Nothing sets the human pulse racing like a competition and the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is a fine example of such an event. So when John was offered a trip to the iconic sporting venue Brands Hatch in Kent courtesy of Team Hard it was a no-brainer! John did all the work this time under a shroud of grey skies while I stayed dry and warm on my blanket in the stands. The moist air gives my fur a certain frizz that I don’t appreciate and as you know I don’t like getting my paws wet! The drivers on the other hand had no qualms about the rain that was forming shimmering beads on their windscreens. I thought the race might get cancelled but I guess it takes a lot more than water to stop these folks from testing their courage and skill behind the wheel of a Porsche Carrera.
Lights on, engines revving, lurching forwards desperate to charge (like me when John opens the fridge door), the horn sounds and we’re off. The noise is tremendous as a pack of swarming super-cars launches itself on to the track and they’re bunched up so close I’m stunned that none of them collide. Just an inch or two away from each, water sprays from their rear tyres and I imagine their steely faces grimacing at each other as they calculate their next moves, every ounce of energy focussed on getting ahead. No wonder there’s an emergency helicopter and half a dozen ambulances strategically parked along the race-course. Within seconds a few cars peel off from the main group and take the lead but one car spins off the tarmac to end up neatly parked on the grass and his hopes of winning are over.
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
Soon the heat from the tyres dries the track and the gap between the leaders and the group gets longer. The commentator’s voice becomes higher in pitch as he reveals the positions of the cars and the strategies the driver employ. Sometimes they swerve sideways to block the car behind them or drive right up against the car in front to take advantage of their slipstream before hitting the gas and pulling out to overtake. Two of the Formula 4 cars come so close side by side that they get stuck together and the Marshalls have to wave the yellow flag to slow the race while the two cars are prised apart. John was rooting for a young man called Jake Hill, the son of racing driver and motorsports commentator Simon Hill. Born in 1994, Jake is a rising star in his field and was competing this day in the BTCC for Team Hard coming in a respectable second. His dad gave him a big hug before he walked on to the podium for the first time in his life, but not the last I’m sure. As the celebrations continued, John arrived back at the stands proudly wearing his Team Hard lanyard and paddock pass and we began the trek back across the field being used as a car park to find the car was stuck in the mud. An hour later, a sweaty mud-splattered John flopped into the seat muttering something about sludge and people and cheesey chips. I continued to preen my whiskers knowing that John and I had enjoyed a really good day and I’d probably be in for a hot chicken supper on the way home.
Rivalry can be seen in many species across many different habitats, like the gibbon in the forest hooting and gesturing menacingly to ensure it is not seen as weak, or the dominant guppy fish in the river that roughs up any other fish who tries to date one of his ladies. We cats are also known for being territorial and the need to defend our turf against prospective outsiders is in our genes. The desire to assert ones instincts reaches even greater heights in humans who have found ingenious ways to compete for fun, a bizarre concept amongst the rest of the animal kingdom who compete for resources or survival. One of the humans’ rituals is the racing car competition, a phenomenon that involves driving powerful noisy machines as fast as possible around a road with a flamboyance that reminds me of the male peacock fanning his tail and displaying his feathers with pride.
The British Touring Car Championship is a prime example of the enthusiasm that permeates through the racing car community and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, the thrill of victory, the sense of achievement and the lure of the prize money that drives each competitor to win. John and I visited the track at Donington Park for the pre-season test which is designed to put the car engines through their paces and establish the order of play for the championships for the following week. The grid line-up consisted of 32 drivers preparing to do battle at Brands Hatch in cars like the Honda Civic, the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze. I hope you’re impressed with my knowledge of cars there! I guess they make modifications to the cars to change them from sensible modes of transportation to super-charged vehicles built for speed not comfort.
The track was wider than I thought it would be and the cars seemed to snake around the bends like a loud swarm of brightly coloured bees following each other in a line, looking for any opportunity to move ahead. The action was fast and furious and the place swapping was impressive with drivers using chicanes and hairpin bends to take the place of the car in front. I curled my toes at the perilous moves the drivers made to be the best in their game and was grateful for the large expanses of grass and sand and the multiple barriers between the track and the crowd.
While the cars were racing, John practiced his panning skills which involves moving the camera horizontally to capture a travelling object, emphasising that object against the other elements in the frame to elicit the feeling of motion. It was a fun day full of healthy competition and the humans behaved themselves well, smiling, shaking hands and celebrating with glasses of sweet water and strange smelling foods. Some of the children wore ear protection gear to shield their ears from the noise and I experienced a little ear muff envy on the way home so John promised me he’d get me soft pair of ear covers for my birthday in my favourite colour purple, ideal for keeping my auricles warm in the winter.