FISCAR 1950s Historic Inter-Marque Race
Castle Combe Autumn Classic
October 5th, 2019
Our annual season finale at Castle Combe usually attracts our best grid of the season although this year, whilst the quality remained high, we were a few cars down compared to previous occasions. This was not a reflection of this season as a whole where entries have stabilised if not recovered slightly from the previous two seasons. The AMOC event at Silverstone on this same weekend had an impact but was not the whole story. It was evident from conversations at previous meetings that a number of our regular Combe entrants would be unable to attend for various reasons. A disappointment was the withdrawal of Simon Evans in his Allard J2 which would have been a new car to us as Simon last ran with us some years ago in the replica George Phillips XPAG Special. However, this remained a lovely high quality entry with an excellent cross section of cars for the spectators to savour.
Unfortunately, the Neil and Drew Cameron Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite failed to appear, and I’ve since learned that it requires an engine rebuild, so that 21 cars emerged for qualifying. It was very soon apparent that we had another quick car joining the ranks of the usual suspects. Robin Pearce was visually absolutely on it in his Dad Tim’s AC Ace Bristol, but it was still a bit of a surprise when he put the car on pole in a 1.23.371, a superb effort. If memory serves, this was first time ever in a FISCAR race that an example of the Thames Ditton marque has taken pole. Nick Taylor confirmed the new found pace of the Kellison which he was sharing with owner Richard Tyzack by joining Robin on the front row, albeit 3 tenths down on the Ace. Just over 2 tenths down, on the second row was the Robin Ellis Lotus Elite which Robin was sharing with Richard Fores, a very quick pairing hoping to make up for the loss of a potential win last year, and they were joined by Jonathan Abecassis in his well known left hooker Austin Healey 100/4. It was Jonathan’s first run out with us for a couple of seasons and very welcome, too. On the third row was stalwart Brian Arculus, who you can never discount for victory, in his Lotus Elite and alongside him, albeit over a second slower was that fine driver, the very experienced John Ure, driving Peter Mann’s Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. This is a MK 2 version of the famous LMR which accounts for it’s slightly different body shape. Rory Tollett, driving alone, as Dad Glenn was feeling unwell, put the MGA on the 4th row, with the ever improving Barry Dye alongside in the Lotus Elite. The top 10 were rounded out by Andy & Ted Shepherd in Andy’s AC Ace Bristol with Alex Quattlebaum alongside in the little XPAG engine LECo2. Alex went into this race with a good chance of winning the IoP Whitehead Cup but needed to well and finish well to stave off a very strong challenge from Barry Dye.
Tim Stamper qualified Richard Bell’s Aston Martin DB2/4 in 11th, but Tim’s race pace tends to bring him up the field, and he shared the 6th row with Peter Campbell’s Wingfield Bristol Special driven by Peter and Andrew Mitchell. Mark Hoble qualified the Turner MK 1 Climax, now fitted with a properly rebuilt MGA gearbox, 13th with Mark Groves and Dougal Cawley in the fourth of the Lotus Elites entered, alongside. Justin Becket (AC Ace Bristol) and Tristan Bradfield (Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans) shared the next row and behind, it was terrific to see a second Aston on the grid, the MkIII of Simon Jeffries, with Roddie Fieldon co driving, and the enthusiastic Alan House in his Morgan +4. Another addition to the grid appeared in the shape of the Fairthorpe Electron Climax entered by Glenn Tollett for Mark Potter to drive. This very rare car had raced with us some years before when Rob Cobden owned it and it was great to see it again. The last two qualifiers were Craig Williams in the Kieft Climax and Harry Naergar in the Jowett Jupiter and it was absolute joy to see both of these early 50s cars out there.
Due to a very sad incident (not directly race related) in the previous race, our race was much delayed and it was not without its own dramas even before the start. 21 cars came to the line but only 19 started and only 18 reached the end of the first lap. The Kellison, on the front row, decided to draw further attention to itself by catching fire, apparently not for the first time, caused by fuel blowback. Once extinguished it was pushed off the grid. In sympathy, Tim Stamper’s Aston DB2/4, which due to the lengthy delays and having therefore gone through an over extended warm up process decided to misbehave. The heat build up under the bonnet was such that when it was fired up again, fuel vaporisation caused it to run so roughly, that Tim had no alternative but to withdrawn it. And finally, as the lights went out and clutches were let in, one of the halfshafts on Craig McWilliam’s Kieft Climax cried ‘enough’ and the car rolled disconsolately to a stop. Now down to 18 cars, they nevertheless put on a great show.
The start was pretty crucial to the outcome of this race. Jonathan Abecassis, in the Austin Healey, on the second row, had a clear road ahead of him due to the demise of the Kellison, and in what he described as probably his best start ever, seized the opportunity to grab the lead ahead of poleman, Robin Pearce in the AC Ace. Brian Arculus snatched 3rd ahead of Robin Ellis, who did not get the best of starts, both in Lotus Elites. John Ure had the Frazer Nash LMR in 5th, with Andy Shepherd on his tail in the second of the Aces. As this fabulous stream of great cars wended its way through the lap, the first 3 had already started to edge away, but although small gaps had started to appear, just 16 seconds covered the first 17 cars as they completed lap 1.
By the end of the first lap, Robin Pearce had the AC firmly glued to the back of the Austin Healey of Jonathan Abecassis and Brian Arculus was in close attendance in the Lotus Elite, and these three continued to break away from Robin Ellis who, this year, just couldn’t quite match their pace in his Elite, and he also had Andy Shepherd and John Ure in AC Ace and Frazer Nash respectively holding onto him. This second group of three were also pulling away from Barry Dye who nevertheless, had the legs of the following pack, circulating in close order. Towards the back, Alan House was gradually working his Morgan up to the back of the Aston Martin DB MkIII of Simon Jeffries, and by the end of lap 3 he was just one second behind. By this time, the leading three were covered by 1.2 seconds and had pulled clear of the chasing trio by over 3.5 seconds. Robin Elllis still held sway over the second group and they in turn had pulled clear of Barry, who had also begun to make a gap to the chasing pack and so we had 3 Elites in the top 7. The battle at the front was intense, as Robin Pearce tried everyway to displace Jonathan and it seemed likely that if he could pass, the AC would just have the edge over the Austin Healey, but Jonathan, driving well and defensively, held firm.
At the end of lap 4, Brian Arculus dived into the pits for his mandatory stop and he was followed in by John Ure in the Frazer Nash. They were the first to pit and the only drivers to do so on that lap. It meant, of course, that each of the lead battles was down to two cars apiece and we wouldn’t get to see the true picture emerge until all pit stops had been completed, several laps later. The battle for the lead between Jonathan Abecassis and Robin Pearce remained intense and the spectators and commentators seemed pretty enthralled by it; it was great racing as Jonathan soaked up the pressure from the very quick Ace.
In 3rd place at this stage, Robin Ellis in his Elite now had a small gap over Andy Shepherd in his AC Ace, that gap having been previously occupied by John Ure in the FN, and Andy didn’t seem to be able to close on Robin. In fact, the gap had grown to 3.5 seconds on lap 5 when Andy had an unusually slow lap. The four front running cars who hadn’t yet pitted, lapped the Jowett Jupiter of Harry Naergar, not yet quite up to his qualifying pace and now on a slower lap merely to keep out of their way! Barry Dye was up to 5th with a 2 second lead over Alex Quattlebaum in the LECo who had a similar gap to Rory Tollett in the MGA Coupe. Rory was ahead of the Turner Climax of Mark Hoble, who took his mandatory stop at this point. He had just tapped Peter Campbell’s Wingfield Bristol into a spin in the Esses and whilst the spin was well controlled, unfortunately the offside rear tyre punctured and disappointingly, Peter had to park the Wingfield into retirement. Mark was very contrite and later apologised. Alan House, engaged in his battle with the Aston also pitted the Morgan at the end of lap 5.
As 6 laps were completed, the lead battle still raged with just half a second separating the Austin Healey from the Ace, whilst Robin Ellis, 3rd in his Lotus Elite was now almost 10 seconds down. Andy Shepherd, in 4th, pitted his AC Ace to hand over to son, Ted, and 4 other cars followed Andy in - Barry Dye (Lotus Elite), Rory Tollett (MGA), Mark Potter (Fairthorpe Electron) & Simon Jeffries (Aston Martin DB Mk III). The race order was now well and truly mixed up. Four more cars pitted at the end of lap 7 and it included both Robin Pearce in the 2nd place AC Ace and Robin Ellis, handing over to Richard Fores, in the 3rd place Lotus Elite. Alex Quattlebaum (LECo2) & Dougal Cawley (Lotus Elite), handing over to Mark Groves, joined them in the pit. It is telling that at this point Jonathan Abecassis, without the Ace snapping at his heels, put in a couple of his best laps. This, along with slightly slower in and out laps by Robin Pearce than those of Brian Arculus earlier on, probably put paid to Robin’s chances of outright victory for, when he emerged, he was just behind Brian.
On lap 8, Jonathan, head down, charged on, able to focus on the front rather than having to keep glancing in a mirror full of AC Ace. He had yet to pit, and only 5 other cars were on the same lap, but 2 of those pitted at the end of it, Tristan Bradfield (Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans) and Justin Beckett (AC Ace). There only remained two cars left to pit, and they were Jonathan himself, and Harry Naergar, first and last respectively.
Jonathan finally pitted at the end of lap 9 and Harry followed him in although the Jupiter was by then 2 laps down. When it returned to the track, the Austin Healey emerged just ahead of the chasing Elite/Ace duo, and we were back to a great three way battle for the lead only this time it was Brian Arculus in the Elite in 2nd, holding off Robin Pearce in the Ace. Brian’s defence of the position from Robin was as resolute as Jonathan’s had been in the early part of the race, but whilst he just about had the pace to hold the slightly quicker car at bay, he was not able to put the same level of pressure on the Austin Healey that the Ace had been able to do earlier on. It enabled Jonathan, in his own words ‘to build a small buffer’ in the event that the Ace passed the Elite.
At the end of Lap 10, with all the cars having completed their mandatory pitstops, the true ‘on the road’ positions were re-established. The first 3 were covered by just 1.1 seconds, and Richard Fores, not yet quite up to full speed was a clear 4th, but over 14 seconds down, in Robin Ellis’s Lotus Elite. John Ure was 5th, 5.5 seconds ahead of Ted Shepherd in the second of the AC Aces, who in turn was now over 10 seconds ahead of Barry Dye in the third of the Lotus Elites. Barry however was under pressure from Rory Tollett in the MGA, and rounding out the top 10, were Mark Hoble and Alex Quattlebaum in Turner and LECo respectively. Tristan Bradfield (Sunbeam Alpine) and Mark Groves (Lotus Elite) were battling for 11th with Justin Becket closing on them both with his AC Ace. Alan House had worked his way up to 14th in the Morgan and was 4 seconds clear of Mark Potter in the Fairthorpe and Ronnie Fielden in the Aston Martin DB MkIII. Harry Naergar was the last of the surviving cars, but we were to lose one more before the flag fell on this shortened race.
To Be continued