Why sprinting is awesome and you should try it
I thought sprinting was the worst sort of motorsport to be involved in. I was wrong
Will cut his teeth as a designer on Evo magazine, before slinging a U-ey and writing for them instead. So if it has four wheels and an engine then there's a chance he's drifted it in front of a camera and then written about it. When he's not writing he can be found trying to stop Wagtails defecating on his old Range Rover.
During the summer I competed in a sprint. Not a conventional one, on a circuit or around cones in a car park. No, this one was on the streets of Coventry. You can read all about it here. But despite the unconventional location, it conformed to all the basic principles of a sprint or hillclimb: drive from one point to another as fast as you can.
I always enjoy getting to drive a car in anger, but sprinting isn’t a form of motorsport that had ever really appealed to me. Had it been a race or a rally, I wouldn't have just been appreciative, I’d have been giddy with excitement.
I suppose I'm put off by the very nature of sprints, that you’re always trying to make the fun bit – the competitive driving – as short as humanly possible. I know it’s the same for rallying and for some races too, but at least during those events, you’re spending minutes, tens of minutes, behind the wheel in one go. Not, as is the case with a lot of sprints, just seconds.
A small tweak to the rear tyre pressures and you're ready to sprint.
Really, my objection to sprinting was the relatively poor seat-time to preparation ratio. You could spend years (as well as thousands of pounds) building a competitive car, then have the fuss of transporting it to the event and fiddling with it in the paddock, only to find, when it’s your turn, it’s all over in the time it took you to clamber into your race suit and pull your helmet on. Yes, you might get five or six goes and spend a lot of time in the car, but that’ll mostly be queuing for the start line. The engine will spend far more time idling than with its rev counter needle hovering around the redline.
Compare that to a race weekend, when you'll have a few practice sessions, qualifying and maybe multiple races per weekend. Surely, I thought, that's the way to go.
Well, I was wrong. If you're going through all that palaver, then you're doing sprinting wrong. What you want to do is slap a number on the side of your car, your normal daily driver if you want. Then you’ll need a beam breaker, a thin vertical plate at the front of your car that starts and stops the clock when it cuts through the course timing light. You could buy an official one for about £25 or do what I’d do: stick some black card to your towing eye with reams of gaffer tape and make one. Now you’re ready to go sprinting. No cage, no fire extinguisher, no harnesses, just a normal car and some craft materials.
The Bentley GT3 race car. Great for sprinting if you've got one, but not essential.
In the sprint I competed in, there was a bunch of Renaultsport Clios, a few Subaru Imprezas, and even a guy in a Fiat 500. Not an Abarth, a Fiat. They were not in my group, with my borrowed space-framed VW Fun Cup car, along with the 2019 Bentley GT3 racer that acted as my classmate. No, there were in a class of cars that you’d expect would all be significantly slower than our dedicated race cars. They were not. My times were in the mid to low 80 seconds, and most of the Clios were about the same. A 182 Trophy proved to be the fastest of the French hatches, once dropping into the high 70s and finishing less than two seconds shy of the Bentley in the same run. That Clio was consistently quicker than the GT3 car once it had rained, too.
With a normal car, you don’t need to trailer it there, you just drive it. And, as it’s just a regular car, a quick check of the fluids and tyre pressures will be all the prep you need to do. There's no measuring of every last drop of fuel to minimise weight, or hours calibrating your motorsport traction control-enabled ECU. Instead, you can spend that time getting a sandwich. And with minimal fuss and a full stomach, you still get to take part in some actual proper motorsport.
Don't want to risk the family Mondeo...?
Then splash out on this scale radio control Bentley GT3 and drive it around the kitchen. It's basically the same thing.