It was a cold and damp morning on Saturday 20 February when Kirkistown Racing Circuit reverberated to the noise of cars. Cars that covered a vast array within the automotive spectrum and many of which were driven to and from the competition as they are nothing more than someone’s daily commuter vehicle…
Welcome to the entry level motorsport initiative called ‘autotest’, hosted in this instance by the Thoroughbred Sports Car Club Northern Ireland (TSCC). In comparison to most motorsport, autotests are relatively low speed events with high levels of skill involved and are one of the most affordable forms of motorsport around.
For around £10 (costs are club dependant and junior members get discounted rates) you can join your local car club. Once you’re a member, you can compete in the many events they host throughout the year. Many clubs in Northern Ireland will have a few autotests, a rally, a hill climb, a few social events and plenty of training for those who want to volunteer and progress into helping with the planning and running of events.
The TSCC has been about for as long as I remember and indeed are host to the world’s oldest hill climb which meanders swiftly along the main drive of the Cultra Manor House outside Holywood in June. They also run Croft hill climb, off Whinney Hill in Holywood, and attract newcomers to the sport via half a dozen or so autotests each year.
With grass roots being the ethos of the club, it really is a pleasure to cover the events they host as there are so many different levels of (wo)man and machine and of all ages too. When autotesting, you can drive production cars on tests from the age of 14 with an adult in the passenger seat, or you can be a passenger from the age of 12 – one crew member must hold a full driving licence in both instances.
There were seven junior drivers at Kirkistown and on top of these young enthusiasts who had a blast of a time and swapped mere seconds between them, there were over 50 entries from the adults. Several of these were ‘dual entry’, where the car was shared by two drivers. Quite often these ‘shared car’ competitors are family members or perhaps two friends who have bought a little car between them to compete in.
Whichever way you enter, the costs of autotesting are minimal with a fee of around £15-£20 per event. Put some fuel in the car, bring a packed lunch and you’re ready to go. Many of the cars are the competitors’ ‘daily drivers’…you don’t need anything special to go out and have a bit of fun! Jump in your car, drive to the event, compete and drive home again.
A thing I have noticed at these TSCC events is that no matter what level you are at, be it multiple event winner or your first time out, you will get greeted the same. Should you have any issues or need help, everyone in the paddock is approachable for help. It’s a really friendly sport.
So what exactly is an autotest, you ask? Autotests have a start and finish point with a pre-mapped route laid out around small pylons. Each car is timed against the clock – if you touch a pylon you get a time penalty, and if you get the route wrong then you fail that test.
They are an extremely fun initiative as they teach huge amounts of car control in a very safe environment and can be tough going also when you combine steering, gear change, handbrake and remembering the route all at once.
As already mentioned, the TSCC’s Kirkistown event was held for charity, the nominated charity being Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA). This unique volunteer travel organisation, which has a website at www.vesabroad.co.uk, has the sole aim of providing people with the opportunity to fully immerse themselves within a country through a program of community based volunteer work and adventure activities.
Niamh McLaughlin, daughter of long time competitor Tony, was the driving force behind getting the club involved in this particular charity. This summer she plans to travel via VESA and help Indigenous Village Communities with things like building houses and schools, teaching English and also providing essential things such as fresh water which we take for granted.
This is the second time that Niamh has been involved in a charity autotest to help raise funds that go directly to the charity (her personal travel to go on the programme comes out of her own hard earned) and just last month it is was the Peak Performance Motor Club (PPMC) who hosted a day for her with £850 raised in total by them.
The PPMC were also heavily on hand at Kirkistown to help the TSCC with their charitable turn. Money was raised via the entry fee donation from drivers and also by selling ballot tickets, not to mention the most beautiful warm stew and tea on the day. In the end, the TSCC raised a fantastic £1000, putting Niamh well over her minimum required to become part of the VESA project!
At the end of the event, instead of having a class structure based on usual entries and results, there was just an overall results sheet due to the event being a charity one. As such, the top three were Alan Hyde (Vauxhall Nova Special), Robert Woodside (Mazda MX-5) and Mark Faulkner (Mazda MX-5). In the Junior category, Ben McKee was on top in his Nissan Micra ahead of B Colhoun (Mini) and R Morrison (Toyota Starlet).
However, these results are just a ‘matter of fact’ as the real winner on the day was the charity. A huge well done to all involved, including both clubs as well as the timekeepers and marshals who braved the cold and wet to make this event happen, right through to everyone there who dug deep for charity. And also the Mammy’s for making such awesome pots of stew!
Thanks also from UCNI to a few of the drivers who ran our Go-Pro for some of the day to let you see what it is like for the drivers.
There is still time to donate to the charity and if you wish to do so, please make contact with the club via www.tsccni.info. Alternatively, if you wish to take part in events or learn more about entry level motorsport, visit www.gomotorsport.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words & Photos: Graham Curry