Tour Britannia Regularity - September 4 - 6
This is the original report, not the edited version for oldSTAGER.
The Tour Britannia (TB) is a unique event. Conceived in
2005 in the format of the old Avon Tour of Britain, the ‘‘Competition”
category is a tour of racing circuits and speed venues, bringing
together rally and racing folk with a set of races and special stages
spread around the country. The ‘‘Regularity” category visits the same
venues but tackles them in regularity mode. The 2005 and 2006 event
attracted around 10 regularity entries; this year there were 45 in the
Competition and 27 in the Regularity.
I don’t think I would have done the event by choice. Paul and I had earmarked the Classic Marathon as the long event to do in 2008; but having won a free entry to the TB on the Tour of Cheshire ... well, we forsook the mountains of Norway and instead had an adventure in middle England.
A surprise came two weeks before the event with the arrival of the Final Instructions. A complicated coefficient system was to be applied depending on the gadgets a crew would use. Cars with no tripmeters and analogue stopwatches would run on a scratch basis. However, Paul’s Porsche 911 running with a Brantz 2 trip and digital stopwatches was to be heavily penalised. On every regularity our penalties would be multiplied by 1.30 – by 1.25 because of an electronic trip plus 0.05 for using digital watches. Furthermore, on each road regularity we would have an additional fixed penalty of 15 seconds and on the speed venue regularities a 5 second penalty. Based upon the schedule of regularities this meant starting with 135 seconds of penalties before we crossed the start line. Given that last year’s winner had dropped a mere 27 seconds the strategy was clear and the Brantz 2 was hastily removed. How I would fair stretching to see the imprecise digits of the odometer (eventually calibrated as an inconvenient numbered 94.4% accurate) remained to be seen. But the digital watches stayed – I don’t do analogue these days.
However, application of these coefficients seemed to be somewhat shaky. No one checked what tripmeters or watches we had at scrutineering. Before and after the first Brands Hatch test an official did approach me to ask what tripmeter I had fitted, none I said truthfully, but each time it wasn’t checked. When the results of the Brands Hatch test appeared, we, and several other crews had a 5 second penalty greater than expected, later to disappear. Looking at the results just four crews were (sometimes) docked coefficiently for mechanical and electronic trips, but nobody received fixed penalties on the road regularities. The additional 5 per cent I was expecting for using digital watches never materialised. Strange and inconsistent regulations which should really be policed next time.
For the Regularity purist, the TB is an odd combination of three competition styles: public road regularities, ‘‘Circuit Regularities” (circularities?) and ‘‘Stage Regularities”.
There was one public road regularity each day with a single average speed of 25 or 30 mph and using straightforward Jogularity navigation; but with a grand total of five timing points and 16 miles this is less than a single regularity on a typical HRCR event. Nigel Raeburn had organised these sections and it was an encouragement to us to see the friendly faces of Knutsford & DMC – Shon Gosling et al – marking our time cards. This part of the event should have been our forte, but we weren’t clean at any control and dropped a total of six seconds.
With so much link mileage there must be scope in the future to have more and longer road regularities. Throw in a few speed changes and a bit of simple navigation and I’m sure this would attract some of the long distance regularity competitors.
There was a mistake with the road regularity penalty system by applying double penalties for being early at a timing point. Fixing the error would have made our score more respectable, but the corrections would have apparently taken ages to implement, and since the award winners wouldn’t have changed the correction wasn’t pursued.
The Circularities took place at racing circuits: Brands Hatch, Donnington, Oulton Park and Mallory Park. The ‘‘racers” were split into two races, but for the ‘‘reggers” it was down to lap consistency. At each circuit we did an out-lap, two familiarisation laps, two timed laps and an in-lap. The two timed laps had to be completed at an average speed of between 29 mph and 50 mph, the objective being to match the two times as exactly as possible. For example a lap of 2:00.0 followed by a lap of 2:04.2 would incur a penalty of 4.2 seconds. We found this extraordinarily difficult to perfect, but some practiced crews regularly scored under a half a second, the accuracy determined by transponders fixed inside the car. The general idea is to get into a steady pace (we chose 40 mph), mark timing checkpoints at landmarks on the first timed lap and attempt to replicate them on the second lap, micro-adjusting your speed at the timing point. Knowing where the timing point is situated is essential; nominally on the start/finish line, on a circuit like Donnington there were multiple lines on the home straight and choosing the right one must have been our failing since despite a steady speed we scored a large four seconds error. For those unfamiliar with the circuits a distinct marker board at the timing line would have been helpful.
Many regularity crews decided this was a chance to ‘‘have-a-go” and we certainly felt like wimps as we plodded round the circuit trying to keep out of their way. Only on the in-lap did the red mist descend in front of Paul’s eyes as his cramped right foot finally went to the floor.
The ‘‘Stage” Regularities were run twice at classic venues: Brooklands, Longcross, MIRA, Belvoir (pronounced Beaver!?) Castle, Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley), Loton Park hill climb and Weston Park. The same course was used by the racers and reggers, the former as a conventional special stage. The regularity ran from the start to the flying finish with a published target time. With one exception the finish was easily sighted, so achieving the target should have been easy? Theoretically yes, but again this requires practice to get the final few yards right in order to cross the timing beam at the exact time. We attempted these tests by trying to keep to the required 30 mph throughout, but it seems the experienced crews – those frequently scoring decimals of a second – were adopting a different method. Powering through the test and stopping or creeping to the line seemed to produce the best results, a practice which would be penalised on other regularity events.
The first problem with our system was encountered at Belvoir. A short test of only 0.82 miles, we were on schedule heading for a flying finish just after a left at T. Rounding the corner we met the yellow flying finish board which advertised the true red board further down the road. On time at the yellow we were 15 seconds late at the red and puzzled. Wiser second time through we improved to four seconds late and measured the distance to the flying finish as 0.94 miles, 0.12 longer than stated. Our performance against the opposition’s bests of sub one second was pathetic. Here’s where racing up to the line and stopping is the best strategy: ignore the distance – go for the time. We felt disadvantaged by an organiser’s distance error favouring the racers over the pacers and the test was eventually scrubbed.
At a crucial time on the event when we were leading on the last afternoon I completely mucked up. On the Loton Park hill climb, timing started when the car crossed a beam. The car was positioned just before the beam and we were required to proceed within ten seconds of a start light changing from red to green. Our error was when to start the watch. On green I said ‘‘Go” and Paul and I started our stop watches. This was wrong because by the time the clutch had engaged and the car had moved forward to cross the beam about a second had elapsed. On both attempts at the hill we thus arrived early – each 1.1 seconds. By virtue of the penalty system these seconds were doubled for being early (specifically mentioned in the regs unlike the road regularities) and the 4.4 seconds adverse dropped us to second place immediately.
Catch up was now only possible at the final tests in Weston Park and near perfect times were essential. The finish was another after a turn left at T. The test diagram gave no clue how far this was after the turn, so brake and throttle had to be ready for a sudden slowing or acceleration. As we approached the T, I looked through the trees and saw a red board some way after the turn. ‘‘Back off, Back off” I shouted, Paul hit the brakes, we turned and there immediately was the finish! What I’d glimpsed was the red stop board not the flying finish. Doh! and a crippling 5.2 seconds lost. Second time around we were much better, but the damage had been done and we lost first place by a slender 2.4 seconds.
I was particularly gutted at the finish to get so close to a win, but credit to Michael Birch and Jeremy Haylock in another white Porsche 911 Carrera who pipped us at the finish. Jeremy has now won all three Tour Brittanias, the previous two years with John Ruston. Third were the Belgian brothers of Marc and Stefan Vandendijk; it was Marc’s third consecutive third place.
I view there’s a couple of ways that the stages could be made more demanding for regularitists. Add a few cones to slow crews down and run the stage as a conventional special test with a bogey time to beat. Alternatively, measure the time taken between a couple of secret timing points and apply penalties for exceeding or under running the target average speed.
At the finish at Coombe Abbey I waited for the Competition crews to arrive, in particular John Grant/Charles Elwell in their Chevron B16. In 2006 John had spoilt a fine Britannia run with a series of breakdowns, which reminded me of the troublesome road rallying partnership I had with John in an Escort during 1976/77: 10 starts, one win, one third and mechanical or driver-error retirements when leading the other eight events. This time John kept his ultra-squat Chevron on the straight and narrow and took victory by 14 seconds over Nick Whale/Sally Wood’s Porsche 911 Carrera RS.
Despite my few critical remarks above this was an impressive event. We travelled 750 miles and visited some memorable venues. Many of our co-competitors simply took the opportunity to stretch the legs of their fun cars on what some likened to a disciplined Gumball Rally. The entry fee of around £2,000 is high, but in return you’ll see some iconic places, eat some fantastic food and take away some designer goodies and memories. At every venue there were food and drink stalls where you ate and drank what you wanted – for free. You can take it seriously and aim for the one of the splendid trophies or just spend three days soaking up the atmosphere and chatting to new-found friends.
Next year it’s likely there will be a Touring category for those who want to simply embrace the endurance and social side, and the Regularity event promises to be bigger and better.
Whatever, you should put this down as an event to be experienced before you hang up your speed tables and retire to a quieter life.