Since we got our beloved basset hound I’ve seen a lot of parks; there isn’t a green space in Liverpool that I don’t know like the back of my hand. While I’m in the Wavertree Mystery or Allerton Towers everyday, it’s been a lot longer since I’ve been to my favourite park – Oulton Park. My parents and I remedied that yesterday with our first trip in nine years as a threesome to the glorious Cheshire track. Oulton has been likened to the Nordschleife, it’s crests, bumps and tree-lined straights are largely unchanged since Stirling Moss was racing Grand Prix machinery here in the Gold Cup – and this living slice of history is less than 45 minutes away from my house, which is always a bonus.
It has to be said that Jonathan Palmer’s MSV have done a great job with their portfolio of circuits. While Donington still looks rough around the edges and Silverstone surrenders its spirit to the needs of F1, the MSV quartet of Oulton, Brands, Snetterton and Cadwell have all kept the changes on the tarmac to a minimum while ensuring that off-track things are nearly as slick and professional as the billion-dollar state-sponsored race venues of the new world. There were few queues on the way in, a lovely restaurant to enjoy, a tidy pitlane to wander round and toilets that were clean as the proverbial whistle. These things may not sound important if you are viewing on TV, but getting these little things right keeps the punters coming back to the track. Visitor numbers for the F3 and GTs looked as healthy as I’ve ever seen them, while the BTCC regularly has its biggest crowd of the year at Oulton.
After a very slow stroll through the car park (Astons, Lambos, Ferraris, a convincing Porsche 911 RSR replica and a mint-condition 1969 Alfa GTV are quite a distraction) we elected to park our chairs at Cascades where we had a great view from the run out of the first corner all the way to the fearsome Island Bend. You then glimpse the cars in the trees as they climb the hill before they brake hard into the Knickerbrook chicane before hammering out of sight towards Druids. It’s the best view you can get here, we could see roughly two-thirds of the venue while grazing on my Mum’s tasty picnic.
After a shameful lapse in attending live racing we were struck immediately by how impressive even a humble Formula Ford is. When the British GT championship runners burbled, popped and banged into life we were back in petrolhead heaven. GT racing surely has the finest and most varied soundtrack of any kind of modern motorsport. From the near silence of the new Lotus Evoras to the shrill sound of a Ferrari 458 or the rattling flat six of the ever-present 911, the GTs are as much an audio pleasure as they are a visual one. As for the Jones twins’ brutal Mercedes SLS, that sounded like the Devil farting!
Into the Knickerbrook chicane it was the SLS that provided the most action. In race one the Jones’ were on the back-foot as the 911s of the brilliant Bridgman and Westbrook monstered them for third, while in race two the Mercedes was back on the attack. But the car that got the most cheers was the plucky little Chevron of Anthony Reid and Jordan Whitt. It was often on the tail of the Speedworks Corvette or the hordes of Ferrari F430s, the little yellow bullet darting across the kerbs like no other. The Cheshire-based marque was once famous for huge cars, but this little whipper-snapper was quite the opposite – a Dinky car by comparison.
It was 2010 champions Trackspeed with their garish Porsche driven by Ashburn and Westbrook that took one race, while the other fell to the fantastic Ferrari 458 of Bateman and Lyons. I’m chuffed we got to see Westbrook at his best, he’s so entertaining in any GT car, especially a 911. It was also a pleasure to see the exquisite 458 take what must rank as one of its first victories anywhere, I suspect these sleek machines will become a racing staple for the rest of the decade.
The F3 races weren’t quite so entertaining, especially after watching the magic Monza races on youtube. Come to think of it, I don’t know when F3 at Oulton last produced a truly memorable race, I much prefer watching them at Donington or Silverstone. It’s amazing how little has changed in that category over the years, surely it’s time for a re-think of F3?
We were rooting for Mclaren-affiliated Kevin ‘Kev’ Magnussen, our excuse for such blatant favouritism was that we had a soft spot for his Dad after meeting him just before the start of his record-breaking F3 season back in 1994. Surely Jan couldn’t possibly have a child in F3 already? It’s enough to make you feel old. Sadly Kev was beset by problems, he won’t be beating his father’s records this year especially with the brilliant Brazilians Nasr and Foresti looking so good. Felipe Nasr certainly looks capable of going all the way, just imagine what dear old Murray would make of Felipe Massa and Felipe Nasr racing together! It would be even more of a tongue-twister than Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell…
The Formula Ford races were good, although nowhere near as exciting as the championship’s opening encounters at Silverstone earlier in the month. The entertaining Volkswagen Cup was also on the bill, but I was disappointed that there were no vans racing – it’s certainly the only championship I find myself saying that about! However, there was a Golf liveried as a cop car, a Beetle dressed up as Herbie and a rogue Seat on the grid, so the racing wasn’t totally sane. The lead battle was a cracker in the second VW encounter where the Walker family took charge in their Golfs in a four-way dice for first.
The next day we were pink with sunburn but it was all well worth it. If you haven’t been to Oulton Park you really must go. It’s a place where you don’t need the most exciting racing to amuse you, it’s just such a pleasure to see the cars navigating their way around a proper racing venue steeped in heritage. At the weekend it’s the thrilling British Superbikes, although I reckon it will be the Gold Cup in August when I can next find the time and money to take the short trip to this little gem of a track. Meanwhile I’ll content myself with a walk in the park this afternoon, there’ll be no horsepower but there will be a speedy dog to keep me amused.