Sunday, September 03, 2017

Carfest South

Honda Type R

I'm not completely sure how I ended up at Carfest South. Something to do with mentioning it in EiM a few months ago resulting in an offer of a free ticket to the northern show for the (current) editor. I couldn't make that show due to my Manx trip but they promptly invited me to the southern version. As it happened, it's a bit closer to home, something that was very handy on the day.

An even bigger surprise was to be asked by Honda's press office if I'd like to drive a Civic Type R up the hill.

For non-petrolhead, the Type R is a hot-hatch version of the standard Civic. Basically, a lairy version of the family shopping wagon. I know this because I looked it up to try and answer the second question (I said yes to the first on the basis I might as well), which version? The web didn't help but NGW editor Andrew Charman did - he said to go for the latest one, V5, as it's the most docile. V4 was a full on track car that could be a bit tricky. 

So, after an early start, I find myself making it into the Friday drivers briefing by the skin of my teeth.The trip from home should take an hour and a half. I allowed 2. I should have allowed 2 and a quarter. This wasn't helped by the briefing taking place at 9 am when the show didn't open until 12. It seems that driving up the hill requires rehearsal.

To be fair, the guy in the queue ahead of me did have a steering wheel in his hand as well as the obligatory blonde racing drivers girlfriend by his side. I wasn't nearly as serious, in fact, the instructions from the press office were pretty clear:

The drive up the hill is part of a parade and as such it will not be a race situation. You will be driving around 40mph and in a procession. No overtaking, no racing.

The cars you are driving are part of our heritage fleet and we are unable to get spares for some of them. So please don’t trash them or drive aggressively. Or I will have your major internal organs as a desk ornament.

Fair enough. I'm no racer and the idea of driving up what appeared to be (we had to watch a course video) a straight road, around a loop and back down, didn't seem so scary now.  

Despite not being a "proper" driver, I still collected wristbands for participating and being a driver. Definitely a badge of honour. I got a cheese and ham croissant too. 

One problem was that press were supposed to stay in the drivers marque until the show opened. The organisers were worried that we might take a photo of Chris Evans or something. Half an hour later I was ignoring this and wandering around the paddock taking photos. No sign of Evans but when I checked the pics, I did see celebrity chef James Martin, and much more impressively, Ed China.

In fact, it was China who was responsible for the best tannoy announcement I have ever heard.

"Will the driver of the orange please return to his car as it is blocking in the sofa."

Outspan Orange
Because, of course, his motorised sofa was parked in the paddock, behind the orange. And along with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a Lambretta micro car, it was to be leading the first section of the parade.

Anyway, after a while, I had photographed all the fancy cars and with the sun beating down, decided that with opening time only a few minutes away, it was time to go and get my press accreditation. It was a hike across the substantial site but I needed the loo (hadn't realised we had special posh bogs) anyway. Hopping over a fence I made my way to the music field, where there was a massive stage. It was at this point I grasped just how big a festival this was and also how varied.

Having bagged the third wristband of the day, and stocked up on some crispy duck wrap (Yum!) I wandered. My theory was that I'd get some good pics over at the steam fair but I couldn't resist a quick look at the food field first as the brochure had promised something called "Custard World".  This turned out to be a promo for custard and so pudding was sticky toffee pudding covered with lovely yellow goo. Both delicious and free. 

Carters steam fair is brilliant. First of all, for a small donation to Children in Need (the whole event supports the charity), you can have a ride on a traction engine. If you are very good and have a vague air of competence, you can steer too. 

The Burrell

I couldn't resist and enjoyed a turn around the field on a Burrell. Steering was more direct than I'd expected - no spinning the wheel furiously to make the thing change tack, it was closer to a car. This was at the price of kicking every time the thing went over a bump, which as we were in a field, it did a lot. 

Oh, and they are mucky things with no coal-dust free space to hang your rucksack. Never mind, it was great fun.
Generating electricity

I'm not one for funfairs. No fan of rides to make me sick, or terrified, it's all a bit lost on me. When said rides are powered by honking great steam engines though, I love watching them. Beautifully painted in traditional style, this was a sight worth seeing even if you don't like things that go chuff. 

Walking around with my camera at nearly 2 pm, I was surprised to get a call to head back to Honda. We were due back an hour later but it seems the timing had slipped a bit. Sprinting isn't my forte at the best of times and long distances over rough farmland don't make it any easier, but I did my best and got back in time.

Plenty of time as it happens since we then waited for an hour before getting in the cars. No worry, it was a lovely day and my fellow drivers including Neil from Road and Race, were chatty. It seems that most of the cars came from the press fleet maintained by a team of two. You'd think this was easy but it seems that spares are getting hard to find, especially for the earlier cars. They try to only use NOS stuff and that means ordering anything they can find at the back of the shelves in various stores. 

All the cars were immaculate, especially mine which turned out to be a pre-production model. Something that was appreciated by the people in an ancient French open-top as we eventually pulled up to the line.
View from the start line

Now when you get in a new car, you take things gently as you feel your way around. No such luck for me. First I had to negotiate it out of the tight marquee and then follow the others on an undulating plastic roadway to the display road. 

Dodging a McLaren P1, I was marshalled up close to the car in front. Close enough for the parking sensors to scream loudly. That's not ideal when you have the phrase "don’t trash them" running through your head and you know they need the cars for the next two days.

Then we sat there. I pressed all the buttons, got the aircon under control and waited to go. 

And then we were off. Each car crawled to the line and was flagged away. Now, I hadn't taken part in the rehearsal and although I remembered the directions and mentioned there would be signs, really didn't want to get lost at the top of the track. So, despite my nerves, I did my best to keep the car in front in view. 

What I didn't know was that the runs are filmed, shown on a big screen and commentated on. I think I heard the man say something about suspension but I wasn't really paying attention. 

The run is only about half a mile then a series of tight, when you are trying to go reasonably fast, bends take you around the massive dungheap and pointing back down the track. We were held there for a few seconds and then released in one go. 

Conscious that I was driving the latest model with full boy racer appeal, I decided I ought to try and rev it a bit. I think that's what the crowd likes and since I wasn't going to do a burnout and the only doughnuts were in my bag bought from the fairground, I hung back a bit to try to put on a show. 

With a decent gap ahead, I decided that I wasn't likely to break anything going in a straight line. Thus, I did what I normally don't do and hung on to the gears. Half way was reached in third and briefly at 50mph (Don't tell Honda). Some serious braking and it was time to wind our way back to the paddock. 

There, all I had to do was reverse an unfamiliar car into a tent. This I can do although there was a bit of a panic as I nudged a wooden table that didn't show in the mirrors or reversing camera. The shelf on the boot lid sustained no obvious damage anyway.

I suppose I ought to give a verdict on the car - It's very nice. Comfy, easy to drive as far as I could tell. The cabin is really comfy and will obviously go fast. You can apparently take it to Tesco (there is Isofix for a child seat) and also run it on a track without embarrassing yourself. 

Am I going to buy one? 

No. I'm a long way from the target market. Anyway, the space in the back is good, but you'd not get much of a model railway layout in there. 

After this, it was back out to the show. I found some model engineers running a short ride-on railway, radio control car racing and a tent full of robots.Then I wandered back to the music field and enjoyed Deacon Blue for a few songs. 

An excellent and unusual day. If you like cars and festivals, it's a great family day or weekend out. Perhaps for the hard-core petrol head, there's not quite enough action but at least you can keep everyone entertained while getting to see some serious vehicles, from micro cars to Formula One batting their way along a road. 

Thanks to the Carfest organisers for inviting me and Honday for letting me have a go.

Carfest South photos on Flickr 

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