Hangar right, finish line straight ahead

VIDEO The runway at Woodbridge Airfield is getting a new lease of life, as a mecca for driving enthusiasts from across the region with a series of events where you can try your hand at being a racing driver.

By Tracey Sparling

THE runway at Woodbridge Airfield is getting a new lease of life, as a mecca for driving enthusiasts from across the region. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a series of events where you can try your hand at being a racing driver.

ROARING engines and the smell of burning rubber permeate the air.

The end of the runway disappears in a blur of heat haze, as a mean machine appears on the horizon.

But this is not a Hercules plane approaching at speed.

Today it's more likely to be a nippy little Caterham or a sporty Mazda MX5 speeding down the runway at Woodbridge Airfield.

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Drivers seize the chance to take their beloved motors off the road and put them to the test at one of the increasingly popular events organised by Javelin Trackdays.

Some reach speeds of over 100mph, pushing their cars to the limit on the two-mile circuit marked out by cones, barriers and hay bales.

From a large lumbering Mercedes with a stripped-out interior and driver's seat slashed to get extra grip, to a pristine black Lotus Elise snaking round the corner, the drivers of many shapes and sizes of car take up the challenge.

Some drivers return time after time as their skills gradually improve, like Mazda MX5 owner Martin Curtis from Ipswich. The 46-year-old said: “At an airfield it seems to be more about enjoying the car than getting in super fast laps.

"Woodbridge offers a combination of surfaces which really test the suspension, but without the really long straights and sweeping high speed corners of somewhere like Snetterton.

"I find it a very different experience than driving on a proper racing circuit, but still love it, it's a brilliant day out."

Axa employee Matthew Barber, 32 from Linden Close, Manningtree drove at a track day in July. He said: “It's not as nerve-racking as I expected - it was more of an excited buzz getting ready to go out on track. The briefing was very detailed which put my mind at rest about what was going to happen on the day.

“I was too busy looking where I was going to notice the speed, but it was certainly a lot faster than I would consider safe to drive on the road. At one point the organiser came over and I thought I was going to be in trouble for having an unplanned lairy moment on track, but he actually came over to say well done for keeping the car on track!”

He added: “I would definitely recommend it to someone new to track days. Everyone on track was well behaved and off track very friendly.”

Mark Bailey, 29 from Lushington Road, Manningtree has raced cars for nine years and said Javelin Trackdays offers good value for track time.

He said: “I'm having a lot of fun this year in my Caterham. It's a safe controlled environment with lots of space for you to enjoy driving as fast and corner as quickly as the car and driver will allow. Providing everyone drives within their limits and respects each other it is a great event for experienced and novice drivers and Javelin are very good at calming those over enthusiastic ones down.

“It's not a race, it's not timed, you can only pass in pre designated places so it's all about enjoying driving simply for the fun of it.”

Colin Jebson and Bob Willat are the driving forces - excuse the pun - behind Javelin Trackdays. The company runs no-nonsense motorsport events for wannabe racing drivers across the country.

Their lives are spent on the road from their base at Immingham near Grimsby, and it's a real family business with Colin's wife Sue and son Andrew, and Bob's wife Lee working too.

Colin and Bob first met when they rallied Minis 'years ago', and Colin said the idea of forming the unusual business was sparked back then.

He said: “We were never going to be able to afford to compete at the top level, so we got into organising instead. Our first event was at Binbrook Airfield in Lincolnshire - where we tried to save the runway for motorsport but eventually they dug it up so we had to look for pastures new.”

Now they hold events at major race circuits, and airfields from Woodbridge to East Fortune in Edinburgh, plus corporate events including one last week where James May from Top Gear was the compere.

Colin said: “People like the opportunity to explore the on-track abilities of both themselves and their car, in a fun, friendly, safety conscious and non elitist environment. Supercars are not essential, just a sensible attitude and a love of driving your car. We see all sorts, from Smart cars to Porsche GTs.”

Javelin Trackdays also has cars for hire if people do not wish to use their own, from £100 which is popular as a gift idea.

About 40 drivers usually sign up for a day at Woodbridge Airfield, and Colin stressed that participants are reminded to drive slowly and quietly to the venue to ensure local residents are not disturbed. Woodbridge Airfield is in a fairly remote location, bordered by Rendlesham Forest.

Colin said: “The action only starts when the drivers arrive.

“We have obtained a special exemption from the Road Traffic Act for these events to take place, because otherwise people could be prosecuted for dangerous driving due to the speed -even though they are on private land."

Previous attempts to bring motorsport to Woodbridge had only seen it used for straight line top speed runs but Colin said the MOD worked very hard to open up the decommissioned hangar complex for Javelin. He said: "This area is still in prime condition and offers some interesting variations. We are now spoilt for choice of routes, all offering smooth tarmac, no kerbs and loads of run-off in the right places.”

Javelin staff are quick to warn anyone behaving badly, or who misses the messages signified by the flags they wave, but occasionally a car does spin off. When that happens, paramedics and marshals race to the scene and clear the circuit. Usually the car is able to be towed off to the 'pits' for DIY repairs before rejoining the action. However safety is paramount, so injuries are rare.

Colin and Bob love driving Javelin's fleet of Mazda MX5s. But as Colin said ruefully: “These days we have to look responsible, and to be honest we spend far more hours driving the Transit van, full of cones and barriers!”

Future dates at Woodbridge include: September 15, October 6, December 1 and prices start at £115.

For more details see: www.javelin

The Evening Star has teamed up with Javelin Trackdays to offer one lucky driver a 20-minute instruction session at Woodbridge Airfield on September 15.

You will be taught in a track hire car and insurance is included.

Just send your name, address and telephone number - plus the answer to the following question, to: Javelin Trackdays competition, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN by August 27. Usual Star competition rules apply. You must be over 18 and hold a full UK driving licence.

Insurance is provided by Javelin Trackdays.

Question: Which supercar inspired the Fighting Torque event at Wattisham Airfield last weekend?

Has a wide and extra long runway which was originally constructed in 1943 to assist damaged or fuel-short aircraft to land on their return from raids over Germany . The massive runway is five times the normal width and 3,000 yards long (1.7miles) with overshoots at either end.

By the end of World War II 4,200 aircraft had made emergency landings at RAF Woodbridge. About 30 per cent of the emergency landings were caused by bad weather, especially fog.

The airfield has been largely unoccupied since the USAF vacated the base in the early 1990s.

A £82 million redevelopment project turned part of the 69-hectare site into new army accommodation called Rock Barracks, which enabled 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) to move in last year.

It is currently used for army air force training.

TO an enthusiastic TVR owner, having an office overlooking Wattisham Airfield's main runway was something akin to torture.

Captain Windsor Bailey knew the expanse of smooth track offered a chance for the talking to stop and the torque to take over. So the serving officer in the army's Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers asked for permission to use the runway to compare TVRs with other supercars, in a drag race over three quarters of a mile.

To everyone's surprise his bosses agreed, and the first ever Fighting Torque event organised by Javelin Trackdays happened on Sunday , attracting 90 entries.

From Lamborghinis to Dodge Vipers, some of the fastest road-going supercars in the UK took on the TVRs racing two at a time, with a Noble M400 reaching speeds of up to 171mph.

Javelin's MX5 Challenge was also open for drivers to try skill over speed, around a challenging slalom type course against the clock. Anyone who hit a cone blew their chances as their time did not count.

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