For more years than I’m allowed to mention, my in-laws have been racing Autograss cars, and until recently I hadn’t really got it into my head exactly what was involved. I assumed Autograss was a sport where people drove minis around a small circuit in a field marked out with cones, but as I was about to find out it’s far from it!
So when I was invited to watch ‘The Nationals’ in Herefordshire I was amazed. This event draws Autograss competitors from all over the country who come to race for the prize of being the champion in their class. People even come across the water from Ireland and the Isle of Wight to compete.
Cars are categorised into ten classes with classes for cars with small engines like bog standard 1000cc mini saloons, to classes for specially designed and built ‘specials’, some of which house twin motorbike engines and can touch 100mph at the first bend! The saloon cars are stripped of windows and all non-essentials, and are kitted out with a roll cage, racing seat and harness and painted in team colours to make them fit for the race track. There are separate classes for ladies and for junior competitors aged between 12 and 16. The course itself is oval and on grass but it is impossible to predict what the racing conditions will be as a little rain can change a fast, grippy track to a slippery circuit with mud flying everywhere – often making it hard to distinguish who is who. Sounds interesting!
After an exciting day at ‘The Nationals’, we decided to go and cover a local event called the “DASH 4 CASH”. This was held by the Stroud and District Autograss club in a venue just off the M4 south of Gloucester. This time we had access to the pits and start line from where we could get right in amongst the action.
We met up with the in-laws who were racing, and we managed to talk a few drivers into letting us mount a camera on to the car to see what racing would look like from the hot seat . This also gave us someone to look out for and to cheer on, which later we found out was nerve wrecking and tense as you willed them to stay in front or overtake someone on the outside!
Just before their race, each car pulls up to the start line and the drivers try to hold their nerve while they wait for starters orders. Races are started by a bungee and once the signal is shown, up to 8 cars ‘floor it’ away from the start line, wheels spinning, dust flying and the sound of 8 engines revving at full throttle blaring. The drivers go haring towards the first bend giving it all their cars have got, often swinging their cars sideways to get round without having to strip off too much speed. They all want to be the first out of the first bend to give themselves a chance of holding onto that top spot for the rest of the race. Coming out of the first bend in 1st place isn’t the end of the story though, with the sprint to the next corner on and another couple of laps to go the race is on. It’s not all over until you’ve been given the chequered flag!
Some motor sport seems a little predictable these days but Autograss is completely unpredictable! One minute a car is leading and the next it’s at the back after taking a corner just a bit too wide, spinning out, or having a ‘coming together’ (although Autograss I’m told is a non-contact sport!). The crashes often lead to hectic running around in the pits with drivers and team-mates trying to pull out dented panels and fix broken parts, getting the cars repaired quickly so that they can join re-runs or their respective finals. After two rounds of heats, the fastest 8 cars qualify for the final. Finals then take on a whole new feel as the drivers go all out to win the cash prize and title.
What I can’t get across to you from writing this article is the speed and power of these cars as they pull away, not to mention the tension on the line. You can almost feel the anticipation as the drivers sit waiting in line for the tape to release. And the general atmosphere of these events is friendly and very much family orientated too with most of the competitors staying on the race site for the weekend and with classes for everyone over the age of 12. There are sometimes go-karts or a bouncy castle on site to entertain everyone else!
Having had a quick introduction to the sport, I am now a fan of Autograss and amazed to find out that a sport with so much to give in the way of action gets so little coverage!
The whole Autograss racing series is open to the general public to go along and watch, just pay the entrance fee of about £10, which to be honest is really good for a whole days racing! For more information on where you can go and check out Autograss visit the following links: