|Portimao 16th & 17th October 2010|
For the season finale, the Association had arranged something a bit special. In a change to the traditional wet Mallory, here we were at the Grand Prix standard Portimão circuit in the Algarve and (more importantly for some) bathed in late-Summer Portuguese sun. By a range of measures (and with much thanks to the organising team led by Nigel Challis), thirty cars appeared at the track for practice. Twenty six of these represented the cream of the English, including the full Team Wright (with Flash Special and Dastle for father & son respectively), and Gordon Russell back at last in the Mackson. With hotel rooms for competitors, there was a healthy turnout of supporting cast, whilst the Wrights had made a holiday of the extended week. Unfortunately, a mismatch with half term meant several WAGs and children/apprentice pushers were missing, which would have been the icing on the cake for many. But the Hodges clan turned out with three generations. Complementing them were four French cars. Patrick Jamin’s Racer Boyer represents the post-Formula III era of 500 racing (similar to the American LeGrand and Delfosse cars of the mid-1960s) with much more advanced chassis and suspension. Fitted with an even later engine it outclassed all other machinery present - not perhaps appropriate but accepted in the Invitation Class.
After unloading kit and fighting off the best of Portuguese bureaucracy through Thursday, track time eventually got underway early on Friday morning with a free practice session followed by qualifying late in the afternoon. Broadly in expected order, little could be read into times as circuit knowledge improved and final drive ratios were guessed and re-guessed. It did manage to eliminate a handful of runners. Richard Utley threw a driveshaft on his JBS. The limited transport space meant no spare had been packed, but any thoughts of a field repair were scuppered when he saw that the flailing shaft had battered the chassis. Gordon Russell had a fire when a fuel line failed. Considerable time was spent clearing up the extinguisher powder before it could be properly inspected. It might have just been possible to get the Mackson running for the Sunday race by begging all manner of parts, but one of Pat Barford’s cars to drive in the Junior race, Gordon decided to scratch. Gerard Datan’s Panhard motor blew, and seemed to make a decent attempt at escaping from the car judging by how the nosecone panels were dislodged. Last and most frustrating was Darrell Woods. Darrell has shown great form on some occasions this year, and was looking to sign off on a high. But a gremlin hiding in the engine left him with an untraceable misfire and low power. As usual in the 500 Paddock, bodies, parts and advice were in plentiful supply. Work continued from Friday afternoon through until race start at Sunday lunchtime before the towel was finally thrown in.
Race 1 - Saturday
As noon approached, the cars were lined up in grid formation in the pits. Release was a little chaotic, even by 500 standards, with a large break in the field as the cars set off to pick up the pace car (as a rolling start had been proscribed). Most caught up but John Jones and Paul Hewes cars refused to fire. Finally, both came to life as the field came into the final turn, and they could soon be released after the race had started. Unfortunately, poor David Coursier was unfamiliar with our somewhat random start procedure. Although his car fired up, he was uncertain whether he could pass the stubborn Cousy and hesitated to leave pit lane. The appropriate Anglo-Saxon, two-word instruction was given that he could go, and should catch up with the field, but apparently did not translate well. He finally set off, but came round some thirty seconds after the field and some twenty behind JB’s Cousy leaving pit lane.
If that battle was busy, the one behind was just as busy. A slow-starting Roy Hunt pushed through to lead the 5th place battle by the end of lap 2, but had Martin Sheppard (running particularly well) and George Shackleton in tow. James Holland was also showing well, tailing James Gray until the latter’s retirement, and hanging off the trio ahead. James H’s run came to an end at the Top Corner, fifth time around, a spin at the blind entry, double apex corner - although on tarmac runoff, recalcitrant marshals and not being close enough to the downhill run for a bump start did it for him.
Into the midst of this came John Jones. JB was giving it the beans and tagged onto the tail of the group on lap 3. Disposing of this mass of Nortons took more time, finally clearing the group beginning lap 5. (and it’s worth remembering quite how basic a chassis the Cousy is - it really should not suit a track like Portimão). Despite getting clear, John’s eyes were already on his mirrors. With its oversize engine, David Coursier’s DB was having no trouble cutting through the field from his even-more delayed start. Paying no attention to the fact that it was not in class, JB was keen to open a gap before the other French car cleared the group, and equally was unaware of how much faster the DB was. The Cousy held strong for a lap, but once past, David was quickly away. A big moment brought them together again, but eventually the DB prevailed.
Race 1 Classified Finishers
Race 2 - Sunday
When the celebration and chatter were over, there was usual work to do in the pits. The circuit had certainly taken its toll on clutches and gearboxes, with both Nigel Ashman and Mike Fowler in trouble with the latter (but not alone in that). But by late afternoon, most cars were being reassembled and the pit area was slowly emptying of the “redshirts” kindly arranged by Carol Woods and worn by most of the teams. Only Mike Bell was a definite scratch, despite being resplendent in their own “Team Bell” black Tees. With no spare JAP, and other spares around the Paddock already pressed into service or cannibalised, there was nothing to do but pack up. Mike’s closed-season plan looks to involve applying ducts and louvres to the tail of the Mk X.
At the front, things were a little calmer without Mike around. Patrick Jamin was away and gone, and in the 500s Nigel was clearly first. A fairly poor start by Neil left Brain clearly in second. A worse start by Steve Jones made an even worse start falling into the clutches of the next group, and being totally mugged by George (both drivers describing it as one heck of a move).
After a gap, Mike Gilbert was now alone. Mike had made a poor start with a slipping clutch, but somehow managed to bring it back enough to complete the race, albeit tentatively and with no added drama. His early battlers had their own troubles. Mark Palmer was losing revs, and eventually retired after five laps. JB didn’t even get that far. First the gearstick connection fell apart - John grabbed the linkage stick to keep going (hampered by having to think every time “Is pull up or down?” And there are a lot of changes needed at Portimão). To end his misery, the engine called time on the third lap and he coasted into the pits. Patrick Morin was having a good race. He eased to the front of the tail group, first holding off Richard (still with some fuel issues, but then slowed by clutch problems), then a good battle with a feisty Shirley (who first had to battle clear of Hakan).
Race 2 Classified Finishers
Portuguese bureaucracy had one final twist to play, preventing the trucks from coming into the circuit. As ever, the 500s found a way, clubbing together to get the cars out and loaded in double-quick time. Anyone who saw John Jones sitting atop the brakeless Cousy as it freewheeled downhill into the access tunnel (and pedestrians within), could only be reminded of Slim Pickens’ final scene in Dr Strangelove, riding the bomb! But most illustrative was Martin Sheppard’s car being manhandled and podged into Brian Joliffe’s truck alongside Brian’s own cars for the return home - you don’t get that sort of clubbing together with the Grand Prix cars. And that’s why we’re the friendliest Paddock you’ll find.