Last year saw the first Mini Festival at Oulton Park and I had so much fun I decided to go again this year even before leaving the premises. I was not disappointed.
Being a real morning person I managed to arrive quite early again, with some time to spare before the first qualification started. My best friend and I made it to our grand stand (Old Hall Corner this time) where we enjoyed a lot of fun, sun and – most importantly – Minis. This year there was no race for the pre-1966 Minis, but there were plenty of other classic Minis left to admire.
We watched the qualifying sessions for Mini Miglia, Celtic Speed Scottish Mini Cooper Cup, Power Maxed Mini Challenge – F56/JCW and Mini Se7en. One thing was clear, they all wanted to win and gave it their all. Some classic Minis seemed to come through the corner practically sideways and a few were so enthusiastic they had to take to the grass just after the corner exit.
We stayed at Old Hall Corner for almost the entire morning. The Mini Miglia race was the first race of the day.
Last year I mentioned one car being decidedly last in the pack, but clearly being driven as if the man’s life depended on it. We had another one this year: #53 driven by Niven Burge (according to the programme; the car states Nath Burge). I have to admit that I have the utmost respect for backmarkers. It must be so easy to just give up and cruise around the track. This did not happen. This Mini came around the corner with some speed and sometimes screeching tyres. There does not seem to be any less enthusiasm at the back of the pack as there is at the front. It’s not only admirable, it’s also good fun to watch.
Even though we are not at all fond of the new Minis the qualifying sessions were quite something to watch. Because the Old Hall Corner is the first corner after the start/finish line, you get to see the scramble of the start (and the mess that sometimes comes with it). During qualifying racing was also quite close at times. During the Mini Miglia race the cars at the front were so close that for a few laps we held our breath every time they passed, just hoping no one would get hurt.
You’ll be happy to hear no one did get hurt…not in that corner at least.
The sound of the new Minis is very different from the classic Minis. They all seem to have the same sound and you can barely hear them change gears, whereas the classic Minis seem to ‘bwaaaaarp’ their way around the track. The new Minis also seem slower. I can’t figure out why that is. Their engines are quite a bit stronger than those of the classic Minis, but I found the new ones much easier to photograph despite the expected higher speed. Maybe it has to do with their size.
Nevertheless, the new Minis had some incredibly close and exciting racing going on and I enjoyed watching them very much.
Around lunch time we decided to have a look around as there’s always some off-track entertainment. There was, of course, club parking with many beautifully kept classic Minis on display. There was a small trade village, where I got my hands on a 1:43 model of the #97 Aston Martin (Le Mans 2012 edition). Due to the amount of on-track excitement I had to give the stunt show a miss.
There were lots of things to do for children (bouncy castle, anyone?) and even live music inside the restaurant.
The restaurant deserves a mention, by the way. I’ve been to quite a few events of all types (not just race or car related) and often food and drink is overpriced and of medium to poor quality. Like last year I found the food at Chequers Restaurant very reasonably priced and of good quality. If you’re at the same location for several hours (we stayed at Oulton Park for 7 hours!) this matters. It’s very nice to be able to escape the activities a bit and enjoy a break and nice atmosphere.
Back to the action: the off-track entertainment I enjoyed most was the rally demonstration. Three classic Minis made their way around a track, throwing up dust (and grass at times) and with their tyres screaming for mercy (but they got none).
In the afternoon we watched the Power Maxed Mini Challenge and Mini Se7en races. We found a different spot (Clay Hill, if anyone wants to look it up) where we could sit in the grass. This was much closer to the track than the grandstand, so we had a completely different view.
One thing I did notice: no matter where you were, you could hear the cars go around wherever they were on track.
Additionally I have to say the commentators did a good job. Most of the time I had a good idea what was going on and they definitely kept everyone updated on the front runners.
After 7 hours we were both sufficiently sun burnt, so we called it quits. There were 2.5 more hours of fun to be had if you were up for it.
I think I can safely say we are very likely going again next year. It’s too much fun not to…