The ‘Twisted Arms’ Autotest and barbeque was organised by Oxford Motor Club, and held on a grass airstrip on Pusey Farm on Sunday 19th, and it certainly required the twisting of some OUMF arms to assemble a few crews to join in the fun! The temperature was already climbing in the hot sun as the four OUMF entrants, in 3 cars, met at the HQ in the morning to put a few things in the van, and Phillips Tyres signs on both sides, before setting off for the venue some 20 minutes away down the A420 towards Swindon. Ahron was driving his Toyota MR-2 with Sally in the passenger seat, Dom was in his Morris Minor, and I was in my 1 litre, 3 cylinder Corsa, and was to be sharing the driving with Ding who led the way to Pusey in the van.
We arrived at the airfield rather later than planned due to some interesting navigation on the way. It was immediately clear that some of the cars participating were in a rather different class (i.e. road rally spec!) from the largely unmodified MR-2 and Corsa, but unperturbed we signed on, paid our £10 set out our table and NGK Spark Plugs chairs and prepared for the event.
Autotesting, as far as I understood it, is basically the art of driving as fast as possible round a tortuous low speed course, doing everything they said not to do in your driving lessons. Then - even better - instead of getting told off, you then get a second chance to ignore your imaginary driving instructor by doing it all again and having another run!
The first test was a relatively simple series of tight turns, not really needing much handbrake use, with the fastest strategy appearing to be to drive smoothly and neatly. This was then done twice in the opposite direction for the second test. The long spell of dry weather and bright sunshine meant that the grass was soon well-worn away under spinning tyres and each run produced an increasingly large dust cloud to add to the spectacle.
Jamie Higgins turned up on his bike to watch the fun – just in time for the excellent barbeque lunch provided by John and Sheila Blackwell, with deliciously fresh salad and fruit, straight from their allotment. While we tucked in, we were treated to the multicoloured vapour trails of planes performing aerobatics above the Fairford Airshow on the horizon.
After lunch, the layout of the numbered cones stretching away up the field was changed for the third test - and things got decidedly more brilliant. As we all walked the course it became clear that a good proportion of the third test was a series of super sharp hairpin turns, and hand braking was looking to be absolutely necessary in order to negotiate these without the use of reverse. With half the OUMF team off to practice their handbrake turns at the other end of the runway, and me trying to make my handbrake actually work with hurried use of a spanner, there was no way this could end without hilarity. The size of the Corsa was better suited to this layout than I had expected, and my handbrake sort of worked too – if one pulled it on with everything my left arm could muster - so now I just had to get my timing right… As before the test was then run twice I the opposite direction, and I can quite honestly say I have never had so much fun in my life, and I am definitely looking forward to another event such as this.
With the exception of Ding, who’s past experience prompted him to try so hard to persuade us to have a go, I don't think any of us were properly prepared for the car related fun that was about to ensue - least of all Ahron and I who completed the last test in rear-wheel-drive-related hysterics.
The event was so fun that it was hard to be competitive (unless you are sharing the driving with Ding!), but at the end of the day, the results left my Corsa (driven by Ding) in 2nd in Class (fourth overall), and my Corsa (driven by me!) in 3rd place in Class (6th overall), and Dom's Morris bringing up the rear - but only by 0.8 seconds over 4 tests, and Ding thought it was easily the most fun to drive too.
Ahron managed to lose his timecard altogether in the dusty chaos, but Ding managed to pilot the MR-2 to 8th place overall and the Morris to 12th place overall.
This was my first experience of real ‘grassroots’ motorsport (in every sense!) and I would like to thank David Smith for organising it so efficiently, John and Sheila Blackwell for their wonderful food, Dick Hall for his timing skills, rally-mad farmers Tim and Matthew Green for the great venue, and all other members of the Oxford Motor Club for their help in making it a fantastic afternoon’s entertainment. It was unbeatable value, and I gained driving skills and had fun in equally large quantities. I also gained a lot more respect for the capabilities of my puny Corsa!
This event has definitely got me hooked and I can’t recommend it highly enough – or wait for the next one!!