After the double-header meeting in September, the 750 Motor Club’s MalloryPark meeting provided another two 750 Trophy races to end the season, putting a curious slant on the 500 Owners Association Championship structure. Although James Culver had already locked out the championship, and Mike Fowler looked comfortable for second place, there were still options for third place, with Bob Culver and Neil Hodges separated by just two points and several others in with a shout including John Turner and Simon Frost. In James Culver’s absence, John Turner was our nominated ‘hero’ for the day, supported by another fifteen 500s – an excellent turnout for so late a meeting and maintaining the healthy trend we have seen through the season. James excepted, we had a near full complement of both old and new hands, plus Steve Jones (in David Holland’s old Mk IV), Nigel Ashman and Simon Frost. Completing the list was the Comet that reappeared at Goodwood. In the interim Duncan Rabagliati had agreed to purchase her, and handed the reins to Simon Diffey for the day. It would be interesting to see whether Simon could give an indication of the car’s full potential. The sixteen 500s would face off against thirteen Trophy cars ranging from David Brand and Pete Birch at the front right through the speed spectrum.
Though rather cold, Sunday morning was dry (at least until after the second race) and with barely a breeze, making the Paddock significantly more pleasant that it deserved to be at this time of year. An early practice was relatively uneventful with most drivers posting representative times. Unfortunately John Chisholm was unable to get the recalcitrant Arnott started. After much chin stroking this was found to be a case of badly slipped timing, and the car would run cleanly thereafter. Geoff Gartside and Nigel Ashman suffered clutch problems – Geoff’s a recurrence of his Goodwood problems, but a stripdown revealed a partial failure of the actuation rod and new parts were installed. Simon Frost had a spin at the Hairpin, Kerry Horan had an intermittent misfire, while Shirley Monro was trying to understand the handling of her Mk IV after Bill had slipped an extra leaf into both front and rear springs. The Comet was running cleanly and smoke free, and despite a pair of badly misaligned rear wheels set a respectable high 64s time putting it in the Hodges/Gartside bracket. The grid for the second race would be set by second best times, and John Turner and David Brand would share the front row, each taking a pole position. Bob Culver had rediscovered his early season form and leapfrogged Mike Fowler as next fastest 500. Mike in turn was a fraction ahead of Neil, Simons Frost & Diffey, Geoff, Kerry Horan and Gordon Russell (continuing to gather speed in the Mackson). Roy Wright, Shirley and Steve Jones were similarly close, and Martin Sheppard was making progress, ducking under the 70 second mark and pipping Paul Hewes (back in the Mk VIII). Martin is the only total rookie of our new arrivals, having to learn the car, circuits and racecraft. It’s been a character-building season for Martin, and a good performance at the first circuit he had experience of would be a good way to end it.
So after a relatively relaxed break, all sixteen 500s headed for the grid in good health. From the start, John Turner took up battle at the front with David Brand and Pete Birch. Mike Fowler led a train comprising Roger Windley, Simon Frost (a good start), Nic Grele, Neil Hodges and Simon Diffey. Sadly, after a good start, Gordon Russell’s engine promptly seized at Gerards, spinning him into retirement. At the Hairpin Paul Hewes was assaulted, taking a nasty bang in the cockpit and damaging the steering arm. He tried to continue, but it was clear by the pit straight that his race was over. John Turner eked out a second over the two Trophy car, with Brand seizing second place at the end of Lap 2. Simon Diffey was getting into his stride and cut past Neil Hodges and Simon Frost. Bob Culver had made an average start and was in chase, followed by Geoff and Kerry. Shirley was also running well and towards the back, John Chisholm was making good progress.
Lap 3, and Dave Brand was now within a few feet of John Turner, with Pete Birch not quite able to keep in touch. This would be about as large a gap as we would see for the rest of the race, and the two leaders began a battle that, if anything was even more exciting than the Silverstone ‘derby’. Four seconds down the road, Mike retained fourth place, now from a catching Diffey while Frost was all over Roger Windley. Bob Culver was back on the pace that won him the John Cooper Memorial Trophy in April, and was hunting down Neil and Nic Grele. As they exited the Devil’s Elbow, Neil’s JAP motor let go, complete with light and sound show and he pulled off at the pit exit, quickly joining his crew on pit wall for the rest of the race.
Whilst John was still upholding 500 honours at the front with a fraction of a lead over Brand, and Simon Diffey was cutting into the gap to Mike, a very tight battle was forming behind. Roger Windley was staunchly holding off Simon Frost, who now had Bob and Nic Grele in tow. Geoff was about three seconds off the group, and a couple ahead of Kerry, then Roy Wright was in another tight battle with Roger Rowe (fighting through from the back of the grid), Shirley, Steve Jones and Nigel Ashman (also recovering from his practice problems). Martin had maintained his practice form, but buzzed the motor on the fifth lap, bending a valve. This would prove too much to repair, and he would scratch from the second race, retiring to his motor home. After practice had shown him the light at the end of the tunnel, the race had promptly switched it off again – welcome to the strange world of 500 racing, Martin! On Lap 5 the leaders caught the first backmarkers, and this gave David Brand his opportunity, sneaking past at the start of the sixth lap. Simon Diffey dispensed with Mike, who now had to keep an eye on the battle four seconds behind. Simon, however, would go little further, the engine going bang rather suddenly on the seventh lap. Kerry and Geoff were struggling for pace, and would be picked off by the charging Roger Rowe. Nigel Ashman had found a way through the Jones/Monro/Wright battle, and could see a chance to catch Kerry. Shirley had herself made a clean move on Roy (who was losing power with a collapsing exhaust), and put a second on him as Steve also sought a way past, which he duly achieved as they completed Lap 7.
Up front, the leaders were now cutting through the midfield at a remarkable pace, both ducking under the minute barrier. Repeatedly David Brand would appear out of the Devil’s Elbow choosing one side to pass a backmarker and with John not in sight. Just as you assumed his engine had given out, he would dive out from behind David, or on the other side of the hapless man-in-the-middle, and make a demon move into Gerards. At the start of the ninth lap he got his nose ahead, but David had the inside. John, of course, was unfazed by this, or the Reliant Special’s superior grip, and motored around the outside. David however would get back ahead on the exit, and John started again. Mike Fowler had been delayed by traffic and was now coming under attack from a very impressive Simon Frost, himself under pressure Roger Windley. Bob was less than a second behind, but didn’t seem able to finally close the gap. Nigel, having dispensed with Roy, caught Shirley passing her on the ninth lap, and then taking Kerry next time around. Kerry was clearly in some trouble (later discovered to be a loose exhaust costing power) and at the end of the tenth lap Steve Jones was past, and Shirley was only a second away.
It shows the ferocity of the lead battle that by the end of the tenth lap they were on Shirley (who was setting a very respectable pace herself with a 65-dead fastest lap). John lined up another demon move into Gerards, diving out from behind David only to find insufficient tarmac beyond Shirley and swerve back across to the pit wall. Next time around, John was again forced to take the long way around Gerards, and this time he made it stick. This was one heck of a move, but incredibly it wasn’t the only battle to keep a decent autumn crowd entertained. Simon had found a way past Mike, who was none too pleased and unwilling to let it lie at that. Roger Windley and Bob were both within a second and ready to pick up any pieces. Bob found a way past Roger but still could not quite close the gap on the two ahead. Then, as they completed the twelfth lap Mike got a run on Simon and they crossed the line side by side. Bob decided to get his finger out (!) and made it three. Simon held on around the outside of Gerards, only for the three of them to repeat it next time around on what would be the final lap. On the return down Stebbe Straight, Simon’s engine cried enough, burning a piston. Mike just held on for second in class and fourth overall.
Nigel Ashman had caught Geoff and had dragged Steve Jones and Kerry up with him. Nigel’s drive was all the more impressive as he had snapped the gear stick, and had only an inch or so accessible above the pannier fuel tank. This would catch him out as Steve Jones sneaked past to take fifth (tenth overall). But it was at the front that it mattered. Dave Brand had been looking for a way past but John appeared to having him covered, though only by inches. David finally got a run on the final tour, and nipped back ahead. On the final run from the hairpin back to the chequered flag John made a final attempt, but was thwarted by just one tenth of a second (in 500 terms, about half a car’s length). We had been thwarted again but it was a most entertaining race for drivers and spectators.
Classified Finishers Race 1
Fastest lap: John Turner 59.37
Not classified: Simon Frost, Simon Diffey, Martin Sheppard, Neil Hodges, Paul Hewes, Gordon Russell,
Race 1 had been quite incredible, but we had a few issues to resolve, with another race to run. Gordon set to swapping engines, and Simon Frost began cannibalising his spare motor for a piston. Simon Diffey took one look to appreciate a thrown rod on the Comet joined Martin scratching from the second race. Neil’s engine was another matter. A huge hole had been blown in the front of the barrel, a couple of inches of conrod were just missing, and swarf was scattered everywhere. After fifteen minutes of sucking teeth it was decided to lift it out Peter Wright, however, had other ideas, favours were called in (with particular thanks to John Turner, who offered both a spare engine and son Andrew on spanners), and the team set about trying to get the car ready for the second race. The car was fired up seconds before the cars were called to Assembly. Nigel Ashman meanwhile decided to create a makeshift gearstick from gaffer tape and a spanner.
The grid was reduced to twenty four cars, fourteen 500s, and set off under the threat of rain. Pete Birch got the jump on David and John at the front and would hold it until the third lap. John got the upper hand on David, and once they were both past Pete, he held a second’s advantage. We looked forward to a repeat of the first race (with a different outcome), and for a couple of laps that is what we got. But by Lap 6 John’s engine started to lose compression. He would keep going until the eighth lap before pulling off.
And sadly that was pretty much it for the race. John (thrown chain), Roy and Gordon all retired on the fourth lap, Gordon with a loose exhaust costing power (and warming his back). Simon Frost and Neil Hodges suffered sick engines – Simon plugged on at a much reduced pace, Neil deciding not to repay John’s kindness by handing back a box of scrap retired on Lap 6. Kerry had similar troubles and retired a lap later.
Mike Fowler took fourth place in the early laps, but was passed Roger Windley on Lap 6, and drifted away. Nigel Ashman and Roger Rowe began a charge from the back row of the grid, this time assisted by a less busy track. The highlight of the race was Bob, who from the start picked up again his battle with Nic Greele. By Lap 5, Roger was on their tail, and it took him until Lap 7 to pass Bob for what was now fourth place (with John Turner and Pete Birch’s retirement). Bob didn’t take this lying down, and for lap after lap these two appeared inches apart, with Nic a second back. On the thirteenth lap, Bob finally managed to make a pass and came through a fraction ahead as they entered the final lap. Yet in a mirror of John and David’s battle in the first race, Roger got the better run to the flag and stole fourth place.
Nigel Ashman quickly caught Shirley and a struggling Geoff, then found himself in no man’s land. He still pressed on, having fun and picking up a third in class award to nicely cap his first season. Geoff, meanwhile had fuel problems, perhaps a sticking float on one side. The car popped and misfired intermittently, and finally stalled on the ninth lap. So the final race of the season turned out to be something of an anticlimax after the excitement of the first and such a good season.
Classified Finishers Race 2
Fastest lap: John Turner 1:00.22
Not classified: Geoff Gartside, John Turner, Kerry Horan, Neil Hodges, Gordon Russell, Roy Wright, John Chisholm,