|Silverstone 11th April 2010|
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile. This day shall gentle his condition and gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here and hold their manhood cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day..........
The long, cold Winter had led to abnormal degrees of cabin fever amongst the Half Litre crowd, so a better than expected fifteen cars were out for the season opener, at Silverstone for a change, for the Don Truman Trophy. Champion Nigel Ashman chose his white Kieft to open his defence, whilst Mike Fowler was loaned the bare aluminium Cooper Mk XI. Neil Hodges, Nigel Challis and Roy Hunt were aboard their usual mounts, joined in the leading group by Darrell Woods, now fully committed to his Cooper Mk VIII, and Steve Jones back in the ex-Procter, ex-Culver Cooper Mk X. Steve started last season well, but through other commitments and a slight accident on the flying side had disappeared. In the midfield, George Shackleton was branching out from Brands for his second season, whilst Mike Bell and Richard Bishop-Miller were with their respective mounts, the latter full of enthusiasm for the Revis he is now restoring. ‘Young’ Stuart Wright had the reins of the Dastle, with Dad accompanying on spanners, and Kerry Horan was out early with the Trenberth. Mike Gilbert failed to appear, but his place was taken by Paul Hewes, back in his Cooper.
Race day was one of those strange Silverstone days, where the cloud refuses to clear and a persistent wind keeps it feeling like Siberia, even as practice started at noon. The circuit is in the midst of major redevelopment for the Grand Prix, with (literally) acres of new tarmac on both track and run-offs. At the revised Brooklands, there is so much blacktop it’s somewhat confusing trying to identify where the track ends, much less finding markers for braking and turn-in. The other new obstacle was a rather large bump on the exit of the Becketts hairpin, which caught everyone out to some extent.
After a long, long wait for final race of the day, thirteen cars were ready to line up. Darrell joining at the back of the pack. Paul Hewes had a late panic as the primary chain threw in the Paddock. Fixed quickly, he made Assembly, but this had been the symptom not the cause. On the warm-up lap a mass of sprockets and cogs broke free and he coasted to the side. Unlike previous years (always a bogey at Silverstone), the start line team did a fine job to get the grid formed quickly, and the dirty dozen all raced away, Nigel Ashman seizing the initiative as the Norton opened up on the run to Copse. But by the time the cars returned to the complex, it was Mike ahead of Neil and Nigel, followed at a second’s gap by Nigel Challis and Steve Jones in close formation, then George and a slow starting Roy. Four seconds back were Stuart Wright, already with a charging Darrell on his heels, and Mike Bell close in. Then David Whiteside (gear shift now fine) and Richard.
Behind, another battle was being engaged. Nigel Challis appeared to have Steve controlled, and the pair were very slowly drifting off the lead trio by a few tenths. But Roy Hunt wanted a run, and passed them both by the third lap. Darrell was driving very aggressively and was next up, but some six seconds back.
And then the most remarkable thing happened - everyone else decided to join in! Having slowed each other up, Roy found himself almost in touch, and knuckled down to properly join the party, achieving it by the end of the seventh lap. Steve found his way past Nigel C, and seeing Roy up the road also focussed. A couple of 1’ 18” laps - faster than pole, and a second & a half faster than anyone else at that point - and now we had Nigel A two seconds ahead of a melee of four cars. This battle was just as furious. Nigel, with a clear track ahead and empty mirrors behind, seemed to have the edge and eked out three seconds. But behind it was less clear. Mike seemed to have the strongest car, but every time he opened the tiniest gap, somehow he was pulled back in. Anyone spat out the back was soon back into the fight as the others tripped themselves up.
And still, this report can’t do justice to the race. It was certainly the best your reporter has seen in the ten years he has been in the 500 Paddock, and I doubt we’ve seen anything like it since Russell, Bueb, Parker at al. Despite many close shaves and rubbed tyres, all the leaders were grinning like sand boys. An absolutely remarkable race. Where were you?