The dreaded cold sausage baguette, missing brown sauce. Image: Palmer

MRUK scribe Mick Palmer bemoans travel, food and toilets on his journey to Norfolk and back. And in the middle of all that rigmarole he came across some interesting tidbits from TCR UK testing.

If I’m blunt and honest, hailing from the North East is a ballache for a national motor racing journalist and photographer like myself. I’m almost fine that Knockhill, Oulton Park, Donington and Cadwell are all a three hour drive away. Silverstone is just over three-and-a-half hours. It’s not too bad when you’re on a one day there-and-back trip I suppose, but being a lad with a bit of girth in the belly area, it means I’m far from being ‘traditionally’ fit and ready to squeeze ten hours of walking alongside seven hours of driving – hell, I’d even struggle with Sumo these days, and no, that isn’t a joke. I love the sport. I’m still gutted that Kisenosato and Ikioi retired and that Harumafuji was a bit naughty, ending his career. I digress of course (I hate that lazy cliché….)

Getting to the venues for an hour before the track action begins does mean an early start, and getting home late. It also means that I can rate almost every service station facilities for most of the A1 and M1 for a quick ‘sit down,’ or how well each one rates for supposedly hot food, from the top of my head. Actually, it’s a surprise I’m still alive, being early on the road means I’m usually there when the cleaners aren’t, and I’ve seen some sights. How somebody can write across the top of a cubicle with that as their ‘ink’ still puzzles me. Those places at four in the morning are a petri dish of inhuman biological warfare!

It’s different for Snetterton, Brands and Thruxton. Four-and-a-half hours to Snett (if the satnav doesn’t throw a wobbly.) Five and a bit to Brands, or closer to six for Thruxton (all usually with wild detours adding lumps of time on thanks to overnight roadworks somewhere.) Those three tracks are a total nightmare if I’m not staying overnight, which was the case last Friday at Snetterton.

Alex Ley clocked 72 laps. Photo: MRUK/Palmer

The journey down wasn’t so bad I suppose, although I did land in Cambridge (I think) just before eight in the morning. I know – I could use my phone and Google Maps instead of my ancient Garmin, but the damn phone drains battery power too quick on that setting, and anyway I use it to stream Napalm Death, Hellbastard and a bit of Gorerotted because modern cars don’t have CD players. The last thing I want to hear when waiting for directions is an amalgamation of the lady satnav voice Jane, mixing it up with my favourite Death Metal and Grindcore tunes. You can just imagine it now: “at the next set of traffic lights be in the right lane – I ONCE USED ICE TO GENTLY TEASE HER, NOW IT SUROUNDS HER IN THE FREEZER – at the roundabout take the third exit – MR MCDONALDS BROUGHT THE CHILDREN TO THE MEAT PACKAGING AND PROCESSING PLANT WHERE THEY’RE PUSHED INTO THE GRINDER BY THE ARMY PATROL – continue on A14.)

The thing about that detour to Cambridge was that I finally got it – why drivers dislike cyclists. Up in my area you hardly see them, but here it seemed like there were thousands unleashed! I was overtaken (while trying to discern where Julie was trying to direct me through a hail of Slayer riffing about Surgery with no Anaesthesia) by a bloke in his twenties on a bicycle straight from the fifties. Not just that, he had a fantastic tweed suit, a deer stalker hat and a perfect handlebar moustache. I could have been transported back 70 years, apart from the fact that he had a whacking great set of Beats headphones on (whaddaya reckon, Mario Lanza? Frankie Laine? Possibly Cannibal Corpse?) By buggery were they everywhere. Loads of school kids on fancy bikes (no mountain bikes or BMXs,) perfectly turned out in uniform, shiny helmets, the lot. When I take my kids to school if you see a school kid on a bike it inevitably has rusty wheels with the frame sprayed black, has no brakes, is invariably on the wrong side of the road being wheelied – one handed of  course –  so the other appendage is free to flip the bird at every driver who hits a horn. But one thing is the same – none of them give a shiny shite about the Highway Code – a big grumble for someone like me who cycled everywhere for over a decade (including when I was working in F1, which spurned many a ribbing.) I was nearly writing the lyrics to upcoming albums by my favourite bands with the mutilations that almost occurred with the way they cut into and out of traffic. I’ve seen both sides of the battle lines, and arseholes populate both teams, but a bike vs a car usually goes one way.

When I did get close to Snett I popped into a Greggs nearby to get a sausage baguette – it was bloody cold. Five hours driving and a few trips to the trotts room had left me peckish, but I was buggered off that they were charging me £3.75 for that unheated lack of joy- and they had no brown sauce. Disgraceful. It was a good job I’d brought some Pukka Pies and Corned Beef stotties from home to keep me going.

Callum Newsham ran out his new i30 – Photo: MRUK/Palmer

The weather was nowhere near as bad as it was when I last landed at the track for the TCR UK championship showdown last season. That was horrendous. I’m not kidding, I’ve never been as wet as that in years, and changing all of your clothes (including the delicates) in the back seat of a small car in a packed car park turned out to be a challenge, but I managed to be a fat Superman without pressing my massive arse against the car window. Although I wish I had, because the next car along had a young couple revving their engine through the entire lunch break (it was a Time Attack/Tunerfest event, so dipshit Danny and dumbo Debbie had the Corsa for the day – for the love of god it is not a bloody GTR, no matter how much you want it to be!!) It was a little damp, but nowhere near as cold as I’d expected. There were a few showers through the day, but it didn’t halt testing in prep for the 2023 campaign. Some of the front runners from the last couple of seasons chose only to go out a few times. Overheating one axle with the other under temp was a bit of an inconvenience as the circuit surface didn’t warm up too much. The likes of Bradley Kent and Bruce Winfield didn’t gain lots of track time, instead they were considered in what they wanted to achieve. The Kent and Essex Veloster was packed away with a couple of hours to go as the wind picked up and a shower kicked in. Scott Sumpton had a few runs in the Restart Racing Civic Type R, but the fact is that some of those drivers have had track time already this season, with Sumpton testing extensively so far in 2023.

Drivers adapting to new cars was also on the agenda. Callum Newsham in his all white i30 had runs throughout the day. Darron Lewis put in plenty of laps in his first gen Audi RS3. Some drivers were in and out through the test with familiar machinery. Alex Ley – who took the highest amount of victories in 2022 put in 72 laps (bear in mind this was the longer 300 layout that they’ll race on this year compared to the short 200 utilised last season.) Darelle Wilson was also in familiar territory, or was he? He did say that DW Racing has two examples of the Astra now, and that we’ll have to wait and see whether or not the trademark green will return for a sixth consecutive season.

WSBK champ Guintoli went for a run out. Photo: MRUK/Palmer

One of the other big things for Snetterton was seat time. Simple seat time for some, sorting an out of the box machine for others. Seeing Jac Constable in a new Audi was a bit odd after two years as a Cupra racer, but the car looked sorted, and there is a lot more to come yet. The baby of the grid – Oliver Cottam – was getting laps in under the guidance of Touring Car comms man Paul O’Neill. The four new examples of the Audi are something else – these are real racing cars. There is so much more to them than previous generation machines, they will make some impact over the next couple of years I have no doubt. Lewis Brown and Neil Trotter seemed to have a lot more luck in the Chameleon run Leon pairing than at the end of last season when tech issues sent them home early. Rick Kerry and George Jaxon were utilising the day to get more comfortable with their machines. Kerry has had a partial comeback, and Jaxon made his debut in the tsunami that was the 2022 season closer, so that seat time was a blessing.

Popping up without any prior announcement was Luke Sargeant in an i30, with eyes for the moment on the opening round, and a couple of familiar faces. 2014 World Superbike Champion and former Moto GP racer Sylvain Guintoli was in a chipper mood as he climbed on board for some laps with Max Coates (who still has a 100% win ratio in the championship – from two races in 2019.) Mr Macau Rob Huff made an appearance too with the ex-WTCR racer not sniffing out a drive here for 2023. One Motorsport driver Josh Cook made an appearance too, as a helping hand for some of the runners in the TCR supporting Civic Cup.

Rob Huff – not appearing in the UK series anytime soon. Photo: MRUK/Palmer

Everybody will be out again, and of course they’ll all be at Donington for the TCR UK media day (March 28th) which is far better for travelling for me than most circuits (although Croft would be perfect) because it’s a simple A1, M18, M1 and there (via a half decent service station Greggs at Donny services.)

As far as the photography and filming part of the day went the lighting was what I usually get at Snetterton. Overcast and hazy. Apart from the odd moment of extra cloud and rain, or two bits of sunshine, it was eight hours of monotone grey from the horizon up. I took around 4,000 shots, and filmed some piece to camera segments for an upcoming mini-documentary on Ukrainian Touring Car racing to help promote the United 24 charity. And I did split my jeans, between the bloody legs – enough so that if I wasn’t wearing some fine NEXT undies my right bollock would have been swinging in the wind all day……..

The trip home was a total arse up to be honest. I went to Thetford to fill the car up, and to fill me up with Maccy D grub (a number of triple cheeseburgers were consumed – along with a large Fanta – the cup came in useful in an A19 layby when it was chucking it down and I needed a comfort break much later on.) I missed a frigging turn off though after that didn’t I. And no I wasn’t blasting the best of Carcass at the time. So I ended up on a bunch of country roads with all those fancy new fangled bloody bright headlights blinding me – whoever invented and passed them does not give a hopping turd about oncoming traffic do they? It’s like they bury into your soul through your eyeballs and mush up what little intellect that is contained in the noggin. The result of that is 40mph in a 60 zone on those country roads hoping I didn’t end up in a ditch. Or implanted into the front of an oncoming HGV. I was driving like a proper old twat. It’s the first time in months I’ve driven in proper darkness, and I kept missing turn offs because I was trying to see where I was pissing going! Eventually I ended up on the A1 and lo and behold my favourites were out in force.

Scott Sumpton gained more seat time in the Civic. Photo: MRUK/Palmer

Mr Knobhead weaving and undertaking at full pelt made more appearances than usual, one especially bellendish BMW 125i anus anchored up enough to smoke all four boots in avoidance of a Tiguan making a perfectly normal move to the outside lane to get past a horsebox. Friday night electric conservation Renault Zoe driver on the inside lane at 35 holding up the HGV contingent, hoping to find a charge point appeared near Doncaster. Their Uncle in a Leaf appeared at Wetherby. I thought that lot planned their journeys better, but no, they like to put all the eighteen wheelers on the outside of a dual carriageway on an incline don’t they? And the worst of all – Mr (it’s always a bloke) variable accelerator fella. Now, my motor has a dual speed limiter/cruise control, so for the sake of argument I set mine at 70 (believe what you will…..) and I’ll tootle past someone who is doing 60mph, then five minutes later they’ll piss past at 95mph in the outside lane, and another five minutes later they appear on your inside at 55, before blasting past yet again a few minutes later. What is that about?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I woke up at three in the morning drove to Snett, watched cars, drove home, covered 560.4 miles and spent 10 hours 19 minutes in the driving seat (admittedly some of that was driving corner to corner at the track to take photos – because I could. My take away from the weekend on a more serious note can be read in an upcoming issue of MRUK (not the one out now, but later in March.) The other take away is that when the opening round of TCR UK kicks off at the track in April I’ll be there both days, and I’m staying over in a hotel, and I’ll update the damn satnav. But what I need to know is where is there a Burger King in Norfolk? I need something different to McDonalds (and no, not KFC please – that’s like eating your own undercarriage from a bucket – rank as owt.)

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