British Motor Museum

It has been quite some years since I first visited the British Motor Museum.
After attending the AMHT’s 19th birthday party we found the museum to be on the way home, so we stopped for a visit.

I remember the museum being in the same building it is now, but containing considerably fewer cars. Now it is a treasure trove!
There are hundreds of beautiful examples from British car history across various categories. In addition there is now a second building open to the public which holds more cars from the collection. The ground floor is entirely dedicated to Jaguar. Upstairs there is a variety of marques represented covering decades.

The Jaguar E-type is of course very well known, but I prefer the D-type ‘long nose’ as pictured here.
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As is to be expected, there are quite a few classic Minis on display. Three of these are Monte Carlo Rally winners. I always did like a Mini with seemingly too many headlights. They just pull off the rally look quite well.
There are also several film cars; from Back to the Future to Thunderbirds and Judge Dredd.
And let’s not forget the speed record attempts! Those cars look positively futuristic. They are also considerably smaller than I imagined.
There is a cinema which shows car and race related old films all day long. Obviously I didn’t want to stay in the cinema too long, but it is tempting. There are some interesting features on offer.

Two of the classic Minis that won the Monte Carlo Rally in the 60s.
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I realise I cannot possibly do the place any justice by trying to describe everything I saw. There is simply too much.
It’s wonderful to see so many marques represented that no longer exist. There are also many that were still around in my lifetime, but are now gone. It’s a bit nostalgic, but also a wonderful trip down memory lane.

The information provided is quite extensive, which I always find important in a museum. I suppose the only ‘downside’ is that I couldn’t really find a logical route through the museum. That didn’t make the experience any less fun, however, as you can easily find your own way. With a map you can even decide what marques or categories you’d like to see first.

In 1907 the car’s interior and ‘dashboard’ were distinctly different from now! (Rover 20hp)
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Even though we had several hours to explore the museum we did not see everything. This is a museum I’ll want to visit again, not in the least due to the sheer number of cars and variety. There is a car to love for every petrolhead out there.


AMHT’s 19th birthday party

The Aston Martin Heritage Trust (AMHT) was founded in 1998, which means it was time for a party.
Located in what is known as ‘the barn’ in Drayton St Leonard (Oxfordshire) is the Aston Martin Museum and the trust’s archive. For some time I have wanted to go there, but due to the fact the museum was only open during weekdays I hadn’t had the chance yet. This was the perfect opportunity to go.

I don’t know why, but I expected the museum to be larger. This is perhaps because the photos I see give the idea it’s a spacious place, but it actually is not. It is also very full. There are seven cars (for argument’s sake: let’s call the clay model and cutout cars too) in there, taking up most of the space.
In addition there is a very large number of memoribilia: from car models to games, from trophies to furniture. Upstairs is the archive with a wealth of information. And it’s all about Aston Martin.
So yes, this is probably what heaven would look like to me.

The A3 is the oldest Aston Martin in the world and one of only five prototypes created by Bamford & Martin.
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On the trust’s birthday they unveiled a new exhibit: the Vanquish Volante which was driven by Daniel Ricciardo in the YouTube video with a caravan race (yes, really). It was a test car and it sounds like it has been through a lot (filled with water?). Nevertheless, it is a beautiful car and a lovely piece of unique history the AMHT has now added to their collection.

They do have more cars, but they are elsewhere. Some are in storage, some are at Aston Martin’s headquarters at Gaydon. I do hope AMHT will find bigger premises to move to so we can see more on display.

Aston Martin Vanquish Volante – the new exhibit
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Of course several visitors arrived in their own Aston Martins, adding even more fun to a pretty good party. There is a lot to take in due to the sheer volume and even after spending two hours there I know I haven’t seen everything. It was a joy to finally see the collection which is currently on display and I will certainly make an effort to go back at some point.

Nürburgring – Ring Taxi and a 6 hour race

For the fourth time since 2015 I travelled to the Nürburgring. It is one of my favourite tracks, mainly because it is so accessible (even if you don’t have a ticket) and there is lots to do. In addition it is in a beautiful area of Germany; the surroundings are stunning. The atmosphere has so far been very relaxed during race weekends and I enjoy driving a rented car from Düsseldorf Airport to the track.
Last year I was lucky enough to find a hotel at walking distance from the track which of course enhances the luxury aspect even more.
With a visit of five days it is practically a holiday and for me it truly is just that.

Part of the Müllenbachschleife and the surrounding area in the background.
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Like previous years I went for the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, the World Endurance Championship race. Unlike before, however, I went one day early and arrived on the Thursday. This happened to be my birthday and I treated myself to something special: a lap around the Nordschleife, also known as Ring Taxi. I opted for an Audi R8 V10 for additional enjoyment (the ‘standard’ car is a BMW).

The Nordschleife is the largest part of the Nürburgring. It is visible from the Müllenbachschleife, but I had not been there yet. It is quite thrilling to go to such an iconic track with such a rich history, but also a reputation of being tricky to drive and downright dangerous.
Of course I trusted my driver to be experienced, but when we arrived there were well over 100 cars out on track and obviously I didn’t know how many of those drivers knew what they were doing. This track is notorious for having very few run off areas, so there were some nerves before we took off.

The video can be accessed by clicking the link above, but I have to say that the video doesn’t do the experience any justice. There is no indication on the video how fast we were going and I only peeked every now and then, as I didn’t want to miss the drive itself. I do know that we went into some corners that seemed safe at 50 km/h with a speed of 90 km/h or more and on the final straight we did reach 260 km/h. The speed was also noticeable under braking. I am by no means a feeble female, but I was shaken in every direction in corners and especially under braking. The pressure when speeding up was also considerable and, to be honest, very nice. And of course there is the roar of the engine…

It’s not cheap, but if you get the opportunity I would recommend this experience. It is nothing short of awesome.

One of the Porsches which couldn’t keep all wheels on the track at the Veedol chicane.
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The rest of my stay (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) were all about the WEC 6 hour race.
The weather was changing throughout the weekend, including some serious rain, but Sunday was fairly cool and, at times, windy.
Throughout the weekend I explored various parts of the track and so enjoyed different views wherever I went. The support races were once again very entertaining.
Especially seeing the Porsches almost jumping through the Veedol chicane was a wonderful sight. They were all racing exceptionally hard and quite a few didn’t make it through the chicane and instead had to cut through or go over the grass.

After attending the 24 Hours of Le Mans I was possibly even more excited about this race. Normally there are several months between the races I go to (Silverstone and then Nürburgring), but Le Mans was still very fresh in my mind.
It was strange to realise this would be Bykolles last race of the 2017 WEC season. They will be focussing on next season and testing their car. Even though they compete in the LMP1 class, their car is not hybrid, so they are practically a subclass by themselves.

The Bykolles LMP1 car.
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This race was unusual in the sense that there was no Full Course Yellow, no safety car and no red flags at all. The result was of course 6 glorious hours of uninterrupted racing. It was a rare treat to see what would happen when teams had the opportunity to fight it out on track without the race-changing possibilities mentioned above. As always it was beautiful to watch and it was a bonus to watch it at such a wonderful track.


AMOC Racing, Snetterton, 8 July 2017

The sun was blazing over Snetterton yesterday, the sky a beautiful blue and white blanket over the track filled with a large variety of cars, old and new.
Since I have now attended a number of AMOC race meetings, I being to recognise some of the cars out there. It just makes it all a bit more familiar. The turnout this time was absolutely amazing. This was possibly the largest number of Aston Martins (racing and attending) I have seen, apart from the Spring Concours, of course.

A (presumably nearby) dealership brought in a ‘few’ Aston Martins for everyone to enjoy. Very cleverly, they also provided a marquee where you could ask about any of the cars for sale and a financial plan, if you require one. It was tempting…

This is the Aston Martin I really want, the DB11. I will keep on dreaming…
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The day was filled to the brim with track activity. Practice first thing in the morning, qualifying sessions immediately after, race 1 before lunch. The other 5 races were in the afternoon. It simply never stopped. Just how we like it, right?
The AMOC Intermarque Championship and GT Challenge were of course the main races, but the other races were certainly just as entertaining and enjoyable.

I have to admit that my favourite non-Aston race was the MRL Historic Touring Car Challenge. I have been car crazy since a very young age (approximately 4) and to see a few Ford Capris out on track absolutely made my day. The MKII Capri was my first car love and I still turn around in the car (only when I’m a passenger of course!) when I see one out and about. In addition there were some Rovers out there too. I remember a neighbour had a big Rover when I was about 8 and I loved it. Add a Mustang and an old Alfa Romeo and you have my attention. It was a wonderfully diverse grid with some astonishingly beautiful and well kept machines.

Another favourite is the 1954 Austin-Healy 100M, driven by Paul Kennelly. He races this car in the AMOC ’50s Sports Cars and it’s always a delight to watch. What a beauty!
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When you go to an AMOC race meeting you’d better skip lunch. Because lunch time is parade time!
I was lucky enough to be part of a parade as a passenger in a beautiful DB7 at Brands Hatch last year. There were about 70 cars on track that time. It seems there were more at Snetterton yesterday, but I honestly didn’t count them. They only got three laps, so I spent all my time enjoying the view and trying to photograph as many as I could.

I did just say that the Capris made my day, but the Capri is no longer my absolute favourite. Aston Martin has the largest part of my car loving heart.
One of the reasons I keep on attending AMOC race meetings is because of the DB4 Lightweight. I cannot express how much I love that car. For a long, long time the DB4 (series 1, I should add) was my favourite Aston Martin and this particular one is just that bit more beautiful.

A firm favourite: the DB4 Lightweight.
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Apart from all the wonderful cars, Aston Martins or otherwise, the races themselves are great fun to watch. I have said this before: it does not matter what level people are racing on, they take their racing seriously. It just makes it great for the spectators as well.
You can see a car lock under braking and the next time they come through the same corner they almost lose the car, just as if they did not already have a moment the lap before. These cars are all being pushed as hard as their drivers can push them.

There’s one more car I want to mention. I am not a big fan of the V8 Astons. Don’t dislike them, but their looks are just not my favourite. And then this one appeared:

The 1972 Aston Martin AMV8 driven by Simon Watts and Roberto Giordanelli.
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Now, is that car not absolutely stunning? I had never seen one of these as a race car before and I think it carries the racing look very well!

And this is another reason AMOC race meetings are the thing for me. In short: AMOC members bring their cars, the racing is amazing and some of the race cars are stunning. What more could you possibly want?


The pros and cons of going to Le Mans

They won it.
Aston Martin Racing won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their class. And I was there when it happened.

It goes without saying that I am very happy about that. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a very hard race to complete, let alone win. She has been referred to as a cruel mistress and not a year goes by without motorsport fans experiencing at least some sympathy for competitors who see their race ended due to misfortune. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. But…is it worth going? I thought about that before I booked, but even more so when I was there. I found out that every reason I could think of to go was also a reason not to. Let me explain.

The GTE Pro class winner: Aston Martin Racing’s #97.
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The Race of all Races

Or, as I like to call her, the Mother of all Races. The 24 Hours of Le Mans started way back in 1923. This year was the 85th time the race was held. It’s a 24 hour endurance race with 60 cars on the grid. In short: it’s a big race.
There are some races that belong on the motorsport fan’s bucket list and this is definitely one of them. You probably should go at least once in your life.

So what are the pros of going? Well, there is obviously nothing that can replace the atmosphere at a race track. When you’re at home watching a race or perhaps with a group of friends, it’s still nothing like the real deal. The track is iconic, which in itself can be another reason to go. And it has a museum which is filled with race cars and other special cars (like a Citroën 2CV which went around the world in the 1950s!). If you’re there you also get a chance to attend the drivers’ parade on Friday evening. If you go early enough, you can also go to the signing session on the Tuesday before the race.

Makes you wonder if there is a con to this? Yes, there is. Strangely enough, if you go to the trace track you see less of the race than you would at home. At home you have television coverage (in most countries, at least) and so many different camera angles. At the track you see the action where you are and nowhere else. Considering Circuit de la Sarthe is almost 8.5 miles (just over 13.5 km) long, there is an awful lot you won’t see, even if you have a massive screen nearby.

A very recent addition to the museum is the race car driven by (among others) Frédéric Sausset – a quadruple amputee – last year. Inspiring to say the least…
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It’s June and it’s in France. Quite a lot of people think that is the perfect combination, but if, like me, you struggle with temperatures over 20 degrees you may want to have a think.
This past weekend I experienced temperatures between 26 and 32 degrees. Thankfully there was a breeze, but when that wind drops at a time it’s over 30 I find it hard to breathe. At the same time I saw a large group of people happily sitting outside without any shade chatting and laughing. It really is a personal preference.

Another thing to take into consideration is the food in France. In my experience they are not very keen on vegetarian food. Being a vegetarian myself I can tell you I did struggle finding appropriate warm food. On the other hand I had expected that. So we ended up shopping on Friday morning as supermarkets can provide pretty much anything you want.

If you suffer from asthma or hay fever have a very good think about this. I found the whole experience to be very dusty. The car was unrecognisable after a few hours. I was wearing shoes, socks and full length jeans the entire time and had dust up to my knees on my legs. It goes everywhere. On the Sunday there was a lot of dried grass flying around as well. Probably not the friendliest of places if you have any respiratory condition.

People who have been before have told me they have been to Le Mans during horrible weather. And, again, with the track being so big, you can easily have warm weather on one side and rain on the other. Basically it’s best to be prepared for anything.

Labre Competition’s Corvette was this year’s art car.
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Depending on where you live you’d have to consider how you want to get to Le Mans. I opted for driving from South Yorkshire, taking the ferry from Dover to Calais and drive on to Le Mans. My friend and I did travel down in two days. We had accommodation for the Wednesday night near Dover so we wouldn’t have to rush on Thursday morning to get the ferry. The drive from Calais was about 4.5 hours over toll roads (another consideration!). However, we did do the entire trip back in one day.

Of course you can also fly in, fly-drive, take a bus, go by train or a combination of any of these. I spoke to a lady who had come from Dallas. She obviously had to fly in, but I’m not sure how she got to Paris airport. The option you pick will also be influenced by your budget. Driving in your own car, like I did, is not the cheapest option (from the UK at least), but I really enjoy driving so will gladly spend the time and the money for that experience alone.

Getting there is one thing. How about the daily commute? Where is your accommodation and how will you get from there to the track? You could spend a long time every day getting from your hotel to the track.
This year I opted for glamping. A tent was already set up for us when we arrived, including air beds, bed linen, a small table and two chairs. Ideal, but obviously a little bit more expensive than a camping plot for you and your tent/camper. Another bonus to this is that our camp was near the Porsche curves. We had access to one viewing area which was only available to whoever booked with this particular company. On the other side of the track there was another viewing area, but this was less restricted. I went to both and enjoyed the views from each.

The Porsche Curves are very well known and make for great viewing.
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A new level of cool

Above I mentioned a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding to go to the 24 Hours of Le Mans or not. There is one more.
Even people who don’t care about motorsport are in awe when you tell them about this. In the eyes of pretty much everyone else out there you are cool. The very fact that you are willing to travel a long distance and brave the elements just to see a race baffles them, but they also admire you for it. If that matters to you, you now have another reason to go.

For me it was quite simple: wherever Aston Martins race I will try to go. I love WEC most of all, so Le Mans was a must for me. Despite the fact I didn’t see that overtake on the Corvette, I was there when my team won the Mother of all Races. And that is an unforgettable experience.


British GT, Silverstone, 10 and 11 June 2017

British GT at Silverstone is something a little bit special, because it is known as ‘Silverstone 500’. It’s a three hour race.
I think British GT is a great series anyway, but having a race this long on the agenda is a bonus. In addition the support races are quite good too!
The only thing you can never be sure of is the weather. And this year Silverstone decided on sunny with clouds and a lot of wind. So much wind that the commentators mentioned it as it affected the cars out on track.

The Aston Martin of the defending champions was having issues, which was reflected in their result.
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As usual I attended the whole weekend which allowed me to enjoy as much of the supporting races as possible. I had never witnessed a Caterham race before. It was a lot more exciting than I expected. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting. However, seeing 4 cars fighting for the first spot at the very end of the race is more than you would expect from anything other than Blancpain. It was great to see and I ensured I caught another Caterham race the next day.

My favourite cars with faces – the Ginettas – were also having the time of their lives. The Ginettas did not only have their own series and races, they are also part of British GT itself.
Ginetta race cars are available for various classes, so in some cases they race with what one would consider the ‘big boys’ and definitely hold their own!
They may look cute…these are serious race cars and the races are quite something to watch!

Cars with faces…you can’t go wrong.
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For some reason they (whoever ‘they’ are) decided to do something weird this weekend. The result? A 1965 Routemaster (yes, that’s a double-decker bus) joined the British GT cars on track. Judging by the video from on board the bus it really was going about as fast as it could. Compared to the race cars it was seemingly standing still.
Regardless of reason, it was quite the sight and I do like the Routemasters. There’s always time for a laugh…

British GT itself had five Aston Martins on the grid. What a treat! Next to that there’s of course the Bentley Continentals and I never say no to a few McLarens or Lamborghinis out there.
The Aston Martin of Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston had power steering issues (as in: they lost it) and this was clearly reflected in the result. Derek Johnston started the race and spun on the first lap due to this issue. Defending the championship is not as easy as some people may think, especially with bad luck like this.

The 1965 Routemaster out on track.
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The race was exciting from start to finish, which did not come as a surprise to me. British GT is quite unpredictable. Especially in a longer race like this one anything can and will happen.
The Team Parker Racing Bentley took the first spot after a stellar drive, but it would be unfair to say that even the last car to cross the finish line didn’t try as hard as they could. This is hard racing, just three hours long.

Of course I should also mention that it was Supercar Sunday. I have to say that the organisers and I do not agree on the definition of supercar, but there were definitely some mighty fine cars on display. Lamborghinis and McLarens were rubbing proverbial shoulders with Maseratis, Aston Martins and Audis (of the R8 variety). Quite a few of these took to the track during the lunch break, providing some very nice sights for the public. Supercars or not…I was not complaining.


Track day #4 – three cars, triple the fun?

For my fourth track experience I decided to treat myself to three cars rather than just the one. It wasn’t easy deciding what to drive after the Aston Martin DB9 and Audi R8. I ended up booking the Bentley Continental, BMW i8 and Nissan GT-R.

Bentley Continental

Ever since I saw a Bentley Continental race in Blancpain I was a little bit in love with it. It’s a massive car and it’s almost inconceivable that it can be fast. But it is!
I went on a factory tour at Bentley in Crewe to see where this beast was born. And then I decided I wanted to drive one.

Bentley Continental
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The Continental available for a driving experience is of course nothing like the race car. A bonus however is the fact that this particular car is a convertible. My friend drove it first and since the rain had just stopped she opted for the top down. I couldn’t fault that, so the top stayed down for my two laps.

The Bentley is an extremely smooth drive. Like most cars at this venue it has shift paddles, so you keep your foot on the accelerator while gearing up. It’s quite snappy for a big car. At no point did it feel sluggish. It’s not extremely fast, but that was not the reason I wanted to drive it. I simply wanted to find out how it handles. And it handles really well. It’s fun to drive and doesn’t feel as big as it actually is. At the end of the drive you have to park the car (forward, nice and easy) and that’s when I found out how extremely small the Continental’s turning circle is.

Overall I really enjoyed driving this car. The one comment I have is that under braking the car noticeably dives down. It’s not a bad thing, but I would expect a less aggressive move from a car in this price range.

BMW i8

Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact I am not a fan of BMW. Their look simply doesn’t appeal to me.
This is different for the i8. The lines of that car made me look twice the first time I saw one.
Now liking a car is usually not just about looks, and I’m no different. The fact this is a hybrid car made me curious. So I decided to drive one.

BMW i8
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The i8 is a big and low car. Emphasis on ‘low’, because it’s best to sit on the ledge of the door, slide your bum into the seat and then pull your legs in. Imagine getting out again…

The engine is a modest 1.6, but the electric motor provides boost…quite a lot. Even though this is also not the fastest car available at this venue, it is not slow by any means. It speeds up rapidly, but is as quiet as you would expect from a hybrid. There is some engine sound, but not that much. The drive is smooth. In short, it’s a fun drive.

The car seems to move effortlessly and responds really well to whatever I ask of it.
Of all the cars I’ve driven so far (including on public roads: rented or borrowed) this one is fun, but not much more. I’m happy I’ve driven it, yet it is unlikely I’ll ever drive it again. But that is ok with me, because I really wanted to drive it for the experience. After this I’ll stick to enjoying watching it; it’s still a good looking car.

Nissan GT-R

To complete my set of three cars I had hoped the Aston Martin DB11 was available, but it wasn’t on this day. McLaren 570 s? No, not available.
Had I ever considered the GT-R? Well, not really. I mean, I like the look of it and I had seen it go around the track in quite an impressive way. But driving it hadn’t occurred to me.

My doubts continued almost until the moment I got in the car. You can upgrade and swap on the day and I almost did. I am very happy I didn’t!

Nissan GT-R
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The instructor for the Bentley already commented I would probably enjoy the Nissan. He was right. What a beast!

When I was about to drive off I was told the car would respond choppy in first gear, but would be better in second. I hope that’s not normal for every GT-R, because it does make you feel as if you’re in a car for the very first time without any notion on how cars actually work. It’s almost embarrassing.
But the instructor was right; as soon as I geared up to 2nd (shift paddles again) the car started behaving. And when I took it out onto the track it ran off with me. The cars I have driven so far are not slow, but nothing compared to this!

The power you control is almost overwhelming. The GT-R speeds up like nothing I’ve driven before, brakes incredibly hard and is loud. I absolutely loved it.
Whereas the previous cars were smooth and behaved perfectly well, the Nissan had more of a ‘you want a piece of this?!’ attitude. I had a grin on my face for quite a while after my drive.

The car handles great, but very direct. For example: I commented on the handling under braking of the Bentley. In comparison the DB9 brakes more evenly; you can’t really feel the nose going down at all. The Nissan just gives it to you straight. You tell it what to do, it does it. No questions asked.
Incredible handling, great sounds, considerable speed (despite the short track and my lack of experience) – I would jump into a GT-R again in a heartbeat.

I do believe I should go for ‘double the distance’ next time, because two laps per car is not really enough. Other than that I had a great time, as before.
Next on the list: DB11. And maybe another trip in that crazy Nissan.

If you want to see the videos of the drives, have a look at my YouTube channel.