|Croft 8th August 2010|
After a seven week break, we returned with something different. Although 500s were first sighted at Croft in 1950, it has been many years since the last visit, certainly all the entrants were required to attend the new boys' briefing. The track could have been designed by a racing school with the way its four straights are entered and exited by every variation of bend, from the hairpin onto the start-finish straight, to the near-flat kink before the Sunny corners. Sitting on a fairly flat plain, as befits a former RAF Bomber Command base, there is just enough profile to make corners that look simple on paper, offer a few surprises. From the cockpit, it proved very suited to 500s - smooth, not too wide, straights not too long, and corners rewarding to the brave. All the drivers were impressed. For the spanner-men and spectators, the circuit has done an great job with grandstands and huge, tidy grass banks giving fine views of most of the circuit. Facilities were good and staff helpful. And, unlike certain higher profile circuits, the bar remained open until after the final race, a feature appreciated later on.
The meeting was the Historic Sports Car Club Croft Nostalgia weekend, a curious but fun event. On-track were a range of cars from the fifties, sixties and seventies, whilst off-track were all manner of activities including wartime vehicles, classic cars and dress from Edwardian to hippy. Clearly some of the HSCC boys were treating it as a dress rehearsal for the Goodwood Revival, with white overalls and cravats aplenty, and a very healthy crowd had much to see and do.
Finally, at noon the full dozen set off for practice. First out of the traps was Darrell Woods, looking for some clear sighting laps to find a racing line. Neil Hodges and Mike Fowler picked up a tow, and seemed to be using Darrell as a guide to follow and improve upon. Some way back, Richard Ellingworth used a similar tactic, shadowing Nigel Ashman as the brace of Kiefts, slowly caught the three Coopers. These two would take the front row, followed as expected by Neil and Mike. But the surprise was Darrell. Inevitably the other two passed him for some clear flying laps, but Darrell stayed with them and took fifth, only half a second off Mike and three from pole. Sixth place went to JB Jones who was most unimpressed to be a full seven seconds slower than Darrell, although still well clear of Nigel Challis and Roy Hunt. Problems were very limited, with Shirley making a precautionary stop, and John’s Arnott creating a small cloud of overflowing methanol - quickly rectified by Simon Frost who managed John and Mike Gilbert’s cars. John however decided to scratch after a successful Junior podium placing, due to commitments elsewhere.
A low, heavy cloud lifted just before the late afternoon start time, and the eleven remaining cars filtered out from Assembly for the green flag lap in near perfect conditions. Perfect getaways though were in shorter supply. Richard Bishop-Miller was too crafty by half, banking on the promised quick release by the starter and rolling slowly into position with second gear engaged, first having proved somewhat flaky in practice. The release was quick, but not quick enough for him, and a rough start sent him backwards. Not as bad as Neil, who found a box of neutrals as he went for second. By the time he found something usable, he was stone last. Or would have been, if Mike Gilbert had not done much the same.
Which left just the podium places to be decided. Mike harried Richard, almost getting a shot at the lead when the latter got loose onto the grass out of the hairpin ending the third lap. But the Kieft was showing prodigious acceleration onto the key straights, and Mike’s aggression under braking a cornering could not stop the edging further to safety. Behind, Neil was yoyo-ing from five to seven seconds behind - great bravery through the Barcroft and Sunny sequence taking more than a second from the leaders, but curiously losing as much on the first leg of the circuit from the start to Tower. Eventually, an “all four on the grass” run exit from the hairpin convinced him to be satisfied with third.