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Speed Championship Beginners Guide

So you’ve bought a Healey (Sprite, 100/4, 100/6, 3000, Jensen Healey or a Silverstone even), had some good times fraternising at the local car club, but now you have a hankering to put the car through its paces with a little more gusto. So where do you start? The answer for most resides in sprints and hill climbs, the entry level to Motorsport. For a comparatively small outlay you can exercise your pride and joy as vigorously as you wish around some great circuits and up the most hallowed hills this country has to offer.

But you probably have a number of questions, such as:

“My old girl is just a standard road car, so how can I be competitive?”

A number of current Healeysport drivers compete with standard road cars and are competitive. This is because Healeysport run half of the season’s events as 'target time' affairs thereby giving all drivers just as much chance to win an event.

“How much will I realistically need to spend?”

There are some initial costs and some items of personal safety you will need to buy (outlined below), but the rest is up to you since you can enter as many or few events as your budget permits.

“Isn’t this a young persons sport?”

We have a broad spectrum of drivers competing in the series from 17 to 70+. You can be competitive and have fun at any age. The emphasis is on enjoyment with a competitive edge.

So with some of the initial questions addressed, you’re probably now wondering how to get involved? Well, you’ve already drawn closer to the start line simply by browsing this website and perusing this article. The next turn? Simply send Paul Baker (Sprint and Hill Climb Organiser for Healeysport) an email on paulbaker51@yahoo.co.uk then he will respond with an e-mail or a phone call. He will more than likely encourage you to come along and watch an event, giving you the chance to see what happens and to chat to the other Healey drivers.

If you’re still interested and want to know more, then please read on.

So what is a Sprint or Hill Climb?

A sprint is a timed run around a track which has a smooth, sealed surface. One car starts at a time (though there may be two or three cars on different parts of the circuit at once). You compete only against the clock and not against other cars i.e. overtaking is not permitted. A wide variety of cars will take part with separate classes for single-seaters, standard production saloons etc. Healey drivers are normally grouped together into one class. A hill climb is fundamentally the same but takes place on a narrower track (also a smooth sealed surface) starting at the foot of the hill and ascending to finish at or near the top. Typical venues for sprints include disused airfields, testing grounds, seaside promenades, not to mention permanent racing circuits. Hill climb venues take in specialist tracks, closed off public roads or private estates.

So what will you need to start Sprinting and Hill Climbing?

Assuming that you have a car that is eligible for the Healeysport series, you will need to be a paid up member of the Austin Healey Club and you will also need to register for the Healeysport Sprint and Hill Climb Challenge which costs £40 per annum. Paul Baker will send you the relevant application forms and relieve you of any joining fees. You can check the Healeysport website for both the vehicle regulations in addition to the dates of forthcoming events, allowing you to plan in which ones you may wish to compete. The website is updated after each event with a race report, points scored by each driver and often pictures and videos in the Gallery section of our plucky participants sawing at the wheel.

To take part in any Motorsport event in this country you will need a Motor Sport Association (MSA) licence. There are many types of licence but if you are a total novice you should apply for a "Non-race National B" Speed licence. You will not normally need a medical examination, so you simply click on the link to the MSA website www.msauk.org and follow the links to where you can apply for a licence. For 2017 this licence will cost you £43. Alternatively, you can call the MSA on 01753 765050 to request a form. If accepted, they will send you your licence and a comprehensive Bible of motor sport rules, affectionately known as the "Blue Book". This explains every rule associated with all the different forms of motor sport with a specific section for Sprinting and Hill Climbing. It is advisable that you familiarise yourself with all the relevant sections and should you have any questions, then contact either the MSA or Paul Baker.

The key areas you will need to focus on are:

What you, the driver will need

Personal safety is paramount so you must have a flame retardant race suit, flame retardant gloves and a crash helmet. Not surprisingly, differing levels of equipment are available and the level of protection necessary for this grade of motor sport is in fact the lowest. The flame proof suit can be single or multiple layer Nomex or similar to FIA 8856-2000 or FIA 1986 standard. Gloves must comply with the ISO 6940 standard. Helmets must conform to certain British Standards (see the Blue Book), should display the correct sticker and must fit properly. Reputable suppliers will be able to advise you on the latest standards that apply. Prices will vary depending on the ‘look’ and quality of the product, but an appropriate race suit should be obtainable from £180, gloves for £45 and a helmet from about £140. However, should your budget so stretch, you can choose to pay considerably more.

Fire proof boots, underwear and balaclavas are not mandatory, but if you are running an open car, you will need either a full face helmet or one with a visor or goggles. If you want to buy an open face helmet, do check whether an approved visor can be fitted as an accessory otherwise you will need to wear a suitable pair of goggles. If you wear glasses, always check that goggles will fit comfortably over them.

What your car will need

Most cars that take part in the Healeysport Speed Championship are road legal cars i.e. they have a current MOT and are taxed for use on the general highway. Some of the more highly modified Healeys are not road legal as they do not have an MOT or road tax but have instead a valid MSA Competition car logbook. However, for scrutineering purposes all participating cars must be in a road legal condition. Given that most debutants new to sprinting and hill climbing drive their cars to events, your Healey must therefore have a current MOT certificate and be taxed to run on the road.

Scrutineering - Every car that takes part in a Sprint or Hill Climb will be examined by an MSA approved Scrutineer and must pass this examination before it can take part in the event. The following are a few points that the Scrutineer may look for when you present your car: A timing strut - For sprints and hill climbs, timing is performed by your car breaking a light beam to start and finish each run. To ensure that each car cuts the light beam consistently, the Blue Book stipulates the size and position of a timing strut on each car.

A timing strut is basically a rectangular piece of metal (or any other rigid material) that is fixed temporarily to the front of the car. The specific requirements for the strut state that it must be "matt black over its total area (254mm x 51mm). The bottom of the strut shall be not more than 200mm from the ground and the top not less than 454mm from the ground."

Race numbers - You will be sent details of your entry number in the days before each event and you will invariably be given a different number each time. This number must be displayed on both sides of your car. The MSA rules require a black number on a white background, but for the purposes of this type of speed event, contrasting numbers (say a white number on a dark blue car or black numbers on a light coloured car) are fine. You may either fabricate your own numbers with sticky tape or you can buy packs of pre-cut numbers.

Ignition switch - should have its ‘off’ position clearly marked. A sticker somewhere near your ignition key on the dashboard with an arrow pointing in the "off" direction should be sufficient. Most motor sports suppliers sell a product called a ‘Scrutineers Delight’, an interesting name for a sheet of decals and useful markers that can be cut out and stuck to relevant places, such as the ‘Ignition off arrow’.

Battery ground lead - yellow tape should be wrapped around the battery ground (earth) lead, so that race marshals know immediately which cable to cut in the event of an emergency.

Driver’s seat – They will check that the seat is securely fixed to the car and that the seat back does not move forward. Head Restraints – Although not required for cars built before 31 December 1961, head restraints are recommended for all cars. Check with the Blue Book for details. Seat Belts – Again, not required for cars built before 31 December 1961, but for those cars registered after that date, a minimum of lap and diagonal (three point) seat belts are required. Check with the Blue Book for details.

Roll-over safety bars – These are not compulsory for some production sports cars, however roll bars are strongly recommended.  You will need to check the Blue Book to determine if you need a roll bar.

Tyres - The Healeysport rules stipulate that cars can use any ‘e’ marked tyre (that’s to say, any road legal tyre) with a minimum aspect ratio of 60%. If you are running on road legal tyres, these should more than suffice for our events. The Blue Book has a list of permitted tyres but if your car has standard road tyres they should be fine. If you are in any doubt ask Paul Baker. Whichever tyres you have, all four must have the legal minimum tread depth otherwise the Scrutineer will ask you to replace the offending tyre.

It is not necessary to change your tyres in order to compete, however, if your rubber is on its last legs, it is well worthwhile talking to the other Healey drivers to see what they recommend for your car. You might be able to find a tyre with more grip, but usually a shorter life, than you would normally fit.

Fire extinguisher – These are classified as recommended in the Blue Book but a few drivers either have a plumbed in system or a hand held device available to the driver and secured in the passenger foot well.

In summary, Scrutineers are there primarily to make sure your car is going to be safe to drive and they may find something on your car they would like you to change before you race or before you go to your next event. Listen to what the Scrutineer wants and then comply. If you need to sort a problem immediately and don't have the right part or tool, don't worry, as there is every chance that one of the other Healey drivers in the paddock will and will help you sort out the problem.

What else do you need to take with you to an event - Sprint paddocks are full of people checking tyre pressures, pumping them up and letting them down. Do they know what they are doing, who knows? Regardless, you should have an accurate tyre pressure gauge and a pump so that you can make sure that your tyres are set to an appropriate level. Again, your fellow Healey drivers will be able to advise you.

Step by step guide to race day

So you have decided to take the plunge and take part in a sprint or hill climb. You have spoken to Paul Baker and agreed that your car is eligible. You have a valid Austin Healey Club membership card, have registered to compete in the Healeysport Speed Championship and the MSA have sent you a Non-Race National B licence.

Some weeks before the event takes place, you will have sent off your application form (check the HealeySport website for details) to the organiser of your first chosen event with the appropriate fee (approx. £85-£125 per event). If your entry is successful, (some are not if an event is over-subscribed) then the organiser will send you your Supplementary Regulations (SR’s) about a week before the event. These explain how the event will be managed, clarify any specific regulations you need to be aware of, confirm the order the competition will run in, what time it all starts, what your race number will be and the paddock position in which you should park your Healey. As these events can sometimes take place in out of the way places, most organisers help you by providing a map or putting up signs to direct you to the event.

On the day of the event:

Arrive early - you should arrive in plenty of time at the venue and park your car in the allotted space.

Signing on - go to the ‘Signing On hut’ to acknowledge your arrival. For this you will need your MSA race licence, your Austin Healey Club membership card and anything else the regulations specifically ask for such as a commentary sheet. This is an information sheet used by the Course Commentator to provide some background about you or your car to those watching the event – yes, there may well be an audience! However completion of the commentary sheet is not mandatory if you are shy (or just lazy)!

Walk the Course - Depending on the venue, you will either have the opportunity to walk the course or take part in a convoy run prior to practice. If permitted, you should definitely walk the course because if you've never been to a venue before, this will help you to remember the sequence of bends, where you need to position your car for each bend, where to brake and when to turn in to ‘apex’ each corner.

The other reason for walking the course (and the reason why all the most experienced competitors do it no matter how many times they've been to a particular venue) is to properly sample the day’s track conditions first hand.

Before practice starts, the Clerk of the Course (the person responsible for running the event) may want to have a briefing session with all drivers new to the course. At this point, he/she will run through the flag system the marshals will use and any other information he/she believes you should be aware of before you race. More than anything else, they will ask you to take it easy upon your first visit to their venue, since ultimately they want you to just enjoy your day as opposed to suffering an over-exuberant, potentially expensive accident.

Scrutineering - Before your car can be scrutineered, you will need to spend a few minutes putting on your timing strut and race numbers. You should also remove any unnecessary items from the boot and passenger compartment, such as tools, spare wheel, jack, your lunch or anything else that is loose in the car. You will find a small pile of objects behind each car in the paddock and it helps to have a small tarpaulin or ground sheet to cover your stuff in case it rains during the day.

Scrutineering is the check that must be performed on your car before it is declared fit to run. If your helmet is new it will need an MSA sticker applied to by the Scrutineer - this will be checked at subsequent events. The sticker will cost you £2 so make sure you have some small change with you. Your overalls will be inspected as well - they should be clean and meet the current standards. Then your car will be checked: timing strut, numbers, driver’s seat, seat belts, throttle linkage, brake fluid level, tyres and wheel nuts. This is all done visually and if your car is road legal you shouldn't have much to worry about. Most venues will check noise levels, but again most MOT worthy cars should not have any trouble on this front. When the Scrutineer is satisfied, he/she will give you a sticker or card as a pass to show the marshals at the start of your first run.

Convoy run - If the event is a sprint at a race circuit it may be impractical to allow drivers to walk the course due to time constraints, so there may be a convoy lap instead. This will consist of everybody driving slowly round the circuit and then back to the paddock area. The purpose is not only to give you an idea of where the track goes, but also to help you remember where marshal's posts are and any other pertinent features.

Practice runs - Most events allow two practice runs in class and numerical order, however some let you choose when you would like to take your practice runs. When it is getting close to your turn for your first practice run, you should start your engine and listen out for announcements. When called, follow the marshal’s instructions and proceed to the start area.

At the start area - The exact procedure differs from venue to venue so watch the other cars in your class and listen to what the marshals tell you. At most events, but not all, you will have the opportunity to spin your rear wheels to get some heat into the tyres in the designated tyre warming area just before the start line. It is not mandatory for you to do this; you may simply drive straight up to the start line if you so wish.

When you get to the start line, the marshals will line your car up with the timing beam sensors then chock your rear wheel so that your car cannot roll backwards. Do not put on your handbrake but select first gear, watch the lights and be ready to go as instructed by the marshal. There will usually be a red light and when that changes to green you can go. Don't spend too long waiting after the light goes green but remember that the timing is from the moment your car moves, not as soon as the light changes to green.

The run – The light has turned to green, you raise the revs, drop the clutch and you’re off. At last, this is the bit you have been waiting for and you’re free to use your car on a track as it was intended without worrying about speed cameras or cars coming from the opposite direction. Your first run will go in a flash and you will be at the finish line before you know it, probably thinking about how you could have done better.

Remember though that this is a practice run. Its purpose is for you to learn the course, not for you to try and break the course record on your first outing.

Depending on the venue you will either finish the course then go back to the paddock via a return road, or you will be held at the end of the course and brought back down the hill to the paddock in batches as instructed by the marshals.

Back to the paddock - Once you get back to the paddock, park your car in your designated space and then go and find out your time for your first run. This will usually be displayed, usually on computer screens, near the place where you signed on. Whilst you’re there, take a look at the times of the other Healey drivers to get a feel for how well you are doing. You probably thought you did quite well but it’s at this point you suddenly realise how much quicker the other Healey drivers are. No matter, you’ve got three more attempts.

However, once you've done that you have all the time till your next run for socialising and chatting with the other drivers. It really is a very sociable sport and there is a very good camaraderie amongst the Healey drivers who take part. There will usually be two practice runs in the morning followed by two timed runs after lunch.

At the end of the event, If you do well, you could win a prize!  Prizes are supplied by the event organiser and also by Healeysport for the winners and sometimes the runners up in each class if it’s a designated trophy race.

Also, don’t forget to take off your race numbers and timing strut before you drive home as it may well invalidate your car insurance if you drive you car with them on the highway.

A few days after the event, the organisers usually send out a complete list of the results. The time this takes varies from event to event, but most also have the results posted on their websites after a day or so.

And finally

If you're new to a track, don't push it too hard on your first outing. Some of the hill climbs especially have very little run off areas so mistakes can be costly, especially if you need to drive your car home afterwards!  Don’t forget, your normal car insurance will not cover you during events such as these, but you can take out insurance to cover you and your car for speed events with specialist insurers. However, the best advice is to take it easy until you feel more confident about what you are doing. If you have not sprinted or hill climbed before you will not be the quickest by a long way, as many of the Healey drivers have been doing it for many years, they know the courses exceedingly well and have prepared their cars for this type of motor sport. However, if you leave your first event thinking about what you can do to make your car go faster so that you can get on terms with the other Healeys, then you already know one thing, namely that you are now well and truly hooked on the sport of sprinting and hill climbing.

Remember, the reason we all do this sport is to have FUN and the measure of how good a day we have had is the width of the smile on your face.

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