Donington MGCC

3rd August 2014

Hardy Healey Highlights!

Barry Dye in his first race - EVER!                             Photo - John Turner

Preamble

This was initially intended as a race for the FISCAR FLIERS to join MGCC Iconic 50s grid but a relatively late change of plan meant that it also became a race for our Historic Inter-Marque cars. The late call did have an impact on the number of Inter-Marque cars entered as did the fact that the BDC had their meeting at Silverstone the day before where the ACOC celebrated  the  60th Anniversary of the first production Ace with their own race. The Silverstone Classic the week before also had an influence on the entry, not only through its proximity but through damage sustained there by several of our potential entries. Alex Quattlebaum who had entered the LECo at Donington suffered engine failure, Steve Wright incurred body damage on his Porsche 356 and the Astons of Nigel Batchelor and Glyn Allen both suffered mechanical ailments, the former a broken halfshaft and the latter both a broken gear lever and loss of gears.  The lack of any MGA entry was disappointing after their superb showing at MG90 Live, and with the demise of the LECo, the only XPAG Special entered was Stuart Dean’s Dick Jacobs Special. However, we had two ‘new’ Lotus Elites join us  and the  entry list was full of interest, as we shall see.

Another FISCAR newcomer - John Waterson in his Lotus Elite                                         Photo - John  Turner

Grid emerges in correct order!                     - Photo - Mick Walker

Qualifying.

Rod Begbie, finally out with us again after his early departure from the inaugural FLIERS race at Castle Combe and complete with fresh engine put the lovely little Elva MkIV on pole with Robin Ellis alongside with the Lotus Elite, the pair split by less than two tenths and boding well for the race. Neil Hardy qualified an excellent 3rd with his Austin Healey 100M sharing row 2 with Brian Arculus in the Lotus MkIX, also within a couple of tenths of each other.  The Healeys of Nick Matthews, Nigel Grice and Jonathan Abecassis packed the grid behind row 2 but further back dramas were attending the Eurofighters team made up, on this occasion by the sports racers. David Bennett’s Aston Martin DB3S failed noise scrutineering, then overcompensated the ‘stuffing’ required to lower the decibel level leading to overheating in less than a lap of qualifying. An adjustment produced the right result but no lap time so a start from the back was order of the day. The Alfa Romeo Disco Volante of Chris Mann also failed the sound test but after much scrabbling around Chris located in his toolbox a suitable filter which once wired in was also sufficient to reduce the decibel levels. However, he missed practice and had to qualify out of session and therefore was to join the Aston at the back of the grid. Finally, the Gomm Jaguar, a FISCAR member but entered in the Iconic 50s class was drafted in to make up the Eurofighter team was being worked on until the last minute so that only Richard Robinson was able to qualify it in official practice whilst the owner Charles Fripp had to clean up, and then practice out of session. Richard had at least qualified it officially in 10th place so it was able to start from there. However, it was the only entry with two drivers and as it was decided that there would be no compulsory pitstop, they alone would have to pit to change drivers, a substantial handicap it would seem! Two new Lotus Elite members joined the grid, John Waterson in 13th place and Barry Dye, in his first ever race, played himself in sensibly to start just ahead of the two sports racers relegated to the back. Stuart Dean, the third of the FLIERS entered, qualified 14th in the Dick Jacobs Special. 

Getting off the line provided a rapid reshuffle with Hardy (Austin Healey - extreme left) making a superb start and Brian Arculus (Lotus IX) also coming through from the second row.             Photo - Mick Walker 

The Race

As the lights went out, Neil Hardy using the power of the Healey, made a demon start to grab the lead as he drove inside Rod Begbie’s Elva heading into Redgate. In fact Rod’s was not the best of starts as he also lost out to the other second row starter, Brian Arculus in the Lotus IX. Robin Elllis made an even poorer start from the front row, the Elite team leader dropping several places.

Hardy leads into the Old Hairpin for the first time. At this point front row cars have been been demoted to 4th and 7th!

Photo - Pat Arculus 

By the time he exited the Old Hairpin at the bottom of the Craner Curves, Hardy had already established a clear lead and was wondering where everyone had gone. For the next couple of laps, and driving beautifully, he continued to extend his lead and this surely wasn’t part of the script. However, the chasing pack comprising of 7 cars (2 Lotus, 2 Elvas and 3 Healeys, all FISCAR cars with the exception of the Bruce Riches Elva MkV) were too busy having their own scrap to worry too much about the hare at this stage. It was a good 3 laps before any sort of order was established. Robin Ellis, using the ultimate pace of the Elite made up for his start and finally emerged in 2nd place but had a wary eye in his rear view mirror watching Rod Begbie’s Elva.

Chris Mann's Alfa Romeo Disco Volante heads the Gomm Jaguar Special and one of the MG 'T' Types

Photo - Pat Arculus

Further back, Chris Mann had made a good start in the glorious Alfa Romeo and his early progress forward was rapid, whilst David Bennett’s progress was a little more measured in the equally lovely  Aston but still made up ground.  Jonathan Abecassis, initially made a good start and was in the thick of the group chasing Hardy but ultimately dropped behind both Nigel Grice and Nick Matthews to play what was for him the unusual role of Healey rear gunner. He was perhaps a little chastened by his experience at Silverstone, the result of which had forced him to miss our Brands Hatch race, and was sensibly playing himself back in. After 2 laps poor old Stuart Dean pulled the Dick Jacobs Special off in the Craner Curves having a repeat of his Silverstone malady, a blown head gasket. After 4 laps, Brian Arculus retired the Lotus IX with a broken differential and thus Begbie’s Elva became the sole surviving FLIER. The Gomm Jaguar had T type MGs for company before being caught and passed by the Disco Volante but then kept the Alfa in sight before pitting to change driver.

Healey Heaven! Messrs Grice (26), Matthews (198) & Abecassis (120). As an observor of useless information the writer notes that all 3 registration nos have 8 in them and two have '98'!!                          Photo -  Mick Walker

Up at the front, the lead gap stabilised and then started to gradually come down with the Ellis Elite slowly clawing his way back towards the Healey. Robin was taking Rod Begbie with him. In fact the Elva looked as though it was attached to the Elite by an elastic band as on two or three occasions Rod attempted to overtake only to drop back as each attempt compromised his line and pace. He was nevertheless an ever present shadow.

David Bennett took the Aston Martin DB3S to 8th. Here he leads John Waterson's Lotus Elite and Charles Harmers MG TF which later retired. A classic illustration of the variety of shape and development of sports cars during the 1950s.

Photo - Mick Walker 

With the Lotus/Elva battle for 2nd place bringing it ever closer to Hardy, there was still plenty to see behind with some good battles. Nigel Grice and Nick Matthews circulated closely together for a while in their Healeys before Nigel’s started to lose power and he fell behind and into the clutches of Bruce Riches Elva before finally retiring after 10 laps with a broken valve.  Bruce himself was later to retire, particularly frustrating, since he had completed 18 laps of this 20 lap race and was clearly on for a top 6 finish.

The Gomm Jaguar made its pitstop but since it was the only one do so the driver change was as quick as the drivers were physically capable of achieving so the car was stationary for less than the usual compulsory 45 seconds. Charles Fripp and Richard Robinson were to take it to the end of the race in 12th ahead of our two newcomers In Elites, John Waterson and Barry Dye, both of whom nevertheless improved on their best qualifying lap times by a second and a half. 

Rod Begbie got this close to Robin Ellis at the flag, a drive that earned him Driver of the Race from the commentators. Photo - Mick Walker

Rod Begbie got this close to Robin Ellis at the flag, a drive that earned him Driver of the Race from the commentators.

Photo - Mick Walker

However, back at the front, Ellis had finally caught Hardy and took the lead on lap 13. Rod Begbie took a further two laps to pass the well driven Healey by which time Ellis had a 4 second lead which extended to 5 seconds by lap 17, at which point Rod finally got into the groove with the Elva. He had, afterall, been on poll and proceeded to put in 3 quick laps, the last being the fastest lap of the race which took him to within 3 tenths of Ellis at the flag. The excellent Neil Hardy didn't give up after dropping to 3rd, putting his own fastest lap in on lap 18 and  finished just 4 seconds down on Rod. In coming 4th Nick Matthews, too, had made his last lap his fastest but he was still half a minute behind Neil. Jonathan Abecassis took 5th but the fact that the 3 Healeys occupied these positions was not sufficient to take the team award from the Eurofighters all of whom exceeded expectation despite the handicaps described in qualifying. Chris Mann finished a fine 6th in the Disco Volante, David Bennett 8th in the Aston, which combined with the efforts of Fripp and Robinson above, netted them the team prize.

All in all, a fine race with plenty of action and interest.

John Turner