Tackling our first Autosolo of the year in a Ford Fiesta; lessons in traffic calming; post-election shuffles
Steve Cropley Autocar
20 May 2015

SUNDAY - To RAF Thorney Island in a smart red Ford Fiesta S 1.0 Ecoboost triple to tackle (with my 30-something son) our first motorsport event of the year, a GRRC autosolo.

It’s the simplest competitive car fun going, autosolo. In a day-long event, you tackle four different courses against the clock, with seconds added for mistakes. Lowest total wins.

The course is fast enough to find your car’s limits, yet slow enough to remove any need for helmet, speed licence or driving pyjamas. It’s very different from the flat-through-Eau-Rouge kind of thing but, as decent drivers often discover, it takes serious skill and you want to win.

Which is something I emphatically failed to do. A string of ham-fisted mistakes put me two-thirds of the way down the field. Still, my son Jon won the class and was third overall behind the two most agile cars entered, a Caterham and a tiny, noisy Turner.

Rolling on smart black wheels, the Fiesta was admired by all for both looks and ‘jinkability’ – the latter ironic because as we glided back to The Smoke, you’d have sworn there was a tiny V12 under the bonnet.

MONDAY - A traffic lesson on the way to work: a dozy Land Rover Freelander driver crowds a bloke in Ford Transit, who swerves to assert his rights and gets close to a bloke on a Vespa. It all happens at 15mph, so it’s untidy rather than unsafe. At the next lights, the trio blow up a storm of shouting, contorted faces and raised fingers.

The whole thing is so inappropriate – they look so stupid in their synthetic outrage – that I resolve (again) to keep calm in traffic no matter what.  

TUESDAY - Dropped in for an early evening canapé at the South Kensington emporium of Hexagon Classics, Lotus’s newest dealer and its first in inner London for years.

Chairman Paul Michaels, who knew Colin Chapman and sold Lotuses as a dealer nearly 40 years ago, says he returned to the fold after reading of Lotus’s recovery in the Financial Times and being impressed by the quick reaction to his subsequent approach by CEO Jean-Marc Gales and his team. “I saw the story over the weekend and contacted the company on Monday. They came to see us on the Tuesday – and by Wednesday we’d done the deal.” 

THURSDAY - The people spoke decisively at the ballot box a fortnight ago, but it occurs to me that some in the car game might be sorry to see the departure of business secretary Vince Cable, a staunch and effective supporter of UK manufacturing. I rang industry guru Richard Parry-Jones (Cable’s co-chairman at the Automotive Council, the successful government-industry planning and ideas body) to get his thoughts.

“He was sceptical at first,” RPJ told me, “because the council began under the previous government. But it didn’t take him long to understand what we were doing and come on side. After that, he never missed a meeting, was a good ally and provided us with a good mixture of encouragement and challenge. I don’t know his successor, but we believe he understands what we’ve created and will want to keep going in the same direction.” 

FRIDAY - Cripes! Another driving challenge. Weeks ago, I lined up a battery-powered Renault Zoe – improved with a set of Clio RS wheels and tyres – to investigate the record for electric cars at the forthcoming Bugatti Owners’ Club meeting, La Vie en Bleu (at Prescott Hill, near Cheltenham, 24 May).

Now comes a request from Renault Central that I share the jaunt with another driver, none other than Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams, one of the country’s most experienced professional racing drivers and a Prescott specialist. Whizzo’s a good bloke, but he isn’t going to be slow. I’m going to have to lift my game.

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Ford Fiesta
Fiestas sold in Europe are ostensibly the same as those sold in America and Asia

The seventh-generation Ford Fiesta is the UK's best selling car, helped by frugal engines, handling verve and a big car feel

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Comments
3

20 May 2015
Not a Lib Dem meself but pleased to hear another vote of thanks for Vince Cable (from one of 'them that knows' as opposed to the 'chattering classes'.) Danny Alexander was allegedly behind most of Geroge Osborne's best ideas and he got the chop from us also. I hope we got it right chaps...

20 May 2015
It will be interesting to see what the newly returned gov will do for us beleaguered motorists. I expect speed limits on M-ways to reduce pollutants and the mooted express-ways turning into toll roads after the building of a few roundabouts and slip roads.
Apparently the new watchdog for roads is the same team as scrutinises the railways, sort of says how important the roads are viewed here in Blighty. In the meantime expect to see the creeping
malaise that is ever reducing speed limits on local roads near you ;-)

6 June 2016
I had wanted to have a go at Autosolo for some time, partly from reading about Steve Cropley doing one in these very pages. Last year me and a couple of mates started doing them. Now, after doing 6 events I've had enough.

You'll need to arrive at the venue for around 8am for scrutineering, signing on and drivers briefing. The event won't start until 9:30 and will finish at anything upto 5 or 6 including the awards.

You'll do 18 runs over a day if they can fit them in, that adds up to around 16 minutes of driving and costs £32, so £2 per minute of driving. If it takes you 2 hours to get to the event and the same home then you've had a 13 to 14 hour day for 16 minutes of competitive driving. You have to queue for each of the runs, generally for 20 to 45 minutes at a time to do a 40 to 60 second run.

They often don't manage all the runs though, the previous event had so many competitors that over the day only 12 runs were completed adding up to only 10 minutes of competitive time, I'd left home at 5:30am and didn't get back until 8pm.

On top of this the often mentioned friendly atmosphere is generally very lacking, the regulars are like the locals in a yokel village, treating outsiders with contempt.

The events are supposed to be on a sealed surface yet often are on old WWII airfields with rough broken concrete and gravel, so be prepared to get punctures.

The idea you'll go in a road car and be competitive is nonsense as those regulars turn up with stripped out lowered, roll caged, polybushed, bucket seated, grip steering wheeled semi rally cars. The MSA blue book rules aren't followed very closely for the regulars.

I would say you get what you pay for, but, actually they are very expensive in real terms so you don't.

A

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