Williams Automobiles 2014 Great Western Sprint Driven

2014 Great Western Sprint

After all the preparations, changing the water pump, replacing hoses and quickly refilling the cooling system with tap water the night before just in case it all started leaking again we were ready to load our TVR and travel the full nine miles up the road for the first competitive event of the season, the 2014 Great Western Sprint at Castle Combe Circuit in Wiltshire (UK).

The Williams Automobile 2014 Great Western Sprint, organised by Bristol Motor Club, is for me the jewel in the crown of the Bristol Speed Championship. Although an early season opener it offers a full 1 ¾ laps or 3.3 miles of this extremely fast circuit which is an opportunity that should never be passed up. As Chairman of Bristol Motor Club I decided to connect my role here and role there by setting up a combined pit area come join-here gazebo. This worked very well as somewhere to put our leaky M Series if it rained (the opening rear Perspex screen fits where it touches) and attracting new members to the club in between times.

2014 Great Western Sprint
Flying Bristol Motor Club’s flag and carrying the mascot bear (Picture: Rob Leslie)

The first inevitable heart-in-mouth moment of the day arrived a bit too early for comfort when after pushing the car out of the garage at home, starting her up and leaving as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the neighbours resulted in painfully low oil pressure for the first 5 miles. Lesson number one, temps and pressures up before setting off, she is 37 years old after all. Also checking a few forums confirmed this is a bit of a trait of the Essex V6 engine and oil pump combo, a complete reversal to most systems I’d have thought with thick when cold oil. Still I get it now and so sorry fellow cul-de-sac’ers I need to warm our bright blue toy up before setting off bright and early.

Arriving at the 2014 Great Western Sprint ahead of practice everything went very smoothly indeed beginning with signing on; I even remembered my licence this time to avoid an annoying £65 fine. Scrutineering where we didn’t even get an advisory comment meaning our prep had all been worthwhile. Even the dreaded noise test re-confirmed the same 99DBA we had seen with the silencers held on by a booted foot. Time then to be strapped into the tiny cabin space and even tighter bucket seat and find out what 180-200bhp Ford Essex V6 is like in a car weighing well under 1000kg. This from the perspective of someone who for the last ten years of competing has only done so in relatively modern 0-5 year old cars with all their usual refinements, hidden driver aids plus greater power and mass.

Gazebo doubled up as a pit area and Join-Here stand (Picture: Rob Leslie)
Gazebo doubled up as a pit area and a place to Join-Here (Picture: Julia Nichols)

Raw is one way of describing it, raw and very exciting. No power steering, no turbo-lag, no V-Tec top end bike like power delivery, just a glorious V6 soundtrack, go-kart handling and brakes that cause the car to weave and lock up if pressed too hard or too quickly. This is exactly the experience I craved, what I remembered cars being like, especially competition cars, leaving you the pilot and your choice of chariot to enjoy the moment uncluttered by ESP, ABS, or anything else involving a computer chip.

At the start of first and only practice the severe switch-like clutch demanded dialling in around 2,500rpm and simply dropping it to start the rear wheels spinning, no traction control button here to remember to switch off. With the rear of the car on the move everything was controlled on the throttle, nice, too much or too little and you simply wasted time. From the pit lane exit starting position of this event the goal was basically to gain as much speed as possible before tackling Avon Rise and Quarry Corner. With one eye on the rev counter and the other on the road whilst listening to the spine tingling and rather intoxicating roar from the twin exhaust pipes 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears were all despatched as momentum built exponentially.

2014 Great Western Sprint
Our TVR launches off the line with Bristol MC mascot Georgie Bear on board (Picture: Rob Leslie)

It is at this point having bought a car with no history or information and only two markers on the rev counter, one slightly below 3,000 and the other just above 6,000 you wonder exactly what to rev to and when to change up. 6,500rpm seemed fine according to online, but requiring a cross-drilled crank beyond that. Has our car got a cross-drilled crank, no idea and so I played safe and went for 6,000rpm which meant the wide ratio gaps in the 4-speed gearbox dropped the engine all the way back down to 3,000rpm once the next gear was engaged.

I think next time I’ll rev a bit higher because I’m sure it bogged down in 4th when I changed just a tad too soon. The other challenge was with the sloppy gear change where 3rd back down to second often resulted in 3rd back down to reverse, ouch, not good and on the day led to a decision not to drop below 3rd anywhere. For the next event at Llandow which is much tighter I will need to find 2nd so will block the gate that leads to reverse altogether.

2014 Great Western Sprint
The queue to start, typically 2 – 3 cars on track at a time in 15-20sec intervals (Picture: Julia Nichols)

Back to our lap and getting near to three figures at Avon Rise it was time to go over the top whilst letting the car find its own position on the track for our very first tour; many cars do spin here after all. Next up Quarry Corner when aiming the car at the apex immediately revealed extremely high levels of grip, whoever set this car up with its apparently whacky suspension geometry that includes a large dose of toe-out on the front, something that might also explain the wayward braking, certainly knew what they were doing.

In fact once back on the power the lusty V6 could only just unstick the grippy Yokohama A032Rs and our TVR literally cornered like it was on rails. This car was neither frightening nor unpredictable; it just needed to be learnt. In fact the only really disturbing part of the lap was the oil light flashing whilst on overrun going into the first chicane just before Old Paddock causing some concern, although potentially just another trait of the lubrication system. Still it did make me wary.

2014 Great Western Sprint
Matt finally manages to persuade his wife Julia to join Bristol Motor Club (Picture: Rob Leslie)

From the right-left combination of the chicane into the right hander of Old Paddock and onto Tower Corner the car could once again be wrung out just finding 4th before braking and going back to 3rd to tackle the latter with barriers always appearing far too close for my liking with very little run-off. From there a short sprint to Bobbies (chicane) was completed by staying in 3rd gear. In my next run I pushed harder and braked later locking both fronts; I did release immediately but couldn’t recover before taking to the grass. Lesson number two; brake progressively and never stab at the pedal.

Accelerating from Bobbies down to Camp meant a shift back up to 4th before braking at the final marshal’s post, down to 3rd turning and powering all the way through before re-engaging top almost immediately on the main straight to build big speed this time into Avon Rise, a unique feature of the 2014 Great Western Sprint format, with most offering one single lap. I saw 5,500rpm in 4th gear, the speedo is broken, which equates to around 115-120mph. Alarmingly, something you’ll see in the video is a rather large gap that appears between the top of the windscreen and roof, I assume due to cabin pressure and so I’ve subsequently raised the rear screen up an inch at the back to help relieve that.

2014 Great Western Sprint
The gap above the windscreen flat out into Avon Rise (we’re not worried, much)

It is fair to say that our times were pedestrian compared to most, we ended dead last in class, when my previous attempts in more modern machinery had produced three class wins, but that wasn’t the point. This was a drive like no other and for me made the effort our TVR required over the last 3-4 weeks totally worthwhile. It also got a great deal of attention throughout the day. The cooling system only leaked from my failed attempt at re-soldering the swirl pot breather, a very minor leak at that, and other than adding fuel nothing else needed doing. The video says it all really, so please enjoy, all I need to do is learn how to pedal faster because this is a car that has racing in its DNA and someone has gone to a lot of time and trouble to set this very special TVR up just right. At this stage of ownership I’m not worried about the final result, I was only here for the experience and so this for me was still the perfect day, I absolutely loved it.

With thanks to all the marshals who turned out, you make this possible.

How does this event make you feel?

In one word: Thrilled.

As a favourite meal: Surprisingly scrummy ham salad with coleslaw and a few chips.

Anything Else: Not a classic car event, we were in the minority, but sprints are an excellent way to stretch your classic’s legs properly. We recommend you try it.

Key Ingredients: Flat out on track, just a few cars at a time and all spread out so very little chance of a collision, you decide the pace that determines your final position in class. Worth noting that a roll cage, bucket seat and harness are not mandatory for road legal series production cars, something that helps keep the costs down.


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