AutoSolo Explained

Allen Harris

SOLO made it’s UK debut in the hands of Bristol Motor Club in May 2002, and judging from the large turnout, smiling faces, and comments subsequently received, it was a big success. We ran one SOLO event in 2003, on 18 May, but our plans to run a second in October were scuppered by a change of ownership of the land at Motion Media, and the new owners were not at all keen to let us use the venue any more. In the subsequent years, as the new sport became recognised by the MSA as  AutoSolo, we were without our own venue, and were therefore pleased to have been invited to events run by Ross DMC, Farnborough DMC, & Dolphin MC amongst others. A breakthrough came in 2007 when we negotiated the use of the old airfield at Weston-super-Mare and once again we had our own venue. We ran the Hutton Moor AutoSolo  there for four years, but by the end of 2010 the deterioration of its surface and uncertainty over its future availability led us to look for an alternative venue. And so in February 2011 we ran the first ever AutoSolo in the paddock at Castle Combe Circuit, and ran regularly there until Summer 2013.

If you’ve been to any of our events, or if you have read about them in the club magazine, you will already know what AutoSolo involves, but if you are reading about it for the first time, some explanation may be helpful.

In the early days, we had to be clear about what it is NOT: it is NOT a sprint, and it is NOT an Autotest. In the USA it is also known as Autocross, but it’s nothing like our Autocross. Another name for the sport in the States is Slalom, and that begins to give a flavour of what it’s all about.

Since our inspiration to run this event came from the USA, here’s a quote from one of the SCCA websites (Sports Car Club of America):

“Solo is a contest of driving skill. We run against the clock (i.e. ‘solo’) on short courses that emphasise car handling and agility rather than speed or power. Speed and hazards to spectators, participants and property do not exceed those encountered in normal, legal highway driving. Thrills and fun, however, do! Best of all, you can enter in your street car.”

By keeping top speeds within reasonable bounds, we avoid the need for rescue units and medical crews, which helps keep the overall cost low. The discipline is also very economical with officials. Why? Because the competitors marshal the course themselves. This is achieved by dividing competitors into three groups. At any one time, one group will be marshalling the course, one will be preparing to marshal, whilst the third is actually competing. When they’ve had their runs, it’s ‘all change’. You have to marshal each course for your timed runs to count. It means that everyone has an equal amount of work and play.

The test routes are marked by cones with numbered marker posts, which you pass in order. We also use horizontal bright-yellow cones to point the way round; the intention being to make the event a test of driving skill rather than of memory. You will incur penalties if you go wrong or hit the markers, but the main aim is to complete the test course smoothly and quickly – times are recorded by hand-held stopwatch to 0.1 sec. accuracy. We generally don’t know how many courses we will use until we know the size of the entry.

The event is only open to road-legal cars that are taxed, insured and MOTd, and the rules say they must be driven to the event. Car preparation is limited to removing loose objects from inside, and any clip-on wheel trims. Tyres from List 1B of Section L of the MSA Yearbook, i.e. competition tyres, are NOT allowed. In recent years our events have been qualifying rounds of the CMSG, BTRDA and ASWMC Championships, so the events have to run under a National B permit. They usually run under a Clubmans permit as well, for the benefit of club members who just want to take part without being involved in a championship. Those competitors only need to produce a club membership card, whereas championship contenders need a competition licence.

So through the first 10 years of its existence, AutoSolo has evolved from an experiment into a mainstay of club motorsport, and it is now the discipline of choice for anyone wanting to get into motorsport on a limited budget. Although Bristol Motor Club were pioneers of the sport, we have repeatedly struggled to find suitable venues. Having lost our place at Castle Combe in 2013 we tried Mendip Raceways in 2014, Chepstow Racecourse from 2015 to 2016, and we are currently running successfully at Westonzoyland airfield.

Meanwhile, our enthusiasm is undiminished; to quote the SCCA again: “Come Solo with us! Experience your car’s limits and improve your driving skills in a safe, friendly environment.”

If you can drive, and you have a car, and you like a bit of friendly fun on four wheels, it’s hard to think of any reason why you shouldn’t take part!

Allen Harris
January 2015