Zandvoort - British Race Festival

Catching a 2.45am ferry from Dover to Calais wasn't a great start in fact I've decided that doing anything at 2.45 am isn't a great idea any more.

I met up with the others at the elegant surroundings of the Shell petrol station in Dover. There was Rick Bourne in his very smart (some might say flash) transporter, Roger Horton, and son, driving Rick's +8, and Stephen Lockett and friends trailing his +4. Our tickets were waiting at the terminal, we were loaded on to the ferry immediately and then we were off, seemingly ahead of time. A surprisingly quick and uneventful crossing and we disembarked into the dank Calais night.

A mind-numbingly boring four and a half hour drive up the motorways of Belgium and Holland through the drizzle got us to Zandvoort mid- morning where we could hear the unmistakable sounds of Klaus' 5 litre +8 on track. Martin Kurrein had also been out testing in the morning's practice session and reported that it was verv slippery in the wet. Luckily it dried out for the afternoon session so I was able to introduce myself to the remarkably twisty circuit in a comparatively relaxed way.

With the large awning up, the Brands Hatch Morgan transporter was the focus of attention in the Morgan area of the Paddock (Christian Bock and Mathias Te Neues had taken up an alternative site behind the Pits) and with a glowing barbecue and 'Mad Dog" Horton as Chef we were soon living pretty well. A tented village then sprung up between the Armco and the perimeter fence with the arrival of Peter Sargeant and son, David James and Stephen Lockett's party - though the gale force winds raised some doubts in the minds of those of us not having to stay under canvas. In the end it wasn't the wind but the Healeys practising their starts in the Paddock until midnight and the ingeniously designed loose metal on metal covers over the drains that provided the noises that jerked one awake. (I draw a discreet veil over the night- time noises issuing from Mad Dog which prompted a lively discussion over his excellent breakfast the next morning.)

Saturday dawned overcast, windy and showery. There was much discussion about tyre choice (surprise) and then we were let loose on the track for our practice and qualifying. Still learning the track I don't remember much about this except for seeing Craig sweep past me at the beginning of the straight with Rick apparently attached to his bumper. The large electronic leader board showed a grid order of Klaus, Craig, Rick, Martin and me (and I have to admit to getting pretty excited at seeing my car number up there in lights!).

Peter Sargeant ended practice early with a worrying vibration coming from the wheels. As laid back as ever he didn't bother to check it out until the next day when he discovered that it wasn't the additional slick rubber that the tyres had picked up from the circuit, but one of the rear tyres has seemingly broken inside and become seriously deformed. Perhaps you ought to change your tyres more often than every decade Peter?

Back to the Paddock for the normal fettling of brakes etc. and then we were organised into a parade through the town of Zandvoort in full race trim (cobbled streets and tyres at race pressure aren't a great mix by the way). We negotiated the wandering brass band confusingly dressed as English policemen (and this was before the free beer) and went off to find our barbecue courtesy of the nice people of Zandvoort.

Michael Kalf had organised things so successfully that as well as the entertainment he had laden us with sponsors' decals, umbrellas, caps and even the race fee - which was very welcome. Perhaps our Competitions Secretary could do the same over here?

Another blustery night and then the day of the race. And what an attendance! People poured in all day. There were 200 cars in the Concours competition and more Healey 3000s than I've seen since the 60s.

In the morning there were demonstration runs and we were able to take friends, pit crew, chefs, etc., for a quick blast round the track.

Then the race at 13.30 hours. We drove to Parc Ferme through roads lined two or three deep with people - a stunning contrast to some of our club meetings where there seem to be more people in the paddock than watching. Lined up behind the pits there was a long wait in the sun, in front of the crowds on the pit garage roof, where we were easy prey for the wandering TV cameraman filming closeups of cars and drivers. I just managed to relax after he had filmed the inside of my car when I glanced in the mirror and found that he'd crept around the back and was filming through the mirror - disconcerting.

There had been some discussion beforehand about the grid procedure. It consisted of going to Parc Ferrne as usual, then out on to the pit lane in grid order, follow the pace car round, line up on the grid, 5 second board, lights and away! No time for getting bored with that! In fact it was plainly far too exciting for Rick - when the lights went red his car did a splendid kangaroo hop forward and stalled! I remember seeing the starter up on the bridge waving his finger at Rick, then the lights went green and there wasn't time for any more sightseeing.

Craig got away ahead of Klaus I believe, both followed by Matthias in his distinctive bright yellow +8. I followed Martin into Tarzanboch with my mirrors full of Christian who was all over the back of my car - and then up the inside at what seemed like twice our speed and overtaking everyone up to Matthias came Rick who was suddenly very keen.

Round the banking of the first hairpin at the end of the straight, Tarzanboch, you are then accelerating hard uphill. Through a slight left hand bend then up and over a right hander on the brow (Gerlachbocht) with the car going very light and drifting wide to the left hand edge of the track as you go steeply downhill into the next hairpin (Hugenholzbocht) on the wrong side. Heavy brake and turn, then accelerate hard uphill, over the crest to find a kink right then a long right hander. Braking at the kink, the car again goes light with the back stepping out before the power comes back on and holds the car in a drift through Toyotabocht. Downhill again to the least enjoyable corners of Nissanbocht; a very sharp right hander with the first apex protected by a tall pile of tyres (now where have I seen that recently?) then another hairpin left, with the car understeering madly all the way through to the first short straight. Then two quick corners; Mitsubishibocht with the speed building all the time before the final very fast Bos Uit (where the outside of the track is covered in marbles of slick rubber) taking the car on to the long straight through the grandstand, pit area and past the electronic leader board - which is situated at a point where if you can read your lap time you have just missed your braking point for Tarzanbocht.

Klaus soon moved ahead of Craig and stretched out a comfortable lead by the end, lapping everyone except Craig. Rick and Matthias had a very closely contested battle with Rick finally outbraking him into Tarzan. Martin was running a comfortable 5th but then discovered his throttle had stuck open when entering Tarzan. He pulled into the pits on the next lap and freed it but lost several positions by the time he was able to return. I managed to fend off Christian until about lap 14 when he got past at the end of the straight and kept ahead till the end.

Stephen Lockett (+4), Peter Merschroth (4/4) and Manfred Breyer (4/4) had an interesting battle too, which Stephen won by half a second. David James was particularly unlucky, being speared in the rear wing by a clumsy Triumph Spitfire, which caused him to spin off on lap 3. As he was unable to get it started again he was forced to sit at the side of the track and spec-tate (for 15 more laps!). It was no consolation for him to learn that the Spitfire didn't finish the race. Peter Sargeant, now with round tyres, finished 13th and Pieter Van Hest in his 4/4 4 seater finished 20th (before going on to race his Healey in a later race).

Class winners were deemed to be Klaus, Rick and Stephen and each received flowers and a handsome Sekonda watch. Back to the Paddock with much handshaking and telling of tales before packing the cars, trailers and transporters for the long drive back.

It had been a good weekend. My first race abroad and one I will be eager to repeat. The enthusiasm was infectious and Michael Kalf got all our thanks for not only arranging the race and all the sponsorship but for making it all so enjoyable.

Thanks Michael, hope to see you there next year.

(c) Chris Acklam 1996