Racing at the Revival isn't about winning | Thank Frankel it’s Saturday

10th September 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

My first few races at the Revival did not go well. I was privileged to be on the grid at the very first, driving Frank Sytner’s gorgeous Frazer Nash Sebring in the Freddie March Trophy. I’d been told the car has been a museum piece for years, simply got ready to race and not to expect too much. And so it proved: five laps in, a presumably rather elderly head gasket gave way and that was that. Next year it was another Sebring, this time Chris Clegg’s Sebring Sprite and it must have been in the TT because we were sharing and it went pop before the first corner, with Chris at the wheel.


So I had high hopes that third time would indeed prove lucky, for I was to share an MGB with the late Barry ‘Sideways’ Sidery-Smith. MGBs are super reliable, Barry a fabulous driver and we were all set. And I never got in that either. Transmission, I think.

But I had enough time in the MGB during qualifying to fall for a car of which, frankly, I’d not expected much at all. It didn’t have much power, it wasn’t light and seemed only able to achieve decent results by always being there at the finish. Apart, of course, from when I was meant to be driving. But what I found was a car that was so forgiving of the most outrageous approach to driving that it could be hurled about so far beyond the technical limit of adhesion it was capable of delivering a performance you’d have not credited on paper. And it was, of course, absolutely terrific fun. As the GTOs and Cobras came piling past, I can remember thinking their drivers probably were enjoying themselves even more than me, but not by much and by an entirely inconsequential amount relative to the respective value of our steeds.

And as the Revival approaches again, it got me thinking about the relationship between fast and fun, and how it pertains to the world of racing. I’ve maintained for years that, beyond a certain point, the faster a road car can go the less fun it actually becomes, because you eat the gaps between the traffic that much more quickly. Very fast road cars tend to be wide so difficult to aim through gaps or thread down lanes and their limits are so astronomically high that the opportunity to probe them safely in public are vanishingly small. But what about racing cars?

Image courtesy of Motorsport Images.

Image courtesy of Motorsport Images.

Actually, I think the same applies. I look at all the professional drivers who come to Goodwood every year, their faces wreathed in smiles as they giggle and make opposite lock gestures to their mates in the changing rooms and I just know that for almost all of them, slithering around on a quartet of skinny Dunlop L-section crossplies beats slicks and wings every day of the year.

Because while the ability to corner at twice the force of gravity is certainly impressive, I don’t recall many drivers saying it’s fun. Because it’s not. If it were, everyone would go around the place doing emergency stops; but they don’t, because even a single ‘g’ – which is approximately what most road cars will generate before the ABS cuts in - coming at you from a strange direction is uncomfortable at best, thoroughly disconcerting at worst. I’ve experienced over 2g in various racers I’ve driven and while I remain intellectually fascinated by the nature and properties of the downforce that makes this possible, the experience itself I can take or leave. And preferably leave.

But what about my GTO vs MGB comparison? Well, of course there are certain things a GTO possesses an MGB lacks, a Colombo V12, looks to die for, extreme scarcity, a stellar competition record and a value that makes most castles look cheap, to name just the five that spring most readily to mind. But let me put you behind the wheel of another car to help make my point.


Just for the sake of this example, and if you’ll forgive the intrusion, for the next minute or so you’re me. You’re at the wheel of a 1950s Alfa Giulietta in a race at a wet Donington Park. Coppice is approaching so you turn in blind as usual, angling the wheel slightly to the right to point the nose at the apex. Instantly the car is sideways but instead of going into crisis management mode, you keep on the power, wind on ludicrous amounts of opposite lock and ride it out all the way through the long corner to the straight beyond. And above the eager howl of the little 1.3-litre twin cam engine, you hear another noise, which sounds a lot like laughter except it’s more highly pitched. And you realise that someone is positively hooting inside that car, and that that person is you.

I’ve thought about that moment so many times. I’m not sure why it’s stuck from all the hundreds of races I’ve done, but I guess it’s because for me it pretty much represented peak fun. I simply don’t think I’m capable of enjoying myself any more than that. And I probably got there on less than 110PS (81kW). Don’t get me wrong: I love big, powerful stuff with no grip and will shortly be toddling off to Spa for my annual outing in the Six Hours in our old Ford Falcon, which is the very definition of big, powerful and no grip. But the most important of these attributes by far is that absence of grip. For whether you are in an old Alfa, MG or a GTO, it is that which puts the smile on your face and that strange noise in your helmet. And that is what matters most.

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