Having double driven with Michael Cullen at the TDC Beginners Autotest at Mondello Park earlier in the year, I had thought seriously thought about buying a car for the discipline. After one of those chats with myself that all petrolheads regularly endure though, I subsequently decided that I was not going to buy any more cars before I moved at least one from the current collection, which is dangerously close to double figures at the moment. When a WhatsApp message arrived from Michael asking if I wanted to do another event with him arrived, therefore, I jumped at it. Mondello racer Rod McGovern usually drives alongside him, but with him not available, I was lucky enough to get the call up once again.
All was good until I realised that it was a Hewison round. This, you see, was completely different to the relatively simple Beginner event. The tests would be longer- much longer. They would also be far more complicated than anything I had tackled before. Michael assured me that they had recently made a decision to make the Hewison Championship more attractive and slightly easier, in order to attract newcomers. If I am honest, I wasn’t convinced! a quick Google search found me some previous tests from a Hewison round (below) and I was dizzy just looking at them!
A quick chat with TDC’s Philip O’Reilly confirmed that MC was not just humouring me and I would receive plenty of assistance, so on the prescribed date, I headed down the M11 in the direction of Arklow and found myself at the venue. In typical TDC style, everyone was extremely welcoming- I had actually joined the club at the Beginners event, purely because of that- and Damien Philips had a full outdoor catering service set up in the yard. Armed with a sausage bap and a large tea (included in your entry fee- where would you get it?) I signed on and received my Motorsport Ireland One Day Licence, along with a couple of pages depicting the layout of the four tests, and the all important card on which my time for each test would be recorded.
After this came something which, to the outsider looks decidedly odd- but is so worthwhile. All of the drivers walk each test, circling pylons, performing throws and walking backwards in the sections where you reverse. Michael and I joined in and he gave me plenty of tips as we progressed, suggesting whether to “throw” the car early or late between gates etc. When we were finished, I was still unsure so decided to walk one or two again. I met Peter Lynch at test 4, where he was the man with the stopwatch, and he kindly offered to walk me through “his” test. This was a great help and his best bit of advice was just to drive the tests on the first loop, with no heroics. After yet another cup of tea (thanks Damo) I was feeling quite comfortable about the day ahead- until the tests started. There are very few newbies at this level and the majority of drivers are an absolute joy to watch. That, I told myself, is why they have Beginners events- you’re a big boy now!
As with many disciplines, just as you think you are making progress, you begin to make mistakes. Peter Lynch’s advice kept coming back to me, but I knew that I was far too sideways when circling a pylon. The top Westfield drivers actually keep the lock on as they go around and the whole manoevre stays tight to the pylon. It looks relatively unspectacular but is incredibly quick- and very difficult! I also found that at some of the higher speed approaches to a gate I was just yanking the (hydraulic) handbrake and just hoping the car would line up as it rotated and I selected reverse. This got better during the day as I got some semblance of feel for the car, but I was still far from confident. It was also a great help to do each test with Michael, so I could watch him do the test immediately before I tackled it. The Westfield is well sorted and once I had managed (I won’t say mastered) the concept of clutching, yanking the “wand” and then simultaenously letting go, dumping the clutch and lighting up the rears, I didn’t embarass myself too much. Don’t get me wrong though, I had a few maximums and some pylons were sent flying! When I got back to Peter Lynch’s test for the final time, I even felt a little bit confident. I knew the layout,made no mistakes and pushed as hard as I could. As I skidded to a halt astride the finish line, an approving nod from Peter confirmed that my time was good. I even, briefly, wondered was I as quick as Michael. In reality, not a snowflake’s chance in hell. I was 5 seconds off him- on a test that takes about 70 seconds- that is an age in Autotesting. That is also, why I really want to have another go. It is massively challenging and the competitors, especially on a Hewison round, are highly talented. That said, they do have a Novice class at these event and happily, I managed to win, this so went home with a piece of crystal! Despite many being of the opinion that the tests on the day would suit the rear wheel drive cars, Guy Foster (below) took the overall win in his immaculate Mini Special, en route to another title!
The TDC Beginner events are the perfect way to try out this discipline. Not only will they feed you (!), the experts will walk tests with you and give you plenty of tips. You won’t find a friendlier environment-but beware – it’s highly addictive! Also, there are now classes for roadgoing cars so if you have a Starlet (who hasn’t these days), MX-5 or similar, then you are good to go.
TDC Ireland FACEBOOK PAGE
TDC Ireland WEBSITE
Hewison Championship FACEBOOK PAGE
Hewison Championship WEBSITE
You can read an article Darren Quille wrote on Autotesting for Motorsport.ie back in 2015 HERE
Action images from Trevor Foster
A big thanks to Michael Cullen, the TDC, and the many others who offered help and assistance on the day. I am definitely not finished with Autotesting though, and once I rearrange one of two things, I will be looking at picking up a car for the discipline. Next up though, in my review of Motorsport Ireland disciplines, I will be trying a Sporting Trial, most commonly known as a Mudplug!