Deep in the Hampshire countryside, just outside Catherington, the sound of engines breaks the Sunday morning silence.
Tearing around a dirt track complete with hair-raising jumps and banked turns, cars can be seen racing head-to-head to be the first across the line – although they are a little smaller than you might expect.
This is off-road remote control car racing, a hobby practised by thousands of people across the world and the course in question is run by the Clanfield RC Model Car Club.
Tony Bolwell is the chairman of the club and has watched the track develop over the years since it first opened.
‘I started the club eight years ago,’ says Tony.
‘It just happened as a follow on from a Scalextric club, Bowlextric, which we run in Clanfield.
‘I built the track with some volunteers. When we started the track was half the size it is now and it was flat, but over the years it’s evolved into one of the most extreme tracks in the country – it’s got banked turns, tabletops and double jumps.
‘The track is 300 metres long with an average lap time of 45 seconds and the cars can reach 45mph on the straight; we know because we’ve had a speed gun on them!’
Tony runs the club with his partner, Annabel Spencer, who also works as pit crew for him when he races.
He says: ‘There is nothing worse than breaking down and pit crews are quite important. A fast pit stop can make or break a race and it has done a few times here. If the pit crew get it wrong there’s no way to catch up.’
Just like Formula One and other professional motor sports, RC racers require pit crews to keep their cars running and to refuel them during longer races. These crews are often friends or family members and Tony says drivers will also pitch in and help each other on race days.
‘There’s a strong community feel here between people.
‘RC is something anyone can get into – our youngest member is 12 and our oldest member is 70.
‘We also have a lot of ex-motorcross riders and racers here. In fact I’m an ex-grass track race driver and I used to drive at a national level.’
RC cars at the Clanfield club come in a variety of sizes, ranging from one-10th scale cars with electric motors capable of speeds around 25mph up to the one-fifth scale models which run on miniature petrol engines and can reach almost 50mph.
The smaller models are around a foot in length and weigh about a 1.4kg, while at the larger end of the scale one-fifth size models can be more than three feet long weighing in at more than 17kg.
‘These are not toys, these are serious cars,’ says Tony. ‘They are broadly the same as a real car but scaled down. They’re very reliable and strong and they can take a bit of a bash.
‘A ready-to-run starting car costs about £250, while a standard racing setup is about £900 and prices go up to £2,500 for a large scale one-fifth model.’
The price tag may seem high for a miniature vehicle, but the world of competitive RC racing is big business.
Tony says: ‘RC is huge internationally, drivers can be fully paid and sponsored – it’s a professional sport.
‘We’ve even had Daren Bloomfield [2011 European Title Winner] and Elliot Boots [four times Junior European Champion] down here.’
With professional level drivers RC competition can be fierce and tomorrow the Clanfield track will host one of the biggest RC competitions in the local area.
Tony explains: ‘The Southern Championships are the opening round of a five-round regional competition.
‘Drivers travel as far north as Colchester and also go to Hertfordshire, Kent and Swindon.
‘It’s a big meeting for RC drivers and it’s the biggest race meeting in Hampshire. On the day the whole of the track’s car park will be full with 80 other drivers.
‘There will be 15 cars going round the track at a time and the noise will be incredible!
‘When the cars scream up this track it’s like being at an F1 race meeting, but you get absolute carnage as they hit the first corner. There’s always about a five- car pile-up!
‘The atmosphere on race day is amazing. It’s the best bit about RC, you can’t beat it.’
WHERE: Old Mill lane PO8 0SW. Drive down the road and when you reach the bottom of a long, steep hill the track is signposted to your left behind high hedgerows (or to your right looking up the hill).
CALL: 07850 187566
WHEN: Wednesday 5pm–8pm and Sunday 11am-4pm.
COST: Wednesday £5, Sunday £7, racedays £10.
*The club runs a 300m off-road track complete with a viewing platform for drivers.
*A lively club of more than 100 members who meet regularly for practice and race days.
*Hosts the Southern Championships, a one-day race event held tomorrow where spectators can come and watch for free.