February 9, 2023

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Saturday Is For Speed At Players Classic

I’ll be honest, for some reason I’ve struggled to write this article up more than any other.

I don’t even know what it is as, on paper, Players Classic on a Saturday is a simple equation with great results. Take a car show, throw in a track day, add some free energy drinks and away you go. Fun for the whole family. And yet I’m sat here scratching my head at my screen, because Saturday at Players is so much more.

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Maybe it’s the pressure of covering an event I’ve been following since I was a young lad in school, reading early-days Speedhunters on my lunch breaks. Or it could be how I’m going to convey the strong sense of ‘more than the sum of its parts’ without putting a pound in the cliché jar.

Whichever way, I need to start somewhere. So let’s start from where my Players experience began…

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As I mentioned, Players shows have been going on for a long time. We’re talking 16 years of the Players brand at this point, and nine years of Players Classic at Goodwood. So seeing as I had the chance to cover it this year, I figured why not go all-out and get one of my cars ‘show ready’ too.

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The car in question would be my prized E38 BMW 740i. It’s car I’ve had since I was 19, couldn’t really afford to run at the time and put myself into financial strain for over the years. I won’t go into specifics (yet), but after four weeks of delayed paintwork followed by an intensive week of powder-coating, split-rim building, mechanical work and two consecutive seven-hour round trips, it was ready two days before the show.

Parked up bright and early, the sound tests for the track day were happening not five metres away. Coffee may be good at waking you up, but the sound of engines revving out to redline does the trick too.

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Once sound testing was done, the drivers whose cars were allowed on track were briefed whilst the show and shine exhibitors begin to arrive at the show.

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If there’s one thing that Players can be called it’s diverse, and that’s been part of the charm since the very beginning.

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The very first cars that rolled in were already a mixed crowd. Parked across from one another were two very different builds – a very pretty Audi RS3 and a widened RPS13 200SX.

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The Audi was a classic style choice – a combination of air suspension and big gold BBS wheels. The tan interior with Recaro wingbacks was a nice touch, partly as it complemented the Sepang Blue paintwork so well, but also as the seats were a nod to the generation of RS cars prior to it.

Meanwhile, the RPS13 had a very purposeful-looking stance. Low enough with aggressive enough fitment to appeal to the eye, yet not so low or stretched that it couldn’t be driven hard should the owner decide to.

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Further up the track, there were two funny little red hatchbacks drawing a lot of looks. Two very different approaches to small car engineering, yet two very similar approaches to styling – bright red, tiny split rims, tight fitment and interior highlights. The Mini really filled the arches with its Compomotive wheels, whilst the Fiat took advantage of its static drop to run a very aggressive, almost pokey fitment with its substantial drop in height.

After a little wander around the show cars (read: time for my coffee to kick in), I was ready to go trackside and check out the real action for the day.

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Immediately I was greeted by a Mk4 Ford Escort XR3i carrying tremendous speed around the curve before Goodwood Circuit’s final chicane. It was being chased by an E46 BMW M3 which looked to have been built for the sole purpose of throwing gravel and stones at any car behind it. Either that or intense downforce.

In close formation behind that pair was a BMW E21 with an M20 Turbo engine and a Golf GTI track car. What an eclectic mix.

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Goodwood is a beautiful track with gentle elevation changes, plenty of grass runoff and nice banks for photographers to get vantage points from. Having long, sweeping curves does make it fast paced too, best suited to cars that can carry their speed through the turns.

There were three cars which looked unshakeable, putting in what felt like consistency rapid lap after lap. One was a silver BMW M2 on F80 M3 winter wheels, the other was a Porsche 991.2 GT3 which sounded incredible, and the third was the oddball of the three.

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An Alfa Romeo 4C, with a turbo noise to rival a Mine’s R34 Skyline GT-R and cornering so flat the Porsche GT3 was made to look like a Beetle. The little Italian was so impressive that I had to visit it in more depth, and even went out for some laps in it. It’s amazing, and my spotlight on it is coming shortly.

A few of my favourites on track weren’t necessarily the fastest, but the owners appeared to be having a great time giving it maximum attack where they could.

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First up, Simon Wilkins’ Renaultsport Clio RS Cup. Clios may not look like much, but the RS models are possibly the only ‘normal’ cars other than Porsche GTs built to be thrashed on track straight out of the factory. Simon’s is packing an extra punch too in the form of a larger and much more powerful Megane RS engine swap and limited slip differential. A Renault Cup front splitter and rear wing combined with KW coilovers make this a very well-rounded little fighter.

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One of the prettiest cars on track was this Skoda 110R, which was surprisingly quick given its age and a funky body shape; not the most sporting.

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This Ford Sierra ‘LS 400’ was a particularly interesting car. Having the larger headlights and rectangular taillights, this was clearly a Mk2, whereas the Mk1s have the ‘classic’ smaller headlights set into the nose and triangular indicators on the rear lights. It was also right-hand drive, though Mk2 Sierra 3-doors were never sold in the UK, and had the loud roar of a V8 every time it went past.

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I got a chance to have some words with the owner about it when, unfortunately, he ran out of luck at the far end of the track. One of his front ball joints had sheared, dropping the car onto its front wheel and caving in the driver’s side wing.I’d overheard the trouble on a marshall’s radio half way up the track, so I had an enjoyable sprint in 36ºC heat to try to catch the Sierra before it left the track. Fair play to the owner though, he just had a chuckle about the whole situation, decided he’d get a replacement wing straight away and fix the car himself. When asked about the right-hand drive cockpit, he proudly said that he’d performed the conversion himself.

The ‘LS 400’ badging is the clue as to what engine is in the Sierra. It may be fairly obvious, but the car was on display the next day, so you’ll have to wait until my Sunday report to find out.

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The queue for track time was a great place to have a more in-depth look at some of the cars doing laps that day. Craig Sims’ K20-swapped Mk2 Jetta, for example.

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A fantastic overall package, the Jetta is a result of a crashed EP3 Civic and Craig’s existing track-ready (ish) Jetta. What he’s ended up with is the best of both worlds – one of the best four-cylinder engines ever made in a capable and stable chassis. Also in a body that, in my opinion, is miles cooler than the EP3.

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Throw in a pair of Recaro Pole Positions, roll cage, billet shifter and AiM dash, and Craig was hot-lapping in a winning package.

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Another red racer, Mantas Sliogeris’s NB Mazda MX-5 is a legitimate competition-winning car. Mantas is the 2019 GRiD Gymkhana RWD champion, and he won it in this rowdy little wide-arched roadster. There aren’t a lot of wide-arch kits that I‘m a fan of, especially not on a delicate little car such as an MX-5, but not only does Mantas’s car look good, it has proven competition wins behind it.

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It’s nice to see a kit being used for its functional benefits, not just for show.

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The Players organisers, Jay McToldridge and Carl Taylor, always know how to put on a show, and in this case that came in the form of professional drifter Steve ‘Baggsy’ Biagioni putting on demonstration runs for the crowd.

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This year was different as he was also accompanied by fellow drifter Luke Woodham in a V8 trophy truck and a very large ramp.

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I’ll round off Saturday’s coverage with the actual end of the show, the award ceremony.

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Earlier in the day when swapping some gear over at my car, I was talking to some friends when I noticed a little gold sticker on my windscreen. My 740i had won a Players ‘Top 10′ award! Now that’s not something I was expecting or that had even crossed my mind, so naturally I was delighted. That being said, work comes first, so at the ceremony I was at the back, shooting photos of the crowd itself and the stage at a distance. My car was called up and I made my way through to the front, only to find Till Dönnebrink, my German friend you may know from my N24 coverage, accepting my award for me thinking I was out on track. I shouted out, everybody laughed, I received my trophy and that was that. If anything it made the experience even more memorable.

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It was a great end to the day, and the informality of the award ceremony really highlighted just how chilled-out the vibe is at Players Classic. Good music, cool cars, track action and drifting. You can’t go wrong, can you?

I’ll have my Sunday coverage coming up in the next couple of days, but in the meantime there’s a whole lot more images from Saturday to check out below.

Mario Christou
Instagram: mcwpn

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