advertised 105dB limit. Except, as the marshal explained when my car registered a slightly suspect 104.9 dB, that was no longer the limit - they’d dropped it to 102. Great.

As the better prepared TVR owners started bolting on additional silencers I had no choice but to opt for a slightly more devious approach. I apologetically explained to the tester that actually I’d made a mistake and the test had been more like 90% of maximum revs, not the stated three quarters. Just to be on the safe side I went for a slightly economical 3,500rpm next time round and got the coveted ‘noise test passed’ sticker. “Just don’t floor it going out the pits,” commented the marshal, who clearly believed the story about as much as I did. Still, I was ready to go.

With the tarmac now bone dry I took one last glance up at the sky and elected to stow the hood before venturing out. Taking it easy at first, initial impressions were good. You sit fractionally higher in the TVR than in the Caterham I previously drove at Brands and it made even the blind crest and steep, off-camber plunge of Paddock Hill Bend seem less ominous. It was more than just a case of eye level though – the car was handling superbly. The new, firmer damper settings had sharpened up the turn in somewhat and the car felt more nimble, despite retaining a fundamentally neutral balance. When provoked by a sharp lift or a determined burst of throttle the back end could be coaxed out somewhat faster than it had before, but it remained a progressive, well-telegraphed event to savour rather than anything to fear.

As the session progressed it became obvious that the TVR had the measure of most of the naturally aspirated MX5s which made up the bulk of this Mazda on Track event. However a somewhat-modified turbocharged example proved the exception, pulling away easily along the main straight. I’d spoken to the owner beforehand and meant to find him at some point for a passenger ride, but sadly never did. One car I did get out in was the 4.5-litre TVR Cerbera of a man known simply as Mad Graham. Far from being insane he proved to be a very smooth, competent driver and demonstrated that the much-maligned Cerbera, despite having a massive 250bhp increase over the S3, needn’t be a monster either.

Suitably impressed I returned to my somewhat humble machine and lapped on and off until the chequered flag came out. As the session drew to a close and the light began to fade everyone agreed it had been an evening well spent. In fact, the track time proved so much fun I now find myself contemplating a dedicated track day toy. What’s more the TVR continued to impress with another superb performance, keeping up with some much more powerful machinery and putting a broad grin on my face in the process. There was just one thing however. Travelling back with the roof down and the stars beginning to appear above it suddenly occurred to me; I still hadn’t had a chance to find out how the it handles in the wet.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Brown announces new 'road police'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown today announced plans for a dedicated wing of the security service aimed at clamping down on traffic violations. Due to come into power on April 1st 2010, the State Transport And Speeding Intelligence (STASI) service will address issues such as speeding fines and road tax enforcement. They are also expected to man a nation-wide network of cameras and vehicle-mounted tracking devices giving total coverage of every vehicle on UK roads.

In a press conference earlier Mr Brown commented: “This brings our roads a step closer to the glorious peoples’ democracy that we have always envisaged. We hope our freedom-loving drivers will respond positively to this step and we will be providing re-education centres for those who abuse the roads of the mother land for fun and frivolity.”

A spokesman from the opposition party was unable to comment after he mysteriously disappeared in the early hours of this morning.

(Image shamelessly pinched from the the-spine.com)