In a world of multi-billion pound, purpose-built motorsport complexes, bejewelled with high-end boutiques and luxury accommodation; Croft is a decidedly more down-to-earth, quintessentially Yorkshire-type affair. There’s no dedicated in-house driver development facilities or state-of-the-art media suites, but there’s always a cracking cup of tea on-hand, and all the folk are dead nice. Situated near Darlington, Croft is a circuit that’s particularly close to my heart. Not only is it situated in – what I believe can be factually be described as – the greatest county on earth, it also played host to my first ever foray into competitive motorsport back in 2014. It was a minor league sprint event, with a performance which warranted a hearty ‘you tried’ from my parents and fellow peers at the time. On this occasion, the circuit – once home to 78 squadron – was to play theatre to a far more prestigious calibre of motorsport; the Ferrari UK Challenge Series.
Gone was the ‘Posh Nosh’ van that had plied us acrid coffee and rock-hard bacon butties all those years ago; in its place an array of facilities that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. A little awe-struck by the scale of the operation, the howl from the track and my brains attempts to reference it all against my pre-existing mental image of the place, I wandered dazedly towards the closest Rosso Red-emblazoned building I could see. This subsequently turned out to be the ‘Drivers and Owners’ area; a room which, by a quick assessment, Champagne bottles outnumbered their human counterparts 3:1. Just as it should be.
The atmosphere in the paddock is always incredibly lively as a steady stream of Ferrari’s make their way back and forth and engineers check and make a myriad of corrections. An onerous cocktail of burnt race fuel and rubber. The sound of overrun pricked my ears to attention as I wandered through, trying not to hinder the efforts of the sea of pit crew moving around me.
The day’s racing was split into two main categories; the Pirelli Classics series and the Challenge race. The action kicked off with the classic, the grid consisting mostly of 328s, 308s, Dinos, 348s and one of my all-time favourites; the 355 Challenge. The racing was hotly contested, with two hardened 355s battling for the lead. Despite mechanical issues, Josh Kirkwood-Jones managed to hold on to second. This wasn’t your Sunday morning classic car club motorcade; these chaps weren’t holding back!
The 488 Challenge is an altogether different being. Bristling with active aero and will lap a typical airfield circuit like Croft five seconds faster than their classic counterparts. Their distinctive flat-plain forced induction distinctly different too. Whilst they may vaguely resemble the road-going 488 GTB road car, be under no misconception, these were built to fulfil their racing pedigree.
A brief lunch of beautifully prepared antipasto was followed by a few espressos to sharpen the mind. I feared that the selection of Hublot watches displayed nearby would very nearly have me ringing up the bank manager.
The last time I went round Croft was in a 197 horsepower Toyota GT86, a far cry from the 812 Superfast I found myself in. Sunny in, sunny out, it’s flat, but as you head towards the tree line, trust the car and the track. I’ve driven some big kit on track over the years, but this was a whole new ball game. It was a ballistic missile of a thing. Having hung up my helmet some years ago, it didn’t take long for Ferrari to stir something in my loins once more.