Gary Pinchin's Scarborough Auto 66 Blog: 'Chips and a beer taste good'

Published: 17 September 2007

Last weekend, with no British Superbikes to cover, the usual withdrawal symptoms began to hit so I spent my free weekend in Scarborough.

Not to take the sea air but for a lazy weekend of race watching with my kids at the famous Oliver’s Mount circuit, overlooking the seaside town.

I’d not been to Scarborough since, oh it must have been 1976 and 1977 in the days when Barry Sheene and Mick Grant were arch-rivals in their epic Suzuki versus Kawasaki wars.

Back then I made the trips on a Triumph Bonneville, of all things, on the first occasion and on the back of the Suzuki GT750 when the Bonnie was bust the following year.

My fast-fading recollections of the races are watching in awe, inches from the side of the track, at the ill-handling Formula 750 bikes leaping the series of jumps along the bottom straight. And seeing Dick Greasley and Cliff Holland sliding their Chell Yamaha outfit around Drury’s Hairpin, wondering how the hell anyone could overtake in a sidecar on a track that is so incredibly narrow.

So even though I’d not been to the place in near on 30 years I had a good idea what to expect but it was still a culture shock, walking back down the steep gravel-covered steps to the Mere Hairpin.

It was only then I remembered just how narrow the course actually is – and how close those trees look. Yes, it’s still very challenging, not to mention bloody dangerous, but isn’t that the attraction for the riders and fans?

For race fans the great thing about Scarborough is just how close you can get to the action, scarily close at times, with just waist-high wooden fences separating you from the track.

You literally can reach out and touch the bikes as they go by which is something you can’t do at British Superbike. It gives you some real heart-in-the-mouth thrills, especially when someone like Guy Martin seems aimed straight at you on his Hydrex Honda superbike, hung off to one side ready to pitch into a hairpin, backing the whole thing in sideways.

The fans, looking forward to a busy 24-race programme over the two days - did indeed flock to the Auto 66-organised, 57th International Gold Cup Races on the 2.43mile tree-lined course that winds through the park.

It wasn’t the 60,000 or so of the Seventies with Sheene and Grant but Sunday was so busy the Auto 66 club had to open the gates at the Esses to allow the cars across the track to allow them to park in the overspill area. Auto 66 supremo Peter Hillaby said the last time they did that was for the 50th Anniversary celebrations when Barry Sheene rode there!

The club needed it. According to the programme notes, they took a massive financial hit after bad weather during the International Bike Week earlier this year and admitted it took a lot of corner-cutting for the Gold Cup to happen.

Even though they were limited on cash and the entry wasn’t huge, the recently tarmaced paddock was pretty-well rammed. I just thought it must be a bit worrying for the organisers on a long-term basis that the average age of the riders has to be late 30s rather than 20s.

But there were some impressive names in the line-up, which is probably why so many fans were there this year. Headlining was 13-time TT winner John McGuinness – along with Scarborough ‘veteran’ Ian Lougher, the irrepressible Guy Martin, Irish star Martin Finnegan, former British 125 championship runner ands now pure roads regular Chris Palmer, up and coming William Dunlop and sidecar stars Nick Crowe and Dan Sayle.

Unfortunately John McGuinness didn’t have a superbike, with the HM Plant Honda team not having budgeted to do the event. So in addition to his regular British Supersport Honda, Clive Padgett also provided him with a brand new RS250, taken out of the crate on Friday, especially for the event, and an RS125.

McGuinness was making his usual self-deprecating jokes about what a joke he must have looked with ‘my big fat arse hanging each side of the seat.’ He didn’t. He looked bloody fast but had some problems with the bike. 

Ian Lougher, who started the meeting no less than 101 wins at the circuit, was riding in every solo class – the kind of thing riders like Mike Hailwood and his rivals used to treat as normal in the Sixties.

Lougher had Stuart Smith Racing 125 and 250 Hondas plus his Black Horse Finance Hondas for the 600 and superbike races, though he was riding his superstock bike in the superbike class because the Stobart Honda he has been using at the major international road races wasn’t available for Scarborough.

He was planning to run his superstocker on super-sticky Dunlops but he ripped them to shreds on the exits of the tight hairpins and had to revert to normal superstock tyres to be able to run full race distance.

Guy Martin had a pair of Hydrex Hondas for the 600 and superbike races and was the man to beat on the superbike, winning all three races, including the prestigious Steve Henshaw Gold Cup in the last race of the day from Ryan Farquhar and Ian Lougher.

Guy Martin also won Sunday’s 600 race from Lougher after finishing third in the previous day’s race. Saturday’s scrap was the closest of the weekend won by Lougher, from McGuinness and Martin with just seven 10s of a second separating them.

Lougher also won Sunday’s 250 race. He didn’t finish Saturday’s race, which went to John McGuiness from William Dunlop and Chris Palmer. McGuiness and Palmer completed the top three on Sunday.

Great to see 250s racing in Britain again, with an impressive 22 bikes lined up for Sunday’s race.

Alex Hutchinson looked impressive thundering his Simoto 450 ahead of the pack that included GP125s and Mini Twins. 

What a great mix of bikes including the weird (a speedway-engined, fuel-injected single) and the wonderful (an high-barred ER500 Kawasaki twin among the ranks).  Mick Goodings cleared off in the National 400 races on his Kawasaki and Nick Crowe and Dan Sayle predictably dominated the Sidecars.

And it was that huge range of variety of bikes, a very different circuit, the relaxed atmosphere and some excellent weather than combined to make it such a great weekend’s sport.

Okay, it was very different from the highly professional, safety conscious British Superbike meetings but I really enjoyed Scarborough.

It’s a bit like enjoying the high-life of caviar and champagne most weekends but occasionally plain old fish and chips and a beer tastes really good.

Long may the sport support racing events like it.

Check back to motorcyclenews.com later this week to see a video of Gary Pinchin’s antics in Scarborough.