Autocar Sideways Challenge at Brands Hatch

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After our 700 mph blast across the sky’s of the uk our brand new focus hire car seemed a little sluggish, but when we got to the car park exit we sound discovered that it smoked the tubes none the less… We found the travel lodge & booked in for our short nights sleep before leaving for Brands Hatch, this year’s venue for the Autocar Sideways Challenge….

On arrival at Brands Hatch we came through the gates behind 3 bmw’s with Holland reg plates, an old 3 series, an E36 M3 and an old de-badged 5 series… These guys had travelled a good distance to compete, and surely if they came this far, they didn’t come to loose?

We parked up and just as we got out of the car a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 320 MR parked up, so we went over to talk to the driver and it turned out it was a mitsi press car and Autocar had requested for it to be there to be driven by who ever they chose, no strings attached – nice! He also informed us that a new set of brake pads, with out time and fitting for the evo was £680!! One reason why not to use your brakes too much!!

We then proceeded down to the pits where the selection of cars ranged from a Caterham Superlight R to an American V8 Truck. Moments after arriving in the pits the Option Motorsport Crew arrived in their convoy of Nissan Silvia’s, such an entrance, One of the driver Kiki, who stared in the same DVD as Steer From The Rear in last months Max Power was more than willing to chat to us as he prepared his awesome car (silver with graphite graphic’s & white wheels) for the day, he informed us that his car had 320ish bhp, but he also informed us one of his team mate’s had 520bhp!!!! We continued to chat to Kiki and told him where we were from and he told us that he was going to the Mondello show and that he was looking forward to coming to Ireland, as he has never been. Seeing this guy at mondello is a must!!!

After finishing our browse around the pits we walked up to the top of the circuit, to the series of corners where Autocar were doing the judging, and where they had already started to wet the track with a water tanker and fire hose.

After a delayed start, due to a crash (including 13 cars, 2 vans ending up on their lid’s – according to a competitor who had witnessed the carnage) on the M25, holding up the organisers the first cars rolled out onto the start line, first of which was a flipped MG, driven by a MG/Lotus test driver who set the pace, followed by the v8 American truck who just couldn’t get the tail to step out, maybe if he had both hands in the truck to start with it could have helped. Next were the 3 Dutch guys in their 3 BMW’s, who were really impressive, first run and all 3 came sideways through the series of bend’s, even show boating with their hands out their windows and sun roofs!!!!!!!!! Next was a R33 Skyline who was taking his first fun very carefully, but then next up was Rob Huff (touring car guru) in his little red MG, who like the Dutch was faultless and impressive, if not as sideways! A couple of high powered bm’s followed including a M3 & M5 who were both trying, next was the caterham superlight, which just wouldn’t unstuck no matter how hard it was pushed, it was defiantly the quickest through the bends however! A couple more cars passed through before it was time for the Option Motorsport crew in their series of Silvia’s and 3 Series BM, all of which were truly impressive, and it was obvious these guys knew what they were doing! Next up was what looked like a rally prepared Vauxhall corsa, he came round the first corner sideways then give it a big flick on the next kink, he was totally square, I think everyone thought he had lost it but the car seemed to pull him back into line automatically, he did this a further few times and the same happened, straightened back up & he proceeded. A couple more cars passed through including a MG ZT, another Caterham, a lovely yellow TVR, and a Toyota pick up… The again the MG came round for a second go, this time he was fully committed, flat through the first corner, flat through the second, line all wrong for the third, I could see it all happening before it did, he realised he was on the wrong line, he braked, TOO LATE!!!, he turned & headed straight for the tyres in front of where we were standing, I had my camera in my hand but I was standing in total disbelief, still locked up, across the short patch of grass, still locked up, *BANG*!!!!!!!!!, at least 20 foot in the air after the tyres were basically used as a ramp, it came back down and landed back down on top of the tyres, but with the angle it landed in quickly ended up on its roof!! I finally woke up and pressed the button, but only got a piccie of the moment it landed on its roof. The marshal’s were, I think, in the same boat as me, standing in disbelief, and took a while to respond, but the driver quickly scrambled out through the passenger door. After pulling the MG back onto its wheels (well 3 of them) it was pulled back to the pits where it was swiftly put in a covered trailer. Then a JCB digger was brought up to try and pull the barrier back into a semi straight line, which just wasn’t happening, which just showed everyone how hard the guy had hit it, they then got a few posts to prop against the back hold the barrier semi straight.

After the accident with the mg, and the mess getting cleared up the cars got back on track, a big jag (which turned out later to be an automatic) again totally faultless, and certainly impressive! Then a Sierra Cosworth 2 door, on his first run, understandably spun as he was pushing hard and hadn’t learnt the track, entertaining none the less. Then back with the R33 Skyline who had got at home with the surface & was pushing harder now, (he may have had a skyline but without much commitment, he certainly wasn’t any sidewaysbuff!!) Then again the American truck returned, this time trying with both hands in the truck, but still to no avail, he couldn’t get the thing to go sideways at all, some noise off the engine however. Next up was a brand new Subaru Impreza WR1, supplied & driven by Prodrive, this guy was mental, he obviously had played with his active central diff, and had 65% of the power going to the rear wheels, he threw it at the corner and went round it totally sideways with all 4 wheels spinning, defiantly worth the massive applause he received! Next up was the old skool, Mitsubishi Starion who was on his first run and spun in the middle of the corner but at the exit to the corner applied the ‘h’ brake for a bit of crowd entertainment with a lot of circles! The Dutch guys returned for their second runs, again, totally amazing, these guys looked so comfortable with the high speed drifts they were performing, the M3, excellent through the first series of bend but miss-calculated the big sweeper, and ended up going round half the corner with his front right wheel on the grass and his hand again out the window!! Then what else could follow the excellent performances of the Dutch but Mr Mental in the WR1, even more balls out than his first run, again the tvr came around for another run, spinning a couple of times, but providing the crowd with a donut when he found his bearings again. The Option Motorsport guys came round & showed us all again faultless driving, constantly drifting from one corner to the next, don’t think these guys were going straight at all other than in the pits. The Big jag, R33, and corsa all ran again with their own styles and tactic’s, until the WR1 again returned, and if we all thought the WR1’s last run was ball’s out, we were wrong, flat out sideways this time, with the tail on the outside of the bend kicking up dust & gravel, truly balls out & scored 10 for entertainment with me! The standard of driving was very high with the Evo 320 making an appearance, but no-where near as impressive as its WR1 rival. The Vauxhall Monaro that had been “driving” round the corners all morning came round again, it didn’t want to play and the driver was under talented for the job, as it fish tailed out of the corner and spun into the gravel on the exit of the corner, it was well bedded in and took a while to get out.

Before we knew it, it was lunchtime and all the competitors headed to the executives suite for their lunch, so were again took a dander down to the pits and had a nosey around. After lunch was round 3, where the top 20 drivers were taken out of their own cars and put into Honda S2000’s, these cars throughout the day looked had to provoke out of line, I assume that’s why they were being used, if u could drift it, you could drift anything! The driving got more balls out as the competitors tried harder & harder to get the cars to step out of line, and more and more spins were happening.

Although the cars where still going round and their was abit of action left before the winner was decided we decided to leave as we were all feeling tired after getting up at 5:45 am, and less than 6 hours of sleep, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the airport, we’d also heard lots of stories about the time it would take to get to the airport so we decided to be safe than sorry!

Over all the day was a top day, well worth the visit. But unfortunately the day just wasn’t the same without, Mark Luney, (Sidewaysbuff), the only Northern Irish competitor who couldn’t make it due to a recent RTA.  Lets hope he makes a speedy recovery!

There’s always next year!

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