The Bentley Drivers Club
Silverstone, 6th August 2016
There is something special about the Bentley Drivers Club meeting at Silverstone which somehow blends an old fashioned atmosphere that transports this writer back to the 1960s when he started to attend race meetings, with the necessity that attaches itself to modern track conditions and safety regulations. And it does so without jarring; no mean achievement.
Last year our grid, whilst just about acceptable, numerically, left room for improvement, and this year with an entry list of almost 30 cars such an improvement was achieved. Although disappointing not to see any Aston Martins, Frazer Nashes or Jaguars entered, partly due, I suspect to the previous weekend's big Classic meeting, our members nevertheless did us proud and provided a superb display of Inter-Marque cars, lightly seasoned with a few period sports racing cars, to produce a truly classic 1950s grid.
Among the many entries were two that were new to us. Nigel Winchester entered his very special bodied AC Ace, known, I believe, as the Venezuelan car and the history of which I know nothing at the time of writing. Andy Shepherd also entered John Abel's Daimler SP250 but unfortunately failed to materialise, due to being unable to sort the clutch out on time so that will hopefully be something to look forward to on another occasion.
Another car that merits drawing attention to was the Tojeiro Bristol of Neil Perkins which had entered our Tom Cole race earlier in the season but did not progress beyond practice due to a gearbox problem, but appeared later at the Silverstone Classic. Finally, it was splendid to see Stephen Bond join us with the Lister Bristol. This was Stephen's first race after his dreadful accident in his Lotus single seater at the Goodwood Members meeting back in March.
Qualifying at the front proved to be a Lotus Elite v Austin Healey 100 affair but it was perhaps a little surprising that an Elite was beaten to pole by a very on form Jonathan Abecassis in his left hooker Austin Healey. Robin Ellis, whose own Elite was hors de combat, put Tony Mantle's Elite alongside. Both Tony and your scribe had had to push start this car earlier in the day when we found it stalled close to the main entrance when Roy Gillingham was taking it for a test run! The second row was a mirror image of the first, Nick Matthews Austin Healey just edging out Mike Freeman's Lotus Elite, still sporting its TDi badge, for 3rd. Less than a second covered these 4 cars which were well clear of the rest. Stephen Bond, not showing any visible signs of loss of form, was in a splendid 5th in the Lister Bristol with Jim Campbell, less than a tenth of a second behind in his immaculate Austin Healey 100/4. The Perkins Tojeiro Bristol Sports was next up with the Glen & Rory Tollett MGA, showing a remarkable turn of speed, qualifying 8th. Tim Pearce qualified 9th in the first of AC Aces with Alex Quattlebaum alongside in his LECo 2, an XPAG Special, and a Class 1 FISCAR FLIER, but on this occasion part of the Chairman's sports racer team. All the way through the grid were some very close times offering the prospect of some good dicing. The Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans was out of position in 27th place, having only completed a lap or so before the pressure gauge oil pipe burst and the car deposited much of its oil on the track, causing Brian Arculus in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta SVZ to observe that it made for a few interesting entry lines through Becketts during practice. The Sunbeam was returned to the paddock on a recovery vehicle and the problem resolved for the race.
Those that had practiced and qualified in the morning suffered no serious mishap so that all 28 cars lined up for the start, and what a terrific looking grid it was. Jonathan Abecassis (20) made what he would describe as an average start from pole and fellow front row man, Robin Ellis (75), more than matched him, but it was Nick Matthews (98) from the second row who made a better start and slotted his Austin Healey between them as they headed towards Copse for the first time. Mike Freeman (77), winner here at the earlier MG Live meeting was almost with them, and Jim Campbell who made the best start of all from the 3rd row, was also in the mix, in his dark green Austin Healey. As they charged into and through Copse, Robin, on the inside, took the Elite into the lead with Nick tucking in behind. With Mike also on the inside, Jonathan also had to slot in so that from pole he emerged from the corner in 4th. However, he knew that he had the pace and wasn't to stay there for long. Behind them streamed a glorious array of 1950s sports and sports racing cars from a period which must surely, to this day, provide the greatest variety of distinctive shapes from any era.
Charging through Maggots and heading into Becketts for the first time, Nick Matthews got alongside Robin Ellis but with the advantage of the inside line and better handling from the Elite, Robin held it tight and exited the corner ahead of the Austin Healey driver. Immediately behind, Jonathan Abecassis slipped by Mike Freeman's Lotus Elite on the inside at the same corner and immediately started to attack Nick Matthews down the National Straight, but Nick held his ground, and as the two red Austin Healeys hurtled under the bridge towards Brooklands, they also homed in on the leading Elite so that briefly it looked like 3 attempting to negotiate the corner. Nick sensibly backed off, allowing Jonathan to follow Robin into Luffield but, avoiding the back of the Elite he deliberately ran a bit wide, so allowing Nick to dive back up the inside to regain second place. As they exited Woodcote for the first time the order was Ellis, Matthews, Abecassis and Freeman in tight formation, so close in fact that it appeared that the Freeman Elite had gently tapped the Abecassis Austin Healey on the exit. As they started lap 2 just 1.5 seconds covered this frenetic foursome and they were already pulling clear of 5th place, now held by Stephen Bond who had taken the Lister Bristol passed Jim Campbell's Austin Healey. Jim was followed in close order by the Glen Tollett MGA, the Tim Pearce AC Ace and Nigel Winchester in the special bodied AC Ace which was really flying having made astoundingly good progress from its 16th starting position. In contrast the Perkins Piercy Tojeiro Bristol had dropped back several places.
Into lap 2 and the race at the front was enthralling. Robin Ellis held a very slender lead but was not seriously threatened as the two Austin Healeys were battling it out for 2nd, Nick Matthews holding onto the position despite attacks from Jonathan Abecassis, the best of which was on the run down to Brooklands but Matthews held the inside line. There was plenty of steering input from Jonathan but his car was much more stable through the corners and he could not match the luridness of Nick who was working very hard to hang onto his car courtesy of rear tyres which had seen better days. It was highly entertaining as the car spent much of the time in the corners sideways but he was still just about keeping Jonathan at bay whilst Mike Freeman in the second Elite kept a watching brief. By the end of the lap these four were nearly 3 seconds clear of Stephen Bond, who had not shaken off the Austin Healey of Jim Campbell. The Tollett MGA was still close and Nigel Winchester had made another place relegating the Pearce AC to 9th. Alex Quattlebaum had brought the little LECo into 10th but was under pressure from the Perkins Tojeiro which was now getting into its stride. Further back, Brian Arculus was struggling for pace in the pretty Alfa Romeo as he had a misfire at 4500rpm which had manifested itself during practice and hadn't been resolved for the race. Ahead of Brian, David Cottingham (AC Ace) and John Waterson (Lotus Elite) were locked in battle but both being caught by the Triumph TR2 of Paul Ziller who was anxious to get on terms with Mark Hoble in the other TR2 running ahead of all of them in 15th place. Battles all the way down the field conveyed an accurate picture of a busy track.
On lap 3 , Robin Ellis was still ahead but Nick Matthews took an ambitious look up the inside, on the brakes, into Brooklands, but thought better of it and he was still being harassed by Jonathan Abecassis, who finally made it through into 2nd, going into Copse at the beginning of Lap 4, in fairly dramatic fashion as the car was on the edge of adhesion, and it needed mid corner correction. On the same lap, Tim Pearce brought the no 7 AC Ace Bristol into retire (cause unknown at the time of writing), a slightly fraught affair as he raised his arm to pit just as Alex Quattlebaum was diving up the inside through Woodcote. All was negotiated safely however and it elevated Alex to 9th still just ahead of Neil Perkins who finally got passed the LECo on the following lap. A few seconds behind them, the two Austin Healeys of Graham Robson and Jason Harris were also locked in battle, Jason getting ahead on lap 5 but Graham returning the favour on lap 6. This great tussle continued until Graham took his compulsory pit stop at the end of lap 8. However, he was not the first to pit, that status inevitably going to Brian Arculus in the Zagato Double Bubble Alfa on lap 5, having battled with AC Ace Bristols of David Cottingham and Mark Morgan up to that point. Further back, the Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans was briefly engaged in a dice with Jason Kennedy in the Lancia Aurelia before passing the Italian classic on lap 5 leaving it to fend off the Shaun Bromley MGA. By this time Nigel Winchester's AC Ace was up to 7th.
Two more pitted on lap 6, the Tollett MGA, running as high as 8th at the time, and Alex Quattlebaum just two places further back, the little LECo going great guns.
Having established himself in 2nd place, Jonathan Abecassis latched his Austin Healey firmly onto the tail of the Ellis Elite and stayed there until Robin pitted on lap 8. Behind these two, the dice for 3rd between Nick Matthews and Mike Freeman was hotting up and had dropped back a few lengths from the two leaders but both were definitely still in contention. On their lap 6, the leaders came up to lap Chris Guest, who was uncharacteristically further down the field than expected in his RGS Atalanta. Jonathan pressing hard, followed Robin Ellis around the outside at Woodcote, his Austin Healey in understeer mode suddenly got some extra grip that took him across the front of the RGS with the result that Chris struck the Austin Healey in the door and was deflected into a spin onto the grass on the inside. Jonathan was subsequently to apologise to Chris for unwittingly initiating this unfortunate incident.
By the end of Lap 6 Stephen Bond was 9 seconds down on the leading group but was now established in a clear 5th having eased the Lister Bristol away from Jim Campbell's Austin Healey, who in turn was a couple of seconds clear of Nigel Winchester who took his pit stop on lap 7, at the same time as Chris Guest in the RGS Atalanta. As well as Robin Ellis bringing the Elite in, 3 others pitted on lap 8; fellow Elite driver, John Waterson, Peter Campbell in his Wingfield Bristol Special and Graham Robson.
Our pit window is an unusually wide one in FISCAR Inter-Marque; 20 minutes in a 30 minute race, so that pit stops can be taken as early as Lap 4 and as late as lap 20 on the Silverstone National circuit. Whilst they create an extra dimension and atmosphere and also enable driver changes, there can be no disputing that they break up battles. Even allowing for each driver to be stopped for exactly the minimum 45 seconds which in reality is impossible to achieve with different hand held watches and driver reaction time, events out on the track can impact on both in and out lap times, so that cars battling hard for position prior to their stops might find themselves separated by several seconds once both have completed their stops. Thus it was that when Jonathan Abecassis had completed his pitstop 2 laps after Robin Ellis, he found himself not only several seconds behind the Elite driver but also behind Nick Matthews, who had pitted on Lap 9. At this stage, Mike Freeman was in the lead with his Elite, as he was not to pit until lap 12. A minor mistake on lap 11 by Nick into Brooklands when he ran wide allowed Jonathan to close up to him so that the two red Austin Healeys were once more nose to tail. Mike Freeman emerged from his pit stop marginally ahead of both so that, apart from those like Stephen Bond who had yet to stop, we had an Elite one - two but the lead car was about 3.5 seconds down the road and Robin was in control of the race. On the other hand, Mike Freeman had his mirrors full of closing Austin Healeys, Jonathan having got ahead of Nick but when they came across backmarkers on lap 14, Mike got boxed in on the inside on the exit of Woodcote and Nick took an opportunistic move and swept around the outside of both Jonathan and Mike to take 2nd with Jonathan following through into 3rd. All this, of course, allowed Robin Ellis to take his Elite further clear, so that by the end of lap 15 he was ahead of this chasing group by almost 5.5 seconds and about to retake the outright lead when the last of the cars ahead of him, the Nick Perkins Tojeiro Bristol pitted.
Apart from the battle for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, the pit stops had pretty much seen the end of a number of fine duels but David Cottingham and Brian Arculus had a splendid dice to the flag, notwithstanding the misfire from Brian's pretty Alfa Romeo. They swapped positions several times, the wonderful sounding Bristol straight 6 just getting the better of the Alfa at the flag, and both were chased home by the Elite of John Waterson who had been ahead of them earlier in the race. Nigel Winchester couldn't quite get to Alex Quattlebaum who incurred a 60 second penalty for a short pit stop but still finished 7th overall. Paul Ziller didn't manage to get on terms with fellow TR2 driver, Mark Hoble but had given it a good go to move forward to finish 13th from a 20th starting position, but Mark had also moved forward from 15th to finish a fine 10th. Keith Hampson and Tristan Bradfield, despite having a minor gearbox problem brought the Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans forward to 20th. Stephen Bond who had been circulating in the top 6 for much of the race had a loss of power which was attended to during his lengthy pit stop but it cost him at least 2 extra minutes and he finished down in 14th. Jason Harris finished further down than his qualifying position suggested as he has two moments in Brooklands, the second resulting in a spin and as a cautionary measure he pitted to have the car checked. All was found to be OK and it is likely that he'd found an oil patch in the corner, and a subsequent change of line eradicated that risk. It had however brought to an end his great dice with Graham Robson.
At the front, Robin Ellis continued to extend his lead so that by the flag it was almost 10 seconds. Nick Matthews fought very hard to keep 2nd but a combination of pressure from behind and old tyres crying 'enough' made him spin in Brooklands on lap 17, so that Jonathan ran out 2nd with Mike Freeman, who had posted fastest race lap, finishing 3rd just 1.5 seconds behind. Nick regained the track but with no-one to threaten his 4th place eased home 17 seconds, which included a 5 second penalty for exceeding track limits, behind Mike, so not indicative of his race pace.
Any corrections, driver details (where two driver cars involved) or additional race accounts can be incorporated - please contact the writer.
Full results below and more pics to follow