The Welsh Grand Prix Blog

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Sunny Wales

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It’s not often that the Sun in shining in Wales and here I am inside setting up my new blog. I’m supposed to be revising for my exams but I thought I’d get setting this up out of the way now while I can. Hopefully I won’t spend too much time writing this now it’s done.

Anyway, a bit of background. For those that don’t know where Wales is, it’s the bit sticking out of England to the west. On a map, if you think of the Britain is a witch, with Scotland being the head and hat, the centre of England being the main body and Devon and Cornwall as the leg, then Wales would be the arms stretching out to the cauldron of Ireland.

I live in the south about an hour from Cardiff, the capital. I live one of the infamous valleys, the Rhondda Fach. It’s one of the poorest parts of South Wales, which says something – as many of you may know, the South Wales Valleys were a heavy industrial area, dominated by hundreds of coal mines, as well as a few steelworks, ironworks etc, but deindustrialisation has hit the area hard with unemployment sky high and the usual spiral of decline setting in. This place has been particularly badly hit because of the valley itself – it’s steep-sided which restricts development. Houses are sprawled up the mountainside, as opposed to our neighbouring valleys, the Rhondda Fawr and the Cynon, where the houses are all on the valley floor. As a result, they have nice wide roads and railway lines. The railway line to Maerdy in our valley was shut to passenger trains in the 1960s, and we’ve only recently had a bypass built on part of the line, but it still only goes halfway up the valley.

The top end of the valley where I live is quite isolated. To the south, narrow(-ish) roads through streets down the valley a bit to the bypass. To the north, you have to drive over a mountain to reach Aberdare, a small market town, and the A465 Heads of the Valley road which links Abergavenny and Neath via Merthyr Tydfil, Ebbw Vale and Brynmawr. To the east, a narrow lane over the mountain to either the wonderful (yeah, right) town of Mountain Ash just down from Aberdare or the reasonably isolated village of Ynysybwl, just up the road from Pontypridd, the nearest large town and birth place of Sir Tom Jones. To the west, you have to go over another mountain, including driving through the infamous hilltop semi-council estate village of Penrhys.

So it is quite a rough area. It’s not quite inner city but it’s not paradise. Now you may be wondering what this has to do with motorsport. That’s exactly what I’ve been wondering for the last 18 years as well. Motorsport is not particularly popular here, apart from maybe rallying. I guess a sport where millions of dollars are needlessly thrown around isn’t particularly attractive in a working class area that prefers rugby and football. Other than the run of 5 years when Rally GB came to the area and had a stage in the forestry on top of the mountain to the east of the valley, there is little car racing heritage in the valley (apart from boy racers on the roads, obviously). In fact, there is little racing heritage in South Wales in general. There is the annual motorbike road racing event at Aberdare Park and I’m not a huge fan of bikes. The nearest circuit is Llandow near Cowbridge but that’s only a club circuit. Pembrey is some distance away, the other side of Llanelli. I’ve been there a few times before, including for British F3 in 1997 and 98, but there have been no major events for a long time. Ditto Castle Combe. The nearest “major” circuit is Thruxton 2 hours away but I couldn’t make it to the BTCC meeting this year. The Midlands cluster of the likes of Donington and Silverstone are simply too far away to do in a day. So I haven’t got a clue where I’m going to get my fix from, as Rally GB seems to be under major threat thanks to the idiots in the Welsh Assembly pulling the funding and it may disappear back up north to Kielder soon. However, hopefully if I get into Warwick University I’ll be a bit closer to places like Donington and Silverstone so I can pop over to see a bit more action. Just got to revise to get the results to get there…

So why motorsport? I guess it’s because I was indoctrinated at a young age. My dad is an F1 fan (not to the extent that I am but a fan) and always had it on when I was younger. I picked it up quite quickly – evidence for that is the episodes of Top Gear and Rally Report from 1993. Although I know I’ve been into it for that long, my earliest actual memory of watching F1 live is from the 1995 Spanish GP when Johnny Herbert’s jackman wasn’t fast enough. I’d say I knew most of the drivers and teams by 1996, by which time I was a big Damon Hill fan. I still vividly remember reading the Radio Times the night before Suzuka. I can’t remember if I got up or not but it was a great day and a great race, and I treasure the taped copy of the Grand Prix highlights programme I have, complete with the BBC 76-96 highlights clip (dubious stuff from the BBC given that Grand Prix didn’t start until 1978!). My interest waned during the Schumacher domination years (and I doubt I was the only one) but came back with a bang in 2005, coinciding with us getting the internet for the first time. I joined the sadly missed racingcircuits.net forum in October half term of that year and  GlobalF1.net shortly after, which I now write for and am infamous at for my…unorthodox opinions and enormous post count!

In addition to F1, I’ve always been a big touring cars fan ever since the Super Touring era of the BTCC, so I try and catch as many BTCC and WTCC races as I can. I try not to miss Le Mans, have gone to extreme lengths not to miss the Indy 500, and over the last year or so have developed a taste for NASCAR as well – it’s not as bad as people say and there are a lot of misconceptions around it which I will probably go into another time. Basically, I will watch anything as long as it’s entertaining. Although I’m not a huge fan of bikes, I do enjoy the odd race or 2. I’m not a fan of drag racing but I’m not going sit here and rant about it, given that I get fed up of when people are the same with NASCAR (including my dad!).

Outside of motorsport, I am a general fan of sports. In football, I am a big fan of League 2 side Torquay United who have just won promotion back to the Football League. Why? My dad again – he’s originally from there, which puts me in the awkward position of having an English father and a Welsh mother, especially around here where the blinkered locals are the sort where they genuinely would attack you for being English (or just generally not being Welsh). My first Torquay game, ironically, was at Ninian Park when we played Cardiff City back in about 1998, the year we made it to the play-off final at Wembley and lost to Colchester. This time, it was a different story, although I will say the new stadium is a mere shadow of the old one.

Apart from that, I’ll usually sit and watch most sports – rugby, tennis, cricket, athletics etc. I just happen to be abysmal at all of them – the only sport I represented the school at was cricket and I scored a grand total of 1 run in my only game (at least I got the 1!). Apart from that, the only sport I was ever any good at was bowls (proper bowls, that is, not bowling). I’m also a bit of a train buff, especially steam engines – just beautiful. And on the subject of music, I am a big Queen fan – a proper Queen fan too, not just someone who likes to sing I Want To Break Free at karaokes whilst drunk. I achieved a lifelong (well, the last few years, anyway) ambition to go and see them (with Free and Bad Company front man Paul Rodgers doing a fine job as lead vocalist in place of St Freddie) in concert last year at the CIA in Cardiff. Brilliant.

Well, that’s me. Now, on with the show…

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Written by James Bennett

May 29, 2009 at 13:06

Posted in Personal

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