News of a Pre-’66 Historic GT and Touring Car endurance race at the home of post-war British motor racing to replace two planned late-season European events – was music to race-starved competitors’ ears. A capacity 60-car entry of superlative quality thus headed for Britain’s heartland, the prospect of a three-hour blast at the Northamptonshire venue where the F1 World Championship was born 70 years ago too mouth-watering to resist.
AC and Shelby Cobras bookended a list which read like a Who’s Who? of period marque racing. Alfa Romeo Aston Martin, Austin-Healey Chevrolet, Ford, Jaguar, Lotus, MG, Morgan, Porsche and Triumph were among the grandees. Two unique sports racers joined them, James Cottingham’s Ecurie Ecosse Tojeiro-Jaguar and former England rugby international David Cooke’s intriguing Swiss CEGGA Ferrari 250TR, a tool room copy of the original built around its substantial remnants.
A cold Sunday morning harboured a fiendishly slippery track which caught a couple of competitors out immediately, bringing out the red flag. Kiwi Roger Wills’s ex-John Coombs Lotus-Climax 15 – which Roger’s compatriots Bruce McLaren and Syd Jensen raced in the 1958 Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood – was retrieved from the gravel trap at Stowe, but less fortunate were Ian and Matthew Bankhurst whose Lotus Elan walloped the pitwall at Woodcote, at the opposite end of the campus from the event’s nerve centre in The Wing.
Julian Thomas/Calum Lockie qualified the Racelogic VBOX pioneer’s Shelby Cobra Coupe on pole position, its 2m45.868s (79.44mph) best lap 1.682s better than 2002 Formula Palmer Audi champion Adrian Willmott’s regular-shaped Cobra with Andrew Jordan at its helm. Barely a fifth of a second slower, the stunning pale blue AC Cobra of James Cottingham and Ford GT40 racer Richard Cook was on P3, evocative Colombian flag-stripes reflecting its street racing past in South America.
Powered by a two-litre Coventry-Climax FPF engine, the cream Lotus 15 of Wills and David Clark was closest to the V8s on 2:48.032s (78.42mph). The Jaguar E-types of Jon Minshaw (sharing his semi-lightweight roadster with son Jack for the first time) and Richard Kent/Chris Ward were within a second, Ward thankful to be racing again at the venue where he worked as chief instructor for many years.
The best of the nimble 26R-spec Lotus Elans, the primrose yellow example of Simon Evans and James Littlejohn [2015 Spa Six Hours winner with Wills in a Ford GT40] was seventh overall, the last car inside 2:50. The E-types of Gary and John Pearson, Mark Donnor/Andrew Robertson Smith and Lukas Halusa/Alex Ames (49 FXN, the beautiful lightweight low-drag coupe driven to fifth at Le Mans in ’62 by Peters Lumsden and Sargent) were next up in a gaggle with Lebanese racer Greg Audi’s Shelby Cobra, shared with Rob Hall.
Californian Fred Wakeman moved heaven and earth to get over for Goodwood and Silverstone, to drive his recently-acquired AC Cobra (the LEC Refrigeration car raced in period by company heir David Purley’s cousin Derek Ridler) with Patrick Blakeney-Edwards. They gridded 12th in the company of the E-types of Pre-’63 class leaders Paul and George Pochciol/James Hanson and John Clark who had drafted fellow Scot and welcome racing returnee Alasdair McCaig onto his team alongside the rapid Miles Griffiths.
Fifteenth was the newly completed Aston Martin DP214 clone of John Goldsmith – unmissable in French blue – and west country neighbours 1970s’ Grand Prix driver Mike Wilds and the abundantly talented Ben Short. It shared a grid row with the burly ex-Masten Gregory Tojeiro-Jaguar of James Cottingham/Harvey Stanley/Max Girardo. A trio of Elans followed, Martin Stretton three-wheeling Ted Tuppen’s silver machine round a fraction quicker than those of Austrian logistics king Stephan Jöbstl/Andy Willis (a pukka S2 supplied to Lotus Southwest) and previous Spa Six Hours winners Andrew Haddon/Shaun Lynn, with the latter’s son Max.
Justin Maeers/Charlie Martin (Cooper T49 Monaco), Grahame and Olly Bryant (AC Cobra, fresh from Goodwood,) Marek Reichman/Matt Becker (Elan), the contrasting E-types of Jeremy Cottingham/Stanley/Cook (FHC) and Gregor Fisken/Marino Franchitti (hooded roadster) were hot on their heels. Former F3 champion and F3000 racer Dave Coyne and Henry Mann in Jon Miles’ Wood Brothers Mustang notchback, Rudi Friedrichs/Gary Pearson (Jaguar C-type), local race engineer Robin Ward/Nick Chester (Ford Falcon Sprint) and the Martin Melling/Mark Burton/Graham Pattle (E-type low-drag coupe were the last teams inside three minutes.
Steve Jones/Robert Barrie (Elan) and David Smithies/Chris Clarkson/Mark Pangborn (Ford France tribute Cobra Daytona Coupe) marked the half-way point on the massive grid, closely-matched with the E-type FHC of David Hall/Michael O’Shea/Tom Smith. The gorgeous Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA of Brazilian Bernardo Hartogs and preparer Will Nuthall, Lebanese Tarek Mahmoud/Andrew Smith/James Turner (Porsche 911) and the top MGB of Olivia Wilkinson/Rupert West and renowned driver coach Austin Kinsella brought shapely variety to the middle order.
David Tomlin – buoyed by his HTC win in the morning – and Andrew Lawley’s Elan was dwarfed by the lofty Austin-Healey 3000s of Dutchman Karsten Le Blanc/Chris Milner and Rawles pere-et-fils Bill and Jack with Nick Mountford. Roderick and Rory Jack (Elan), BTCC runner-up Sam Tordoff debuting his ex-Mike Gardiner Ford Falcon Sprint with Rich Woolmer and John Spiers and F1 driver-turned-TV presenter Tiff Needell (E-type) were tightly-grouped behind them. Tordoff’s throttle cable broke after just three laps, the minimum for qualification.
Crispin Harris/James Wilmoth (Healey), Mike Wrigley/Nick Pancisi (E-type) were next, ahead of Marc Gordon/Nick Finburgh (Lotus Elite) and Allan and Dan Ross-Jones (Triumph TR4) who narrowly outpaced the Morley family’s seven-litre Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, the Mustang of Swede Georg Kjallgren/Jeremy Cooke and Nick Matthews’ smart Healey 100/4, co-driven by Miles Griffiths.
David and Andrew Wenman (Morgan Plus 4) and the Porsche 911 of Guy Ziser/David Cuff/Scott Redding outran the Elans of Nick Pink/Chris Fox, Bruce Montgomery/Nick Sleep/Joel Wykeham and Stephen Bond/Cliff Gray, split by the MGB of Matt Walton and vintage Riley racer Richard Iliffe and Falcon of Alan Greenhalgh/Simon Lane.
The field was rounded out by Julian Bronson’s big-block Corvette, with fellow Scarab F1 driver Eddie McGuire and Barry Cannell assisting, the troubled E-type of midlands car storage specialist Henry Warhurst/Rupert Clevely, the CEGGA Ferrari of Cooke/Kevin Cooper, Peter Mallett’s MGB with fellow Rover SDI racers Ken and Tim Clarke and the Jaguar C-type of Ben Cussons/Andrew Hall/Jonathan Turner, a late substitute for the programmed triumph TR4.
The focus of the three-hour race was a Team competition comprising of a member from each class of the four classes across the field and thus all eyes were on the prize of the illustrious Historic Tourist Trophy. In all eleven teams were entered, with Class 1 Sports Car Racers in hot demand.
Bright sunshine reigned as the pace car peeled into the pit lane at Vale, unleashing the 58 three-hour starters, although dark clouds were looming ominously. Having threaded their way through the bottleneck before Club corner drivers opened their throttles in a crescendo of revs. Crossing the timing line at 13.53hrs the cars made a magnificent sight as they stampeded towards Abbey. Thomas led from Jordan and Wills, with Jon Minshaw’s grey Jaguar fourth, pursued by Littlejohn and Cottingham’s thunderous Tojeiro after the initial sort-out.
Gary Pearson, starting Friedrichs’ C-type, went missing on lap 2 when its engine dropped a valve. As he was towed back down the internal road which links the National and International circuits, conjoined in the 3.606-mile GP layout, brother John retired the gunmetal E-type Gary was to have taken over knowing that his back pain wouldn’t allow him to complete his planned 45 minute stint.
Jones’ Elan, Walton’s MGB, Wrigley’s E-type and Cannell’s smoky Corvette were also casualties inside the first 10 laps. Tordoff’s Falcon fell soon afterwards, as did the Toj after just 11 tours with a rod through the side of its Jaguar engine while running fourth. At least the younger Cottingham had a Cobra drive to look forward to.
Minshaw had pitted in the interim, thinking something had broken on his Jaguar as it was sliding around more than usual. The Valley Motor Sport guys found nothing awry, save for a dent in the left front wing, putting it down to the first time Jon had run on the narrower L-section Dunlop tyres (the stipulated tyre choice for the race) for ages. Thus it was decided to make this the first of two mandatory five-minute stops and send Jack Minshaw back into the race. The car ran like a train thereafter.
No enduro is won in its opening stages and although Wills jostled past Jordan to run second as a few drops of rain intensified into a shower, Thomas was circulating metronomically out front, picking off traffic carefully as he lapped single cars and gaggles left, right and centre. As a rainbow backlit first Abbey, then lingered over Stowe, the order settled for the longer haul.
Behind Thomas, Wills and Jordan, Littlejohn, Olly Bryant, Short flying in Goldsmith’s Aston, the duelling Jags of Donnor and Kent led the Elans of Willis and Reichman. The DK Engineering Cobra, the E-types of McCaig and Spiers, plus Audi and Wakeman’s Cobras ran in close company, with Maeers hustling his Cooper Monaco and homing in on the larger capacity GTs.
The phase of a race before the first mainstream scheduled pitstops tends to be one of stability and consolidation, but as the track began to dry again Jordan blasted past Wills. Then Andy showed what he could do, ratcheting up the pressure and devouring the nine second deficit to Julian. Within two laps it was halved, then halved again, and for five glorious laps the Cobras ran as one. Jordan got alongside – once they traversed Stowe abreast, AJ twitching on the outside – but he could not breach Thomas’ defences.
Having also tried on the outside of Chapel Curve, leading onto the Hangar Straight, Jordan dived for the pits on lap 25, relaying car owner Willmott. Thomas and Wills, second again, made their driver change three laps later – under a short safety car interlude for the retrieval of an Elan which had conked-out. Lockie and David Clark took up the cudgels. In the interim, Short had stopped from fifth, then Littlejohn, Bryant, and Elan battlers Willis and Reichman, the last unlapped runners, came in from third to sixth respectively next time round. Spiers led the Jaguar brigade, having usurped McCaig before the Scot pitted.
At the mid-way point, team ‘Six Pack’ comprising of Gregor Fisken and Marino Franchitti’s Jaguar E-type, Justin Maeers and Charlie Martin’s Cooper Monaco and Fred Wakemand and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards’s AC Cobra, but ‘Ecurie CCC’ were looming strong bolstered by the consistently strong performance of the Wills/Clark Lotus XV.
After several frustrating laps the green flag ended a longer caution period. Lockie attacked immediately, pulling clear of Evans who had Willmott and David Clark bearing down on him, lapping as one. Ward and Wilds led the chase, pursued by Andrew Smith in Donnor’s aubergine Jag, Grahame Bryant’s Cobra and the Elans of Becker and Jöbstl, reunited on track. Bryant Sr’s short stint appeared to consolidate GPG 4C’s position although a stop-and-go penalty was imposed for a pit infringement.
Once the track was clear Lockie stretched his advantage over Willmott, still acclimatising to his new steed, with a series of fastest laps, although the leader did have a big moment into Becketts as he pushed on to give Thomas a handsome cushion over rivals. By lap 40 Calum had plumped it out to almost 30 seconds, with Chris Ward third ahead of Clark, Littlejohn and Wilds, equi-distant with 10 seconds separating them. When he stopped at the end of lap 54, their lead was effectively two laps plus, with the five-minute stagger to be factored-in, and this saw them pull away safe to the flag. “Julian gave me the car from the lead but my first lap was a flipping wake-up call,” grinned Lockie. “There was no grip at all with fluids and rubber down. Those were among the slipperiest conditions I’ve ever experienced, so it was great that I could hand back to Julian to win.
Chris Ward had gone second when Wilmott put Jordan back in to finish on lap 44, but when Chris made his matching final stop the Cobra regained the place. “The oil pressure light had been coming on under braking, so we topped the oil up,” explained Ward. When Thomas resumed he still had a minute and a half in hand, which he maintained more than comfortably to the chequered flag. Jordan, Kent, Olly Bryant (after serving a second penalty), the Minshaw family’s Jaguar and Littlejohn in the Elan which – but for stops – had led class 3 throughout, all finished on the lead lap, the Bryants and Minshaws despite strategies revised on the hoof. Jordan enjoyed his second outing in the Cobra a week after Goodwood, particularly his full-blooded early duel with Thomas. “The Daytona is a bit more stable [than ours], but when it drizzled it was great fun to race with Julian,” said the 2013 British Touring Car champion.
Pre-’61 class 1 winners Wills/Clark brought their Lotus home seventh, one lap adrift, chased by Goldsmith’s Aston, Donnor’s E-type and the Cook/Cottingham Cobra which covered the same distance to complete the top 10 finishers. Griffiths brought the Clark Jag back 11th, ahead of the Haddon and Lynn duo’s Elan which they found exceptionally tricky on the L-section tyres. Fifteenth on the road behind the Cobras of Audi/Hall and Wakeman/PBE, Willis and Jöbstl claimed third in the competitive class 3 with the latter’s Elan.
A late stop dropped the hard-worked Maeers/Martin Cooper from the top six down the order to 19th, still second in class 1, clear of the Wenmans’ well-driven Morgan. After four hours of running (plus qualifying) during the day Justin, Charlie and their crew certainly relished their beers. The Hanson and Pochiol family Jaguar team’s solid run was rewarded with class 2 victory and 20th overall. Just a lap behind the division winners, the big Healeys of Harris/Wilmoth and Mountford and the family Rawles duly claimed second and third in class, 68 seconds apart at the flag.
Although not a specific sub-class, the pale green Ford Falcon of Chester/Ward was the first Touring Car to finish in 23rd place, with the heavier Coyne/Mann Mustang barely a minute behind, two laps clear of the Kjallgren/Cooke Mustang.
Rivals Franchitti/Fisken had looked strong for honours before Gregor’s Jag’s fan belt broke. With coolant pumping out they parked after 52 laps to save the engine and this saw Team ‘Six Pack’ fall by the wayside. ‘Ecurie Triple C’ pounced for the win with the Wills/Clark Lotus 15 (that finished an impressive seventh overall and won Class 1), Le Blanc/Chris Milner Austin Healey 3000 and Ford Mustang of Georg Kjallgren and Jeremy Cooke. The team were thrilled to be the first victors of the impressive silver wear. ‘Six Pack’ wound up in second place and ‘The Premium Bonds’ comprising of a Morgan, Lotus Elan 26R and Jaguar E-type were third.
The spirit in the pits afterwards was testament to a superb new event set to become an annual fixture on the Motor Racing Legends portfolio by universal consent.