Choosing the August bank holiday weekend for the inaugural Pentillie Festival of Speed was either very brave or totally inspired. Brave, because the August bank holiday weekend normally ends up being rather damp. It's like the weather gods play a little game with us, teasing us with one last long weekend before Christmas and ensuring we all get thoroughly wet. Inspired, because the August bank holiday is festival weekend, meaning Pentillie Castle gets to enjoy a little party fever.
Whether you would class the Festival of Speed 2012 as brave or inspired rather depends on which day you visited the west country's newest motorsport venue.
Let's be frank. Saturday was a bit of a washout. The 1,000 or so hardy souls who braved the mud and rain did get to enjoy some of the attractions, but most of the day was spent dodging some very large showers. The morning consisted of hillclimb competitors getting out of shape on the track, with the occasional 'off' meaning that the hill seemed to be shut more than it was open. By late afternoon, Plymouth Motor Club did the only sensible thing and drew proceedings to a premature end. This resulted in a mass exodus from the drenched fields surrounding the castle, which in turn meant lots of spinning wheels and many cars getting down and dirty.
It was a sad end to a day that had taken a year to plan and I must say I feared the worst when Ted Coryton, owner of Pentillie Castle, mentioned that Sunday could be called off.
But to the credit of the team at Pentillie Castle and the Plymouth Motor Club, some hasty overnight rearrangements meant that Sunday did go ahead, albeit with a slightly scaled back calendar.
That meant there would be no Touring Assembly on the hill or any car club displays next to the competitors' paddock. So the planned PetrolBlog display stand ended up being a four car line-up in the admittedly muddy main car park. A definite PetrolBlog line-up too, consisting of the Saab 9000i, Matt's Porsche 924 (Project924.co.uk), Adrian Crawford's Subaru MV1800 and Amanda's Abarth Punto. An eclectic bunch, but then this is PetrolBlog.
Naturally it was disappointing not to be able to unveil the PetrolBlog flag, but I was just grateful the event was going ahead. So with some rare sunshine and a forecast of no rain, I went off to enjoy the festival. It was still muddy, so I was glad I packed the Hunter wellies!
Well, what a difference a day makes. Without the constant downpours, the Pentillie Festival of Speed was able to live up to the promise that it had shown during the months leading up to the weekend.
Matt and I spent the morning in the Vospers and Hornifast paddocks, chatting with Adrian Crawford, checking out the display cars and waffling about matters of an automotive nature. A rather pleasant way to spend a sunny morning on the banks of the River Tamar. Somebody mentioned on twitter that motorsport venues don't come more evocative than Pentillie Castle and you can quite believe it. It truly is a beautiful location, with far reaching views of the Cornwall and Devon countryside from the castle and the majestic snaking river that runs alongside the quay.
But the morning was merely a prelude to the afternoon's action, which involved five solid hours watching the action on the hill. The hairpin bend between the quay and the castle was our chosen location and we were treated to the sights and smells of a traditional hillclimb event. The cars ranged from the ultra-rare Alfa Dana through to the ubiquitous Citroën Saxo or Austin Mini, with the sound of the engines echoing around the valley. A magical experience.
My pick of the cars over the weekend were as follows:
This Renault 5 appeared to be on the hill more often than any of the other cars. Perhaps it was the yellow paintwork or the fact it was one of my favourite cars of the weekend. Either way, it was certainly on the track a long time on its final run when, exiting the hairpin bend, it ground to a halt. I took some photos of it being towed away by a Nissan X-Trail as it wouldn't be fair to the driver to put them on the ‘net*. As it was, Andy Hamlyn from Plymouth seemed liked one of the most popular drivers of the day.
When I think of hillclimb cars, the Volvo Amazon isn't the first vehicle that springs to mind. So it was delightful to see this 1967 example taking on the Pentillie hill. The driver was Chris Davies from Axminster and I'd like to thank him for providing one of the best spectacles of the day. Just look at it!
One of the most beautiful cars in the world. Ever. So seeing this rally car driven by Richard Williams of Minehead was a real treat. Some cars were worth the entrance fee alone - this was one of them.
Austin Healey Speedwell Sprite
How sweet is this? I can't remember the last time I saw a Speedwell Sprite, if at all. David Wylie's car competed at the 1961 RAC Rally and the 1962 Circuit of Ireland. Today it is a regular on the festival scene, last seen at the 2012 Cholmondeley Pageant of Power. A wonderful little car.
Another car that falls into the ‘I never expected to see one of those on the hill’ category. Not only was the Austin A50 a sight to behold, it was also one of the nicest sounding cars on the hill.
Not your usual PetrolBlog fodder, that's for sure, but this 1938 Frazer Nash TT-replica deserves a mention for the sheer drama it displayed on the hill. It was built to commemorate the success of Frazer Nash at Ards in the early 1930s and currently runs using a 1938 FN/BMW 328 engine. Every single time it went past, the Frazer Nash was doing something dramatic, as I tried to capture with these two photos.
A ‘little boat’ would have come in very handy on Saturday, but on Sunday I really enjoyed watching this Barchetta. If ever take up hillclimbing, the Fiat Barchetta would be high on my list of potential purchases.
Suzuki Ignis Sport
Sadly the Ignis Sport didn't appear on Sunday and as I didn't dare get my camera out on Saturday, I never took a photo. But Mr Geoff Taylor of Bridgwater, if you're reading this, your Suzuki was my car of the day on Saturday.
For more cars, view the following slideshow:
Over 5,500 people turned out on Sunday, which considering the weather the day before has to be put down as a real result. The mood was noticeably more upbeat and the vast majority of people I spoke to were heralding the event as a great success.
For sure, some areas need to be improved before 2013, but it isn't until you host something like this that you can truly see where the issues are. Clearly some kind of rubber matting in the car parks and the pedestrian tracks between the parking and display areas wouldn't go amiss. I'd also like to see a bridge or two across the track, meaning that spectators can access the entire festival at all times. Better signposting and more commentary points would also be helpful.
But as I stood outside the main castle as the day drew to a close, it wasn't hard to imagine what an amazing event this could turn out to be. I pictured a large screen showing the hillclimb action, positioned above the hedgerow directly opposite the castle, with some of the world's most exclusive cars sat on the tarmac. Spectators mingling, enjoying some fine catering and being totally immersed in the world of cars. The sound, sights and smells of motorsport lingering in the air.
And the best bit of all is that the foundations have now been put down. Pentillie Castle is now set up to build on the undoubted success of Sunday's events, learn from the areas that need improvement and create the south west's greatest motorsport event.
For years, people in the west country have been craving for a local Festival of Speed. And thanks to Pentillie Castle, they've only gone and got one.
*Oh, go on then. Have a look in the gallery for a photo of the Renault 5 being towed.
Some of the many photos I took on Sunday. My favourite selection: