Stoneleigh Park in the English Midlands is generally known for its contribution to agriculture and livestock. Dozens of businesses investing in current and future farming are scattered throughout the estate. But there comes one weekend every year when cattle and seeds are replaced by vendors of anti-lag, oversteer and displays of their best racing merchandise.
The event is called Race Retro.
Race Retro follows the trend of events returning after the disruption caused by the pandemic.
A lot has changed in that time. The company is slowly recovering from a difficult few years, so Race Retro 2023 is significantly smaller than the pre-Covid time. Still, there’s a lot to see, both inside and out, static and dynamic.
While in this article I’ll focus primarily on the rally side of Race Retro, the event covers the entire spectrum of motorsports. This includes stunning cars like this Alfa Romeo 33 track racer – a factory machine that has never seen any action. It has since been upgraded with a 2.0-liter engine, a sequential gearbox, and lots of carbon fiber parts. It makes around 240bhp and weighs just over 700kg, meaning it can hold its own against V8 supercars in the classic touring car series.
I have a dedicated spotlight on the ex-David Leslie BTCC Nissan Primera parked next to it.
The Tolman Motorsport Lotus Sunbeam is just as impressive as it was when it was unveiled at Speedhunters a few years ago.
Keeping with the Lotus theme for a moment, the 76 on display features some fresh upgrades over its predecessor, the Lotus 72. Most visually striking are the twin rear spoilers, but the car also features an electronic clutch operated by a button on the gear shifter, along with an extra brake pedal that allows the driver to drive without dirtying the steering column. brake with the left or right foot. Sadly, the 76 was so problematic that it was scrapped and Lotus went back to the 72 design.
Over the weekend, Silverstone Auctions auctioned off a wide variety of cars. Whether it’s one of four right-hand-drive Alpina B3 GT3s, the 1,250-horsepower MkIV Supra or one of seven Lotus Elans, there’s something for just about any taste. Expected to cost around £130,000 ($154,000), a Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 broke records by selling for a staggering £590,500 ($698,000)!
Race Retro is a relatively small show compared to Autosport International or NEC Classic, but it has one feature that the others don’t: a live rally stage. The numerous through-paths at Stoneleigh Park allow for the delineation of a relatively large area for activities in this area. While there are no elevation changes and mostly 90-degree angles, the organizers still managed to craft a challenging course that provided spectators with plenty of lateral action.
Large, strategically placed hay bales formed chicanes and barriers, and some paved corners had dirt added.
The newer R5 rally cars are surprisingly fast. Coming out of a sharp turn, it’s almost like a bungee cord being pulled under tension and then released by how much speed they manage to pick up before slamming on the brakes for the next corner. It’s much more composed than the old car, and it’s almost surgical how the vehicle’s motion is directly related to the driver’s input.
Many cars feature gravel trim, which provides more drama as they pitch and swoop through corners.
Rally racing, like any form of motorsport, is very costly, and that doesn’t factor in the high wear rates on components and the increased risk of damage in track racing. Parts for older cars are also getting harder to find. But despite this, seeing the paddocks packed with privateers shows that rallying is still alive and well in the UK.
I was a huge fan of the Suzuki Factory Rally program and the Youth World Rally Championship at the time, so seeing the JWRC Ignis up close was a treat. I also save this as a separate spotlight.
The Ford Racing Puma also competes in the JWRC with varying degrees of success. The rally and road versions look very similar, with the widened bodywork retained for the production Puma. Reviews still proclaim it one of the best front-wheel-drive cars ever made.
You rarely see how much suspension travel a purpose-built rally car has, only glimpses as they fly over jumps. Here we can see how the cars have been completely transformed from stock, with massive long-travel dampers mounted at a dramatic angle to handle the rigors of rally racing.
Sadly, the Group B rally era is the only grainy thing most of us have ever seen youtube videos, but thankfully, a handful of dedicated owners still use these cars angrily. While we won’t see the crowd parting like a red sea as Group B cars pass through a special stage again, the sense of occasion is unparalleled. As they make their way to the stage, the coughing and crackling at low revs is replaced by induction noise, brake squeal and wastegate chatter, accompanied by a healthy blaze of exhaust pipes expelling overrev.
However, group A and subsequent group N are of my main interest, as they are the most relevant (and achievable) types of cars. The whole “play on Sunday, sell on Monday” spirit continues to this day.
Looking further back, the Group 4 cars in Race Retro and the rest of the era were sideways—a lot. While most of these cars were built with historic event qualification in mind, there are also some Escorts that have all the modern technology. When combined with loyal drivers, they’re often at the races to let the four-wheel-drive turbocharged R5 cars run for their money.
So where does Race Retro end up in British motor racing? If you’re looking for an exhibit or a fancy show car featuring the latest racing offerings in the industry, you might be left disappointed. Fancy a day of racing on the track? Likewise, there may be other events that might fit the bill better. However, Race Retro does, and it lands perfectly in the center of the car’s Venn diagram; you’ll see everything, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Instagram: Chai Ke
More Speedhunters coverage from the UK