May Spring Bank Magic at Mallory Park

Despite living within an hour of Mallory Park I had somehow never managed to visit the smaller of Leicestershire’s two circuits.  And so the Classic Touring Car Racing Club meeting on May Spring Bank Holiday Monday was the perfect opportunity to put right this wrong.

15 minutes sessions, be it qualifying or racing, was the flavour of the day, which was exactly what the doctor ordered around the short 1.35 mile circuit on yet another red hot UK bank holiday weekend!  And after a highly entertaining qualifying session in which pole position changed multiple times it was with great anticipation that the Group 1 pre 83 Touring cars lined up for the first race of the day.

Pole position may have gone the way of 2017 champion Stephen Primett in his MK1 Escort, however it was the more powerful Jaguar XJ12 of David Howard that lead the field into Gerard’s and crucially the Triumph Dolomite Sprint of Mark Osborne that grabbed second (courtesy of superior track position) at the John Cooper Esses.  I say crucially as even though both the Dolomite and Escort eventually found a way passed the ‘big cat’ on lap 3, Primett could not break down the defences of a very finely driven Triumph; thus leaving Osborne to claim an impressive race 1 victory.

And Osborne looked to be well on the way to claiming a second victory when Primett lost time behind the, again, fast starting XJ12 early in race 2.  However a series of fast laps by the reigning champion brought the MK1 right onto the tale of the race 1 winner.  But just as the moderate crowd were anticipating another fantastic duel, an ailing Rover P6 3500 managed to block the Dolomite at the exit of Gerard’s on lap 11 allowing Primett to slip by on the Stebbe Straight.  A win a piece perhaps a fair result on reflection.

The pre 93, 03 and 05 Touring Car grids were combined on the day, with the 30 car grid for race 1 perhaps a little too busy for the short East Midlands circuit.  It was therefore no real surprise that 5 laps of the first race were lost behind a safety car.

It would be pole sitter Ray West at the front of the train when the track returned to green however, having crucially regained the lead at the John Cooper Esses before the safety car halted proceedings.  And the BMW man proved just too quick for the rest of the field at the re-start; West then maintaining a comfortable gap over his rivals to claim race 1 victory.  Behind, Steve Barden’s Honda Civic and Simon Ward’s Astra GTE would round out the podium positions.

West and Barden were also the leading contenders in race 2, before both were handed a 10 second penalty for jump starts.  This only appeared to spur West on however; the 13 second gap over 3rd place at the flag ensuring he took his second win of the weekend by a nett 3 second margin.  Barden on the other hand couldn’t quite build enough of a gap to hold onto second, leaving the Astra of Simon Ward to claim the runner up spot with Barden this time having to settle for third.

A great variety of machinery was on display for the combined Classic Thunder & Blue Oval Series Saloon races but it was the very quick Subaru Impreza of Dale Gent which proved near unbeatable in both events.  With superior cornering speed, the awesome Alfa Romeo 33 of Adrian Hawkins was able to keep pace initially however the Subaru had the edge in traffic.  Gent easily setting fastest lap of the day in race 2 with a mega rapid 47.398.

Of the Blue Oval Series crews it was the 2.3 litre MK2 Escort of Piers Grange who would top the time sheets on both occasions; a 5th and 6th place finish for the long time Ford man representing a good day’s work.

Race 1 for the Pre-66 Touring Cars offered up a classic multi class battle, synonymous with this era of tin top racing, starring the pole sitting Ford Falcon of Alan Greenhalgh, Lotus Cortina of David Hall and a very well turned out Imp in the hands of David Heale.

In fact it was Heale’s Imp which would lead into Gerard’s on lap 1 courtesy of a stonking start from the second row of the grid.  However the sheer straight line speed advantage of the Falcon allowed Greenhalgh to re-claim top spot by the time the cars emerged from Devils elbow.  And despite not being able to break away, the chasing pack couldn’t quite get close enough through the slower parts of the circuit to mount a challenge, leaving Greenhalgh to take a well controlled victory.

The battle behind was far less clear cut however, with Hall’s Cortina losing out to the Mini of Neil Bray at Gerard’s on lap 3 before regaining the position by the end of the lap and then ensuring he would stand on the second step of the podium by grabbing second from the Imp 2 laps later.

With the Falcon a no show in the second race it would be the Imp that had the upper hand in the day’s penultimate event.  Having lost out to Heale again at the start, Hall appeared to be building up to a late charge before falling back in heavy traffic; the more nimble Imp able to take advantage, break the tow, and record a relatively comfortable 5 second victory.  Meanwhile, Neil Bray would eventually find a way passed the Anglia of Michael Sheraton to claim the final podium position in his Mini Cooper.

The Hyundai Coupe Cup was also part of an excellent BARC race day and the competition could not have been closer between the leading three machines of 2017 champion Alex Cursley, Wayne Rockett and Steve Kite.  Kite has been the man to beat in 2018 however and it was he who  leapt into an early race 1 lead before putting in a stellar defensive drive to keep Rockett and pole sitter Cursley at bay; the top 3 drivers covered by just 0.6 seconds as they crossed the line!

With race 1 finishing order dictating the grid for race 2, pole sitter Steve Kite found himself relegated to third by turn 1, with Cursley snatching the lead at the John Cooper Esses.  And whilst Cursley was able to maintain top spot for the remainder of the race, Rockett found himself relegated to third when Kite managed to sneak down the inside at the Shaw’s Hairpin on lap 3.

After such a good day out, especially for the very reasonable admission price of just £13, I won’t be waiting another 30 odd years to make a second visit to the South Leicestershire venue.  Whilst I love the big international meetings there is something about the access of a good old fashioned clubbie that make the events just as appealing.  Throw in some great racing at a circuit where the spectator banks allow upto 90% of the circuit to be viewed at any one time and you have the recipe for a great day out.  I am already looking to shoe horn the Classic Sports Car Club October meeting into my diary!

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Glorious Sunshine welcomes MSV to Donington Historic Party

A stroll through the packed recently re-surfaced Donington paddock, in glorious early morning sunshine, before a stonking fry up in the fabulous brand new Garage 39 cafe dispelled any initial disappointment at some key omissions from the 2018 Donington Historic race schedule (FIA F2 & late 60’s Sports prototypes).  A lunch time pint in the same venue’s outdoor seating area confirming my belief that this was a much better use of the space!

This represented my first visit to the Leicestershire circuit since it has been fully MSV’d, and whilst I was slightly sad to find the blue & white circuit colours and traditional toilet huts replaced by respective MSV red & white and pop up blocks, you cannot deny that the future of my favourite UK circuit is in good hands; a visit to one of their other excellent venues proof if ever it were needed.

And, having only managed to slot a Saturday visit into my diary this year, it was pleasing to see that the essentially Motor Racing Legends organised event had managed to shoe horn 10 mostly packed grids into the first race day of the festival which was splendidly lead off by the Pre-61 Formula Juniors.

Unfortunately cut short by a late red flag, the race featured a fantastic duel between the self built U2 of Ray Mallock and the Terrier of Chris Drake;  a battle which would see both men share spells at the front of the field before Drake made the decisive move at Mcleans on lap 11, with Pole sitter Mallock denied one final shot at victory when the aforementioned red flag brought the race to a slightly premature end.

Whilst not containing the lead changes or the depth of field of race 1, the opening Super Touring Car Challenge event of the weekend did provide excitement in the form of former BTCC champion John Cleland taking the battle to regular front runner James Dodd.  But whilst able to close on the leading Honda Accord  through the early and later parts of the race, there was an underlying feeling that Dodd ultimately had things under control.  And so it was no real surprise to see the double 2017 winner again standing on the top step of the podium.  Behind, John Pearson progressed well through the field, passing the BMW M3 of Harry Whale late on to round out the podium positions in his ex Emanuele Pirro Audi A4.

Whale may well have missed out on a podium position in race 2 but would later make up for it in style in the hour long Historic Touring Car Challenge race.  Having taken over from Dad Nick at the first opportunity, Whale the younger would rapidly extend the pole sitting M3’s advantage at the head of the field to take a commanding victory of more than 36 seconds by the end of the event.  A somewhat nostalgic moment for father and son given this was the same car that Harry watched Nick race during the 1990 BTCC season.

The race for the remaining podium positions was far less clear cut however with all parties appearing to struggle in some capacity.  Indeed, the Dave Coyne / Mark Wright piloted RS500 showed strong pace early on, duly setting the fastest lap of the race before suffering with a misfire and braking issues.  The Zakspeed Escort of David Tomlin appeared to be in contention also until dropping back with a 10 second penalty for track limits followed by a potentially linked puncture.

As it was the podium positions were eventually filled with 2 crews who made the best of their issues.  Mark Smith in his M3 had initially proved tough opposition for the similar Whale machine, only for son Aaron Moulton-Smith to drop back to 7th shortly after taking over.  A series of very quick laps late on would however rescue the situation and ensure not only a BMW M3 but also a father and son 1-2.

Last year’s winners Steve Soper and Chris Ward would round out the podium positions.  Soper, in the Bastos Rover, had struggled during the opening part of the race with a bounce at the front end that even JD Classics could not dial out!  The versatile Chris Ward managed to find a way to to drive around the problem however; the podium salvaged probably feeling like a victory given the circumstances!

In what was billed as a Ferrari / Aston Martin battle, it was the Wolfgang Friedrichs / Simon Hadfield piloted DB4GT which claimed the Historic Motor Racing News organised Pre 63 GT victory after the Halusa’s smoking “Breadvan” was forced into retirement in the early part of the race.

Having been installed at the earliest possible opportunity, local man Simon Hadfield still had to battle hard for the win however, passing the far from slow E-Type of James Cottingham and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards Cobra amongst others before going on to record an impressive 26 second victory for the British Marque.

By far the fastest machinery competing at the festival were the F2 and F5000 machines taking part in the Derek Bell Trophy.  In a category where Michael Lyons is rarely challenged let alone beaten Jamie Brashaw put in a great drive aboard his March 73A.  And, whilst it was Lyons who would ultimately cross the line first in his Lola T400,  fastest lap went the way of the Yorkshireman, underlining his competitiveness in this event.  Watching both drivers power out of the Roberts chicane to record sub 1.05 minute lap times was a sight to behold!

Having struggled in the Rover earlier on, Soper was back to his brilliant best in the Under 2 litre Pre-66 Touring Car event; the touring car legend part of a 3 way battle for top spot in his Lotus Cortina.  Indeed both Soper and regular sparring partner Andy Wolfe, in his Cortina, shared the lead before Soper found himself several seconds adrift as the cars emerged from their mid-race pitstops.

By this time however Wolfe was struggling with his brakes and both Soper and, regular winner at Donington, Max Banks were closing in fast.  Unfortunately however a red flag cut short the race by 3 minutes, denying Soper the chance of victory and the crowd of a grandstand finish.

The Woodcote Trophy is always a highlight of the Donington Historic Festival and this year was no exception.  A great variety of cars found themselves at the sharp end of the action, but it was the Gary Pearson piloted D-type which quickly worked it’s way passed the pole sitting Maserati 250S of Richard Wilson to hold a 6 second lead over the Cooper T38 of Fred Wakeman with Carlos Monteverde’s D-Type in third as the pitstop window approached.

Pearson would be the first to stop, allowing brother John to take over the leading D-Type, whilst, without a moments rest, Gary would jump straight into the Monteverde machine just 1 lap later.  Meanwhile the very rapid Martin Stretton was strapped into the Maserati and it wasn’t long before the pole sitting machine was passing John Pearson for second, with Gary Pearson following suit some 10 laps later (bizarrely passing the car which he had started the race in).

At the front of the field however, Wakeman was enjoying a clear run, and courtesy of a string of consistently fast lap times was able to allow Patrick Blakeney-Edwards to emerge from their pitstop with a clear lead that even Stretton and Pearson could do little about.  In fact the T38 was near untouchable on the day, with Wakeman and Blakeney-Edwards going on to record a more than comfortable winning margin of 26 seconds.

After 2 aborted starts, pole sitter Cameron Jackson eventually took command of the Pre-64 Formula Junior race.  The Brabham BT2 pilot just having the edge on his rivals to claim a 2 second victory.  After losing out at the start Jack Woodhouse would snatch 2nd at Hollywood on lap 9 from the similar Lotus 20/22 of Sam Wilson.

The Pre-60 HRDC Touring Greats event was the penultimate of the day and it was no surprise to see regular winners, Andrew and Mike Jordan, emerge as victors in their Austin “GT40”.  There appeared to be a chance of an upset when James Colburn’s well timed pitstop left him leading the safety car train, but it took less than a lap of green flag running for Andrew Jordan to re-take the lead.  Meanwhile Neil Brown would also pass Colburn in the second half of the race to claim second in his Austin A35.

A huge field of largely E-types took to the track for the final race of the day, the Jaguar Classic Challenge for pre-66 machines.  In a grid full of quality (drivers and cars) it was Ben Short who lead much of the early running before slowing in the second half of the race with what turned out to be driver fatigue.

Meanwhile Julian Thomas quickly progressed to second after a string of fastest lap times, only to suffer the set back of a 10 second penalty, resulting from a jump start.  But such was his and co-driver, Callum Lockie’s pace that by the time Short emerged from pit-lane (after his later stop) they would find themselves with a net 6 second lead.

Lockie would then continue the cars strong pace over the remainder of the stint which enabled the Scot to maintain the lead despite a second penalty; this time a drive through for a short pitstop.  There was just no stopping the #92 E-type in the evening sunshine.  Behind, despite suffering in the heat, Ben Short just managed to hold off a fast closing John Pearson, in the Gary Pearson started machine, to claim a well deserved second.

Despite the event being slightly too Touring Car focused for my liking, I had a fantastic day in the, for once, glorious bank holiday sunshine, a welcome change from the single digit temperatures often experienced at this event.    Exciting times are ahead for the Leicestershire circuit, now that MSV are behind the wheel.  I just hope major changes are well off the radar as, from a viewing perspective, Donington remains near perfect.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

 

 

Edwards Dominates Rallynuts Stages to claim Maiden BTRDA Victory

With the Malcolm Wilson rally falling victim of the weather, the BTRDA contingent would instead head to mid Wales for round 2 of the championship, the recently re-branded Rallynuts Stages Rally (previously Severn Valley Stages).  And, after a month or two of less than pleasant weather, it was rather apt that one of the warmest days of the year so far would welcome the Midland Manor Motor Club Organised event to the championship after several years of association with Historic rallying.

Much like the Cambrian Rally, the entry list was filled with rapid machinery, including 4 WRC Ford’s.  But, also following a similar theme to the season opener, it was an R5 machine, more specifically a Fiesta R5 in the hands of Matt Edwards and Darren Garrod, that would take centre stage.

OVERALL

Edwards truly was in a league of his own on this event and with no protruding logs to halt his progress, would go on to record fastest time on all 7 stages and claim a maiden BTRDA victory by a mammoth 40 seconds from the WRC Ford’s of Luke Francis and Paul Bird;  the Welsh star clearly enjoying his home stages having now set fastest time on 12 of the Championship’s first 14 stages, all 12 of the stages completed by the Swift backed Fiesta man (missed stages 2 & 3 of Cambrian)!  With pace like this, there is little doubt Edwards will be at the sharp end of the British Rally Championship battle when the series kicks off later this month.

Behind, Luke Francis and John H Roberts had a much stronger second BTRDA championship outing in their Melvyn Evans Motorsport prepared Fiesta WRC.  Forced into retirement after clipping a rock on the Cambrian, the North Wales based duo registered second fastest time on every stage bar the last to finish the event in a very comfortable second.

Rounding out the podium positions, Paul Bird, with Jack Morton alongside, continued his strong start to the season after a 2 year lay off.  Locked in a tight battle with the Fiesta of Hugh Hunter throughout the morning stages, the North of England duo managed to snatch third in stage 3 before inching away from their rivals over the final 4 tests; thus ensuring they maintained their early championship lead.

CLASS RESULTS

Well inside the top ten, class B13 victory went the way of Tom Cave and Dale Bowen.  Cave, making a guest appearance in the family owned Subaru, was near untouchable over the classic Welsh terrain, finishing the event 1.5 minutes clear of his nearest class rival; his speed further rewarded with 7th position overall and the honour of first non Ford home.

With 11th overall, Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy claimed a comfortable class NR4 victory in their Mitsubishi Evo 9.  Their day was perhaps made a little easier when usual front runners Patrick Naylor and Ian Lawrence suffered a stage 1 mechanical, however a 40 second class victory over the similar machine of Tom Naughton is proof they would have been a match for anyone on the day.

A thrilling Silver Star battle produced a somewhat surprise result with Max Utting and Mike Ainsworth making a mockery of their seeding to claim category victory in their Ford Fiesta ST.  It was in fact a sensational come back by the Oxford based duo who, having  found themselves 14 seconds behind the Category leading Escort after SS3, completed the Radnor and second Crychan tests some 29 seconds faster than their rivals!  And with just the 2 short stages remaining, Utting and Ainsworth would maintain their advantage to record a very impressive top twenty finish.

B12 Class winners, Owen McMakin and Lee Taylor had lead the Silver Star category through the first 3 stages, however the remainder of the event did not go so well;  The Irish / Welsh pairing not only losing the lead to Utting in stage 5 but also falling behind the Class B11 Escort of Rob Dennis and Andrew Boswell.  McMakin’s strong early pace was however rewarded with his second BTRDA class win of the season and third overall in the Silver Star Category.

Class B10/R2 honours went the way of Josh McErlean and Aaron Johnston in their Fiesta R2; the pairing having snatched the lead from the similar machine of George Lepley in Radnor before gradually pulling away over the afternoon stages to record a 9 second class victory with 24th overall (4th in the Silver Star Category).

Rounding out a very successful day for the blue oval marque, James Giddings and Sion Cunniff claimed class N3 victory in their Fiesta ST with 46th position overall; the 4th class win of the day for a Fiesta crew!

In the 1400 category, round 1 winners, Chris Powell and Jim Lewis exploded into a 31 second lead after the first 3 stages only to find themselves condemned to the retirements list just one stage later.  This left the door wide open for Dave and Toby Brick, this time in a Vauxhall Corsa, to take a commanding 3.5 minute victory with 37th position overall.  Meanwhile Perry Gardener and Steve Link would take the 1400C honours with 78th position overall in their Vauxhall Nova.

By the end of SS4, two of the leading Historic contenders, Nick Elliott (engine issues in SS1) and Rudi Lancaster (Gearbox) were out of the event, which left the Escort’s of Ernie Graham and Terry Brown to battle it out for category victory.  There was absolutely nothing to choose between the two cars over much of the morning before a slow time in Radnor for Brown and co-driver Den Golding put pay to their challenge; the 18 seconds lost allowing Graham and co-driver Robin Kellard to go on and record their second BTRDA Historic victory in as many events.

Behind, Tom Coughtrie and Baz Green seemed to have the H4 spec, ex works, Mitsubishi Galant running well and duly claimed class honours with 4th in category and 47th overall.  Whilst, just one place further back in 48th, Gareth Lewis and Mark Crisp dominated class H1/H2 in their MK2 Escort, claiming class victory by nearly 2 minutes from the similar Ford of Jeff Wincott.

After a day long battle with Bart Lang, Andrew Wheatley made it two Rally First victories out of 2 in his Ford Puma.  He and Ian Nichols finishing the event in a very commendable 62nd position overall.

FULL RESULTS

Next up, the BTRDA contenders head further North for another Welsh outing, this time for the Knutsford & District Motor Club organised Plains Rally on 12th May.  A rally in which Stephen Petch will be hoping to repeat his 2017 success and keep himself at the forefront of the title battle.  If the in-form Edwards should make an entry however he and co-driver Michael Wilkinson may well have their work cut out!

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Mellors Masters Cambrian in Brand New R5 Proton

Ollie Mellors and Max Freeman stylishly proved the pace of the Proton Iriz R5 on the North Wales based Cambrian Rally; the pairing fighting off a large contingent of R5 and WRC machines to claim a maiden BTRDA victory.

The BTRDA season opening Cambrian Rally had by no means attracted the largest of entries, but what it did boast was a quality filled top 20.  And with this in mind, few would have expected Ollie Mellors and Max Freeman, in the brand new Proton Iriz R5 to head the time sheets as the rally returned to the Llandudno finish; especially given the pairing had never even met prior to the event and many a WRC Ford were seeded in front of them.

The technical nature of the Snowdonia National Park stages more often than not reward local knowledge, skill and bravery however, and, despite the power disadvantage, it was the R5 cars which shone in the glorious North Wales sunshine.

Indeed, it was BRC regular Matt Edwards who leapt into a massive 16 second lead after the first run through Penmachno South, only for his victory challenge to be dramatically cut short when clipping a hidden log in stage 2.  Under new regulations however, Edwards and co-driver Darren Garrod were able to re-join the event for the final four stages thus gaining valuable seat time and continuing their utter domination of the stages; claiming stage victories by 6, 12, 8 and 4 seconds respectively!  A case of what might have been …

“To finish first, first you have to finish” is well known phrase in rallying, and Mellors was in prime position to take advantage of Edward’s indiscretion, taking a 7 second lead after stage 2 and managing to hold the Focus WRC of Paul Bird and Jack Morton at bay for the remainder of the event to record a mighty impressive 6 second victory, the most significant to date for the new Iriz R5.  An even more remarkable feat when you consider the Proton suffered a puncture in the penultimate stage.

Bird may well have fancied his chances against R5 machinery but, following a 2 year ban, will have been more than happy to commence his full time BTRDA return with maximum points; reward for the first championship registered crew home in second place overall.

Meanwhile, current champions Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson in the WRC Fiesta, made a strong start to their title defence.  After a conservative approach to stage 1 saw them lying 8th overall, the WD40 sponsored Ford crew upped their speed as the day went on to eventually round out the podium positions, just 30 seconds shy of the eventual winners.

Further back, Dylan Davies and Llion Williams claimed B13 class honours with 8th position overall in their Subaru Impreza whilst Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy were the first “showroom” class crew home in 10th aboard their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.

And, finishing just outside the top 40, Tom Coughtrie and Baz Green claimed the first ever class H4 victory for pre-91 historic machinery in their ex-works Mitsubishi Galant VR4.

SILVER STAR

The battle for 2 wheel drive victory was fought out by a wide variety of machinery and it was Ieuan Rowlands in the freshly built Historic specification Avenger who was quickest out of the blocks.  Usually aboard a Volvo engined MK2, the Ffestiniog resident, with Emyr Hall alongside, was using the event to shakedown the BRM engined machine ahead of a full British Historic campaign and held a 13 second Silver Star category lead until a stage 4 puncture dropped them back.

17th, 14th and 15th fastest time in the remaining three tests would however secure the local crew third place and top spot in the historic category.  On this evidence they will be at the sharp end of the BHRC battle when the series kicks off on next month’s Rally North Wales!

John Rowlands, in his usual B11 class MK2 Escort, would head a 2WD top ten remarkably covered by just 52 seconds following brother Ieuan’s issues in Alwen, themselves lucky to still be in the event following a huge moment in stage 1 (see Facebook!) And using his local knowledge to full effect was able to pull away from the field over the afternoon stages to register a relatively comfortable Silver Star victory for he and Glenn Latham.

2nd in the Silver Star category represented a fantastic result for Chris Powell and Jim Lewis in their 1400 Talbot Sunbeam.  The Herefordshire based duo putting in an incredible performance to end the event just 24 seconds behind John Rowlands in 17th position overall and take the 1400 category by over 3.5 minutes!

Elsewhere, James Williams and Ross Whittock claimed the combined B10/R2 honours with 19th overall in their Vauxhall Adam.  BRC regular, William Creighton in his Peugeot 208 had provided stiff early competition and held the class lead before losing 2 minutes in Penmachno North (SS6); thus leaving the door wide open for Williams and Whittock to claim the honour of first front wheel drive crew home.

Owen McMakin and Lee Taylor registered class B12 victory with 24th position overall in their MK2 Escort after a day long battle with Richard Sykes.  Sykes was in fact leading the class by 4 seconds in his Citroen DS3 before ending the day in a stage 6 ditch.

Josh Browne and Jane Edgington would wrap up a 23 second combined H1 & H2 historic class victory with 26th position overall whilst the second placed MK1 Escort crew of Ernie Graham and Robin Kellard were left to rue the 26 seconds lost on the opening 2 stages of the event.

Zak Hughes and Tom Wood claimed N3 class victory with 33rd position overall in their Fiesta ST whilst the Vauxhall Nova crew of Perry Gardener and Toby Brick were first home in 1400c with 48th position overall.

Rounding out the class winners, Sam & Liam Johnson and Matthew Baddeley & Shaun Hughes claimed the respective RF1.4 and RF2.0 classes in what turned out to be a tough event for the small contingent of Rally First crews.

Full Results

Concentrating on the front of the field you could be forgiven for believing UK Forest Rallying to be in good health.  However just 4 Rally First cars and not that many more 1400 machines started the Cambrian; the ludicrous MSA running order regulations surely contributing to the decline in numbers.  The second running of Llyn Elsi was described as rough by the top runners so you can only imagine how it felt for the smaller runners at the back.

Rally 2WD appears to be the way forward for some rallies but this format is unlikely to suit the BTRDA Championship and Nicky Grist, amongst others, has called for a return to running 2 wheel drive and historic machinery nearer the front.  Let’s hope common sense prevails before too long as with just over a week to go before round 2, the Malcolm Wilson Rally, the entry list is not exactly bursting at the seams!

However, this should not deter from was ultimately an excellent Cambrian following the snow and ice enforced cancellation of last years event.  The battle at the sharp end was as close as ever and despite long delays early on no stage mileage was lost, for which the organisers deserve massive credit.  But whilst the Cambrian has BRC ambitions for 2019, the question that has to asked is how sustainable the current BTRDA entry levels are? especially given last seasons hike in forestry commission charges.  Changing the running order may well be the only viable solution …

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Boultbee-Brooks Bags Victory Double at Castle Combe Classic

Thankfully, the Castle Combe Autumn Classic did not clash with the Trackrod Rally in 2017 and this was all the incentive I needed to make a first visit to the relatively little used Wiltshire Circuit.  Now in it’s sixth year the 2017 running of the Autumn Classic included 7 excellent races, headlined in many respects by the wonderfully diverse field of machinery taking part in the 1 hour long GT & Sports Car cup; 39 cars doing battle across many different classes around the 1.85 mile circuit a mouth watering prospect if ever there was one!

After a soaking wet morning, the clouds began to lift as midday approached; the damp track proving quite a challenge for the Formula Vintage Pre War Sports Car runners in the first race of the day.  Indeed, the safety car was required as early as lap 2 after Trevor Swete just failed in his attempts to keep his Invicta out of the Camp Corner tyre barrier.

Once the track returned to green however, there was really only going to be one winner; Patrick Blakeney-Edwards putting on a fantastic sideways display as he headed home a Frazer Nash Super Sports 1-2.  Mark Gillies in his Aston Martin had managed to jump both Blakeney-Edwards and the second Frazer Nash of Edward Williams at the re-start (illegally as it turned out) but was back in third by the end of the lap, such was the pace of the eventual front two.  Tim Kneller would in the end round out the podium positions in his Riley TT Sprite following a 30 second penalty for Gillies’ re-start infringement.

After a lengthy break for tyre wall repairs at Camp corner, the second race of the day for the 500cc F3 cars would commence in fully dry conditions.  And whilst Sir John Chisholm had been mighty in the wet to claim pole position he quickly fell behind the leading machines at the race start.  In fact it would be the 2 Starides of Xavier Kingsland and Darrell Woods who would break away from the field; Woods eventually passing Kingsland at Tower on lap 3 before going on to record a comfortable 10 second victory.  Stuart Wright in his Cooper MK11 would round out the podium positions.

Qualifying in very wet conditions had produced a topsy turvy Pre-66 Jaguar grid with Kevin Zwolinski in his XK140 finding himself sharing the front row of the grid with the Jaguar MK2 of Peter Dorlin.  It wasn’t long before the E-types rose to the fore during the race however as Grant Williams lead from Harry Wyndham by the end of lap 2.

In fact Wyndham, after starting on the fifth row of the grid, would find himself in the lead of the race by the end of lap 5 and whilst not able to break away from his local rival, a great performance from Wyndham saw him maintain the lead right up until a red-flag brought the event to a slightly premature end on lap 18.  Chris Milner in another E-type rounded out the podium positions whilst Richard Butterfield claimed the Saloon class win, in his Jaguar MK2, with fifth position overall.

In the John Gross Memorial Race for Aston Martins, Steve Boultbee-Brooks and Martyn Corfield would quickly break away from the rest of the field, with Boultbee-Brooks in his glorious DB3s just having the edge over Corfield’s Frazer Nash as he went on to record a relatively comfortable 5 second victory.  The front two really were in a class of their own however with Chris Woodgate in his DB MK3 almost a lap in arrears as he rounded out the podium positions.

The Formula Junior machines were in their element around the fast Wiltshire circuit and, having won for the first time at Oulton, Benn Tilley would again find himself standing on the top step of the podium.  Following an early safety car, Westie Mitchell in his De Tomaso, had looked a strong candidate for victory as he quickly passed Peter De La Roche and was on the tail on the leader.  A spin at the far end of the circuit put pay to Mitchell’s challenge however leaving Tilley to wrap up another victory in his Lotus 22; 3 seconds to the good of pole sitter Peter De La Roche in the BMC MK2 with Richard Smeeton in his Wainer 63 completing the podium.

Making it’s debut at the Autumn Classic, the 1 hour long, GT & Sports Car Cup centrepiece would be the penultimate race on a busy schedule and again the morning rain produced a somewhat unconventional grid.  Indeed earlier in the day Nigel Greensall had produced a stunning lap to place the GT3 spec E-type shared with Chris Milner on pole position but as anticipated Milner could not keep the higher specification cars behind on a dry track.  Instead it was Philip Walker in his Lotus 15 who lead the early running from 4th row starters Mark Williams in a Cobra and Ben Adams in his Lola MK1.

But after initially breaking away, Walker soon had the chasing two on his tail and sure enough on lap 7 both Williams and Adams had snook by.  Williams’ lead was short lived however as a mix up with a back marker would drop the Cobra pilot back to fourth; thus leaving Ben Adams to develop a reasonable lead before his pitstop.

Tackling the event on his own, Adams would find himself disadvantaged in pitlane (having to endure a 1 minute minimum stop) and this allowed Miles Griffiths, taking over the Lotus 15, to emerge in the lead as the race entered the second half.  In fact, the Chris Wilson/Nigel Williams Cobra had also managed to jump Adams in the stops but Adams’ superior pace soon saw him back in second.  There was absolutely nothing the Lola pilot could do about Griffiths though; the Lotus 15 man now setting the track alight as he and Walker went on to record a very comfortable 53 second victory.  Even without the pitstop disparity, Adams would have struggled to match the pace of Griffiths; second place and top spot in SP1 therefore a great result for the little Lola.

Elsewhere, Mark Williams was able to reel in the ailing Wilson/Williams Cobra to claim GT4 honours with third position overall whilst pole sitter Greensall just managed to hold off a late challenge from Patrick Blakeney-Edwards to claim an excellent fourth and top spot in GT3 for he and Milner.  Malcolm Paul and Rick Bourne meanwhile came out on top of the TVR Grantura battle to claim GT2 top spot with 16th position overall.

In the final event of the day, Steve Boultbee-Brooks would again take his Aston Martin DB3s to victory in the FISCAR Historic Intermarque race.  The win was a little less clear cut on this occasion however as the Aston Pilot was required to fend off not 1 but two very rapid Lotus Elite’s in order to claim top spot.

Indeed the Barry Dye / Richard Fores driven Lotus even had a spell at the front before slowing in the second half of the race.  And despite Boultbee-Brooks emerging from his stop with a healthy lead, he would find the margin evaporate over the remaining laps as Robin Ellis, in the second Elite, closed the gap to just over 3 seconds by the time the chequered flag was waved.  There was no stopping Boultbee-Brooks on the day though; 2 pole positions, 2 fastest laps and 2 victories from the 2 events entered represented a great day in the office!

There were many things to enjoy about my first visit to Castle Combe but what stood out the most was the sheer simplicity of the venue; the uncomplicated nature of the track (essentially just three corners with very limited run-off) creating some of the best racing witnessed all year, viewed from the excellent circuit wide spectator bankings.  It felt like a throw back to my childhood, even more so when the winners were taken on a lap of honour by the open top bus; something which I do not remember seeing in a long time!   I have a feeling this will not have been my final visit to the Wiltshire Circuit.

FULL RESULTS

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

 

Smith Stars at Oulton’s Stellar Gold Cup

Already an excellent event, the Oulton Park Gold Cup stepped up yet another gear in 2017 with the addition of both the Historic Touring Car Challenge and FIA Historic F2 International Series.  And, when considering the ultra competitive HSCC Historic Formula Ford and Pre-66 Touring Car championship events featured heavily on the Bank Holiday Monday undercard, the more than respectable crowd were in for a real treat.

The HSCC organised Historic F2 championship appears to have suffered very little from the emergence of Peter Auto’s rival series in 2017 with some 25 cars taking to the Cheshire track over the weekend.  And whilst Darwin Smith dominated proceedings in race 1 to claim victory by 17 seconds, he would have his work cut out in race 2 as the event quickly turned into a two horse race.

Donington winner, Richard Evans is regularly a front runner in this category and on this occasion refused to let the Northern Irishman out of his sights as the two bright yellow machines pulled away from the pack.  But, despite Evans’ best efforts he never really got close enough to challenge; the series returnee, in his formidable March 722, appearing unbeatable around the picturesque parkland circuit as he went on to record his second victory in as many days.  The Gold Cup, awarded to the aggregate winner of the 2 F2 races, just reward for Smith’s utterly brilliant drive.

The Motor Racing Legends organised Historic Touring Car Challenge was a very welcome addition to the Bank Holiday Monday schedule where, for a trial period commencing with the Gold Cup, Group A RS500s have been allowed to join the party.  And whilst Chris Ward claimed pole position for the 50 minute race with a late charge in the JD Classics Rover Vitesse (shared with Steve Soper), it was the Mark Wright piloted RS500 which leapt into an early lead; his pace over the opening laps as he pulled away from Ric Wood’s Capri and the pole sitting Rover possibly the reason why these machines had previously been off the menu!

Having dominated earlier in the season at Donington Park, Soper was not quite able to deliver the same level of performane at Oulton.  Ward on the other hand is rapid everywhere and an early stop to get the ex Silverstone Chief Driving Instructor behind the wheel would pay dividends as Ward found himself in the lead of the race as the mandatory pitstops unwound.

Had it not been for fuel starvation issues, Dave Coyne, in the RS500 started by Wright, may well have challenged for victory.  However the intermittent problem would play havoc throughout the second half of the race with the 1990 Formula Ford Festival winner doing well to salvage fourth 4th with a last lap charge.

As it was, despite suffering a braking issue, Ward was able to take a comfortable victory in the end, with the Capri of Ric Wood and the late stopping M3 E30 of Mark Smith rounding out the podium positions.  This had been a classy drive by the JD Classics man and Soper was the first to acknowledge that Ward was largely to thank for their top step of the podium appearance.

This wasn’t the only touring car action of the day however with the schedule also including 2 historic touring car races for the pre-66 machines as well as a second encounter for the end of millennium Super Tourers.

The Honda Accord is often the car to beat in the HSCC run Super Touring Car Trophy and the second race at Oulton provided no surprise in this respect; Stewart Whyte heading a 1-2 for the Japanese brand to register his second victory of the weekend.  Meanwhile, Gianfranco Brancatelli claimed 6th position overall to take class A honours in the very same RS500 he drove to Spa 24 hour victory in 1989.

Qualifying for the Pre-66 machines saw Ford Falcon pilot, Jack Drury, require just 4 laps to take pole position by a massive 1.4 seconds.  It was to no avail however as a broken oil pump, which cut short his qualifying session, also caused him to miss race 1 whilst the engine was changed!  This left the door open for the smaller engined marques to flourish with James Clarke leading home Richard Belcher to complete a Ford Cortina 1-2 and Jonathan Lewis in his Mini Cooper S registering an excellent third.

The Falcon was fixed for race 2 however and despite having to start from the back of the grid, Drury was in the lead of the race before the end of lap 4; his victory by more than 13 seconds underlining his total dominance of the category on the day.  With such a performance gap, a double race victory should have been a formality and the ex BMW driver will hope his championship push is not impacted by the unfortunate reliability issues experienced in qualifying.

As has often been the case in 2017 a healthy grid of Formula Ford machinery had been gathered for the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting and it was no surprise to find Richard Tarling and Callum Grant again battling it out for victory.  But whilst overtaking was plentiful at Croft, it was not so easy at Oulton and try as Grant might he could not find a way passed the Janum T2 of Tarling in either race; Tarling again showing his defensive skills to record a double victory despite suffering a broken exhaust in the days first encounter. And whilst Tarling’s two strong results kept him well in the title frame, a distinctly under the weather Grant (2016 champion) all but threw in the towel following another strong points haul for series leader Michael O’Brien.

Benn Tilley put in 2 strong Formula Ford performances to claim creditable 6th and 7th placed finishes but it was the Formula Junior category where the youngster truly excelled; the Lotus 22 pilot going on to record his first and second overall victories in the Silverline backed series as John Fyda and Peter De La Roche, on both occasions, rounded out the podium positions.

In the Second Derek Bell Trophy race of the weekend, a drive train problem with his March 79B denied Andrew Smith the chance of a double win.  Instead, Neil Glover powered his F5000 Chevron B37 to victory as the 2 litre F2 Chevron B27 of Mike Bletsoe-Brown and the March 712 of James King, fresh from his brilliant F2 performance to claim class A honours, rounded out the podium positions.  Behind, Julian Stokes came out on top of the Techno F2 battle to claim Classic Racing Car victory with race 1 winner, Daniel Pyett unfortunately ending the day in the Old Hall barriers.

And last but not least, there looked to be a huge shock on the cards in the Classic Clubmans race as John Harrison lead much of the early running.  Mark Charteris is very rarely beaten in this category however and would not be denied on this occasion either; the Watford man making the crucial pass at Cascades on lap 8 before going on to record a 3.6 second victory.

Was there a better way to spend August Bank Holiday Monday?  I think not.  Having absolutely loved the Gold Cup meeting last year I wasn’t sure it could be bettered.  I was wrong.  Witnessing historic F2 machinery lapping Oulton in sub 1.36 times is something else, as was the sound of many a V8 at full chat in the Historic Touring Car Challenge.  More of the same next year please!

FULL RESULTS

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Cracking Racing at Croft Nostalgia

Although racing is Croft’s primary motorsport discipline,  I had previously only managed to witness Rallying and Rally-Cross at the North Yorkshire venue.  Racing at Croft had long been on my agenda though and the opening day of the Croft Nostalgia Festival would fit nicely into my 2017 plans.  Now in it’s 8th year this event definitely has more of a festival feel than other fixtures on the HSCC calendar, with many a military, aerospace and general motoring related display on offer to compliment the usual array of car clubs.  Not to mention the large groups of people attending in period dress.

It is the on track action that essentially drew me in however and in particular the 60’s Sports Prototypes and GT machinery taking part in the 40 minute Guards Trophy race.  Qualifying had seen 2 Chevron B8s in the hands of Phillip Nelson and Charles Allison top the time sheets and the race for outright victory would soon develop into a great battle between the front row starters.

Running second in the early stages, Allison is already a double Guards Trophy winner in 2017 and by lap 4 he was again at the head of the field.  Any thoughts he had of disappearing into the distance were soon dispelled however as the Chichester man could not break away.  Nelson was well on the pace at Croft and the pole sitter remarkably re-took the lead with an excellent move down the inside at Clervoux on lap 8.  But much like Allison earlier, Nelson was unable to shake off his rival; Allison remaining in his wheel tracks before making his mandatory pitstop on lap 14.

And it would be this early pitstop that proved decisive as Nelson emerged from pit lane 2 laps later in second position.  A slow lap 21 was then the final blow for the chasing Chevron pilot, thus gifting Allison the cushion he required to, in the end, take a comfortable third victory of the season.

The GT battle also proved highly competitive, however, no one could quite match the pace of Mike Gardiner and Dan Cox in the TVR Griffith.  Indeed, had it not been for Ben Mitchell’s excellent recovery drive in the Elva MK7S, an overall podium may well have been on the cards.

The Historic Formula Ford action has been brilliant in it’s 50th anniversary year and that trend most definitely followed suit at Croft.  In the earlier qualifying race, Max Bartell had taken victory from Sam Mitchell, rewarding them with a respective 7th and 8th on the championship race grid.  However, neither were a match for Callum Grant, Michael O’Brien and Richard Tarling as the trio headed by pole sitter and 2016 champion Grant edged away from the field.  Grant would in fact maintain top spot for much of the early running before O’Brien eventually managed to sneak passed at Tower on lap 5.  But, as is the nature of Formula Ford racing, O’Brien would not maintain the lead for long; with he and Grant appearing to take it in turns to top the time sheets over the coming laps.

Meanwhile, Tarling appeared happy to sit in third.  Up until lap 9 that is when he stole 2nd from O’Brien; a move which put the Henley on Thames driver in pole position for victory when Grant was forced off track at Sunny-in following an altercation with a back marker.  And having survived the chaos, Richard Tarling now found himself in the lead of the race with just over 1 lap to run; the Janum T2 pilot defending well to record a quite brilliant second victory of the season from the chasing Merlyn of Michael O’Brien.

A wide variety of machinery had turned out for the Historic Touring Car race where the Ford Cortina proved to be the car to beat.  Surprisingly however it was the Class B, out of period, 2 litre machine of Richard Belcher who took pole position from the more conventional class C Lotus Cortina of James Clarke.  And once Clarke was forced into retirement on lap 3, there was only ever going to be one winner as neither the Mustang of Peter Halford or the Falcon of Jack Drury had the pace to challenge.  And so whilst Belcher went on to record the most unlikely of victories, the championship battle roared on behind.  It would however be Halford who grabbed the all important maximum class K1 points with Drury struggling with setup at the North Yorkshire venue.

Towcester man Jon Milicevic is usually the man to beat in Historic F3 and whilst he would eventually take the category top spot with 4th overall the final result masks the story of the race.  In fact Milicevic, in his Brabham BT21B, was involved in an almighty battle with the Merlyn MK14A of Jonathon Hughes in the early stages; the pair swapping positions on more than one occasion before Hughes disappointingly fell out of contention with a spin at the chicane on lap 8.  Upfront meanwhile, Julian Stokes, in his Techno F2 machine, claimed overall victory in the combined Classic Racing Car/Historic F3 race.  But having built a large lead at the start was almost caught by a fast charging Nick Pancisi in his March 712 Atlantic.

The Formula Junior entry may not have boasted the same level of entry as the Historic Formula Ford event, however, it did feature a, Formula Ford like mid-race duel.  Following a short safety car intervention, pole sitter and early leader Benn Tilley came under attack from Jonathon Hughes.  Where, fresh from a starring performance in the Historic F3 event, the local man managed to squeeze his Brabham BT6 into the lead at Tower on lap 7.  But whilst Hughes would fall back behind Tilley before the lap was out, he would be back in front before the end of the next,  with Tilley this time not able to respond;  Hughes instead managing to maintain the lead over the remaining laps and record victory by just over half a second.

A longer safety car period in the combined Historic/70s Road Sports race would unfortunately ruin the race as a spectacle.  It was however relatively surprising to see the Historic machines hold an advantage over their younger counterparts, with John Davison leading home a Lotus Elan 1-2.  Meanwhile Charles Barter just about claimed the 70s Road Sport victory with third overall; The Datsun 240z pilot out-dragging the Lotus Europa of Will Leverett having initially looked to have lost the position at the final hairpin.

Sunday’s highlights included a first championship victory of the season for Michael O’Brien in Historic Formula Ford and a return to form of Jack Drury in the second Historic Touring Car race.  Meanwhile Andrew Park and Mark Charteris claimed double wins in the respective Historic Formula Ford 2000 and Classic Clubmans events, whilst Jonathon Hughes, Jon Milicevic, Julian Stokes, John Davison and Charles Barter also claimed a second victory of the weekend.

FULL RESULTS

This had been another thoroughly enjoyable day out following the HSCC brigade and for an admission price of just £14 it represented great value for money.  With this in mind I am already looking forward to my next slice of HSCC action; the Oulton Park Gold Cup at the end of August.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Motorsport Reporting & Photography