Morgan Sports Car Club, Donington, 22nd, May
Preamble and Qualifying
Donington has long been regarded as one of the tracks that drivers want to compete at so we were grateful that the Morgan Sports Car Club gave us the opportunity to race at their meeting again after our absence from their meeting in 2015. It is therefore disappointing to report that our entry of 16 cars was half a dozen short of what, realistically, it should have been. Nevertheless it was a lovely cross section of 1950s sports cars that appeared on race day - 4 Austin Healeys, 3 Lotus Elites, 2 AC Aces, 2 Alfa Romeos, 2 Triumph TR2s and single entries of MGA, Morgan +4 and Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans. Notably absent was any representative from the Aston Martin, Frazer Nash and Jaguar marques.
All 16 cars qualified well with the 3 Austin Healeys of Jonathan Abecassis, Neil Hardy and Nick Matthews separated by less than a second at the front. Over a second behind Nick was the Lotus Elite of the very experienced Mike Freeman, current holder of our Blaster Bates Trophy, and I was sure that gap would disappear in the race and that the Elite would very much take the race to the Austin Healeys ahead of him on the grid. 5th was the fourth of the Austin Healeys, in the hands of Jim Campbell and whilst not quite on the pace of the other 3 , it would be fair to say that this car is much newer to Jim and he is still honing it and adapting his driving style to it. Alongside him, and completing an all BRG 3rd row was Mark Hoble in an excellent 6th in his Triumph TR2. Brian Arculus, competitive as ever in the Alfa with only 1300cc, qualified 7th with David Cottingham alongside in his ever improving AC Ace.
Chris Mann in the only sports racing car present was 9th in the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, a model itself incredibly rare as only a handful were built, but this one unique in being the only one with a 3 litre engine (all the others had 3.5 litre). Chris tiring of having a long brake pedal in previous seasons spent time over the winter attending to this, solving it by changing the brake cylinder bore diameters on the car. The brakes come on much quicker now enabling Chris to brake much later and with greater confidence into the braking area but that in itself takes adjusting to, so he was being reasonably circumspect. Richard Thorne was alongside in his Morgan +4, originally a flat rad model but changed very early in its existence, when returned to the factory, with the more aerodynamic front end which became standard on the production cars for many years. Behind in order, came the Lotus Elite of John Waterson, the AC Ace of Mark Morgan, complete with upgraded rear drive shafts following its failure to pass scrutineering in the Tom Cole race (David Cottingham's car has been similarly treated!) and Paul Ziller in his Triumph TR2, determined to get closer to Mark Hoble in the race. Paul, apparently had been so absorbed in a conversation with the writer before qualifying, that he forgot to take his driving gloves with him and had to borrow some from very helpful marshals. Next up was Keith Hampson in the, recently recovered from theft, Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans, apparently none the worse for its adventure, the Lotus Elite of Barry Dye and last but not least, late entry Shaun Bromley, sharing with his son, Josh, in their MGA coupe.
As the cars completed the green flag to reassemble on the grid for the race start, the Lotus Elite of Mike Freeman was seen peeling off into the pitlane trailing smoke. After qualifying, Mike had taken a 5 litre can to the local BP station to fill up, in order to top up the Elite tank with BP Ultimate. Unfortunately, this turned out to be their Ultimate diesel and it was only discovered after the contents of the can had been poured into the car's fuel tank and it started to emit smoke on the warm up lap. To be fair, it's not a difficult mistake to make until you know that BP have introduced this Ultimate diesel since the logo is very similar to the petrol equivalent. However, strike one of our frontrunners, and a car that I felt sure would be a contender for victory.
The loss of two cars from this grid was made worse when poleman, Jonathan Abecassis, having made a relatively poor start in his left hooker Austin Healey, took a wide line into Redgate, got onto the loose stuff and slid into the gravel from which he was unable to extricate himself. He was, understandably, distraught. Whilst all this was going on, Neil Hardy, took the opportunity to snatch the lead in his Austin Healey, followed closely by the similar cars of Nick Matthews and Jim Campbell. Jim's race was to be a pretty lonely affair as he had enough pace to draw clear from the pack but not enough to hold on to the two leaders. Behind, a tremendous battle for 4th was already underway between Mark Hoble in his TR2 and Brian Arculus in the Giulietta SVZ and behind them Chris Mann's Disco Volante and Richard Thorne's Morgan +4, both of whom had made good starts, kept close company, and both passed David Cottingham's AC Ace on lap 2. Paul Ziller, trying to make good his promise of challenging fellow TR racer, Mark Hoble, also made good progress, further demoting David's AC to 9th on Lap 3. Shaun Bromley made a couple of places from his grid tailgunner's position and that improved again, to 10th, when John Waterson headed for the pits, the first to take his compulsory pit stop on lap 4. Chris Mann who had just lost position to Paul Ziller's TR2 pitted the following lap, in the Disco Volante.
Nick Matthews and Neil Hardy were still slugging it out at the front. Their lead to 3rd place man, Jim Campbell had grown to 40 seconds by the time Neil pitted on lap 7, leaving Nick to head the field in splendid isolation. Brian Arculus was just holding off Mark Hoble's TR2, only relinquishing his 4th position on lap 6 when he pitted. This, for Brian, was uncharacteristically late, as he is usually the first to get the compulsory stop out of the way. David Cottingham dropped a further place when a determined Shaun Bromley got a run on him out of The Old Hairpin and eased the MGA ahead of the Ace at what is left of Starkey's Bridge. At the back of the field, Barry Dye in his Elite, was trying to chase Mark Morgan's AC Ace down but the gap remained obstinately at around 3 seconds.
Paul Ziller's attempts to catch Mark Hoble was ultimately doomed since although he found 3 seconds a lap over qualifying, Mark was by then well ahead by several places and still lapping quicker, so a repeat of the all TR2 Silverstone dice was not forthcoming. In fact, Shaun Bromley's MGA homed in on the back of Paul's TR2 which pitted on lap 8, leaving Shaun to continue his fine charge. This was the busiest time for the pits as 3 of the cars still on the lead lap, Jim Campbell, Richard Thorne and Paul Ziller, along with the lapped Barry Dye all completed their stops.
Shaun's fine drive had brought the MGA up to 6th by the time he handed over to his son, Josh, on his lap 10 (leader was on 11 laps) and at the same time Mark Hoble brought the green TR2 in for his stop, still on the lead lap. The following lap, Mark Morgan having a quiet race in his AC Ace carried out his stop, and the final 2 stops, by the leader, Nick Matthews, and David Cottingham in the other Ace, occurred on lap 13, so it wasn't until lap 14, that the real pattern of the race started to manifest itself.
At the end of lap 14, with all stops completed, there were just 5 cars on the lead lap, Nick Matthews holding a 6 second lead from Neil Harvey, with Jim Campbell, Brian Arculus and Mark Hoble more than a minute behind them. Both the leaders were still lapping quickly as Neil tried to close the gap which had grown during his slower pit stop, but it was not quite good enough and the gap actually grew so that at the flag it was 8.3 seconds. By this time they had lapped everybody, such was their pace. Jim Campbell made it an Austin Healey 1-2-3 but he was beimng closed down in the latter stages by a determined charge from Brian Arculus who shook of the fine early challenge from Mark Hoble to get the Alfa Romeo home just one second away from Jim. Richard Thorne was an excellent 6th having worked his Morgan +4 forward almost by stealth. David Cottingham was 7th in the AC whilst Paul Ziller had at least proved that his relatively poor qualifying position was an aberration, by finishing 8th. Conversely, Chris Mann had dropped back, his brakes still not at their best as they were now binding, and it was not reasonable to expect novice Josh Bromley to match his Dad's lap times, so the MGA dropped to the back of the field but he had acquitted himself well and the experience stood him in good stead at the forthcoming MG Live meeting. The full results appear below.