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Whickham and District Motor Club Limited

A Grand Day Out

Considering just how bad the weather had been the previous week it’s fair to say that I had reservations about the coming hill climb at Craigantlet on the last weekend in April. Friday morning in Stanley had seen a veritable blizzard coming down and the prospect of catching a plane from Newcastle to Belfast brought more than enough thoughts of weather even worse than the past two years. The trip, however, was much more pleasant than expected and I arrived in Belfast to dry, sunny weather and was collected by my friend Smyth who arrived resplendent in Ray Bans with the top of his convertible down, so we enjoyed some fine “Norn Iron” fresh air on the journey home.

It was brilliant to see my friend Smyth again and it seemed very strange to think that I hadn’t actually been over since Cultra Hill Climb in June 2015. This year we were sharing the ‘Rocket’ and there was virtually nothing to do to apart from bleed the rear brakes and pack the tow car for the morning.

We had both decided from the start that this year was going to be a very relaxed affair when it came to Motorsport. The Rocket is a very simple design (you can read more about it at www.crossle.com) but truly wonderful to behold. Smyth and I set off at 7am for Craigantlet and it wasn’t long before the rain stand to come. Down, although to be honest it was fairly light at the time. The past two years have seen torrential rain at Craigantlet and we were hoping upon hope that this year would not be yet another repeat performance.

As it happened were to be very lucky this year. Although the rain did come down at one point it was only the very lightest of showers and didn’t cause us any problems whatsoever. I was first of us to try the carp the hill, and found that although it started well we had a strange misfire from about 2000rpm onwards, that didn’t go away. I didn’t really mind though, as the run was the first time I’d driven the rocket since 2012 and since then it had bigger tyres and a different engine. When Smyth had his first practice run the car behaved a little more, and subsequently ran almost faultlessly all day, bar one slight misfire on my second timed run.

The Rocket is a very different car to drive than the Sylva. Whereas the Sylva is a very light car that feels it, the Rocket is easily as light but has the feel of a much heavier, more planted vehicle. Some of that could be put down to the tyres, but much of is undoubtedly down to Phil Stevenson’s excellent chassis design.

As in previous years the Rocket attracted a great deal of attention, mainly due to its individuality and also because a number of people had heard there was a ‘home-made’ car competing; not strictly true as Phil had created the Rocket whilst employed as an apprentice at Crossle Racing Cars back in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, it was a handle we were happy to accept on the day as it did mean a good number of people came up to talk to us and ask about the car.

In the past we have tried a number of different ways to record our runs up the various Northern Irish hill climbs, but haven’t had the success we had hoped for. This year saw a big difference in that respect, when Smyth produced a Go Pro Hero 4 Session camera: an absolutely gorgeous design, arguably the nicest video camera I had ever seen for in- and on-car video recording. The Session camera is a small black cube, around 30mm square, with a single button operation. It also connects wirelessly to your smart phone so you can set it up with a variety of options and most importantly view the output on your smart phone screen. It records in HD and has burst photo mode as well as simple photo operation at 8mp. We had a bit of fun setting it up and once that was done we were ready to record our runs up the hill for reviewing later. Unfortunately we did forget to turn off the wifi once we had set it up resulting in the battery running out half way through our runs, but then it was a good learning curve and one to remember at Cultra in six weeks time.


To say the weather was kind to us was no understatement. After the past two years we were beginning to think the change of date from the traditional first weekend in August was nothing but a bad move, and had this year’s event brought us anything like the rain we had in 2014 and 2015 we would have been thinking it simply wasn’t worth the effort. Torrential rain is one thing when you have a roof or a popup tent but when you have neither it is a miserable experience. This year we, along with all the open seaters, were very lucky.

And we were not only fortunate with the weather - as we were signing on Event Secretary Carol presented us with our awards from last year for 2nd and 3rd in class - a wonderful little surprise and totally unexpected as we had left the event very quickly due to the torrential rain.

It was pretty evident that this year would not see a repeat of the same: the top three cars in our class were Gerard O’Connell’s Mk 2 Escort with its 300bhp Millington engine: (in the Escort shootout of the fastest ten Ford Escorts in Northern Ireland he was the outright overall winner); Steve Ross’s 6.3 litre Supercharged Chevrolet engined Ford Granada: (Stevie Ross did a 181mph standing 1/4 mile in 11.3s at Ten Of The Best - he isn’t really one for hanging around); and Gary McWilliams 300bhp 240RS Turbo engined Nissan Toyota Starlet ()you start to get the idea that a very basic 1600cc Kent engine running on 40DCOE Webers might not have the legs to take them to the wire….

No matter as far as we were concerned: it was a day out driving, it was an opportunity to show off the Rocket; it was a chance to blast up the hill a little more quickly than we did last year and an opportunity to smile whilst doing what we loved.

As we did each run the pleasure increased. The Rocket stopped misfiring; the sun came out and warmed everyone up and made everyone smile; lots of people came up to us to ask about the Rocket; we had a great time. It was my first time ever driving with a HANS device. Obviously it must have saved my life because I didn’t crash and end up with a broken neck, which of course I would have done had I not been wearing it. What a load of rubbish. Still, rules are rules and we had to wear it. It was pretty uncomfortable and made seeing over your shoulder impossible, but then obviously pulling out of aside road and being centre-punched must be much less serious than consciously driving head-on into a solid object. What the hell.

Nevertheless, even the HANS device could not detract from my pleasure at all; the simple act of driving quickly up a twisty hill in the glorious sunshine was more than enough to keep me happy, and a best time of 62.59 seconds was quite good enough to maintain the smile for the rest of the day. Kieron did better than me, recording a 60.30s time on his final run. I managed to claim one small victory with my 64ft time of 2.63s - only the merest one hundredth off Stevie Ross’s 2.62s time.

Overall, the day was fabulous. We had a great time on the hill, spoke to loads of old friends and a good number of new ones, enjoyed the banter with everyone and saw some amazing vehicles all in the glorious Northern Ireland sunshine. I couldn’t have spent a better weekend doing anything else and loved every minute of my time across the water. Fabulous!

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