|Snetterton John Cooper Trophy 5th April 2009
Sunday was a beautiful day for the elite of 500 Formula 3 to make their first appearances of the year. There were a few who didn't make it, Mike Fowler officially granted paternity leave, congratulations to Mike and Anne, and some more spurious excuses.
A real positive for the weekend was the new and old faces and several new cars. In no particular order, we had new boy Richard Ellingworth in the ex Mark Woodhouse Martin and the return of Steve Jones, now in a Cooper Mk X Norton, in place of his Mk IV JAP. Gordon Russell has gone "professional" driving Pat Barford's Cooper Mk VIII Norton, in place of the Mackson, which he claims needs rebuilding. Pat is amassing a stable of 500s, including a German Monopoletta-BMW and one of the Mezzolitres, both need need significant work but we may just see one before the end of the season.
Richard Ellingworth's Martin-Norton
Darrell Woods, having sold the Creamer Kieft, appeared in his Cooper Mk VIII, currently running a JAP engine, though he has a Norton ready to be substituted. Mark Palmer's Cooper is resting but we were treated to the privilege of seeing the first run of the beautifully turned out Wishart Mk II. This car South African car is similar to a Kieft, built by Alex Wishart from Durban, with classic swing axle rear suspension but wishbones and coil over dampers at the front.
Finally, we had the first run of the Trimax, which had been slated to appear at Goodwood but, due to problems with its restoration, had only been a static display. While not particularly competitive in period, the Trimax is fascinating from a technical perspective, featuring a full monocoque and integral fuel tanks so it was good to see her run finally, though clearly some work is required.
Nigel Ashman, in his regular Mk XI Norton, signalled his intentions for the season by posting a very fast 1:33.99 to claim pole by a healthy margin from Neil Hodges' Mk VIII JAP. Neil was struggling with gear selection issues but had to admit that Nigel's time was out of reach, anyway. Next up came Gordon Russell, in only his second race in the Cooper he posted a 1:38 to take third alongside newcomer Richard Ellingworth who piped Nigel Challis. Alongside Nigel on row three would be the Cooper of Steve Jones. Row four was made up of Darrell Woods and Mike Bell.
Mechanical maladies were mostly minor, the significant casualties being the Trimax, Tony holing a piston on the second lap and the engine in JB's Cousy wasn't running cleanly so he also failed to qualify.
To simplify things, a rolling start was agreed upon and, while the merits of this in pure racing terms are debatable, it certainly worked this time as everyone got away cleanly. As the lights changed, the Coopers of Nigel Ashman and Neil Hodges were neck and neck but Gordon Russell and Richard Ellingworth had both got the jump so all four were together as they came in to Riches for the first time. Gordon demoted Neil to third for a while and by the time they came round to complete lap 1, Nigel had several car length's lead and would never seriously be troubled. Richard Ellingworth dropped back as he lost most of his brakes eventually leading to an off and retirement on lap 2, a creditable first outing all the same.
This left Gordon and Neil to entertain the crowd. Having briefly exchanged places on the first lap, Neil pulled a few car length's lead over the first few laps, however Gordon is becoming more familiar with his new mount and enjoying the extra grunt of the Norton at such a fast circuit. He steadily improved his times to catch and then pass Neill on the Revett straight on lap five. In retaliation, Neil out braked him at the Esses to re-take second, After a lap to regroup, Gordon was passed again, this time on the Pits Straight. As they came round again, Neil pulled off a similar braking manoeuvre, this time at the Russell Chicane only for Gordon to blast past. There was only one way this battle would be resolved and sure enough a combination of too late braking and too much kerb at the Russell chicane lead to a lurid spin, much to the amusement of the crowd. Neil recovered but Gordon was well ahead so discretion finally prevailed, and the top three, all with healthy gaps between them, cruised to the finish; Nigel Ashman, Gordon Russell and Neil Hodges.
Behind this Steve Jones was gaining familiarity with his new Mk X Cooper and, after following Nigel Challis for a while, hammered past him on the Pit Straight and disappeared. Darrell Woods, now in a Cooper Mk VIII, was severely handicapped after an incident at the Esses on the first lap when Richard Bishop-Miller broke a final drive UJ on his Mk II and spun into him. Darrel survived to finish sixth, ahead of Mark Palmer who was a little unimpressed with its handling of the Wishart. Mike Gilbert’s engine had given cause for concern in practice and he visited the pits, but rejoined to finish.
Richard Ellingworth (Martin) leads the Cooper "twins" of Nigel Challis and Steve Jones at the end of lap 1. Photo Carol Woods.