It was a gloriously warm and clear evening last night (Wednesday 5th July) when Lanes and Yards of the McKee family home, close to Newtownards, reverberated to the noise of cars.
Cars that covered a vast array within the automotive spectrum and many of which were driven to and from the competition as they are nothing more than someone’s daily commuter vehicle or road legal weekend toy…
Welcome to the entry level motorsport initiative called ‘autotest’, hosted in this instance by the Thoroughbred Sports Car Club of Northern Ireland (TSCC).
In comparison to most motorsport, autotests are relatively low speed events with high levels of skill involved and are one of the most affordable forms of motorsport around.
For around £10 (costs are club dependant and junior members get discounted rates) you can join your local car club.
Once you’re a member, you can compete in the many events they host throughout the year.
Many clubs in Northern Ireland will have a few autotests, a rally, a hill climb, a few social events and plenty of training for those who want to volunteer and progress into helping with the planning and running of events.
The TSCC has been about for as long as I remember and indeed host the world’s oldest hillclimb which meanders swiftly along the main drive of the Cultra Manor House outside Holywood in June.
They also run Croft hill climb, off Whinney Hill in Holywood, and attract newcomers to the sport via half a dozen or so autotests each year.
With grass roots being the ethos of the club, it really is a pleasure to cover the events they host as there are so many different levels of (wo)man and machine and of all ages too.
When autotesting, you can drive production cars on tests from the age of 14 with an adult in the passenger seat, or you can be a passenger from the age of 12 – one crew member must hold a full driving licence in both instances.
There were five junior drivers at McKee’s event and on top of these young enthusiasts who had a blast of a time and swapped mere seconds between them, there were over 35 entries from the adults including one female driver Emma Beattie – this sport needs more ladies competing so come along and see if it is something you could do.
Several of these were ‘dual entry’, where the car was shared by two drivers.
Quite often these ‘shared car’ competitors are family members or perhaps two friends who have bought a little car between them to compete in.
Whichever way you enter, the costs of autotesting are minimal with a fee of around £15-£20 per event.
Put some fuel in the car, bring a packed lunch or a fiver for the burger van and you’re ready to go.
Many of the cars are the competitors’ ‘daily drivers’…you don’t need anything special to go out and have a bit of fun!
Jump in your car, drive to the event, compete and drive home again – one thing that is essential is a very good handbrake be that a well-working cable system or an upgraded hydraulic unit.
One thing I have noticed at these TSCC events is that no matter what level you are at, be it multiple event winner or your first time out, you will get greeted the same.
Should you have any issues or need help, everyone in the paddock is approachable for help. It’s a really friendly sport.
So what exactly is an autotest, you ask?
Autotests have a start and finish point with a pre-mapped route laid out around small pylons.
Each car is timed against the clock – if you touch a pylon you get a time penalty, and if you get the route wrong then you fail that test.
They are an extremely fun initiative as they teach huge amounts of car control in a very safe environment and can be tough going also when you combine steering, gear change, handbrake and remembering the route all at once with some reversing thrown in at times too.
A strong entry led to each class swapping tenths of seconds, as well as some rubbing against the hay bales and once the dust settled around the lanes it was a shock victory by a car thought should never in a million years be competitive at such an initiative of motorsport (according to many within the sport).
The car in question is a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive Toyota MR2 piloted by local rally navigator Allan Harryman who enjoys swapping the pacenotes for no-notes and a steering wheel from time to time and after the event commented “The car in front is a Toyota”. [No Allan it is actually a Bombus Lucorum – GC]
Ben McKee took junior victory on his own driveway as well as a respectable 22nd overall.
Young McKee will soon allow other juniors the chance to win however as he is due to gain his driving licence in the coming weeks, progressing him into the adults class and as such his grandmother who navigates will finally get to enjoy spectating again.
Top 10 at the end of the event:
Allan Harryman – 336.4
Mark Francis – 341.0
Mark Woodside – 341.3
Angus Johnson – 350.5
Crawford Ewing – 353.3
Simon Woodside – 353.8
Matthew Mason – 358.1
Bruce Carson – 358.8
Will Thompson – 359.1
Robert Woodside Snr – 359.7
Class winners at the end of the event:
Class 1 – Robert McGimpsey
Class 2 – Bruce Carson
Class 3 – Mark Francis
Class 4 – Angus Johnson
Class 5 – Michael Beattie
Class 6 – Paul Jennings
Class 8 (Juniors) – Ben McKee