Tuesday 22 December 2009

James May’s Toy Stories: Scalextrics – Behind the Scenes

I have no particular in interest in slot slot cars and so it was a mild curiosity which drew me to Brooklands Historic Race track in August 2009. There was talk of a new world record at Brooklands and I just had to be there to witness it.

The story was that no less than Captain Slow himself (James May from Top Gear) was to build a massive scalextric track recreating the old brooklands track......In full Size. The world record breaking track and was to run round the full length of the outer circuit using an estimated 20,000 pieces of track.

16 August was a beautiful summer morning and I arrived at Tescos car park at the southern end of the site at mid morning. Volunteers had received their briefing and been allocated sections right across the Brooklands site where they were met by representatives from Scalextrics unloading box after box of the iconic double slotted track. Cameras were already rolling on the byfleet banking and there was an air of hurried activity as small boys and girls were despatched to fetch more track and bewildered shoppers squinted in the early morning sunshine as they tried to work out what was going on. Hugh Locke-Kings iconic Brooklands racing circuit was built in just nine months, but there was less than 9 hours before the opening of this new circuit.

Further round the circuit the track building was more advanced and car batteries were being placed at regular intervals to provide power to segregated sections each to be manned by individual teams. The original bridge over the River Wey is still in place taking the track neatly into the adjacent housing estate and on into the heights. Sections were already in place ready to be placed across the roads as soon as were shut.

Meanwhile back at the museum the Slot Car festival was under way and a large number of visitors were enjoying Slot Car racing, Airfix model making in the sunshine and running their own cars up the 1908 test hill. I was astonished by the number of cars that were able to make it up the steepest section. Serious slot car enthusiasts were contemplating new purchases at the swap meet and every conceivable combination from Beatles to Buses were burning rubber on the dragstrip set up under the Brooklands Museum Concorde.

The time was fast approaching for the start of the record breaking race. James May made his way to the start under the members’ bridge and as more and more people waited patiently James and the Plum Productions crew filmed cutaways and publicity photographs.

James May signalled the start of the race with an energetic swing of a Union jack and a silver Mercedes and maroon Aston Martin shot off and out of sight from my vantage point on the members bridge. The debate on the bridge was how long the cars would take. The calculations were made and the arguments continued but the consensus as I left was 20 to 40 minutes.

The cars made a reasonable start but the uneven concrete slabs were causing even more of a challenge than they had for the cars and bikes a century before. As every schoolboy and middle aged father will know the connections are critical to the smooth running of the cars and as a consequence they ran rather slower than expected even having to be manhandled on some sections.

This gave me plenty of time to make my way to the Sony Headquarters where I saw the cars head out of a drainage pipe and across a lake before heading across to the Colgate Palmolive building where a spiral section had been used to negotiate the cars to the first floor and out of the back across the 1930s Campbell circuit, now the Museum members entrance, and up the Members Hill banking and back onto the museum’s existing track to the finish line under the member’s bridge where James may was there to meet the cars after over 2 hours wait. The second car crossing the line meant that this was officially a race and the record had been set.

Watch more at:

James May’s toy stories (Scalextrics) is on BBC2 16.45pm 24 December 2009.
See also BBC IPlayer

Sunday 20 December 2009

Will Schumacher Return

Photo © F1atHome.Com
There is increasing speculation that seven times world champion will return to F1 as Nico Rosberg’s team-mate in the newly formed Mercedes F1 team. I believe there is no doubt that Schumacher will appear in some form in the Mercedes team. However, I am not so sure that it will be as a full time driver. The physical demands placed on drivers are such that anyone who is not 100% fit will find it a struggle to complete a grand prix. There is no doubt that Michael Schumacher is one of the greatest drivers of all time but his age is against him and my view is that he more likely to take up a role closer to Ross Brawn than Nico Rosberg.

Update: 20 Dec09 German newspaper Der Spiegal reports a split between Schumacher and his manager which is denied. Quite what this might have to do with a posible return is anyone's guess, but one to watch.
Der Spiegal: English Version online at:

Breaking News: Schumacher has signed a deal and an anouncement is due next Tuesday 29 Dec 09.

Update: Schumacher has signed for Mercedes for 2010 and I am taking time out to digest my Brawn cap. See car launch at:

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Branson Launches Virgin Racing

Richard Branson returned to the birthplace of the Virgin brand on Tuesday (15 Dec09) to launch Virgin Racing. 300 guests assembled at the Louise Blouin Foundation in Notting Hill, in London.

The Rick Parfitt Jr band provided the icebreaker before the venue rocked to the electrifying sound of a Formula 1 car courtesy of a collection of up and coming musicians playing electric guitars.

Branson unveiled the team which includes ex Toyota driver Timo Glock and Brazilian newcomer Lucas DiGrassi. Branson hopes to hit the ground running after the experience gained supporting the Brawn team during 2009.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Silverstone in 17 Year Grand Prix Deal

Silverstone Owners, The British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) announced a deal to stage the British Grand Prix over the next 17 years.
Speaking last Monday, 7 December 09, Damon Hill, President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC), owners of Silverstone Circuit, said: "We are delighted that the long term future of the British Grand Prix has been secured and that Formula 1 will be remaining at Silverstone, its natural home in Great Britain, for at least the next 17 years. This long term contract will enable us to continue with our plans to develop Silverstone into a world class facility, bringing the venue into line with the very best sports facilities in the world for the benefit of all race goers, teams, drivers and fans.
FOM President Bernie Ecclestone, said: "I am pleased that we have reached an agreement with Silverstone for the retention of the British Grand Prix. This will ensure that Great Britain will remain on the Formula One calendar for many years to come, which is something I have personally always wanted to see happen. The team at Silverstone already knows how to organise a good event, so now everyone can look forward to next summer at Silverstone.”

Shortly after the announcement Siverstone were announcing record sales of 6,500 tickets within the first 24 hours. The Northamptonshire track will also be the venue for the 2010 British round of MotoGP.

This time last year the word on the ground was that an F1 deal would have meant a loss for the BRDC. A BRDC member told me that the MotoGP deal was a good one and if Donnington was not ready in time we should not assume that the BRDC would step in to accept an the F1 deal.