The second Q&A of the week returns us to autograss and one half of Team Ashmore, Alison Ashmore.

Alyson introduction

1st race car was...  Class one mini in the juniors.

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): 

Rate your driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader):  7 

Favourite track to race on is: St Neots was always my favourite club track but for some reason I never got in very well there when big meets were held.  Today my favourite track would be Yorkshire Dales. 

Favourite gate to race from is: Any as long as its not 3,4 or 5. 

Your proudest autograss moment was: Winning ladies class 7 in 2014 after returning from racing with the men for 13 years. 

Your most embarrassing autograss moment was:  Too many to mention. 

The toughest rival you have raced against is:  I’ve never really considered anyone to be my rival, racing is tough at any level. 

The driver you love to race against is:  Charlie Wright.  We have raced together for a number of years and have great respect for each other.  Our dad’s used to hate when we lined up together, which nearly always happened even when we tried to avoid racing each other. 

You couldn’t race without:  My hubby Barry and great friends.  Since my dad became poorly and I had to sell my car, Barry has supported me letting me race his class 8 and preparing it to the a great standard.  I have also been lucky that my friend Ricky asked me to race his car too.  Both these guys have more confidence in me than I do myself and the support they give is 100%. 

Before every race you must:  Chill myself out and take some deep breaths.  I always talk myself out of a race once I have seen the heats and place myself in my head lower than I am capable of achieving. 

Meeting of the year is: Mens Nationals (if Barry would let me go) although I am happy with any meetings I get to go away with friends and the sun is shining. 

Best car you have raced is:  That’s a toss up between Bill Shawn’s class 10 Chevy I raced in 1998 and Ricky’s class 7 (aka Princess).  Both made me smile, gave me a buzz when racing and great achievements. 

If you could race in the  2019 Nationals in anybody’s car, it would be:  Vinny’s class 10 Chevy (he has offered many times but I always turn it down). 

The best part of racing in autograss is:  Friendships… majority of my friends are from racing and without racing I would have a big piece of my life missing hence even though I keep saying I’m going to pack up, we haven’t. 

The hardest technique to learn in autograss is: Going off the line… what revs to have the car at, where to be on the line and watching that bungee.  Getting to that first corner first is a must.

Getting wet 

The Yorkshire Dales BAS round last year was rather wet and muddy with grip and vision less than perfect. Storm Ali gave us further weather to think about afterwards as well so lets review the effect. 

For the start of the YD BAS round it was clearly treacherous early on. Before you go out, what can you do? Is detuning the engine possible? Can you add extra tear offs?  Definitely make sure you have enough roll off, add a couple of tear offs and the car is set up right.  With the 8 you can put tape down the sides and across the front as most of the mud comes from the front wheels. 

Many drivers were removing their goggles during racing which must have an element of risk to it with mud or stones being flicked in your eyes. Have you done this and if so, what is the experience like?  I know it’s a black flag offence but yes I have a number of times taken them off as it safer to be able to see than not.  The worse part is actually after the race when you have to clean yourself down. 

Would mud guards/flaps behind the wheels help to reduce the mud being flicked up to help vision or does this create other issues?  It was trialed on specials a few years back but nothing seemed to come of it.
I know the autocross buggies have them so possibly. 

In terms of driving, how does your technique differ? Do you focus more on the track and the dry bits? Are you focusing on being smoother or searching for grip on different lines?   I wing it if I’m honest. 

Silverstone also had to abandon their Moto GP round with riders voting on if they were prepared to race. Some drivers elect not to race in autograss but are drivers consulted about if it is still safe to race and even on a normal meeting do you get chance to give your opinion on the track safety?
I think that safety is taken seriously already within autograss so if a meeting is run and I felt it wasn’t safe then obviously I wouldn’t go out.  In the past I have know at drivers meetings where the chair person has asked if drivers want the meeting to go ahead or not. 

Crash, Boom, Bang 

You can see some quite spectacular incidents at an autograss event. Some drivers say as you get older and more experienced, you are more aware of the risks. Have you changed in this way since you started and do you see it in younger drivers taking more risks?   Definitely… I am a lot more cautious knowing the price of things and that at the end of the day its a plastic pot which isn’t going to pay the bills if I’m not at work on Monday. 

Racing doesn’t take place if the ambulance and paramedic are not available but the vehicles and personnel attending does vary. What do you prefer to see and what has your experience been with them?  100% like seeing a paramedic at a race meeting and would pay more to have it like we do at Scunthorpe.
We all need to live life to the fullest but safely and I feel having a paramedic at a meeting makes this. 

In your special you have the arm restraints. In some crashes I can’t imagine you have too much control of where your arms are so this does make sense. I presume you can vary the length of the straps but is there any a strength test to make sure they are not worn or not suitable?  You have to wear them when you scrutineering and there are random checks in the holding lanes but I’d like to think if people didn’t think they were suitable or worn they wouldn’t wear them. At the end of the day they are there for your own safety. 

If you find yourself rolling or hitting something solid, do prescribe to the take your hands off the wheel theory to avoid finger damage? Discuss.  Touch wood I’ve only rolled once but the time I did I covered my eyes.  I do try to keep my thumbs out of the steering wheel having broken my thumb 3 or 4 times now already.  My dad years ago threatened to put a disc inside the steering wheel like some do on the stadium. 

When you have been in a big crash, what senses come to the fore? Is it the noise, are you looking all around, is it over very quick or do you close your eyes?   I actually worry about the damage as the cars I race aren’t mine and that my race friends are OK before thinking about myself. 

The art of overtaking 

The start can make your race. If you are in front, do you like to constantly look in your mirrors to block and hold off your rival or do you prefer to focus forward? Discuss.  I don’t like mirrors in cars and think they should be taken out as I feel these cause drivers to cut people up trying to defend their position.  However I spend most of my time going around corners looking behind me to see where people are and then get moaned at when I get back as I’ve probably lost my position!

If you are behind, is the inside or outside your main overtaking focus?  Any which way you can. 

How much does who you are racing depend on your defensive and attacking approach?  As already said… I can talk myself out of a race and wing them all. 

What is your favourite overtake you have carried out?  2014 nationals in the final when I came under Nicola Mackenzie, took the lead and won my first even national final. 

Autograss Future  

Last year I mentioned about the struggles of the smaller clubs and the effect of BAS/UKAC on these. Do you see this as an issue and do you try visit different clubs or vary the circuits you visit?   We always used to race every weekend with my dad but due to our racing budget this is no longer possible and if we happen to be able to race at club level it would be in our own league that we support and there is usually a good turn out of lady drivers. 

In other Q&A’s we have looked at what other drivers would change. Any element (safety, race format, spectator experience etc.) you would change if in charge?   There is always going to be lots that could be changed or tweeked but for me the push for more ladies to race.  The reason I went to race with the men in 2002 was because of the lack of Ladies, however this has changed but I still feel there is room for improvement. 

What do you see as the most important issue facing autograss in the short, medium and longer term? [eg the change to more electric cars on the road, the availability of Mini’s, Micra’s etc, escalating cost, the world focus on being green, marshal shortage, land available for circuits].
The land available to race on.  Sadly people aren’t wanting us or are charging ridiculous prices. What the answer is I don’t know. 

Could autograss race on a short oval track if track availability became a problem? 
Yes but that’s not autograss and the tracks not as wide or as fast which I feel would contribute to more damage of cars. 

Thank you to Alyson her time and we wish her all the best in the 2019 season….just say yes to Vinny next time.

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