Aarron Cropley Q&A

For our second Q&A we talk to Aarron Cropley who made his racing debut last year in a Class 1 Nissan Micra (#SP115).
Getting to know Aarron
Age: 26
Years racing in autograss: 2018 is my 2nd year, but my 1st full season.
1st autograss car was…. Nissan Micra K11 1.0 (Class One).
Proudest moment in autograss was…. My first win in a B Final at SP (My home club)
Most embarassing moment in autograss was…. Heavy Rain at Scunny (I remember seeing you on the day).  I ran out of clear tape on my goggles on the start line, spun on the first corner, and couldn’t see (face full of wet mud).
On a scale of one 1-10, what is your mechanical nous like (1 being I just drive, 10 being I do everything) 2 or 3.  I know nothing about building/fixing engines.
On a scale of one 1-10 how would you rate yourself as racing driver (1 being rookie, 10 being best in class) 1 or 2.  I have so much to learn.
What racing driver outside of autograss gets you jumping around like a true fan? I’m not a fan of anyone to be honest.  I like to see Hamilton do well for British Motorsport.
 
Experience Cropley
 
I first met you as a fellow photographer at Sturton and it wasn’t long after that when you decided to get behind the wheel to have a go yourself.  What attracted you to race in autograss? For me I’ve always been around autograss since being a little boy watching my Dad (who no longer races).  My god father builds Class 1’s ( Richard Green, RAG Racing) and when the opportunity came along for me to have my own I couldn’t wait.
You chose to race a Nissan Micra in Class 1.  Why Class 1 and why a Micra over a Mini or a Yaris? Classs one is a brilliant chance for people who only have a small budget to get into autograss, learn to race and enjoy the sport along the way. A Micra was the option for me due to price & also because I know Rag Racing very well – Richard builds a brilliant affordable car. I love my little Micra.
You chose to race for Spalding which is not the biggest club.  How have you found Spalding and, with it being smaller, is that a plus point for a rookie? I chose Spalding for two reason. 1, It’s the club I went to watch my Dad at from very young. 2, It’s local to me and I believe in supporting your local club no matter how big or small. Spalding is brilliant for new drivers, it gives you the chance to learn but also pick up a few top 3 finishes along the way due to the size of classes and the mixed ability of our club’s racers.
Before your first race what was the best advice you received and why?  Enjoy it no matter if you’re 1st or 8th keep going and enjoy yourself.
What advice would you give someone looking to start racing in autograss? Go for it. It’s a brilliant sport (with) friendly people at all clubs across the country.
What has surprised you about being a racing driver and how has the whole experience been compared to what you expected?  The thrill and excitement.  Even in a small 1.0, it’s still exciting on the start line.
What techniques have you learnt?  In our class I would say keeping tight on corners, it’s not easy to overtake on the outside.  A quick start off the line in to the first corner is a massive bonus in Class 1.
Sitting in the driving seat, what noticeable differences have you found between cars and drivers? A top running Mini will always be at the front of Class 1. It’s very limited what you can do with a Class 1. I don’t really keep away from any driver or car. I do Autograss to enjoy myself and meet new people – winning races is always an awesome feeling though! 
Have you got an aim to drive a certain car or a particular class in the future and why? I enjoy class one, it’s well within my budget, but the dream would  be a Bennett built (BB Motorsport) Class 8. 
What is your aim for 2018? Top 3 trophy at my club. 
AA – Aarron Advice
Imagine I have a Nissan Micra to race.  What can I not do without on this car or what should I focus my budget on? Tyres.  With it being a limited class, a good set of tyres goes along way i think.
I’ve not got much budget, what can I save for another day? Fancy paint and stickers!
I should make a point of speaking to who to get started? Richard Green (RAG Racing) or Carl Seeker help me a lot.
What is the best track to race on and why?  I’ve not visited many clubs, but I enjoy Scunny a lot.  It’s always busy.
I should focus on running well at one or two tracks or race anywhere possible? I go to as many clubs as I can and enjoy racing.  If a local club is rained off I’m always willing to travel. I went to Yorkshire Dales last year. It ended badly for me though – four car pile up on the third bend. 
I’m going to love racing in autograss because….. the people, the thrill, the burger vans at all clubs!
Aaron in charge
As a recent rookie, what (if anything) do you think the sport needs to do to help rookies learn, practice and integrate with the existing members?  I think most clubs are welcoming, friendly and helpful. No need for any newbie to worry.  Come and join in.
The marshals are drawn from a relatively small pool of people.  How do you think clubs can encourage new marshals and/or more drivers to take a turn?  Without marshals you obviously can’t go racing. The clubs I race at are brilliant for marshals, my local club sometimes struggle but drivers pull together because we all want to race.
Are you happy with orange cone markers and the penalties that come from hitting them or is there a better solution or deterrant for hitting them? It’s maybe one of the better options orange cones so no damage gets done. But I’m awful for hitting them so I don’t like the green flag rule! 
The use of a TV camera to review controversial moves instead of relying on marshals is a good or a bad thing.  Discuss. Marshals make the final decision for me, they got a job and we should respect it. 
There are many classes in autograss.  Anything you would drop, merge or add? For me I would mix men and women classes. The lady’s who do race in mens already show its a good thing to do.
Would you like to see new technologies added like hybrids or go in the other direction of say a standard spec saloon? Keep it as it is.
Social media is big in the 21st century.  What would you change from the current offerings to help spread the word? GrassChat does a brillaint job. Search for it on Facebook. Well worth the follow and Russ is a brilliant person – very nice and got time for anyone.  [Matt – GrassChat is definitely worth following for all those wanting to keep up to date on all things autograss related].
You are in charge of the Fastest Man on Grass and you have a budget to put a star in an autograss car.  Who would you put in? Lewis Hamilton.  [Matt – I don’t think Sturton quite have the budget for that!]
Autosport decides to run a feature on Autograss before the NEC show.  Which car would you put on the front cover to show autograss at its best and why? For me I would put Phil Cooper, the championships he has won, and the success surely shows what can be achieved in this sport 

Simon Farrar Q&A: Part 2

Part 2 of autograss star Simon Farrar’s Q&A is here.  Simon gives his advice and his thoughts if he was in charge.

Simon Says

For a Junior just starting, what would your advice be?  Blimey things have changed a little since I was a Junior but I guess first thing is have a want and desire to be involved. Enjoy playing and tinkering with your car.

I will be looking to start my lad in Juniors towards end of 2019 and he is desperate for a junior special. I think that is the way I would have gone anyway. They look easy to work on, always some good close racing and I think the overall costs of a Junior special (could) come in cheaper than the saloons? I may be wrong and I’m most likely to find out soon enough.

For someone in their 30s/40s who has never raced before, what category would best suit whether money was no object or if they were on a budget? Well the fact that they have never raced before makes it a difficult question. Everyone coming into the sport will love the speed and excitement the big classes offer but they certainly aren’t as easy to drive as some of the guys out there make them look. I would say really budget class would be 2 or stock hatch for your front wheel drive fancier and a three or an eight for your RWD idealist.

Unusually for motorsport, not all drivers wear gloves.  To wear or not to wear?  Did wear, don’t wear now. May wear again in the future if I can find them in my colour!

If you are racing on a budget, what should the priority be? SAFETY – massively number one priority has to be safety. Some of the cages that have been built on a budget have been awful. I know it’s the sports issue to weedle them out but if that’s your one big expense put a decent cage in your car. It could well save your child’s life. You can save up and make the car quicker over time and as budget increases. You can’t buy back your child’s life.

WOW that was serious!

An autograss track can change from one heat to the next, with watering, cones moved in or out and new ruts forming.  What practice is best to adopt and what should a new driver focus on to read the changes during the day? I know it is simple and probably common sense advice but watch the race in front of you and watch what the marshals are doing. It is very easy to get caught out by a wet track (my videos online again!) if you’re not expecting it.

You should visit an autograss meeting because…. the smell, the noise, the atmosphere, the close and entertaining racing.

You should race in autograss because….. it’s a great sport that all the family can compete in and you will make lifelong friendships with some wonderfully friendly people

An autograss fan must visit…. The nationals, the one off meeting which is the pinnacle of our sport especially this year in the glorious setting that is Tenby. Oh and of course the Scunny bar on a regular basis, not before racing obviously. I don’t condone drinking and driving!  (Although I did nearly end the new Scunny bus bar before it really started by driving Nigel off the road on the A1 on the way home from YD BAS whilst waving to him!) Ooops.

Farrar The Boss

I’ve been to a fair few meetings where a novice (usually juniors) are making their debut and some can’t even change to 2nd gear.  Everyone has to start somewhere but is there a better way to introduce new drivers and ensure when they make their debut they know the car and to an extent reduce the scare factor so they continue to come back for more?  (I’ve been to Kent for example and they have let the new drivers do a few laps pre meeting). I think you have answered your own question there. At the very least these guys and gals should get to go out before the meeting starts and get a few laps in on their own. If there are plenty of juniors at the meeting then let them have a race on their own as well away from the more experienced Juniors. Although you have to say watching the quality of the Juniors and competency they have in their cars there is very few accidents because the experienced racers always give plenty of room to the novices. The test day meeting at Scunthorpe is also another good place to start as I am sure they would do the same allowing novice racers to go out on their own.

Standing on the infield I get to talk to the marshals but it is generally the same marshals out at each event.  How do you think clubs can encourage new marshals and/or more drivers to take a turn?  I think clubs should have named drivers take to the infield each meeting, a little like they have named helping parties. I have marshalled in the past and know it is not easy and you do see things from a different perspective. Although as always this is not easy for everyone – I would find it difficult at most meetings as I have my young boys with me and it is hard to pass them off onto someone all day whist I am marshalling and racing. Although I’m sure I could manage at least one meeting a year as would most.

You don’t have to be stood on a marshals post for long before someone hits an orange cone.  Is there a better solution or deterrent for hitting them? At karting they use large plastic blocks, these would be less easy to knock over. Maybe worth a try, the difficulty is that the marshals move the cones around often during a meeting to assist with keeping the track in its best condition for racing so any solution needs to be mobile. I liked the three tyres tied together but how easy is it to police whether you have run over the first small tyre or the second larger tyre (and thus) whether it is an infringement worth a green flag?

I do think for consistency it needs to be a solid rule through all clubs and meetings though whatever. Hit one tyre/cone on one bend it’s a green flag. Hit two and it’s a black. It would keep everyone away from the tyres which hopefully will make it easier to tell if someone was pushed onto a tyre which is where complaints come from.

Imagine you were in charge of an autograss event.  What improvements either for the fan or the competitor would you bring in? Money no object? Big screens in the pits. It is great to watch the racing when you’re stuck in the pits sorting cars out.

For spectators, open the pits up to them so they can get in to see people working on their cars and preparing for racing but with OBVIOUS warning signs motor sport is dangerous, keep your child on a lead etc etc. We shouldn’t be driving like idiots in the pits anyway, we have a race track for that.

Sturton races on a farmers field and, as White Rose have found out, if you lose your field/track it is hard to get a new one. Do you feel the sport does enough to keep the landowner happy and what could be done to improve the relationship? I think a lot of the time the issues aren’t with the landowners, it is with planning permissions to race. I think a lot of farmers are happy to rent out their land if the area is well looked after as its additional income for land set aside. If you approached the landowners of the tracks we have all over the country they would probably all say that as a whole the autograss community look after their tracks and rented land pretty well.

Carmen Jorda was recently appointed by the FIA to represent women in motorsport and didn’t get much support with her separate races for women views.  Autograss is quite unusual to have the ladies class.  Is this good and is it sustainable?  I think it is an excellent thing to have separate ladies racing to men. We use this to our advantage as a family sport. Where else can a man, woman and child race one car and get the enjoyment from that at a very reasonable price. It does happen less and less now with most families having a separate car for a junior. I think the issue is how do we encourage more women to race their partner’s cars? We don’t want to lose the ladies racing but the numbers dwindle and makes the racing look tame sometimes which is a shame because there are some stunningly fast women drivers in our sport.

The MSA Chairman, Dave Richards, recently spoke about the challenges of keeping drivers in the sport and attracting new competitors.  What can be done to attract new drivers in autograss?  The million dollar question for all classes of motor sport. During times of austerity cost is a massive factor on a sport which can take a vast chunk of your income for your enjoyment.

Whilst some classes will always be expensive and attract drivers how do we create one/two/three classes within the sport that are fast, close racing and cheap to build/maintain?

We are never going to be able to go back to the really ‘cheap’ days of autograss when you could weld a bit of tube in your standard road car with a standard car seat and race it. The safety of the sport had to improve and along with that the image improved. Safety costs money but it is imperative to have that right from the off.

Class 1 and 2 were the cheap classes and still are to some extent with the introduction of Micra’s in class one. The constant evolving of the sport and changing of certain rules to allow differing cars/engines into the unmodified classes is certainly one aspect of helping to bring costs back down. Micra’s have proved that with a ‘nearly standard’ Micra competing well with a big money Mini.

So what can change with class two to do the same?

New classes may help, F600 and stock hatch are examples of these. They work well in some areas of the country and not others. Really though to implement a new class there needs to be a dying class gone OR change the rules on that again.  It’s a hard decision to make.

With road cars going more and more down the hybrid and electric route, what impact do you see this having on autograss? Is this a new era for autograss racing, is it to be a sport leading the way in taking on this new technology? I know there are people out there who would like to build an electric car, the question has been asked I’m sure. Electric car racing is something that is certainly going to make its way down to grass roots racing eventually, the question is are we ready? Can we understand the technology and police the legalities that we set up for cars? It may well be a new and interesting way to get the younger generation into racing as everything they deal with is electronic.

Right now though…………….I will stick with the V8.

In BriSCA F1 Matt Newson hires cars out.  Is this something that could be encouraged in autograss, to allow arrive and drives and attract people who are not mechanics or have the space to keep cars etc.?  This has been done at many clubs over the years in fact one or two clubs still offer hire cars I believe. Trent used to have a full grid that was generally hired out at every meeting. The difficulty is repairs and damage. Maintaining the cars when they are treated in the same manner I treat a go kart in when I go to a corporate day. There is very little care because they don’t have to repair the cars so I find it difficult to see it happening unless it was carried out by certain ‘autograss manufacturers’ but would they really want the hassle? I doubt it.

Fernando Alonso attracted a lot of attention by trying different disciplines.  Would you like to see say Stuart Smith (BriSCA F1), Matt Neal (BTCC) or Guy Wilks (Rally / Rallycross) have a go in autograss and help attract some new fans?  Of course although I would be much more interested in those guys letting me try out the different disciplines in their cars!!

Any exposure the sport gets is beneficial.  It is great to see autograss on motorsport.tv (but) it’s a shame we can’t afford to do it on a regular basis. Unfortunately the cost of this form of exposure against the amount of money from new racers it would generate wouldn’t add up.

 

Thank you to Simon for the interview and keep posted for further Q&A’s.  Debate is always welcome so if you have any comments about the above, add them to either our FB page or website.  

Simon Farrar Q&A Part 1

This is the first of which will hopefully be a regular Q&A feature with with a variety of autograss stars.  To start off with we get some words of wisdom from Simon Farrar, the star in a Chevy V8 engined Nissan Micra.  In part 1, we look at Simon’s racing.

 

Introducing Simon Farrar

Age 43

Years racing in autograss 10 years on and off since I was 14

1st autograss car was…. A Class 1 Mini

Proudest moment in autograss was….finishing 3rd in my first year racing class 3 BAS 2016

Most embarrassing moment in autograss was…. running out of fuel whilst leading in CGTRO grand final after lapping most of the field in my class 10.  Also, rolling same class 10 at start of following year and getting told off by the marshals for just racing in my socks. I had made the pedal area a little tight for my size 11 feet during my modifications!

On a scale of one 1-10, what is your mechanical nous like (1 being I just drive, 10 being I do everything) Around a five. I know how to change oil and plugs once a year.

On a scale of one 1-10 how would you rate yourself as racing driver (1 being rookie, 10 being best in class) Probably a four. I’m all right foot and no brain!

What racing driver (outside of autograss) gets you jumping around like a true fan? Daniel Ricciardo, talented young driver and the only person who braved the rain for us poor fans during testing two years ago. Mad like me. Oh and any rally driver, balls of steel those blokes!

On track with Simon

What inspired you to race in autograss? Playing in a scrapyard as a 10 year old kid and then helping to build my Dad’s MK1 Escort class 3 back in ’86 when he returned to the sport. Loved the racing on the old showground track and got to help (and drive) the wrecker truck.

Thinking back to that first meeting, did anything over overawe you, surprise you or could you just not stop smiling? The first few meetings were amazing, I had never seen so many race cars and the noise of the old Rover V8’s in class 7 back then was awesome for a young lad to hear. The surprise was how many times my Dad could roll that class 3 Escort in one meeting!  We soon had to stiffen the suspension up.

Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently on that first day? Write to NASA and get them to bring forward the date at when 12 year olds could start in Juniors!!

Lots of people when talking about NASCAR think going around in circles is easy and an oval is an oval.  How does a Blyton differ from a Caenby Corner to a York etc.? It is quite surprising how no track is the same, whether it is down to size, surface or the type of corner each track has. Even the changes in track conditions throughout the days racing will differ between tracks. Some polish within a few races others will stay loose all meeting (my preferred tracks).

Do you alter anything in your driving or the car from track to track? Yes, I often put on clean underwear! To be honest I think I over played with the car last year. If the small changes that have been made over winter are right then I will only need to make very simple changes for opposing condition/tracks this year. The more simple you can keep the car, the easier it is for me to understand.

As a Lincolnshire lad you are lucky to have several clubs nearby.  What made you choose Yorkshire Dales this year? Two reasons. Firstly I am on holiday on Scunthorpe’s qualifier meeting which wasn’t best planned and secondly and it now may help to break my duck when it comes to qualifying. I seem to lose all confidence in myself and the car at qualifying, it may have something to do with the magnetic barriers so I’m hopeful that YD’s barriers are rubber this year.

You can’t really go testing.  What things do you do during the season to refine the car, refine your driving or bed new parts in? We (usually) get the one test meeting at Scunthorpe at the beginning of the year which will help with some set up of the car. Following on from that then we use some of the smaller and quieter club meetings to try anything new out.  We hope to have everything right and ready for the big meetings of the year

Blyton normally has a testing day at the beginning of the season.  What can you hope to achieve on such a day?  First and foremost is feeling the car again, it’s surprising actually how long it takes me to get used to driving the car again after a break. Getting as many laps in as possible and then making a few minor tweaks and hoping any winter alterations have worked in your favour.

You get even less time to practice racing in the rain/mud. How do you find racing in the rain/mud with 480bhp and what was the first time like? The first time out in the Micra was at a damp track as it happens, (which was) exhilarating and embarrassing. She worked straight out of the box, all that power and noise and flames. I couldn’t stop smiling, my face hurt. The car was flying and I loved it, even started show boating a little by running sideways out of the bend and as far down the straight as I could. Only I overdid it a little over the finish line and flipped her round into the barrier and one hell of a muddy puddle at Scunthorpe. Oops. Smashed my Dad’s wheels, and started the damage that was to knacker my LSD plates up. All on video for my embarrassment to be seen obviously!

Due to my impatience and heavy right foot I am actually a pretty awful driver in the wet. Border Counties was an amazing track for me but I just made a right hash of it in BAS 2017 and pretty much through any chance of top 4 trophy away.

Class 3 has produced a fair amount of variety on the grid recently, you get to race against your Dad and your driving style is usually pretty sideways.  Many plus points but how would you sell it?

Firstly I have to say thanks to Chris Allanson and his stubbornness to not listen to people and just do what he does best, make things work. When he decided he was going to build a class 3 Chevy after taking my Dad’s Swift out I just knew I had to have one, so he built them side by side. Since that first season we have changed people’s perceptions of class 3. The class had become a bit stale with cars following each other and very little of the sideways action that it used to have years ago. The noise, the flames and the old skool sideways driving put a bit of excitement back in the class. Winning was a huge bonus for me but driving that car is exciting win or lose.

Now people are wanting to watch class 3 racing again, it has become very competitive, fast and the drivers are all friendly with some great rivalries out there. I think I have counted probably 15 V8 class 3’s that will be lining up this year along with many new cars and some re-vamped and improved old cars. This is going to be a very exciting and close so I can’t wait to get stuck in the middle of it all.

Racing with my Dad has been fun but with him having a new Micra V8 this season as well I can see some very enjoyable racing for us ahead and maybe I might even let him beat me occasionally. His driving style is a little more brain led than my right foot led style so I’m interested to see how this fairs with similar cars.

Your V8 Nissan Micra has sported many different liveries.  What is the idea behind this? I like to be the centre of attention, strange for someone so shy as a rule. The new livery this year is much more reserved.

What is your aim for 2018? Blue sky thinking?? Lift the nationals trophy on the stunning Tenby track, beat Mr Gould enough times to also take the BAS 3 crown and learn how to drive on a polished track (although it involves slowing down and I struggle with that). Seriously as nice as it would be to win a major title, my main aim is to go and have drinks with some great friends in the bar, race against them in some bloody fast, furious and clean races, go home with a massive smile on my face and repeat most weekends of the season. The social side of our sport is as enjoyable as the racing and it’s great to be a part of.

 

Coming later this week we will find out Simon’s advice for rookie drivers and what he would do if was in charge.