Ormskirk MotorFest

Why closed roads motor sport would be a win for West Lancashire

I WOULD love to see the day that Lord Street in Southport – which is almost exactly, give or take a few yards, a mile long – is used as a drag strip.

Before you start hammering the keyboard with an indignant email to The Champion’s letters page, expressing your outrage at the sheer stupidity of an elegant shopping thoroughfare being temporarily used for such a low-brow, knuckle-dragging excuse for a weekend’s fun, it’s worth pointing out that Brighton’s been using its seafront for just such a purpose for decades.

What’s more, it’s been much easier to do this sort of thing legally for about two years, since the Government introduced a law allowing event organisers to temporarily close off public roads and use them for motorsport. At the time it was even championed by David Cameron (remember him?), but very few people have taken advantage of it.

But – if a conversation I had the other day with the organisers of the Ormskirk MotorFest was anything to go by – Aintree Circuit Club could be about to. It’s already proven with its annual visit to Ormskirk that people (roughly 15,000 of them, if official counts are anything to go by) are more than happy to watch E-types and Ferraris doing laps of a one-way system, but now it wants to up the stakes and have a fully-fledged, competitive event where cars will really be able to strut their stuff.

It’s not been decided where such an event should take place – although it’s likely to be somewhere a bit quieter than Ormskirk’s one-way system, for all sorts of logistical reasons – but I reckon a properly managed, safety-assessed bit of driving against the clock would be a great way of putting the North West on the petrolhead map. Remember I said that very few people have actually used that change in the law? A couple of event organisers down south and over in North Wales have put their own events on rather successfully, but the only comparable example I can think of is the Coventry MotoFest, which used parts of the city’s ring road for timed sprints. From what I gather, it was a big hit, but there’s nothing in this part of the world that’s comparable.

I can see all sorts of applications (and, if you’re the shy and sensitive type, I suggest you skip this bit and go straight to the Sports page). Half Mile Island in Skem would be perfect – would it possible, given sufficient skill and a tuned Nissan 370Z, to drift it in its entirety in front of a mesmerised audience? Or what about Parbold? The Parbold Hill Climb has a lovely ring to it – in yer face, Shelsley Walsh!

Obviously, I fully suspect that anything that does materialise will be at least a little bit more sensible (and fully risk assessed, of course). But anyone does have a valid economic case for closing off Lord Street for the afternoon – and a burning desire to find out whether a Nissan GT-R would be quicker than a 911 GT3 RS in a straight line – just tell them that I sent you…

The Woodvale Rally is gone – but not forgotten

SO LONG, Woodvale Rally. You’re gone, but not forgotten – but I’ll remember you in your prime whenever I look back.

Chances are you’ll have already read about the cancellation of this year’s event, but for me it’s a bit more than just any old car show being culled. The Woodvale Rally is the first one I remember going to, and the one that I’ve grown up with. It is the show that nurtured my love of anything with an engine in it.

For a long time since the early Nineties one weekend in early August meant wandering around an air base for hours, getting sunburnt. I remember going twice with the cub scouts on litter picking duties (and getting a nasty gash on my knee during the latter), as a youthful helper-out with various Land Rover and model railway stands, as a Champion reporter and – perhaps best of all – as a classic car exhibitor when my Minis and MGB took part.

The masses of old motors, the endless model aircraft displays, trade tents covering just about every hobby imaginable – I lovedall of it. Even the queues stretching right the way down the Formby Bypass as everyone crammed through the gates were somehow part of the fun. Sure, it was congestion, but it was a traffic jam with Triumph Stags and Jaguar E-types in it. I can understand completely if your local summer treat was the air show, or the flower show, but for me it was always the Woodvale Rally, and it was for most of the other car nuts I grew up with, too.

That’s how I’ll remember the Woodvale Rally, as the big, bustling, and normally stifling hot get-together at RAF Woodvale. Not the show at Victoria Park that followed it from 2012 onwards. I know that the discovery of asbestos at the original venue forced the organisers’ hands, but it just wasn’t the same. Family-friendly and fun? Undoubtedly. A weekend’s worth of great engineering and model aircraft displays, just as the event’s instigators intended when they set up the Rally back in 1971? Erm, not really.

I reckon that the original Rally’s petrolhead pull has been taken on by the Ormskirk MotorFest and, to a smaller extent, by events like the Lydiate Classic Car Show, but with the cancellation of this year’s event and the loss of the Manchester Classic Car Show I mentioned last month that there’s a real gap for another car-focused event in this part of the world. A full weekend packed with old cars and motorbikes, plus aircraft displays, model railways, steam engines and tractors. I reckon that the Leisure Lakes Steam Rally – back in Tarleton in June following 2018’s cancellation – will do the trick, but there’s room for another.

Hopefully someone high-up at RAF Woodvale is reading this. You know what to do…

Forget the weather – the Ormskirk MotorFest had all the right cars

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IT’D TAKE more spin than a wayward TVR to pretend otherwise, so I might as well deal with the rather damp elephant in the room first. Last weekend’s Ormskirk MotorFest was a bit of a washout.

West Lancashire’s Bank Holiday homage to horsepower has had it lucky right from that inaugural outing way back in 2011 to last year’s event, becoming Ormskirk’s single biggest trading day in the process, but the winning streak with the weather had to run out eventually. The town centre displays looked as striking as ever but the crowds that turned out to see them were rather smaller than in previous years, and during the afternoon parades what would normally be heaving crowds behind the barriers turned out to be a  gathering of brolly-wielding onlookers braving the awful weather. Turnout was down too, with some car and bike owners deciding it wasn’t worth the soaking.

But if you didn’t go you missed a treat, because on a day defined entirely by the downpours there were plenty of rays of automotive sunshine.

There was, for instance, Pauline Ryding’s delightfully daft Dodge Viper GTS, which I admired principally because it attempted to deafen me every time it thundered past the commentary box – but even that wasn’t a patch on the stock car parade, the most vocal of which had Chevy and Chrysler V8s doing their bidding. I also couldn’t help but smile when Ian Williams’ Triumph TR3A and David Grant-Wilkes’ MG TC whizzed their way around Ormskirk’s one-way system, roofs down despite the constant downpours, because that’s how leaky old British sports cars are supposed to be driven. Then there were the concours entrants, which fellow old car nut and motor sport commentating legend Neville Hay and I had the joy of judging over a rather damp two hours. George Cross’ meticulously maintained Ford Escort – which has covered just 12,000 miles in 41 years – was a deserving winner, but I couldn’t help having a soft spot for Tony Bates’ Datsun 260Z and Damian Lynch’s Ferrari 330.

But the one that really caught my eye, even in a show dominated by the plucky and British, was something chic and French. Edward Bernand’s 1965 Panhard wasn’t only wonderful to look at but the culmination of a 32-year-restoration, courtesy of an owner who’s cherished it for 50 years. What’s more, because Edward finally finished restoring the car last year this was its first-ever outing in Ormskirk – for me, it was the star of the show.

So even when the MotorFest doesn’t have the weather on its side it can still chuck a few genuinely exciting cars in Ormskirk’s direction. As for next year, maybe if we all chip in we can get the council to stick a giant umbrella above Coronation Park. Just a thought!