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A tale of two beginners (or life begins at 50)

by Jonathan Hall

Photos courtesy of Scott Davey at

I suppose it was in January that the idea was hatched.  The MGA (UPO 929 ex-Fitzwilliam team car and Dad’s competition car for many years) had turned 50 on 20th January and, in recognition of its long competition history, I thought it was time to take to the track again.  Recognising my own limitations (time, money and ability) racing was out but a track day was very attractive.  So when MGoT advertised an event on the Silverstone GP circuit it was just had to be done.  Tim, with whom I had shared many miles driving on European trips, had expressed an interest in getting some track experience so we arranged to share the sessions.  I had last done a track day some fourteen years ago and Tim was a first-timer.

Apart from an abortive run in 1992, the car had last been on track in 1988.  However a good check revealed little to be done apart from a replacement rear brake cylinder and the inevitable oil change.  With the day approaching thoughts turned to getting helmets.  A check round the local stockists revealed nothing complying with the appropriate standards.  Tim phoned round other stockists but none of which had the budget full face helmets.  Eventually, with four days to go, Demon Tweeks turned up the required helmets in the right sizes and delivered them the day before!
Having kept an eye on the weather forecast for a while it seemed that a wet day was very likely so the soft top was removed and the hard top was extracted from the garage loft and fitted.  In deference to my normal pessimism I also loaded the car with all the spares I normally take for a European tour on the basis that whatever I took, I wouldn’t need…..
So at 5.15am on a cold and crisp but thankfully dry March morning I headed north from Sussex towards the M25 where I met Tim in a convenient station car park.  Loading ourselves into a now full car we set off around the M25 and north up the M40.
We arrived at Silverstone about 8am and were pleased to find a convenient space in a pit garage where the task of unloading everything began.  This was curtailed by the 8.30 briefing.  Armed with the MoT certificate, driving licences and signed disclaimer we signed on, found that we were in the slower of the two MG groups (much to Tim’s relief), grabbed two welcome teas and settled down to the briefing.  This was very straightforward, commonsense stuff with the underlying message of enjoy the day but behave like adults.  Met Barry McCann who gave us some really useful tips about the events.
We decided to alternate the drives; I would take the first session, Tim the next and so on.  So with the car emptied, tyres pumped up, helmets on and harnesses secured we lined up for the first session.  The first three laps were to be controlled behind a course car.  The reason for this became very clear when going round Chapel for the first time the back end smartly stepped out at low speed.  Ho-hum, going to have to watch that.  Once the course car went back in we were left in what turned into a high speed queue for a couple of laps.
Come back into the pits and checked the car over – nothing amiss.  Whilst checking, an extended screech of tyres and two bangs announced that a Lotus had lost it on Woodcote and spun into the pit wall.  Another message to self – better watch that as well.  Take a look around the other cars.  An interesting selection ranging from totally standard to modified roadgoing.
Then it’s Tim’s turn.  After a couple of laps it’s apparent that nobody has passed us.  Look behind and see a queue.  Explain to Tim via sign language that this is not another course car convoy but the real thing.  Tim pulls over to the right and a stream come past us.  Sorry folks…..  Tim then gets into the routine and we circulate more quickly.  All too soon another 20 minutes is over.
My turn again.  This time with a staggered start I get a much clearer track.  Start to get a bit quicker.  After a couple of laps get waved passed an MGF only to go into Abbey a bit too quick and spin – sorry folks.  MGF goes past and I rejoin the circuit - settle down to a more considered pace.  Later in the next lap come up behind the MGF again – it pulls over to let me overtake – I take the next couple of corners really carefully.
We both get into a rhythm.  Each of us has our own quick corners.  I reckon I’ve got Stowe, Club and Luffield worked out but Tim is phenomenal round Copse and Bridge.  If only we could get all of our best corners together.
Finally it’s my turn for the last session.  The rain, which has been holding off for the entire day, starts.  I take it a bit easier but still manage to have a couple of moments.  The grip becomes more and more tenuous and I go ever more slowly.  Eventually decide that it’s getting a bit too challenging and pull into the pit lane.  We pack the car up (why did I bring so much stuff), say our farewells to the other equally impressed drivers and head back.
My impression of the day – well organised, very friendly and great fun.  Was it a good way to celebrate UPO’s 50th – couldn’t have been better! 
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