|Croft 7th August 2011|
Last year HSCC and Croft circuit put on their inaugural ‘Nostalgia’ Weekend – those who attended from the 500 Club reported back on a great weekend, so with enthusiastic anticipation we drove our way northwards. It was clear that last year’s successes had been developed further, to create larger displays of classic cars, race motorcycles, vintage buses, aircraft, and many military vehicles, all providing a ‘Living History’ of scenes from WW11. A major draw for the ‘500’s’ was the ‘Griffin’ engine, which was proudly started up several times over the weekend. Unfortunately, no matter how much preparation and provision is made for the unexpected, the one thing nobody can control is the weather…. And boy what contrasts!
Those of us who arrived Friday evening, sat outside sharing wine, BBQ, wine, beer, wine….. (or was that just me?), enjoying a relaxed and convivial evening as the sun went down. By Saturday lunchtime, we were experiencing rain, thunder, lightening, and localised flash floods. Practice had been completed, but racing was unable to commence. Many of the promisingly large crowd had disappeared to drier pursuits. Finally a limited programme began at 5.00pm, with racing continuing until 7.00pm when another downpour ended proceedings. Thus three races from the Saturday programme had to be squeezed into an already busy Sunday schedule. The knock on effect was that the 500 F3 race had to be postponed from the original time of 5.30pm, to 6.30pm.
All 21 cars set off for the green flag lap onto the grid. Spectators watched with trepidation as the cars were held on the grid for what seemed like ages, but in fact mere seconds. As the 5 second board was displayed, Hakan Sandberg told me that his JBS saw the board and decided to expire. The marshals quickly got him into the pit lane, and tried to encourage life into the engine – but to no avail. Finally the remaining cars set off, with a flying start for one car located towards the back of the grid. First to approach Clervaux the first right-hander at the end of the start and finish, was Nigel Ashman and Richard Ellingworth, closely followed by Darrell who made a rapid start, overtaking the heavier Mackson belonging to Gordon as it moved sluggishly off the line. The melee midfield indicated that an exciting race was about to unfold. Behind Gordon, a tight group contained Roy Hunt, Brian Joliffe, Martin Gartside, John Turner and Nigel Challis, with JB Jones not far behind. The next group were really mixing it, with John Chisholm, Mark Palmer, Shirley Munro, and Xavier Kingsland, followed by Richard Bishop-Miller, Vernon Williamson, and our French visitors, Charly Rampal, Gerard Dantan and Gilbert Lenoir. As the midfield group accelerated away from Hawthorn Bend and the chicane it looked as if Xavier was trying to ballroom dance with Shirley’s Cooper all the way down the straight. First he pirouetted 360degrees in one direction, and then the other in an effort to attract Shirley’s attention. Shirley told me that he ‘turned round every which way, in front of me’. Xavier told me that he had ‘a brilliant start, overtook loads of people…. I was coming out of the second bend, thinking this is fantastic… and I just ran out of skill. I remember seeing Shirley coming towards me, and we looked at each other eyeball to eyeball…. And I hoped she would avoid me, and I would keep the engine running!’ Fortunately, by the time he stopped being a partner in the car’s pas de deux, he was facing in the correct direction, and able to continue racing, albeit a little more cautiously (?)
The unfortunate Mike Fowler had a very short race, he completed his first lap, with his hand in the air, and returned to pit lane. The gearbox on his immaculate Cooper Mk XI decided not to function as desired…. later he discovered that the problem was neither expensive nor difficult to put right. Gilbert Lenoir also completed only one lap, as his Cooper Mk IV was not running properly and he didn’t want to increase any potential damage by continuing to run the engine for the duration of the race. Nigel was leading the way, but had Richard close behind. Darrell looked really comfortable in third position with the Staride clearly handling well. Shirley had not been phased by her experience with Xavier, and was moving through the field , like a knife through butter…. She caught up John Chisholm, and they had a wonderful battle throughout the remainder of the race, changing positions at all points. In true gentleman-racing fashion, John approached Shirley after the race to congratulate her on her driving skill, and I left them to ‘re-live’ the race. Roy clearly ‘had a moment’ as he lost places within his group, moving from 5th to 9th in one lap. He then worked to get back in touch with them. JB became adrift from the group he was chasing, and created a rather lonely spot for himself in 9th position, with clear track both in front and behind. Richard Ellingworth set a fastest lap as he caught up Nigel. He then made an overtaking manoeuvre on Nigel, and that we, thought may possibly be that…… but no. Nigel was determined not to let Richard get away… and made a devilish manoeuvre as they approached Tower Bend, he tried to out brake and go round the outside of Richard’s Kieft, to regain the lead. Nigel then put in a fastest lap for the race, as he tried to separate himself from Richard. The leaders were by now beginning to catch up with backmarkers, as the leading pair came around the hairpin, one of the invited DB racers, brakes locked up, lost traction and present itself broadside ….. which impacted on racing lines for the leading duo, with grass becoming part of the racing line…. This incident left Nigel in the lead, which was not really challenged again over the remaining 2 laps, as Nigel also put in another new fastest lap for the race. John Turner seemed to have returned to his racing exuberant self, as he carved his way through to 6th position. As he challenged for 5th, on lap 7, he came out of Hawthorn Bend, foot no doubt pushed hard to the floor, his car slowed up, and he pulled off, with his race finished. His son suggested afterwards that John’s Cooper Mk IX had probably bent a valve….
So, the exciting race finally drew to a close, we witnessed battles throughout the field. I had always understood this to be a ‘non-contact’ sport, but afterwards, overhearing some conversations – I’m not so sure! However, everybody was full of their version of the race, and exchanged stories about the race with each other. When I watch the animated faces of the racers as they chat after a race, it is for me evidence of why we waited until 6.45 to race, and then had a long journey home afterwards….. how else can you enjoy yourself so much? (Answers on a postcard…..)