Brooklands Double Twelve 2008. Peter Renn
Re-creating a famous meeting
After the success of the centenary celebrations in 2007, Brooklands Museum, together with Mercedes-Benz World decided it had all been too much fun to be a one-off event, so they staged a similar big weekend this year. Billed the "Double Twelve" in homage to the famous race meetings of the 'thirties it was a combination of static displays, demonstration runs concours and autotests. Air displays, memorabilia stalls, tea and doughnuts completed the picture - well, you get the idea...
Since this year marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of both the Aston Martin DB4 and Austin Healey Sprite, there were special classes for both. I haven't quite got round to getting a DB4 yet but I do have a Mk1 'Frogeye' Sprite. I seldom drive it, for which I'm frequently teased but it's at the back of the garage. If I do decide to use it I have to move the Alfa, the Jaguar, the Aston and the Midget, which requires five charged batteries and about 20 minutes. I usually therefore end up using one of the others. Anyway, enough excuses, an event like this was just what I needed to make me use the little green chap.
One MOT and a bit of dusting later, 950CRT was ready to use. As it had been stored for er.. a while I decided to put some miles on it over the next couple of weeks just to make sure everything was OK. I had a happy time bimbling around the leafier Surrey lanes in the name of shakedown runs. Having had my Midget for more than 20 years I'm used to the way these things handle but the MG is much more modified (see its page) and rediscovering the simple, almost vintage character of the MK1 was a delight. I fitted the anti-roll bar (originally an option but essential if you want to drive these things like a sports car), fitted the correct fire extinguisher, made sure it had the original toolkit and that was my preparation done.
Driving two cars at once
About a week before the event, Nic Waller of Brooklands rang me to ask if I knew of any more Sprites. They had been let down by several people and the class was looking a bit sparse! To make up the numbers, I agreed to bring the MG as well. Having the Ashley nose it looks fairly froggy and the basic shells of the cars are identical. Cath who had been planning to come along and look decorative was roped into driving - solving the problem of how I could enter two cars. This quickly turned into a weekend for Cath and Bob, who would stay with me and drive the Sprite on my behalf. Rob had entered his Magnette in the pre-war competition class and Guy and Jim Loveridge were judging concours and entering cars too. Team Splendid Whizzers were to be there in some force! As last year, and like the Goodwood Revival, dressing in period clothing was encouraged, giving Cath a chance to show off her 1950s ensemble.
Taken directly from the Junior Car Club's rules from 1939, the driving competition comprised seven tests: Two timed ascents of the Test Hill, a slalom steering test around a set of cones, a 'wiggle-woggle' of figures-of-eight and three point turns, a parallel parking exercise, driving at a consistent speed around the Mercedes track and a Le Mans style run and start before reversing around some straw bales. Points from these tests were added to the concours marks to find "The best drivers in the best-kept vehicles" We weren't at all bothered about competing, but it would be a lot of fun.
Queen of the Wiggle Woggle
The first test scheduled for us was probably the toughest. Looking fairly simple on paper we had to drive around a couple of cones in a figure eight, reverse into a 'garage' space (also made of cones) before doing the same thing in the opposite direction. Arriving at the first set of cones however, it all looked very different and my infamously weak sense of direction snapped completely! We all incurred time penalties for going the wrong way, or in my case, spent too long driving around trying to go the right way! Only Cath in the Sprite kept her head and dealt with the course in a businesslike fashion to do a perfect run. As the rest of us had made such a mess of it, the marshals took pity on us and let us all have another go. This time we were a lot less useless but the competitive spirit was already emerging.
This was followed by the parking test; reversing into a space with the final distance from the kerb measured. I did quite well at this, but so I should I suppose having been driving this car since 1987! Bob got closer to the kerb but touched the back of the box which meant he failed the test.
Our fellow competitors
By now we were getting on well with our fellow Sprites. Alex Postan had brought a genuine Bonneville Sprite in full European rally spec, a superb car which made up for its less than pristine shine by an original patina of a car used hard on innumerable events. Supercharged like my MG, it's quick and Alex knows how to use it. Peter and Hilary Stevens' white Frogeye was beautiful and they, like us were concentrating on having a good time. Many of the other entrants, Alan Anstead, John Clark and Paul Clayton I know from the Surrey Midget & Sprite Club. Sadly they didn't compete in the driving tests which is a shame- it's SO much more fun than just standing by your car all day!
Brooklands looked after us wonderfully. We had 'competitor' armbands and passes which allowed access to all areas, including the Competitor's Lounge in the clubhouse, where we were fed and watered without charge all day and we were made to feel not just welcome, but valued guests. The competitor's lounge also gave us a chance to catch up with Rob, Guy, Jim and other friends who were based in different parts of the site. I doubt Hamilton, Kovalainen and Moss were better looked after! Thanks again.
Saturday afternoon saw more driving tests. First was an ascent of the Test Hill. From the driving position, the hill is a lot more daunting than it appears to a spectator. The gradient increases sharply towards the top and on the last section you can see little more than sky. Now I've done this before. At an MG event a few years ago I managed to take off for some distance at the top, being lucky only to smash the roll bar brackets on landing! I was therefore careful to back off at the top, where we were required to stop astride the line anyway. I took it reasonably easily, managing a time of 10.41 seconds. The bumpy surface means that axle tramp and wheelspin are a problem and I'm sure it's possible to get the Midget up quite a bit quicker. However I was delighted to find it was the fifth fastest car of the weekend, beaten only by the likes of a Curtiss racer, Sunbeam Tiger and Corvette Stingray! Admittedly several of the really powerful cars failed to stop at the top, but I'm still inordinately proud..
Next was a short slalom around some cones. Bob, In the Sprite aced this in 13.90 sec while I was unaccountably slow in 22.12. Beaten by my own car! Oh well.
In between tests, the cars were lined up in front of the clubhouse for display and judging of the concours. Despite getting bonus marks for technical innovation (shared between the two supercharged cars) the Midget was never really in the running as it's not a Mk1 Sprite. My Frogeye is pretty shiny but not as original and special as Alex's red rally car. Anyway the concours judges didn't divulge their marks at this stage so we just opened bonnets and smiled winsomely. We'd already been through a scrutineering process which involved Alan Winn, the museum director waggling all the wheels as violently as he could. So long as they all stayed on, you passed.
Fun at Mercedes World
The next two tests were across the Wey at the new Mercedes-Benz site. Built in 2006 on the site of the old runway, there is now an extremely twisty test track with part of the old Campbell circuit running down one side. Big grandstands had been constructed for the event and we had to queue while Lewis Hamilton demonstrated the Mclaren Mercedes SLR. He had previously been out in his F1 car and managed to get caught out by the circuit, going off across the grass. No pressure then..
The 'Half Mile' involved three laps of the M-B track at at a consistent average speed between 30 and 35mph. This meant achieving lap times of between 51 and 60 seconds. Anything outside this was a fail. Interestingly, the vast number of the 110 or so competitors went too slowly, probably because the tightness of the bends meant the tyres were squealing at 30mph. No stopwatches were allowed so I just left the MG in 3rd gear and went round at almost constant revs, barely braking or accelerating and relying on the roadholding. This worked better than I hoped and I managed to do three laps within 2 seconds of each other.
Next was the 'Quick Start'. Drivers had to run to their cars Le Mans-style, start them and reverse up a lane of straw bales before coming back down the other side. Several people couldn't manage to reverse in a straight line, a couple actually hitting the bales. I managed to do the whole course with wheelspin almost all the way, skidding to stop astride the line to wild applause from the embarrassingly large crowd in the grandstand,; something which gave me a big grin for a long time afterwards! Bob did magnificently on this, not only beating me in my own car (again) but recording the fastest time of the day. His time of 22.0 was only beaten by a 500 horsepower Corvette Stingray but that failed to stop astride the line (I think) so Bob officially beat everyone with only 42 bhp at his disposal.
Rob and the Magnette
The timetable allowed plenty of time between events, so we were able to wander around enjoying the rest of the event and catch up with friends. Rob was in the prewar "Spirit of Brooklands" class in his Magnette special. Based outside the Jackson Sheds, he'd brought all his period pit gear to make a nice little display, looking exactly as it would have done when racing here in the 'thirties. The Magnette is an out and out racer, needing tow starts, warming up on soft plugs with the wheels spinning, and all the other procedures vintage racers have to go through. It was quite difficult to do all this in the crowded area around the clubhouse but this being Brooklands there were plenty of vintage racers around. With their help the MG was able to do many of the tests and the mad cackling exhaust added to the atmosphere. This special was built over many years by John Wallinger and is beautifully engineered and prepared. It's finally out and being campaigned by Rob this year.
Sadly Jim Loveridge's Talbot went sick and didn't make it to the event and Guy was too busy being a concours judge to compete in his Morgan but they had a great time. Jim deciding that one of the great benefits of having fathered Guy was that it led to his having lunch with Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks!
As we'd done all but one of our driving tests on the Saturday, Sunday was mostly spent being punters. We all enjoyed watching the F1 cars being slid around (and off) the circuit, as well as the Blue Eagles helicopter display doing stomach-churning things which are surely impossible. The dressing up added to the fun, but unlike Goodwood which is so huge and corporate these days the atmosphere was more relaxed. This is an expensive event at 25-35 quid per day (and adding four pounds more for car parking at a motoring event is just greedy) but I guess it's in the same league as Coy's, Goodwood and the like who charge similarly. Anyway, as competitors we didn't pay a penny, were stuffed with free food, and they gave us goodie-bags!
Triumph for Equipe Whizzer
Sunday afternoon saw the concours and driving test prize giving. We knew roughly how well we'd done in the driving by comparing scorecards (not competitive- yeah right!) but the concours marks (half the overall score) were a complete mystery. The top three in each class were chosen and paraded from the museum site across to the Mercedes track where the class winners were picked. As my MG didn't make the concours final (it isn't a Mk1 Sprite, after all) I was left to spectate. Alex, Cath and Bob and Peter and Hillary lined up for the judges' verdict. As Class A the Frogeyes were first to be announced... and we won!
The original entry was in my name and it was a decidedly odd experience watching my own car take the winner's podium while my name was announced. Bob and Cath collected the trophy, wreath and champagne from Heikki Kovalainen, Lord March and Gina Campbell and then did a lap of honour, waving to the crowds. A wonderful feeling as we had effectively won the thing between us, and not at all bad as we'd never done anything like this before and only entered for the fun of it (which should be the only reason to do these things of course). Cath gave it 15 out of 10!
As the organisers said "We aim to make the 'Double Twelve' the UK's premier concours event
which will rival the best in the world, so drivers competing in the inaugural event are making history". All I know is we've got a lovely trophy and wreath which make us smile every time we look at them. Thanks to Brooklands, particularly Nic Waller, Richard Ellis and Alan Winn for organising such a huge event with mostly volunteer staff and making it such an enjoyable experience, and thanks to Cath and Bob for making me proud!
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