Right on track and all revved up for fast fun

Five members of the Southern Group of Motoring Writers took to the track at the Big Day Out organised by the Guild of Motoring Writers.

Chris Rees, Chris Manning, Tom Scanlan, Peter Nunn and Kevin Haggarthy enjoyed putting their personal cars through their paces at the track day at Castle Combe in Wiltshire.

They tell of living life in the fast lane.


“I saw this as a great opportunity to experience just what my Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is capable of – after all, its performance is so potent, it’s impossible to extend it fully on public roads.

“Castle Combe was the perfect venue to do this: a fast track with many sweeping curves.

“Small groups of a dozen or so cars at a time went out for 15-minute sessions, giving plenty of time – and plenty of space – to explore the car’s performance.

“The main straight saw the Alfa reach speeds of 140mph before hard braking for the challenging Quarry Corner. A series of chicanes, the off-camber Tower Corner and a tricky line through Camp Corner brought plenty of challenges for car and driver.

“On its new Goodyear Supersport rubber, and with Race mode fully engaged, the Giulia tackled it all with aplomb in perfectly dry conditions.

“Excellently organised, as always, by the guild, the Big Day Out was every bit as much about reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, and enjoying the tremendous variety of cars owned by writers, from a humble Austin A30 to a superb 1939 Talbot-Lago.

“It was topped off with a fantastic tea hosted by guild president Nick Mason. This is a calendar appointment that I never want to miss.”


“This was the fourth time I had been to the guild’s Big Day Out at Castle Combe.

“The first time was with my 1977 Toyota Celica and then my mate Rob and I took his 1985 MG Maestro for a spin round the Wiltshire track. The last two occasions I have taken my 1992 Mazda MX-5 but, due to Covid, not since 2019.

“So it was nice after a two-year break to return and see if I could go any faster. The answer was no. A certain Mr Rees was going much faster than I was!

“It was still a very enjoyable day. This time Viv joined me and we extended our stay to a mini-break in Lacock either side of the track day and it was good to be able to visit gardens and stately homes again.

“We had an enjoyable tea with Nick Mason at the end of the track day and it feels like life is at last beginning to return to normal.”


“I was a bit nervous about taking an 18ft long, 6ft 6in wide car that was about as removed from a sports car/track car as can be imagined.

“The Cougar was produced at the height of the USA’s emission reduction programme, so its 5-litre V8 produced only around 135hp.

“Also, given that guild members might well have an impressive collection of seriously-quick automobiles, would I be in any danger of simply being a nuisance on track?

“In the end, not at all.

“Over a series of four 15-minute lap sessions, the Cougar, with a passenger on board each time, swept rather gently around a total of 18 laps with not the slightest problem. It was really interesting, and reassuring, to discover that the handling was totally neutral, albeit using the full width of the track, and the brakes excellent.

“Even with the mandatory helmets, the glorious V8 rumbling could be detected, especially on the over-run.

“My passengers really seemed to enjoy themselves as much as I did.

“Unnecessarily large cars, like the Cougar were (fondly?) known as ‘land yachts’. Seafaring jokes abounded: ‘does your fog-horn work?’; ‘how deep is the keel?’; ‘does it tack OK?’; ‘where do you moor it?’; ‘I suppose the anchor is in the boot…’

“Did I sail past anything? Yes, a baby Austin A30!”


“The Big Day Out is a wonderful track day event, well organised, good fun, attracting an appealingly diverse range of cars and enthusiast owners. You’d want to be there.

“I’d been once before, taking my Mazda Roadster 1.8 RS, but this time I’d be braving the circuit with the Alpine A110 that I’d bought just under a year ago.

“On the road, I find the A110 a hugely appealing car – fast, agile, intuitive. But how about on track? Even without pushing the A110 too hard (err, the service indicator warning light had just come on…), I found it just the same. Super composed and capable with track limits much higher than my own.

“At a glance, Castle Combe might look simple but it packs some truly testing corners. The variety of cars you see out on track, and in the paddock, is a delight, adding to the character of the event.

“Alun and Adrian, friends from Suzuki PR, were also there and a spell in a Swift Sport was a reminder of just what a sweet, well balanced junior GTI it is.

“With tea at guild president Nick Mason’s house rounding out the day, the 2021 Guild Big Day Out came together in highly enjoyable fashion once again despite overcast skies and seemingly ever present threat of rain.

“Yep, you’ve guessed it ­ already looking forward to next year!”


“I had been eager to take 777 (my R53 Cooper S) out on track for some while.

“With a Stage One modification (shortened pulley) it’s a bit of a pocket rocket on the road, and, to my mind, truer to the spirit of the original Cooper S than any successor.

“The Mark One MINI was circa 80% BL approved by the time BMW took over and added their touch. I remember going on the original press launch and being driven hard in one by Russ Swift.

“It has always been one of those inevitable ‘one day’ cars for me, and they are becoming increasingly popular as there is little else around that is more fun per pound.

“Similarly, I had been meaning to do the guild day for some years and, despite Covid, was determined to do it this time. It was a great day and the right decision, if only for the variety of truly interesting cars there on the day –quite different to the usual mix of cars on such events.

“If you own a Caterham, as I do, then the only deterrent to using it on track is the weather but, as the R53 is such fun, I kept the promise to myself and used 777.

“I had the brakes checked before attending and had some new Brembo discs and pads added to the back. The garage said there was no need to change the fronts as they had only 30% wear.

“They clearly underestimated ‘big foot’ as the R53 went like lightning on track but the front brakes only lasted three 15-minute sessions before they were shot – ‘metal to metal’.

“Clearly, I must have been enjoying myself a bit too much. So that was my day over. 777 had to miss the final session so that I could carefully limp back home.

“On the plus side, it allowed me to ride passenger with Rachel Gee in her Mark 1 MX-5, and she is a class driver. An added bonus was sitting alongside our very own Chris Rees in his amazing Alfa QF.

“I’ll be back next year with new Brembos all round!”