Get me to the race on time
Got your licence, bought your kit and chosen the championship you want to compete in? Now you need to get your car to the event – from trailers to trucks, Gareth Evans considers your options for doing so.
It is one of the unspoken realities of motorsport but, as a competitor, there is every chance that you will have to consider the options for transporting your vehicle to an event. On the assumption that the budget will not stretch to a custom, high-speed flatbed such as the legendary Renntransporter Mercedes built for its race team in the 1950s, learning the ins and outs of towing your own race or rally car are as much a rite of passage as doing your ARDS test.
There are, of course, many disciplines where road-legal cars can compete and it is perfectly feasible to drive yourself there. But there comes a point, especially for circuit and rally events, where swapping over wheels or other modifications to prepare the car for competition are neither practical nor convenient. And if you damage the car in the heat of battle you may be stuck for getting home. Or you might simply need to carry more kit with you than you can pack into the car.
With these thoughts in mind, the attractions of transporting your competition vehicle to the event become more apparent. In fact, the prevalence of towing within motorsport circles has spawned a sub-culture all of its own. A properly prepared, expertly parked rig will elicit nods of approval from the old hands in the paddock, and it is common to compare your setup with your neighbour’s over a drink at the end of the day. You may even find some clubs adding a towing category to autotests to really demonstrate your reversing skills and further indulge that competitive spirit. That may be a bit much for most people, but for the purposes of this article we are going to look at three typical types of towing rig, and explain a little about the pros and cons of each.
There are, of course, many ways you can do it but these should help you evaluate some of the common options. Car with uncovered trailer At the cheapest end of the spectrum, you have got a towing-ready car pulling a basic one or two-axle trailer. This has many advantages – it is relatively simple to operate, you have access to the car while it is loaded, and it takes up a far smaller footprint in storage terms than a larger covered trailer. The obvious disadvantages are security on overnight stops and lack of protection from the elements.
Depending on the type of car and trailer, it is sometimes possible to carry a spare set of wheels and limited additional kit but it is clear you cannot carry as much this way as you might in a covered trailer. Trailers over 750kg need to have their own braking system fitted and you obviously need an illuminated number plate corresponding to that of the towing vehicle. Prices start at well under £1,000 for the most rudimentary rig, but ensure it is in good working order.
You will want it serviced by a specialist to ensure all is as it should be. “Servicing trailers is important, particularly the adjustment of the brakes,” affirms Nick Fulford, Head of Marketing at Brian James Trailers. “We have had some issues with people doing it themselves and not doing it properly. All our dealers have been trained to do that and it is quite an important maintenance function.” What about towing with an A-frame? While the towing laws apply in the same way as any other trailers, there is also the requirement for the towed car’s brakes to function, which is going to mean mechanical changes to your lovingly prepared competition vehicle.
This is possible purely through electrical systems on newer cars, however. Your maximum length of a sub-3.5-tonne vehicle is 7.0 metres, although that does not include the A-frame itself. Total permissible width for a trailer is 2.55 metres.
Van or motorhome with covered trailer
This represents the most practical combination for most types of motorsport, allowing decent rest and proper practicality, and it does not have to break the bank. It means you are pretty much selfsufficient at the venue, and secure when you travel to and from it.
And you can often carry far more kit. A decently maintained van can be found for a few thousand pounds, and covered trailers for around the same amount. Sleeping in the back of a Transit is not for everyone and that is where the myriad options for slightly more expensive campers come in. Depending on spec, you have got the option to enjoy hot and cold running water, kitchen facilities and some even have their own private toilets and showers. Factory-built campers such as the popular VW California are expensive to buy but versatile, viable for holidays beyond your racing and hold their value well.
Motorhomes based on van chassis are another popular option, the Fiat Ducato a popular basis for this type of vehicle. This option is cheaper, but more fraught with risk, particularly when buying used. In terms of what you tow behind it, the dominant player in the covered market is Daventry-based Brian James, whose trailers fill the paddocks of meetings up and down the country. “That’s how we made our name really,” says Nick Fulford. “The company evolved from making open car transporters into producing trailers specifically for motorsport.”
You might scoff at the mere idea of using a truck simply because it sounds prohibitively expensive but, in some instances, it can prove a more cost-effective and even affordable option for the privateer competitor. For starters, it means several cars can be transported to a meeting in one hit, and once an awning or marquee is erected you are looking at a huge amount of covered, useable paddock space and even places to lay camp beds or sleeping bags for your overnight accommodation.
It means you do not need garage facilities for each car, you share running costs, and it is easier to keep secure than a fleet of single-vehicle trailers. As your correspondent can attest, this works even at grassroots level with personal experience of competing in Formula Vee with Alan Harding’s AHS operation. The whole point of Formula Vee is keeping costs to a minimum and using a truck may sound like an extravagance but Alan factors transport costs into arriveand-drive or owner-driver packages he operates with his customers.
And it can be cost efficient for all concerned. “We chose a truck because we regularly transport six cars, plus the truck can carry 10 Vees,” says Harding. “These trucks can do 12 to a gallon. A Transit and a trailer would do about 25mpg, and we would need four of them and four drivers. Plus, we have unlimited space for tyres, fuel, tools, welding gear, generators and compressors.” It might be a stretch for privateers to club together, find someone willing to take the appropriate licence and store such a rig, but it is not beyond the imagination and could be a cost-effective solution if circumstances permit.
Top towing tips
- The suitable types of vehicle for towing depend on what you are planning to pull, but in general you will need an EU type-approved towbar fitted, either when the car was built or installed retrospectively by an expert. This does not apply to vehicles first used before 1st August 1998
- Take your time – leave extra space for braking and cornering. Practice low-speed manoeuvres in the safety of a quiet car park before dragging your car to a meet. The last thing you want is parking pressure on top of your everyday racing worries Check trailer tyres very carefully, both for correct pressure and condition
- All lights on the trailer should also be confirmed as fully functional before setting off
- It sounds obvious, but do not carry passengers in your trailer
- Does the length of your load mean you should consider wing mirror extensions in order to see vehicles behind you? This is a legal requirement so check carefully to avoid a fine
- Plan your route carefully, and make sure you are aware of, and capable of navigating, low bridges or narrow streets on your journey. Getting stuck can be a tough one to get out of, not to mention embarrassing