Abarth Track Fever
As my first time on my track, I quickly realised that actually, it’s not dangerous if you do it right. Track day’s aren’t: “AAH! I’ve come off!” Bang. Fire. Dead.
Brands Hatch is an awesome track. Going down Paddock Hill you’re pressed into your seat in the transition to Harwoods then, taking a massive bite out of Druids, you’re flying out of the Graham Hill Bend. It’s a roller coaster of sensations. I’m writing this now, wishing I was back there in my own car, clinging on to the racing line.
We met Mark Devaney with his Abarth Autobianci A112 back at the Firle Hill Climb last summer. We got the chance to check out his workshop in Kent, 24Hundred, which specialises in Fiat / Ferrari Dinos. We never got the chance to pay his zippy Abarth a great deal of attention. Then, out of the blue Mark gave us the heads-up on an upcoming track day at Brands Hatch one February morning. So, we showed up, paid ‘the man’ our £20 and got ourselves kitted out with crash helmets.
I have to say, within half a lap all apprehension was replaced by glee! I was mentally egging Mark on: ‘Brake later, turn harder.’ I spent the whole session unlearning everything I thought a car could do. As a road driver, you’re willing and encouraging a car to go faster - flowing between sweeping bends. On track, you’re grabbing the car by the scruff of its neck and demanding performance.
Getting a small-bore, front wheel drive car into a corner requires some pretty nifty driving. The left foot jabs the clutch, change down for the corner, throw the car at the apex, load the power back in. Just before the apex, tighten the line by lifting off or plant your foot down harder to take advantage of some wider track.
In a couple of laps the car was warm. You could feel the heat in the cabin. “You won’t need that” Mark warned back in the pits - before I got in, gesturing to my coat. He was right. I can only imagine how it must have been in the full face helmet and full race suit. Thing is though, if I was tracking a car I’d want all these things. I’d want the harness, the roll cage and the race suit. I want to come back into the pit lane, down 2 litres of water dumbly grin at my smoking brake disks - the whole theatre and experience is bewitching.
The track day was hosted by the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club. There was a mainstay of 1980s XJs, some mid naughties XJ8s and a few XKs - all stripped down and with eager drivers waiting to get out on the track. A pair of F-Types graced us with their presence, spoilers flapping out on the track, cracking and popping around in formation, as if in conversation with one another.
I remember one moment, whilst standing at the pit wall, watching Mark and Tom speed past with a D-Type chasing them down. Where else do you get to see a hot hatch being tailed by a racing legend? I mean, you wouldn’t ever see a Le Mans winning Audi R18, wheel to wheel with a Focus RS, would you?
There was also Ford Falcon in full race spec and boy! Did it make its presence known. It was the recurring punch line for the whole day, always out on the tack and much faster than anyone else. You’d be watching a smattering of MGBs and Jag XJs motoring along, jostling for turn 1 when all of a sudden the Falcon would pop out of the previous corner and scream past them, utterly indifferent. Every time it howled past the pit lane, (approximately every minute) 40 people paused their conversations, and chortled at the preposterous V8 soundtrack. So rude, so loud, but so right.
Much like the VSCC’s Pomeroy Trophy which we attended not too long ago, the whole event was one hell of an education. For example, just after we arrived, a 2003 Astra showed up. It had what looked like an intercooler set into its chin. It looked much like the one your local hoodlum drives around at ten o’clock every Thursday evening. We scoffed. Then, much to our surprise, when everything kicked off this 2003 Astra was making short work of the tuned up MX5s. I suppose the lesson here is: judge not your local yobbo - they may have a supercharged Astra and be more than willing and very able to make a mockery of you in a dual-carriageway-roundabout-dash.
There is so much to be had from the simple events, the track days, the club meets. Particularly with classics. It’s like a weird sort of pick ’n’ mix. Go, not knowing what will be there and expect nothing, but you may just see some of the most special cars in motoring history.