Bentley Drivers Club - 1st August, 2015
Late entrant Andy Sharp in his quick Aston Martin DB2 set the entry level at 23 cars, but, in fact the AC Aceca of Terry Edwards failed to appear, so we were back to 22. Paul Griffin's Connaught ALSR was still awaiting pistons from America following its failure at the Le Mans Legends race but Paul was able to substitute his Austin Healey 100S.
Pole was set, possibly for the first time in a FISCAR race, by a Chairmans car, and the only one in the race, the Allard J2 of Tim and Oliver Llewellyn with the Austin Healey of Martin Corfield alongside just two tenths behind. Robin Ellis who seems to go better in the races than in qualifying shared the second row with Andy Shepherd and his son, Murray, in the AC Ace Bristol. Fifth was Andy Sharp's Aston Martin DB2, thus 5 different marques occupying the first 5 places. The second of the Lotus Elite Team, Jonathan Smare, was 6th whilst row 4 was occupied by David Bennett in the glorious Aston Martin DB3S and Ted Shepherd's AC Ace Bristol. Graham Robson, in his Austin Healey 100M was on row 5 with John Ure in Peter Mann's Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, the first time this fabulous ex Tony Crook car has graced a FISCAR grid. Knowing John's pace (remember his ERA exploits?), I wasn't expecting it to finish the race in its relatively lowly 10th place qualifying position. David Cottingham's AC ACe was next up and it was splendid to see Alex Quattlebaum's LECo 2 qualify alongside. The LECo is a Class 1 FISCAR FLIER and this was the first race that we were officially including the FLIERS in one of our races. Row 7 was shared between Paul Griffin's Austin Healey 100S and Jim Campbell's Austin Healey 100/4. Jim, a founder member of FISCAR and former Committee member had not been out with us for a while so it was great to see his return with the recently acquired ex James Wilmot-Smith 100/4. The car had suffered quite severe front end damage at The George Abecassis Trophy race earlier this year. It is now resplendent in a very dark shade of green. The 8th row was shared by the Richard Thorne/Shaun Horwood Morgan + 4, and Mark Morgan in another AC Ace Bristol. Keith Hampson's Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans and Jason & Louise Kennedy's Lancia Aurelia GT, another car not seen on our grids for a while, were on row 9. Barry Dye's Lotus Elite and Paul Ziller's Triumph TR2 took the next slots, Paul sharing the TR with well known historic racer, Will Arif. Last but certainly not least were two superb cars on row 11. Matthew Holme was in the rare and gorgeous Alfa Romeo 1900CSS, which I recalled had yet to finish a race having twice previously had major engine issues. After qualifying it was thought that the problems may have been overcome but the brakes were worryingly spongy and were therefore bled before the race. Alongside was another FLIER, a fantastic replica of the 1949 MG George Philips TC Special owned and driven by Simon Evans.
When this field of cars emerged from the old Silverstone Paddock to line up for the green flag lap, disappointingly, two of the quickest cars were absent. The pole winning Allard had suffered falling oil pressure during practice and wisdom prevailed and it had been withdrawn. The other absentee was Andrew Sharp's Aston Martin DB 2. Andy had jumped into the Aston to head out to the assembly area only to find the battery as a dead as a dodo and insufficient time to rectify the situation. There is no doubt that both cars would have figured strongly at the front of the race. Nevertheless, 20 stunning cars formed up on the grid for this 30 minute race with mandatory 45 second pitstop.
In the absence of the Allard, Martyn Corfield grabbed the lead from Andy Shepherd whilst Robin Ellis had a poor start dropping behind fellow Elite racer, Jonathan Smare, and the meteoric starting Graham Robson, up from Row 5 in his Austin Healey. As the field came round at the end of the first lap, Corfield had about a 5 cars length lead over Shepherd and both had moved clear of the chasing pack. John Ure did not disappoint either in the Frazer Nash having made several places. A nice little battle was already brewing between Jim Campbell in the Austin Healey and Richard Thorne in the Morgan +4.
Robin Ellis finally got into the groove to head the chasing pack and by the end of lap 2 had displaced the Shepherd Ace to take 2nd and Ure having got up to 4th had to give best to both Jonathan Smare's Elite and Ted Shepherd's AC Ace. Graham Robson couldn't sustain his superb start but was nevertheless going extremely well in 7th. Alex Quattlebaum in the LECo was also in fine form having taken 9th on lap 1 but lost out to David Bennett in the Aston Martin DB3S on lap 2 but stayed in touch with the more powerful car. On lap 4 we sadly lost 3rd place man, Andy Shepherd, the Ace having broken a driveshaft.
Meanwhile, Robin Ellis inexorably closed in on Martyn Corfield, the nimble Lotus Elite getting on the tail of the Austin Healey during the course of lap 6. On lap 7, as the leaders lapped the Kennedy Lancia Aurelia and were also about to put a lap on the Mark Morgan AC Ace, Robin took a long run on the outside line into Luffield and exited Woodcote ahead of Martyn. It was a fine move. On the same lap, well into the pit window, the first car to pit was the AC Ace of Ted Shepherd to take his mandatory stop. He was followed in by Jonathan Smare in his Elite, but Jonathan was not to rejoin as the Lotus had started to increasingly misfire and, as lifting the bonnet revealed no obvious cause like a detached plug lead, retired from the race.
Fine battles continued down the field. Alex Quattlebaum just about kept his little LECo in sight of David Bennett's Aston Martin DB3S; Richard Thorne and Jim Campbell kept close order for many laps until Richard had to retire the Morgan on lap 8, and Mark Morgan and Jason Kennedy battled well together in Ace and Lancia respectively.
Back at the front, Robin Ellis having caught and passed Martyn Corfield couldn't pull away and on lap 9, Martyn regained the lead and their fine battle continued, well clear of their pursuers. The nearest, Ted Shepherd in the Ace, had emerged from his stop in a pretty lonely 3rd place, a position he retained to the flag. Keith Hampson was having a splendid run maintaining a midfield position in the Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans, and further back, we enjoyed watching Paul Ziller in his TR2, which he later relayed to Will Arif, and the valiant Simon Evans continued to prop up the field in the oldest car, the charismatic MG George Phillips TC Special.
The leaders pitted together as Corfield led Ellis into the pits on lap 14 and sadly this is where the race was won and lost. Robin's in lap was 2 seconds slower than Martyn's and so was the ensuing outlap. Robin admitted that his stop was less than perfect and by the end of lap 16 the Austin Healey had a 6 second lead and growing as Martyn also seemed to cope with lapping backmarkers better at this stage. Whilst this race defining period was unfolding, Alex Quattlebaum's excellent drive came to an end when potentially expensive rattles had started to emanate from the engine bay. Discretion being the better part of valour, Alex retired the LECo. Meanwhile David Bennett was having probably one of his best ever drives in his ex Ritchie Ginther DB3S. He had found some extra pace in qualifying and took that improvement into the race. During the early part of the race the gap to Graham Robson ahead went up to nearly 11 seconds with David Cottingham in the AC Ace, between them. After the pit stops Cottingham was actually ahead of both but in the final stages was passed first by Robson and then by Bennett who had reeled the Austin Healey in and was just 3 tenths down when he crossed the finishing line in 6th, with the Cottingham AC just another second down in 7th.
At the end of lap 24, Martyn Corfield took the chequered flag and victory in his Austin Healey to make amends for his loss in the earlier Bic Healey Trophy. His winning margin of almost 15 seconds though did not reflect the closeness of his battle with the Lotus Elite of Robin Ellis who actually recorded the fastest race lap albeit by a 1/10th of a second. Ted Shepherd was 3rd in the AC Ace and in a model of consistent fast lapping, despite being 500rpm down, John Ure brought the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica home 4th.
Paul Griffin appeared to have a pretty lonely race to 8th place in his Austin Healey 100S and Barry Dye finished 14th in his Lotus Elite, unable to get close to his qualifying time and therefore perhaps with a problem (will update if advised). Matthew Holme brought the Alfa Romeo 1900CSS into 15th place but the real achievement here was that it completed a race and I hope we will now see more of this lovely car.
Healey Hounds won the Team Challenge race - Martyn Corfield, Graham Robson, Paul Griffin & Jim Campbell.