Ace Historic Motorsport invited Classic Yorkshire to join their team for the 77th Goodwood Members meeting in April this year. In addition to their own car Whiz (previously featured in this magazine) Ace was taking two customer cars for Matt Jeffrey (Ace) and Ray Low (Primrose). Mini’s are in the DNA of Acespeed, racing them, restoring them and building race cars from scratch.
Ace Historic Motorsport invited Classic Yorkshire to join their team for the 77th Goodwood Members meeting in April this year. In addition to their own car Whiz (previously featured in this magazine) Ace was taking two customer cars for Matt Jeffrey (Ace) and Ray Low (Primrose). Mini’s are in the DNA of Acespeed, racing them, restoring them and building race cars from scratch. Racing at Goodwood is a privilege granted to only a few, so a team of three Yorkshire racers is a rare treat. This article is not about the results but an insight into what it takes to get on the grid of this highly prestigious, but ultimately unimportant race. Winning a race at Goodwood doesn’t count for any championship. The journey starts with an application to Goodwood for a place on the grid. To start with you must have a suitable Mini, pre 1966 with an FIA 1293cc Appendix K engine. It’s a nervous wait and the initial list had 300 applications for just 30 places, only two were allocated to the Acespeed team. Recognising the interest in the race Goodwood added an extra heat to increase the entry to 60 cars. Thankfully a third place for Acespeed came through late in the day.
An hour on the track is the result of months of hard work. Each car is checked over and repairs and improvements made. The engine is built by a professional engine builder, certified as legal and sealed so that further modifications can’t be made. Typically, an engine will be pushing out 140bhp (an original mini engine would produce about 65bhp). At some point a scrutineer will call to examine the engine and confirm its eligibility for the race. The specifications of the car are matched to its HTP, Historic Technical Passport which holds all the details of the cars build and legal modifications. Once Goodwood Road Racing Club is satisfied that the car is appropriately period and legal, then the place is confirmed.
Once the build is complete, the car is cleaned and polished so that it looks at it’s best on the grid. Excellent presentation is part of the Acespeed way and the cars are always gleaming and accurately aligned. This is not OCD, but a sensible strategy for a professional team. A well-presented car gets the most photographs and social media posts and this makes the drivers and sponsors happy.
Day 1 of Goodwood starts with a five-hour drive from West Yorkshire to the Goodwood circuit. Not a bad drive though the rain diminished visibility for the latter part of the drive. The three vehicles with trailers set off at 30-minute intervals. On arrival there is the security system to navigate and without the right passes you won’t be getting into the Paddocks. The one-way system takes you onto the track for a quarter of a lap before entering the Mini paddock where chaos ensues. Sixty vans with trailers are decanting cars, tools and spares and the patience of a saint is required to get you to the point where the van can be driven away. There is nothing more to be done today except to give the cars a polish, say hello to old friends and have a look at your rivals. It’s a big team that has made its way from Yorkshire. Three cars, three drivers plus family supporters, six mechanics, a sponsor and the WAGS who provide emotional support. There is also a couple of RV’s, some hotel rooms and endless supplies of sandwiches, chilli and lemon drizzle cake (other cakes were also available).
Day 2, Friday is a fairly quiet day and normally a chance to relax before the hard works starts. We start the day by polishing the cars and applying the stickers required by the organisers, including race numbers and house team, no advertising is allowed. Throughout the day the scrutineers arrive. The engine is checked to make sure that the seals are intact, the engine certification is checked, the HTP reviewed. Then a technical inspection to make sure that everything is fastened down properly, the engine cut out works, fire extinguishers properly connected. Finally a scrutineer with a magnet checks that panels and components originally made of steel have not been replaced by lighter non magnetic alloys. Stickers are applied by the scrutineers to prove that the car is eligible to race.
For those found to have cars that don’t fully comply with the regulations the paddock becomes a hive of activity as they work to put things right before being scrutineered again. One team had to reinstate reverse gear, removed to prevent accidental and catastrophic engagement of reverse during a race. Drivers have to get their flameproof overalls and boots checked to make sure that they comply with the regulations and then it’s back to the car to make sure the seats fit well and mirrors are pointing in the right direction. A final polish of the cars and we can head back to the hotel before race day.
Day 3: Race Day. It’s an early start, 7am in the paddock. We start with a quick wipe down of the cars and a bit of a tidy up. The car is fuelled, tyre pressures checked (it’s a trade secret), oil levels checked and the car given a final polish. At 9.30 the car is pushed by two of the support team to the assembly area. There is no particular place because this is the practice which will determine the grid position for the heat. First up is Mat Jeffrey and suitably booted and suited he stands around chatting to the team or other drivers, you can see the tension in every driver. A whistle blows and the drivers put on their helmets and climb into their cars. The support team pull the harnesses extra tight and switch on the camera. The marshal’s wave the cars out and 30 Mini’s rev their engines and set off towards the track. The support team run to the pits where a selection of tools and spares await in case of a breakdown. A warm up lap is completed and the cars line up on the grid. Twenty minutes later and practice is completed and after being held in parc ferme they return to the paddock. This is repeated for Ray Low and Andy Harrison 30 minutes later, though this time there is drama for Andy. On lap three whiz starts to smoke and a lap later he stops coming past the pits having retired on the track. Rays drive was uneventful and he returned safely after the allotted practice time. The whole team now concentrate on the damaged car, even the drivers offer support. There is a spare engine but it’s in the van parked at the campsite. To get the engine to the paddock would require the car to cross the track and that was going to be a challenge. Mike and Daz crack on with removing the engine and by the time the replacement engine is delivered the damaged engine is out. The paddock has attracted quite a crowd now, watching the mechanics working feverishly to fit the new engine. Success, the new engine is in and running in less than two hours. The old engine had thrown a valve and holed a piston. But the drama continues as the gearbox refuses to engage third gear. Another frantic hour working on the gearbox with help and advice from the other teams. They may be rivals but at the end of the day they want to settle things on the track. The team tried everything but to no avail. At 3 o’clock we retired the car and all the resources concentrated on the two surviving cars. I cannot tell you how hard the team worked to get the car back up and running but that as they say is racing. The two remaining cars were racing at 5pm and 5.30 and so tyre pressures were checked, oil dipped and a final polish given. Their practice times determined their grid positions and some of the best racing of the day ensued. Both cars performed well and made up a couple of places. Primrose was rubbed by another car taking off some paintwork and chrome trim but otherwise both cars returned to the paddock safely.
Day 4: It’s not a race day for us so we can change out of our overalls, relax and enjoy the event. We tour the pits, enjoy the cars and look out for famous drivers. Jackie Stewart passes us in his trademark tartan trousers, Derick Bell poses for a photograph and Tiff Needell is holding court next to his lightweight E type. But the jobs not completely over for the team. Once the event is over we have to load up the cars and drive them back home. The race programme is running nearly an hour late and we don’t get on to the circuit until 8 O’clock. But then there was another hours wait to get to the paddock and start loading up. We finally exit the circuit at 9pm and head for home but a blow out on the way delayed us for a wheel change. We finally arrive at race HQ at 3am and secure the cars in the compound. Fortunately we didn’t have to unload so home to bed by 3.30. I must confess that I was shattered the next day but the visit to Goodwood had been a thoroughly enjoyable, made better by being part of a great team. From the drivers to friends and family through to the support team everyone pulled together when necessary. Of course, everyone was disappointed that all three cars didn’t get to race but once the decision was made to retire the two remaining cars became our priority. I would like to thank everyone for sharing this experience with me and wish the best of luck to Andy, Ray and Mat for the rest of the season.