Whether you’re in a Mazda or a Mini, AutoSolo boasts high speeds and low overheads – find out how you can get involved with Boundless.
“It’s an absolute treat to race here,” says Boundless member Malcolm Grubb. “This venue is pure history.” It’s a cool March morning in Surrey, but the sun’s appeared and is shining on Malcolm and the racing amphitheatre that is Brooklands. “I could spend all day talking about the history of this place,” he continues, “but it’s time for the driver briefing so we’ll come back to that later…”
An octet of Boundless racers, Boundless organisers – including Malcolm – and motorsport enthusiasts from nearby clubs have gravitated to Brooklands for a day of AutoSolo tests. For the uninitiated, AutoSolo is akin to a motor-racing slalom. Test diagrams and numbered cones direct the driver over the 200m x 25m Brooklands strip, which is essentially split into two – the first half a gravelly, gradual descent that you loop twice before squeezing through a gateway for the second half, which takes place on smoother roads and again negotiated twice.
“Each run is timed,” explains fellow organiser Mike Biss, “and each driver has three runs in the morning and three in the afternoon. We change the course slightly between am and pm. Of the three runs, the best two times count, although watch out for penalties – five seconds for hitting the cones and 30 seconds for going off-course.”
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Sevenoaks and District Motor Club members Katie and Jamie pause to discuss tactics.
And with that the starting steward bellows ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1… go’ and, to the tune of a heavily revved engine, off scorches car number 1. Inside is Jamie Upchurch who negotiates the labyrinth of cones to register a time of 83.4secs. It’s impressive, especially as the show of speed stems not from a rally roadster, carbon-fibre coupé or streamlined supercar but a 17-year-old Ford Ka fuelled by a 1300cc engine.
Next up is a 1991 Rover Mini, driven by 17-year-old Katie. Time: 85.1secs. She’s slipstreamed by Northern Ireland’s Robert Milligan in a 1986 Austin Mini. An early spin doesn’t prevent Milligan clocking 79.5secs. Trailing Milligan are a Nissan Micra, Fiat Panda and MG ZR.
“There are five categories in AutoSolo, based on car and engine size: up to 1400cc saloons; up to two-litre saloons; over two-litre saloons; sports cars and ‘specials’ like kit cars,” Robert explains after his first run. “I’m in the first category. I used to AutoSolo back home in Northern Ireland but this is my first time for five years. In fact, I only got the Mini MOTed yesterday!”
Currently skidding around the circuit is a gold Mazda MX5 driven by Martin Styles, whose daughter Bex is to his left. Rules state you can drive with a passenger but this set-up’s more for course reconnaissance as the two are alternating runs. Another rule states that cars must be road-going and driven to and from the event – and this, Martin says later, is part of the appeal of AutoSolo racing.
“I’ve always been a fan of motorsport but never thought I’d have enough money to race. I’ve been doing this for five or six years now and it’s the cheapest motor-racing form I’ve come across.” Entry’s just £35 for Boundless members, which equates to around two hours’ go-karting or a tenth of one Formula One tyre!
Mark Bradley puts his MX5 through its paces.
A multitude of Mazdas
The ‘only’ other expense is wear and tear. It’s why, in Martin and Bex’s case, their Mazda’s reserved solely for motorsport. “It cost around £1000, so not too bad,” Martin says. It also explains why myriad Mazdas are banking Brooklands – six out of the 30 competing cars, in fact, are MX5s. “They’re fun cars,” says Bex. “And Japanese cars seem particularly tough,” adds Martin. “I’ve raced a Toyota in AutoSolo, too, and they just last.”
MX5s are also rear-wheel drive, which dishes out more power – and there’s certainly power emanating from the silver MX5 belonging to Mark Bradley. By the sound of it, anyway. His engine’s roaring, his tyres are screeching, but he’s not completely happy: “It’s a tight circuit so front-wheel drive would have been better today. Rear wheel’s better for some of the other courses, which are a little more free-flowing.”
Mark reverses his Mazda in front of his one-man tent: “It protects spare parts and tyres if it rains,” he says – and those tyres need some protecting. “I’ve got through a set in one race but they usually last longer than that,” he smiles. “Always take spares, because you need to drive home after!”
Most cars are fair game for AutoSolo. The most common tweak is simply inflating an extra 5-10psi for swifter turns and to reduce tyre wear. Then there are more advanced tweaks, such as Mark’s extra handbrake. “It’s a hydraulic version,” he explains. “It works better than the cable version. It also means I drive with one hand on the wheel and one on the brake.”
That’s in search of speed, although it’s rare that any car shifts out of first gear or over 40mph. But AutoSolo’s much more than that, says Malcolm. “It’s a safe environment to improve your car handling skills and learn how to respond if your car spins. That can pay off on real roads because you won’t panic.” It also appeals to budding Lewis Hamiltons. Children as young as 14 can race if driving a saloon with an experienced AutoSolo driver.
Mike Harrison and steward Pete Gregory enjoy the day's events.
Driving into history
Not only is this event fun, but it’s significant as this is the first time an AutoSolo event has taken place here. “It’s an honour,” says Malcolm. “It opened in 1907 and was the world’s first purpose-built motor-racing circuit. It held the first British Grand Prix in 1926 and also hosted many land-speed and distance records for cars, motorcycles and bicycles.”
Brooklands also doubled as Britain’s largest aircraft manufacturing centre. Hence, the Concorde that provides a backdrop to the day’s events. Little of the original track remains apart from a section of banking and the start-finish straight where today’s racing is taking place. There’s also a scoreboard seemingly stolen from horse racing. “It was,” says Malcolm. “Being the first motor-racing course, they weren’t sure of its design so they borrowed some ideas from horse racing. That’s why you have terms such as paddock.”
If the nostalgic scoreboard relayed the day’s times, fastest of the day would have gone to Robert Milligan, with Richard Matthews and his Mazda MX5 clocking in as the fastest Boundless member.
The award for most seductive Boundless car, however, goes to Mike Harrison and his charming Austin Healey Sprite. “It was made in 1967 and I’ve owned it since 1977,” grins Mike. “I use it at events like these but have also honeymooned in it and driven my daughter to her wedding. Cars are meant to be used, not left in the garage.”
AutoSolo is open to all, with the next Boundless event coming up on 23 June at the equally technical but less historic environs of the Poplar 2000 Motorway Services in Lymm. Got a need for speed? You might be interested in joining the Boundless Motorsport Group too.
“I’d recommend it,” concludes Mike. “I’m never going to win. But it’s not about competition. It’s cheap and, more importantly, every run leaves you with a huge grin.”