Under The Hood Of A Historic Race Weekend


This may seem outrageous to some, but I prefer the photos in this post to the race photography in my previous article.

My qualifying and race day experience at the 2024 Classic & Modern Touring Car Festival while watching the Classic Touring Car Racing Club (CTCRC) was a highlight of my year thus far, for multiple reasons.

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The racing was intense, the entrants were varied, and the sounds of the cars echoing around Mallory Park’s hills were bewitching. Yet, my walks around the paddock between races were my favourite part of the event.

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You see, for all my love of cars and motorsport, it’s the people behind it all that I find the most interesting – especially those with real passion.

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One such person is James Ibbotson. James not only competes in CTCRC’s Pre-1966 category, but I’ve known him since when we used to race online on Xbox Live almost every day after school. I maintain that I was quicker than him then, but it’s a claim James refutes as “bullsh*t.”

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I caught up with James several times throughout the day to see how he was getting on and to chat about the series and his race-spec Hillman Imp, which in a previous iteration was a well-known stance car in the UK show scene.

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“My dad has always had Imps and always took me to see them racing when I was young,” James recalls. “So I was probably destined to end up owning and racing one.”

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One of the youngest competitors in the series, James quickly made a name for himself by winning in his debut year, attracting attention from a young audience.

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“Historic racing is huge in the UK now, and it’s not just the old boys anymore,” James explains. “Many people my age [27] and even younger are racing and doing well in historics.”

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Looking around the paddock, however, it was clear that the number of racing veterans far outweighed young talent. Their familiarity with their cars was apparent, mostly with the relaxed attitude everyone had when addressing a problem or making adjustments to their vehicles after qualifying.

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“I think a lot of the older guys had these cars as their first or second cars on the road many years ago, so to be back in them and racing them probably feels right,” says James.

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It was also clear to see which competitors had more serious paddock support setups than those with their cars and a toolkit. “Budget does play a part in competitiveness, especially at the bigger events like the Goodwood Revival where you have 30 pro drivers competing for the last tenth of a second,” James added.

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According to James, club racing is sometimes an exception to that rule. “A well home-built and well-driven car can sometimes beat the bigger more powerful cars, which is always great to see.” It very much echoes the British Touring Car Championships of old.

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One chap in a classic Mini Cooper was well respected for refusing to trailer his car to any race meetings, simply turning up and racing with license plates still attached.

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Such quirks are part of the CTCRC series’ charm, and the owners’ pride was endearing. Nigel Baker was more than happy to take some time to talk me through his gorgeous Zetec-powered Mk1 Ford Escort, even pulling out some magazines to show me the old features of the car.

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Nigel’s Escort was easily my favourite car of the meeting, so it was sad to see it crashed into by a space-framed Vauxhall Tigra attempting a frankly ridiculous dive-bomb overtake on the first corner of the race. Both cars ended up in the tyre wall directly beneath my feet, and the gorgeous Escort limped back into the pits in a sad state. The Vauxhall driver was banned from the rest of the weekend’s racing.

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Mishaps aside, there was genuine competitive racing that weekend with cars swapping positions lap after lap in the heavily-contested categories, like Pre-’66 and Thunder Saloons.

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Pre-’66 saw the most cars on track simultaneously at Mallory Park, with 22 entrants, leading James to see a bright future for the sport. “With synthetic fuels on the way, I think classic cars will be raced for years. The industry is too big for historic racing to stop anytime soon.”

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Compared to the current evolution of the sport, classic touring cars are a world apart. Whilst the basic principle is the same and the old class systems may have taken a few decades to reach their final, standardised form, it was amazing to see how close the racing can be without additional interference by the governing bodies.

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“I actively follow the BTCC even though I much prefer historic stuff, but I’m not sure I agree with all the fiddling that goes on to reduce hybrid assistance based on race wins,” James questions. “I’ve never seen so many different race winners in so few races before, but I find the racing exciting and will continue to support it.”

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When pressed on the vision for his future in the sport, James’s only reply was to keep enjoying it as much as he has been so far; the social side of the culture being as enjoyable as the racing itself.

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I can see more historic race weekends in my future, that’s for sure.

Mario Christou
Instagram: mcwpn
mariochristou.world





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