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Not Driving Can Be Fun Too!

by Bob Larcombe

Two things prevented my full participation in today’s track day at Silverstone. Firstly, I wasn’t expecting to be in the country and second, I recently sold my soul to a mortgage lender and took the track-day budget-busting step of buying a house.

But all was not lost. At recent events it’s become standard to run a pace car for the first few laps of the day, mostly for the benefit of new comers but also to ease everyone in to the day gently whether they like it or not.  Using the MGCC’s ZT-T safety car along with all its strobes, it’s an important and high profile job and due to an error in the MGoT main computer, I was nominated to drive.

Admittedly, the ZT is a bit of a barge on a track, but it copes, sometimes needing a little work up and down the gears to get the best out of it.  It’s sporting, not sporty, but pleasing to drive none the less, and armchair-comfortable. For a long drive, I’d certainly recommend it.

For the rest of the day I became a full-time spectator, taking breaks from wandering the pit lane to occupy various passenger seats.

First up I hopped in with Tim Woolcott and his slightly modified 1.8i F. Tim has big wheels. Tim has big discs. So Tim leaves braking very late in to the corners. And Tim sometimes goes off-roading.  But it was brilliant to get on track without actually “doing” a track day. Experiencing the circuit with zero input is in some ways as enjoyable as driving it.  After all, being chauffeured is regarded as a luxury, so why not round a track? Lady Penelope had Parker, Wooster had Jeeves, I had Tim.

A little later and I jumped ship to Steve Hill’s F, a less raucous example (the car that is), driven a little more...gently. Steve doesn’t have big wheels. But this session also gave me an opportunity to take in everything going on around the car, like some of the other vehicles out on track.

For my last lift of the day I asked Michael Sparks if I could join him in his, wait for it... 4.6 litre MGB GT V8. That’s right; just one bank of four was bigger than a whole K-series.  Getting in the car was as tight a squeeze as the under-bonnet detail, in fact, I felt like Houdini in a tea chest, but once in I looked forward to the drive. Michael isn’t an imposing figure, very down to earth and so easy to get on with. In fact, experiencing his BGT reminded me of that scene in the Wizard of Oz... The one where Toto the dog accidentally reveals a perfectly normal and unassuming person behind the running of a spectacular light show previously assumed to be the efforts of a huge work force or greater power, for Michael built the 4.6 litre monster himself, and it is indeed spectacular.

Through the corners it shuddered and skipped a bit, but once on a straight, with the throttle buried, it launched forth with a ear-bashing “BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” and gobbled up pretty much anything else on track as the speedo flicked round to 130mph. In the twenty minute session, I can recall only Simon Parfitt passing us in his Caterham. Throughout all this Michael chirped “You all right?” occasionally, usually as we thundered in to another twitchy corner.  But I couldn’t reply. Most of the time I was suppressing laughter at the sheer roller-coaster madness brought on by a massive source of power in such a little body shell.

Twenty manic minutes later we were back on Planet Earth and in the paddock. “You liked that then?” asked Michael with a wry smile. Immensely. And it proved you don’t have to be driving to enjoy going to a track day.
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