AMOC Racing, Oulton Park, 12 May 2018

The Aston Martin Owners Club 2018 racing season kicked off at Oulton Park in grand style.
It was incredibly busy, probably due to the fact this meeting was held during a VW weekend. However, all these Volkswagen fans certainly seemed to enjoy what was going on on track! Throughout the day I saw many people settled in front of their VW vans or somewhere on the grass near the track watching the races.
An additional bonus for the Aston Martin fans was that there was quite a bit more off track entertainment, market stalls and food/drink stalls. And of course the atmosphere was even better than usual.

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This time I was lucky to have a media pass, which meant I could go into the ‘danger zone’ between the armco and the mesh fence. If, as a spectator, you do not already appreciate the work the marshals do, you certainly will if you ever make it to their area. They were very helpful and explained the rules to me, but I did also see them glance in my direction every now and then. I can imagine they don’t really need the additional work of baby sitting media people, but they are there to ensure everything goes smoothly and safely.
One downside to being allowed pretty much anywhere is that I went where I couldn’t hear the commentators. So, unfortunately, I had to miss information on who was in what position or what happened to a car that I couldn’t see coming around again, for example.

This time there was no pre-war race, which I thought was a pity. However, a new race – two, in fact – was the Welsh Sports & Saloon Car Championship. The grid is quite a mix of cars, but it’s great fun to watch.

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My favourite car, the Aston Martin DB4 Lightweight, was once again present. That car always puts a smile on my face, simply because it is stunning.
The other DB4 was also a very welcome sight, but I think my favourite surprise was the 1952 DB2 which raced in both the Equipe Pre ’63 and the Jack Fairman Cup (inc. the JEC XK & Hawthorn Challenges). As you can see by the name, they do tend to put a few races together. This results in rather large grids which of course creates more interesting racing. I mean, how many cars can fit through the first corner at the same time? Even when the cars start stretching their wheels and the grid spreads out there isn’t a very long time that you don’t have anything to watch on track. In fact, with the visibility at Oulton Park being quite good, you can probably always find a car to watch.

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During lunch there was a track parade. It was a little bit disappointing to see they only got two laps and I do hope this was not due to the fact there were not as many cars in the parade as I have seen at other race meetings. Thankfully some of the drivers understand the attending petrolheads really well and held back every now and then, only to speed up and let the engine roar. If any of those drivers reads this: thank you. It was awesome.

In 2018 AMOC has five races planned. I’ve been attending only a few years now, but enjoy this so much I hope to be at every race this year. If you still haven’t been to one and you happen to love Astons, I suggest you go. Friendly atmosphere, great racing, great variety of cars on track, in the paddock and the parking areas and – most importantly – it is all about Aston Martin. What’s not to love?


The 88th International Motor Show,Geneva

This year’s edition of the International Motor Show in Geneva is already in full swing, a few days before the public arrive.
Yesterday was Press Day 1 and it was busy.
Last year I was lucky enough to have a press pass, but could only go for the larger part of Press Day 1. This year I’m better prepared and will attend both Press Days and part of the first public day on Thursday.

If I had to summarise the first press day I’d say that the focus seems to be quite heavily on electric vehicles and (eventually) autonomous driving. But not all companies are interested. Mazda certainly stood out with their statement that they will not be focusing on electric, autonomous driving, because surveys have shown that 2/3 of drivers want to drive themselves, even if autonomous driving is available and that they still firmly believe in the petrol engine. So, Mazda concludes, they will keep on improving the petrol engine and supply products for this demand.
Enter SkyActiv-X, a new version of Mazda’s SkyActiv engine, but now with fuel compression. They claim that will bring even better fuel efficiency. I am quite interested in that. I currently drive my second Mazda and from the previous generation to the current one fuel economy has improved considerably.

The new Lexus UX.
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Lexus is of course known for their hybrid vehicles, but will be venturing into the world of autonomous and fully electric vehicles. Their presentation had a large emphasis on their Limitless range, of which the newly presented Lexus UX (see above) is one of the models. The term ‘Limitless’ refers to the fact that you can choose any power unit Lexus provides and they will build it into your Lexus of choice. That gives quite some flexibility and I can see why they hope to reach 100,000 cars sold in Europe within a few years time.

Ford has presented their new cars, including a new Mustang which is a celebration of a very famous car (Bullit, anyone?). I did go see it and, to be honest, I’m not impressed. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think the old American muscle cars were more interesting than their more modern successors. Unfortunately that is the case here. From the front the car looks rather bland, without character. From the rear it’s yet another Mustang. No innovation there at all. And it doesn’t hold a candle to the original, no matter how many family members of Steve McQueen they throw at it. Sorry, Ford, try again.

Volkswagen is slowly becoming one of my favourites. I was never a fan before, but since the CC and now the Arteon they have my attention.
The new I.D. Vizzion concept stood out. This concept is an electric car with autonomous driving abilities, however, VW claim it has artificial intelligence. As an example: it should be able to calculate (‘see’) where the road markings are (or should be, if they are vague, damaged or missing) and keep the car on the road in the correct lane. As they explained it in the brochure: other autonomous cars have loads of programming code to account for all possibilities you may encounter on the road. If the programmers miss any eventuality, you have a problem. Volkswagen have therefore tried to make their car more intelligent and self-learning (this is getting scary, right?) to ensure it can truly handle every situation. I would love to see that in action!

The Volkswagen I.D. Vizzion concept.
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Let’s look at Toyota. They too are looking to go further and further into hybrid and electric vehicle creation. Autonomous cars are also on the map. They brought several concepts (called ‘i-Drive’). The thing is that most companies, like Toyota, bring concepts, but you can’t actually try the cars yet. So the experience may still be far away. Toyota found a way around that, after a fashion.
They brought a virtual experience which allows you to be in the self-driving car (first in the front seat, then in the back) and see what it would be like. The surroundings presented to you are not very realistic, but you do get a feel of what it would be like. The Fine-Comfort Ride concept allows everyone to turn their seats so they would be able to have a meeting in the car while it takes them to their destination. The windows can be used for presentations etc. Cutting edge, it would seem, but I wonder how far away this is?

I know there are companies that already provide glass/windows with technology that allows you to manipulate the display etc., but to build that into a car?
Interesting stuff, nonetheless.

Last, but never least: I had a look at the new and bigger Aston Martin stand. They promised surprises and they brought them.
I have to be honest, the Vantage race car was revealed alongside the road going version some weeks ago, so not much of a surprise there. And we were already told about the Valkyrie track version (AMR Pro, what else?). But I think no one had yet seen the track Valkyrie. The bright colour and additional wing and fin look great on her, but I am mostly curious about the specs. The road going Valkyrie is insane, to say the least, so how much more can this version do? It has not yet been revealed, unfortunately.

The new Lagonda concept car.
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I guess the main surprise was the Lagonda concept car. The aim is to revive Lagonda as a fully electric luxury brand and the cars will be autonomous.
I managed to have a closer look at the car and I have to admit I’m not that impressed. Yes, it’s big (a bonus in my books), but it is not very good looking. Of course everyone has their opinion. The car was greeted with several whoops from the attending press, so quite a few people like it. Let’s keep in mind this is a concept, so at this point it’s hard to tell what it will look like when it’s about to go into production.
Apparently this car was created from the inside out. Again, I am not sure what to think. It seems very minimalistic inside, I’d even say rather empty. I don’t find it very inviting at all. But of course this is due to my taste. I like big cars to have bulky interiors. I find that those look comfortable (and usually are). The large open space in the new Lagonda is strange to me. At this point I can’t say if I simply have to get used to it or if I will never like it. Time will tell.

So far the Geneva International Motor Show has given me plenty of things to think about, but mainly about electric and autonomous cars. I am a petrolhead. I prefer the smell of petrol, the roar of the engine and I love driving. I fully expect to have an electric car at some point, if the government gets their way at the times they currently envision to make electric cars compulsory. At this time I’m not looking forward to it, even though I am fascinated by the progress being made. I also wonder what brands like Mazda are going to do if electric becomes compulsory. Will they come to the party too late or do they have a trick or two up their sleeves? Or, perhaps, they will pull out of the European market? I doubt that, but the future is fairly uncertain and very interesting!

Driving, but not in a real car

On 2 February I drove an Aston Martin GT3 race car on the VLN set up on the Nürburgring.
The catch is that I never left the UK.

I went to Base Performance Simulators in Banbury to see for myself what driving in a simulator is like. And it’s a lot harder than you may expect.
When I called I simply requested an Aston Martin (what else?) on the Nordschleife. The reason for this is that, as you may know, I have done one lap of the Nordschleife in the Ringtaxi. At the time I felt I wouldn’t want to drive there myself, but – as it happens when time passes – I have change my mind and now would like to try. However, the Nordschleife is a notorious track and I am not confident enough to take it on at this moment in time. So when the opportunity arose to try a simulator session at Base Performance I took it with both hands.

When I got there I was introduced to my instructor/coach, Dave, who explained how the simulator worked. He also told me the simulator had been set up as a GT3 Aston as these are easier to drive than the GT4. I was thankful for that pretty soon!

It’s interesting to be told your feet are too small. I usually don’t have any issues with my size 6 feet, but apparently I would have a bit of an issue braking because my feet didn’t fully cover the pedal. Dave turned out to be 100% correct: I had to put more of an effort in than people with bigger feet and eventually resorted to moving my foot so I pressed on the brake pedal a bit higher. That certainly made it easier.

The first surprise came when the session started: having three screens made me seriously dizzy. Dave had to switch the two side screens off to make it even bearable. This meant that I lost my peripheral vision, which is not ideal when going through corners. It took me approximately one lap (which is rather large!) before I managed to deal with the vision. I have to admit it never did go normal, there was always a bit of an effect, but it didn’t hamper me…thankfully.

My second surprise was how heavy the steering wheel was. Even though the Aston has power steering the tyres would be big and have no profile (slicks, as these are called). I hadn’t taken that into account, of course. At then end of the session my arms were quite tired.

I am not particularly short (1.70m), but the position within the car is quite low. As a result I couldn’t see the track at all when going uphill. Very interesting, as you will not know what’s coming next…unless you know the track very well, and I don’t.
I also kept on crashing in the same corner. The reason being that I approached it while driving on the right side of the track and this was a righ hand turn. As a result I turned in too fast and too sharp and skidded nicely to my left into the armco. Oops!
Even though I couldn’t see the track until very shortly before this corner, I don’t want to use that as an excuse. After a few laps I knew it was coming and I made the same mistake every single time. I believe I managed to just stay clear of the armco, but was still on the grass. I need more practice.

All in all, it was a great experience and I am considering repeating it. One or two motion sickness pills should help with the nausea, so I can use all three screens. And I intend to do my homework and study the track before any future attempts.
I managed 4 laps and went from 12:29 to 10:40. My aim is not to drive one lap as fast as possible, but to get an idea on how to drive that track safely. Chances are therefore quite high that I will try another session so I can eventually move on to learning to drive there in a real car. Watch this space!

Track experience #5 – The best yet!

1 March 2016
Aston Martin unveiled the DB11 at the Geneva International Motor Show.
It was around lunch time and I was – quite illegally – watching it unfold at work on my mobile. For a very long time indeed the DB4 had been my favourite Aston Martin; my favourite car even, but now? I haven’t forgotten the DB4, but the DB11 stole my heart.

5 March 2016
My best friend and I went to Geneva to see the new Aston for ourselves. We ended up spending about 45 minutes at the stand across several visits that day. We marvelled at the engine which was on display (it’s big!), the car’s cut out model, showing the technology in the bodywork, and of course the DB11s on display.

The DB11 on the Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. stand at the Geneva International Motor Show in 2016.
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13 January 2018
It’s almost 2 years after the car was unveiled in Geneva and I’ve seen my fair share of DB11s – on the road, but also at the factory in Gaydon.
On this day, though, it is time to drive it!

My best friend and I drove 4 laps (approximately 6 miles) each in the car. This is the V12 version, so not the recently released V8 car. Of course there is nothing wrong with a V8, but I was very curious about the 5.2 litre V12 that AML built for the DB11. Apparently it can go from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds. I think that makes it the fastest car I’ve driven so far.
I was not disappointed.

I already knew that when you’re inside the car it doesn’t feel very large at all, even though it is by no means a small car. Being an Aston Martin it’s obviously also not a particularly light car, despite the fact that the DB11 was created as light as possible. When you drive it however it feels like it weighs nothing. The moment you take your foot off the brake it starts rolling quite gently, but when you put your foot down it runs off with you. What a drive!

The Aston Martin DB11 at Prestwold.
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The Prestwold track is approximately 1.3 miles long, so the straight is not very long. Just before the straight there is a safe zone where you are allowed to go only between 40 and 50 mph. Thankfully the DB11 speeds up quite quickly, but the straight is not long enough to make it to 100 mph before the braking point – almost though.
Since I know the track quite well now I am certainly improving which allows me to enjoy the drive more. The shift paddles are not a novelty for me, so that is no longer a distraction either.

The DB9 I drove a while ago is of course a few years older than the DB11, but since they are both Aston Martins I feel it’s fairly safe to compare them. Like the DB9, the DB11 doesn’t dive down when you brake hard. Braking is very level and comfortable.
The DB11 did feel a lot faster, but also lighter than the DB9. If the interior didn’t very clearly look like Aston Martin you could be mistaken and feel it’s a much smaller car. Only when I had to park it did I realise this car has a very long nose. But even at slow speeds it handles really well and as light as a feather.

Overall the handling is very smooth, so you have to waste no brain capacity on driving. It is simply natural. It makes the drive the best I’ve had so far and I got out of the car with pain in my heart.
I’m guessing I will repeat this track experience. It was just too good not to.

The onboard video didn’t turn out perfect, so I have it in three parts. You can watch it here:
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3

Factory tour on repeat, but not the same

No matter how much I like factory tours and which companies I visit, Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. in Gaydon will probably always be my favourite.
Enter factory visit number four.

One of the reasons this doesn’t get old is that each tour is different. This time we met up with Steve, who showed us around twice before and Sam, who is an apprentice. It must have been our lucky day, because the group consisted of only five people. Out of these only one had not been to the factory before. And that shifts the focus of the tour entirely.

Two of the cars in the reception area.
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The usual programme starts with a drink in the atrium, followed by a quick overview of the company’s history and then the factory tour which typically takes up 60 to 90 minutes. This time we started the tour a little bit late, because Steve and Sam gave us some insight into their respective careers. Steve has been with the company for quite some time now and Sam is one of the many apprentices. It was very interesting to hear how progressing in a career has changed through time, but also to get further details on how the apprenticeships work – something Aston Martin is quite keen on.

We also spent more time than normal at the heritage line. The boards on the wall have now been replaced by new ones, allowing space for the latest developments like the DB11 and Valkyrie.
The cars on display in the line were all familiar to me, but still a very welcome sight. As one of the guests in our group has a keen interest in classic cars some interesting views were shared about classic cars, but also how the Aston Martin brand has survived where other car manufacturers have not.

The heritage time line
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The ‘brand’ Aston Martin is something fairly new and possibly alien to the public. Of course AML is a car manufacturer, but it has been branching out for some time now and should now really be seen as a luxury brand. In case you are not familiar with this: you can now buy an Aston Martin powerboat, a submersible, a pram, clothes, travel accessories and much more. Actually, it has already gone as far as luxury condos!

Even though we were at the factory only eight months ago, some things had changed a little. It’s quite visible that Aston Martin is a company which is moving quite quickly at the moment. For one, this was the first time we had trouble finding a parking space!
As an enthusiast it’s great to see it so busy and that so much is going on. It’s quite evident from the various Aston related social media accounts as well.

Aston Martin DB11 Volante
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During the time we spent in the factory we had the luxury of discussing some current developments. On my car related social media I have not yet spoken out about the news regarding Aston Martin, Red Bull and F1. If we are to believe the media Aston Martin will be developing an engine to be used by Red Bull’s F1 team. Judging by the timeframe alone that would seem unlikely, but you’d also have to consider the amount of money that would require. In addition I have to admit that I find F1 a bit of a beast. If things go well in F1 world the fame is quite far reaching. However, if it doesn’t go well, who knows what damage will be done?

As such, the entire development worries me a little and I found out that I’m by no means the only one. Of course I’m fully aware there’s only so much the public can possibly be told, but it’s to Steve’s credit that he tried to put things a bit into perspective and reduce the concerns expressed by one of the other guests and me. I think it’s sufficient to say that we should certainly keep in mind that media have not changed; you cannot take what’s printed for gospel. And somehow it is comforting to be told to ‘just trust us’. Actually, I have no issues with that at all, because in recent years it has become apparent we (the Aston Martin fans/enthusiasts) can trust the people within the company to do the right thing.

One of the new developments this year is the AMR brand.
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It may sometimes seem difficult to understand what’s going on or where they are going (yes, I did raise my eyebrows the first time I heard about Miami), but it seems to be working out for the better.
Like everyone else I will have to wait and see what comes next, but it is very clear that a lot of exciting new things will be coming our way. And I’ll be coming back for another factory tour to see it happen (a little) with my own eyes.

Last AMOC racing meeting of 2017

Perhaps it sounds a bit dramatic: ‘last’ AMOC racing meeting of 2017, but unfortunately it is true. I wish it wasn’t, because – as always – it was a wonderful event.
I’ve been to quite a few AMOC race meetings now (last year and this year) and I am never disappointed. Some races happen every time, but they also manage to come up with different combinations or add a different race. In this case, for example, the last race of the day was a 3 hour relay.
And, as before, there is much more on track than Aston Martins. So much to see!

This Aston Martin V8 Vantage has a very unusual colour, which came out even better when it was on track racing in the sunshine.
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It’s always a good idea to get to the track early for events like this.
Chances are it won’t be too busy, so if you’re early you have plenty of time and space to walk around the paddock and get a good look around.

Some of the race cars will be in their boxes, with others in tents or in the open air somewhere else in the paddock. Either way: race cars galore!
The cars entered in the AMOC Intermarque Championship, Aston Martin GT Challenge and Pre-War Team Challenge are by now well-known to me. Especially in the case of the pre-war cars I specifically seek them out. These are, as the name of the race suggests, all pre-1940s and without exception stunning. For this day there were 16 cars on the grid, because the pre-war race was combined with the St John Horsfall Memorial Trophy. The majority of cars were Aston Martins and Bentleys, but the others (Invicta, Talbot, Alta and Austin) are equally wonderful to watch.

The Pre-War Team Challenge & The St John Horsfall Memorial Trophy is like stepping back in time.
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Of course the attending AMOC members brought their cars and these were on display throughout the day. They also went on track during the track parade, which is always a wonderful sight. Many, many Aston Martins of all types and ages go around the track for a few laps. In most cars you can see smiling people (no one is in the car alone) and around the track the smiles are returned, especially when the engines are being revved, generating gorgeous sounds.
The track parade is during lunch time, so if you decide not to get a meal you can walk around the paddock again. However this time you can go into the boxes to see the race cars up close, or walk to the pit wall and view the parade from there. The atmosphere is relaxed throughout and the owners really don’t mind if you take photos of their cars during the break. I personally love going into garage after garage and see the cars up close. I tend to find my favourites first and then have a look at as many additional (for me sometimes new) cars.

The first race was before lunch, so after lunch I had to quickly make my way back to the grand stand to watch the remaining races.
This time the afternoon races were a bit eventful. During the Pre-War Team Challenge two cars were fighting a bit too hard for the same part of the track, resulting in a crash. It didn’t seem to serious. The drivers were out of the cars quite quickly and the cars were retrieved later. However it does make you think about the question: should a classic race car be in a museum or should it be raced?
On the one hand I believe they should be raced. It’s what they were built for. But when you see two come together the first thought is ‘they should put them in a museum’. It’s a question that will be answered differently by everyone and, if you’re like me, the answer may change depending on the situation.

The cars are lining up for the start of the track parade.
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Speaking of crashes, the AMOC Intermarque Championship/GT Challenge didn’t even finish one lap. On the first lap several cars came together, causing some serious damage on some who could not continue in the race, and this caused the red flag to come out. Even though these cars are considerably younger than the pre-war cars, it is still very painful to see a beautiful Aston Martin with damage on almost all sides. I saw one of the cars that could not take part in the restarted race afterwards in the paddock and I can confess it almost brought tears to my eyes.
It was also an eye opener, as I could see underneath the car’s bonnet and it seemed the engine was unaffected due to additional bars added to the engine bay.
Also not unimportant: all drivers are fine. Some even managed to patch up the car and still compete.

This particular race was absolutely spectacular. Two Ferraris were battling for the lead, weaving their way through a very large grid. This battle continued until the chequered flag. One of the cars spun and lost the lead quite late in the race, near where I was watching. These people may not be professional race car drivers, but they do know how to race! Traffic was very effectively used to keep the opponent behind and next traffic was the cause of the second placed car catching up. The applause by all the people on the grand stand was very well deserved.

These two Ferraris were battling until the very end of the race.
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This season has truly gone out with a bang and I am a little bit sad to see the end of it. Thankfully there will be more racing next year and I will certainly be there to watch it!

Mini Festival, Oulton Park, 19 August 2017

This year’s Mini Festival of Oulton Park was a strange one. I don’t want to link it to the weather (even though it is – a little), but it never did settle down. We’ve had rain, wind and sunshine in any combination. A lot of umbrellas did not survive the day.
It was very good to see how many people braved the weather, though, as even at the end of the day it was still quite busy.

During the very first race of the day a four car crash happened which took quite some time to clear up. One of the new Minis (or Binis as they are also known) went off track just after Knickerbrook, went partly onto the grass and lost it. It had been raining before, but the track had dried enough. However, the grass was still quite wet, which is very likely what caused the loss of control of the car. The car bounced against the tyre wall, right back onto the track where it was collected by a few oncoming cars. The result was a mess which also required the assistance of two ambulances.
Unfortunately I did not hear anything while there or could find anything online about how the two drivers who were taken away in said ambulances are doing now. I’ll go with ‘no news is good news’ and hope for the best.
The additional result of this was that all the races afterwards were affected. Most were shortened.

Great teamwork from everyone at the track to deal with the aftermath of a crash during the first race.
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I have to say I was very impressed with the teamwork of everyone involved.
The marshals immediately made their way to the area and started directing the oncoming race cars to ensure the recovery trucks and medical car could get through. The course maintenance team arrived on the scene and just started fixing the barrier, no prompt required. And afterwards, as you can see above, everyone worked together to get the cars on the trucks and out of the way.
It is very common to hear the commentators thank the marshals during race day, but this really drove the point home.

The day remained strange throughout with many races ending with a red flag or interrupted by a safety car period.

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It’s easy to mark the day as a loss, no fun or even a waste of time. But that wouldn’t be true.
The racing I have seen was, as always, brilliant. Whether the cars were classic or new Minis, the racing was usually close. Each driver out there seemed motivated to make the most of it. Of course that at times results in going off track or worse, but that’s part of the entertainment (as long as no one gets hurt).

In addition the club parking has expanded. The club area is quite large, but there was also a parking area for Minis whose owners are not a member of a club. At the end of the day all of the Minis were allowed to go onto the track for the parade. That was a large number of cars!

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Overall I have to say the day was quite well organised. The way things were amended and picked up after the first crash of the day was quite impressive. Apart from the weather being the main cause of further issues, we had races to watch all day long.
The off track activities seem to be expanding as well. It’s not my cup of tea, but if it is yours, it could be a good additional reason to go next year.