The Jon Gross Memorial Trophy
Mort Goodall Cup
As well as remembering Jon, The Jon Gross Memorial Trophy provides us with the opportunity of putting together as many pre 1960 Aston Martins as possible. It's a difficult task and while we may lament that we only had 6 post war and 3 prewar Astons running in this, our third running of the race, it nevertheless was a better grid of such cars than we have seen anywhere else this season. The 3 prewar cars were also racing for the Mort Goodall Cup and it was indeed unfortunate that a clash with AMOC (ACR) meeting at Silverstone deprived us of a few more of them.
There was no questioning the quality of the cars, however. The post war cars included last year's winner, the ex Kangeroo stable DB3S of Steve Boultbee-Brooks, the ex 1958 Sebring DB MkIII that Jon owned and campaigned for so many years, to be driven by Chris Woodgate, Simon Jeffries in a sister DB MkIII, Justin Kennedy's famous ex works Le Mans DB2, VMF65 in the hands of Tony Green, Nick Ruddell in his very quick DB2/4 and last but certainly not least, the ex Le Mans privateer DB2 of our Competition Manager, Mark Campbell, which has been in the Campbell family for over half a century making a long overdue return to the tracks.
Competing for the Mort Goodall Cup, were Mark Gillies in Dick Skipworth's Monoposto, last year's winner and the two beautiful Ulsters of Simon Diffey and Edward Bradley, somewhat up against it in these earlier 1500cc cars. Simon's car was the one entered in the 1935 Le Mans, driven by Maurice Faulkner and Tom Clarke, finishing 8th overall and Edward's red example is one which was long campaigned successfully by Chris Hudson, in VSCC and AMOC events during the 1980s and 90s.
A select band of Invitation cars joined the grid, although we lost the Jowett Jupiter of Richard Gane. Sam Stretton entered the glorious supercharged 2 litre Alta owned by José M. Fernández and Chris Mann entered his fabulous Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, which he had driven down to the meeting from London. In addition, we had two little FWA Climax engine cars (Class 2 FLIERS), the pretty Lotus Mk IX of Brian Arculus and the very rare Kieft Climax of Craig McWilliam, for which this was to be his first ever race.,
Inevitably, the DB3S of Steve Boultbee-Brooks annexed pole with a clear 5 second margin over the DB2/4 of Nick Ruddell, who was in turn 2.5 seconds ahead of the little lotus MkIX of Brian Arculus. However, Brian's was one of 4 cars separated by less than 2 seconds, not a big gap in such trying conditions and throwing up some interesting possibilities for the race. Alongside Brian we therefore had Sam Stretton in the prewar supercharged Alta, and in the row behind, Mark Gillies in the Aston Martin Monoposto Speed model and Chris Woodgate in the Aston DB Mk IIII. Chris Mann was just over 3 seconds slower with the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante and on his own on the 4th row, since Richard Gane was a non starter in the Jowett Jupiter. Just 4 tenths separated Tony Green and Simon Jeffries in DB2 and DB MkIII respectively, on row 5. An even smaller gap separated Craig McWilliam in the Kieft Climax and Simon Diffey in the Aston Martin Ulster; such a contrast would be hard to find with the little post war sports racer in the hands of a first time racing novice and the prewar endurance racer driven by a very experienced driver of historic cars. The final row was taken by Mark Campbell, admitting to be a bit race rusty in his DB2 and Edward Bradley in the other Ulster. It was a truly fascinating grid, albeit a bit light on numbers.
The field got away to a good start considering the dismal conditions but Mark Gillies struggled to get under way and lost several positions off the line. Steve Boultbee-Brooks eased into a lead that he never looked likely to lose provided he kept the car on the black stuff. It was, afterall, familiar territory to him and by the end of lap 1, he was clear of the well driven DB2/4 of Nick Ruddell, who was leading a 5 car train, as in Nick's spray was Sam Stretton in the Alta, Mark Gillies having recovered places in the Aston Monoposto, Brian Arculus in the Lotus IX and Chris Woodgate in the ex Jon Gross DB MkIII. This was a pretty unusual group but looked magnificent. A 6 second gap passed before Chris Mann brought the glorious Disco Volante through in 7th place being very hard pressed by Simon Diffey in the green Ulster who appeared to be revelling in the conditions. He really shouldn't have been that far up! There was a further gap to 9th placed Simon Jeffries in the second of the DB MKIIIs, leading Anthony Green in the DB2 VMF 65, and Edward Bradley in the second of the Ulster's. Finally, Craig McWilliam came through in the Kieft Climax followed by Mark Campbell who was suffering from even more lack of rear end grip than the rest of the field.
Steve B-B eased out the lead to 7 seconds by the end of lap 2 but behind, Mark Gillies had taken the Monoposto passed Sam Stretton's Alta and was now on the tail of the 2nd place DB2/4 of Nick Ruddell. These 3 were beginning to edge away from Brian Arculus in the Lotus. Qualifying had been wet but race conditions were far worse and Brian was having great difficulty obtaining any traction in this lightweight car but was still, at this stage, gently moving away from Chris Woodgate in the green DB MkIII. Meanwhile, Simon Diffey continued to astound us with one of the oldest cars in the race when he overtook Chris Mann's Disco Volante for 7th place. Simon Jeffries was just clear of Anthony Green with Edward Bradley staying in touch in the second Ulster. Behind Mark Campbell, closed the gap on them as well as gaining a place when Craig McWilliam spun the little Kieft out of Camp into the infield at the end of the lap. No damage done, he quickly regained the circuit.
By the end of lap 3 Steve had taken the lead out to 8.5 seconds and was controlling the race. Behind, Nick Ruddell still had his mirrors full of Mark Gillies in the Monoposto, assuming he could see anything other than spray in them. Similarly Sam Stretton was sitting behind Mark, in the Alta, the two prewar cars such a stark contrast to the smooth lines of Nick's DB2/4. Behind Brian Arculus was dropping back, conditions totally unsuited to either him or his Lotus. He was now being caught by Chris Woodgate who was steadily improving his lap times in the DBMkIII, and he caught and passed Brian on lap 4. Meanwhile, Simon Diffey's forward progress was inevitably slowed as even his ability could not make a prewar 1500cc endurance racer catch the later cars ahead of him, unless of course, they came back to him, and one did; more of that anon! Unfortunately, on lap 4 , Craig McWilliam, once more left the track in the Keift, this time out of Tower, but once more avoided hitting anything and returned to the track. Talk about a baptism of fire; this was definitely a baptism of water. Castle Combe in the wet would not be an obvious choice for your first ever race, and Craig did incredibly well bringing the car home intact. It had a been a good decision entering this shorter race with a thinner grid than the very busy and longer Inter-Marque race.
On lap 4, the 3 cars pursuing the leader all lapped faster, bringing the gap down to just under 7 seconds, and despite going quicker on lap 5, Steve Boultbee-Brooks was still being caught as the gap came down again, to 5.8 seconds, although by that stage the chasing group had been reduced to two as Sam Stretton had spun the Alta, harmlessly, and had dropped to 6th behind Brian Arculus. Nick Ruddell and Mark Gillies again lapped quicker than the leader and at the end of lap 6, the DB2/4 was only 2.6 seconds behind the DB3S. However, it was apparent that Steve had settled into a nice consistent rhythm, whereas on a track that was beginning to show a drier line, Nick and Mark had been gradually getting quicker. However, once they'd hoved into view, Steve just took off and on lap 7 banged in a time 7 seconds quicker than his previous lap and he maintained this increased pace for another couple of laps until at the end of lap 9 the lead had gone out to almost 16 seconds, and he again eased back to take the chequered flag after 11 laps to retain the Jon Gross Memorial Trophy. Behind, Nick Ruddell never really shook off the attentions of Mark Gillies and the GT class winner crossed the line just 2 seconds ahead of The Mort Goodall Cup winner who therefore also retained the cup for a second year.
Chris Woodgate brought Jon's DB MkIII home in 4th, but he was so nearly caught on the line by a puddle soaked Sam Stretton, in the left hand drive Alta, recovering from his earlier spin. On lap 6, Brian Arculus had put in a particularly slow lap in the Lotus whilst Simon Diffey in the Aston Martin Ulster had put in his quickest to date, so the seemingly insurmountable gap between them had closed from just over 15 seconds to just under 9 seconds in one lap. Whilst Brian picked up his pace the following lap, Simon, sensing that another improvement in position was possible, put his quickest lap of the race in, reducing the gap by almost 5 seconds. By lap 8, the Aston was towering over the tail of the little Lotus, perhaps a little too literally, since Brian received what he described as a 'love bite' (see photo above) going into Bobbies, and Simon then passed the Lotus on Lap 9. However, on lap 10, Brian put his best race lap in and they swapped back, so that he finished the race in 6th with Simon 1.5 seconds behind. It should be recorded that Simon later apologised to Brian who described the matter as a 'racing incident'. Whilst it is not every day that a racing car will get a nudge from a prewar Le Mans Legend, I don't think I believe Brian when he tells me that he is thinking of retaining this campaign wound to the Lotus.
Chris Mann, in the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante had a pretty lonely race to 8th, whilst Simon Jeffries in his DB MKIII took 9th. He had initially been shadowed by the ex works DB 2, driven by Tony Green, but had gradually moved away and was ahead by 9 seconds at the flag. Tony had been closed down by Edward Bradley in the other Aston Martin Ulster, so that at the end of the race the prewar car had got within 4 seconds of it's post war successor. Mark Campbell was next up with his DB2 whilst, as already recorded, Craig McWilliam finished his first ever race in the little Kieft. Every car in this race was an absolute gem and they all finished by being well driven by each driver sensibly adapting to the vicissitudes thrown up by the weather and track conditions, and yet still made a race of it. If only there had been a few more of them entered! JT