Croft Circuit – Here Comes ‘Blueflag Balmforth’

A week late but it’s worth the wait.

April 14th was when the race weekend commenced for Luke, whom I have mentioned in previous posts and you will have spotted him both photobombing my shots, and being sniped by me and my camera. I had the honor and chore of being his right-hand man as he couldn’t pitch up a “one-man” gazebo solo. Luckily his Caterham, which you will see quite a bit of in this entry, held up well and took the heavy trackwork in its stride all weekend so I didn’t even touch a spanner or socket which I suppose is the benefit of racing one of these solid machines; check oil level and tyre pressure, torque the wheel nuts and back out you go.

Camp set up, I left Luke to have some personal time with his car and went to wander and browse some of the cars parked up next to their respective owners’ tents and motorhomes. The variety was cool, I like seeing all sorts in the same arena which is what the BARC (British Automobile Racing Club) Northern Saloon & Sportscar series is able to demonstrate with open-wheel kit cars and V8 “supercars” pitted against each other amongst other types of vehicles, albeit with a very broad range of competitiveness. Its a pretty stark contrast to the Caterham Graduates Championship (the one that Luke races in) but I guess the mix delivers to all audiences.
Here are some of the battlers that caught my eye when walking the campsite.

Before cooking up some food and hitting the sack, we took the opportunity to go for a track-walk whilst the sun was still above the horizon. The track literally just had a well-needed resurface and Luke would be amongst one of the first to put rubber down on the fresh tarmac. It is surprising how much you notice when traversing the course on foot. Things like slight kinks in corners where the ground isn’t entirely flat and the aggressive undulations on some of the rumblestrip. These are some of the elements that you may not pick up when driving, so I can see why making the effort to stroll the circuit can be beneficial for drivers.

After the 2.1 mile lap, it was time to chill. -5 degrees Celcius made that easy…

The Saturday morning sunrise entered, almost seamlessly from the night before. I got approximately 3 hours sleep in my car, because the tent was just as frozen as I was. As for Luke, who’s probably better suited to irregular sleeping patterns due to his day/night job, he got zilch shuteye. Its not as if he needed any energy for the day ahead like…

Some more entrants rocked up early in the day, including these that I thought were photo-worthy.

My heart raced when I spotted this E46 M3 at the end of the row. Unfortunately this supercharged monster was troubling the team, I guess that comes with the territory when shooting for nearly 700 horsepower. I hope they come through strong as I caught it out on track and its Martini-livery-draped armour looked nuts. Easily wins the beauty contest of the series!

After having a nosey at the other competitors, the time had come for Luke to suit and ready up for the qualifying round. 20 minutes to set a hot lap, which then determines where you start on the grid for the initial race. The accents of blue on his car reflect the driver’s calmness, unphased by the 32 opponents he would need to fend off during Saturday’s heat.

Lapping a swift 1:30:899, Luke was content with the pace he could make on the new-and-improved Croft Circuit. To put his time into perspective, a Lamborghini Gallardo and Porsche 997 Turbo take roughly 7 seconds longer to get around the track according to http://www.fastestlaps.com. That is lightyears in comparison.

These Mini’s that had their own series looked stupidly fun, with almost every single one three-wheeling the first bend.

Next on were the roadcars-turned-racecars. These were enjoyable to spectate, each one looking different, sounding different, driving different. Their individuality is what appeals to me. How far can one go with the budget and resources they have in order to further amplify an already capable road-going chassis.

I didnt’t manage to get many keepers of Luke in Race 1, but those I did snap came out nice. I need to get around trackside quicker and experiement more with different vantage points. This section at the far end of the circuit offered some picturesque backdrops.

Coming out 5th overall and 1st in class, Luke rolled out the pits satisifed with the result. He repeated this outcome the following race on Sunday, something like deja vu. All he is fokused on now is prepare to the fullest for his outing at Snetterton in the first weekend in May. So if you you see a blue flag, Luke’s seeing red.

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More to come, especially with Time Attack season starting soon here in the UK.

As always, thanks, if you made it this far.

Donington Park – Caters to the Believers in Motoring Sport

Last month I was invited by Luke, again, to act as personal photographer/pit crew member/brake checker at a track day put on by ‘Circuit Days’ over in Donington Park. This venue is located in Derby, UK, and has its roots in the birth of MotoGP. Noteworthy is the fact that Ayrton Senna put some rubber down on the circuit in the European Formula 1 Grand Prix during the early 1990’s.

Donington Park is a really well done and sorted race track, which is most likely due to the acquisition made by MSV (Motorsport Vision) in 2017. This organization clearly want to see British motorsport grow, and this is evident in the quality of their facilities.

You will see this wheel frequently throughout this post
With the Caterham race series nearing, some of the entrants were getting as much valuable seat time as possible; and where else is better than the 2.487 mile-long GP Course at Donington.
I have always respected the Caterham marque. This was the first time I was exposed to the ‘scene’ and I now realise how sharp these cars can handle the asphalt.
That day was not the warmest, as you would expect in England during the winter season, but the onslaught of 50+ mph winds didn’t make it easy for us bystanding spectators.
The basic yet bold look of this deep-blue example caught my eye as it pulled back into the pits. I also thought the clean look of the side panelling, with the roll cage outboard of the body, suited the car much better.
Caterhams forcing much higher powered machinery to fall to the side is a common sight.
Lucky Number Seven
Luke sold his MNR Vortx last year, and shocked us with this new investment. Specifically, a 310R model, equipped with a 1.6l inline-four Sigma engine produced by Ford, power output close to 150bhp. But lets not forget, this thing weighs around 600kg, so it gets about if you tune in to its very sensitive chassis.
Avon ZZ-S tyres did for the time being, but Luke has now wrapped the wheels in Yokohama Advan A048s instead. Trust the Japanese to make it right I guess…
Thankfully, we had our own pit garage all to ourselves since our neighbour was a no-show. As soon as we stepped outside though, we get slapped by the cold breeze.
Later in the day as the track surface dried up, adjustments were made to the anti-roll bars for additional stiffness in the rear, which allowed for more rotation in corners, especially the two extra hairpins you run on the GP layout of the circuit.
As you would expect, the “interior” of this car is not that of a normal road-going vehicle. The fixed-back bucket seats and four-point harnesses secure both the driver and passenger in as safety is critical.
Here is what is known as ‘craner curves’, a right then left down a fairly long decline, where speed can be gained in dangerous measures before ‘old hairpin’ right-turn.
Not an engine I have ever come across, maybe because they are originally made for and found in Ford Fiestas (yawn), but with a short-ram intake and opened up exhaust, the straight-four does make a healthy buzz when you stomp on the gas.
That MX-5 in the distance seems like it ran a bit wide from this angle.
Very interesting colour combination here
Similar to Cadwell Park, this track has some great views as the elevation difference adds a dynamic element to both the course and trackside.
I wish I got a closer look at this – what seems to be – E46 M3 CSL (‘CoupeSportLightweight’ for those wondering).
Amazing design and still sharp-looking to this day. This was the BMW M3’s more athletic version, with only approximately 15bhp more than the standard car, this machine makes up for through the extensive use of carbon and fibreglass on the bodywork and windows, and shed a whopping 110kg in kerbweight!
This E92 M3 was spotted doing plenty of rounds which was nice to see, as they are usually rolling slow on public roads, with some smug-faced driver behind the wheel. The pilot of this white-on-black example seemed to be having a laugh throwing into every corner, as you should do in a car with this level of capability.
A serious track weapon E46 stormed by a few times. The straight-six note is one you cannot hate, to be honest.
Another top BMW, this E82 1 Series was modified tastefully and with an obvious functional focus.
Here is a shot I took trying to depict the dramatic dip in altitude, but it is only when you experience it for yourself that proves how intimidating this section of the track in particular is.
The many ‘offs’ drivers have should they push too early on corner exit
Apparently so…
Me and Luke saw the behind of this car quite frequently when out on track. It is astonishing how capable the GT-R is when you put into perspective the weight difference between both cars. But it is equally, if not more astonishing, how much pace a Caterham can keep with a lacking power & torque spec. The chassis is impressive and extremely well balanced, and there is still more room for improvement.
Must be nice running errands in this. Belonged out on the field!
I have no clue what this was. A Volkwagen of some sort. The engine/exhaust sounded phenomenal.
Here is the trusty chariot. All I will say about the Benz is that it is comfortable, but I cannot get over the mundanity of it.
Thats a wrap. Hopefully you enjoyed the read and the photos, log on next time and you might see the Caterham in a more competitive environment. Thanks to Luke for trusting me to drive his new machine a few laps around the exciting circuit. It was eventful, but I learnt a lot in the limited seat time I had. The car isn’t so much twitchy, but the controls take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, the satisfaction of tracing clean lines on a racetrack is unmatchable. More car fun!

Japanese Dream: Another Trip to Tokyo, and Beyond

Here we go, again.

Back in 2016, after returning from Japan, it was in my heart that I knew I had to get back out there, so before I knew it, later that year, flights were booked for late June 2017, and a more structured itinerary was put down in preparation. It went something like this: Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hiroshima – Kyoto – Yokohama. All within a two-week timespan.

This post is a recollection of the memories, stored within the photos. Looking back at them, without sounding like I am blowing my own trumpet, my shooting skills also seemed to step up a marginal level.

I hope you enjoy, and maybe you too will take the leap to the farthest east.

Me and my sister landed in Narita International Airport around evening, and by the time we were out of the terminal and on the train to Suginami it was 9pm. The sunsets earlier than it does in the UK, so even in the summer the daylight passes sooner, unless you wake up and start your day very early.

I caught this MX-5 RF the morning after our arrival in the morning traffic on the main road a few minutes from the AirBnB. A Club / Launch edition in that Reflex Blue Mica on factory BBS wheels is a quality sight. This car will take a very long time to get old.
A classic VW Beetle sat outside the apartment building we stayed in whilst visiting the Tokyo area. Even this car’s owner installed a double DIN multimedia system on the dashboard, but this is not surprising as the majority of vehicles on the road have them built in from factory, most with broadcast television!
An enthusiast’s machine. Not my ‘cup of tea’, definitely slow, but atleast the paintjob livened up the concrete jungle scene.
One of the coolest things Toyota created. I would grab one in a heartbeat, and I am not even into SUVs or offrading.
The infamous Shibuya Crossing. We did not spend much time here, as we were only passing by to get to Shibuya station, nor did we partake in the scramble. I know, how boring of us… Whatever.
We set out to Odaiba, which is an artificial island in Tokyo’s Bay Area. It is mainly home to entertainment and shopping outlets, attracting many tourists thanks to its scenic nightlife and modern architecture. This photo was the back end of the Fuji TV building, which I had no idea of at time of taking the picture.
In my experience, the service I received all over Japan is impeccable. This was at a typical city restaurant in Shinjuku. You sit in a private booth, with a service ringer at hand if you need a waiter’s attention. Oh, and they cook the food right in front of you, which makes for a more engaging experience.
Now onto the exciting part of the journey…
You probably saw this coming if you read my last Japan blogpost. I revisited the guys at ‘Fun2Drive’, and this time it was time to get behind the wheel of the one and only ultimate supercar of the Japanese 90’s. First stop, Fuji Speedway.
The way the tours work, if you opt for the ‘Ultimate Hakone Drive’, is a steadily paced roll out on the touge leading to the area surrounding Mount Fuji, and then the afternoon is literally an all-out blast through the mountains and forests behind what was this time a definitely-modified, wailing-wastegate Subaru WRX STi, just like the one Bunta rips in.
Unfortunately, on this excursion, Mount Fuji was being a shy bugger, hidden behind the clouds.
I feel this car is so special, it deserves a full report. But for now I will keep it short and simple….
… this car is a driver’s dream. It was equipped with what I was told, a KeiOffice exhaust system that made a glorious naturally-aspirated V6 tune. I assume the suspension was standard, by looks and feel of the sensible ride height and shock absorption. This is the definition of sportscar, and I undersand why it was a supercar in its day. It shook up the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, nevermind the domestic rivals such as Nissan’s GTR, and Mazda’s RX-7. I am not ruling out the Toyota Supra, but that was a more GT vehicle, with a little more of a civilised character. Pushing this car to limits was an absolute joy, especially when you are behind an R35 GTR (that was driven by another member of the tour party) that struggled with all its weight in the tight and technical sections. I can and will never forget having the honor of taking the NSX for a ride.
Just about caught this snap of what I think is a Daihatsu disguides as a classic Mini? The owner kept/fitted a UK number plate behind the Japanese one, which I thought was funny.
There is not one bad angle on this machine
Just before lunch, two more joined the party.
Man, stock R32 GT-Rs look too good its bonkers. Simple body lines, subtly pronounced arch flares, those iconic 5-spoke wheels. I bet this was fun to drive…
We got about Hakone in a rented out Honda Fit (aka Jazz). Public transport is great in the major cities, but once you go off grid so to speak, it only makes sense to traverse the dreamy routes of the Japanese touge in a car. This new generation Fit/Jazz was a bit appalling though to be honest. The CVT gearbox was naff, as you would expect, droning through the ratios. But even the steering felt Audi-like, so numb. No complaints, as it was roomy and comfy enough, however.
The day after the NSX experience, before leaving for Hiroshima via shinkansen (bullet train), we decided to visit a local shrine in Hakone, almost as if we were ritualistically receiving blessings, but this was not the case.
Both, Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples dotted about all over the country are peaceful and tranquil places to visit.
So, after trekking about the western regions of the country, we hitched a bullet train once again to Yokohama City, which borders Tokyo’s outer area. This time the rental car was a Mazda Demio (Mazda 2). In comparison to the Fit, this was the better performer. And, Japan get these in an All Wheel Drive variant?

That night was the 7th of July. That only meant one thing. Time to hit the expressway and join the rotary klan…

Again, this year, the plan in my mind did not materialise in the way I had pictured.

Using Google Maps, we navigated ourselves to Daikoku Parking area in the Demio. This route to this spot is a headache and not as straightforward as you might think, with the rest of Japan’s transportation systems being so streamlined. It wasn’t meant to be, I must have driven through the same toll gate twice, but couldn’t find a way in. Luckily, the police were shutting the parking area down at that time.

If I remember correctly, I think we were about to give up and just abort mission, but as I was about to make way to Yokohama, I spotted this guy with a backpack on foot who looked either lost or eager to get to where we wanted: 7’s day gathering. So, for some reason, I pull up, roll the window down, and ask him if he is a local in hope of getting some direction or assistance. Turned out he was from the States, and was in the same situation I was in last year. We told him we would give him a lift, as he had a good-enough idea of how to get to the secondary meetup location: Tokyo Bay Aqua-line…

On the last day, we took some time out to visit the Nissan Global HQ Gallery, which includes a floor completely open freely to visitors, where both new and old vehicles and technology are put on display. Not only that, but there was also a live RC-car race hosted by Tamiya.

So, there you have it. My second Japan journal entry, hopefully you saw some stuff you thought was cool and intriguing, some maybe even motivated you to get yourself out there to explore the epicentre of car culture.

More to come…

First Visit to Japan; Another World

It was bound to happen, but this journey out to the ‘land of the rising sun’ came to manifest unexpectedly for me. I can say it was destined, you could say it was just coincidence. My father’s childhood friend who lived in the same village when they were both growing up in India, had travelled further east, and ended up working and settling in Japan. My dad kept in contact with him, I think, on and off meeting up to reminisce whenever their trips to India coincided, or the one time he and his Japanese family visited England years before I can properly remember.

Fast-forward to 2016, almost as if it was at random, my parents had booked flights to Japan and I can remember not being particularly excited at the time. Maybe I was just stunned and could not grasp the fact that it was actually happening.

Anyhow, you will now view the gallery of photos I snapped when I was out there. 59 is the image count, so commentary will be dialled down to the minimum and the pictures will paint the scene. Enjoy…

On the drive from the Narita International Airport, I was armed ready with my camera. The journey to my Uncle’s home was mainly through rural settings, occasionally passing through small parts of town. This was a Mazda I had never laid eyes on before, in all its basic-looking blandness.
Traditional Japanese buildings are a thing of beauty, so much so, it feels blasphemous referring to them as things. More like pieces of art.
Wakaba means ‘young leaf’ in Japanese. It is also the word used to describe the yellow and green symbol found on all these “JDM as f*ck” cars that you see and used as a symbol with an alternative meaning. In Japan, its originally intended purpose was for inexperienced/new drivers to be made known to others on the road, analogous to the ‘L/P’ plates in the UK.
Welcome to Autobacs, the Japanese version of Halfords (kinda). And yes, they sell SSR alloys. This is scratching the surface, but unfortunately I did not manage to get many good photos of the other items for sale, mainly due to the crazily extensive options. You name it, they got it. Then there’s the ‘Super Autobacs’ stores. I never paid one a visit, but from what I have seen online; whole other level.

Literally a minute walk around the corner from where we were staying, this gem of a find which goes by the name ‘Body Make Kazu’ stopped me in my tracks gobsmacked, and this was only Day 2 of the holiday! It was what seemed like three separate buildings in close proximity, perhaps owned by one guy or family run. It comprised of two small garages, a medium-sized storage unit, and then a little single story office/reception building across the road. Very odd, but outside on the yard was a plethora of all sorts. The Liberty Walk GTR obviously caught my attention, but not as much as the cold stock silver RX7 FD. All this wickedness in some random, remote village in Kamagaya about 25 miles away from the airport.

These boxy beaters are ace and look like fun to chuck about on the touge.
Enroute to Hakone, near Mt. Fuji

The highlight of the trip without a doubt. I rented an FD from a small but growing business called ‘Fun2Drive’. Without going into too much detail, the RX7 was a machine that did everything right. The perfect sports car, front to back. Oh yeah, the roads in Japan’s mountainous areas are sublime.

This red legend will be revisited in a future post.

The first R34 GTR I saw on Japanese roads. I went bananas, the people on the bus must have been weirded out.

I almost didn’t get the chance to experience 7’s day that year. But thanks to the typical friendliness of the Japanese, a scenario played out that was written in the stars, for real. Long story short, I was young and dumb, I failed to plan, realised at the wrong time that Daikoku Parking Area is access-only via vehicle, a bystander who had just finished work in the evening offered to take my parents and I into the service station. For me, even that very short 15 minutes, felt like complete heaven.

The Land-Jet…
Tokyo’s tree in the sky
I found that the Japanese are really enthusiastic when it comes to cars. A big surprise to me, was the amount of non-Japanese marques, like this Mini. Very cool to see.
Roll on chrome… back to the early 00’s

Another tuner/service garage a few streets down from my uncle’s house. This place, ‘Seed Racing Car Engineering’, seemed like it was serious. I am regretting not taking enough photos, being overwhelmed by it all. What a place…

My last day in Japan on that trip. I went for a walk around the neighbourhood’s surrounding area and these final three images conclude this post well. That stall was selling fresh blueberries I think. Unmanned, the CCTV camera caught anybody trying to ‘do the dirty’ and not pay the 300 yen (~£2) in exchange for a box. Also, for some reason, I took a liking to the houses out there. The design of their residential buildings are cool and each house had character. I used to play Pokemon on the GameBoy Colour, and weirdly enough, it felt like I was venturing through one of the fictional towns and villages from the game. Odd, I know…