The Bic Healey Trophy Race
The AC v Austin Healey 100 Team Challenge
BDC, Silverstone, 1st August, 2015
The seeds for this race were sown almost 2 years ago when we noted how many Austin Healey 100 models were racing with us at the time and it became an objective to run a race for all pre 6 cylinder Austin Healeys and to find a suitable venue for such a race. It was to become even more relevant following the sad death last year of Brian 'Bic' Healey. During last summer, the ACOC organised a race to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first production AC Ace, at the Bentley Drivers Club meeting at Silverstone. The success of this one off race led to a chance conversation between racing AC and Austin Healey owners suggesting a Team Challenge race between the two marques. Combining that with the proposal for the Bic Healey race was the logical outcome and a rather late approach to the Bentley Drivers Club elicited a positive response and it was then a concerted effort to build a grid of cars in less time than was ideal for such an enterprise, but, although ultimately the grid was not as large as we would have wished, it nevertheless achieved everything else we had set out to do. Before describing the race, there appears below the piece that was printed in the excellent race programme produced by the Bentley Drivers Club:-
Brian ‘Bic’ Healey
Born in 28th July 1925 at Perranporth, Cornwall, Brian was the second of Donald Healey’s three sons. He acquired the nickname ‘Bic’ as a baby for this was his first word for biscuits. It was a name he retained for life. At the age of 18 he joined the Royal Navy serving on escort duty on the dangerous Russian convoys, for which, towards the end of his life, he was awarded the Arctic Star for bravery. After the war he initially chose not to join his father’s company, The Donald Healey Motor Company, but was to become involved in car sales with local Austin distributors in Truro. It was an experience which, in 1953, led him to become Sales Director of DHMC at the time of the introduction of the Austin Healey 100, surely Donald Healey’s defining model, and the result of his collaboration with the Austin Motor Company. One of Bic’s early tasks was to drive an example of the 100 to Buckingham Palace to allow the Duke of Edinburgh to sample its performance. A more fruitful exercise was the building up of a special relationship with the USAAF at a time when many US Airmen were based in the UK and hungry for British sports cars. It led to very substantial sales both in the UK and the United States which became a key market for these special sports cars.
Bic Healey performed various roles with DHMC including that of race team management. He was also Sales Director for Healey Marine, the company’s foray into boat building and during the course of his life he had various other occupations. However, it will be his long involvement with Austin Healey for which he will be most remembered. He was one of the founders of the Healey Drivers Club, becoming its President, and was also Vice President of the Austin Healey Club. He died at home on 6th April, 2014, at the age of 88, from pneumonia, a complication arising from an earlier fall that had broken his hip.
Today we pay tribute to Bic and I wish to thank his widow, Mary and his son, Peter, for agreeing to support this race. Peter has stated that “My father did not like to overplay his role in the Healey Company and its history, and his modesty might have made him feel a little odd at the thought of a race in his name.” The reality, however, is that his contribution to the company was very substantial indeed.
As anticipated Martyn Corfield set the pace in his distinctive and very accurate replica of one of the 1954 Austin Healey Special Test Cars, which in effect were the development cars for the 100S. None of the original cars exist in this form today as they all evolved into full works 100S cars. Martyn's car always carries the number 550 in keeping with the original car it is based upon. A surprise to the writer was the pace of Richard Woolmer in the bright yellow Sebring Sprite which lapped within less than a second of Martyn to put the car alongside on the front row. The ever exuberant Andy Shepherd placed his AC Ace Bristol, the first of the 4 Aces representing the marque in the team challenge, on the second row, with Ian Burford's Sebring Sprite alongside. Ian also had an alternator failure but was able to resolve the problem prior to the race start. The third row was occupied by the second of the AC Aces, in the hands of Ted Shepherd and the little Ashley Sprite GT of Neil Cameron. Behind was Neil's Dad, Allan, in the first of the under 1 litre Frogeye Sprites and Paul Griffin with the only Austin Healey 100S in the race. The rest of the grid was made up in the order, Graham Robson (Austin Healey 100M), David Cottingham (AC Ace Bristol), Matthew Collings (Austin Healey 100M), Mark Morgan (AC Ace Bristol) and John Tewson (Frogeye Sprite).
The race was for 25 minutes without pitstops although in the event two cars were obliged to do stops and this affected the outcome of the race. We also lost one car before the start. Mark Morgan discovered a deflated tyre as he was about to head to the assembly area and was unable to replace it in time.
The first lap followed qualifying form with Martyn Corfield leading Richard Woolmer by 1.8 seconds and Andy Shepherd a further couple of seconds down. These 3 had already opened up a gap to the chasing group, for the 4th placed car, the second of the Sebring Sprites, of Ian Burford had peeled off into the pitlane to have the new alternator disconnected. It had been causing a misfire and he rejoined the race and thereafter went like the proverbial train but by then was 2 laps down. However, that chasing group were in close formation with Graham Robson (100M), Allan Cameron (Sprite Mk1), David Cottingham (AC Ace), Ted Shepherd (AC Ace) and Neil Cameron (Ashley Sprite GT) coming through with only 1.5 seconds covering the five of them. Paul Griffin followed in the 100S, with Matthew Collings (100M) in close attendance with not unexpectedly, in the least powerful car in the race, the nevertheless enthusiastic John Tewson in his Sprite Mk 1 bringing up the rear
At the end of lap 1, Woolmer had cut the lead to Corfield to 1.5 seconds and over the next couple of laps the gap came down to 1.1 seconds where it stabilised for 3 laps, Richard extracting everything he could to stay in touch with Martyn. Behind, Andy Shepherd gradually lost touch with the leading pair but was well clear of the rest of the field. The battle behind however was absorbing. Graham Robson had made a brilliant start and despite the potential lap times of Neil Cameron (Ashley Sprite GT) and Ted Shepherd (AC Ace), obstinately held onto 4th, until he was displaced on lap 5 by Shepherd, who was followed two laps later by Cameron. Thereafter these two went at it hammer and tongs for the rest of the race leaving Graham to enjoy a less stressful race, as next up was Allen Cameron in the little Frogeye Sprite gradually dropping behind but himself easing away from another great dice between David Cottingham (AC Ace) and Paul Griffin (Austin Healey 100S), this too going all the way to the flag
After pitting, Ian Burford had returned to the race and slotted into 4th on the road albeit 2 laps down which caused some interesting commentary. The commentators were sure that he actually was 4th and that his transponder wasn't working properly and that the timekeepers were wrong in having him so far down the field. For some reason, my shouting at the loudspeakers failed to change their minds!!
We sadly lost Matthew Collings after 11 laps when he retired his Austin Healey 100M.
The best battle of the race was between David Cottingham in his AC Ace and Paul Griffin in his Austin Healey 100S. They were rarely a second apart and swapped places a couple of times with David taking the flag just ahead in 7th place. The big drama however was at the front when, with victory in sight, Martyn Corfield toured into the pits with a puncture. By the time the wheel had been changed and Martyn had returned to the race, Richard Woolmer was long gone and went on to take a well earned victory after completing 21 laps but Martyn's 9th place was scant reward for his drive. Andy Shepherd was promoted to 2nd place as a result and Neil Cameron took 3rd in the Ashley Sprite GT. Ted Shepherd was 4th and the first Austin Healey 100 home was that of Graham Robson in 5th, whilst Allan Cameron was 6th in the first of the 998cc Sprites, taking first in class in the process.