Tag Archives: Richard Tarling

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!


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.


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)

Stretton Stars at Brands Masters Festival

Martin Stretton’s sensational charge to FIA Masters Historic Sports Car Glory with Mark Piercy was one of many highlights from an action packed Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch.


Spring bank holiday weekend in the UK saw Brands Hatch attract an impressive entry list for the now annual Masters Historic Festival; this year incorporating displays and demonstration runs to celebrate the 40th anniversary of James Hunt’s infamous F1 World Championship title.

Unsurprisingly we were not the only ones drawn to a warm but cloudy race-day in Kent as a more than reasonable crowd had gathered at Brands Hatch to witness the action;  Amongst others, races for the FIA Masters Historic Sports Cars, Pre-66 Touring Cars and the CanAm/Interserie machines nicely complemented the fan pleasing DFV powered late 70s and early eighties F1 grid.

And on a weekend where Formula One took centre stage, Nick Padmore, having his first outing in Max Smith-Hilliard’s Williams FW07C, dominated the FIA Masters Historic Formula One proceedings.  Padmore, the 2015 Pre-78 Champion, appeared right at home in the glorious 1981 machine, adding pole position and a pair of fastest laps to his double victory.


Meanwhile Pre-78 victories went the way of Michael Lyons and Philip Hall.  The former taking second overall in race one after starting from the very back of the grid.   A storming drive by the Essex man who had reverted to his formidable Hesketh 308E after the glorious ex James Hunt McLaren M26 encountered mechanical problems in qualifying.


The F1 cars may draw the crowds but the close racing in the FIA Historic Sports Car series is often the highlight.  However a safety car induced collision between the 2 Cooper Monacos after a rip-roaring early lead battle between the Mark Piercy and Philip Hall piloted Lolas appeared to have ruined the spectacle;  Havoc in pit-lane as the window opened under the caution period allowing the Hall Lola T212 to gain more than 20 seconds on the field as the track returned to green.


Piercy had been one of only a couple of cars to delay his stop, which appeared to be a mistake as Martin Stretton emerged in 14th after Piercy had brought the car in from the race lead.  However, this was not just anyone taking over the little T210 as Stretton’s pole time around the famous Kent circuit was almost 1 second quicker than anybody else.  It should not have been a surprise then that the Worcestershire man would soon find himself back up to second on the timing screens, impressive in itself given he had made his way past historic racing stars such Gary Pearson, Simon Hadfield, Stefano Rosina and Scott Mansell!

But with 13 minutes remaining the gap to Philip Hall remained at 20 seconds and was surely too much to close?  Not for Stretton, as by  the penultimate lap of the race, the little white Lola was back in front; Stretton setting his 3 quickest laps of the race, all in the 1.30.6 bracket, in the final stages of his charge to victory.  A simply breathtaking drive to ensure he and Mark Piercy would take the most unlikely of victories.

The Lola T70s were no match for the nimble 2 litre machines around Brands Hatch, however Simon Hadfield put the finishing touches to a strong Chris Beighton recovery drive to claim 3rd position overall and top spot in the Rodriguez class, whilst Gary Pearson and Carlos Monteverde finished just 1 position further back in their similar machine.

Elsewhere, Martin O’Connell was up to his usual giant killing tricks to claim the Bonnier class victory with 8th overall in the Sandy Watson Chevron B8 whilst Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger recovered from the clearways gravel trap to claim the Hulme class honours.  Meanwhile Mark Bates in his Porsche 911 and Jamie Boot in the Chevron B16 would claim the respective top spots in the Pescarolo and Siffert classes.


Earlier in the day, the Pre-66 touring car event was equally entertaining.  Andy Wolfe and Mark Sumpter had positioned their Lotus Cortina’s on the front row of the grid in a rain interrupted qualifying session but were not able to hold the Craig Davies piloted Mustang at bay for long, with the similar machine of Warren Briggs and the Mercury Comet Cyclone of Masters 3 hour victor, Roger Wills, also keen to get by.

With 20 minutes remaining however the lead battle was down to three after the Cortina of Sumpter was retired with a broken half shaft and the Warren Briggs Mustang had dropped back.  This left an ever more sideways Andy Wolfe to take the battle to the two V8 machines of Davies and Wills.

By this time the tires were starting to fade on the huge Ford engined beasts of Wills and Davies, allowing Wolfe to close on the leading Mustang whilst pull away from the New Zealander’s Comet.  In fact, after consistently lapping in the 1.48 and 1.49 bracket, Wolfe was able to reduce an 8 second margin on lap 17 to just 0.7 seconds by lap 25.


A sensational defensive display by Craig Davies over the remaining 5 laps however ensured that his Mustang was first to the flag; V8 power more than enough to keep the more nimble Cortina at bay on this occasion.  Wolfe’s efforts were however rewarded with victory in the under 2 litre class with the similar machines of Andrea Strortoni and Mark Martin/Andrew Haddon completing the under 2 litre top three.  Roger Wills would claim third overall in the Comet Cyclone whilst Warren Briggs, after a spirited comeback from a slow pit-stop, rounded out the over 2 litre podium.


Raw power was the name of the game as the CanAm 50 Interserie challenge made it’s debut at Brands Hatch.  Sunday’s event saw a close battle between the glorious McLaren M8F of Andrew Newall and quite possibly the widest car ever, the March 717 of Frank Bradley.  An excursion at Stirlings put pay to Bradley’s charge however leaving Newall to claim his second victory of the weekend.  Mark Devis meanwhile in his fabulous TOJ SC003 claimed the Interserie victory in second whilst Richard Piper in the March 75s snatched third on the very last lap from the Lola T296 of Michele Liguori.

The combined Masters 70s Celebration and Allcomers event proved to be an absolute corker.  Early on Mike Wilds, from the second on the grid, claimed the lead of the race in his BMW CSL, only to retire on lap 3.  This left the Ferrari 308 in the hands of Dave Coyne to build a healthy lead over the Mustang of Craig Davies and the Ford Capri of Steve Dance.

However, with pit stops completed, the Ferrari now in the hands of Chris Compton-Goddard, had lost all of it’s advantage and was quickly swallowed up by the pole sitting Datsun 240Z of Roberto Giordanelli, the Steve Dance Capri and the Chris Beighton piloted Sunbeam Tiger.  With the 308 unable to keep pace, the remaining crowd were treated to an almighty three way tussle for victory; Beighton finding a way passed Giordanelli with ten minutes remaining and Dance taking advantage of the situation to grab second.

By this time, the brakes on the very powerful Tiger had started to fade and Beighton had a battle on his hands just to keep the Sunbeam on track.  And sure enough with only 5 minutes remaining, a trip across the Sheen gravel would allow both Dance and Giordanelli back through; Giordanelli having to settle for second after an attempt for the lead on the very next lap resulting in a spin for the Datsun pilot.  Fantastic racing!


All three podium finishers would claim their respective class awards however.  Giordanelli and Simon Watts taking TCA victory in the Datsun with Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore first home in the SPA class.  Whilst further back John Spiers claimed Allcomers glory in his TVR Griffith with 5th position overall.

Sunday’s schedule also included 2 25 minute HGPCA races for front engined Pre-61 Grand Prix cars where Philip Walker would claim the spoils on both occasions in his Lotus 16.  The fabulous Ferrari Dino of Tony Smith was twice runner up whilst Eddie Maguire and Paul Grant shared the 2 litre class 5 honours.


And rounding off the Grand Prix Circuit proceedings was an excellent Classic Formula Ford race which saw Ben Mitchell twice hit the front only for eventual victor, Richard Tarling, to snatch the lead back straight away on both occasions; Mitchell’s hard fought second place rewarded with class B victory however.

Yet another fantastic day of Masters Historic racing.  Not even queuing at the now toll-less Dartford crossing could wipe the smile from my face.  I personally cannot wait for more of this kind of action on the Donington GP circuit in Early July …

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)