|Mallory Park 21st August 2011
The appeal of a VSCC meeting, and for some a chance to breathe life into Goodwood entries, meant another remarkable entry of twenty seven cars for round six of the championship. Although trimmed after Pat Barford had lunched the Arnott engine in a test in the week, and Richard Ellingworth surprising all when he arrived instead with a Gemini for the Formula Junior race, late entries from Nigel Challis and Brian Jolliffe (realising very late that he had a space in the van beside his Junior) confirmed the largest Mallory Park field in recent history.
Three generations of the Frost family were in attendance for the debut of their freshly restored Martin. One of the final 1955 chassis, it hadn’t run since Ian parked it in 1983. Although still unpainted, it looked mechanically superb (as one would expect), with a very aerodynamic cigar-tube body. Unlike earlier Martins such as Roy Hunt’s car, this model has very low slung axle on very short coil-over units mounted inboard at the rear, and it is fitted with a Robin Jackson twin-spark Norton motor. Richard Bishop-Miller and family turned up with the faithful Cooper. The hoped-for debut of the Revis (finished AND painted) was another victim of testing, Richard not having time to swap engines over. Other notable faces were James Gray back with the Comet, and the Wrights – with just the Dastle, and Stuart on driving duty. A brace of 1100s – Freddie Harper’s Cooper Mk IV and Richard Ashford in Ruth Ross’ Mk III/IV – completed the field.
John Chisholm would not even make it onto track. A rear hub failed off a push start, leaving the driveshaft flapping. John pootled off around the Paddock with a string of concerned observers in chase – he could hear the clatter, but couldn’t identify the source. Fortunately he soon brought the car to a halt with no further damage to the car. With no spare, he was out, but could console himself that at least it happened here rather than at Goodwood, and still had his Gemini for the Junior race. It should also serve as a reminder for all those who use mechanical starters to regularly check and replace the relevant hub, as this was clearly a fatigue failure on the driven wheel.
Practice was delayed by fifteen minutes as an oil trail from the preceding Edwardian cars required a major clean-up. Twenty five cars eventually headed out, enlivened by the addition of an out-of-session Cooper-Bristol, driven by novice Julian Wilton. He seemed to have an unfortunate knack for surrounding himself with at least three 500s, often more, buzzing around him like wasps at a picnic. He was certainly trying to keep out of the way, but it made for an interesting sight down the straight as the stub-exhausted rasp drowned the angry buzz on all sides. Practice itself was reasonably uneventful. Neil Hodges and Nigel Challis were both unusually slow with engine troubles, Shirley Monro again notably fast. Only Nigel Ashman dipped under the minute, but four – Mike Fowler, John Turner, Brian Jolliffe and Darrell Woods – were all grouped with very healthy 61-second laps. Xavier had a spin exiting the Hairpin, and got a love tap from JB’s Cousy, with no permanent damage. The two 1100s were stuttering, as was the Dastle – the Wright’s at least able to confirm that recent problems were caused by fuel feed rather than flaky electrics. Unfortunately, at the end of the session, all cars were diverted to the scrutineering bay due to issues of all on the track, somewhat ironic given that this was a vintage racing event and, after some deliberation, two cars were excluded from the race.
So twenty two cars set off on the parade lap. The Dastle was very reluctant to set off, but eventually fired in a haze of blue smoke. Stuart shot off at near-race pace to catch the field and avoid holding up the start. He needn’t have bothered as the VSCC starter released the field very quickly, with only a handful of rows formed up. Mike Fowler got the jump on Nigel Ashman and led by a car’s length into Gerards. Nigel though was able to maintain speed right through the corner, carrying it onto the Stebbe straight and cruising past the sister car. Nigel quickly opened a two second lead on that first lap, increasing to four by lap 3. He clearly had an edge, but Mike was much closer on pace than we have seen before – his best lap was only half a second away from Nigel’s best. Nigel drove away to a reasonably easy victory, but the signs are there that Mike is closing in.
Back to the start, and a second group quickly formed. John Turner dove for the inside of Gerards to hold third. Gordon Russell and Brian Jolliffe followed close behind, and Darrell was about a second adrift in sixth place after one lap (of six).
Mid-pack, Shirley was caught out of gear at the start and was slow away. Neil, making a moderate start found himself boxed in by Simon and George. JB got the best start and jumped all of them to tail Roy Hunt. George followed him through past Shirley for ninth with Freddie Harper tenth. Neil and Simon also forced their way around Shirley on that opening lap, but into the Hairpin Simon’s Martin stuttered and dropped places hand over fist. A plug lead had come adrift and whilst the second spark plug kept the engine running, it was flat as a pancake until engine speed increased enough to build turbulence in the cylinder – doubly a problem at the uphill chicane where the car would stutter around until finally perking up again after several cars had overtaken. Simon managed to find a way to minimise the problem and started to work his way back up the field – in the circumstances, a 63-second best lap was impressive, ominous even…
Another poor starter was Richard Utley, who fell almost to last before starting a good recovery drive. Stuart pitted the Dastle after one lap, still smoking. Father Roy listened carefully before making a gesture clearly indicating that he shut up and get back out there! The car looked to be running quite well for most of the lap, but the never-ending Gerards corner is the ultimate test of a 500s fuel system. The Dastle was choking and dying before the exit. Stuart dragged it around for final place, and at least now knows where the problem is. Nigel Challis’ good start came to nought when he retired after one lap with a severe vibration that suggested pending disaster. Neil was also in trouble with the misfire of practice returning and getting much worse. He slipped down the field.
Most eyes by now were on the battle for third place. As they completed the first lap, Gordon had edged ahead, but John Turner had the speed. He chucked the Cooper into his trademark overtaking line at Gerards, just has Gordon tried to close the door. John kicked up dust with his inside wheel and really had nowhere else to go. The cars touched, but not really to either’s detriment. Brian Jolliffe was more than happy to benefit, though, and Darrell closed the gap to make it a full four-car battle. Occasionally Mallory Park gives us a battle like this where a batch of cars exit the Devil’s elbow to fan out three or more abreast over the startline, and that’s exactly what we got on all six laps of this race. An exact description is pointless as positions could change within a hundred yards, much less a lap. All four drove superbly, but it Darrell was the standout by a shade. He has clearly been advancing this year, but we haven’t really seen him in a straight fight with the drivers we think he is capable of running with, and with no excuses. This was that moment, and he stepped up to the plate. On the third lap he shaded John Turner, and on the next lap mugged both Brian and Gordon. all three fought back, repeatedly, but at the chequered Darrell shaded it by a tenth. Brian took fourth from Gordon while JT coasted over the line with a dead engine. A great drive from all four, and Darrell has confirmed himself as a member of that group. As he put it in the post-race interviews “It was mad!”
Roy came though for seventh place, chased by George, who had fought with JB and Freddie before both retired on lap 4. He got close to Roy, but was not quite close enough to challenge. Shirley and birthday boy Martin revived their battle from Rockingham. This time Shirley was the prey, although both were in the sights of James Gray and the Comet. They ran in close company before Martin took ninth place on lap 4. James was next, but almost immediately the Comet began to slow, stuttering to the flag and dropping four spots. Shirley still pressed on, and finished just over a second behind the much later Cooper.
Next, at this point, was Xavier. The pleasure at seeing first Neil, then James drop back was balanced against the recovering cars of Richards Utley and Ashford, and Simon Frost all coming past the other way. It was still a good drive, with a perfectly respectable 65-second best for his first visit to Mallory.
Finally to the tail end of the field. Richard Bishop-Miller for once found himself with company, as Hakan Sandberg at last had a clean running motor (the Norton, this time) and the chance to play. He caught Richard, but span it away at Gerards. He brought the car home lapped but the JBS was running well, boding well for Goodwood. With his drive of the day, Darrell has slipped into lead of the overall championship, with the other star performers of the season – Shirley, Richard Ellingworth and Nigel Ashman – all very close. Shirley also leads the JAP class from Neil Hodges, needing a decent finish if he is to take back the title.
Lap 1, Monro leads Sheppard, Hodges and Gray. Photo Kitty Chisholm