The Tom Cole Trophy Race
VSCC, Spring Start, Silverstone, 23rd April 2016
One of FISCARs most prestigious races, The George Abecassis Trophy race, was always going to be a difficult act to follow but since it was a formula that had worked well, it made sense to adopt a similar approach to its replacement. We wanted to keep the 30 minute race format but since the VSCC were on a tight schedule, the allocation of a shorter than usual qualifying time prevented us from running a two driver race, so there were to be no pit stops. Nevertheless, we were grateful that the VSCC allowed us to run the longest race on their programme in a prime slot. Athough aimed primarily at the earlier cars of the 1950s decade, we took the opportunity to make the race all FISCAR inclusive, so that whilst only a drum braked car could win the Trophy, the class structure allowed later 1950s cars to participate and win awards.
Tom Cole was born in South Glamorgan, Wales on 11th June 1922. He emigrated with his parents to the USA just before the outbreak of World War II but when that country entered the war he joined the US Merchant Marine and was later an ambulance driver in the American Field Service. After the war he was greatly drawn to the East Coast motor racing scene and it became his passion for the rest of his sadly short life. He started racing with a Jaguar SS100 and then an HRG with which he met some success. He was more than a useful driver and is perhaps best known in Europe for racing Allards and Ferraris, and in particular his outings at Le Mans. He raced in the great 24 hour event 4 years running , starting in 1950 where he finished 3rd overall in an Allard J2 that he shared with Sidney Allard himself. His 1953 race there was, tragically, to be his last. Co-driving his own Ferrari 340MM Vignale Spyder with Luigi Chinetti, he crashed on early Sunday morning and was killed instantly. It was just 3 days after his 31st birthday.
3 weeks before the event, the entry list was in the mid twenties; good but not brilliant. However a late flurry of entries took us beyond the 34 car grid limit for the race, so that we had 6 reserves, all of which would be allowed to practice. Of course their admission to the race would depend on the misfortune of others, so definitely a case of mixed feelings. As 6th reserve, Mike Freeman elected to withdraw, particularly as he wasn't too sure whether his Lotus Elite would be ready in time, but his place was taken by late entrant Glenn Tollet's very pretty MGA Sebring. His reserve status along with the others was elevated by one when Tim Llewellyn withdrew the Allard J2. This was a disappointment, since it was the only model in the race that was of a type actually driven by Tom Cole during his career. Allard honours were to be upheld however by Mark Butterworth's splendid K3 Sports. I would like to add that one of the earliest entries to this race was Stephen Bond, in the fabulous Lister Bristol, but as most of you will know, Stephen had that very dramatic accident in his Lotus at The Goodwood Members Meeting and sustained injuries from which he is now recovering, and we hope to see him back out with us soon.
A number of the cars had tested at Silverstone the day before and as a result we lost Jeremy Holden's Austin Healey 100M through engine woes and Neil Perkins Tojeiro Bristol which had lost 3rd gear. It was particularly disappointing for Neil, as this would have been the car's first race outing for over 40 years. Mark Morgan's AC Ace failed scrutineering with excessive movement in the rear driveshaft, a known problem with these cars reflected later in the race with David Cottinghams example. All this elevated the reserves further and at this stage all but two were, in effect already in the race. The two on tenterhooks were Nick Matthews in his Austin Healey 100/4 and Rory Tollett in his Dad's MGA.
This race, like its predecessor, contained a number of sports racing cars, some of which don't strictly comply to FISCAR regs but they were invitation cars and undoubtedly enhanced the race line up, creating as best we could a period authentic grid. In fact, this year they were fewer in number than with GAT but were all striking and had an impact on the race. Of course, all the cars on our grid are special and exciting. They are all stars, but there was no doubt that one stood out above all others and it was one that Cole would have known and raced against, for it was the Nash Healey that finished 3rd behind the two Mercedes at Le Mans in 1952, driven by Tommy Wisdom and Leslie Johnson. The car was built at short notice after Donald Healey crashed the Coupe which he had originally entered, in the 1952 Mille Miglia. I believe that this is the first time this car has ever raced in the UK. I am extremely grateful to the owner, José M. Fernández for entering it and allowing Sam Stretton to drive.
I had invited Darren McWhirter to enter the Tojeiro Bristol, but he is a very tall guy and can't fit in it (it's Dad, Tom's, mount) so he asked to bring the Lagonda V12. It made it instant race favourite, of course, subject to mechanical mishap but we see this sole example of the car so rarely and it fitted this grid well. The car hadn't run for a while and there were question marks over the brakes, amongst other things, but Darren duly put it on pole just ahead of its Feltham stablemate, the Aston Martin DB3S of Steven Boultbee-Brooks. Qualifying 3rd, was Christopher Keen in another guest car, the Kurtis 500S and that too hadn't been out for some time. Alongside him was Andrew Sharp in his DB2, a very quick combination. John Ure (Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica), Nick Matthews (Austin Healey 100/4), Alex Quattlebaum (LECo2), Jim Campbell (Austin Healey 100/4), Peter Campbell (Wingfield Bristol Special) and Ian Dalglish (FNLMR) completed the top 10 qualifiers. Newcomer to FISCAR, Jason Harris, qualifying 11th in his Austin Healey 100 was notable, as was Nicholas Ruddell in his Aston Martin DB2/4 in 13th. Another newcomer to FISCAR was Carlos Martinez De Campos in the Jaguar XK140 FHC, a very rare car on our grids these days, and it was a delight to see no less than two Triumph TR2s in the race, piloted by Mark Hoble and Paul Ziller respectively. Paul Griffin's superb Connaught ALSR graced this grid and Sam Stretton carefully nurtured the Nash Healey through qualifying to ensure it took the race start although it was still a bit touch and go as Sam feared potential head gasket problems. Last but not least was the terrific Flat Rad Morgan Plus 4 of Leigh Sebba, driven by Peter Cole. The race had all the makings of providing a stunning spectacle.
On this bright but very chilly day, the magnificent sight of 36 cars came out on the green flag lap and therefore it was apparent that there were two reserves that would have to be removed from the grid provided all the other 34 lined up for the start safely. Very unusually, however, the two cars involved, the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica of the very rapid Martin Hunt, who was reduced to reserve status due to him qualifying in Practice 2 (for the fascinating all Frazer Nash race) rather than Practice 6 and Rory Tollett, in the MGA, were inserted into the grid in accordance with their lap times rather than is usual with reserves placed at the back where they would normally have been flagged off into the pitlane whilst the others assembled on the grid. Their removal may have been less of a surprise to Rory who had known all morning that the MGA might not get to race, than to Martin. Their extraction from the grid caused some delay but the beneficiary of removal of the Frazer Nash (one of 4 entered) was Nick Matthews whose qualifying time in the Austin Healey 100/4 had put him an excellent 6th on the grid. Matters were made more interesting by the fact that Chris Keen who had qualified on the second row in his Kurtis pulled into the pits at the end off the green flag lap, unhappy with the feel of the front end. Once checked, he was reassured and lined up in the pitlane ready to rejoin at the back once the race had started.
The grid looked superb with the two David Brown built sports racers lining up at the head of it, but both were beaten away from the line by Andrew Sharp's rapid DB2, now sole occupant of row 2, which shot into an early lead, heading this big high quality field into Copse for the first time. Steve Boultbee-Brooks had also demoted poleman, Darren McWhirter in the Lagonda to 3rd, and inevitably took the DB3S ahead of Sharp before the field arrived at Brooklands for the first time.
It wasn’t long, however, before McWhirter had the V12 wound up. He powered by Sharp on lap two before disposing of the three-litre DB3S next time around. The Lagonda then edged away, but the hard-trying Boultbee Brooks was never too far adrift and his driving displayed such verve, the Aston sounding magnificent as it wailed its way around the track. FISCAR friend, photographer and 3 Counties Radio commentator, Bob Bull, was moved to say 'the icing on the cake was the sound of Steve's DB3S blasting through Copse. Made my day.'
Behind Sharp, a fantastic early battle raged for fourth. The Frazer Nashes of Ian Daglish and John Ure, Peter Campbell’s Wingfield Bristol Special and the Austin Healey 100/4 of Nick Matthews ran inches apart and swapped places several times. Tailing them closely was the little LECo of Alex Quattlebaum, the car, running, in Alex's own words 'like a turbine'. Sadly, it was not to last as a build up of excessive crankcase pressure, started to force oil out onto the clutch and for the second half of the race, clutch slip inevitably slowed the car and he finished 14th but retained his class win.
The experienced Ure eventually established himself at the front of the group as after a while Dalglish suffering from gearbox issues had the car jump out of gear mid corner causing him to lose the back end that dropped him to 10th, heralding a recovery drive. By that time, the flying Keen had come past all four. The V8 had thundered through the field, reaching fourth by the end of lap eight. It was on the following lap that we had our only race retirement when David Cottingham had a rear hub driveshaft failure on his AC Ace. David had the car going better than ever so it was real disappointment and it was left to David Bennett to represent the AC marque.
Meanwhile, much else was going on throughout the field with plenty of jockeying for positions. Barry Davison was making up for a poor start in his Lotus Elite when he spun his wheels up on fluid and was out dragged by many around him so plenty of overtaking was the order of the day. He linked up with Graham Love who had spun his XK150 going into Brooklands early on in the race and they had a great dice for several laps whilst making up lost ground, the battle ultimately falling in favour of Barry who eventually pulled away. The TR2s of Mark Hoble and Paul Ziller circulated closely together for much of the race (until Paul had a spin towards the end) and were part of a splendid 5 car battle that also included the Martinez De Campos XK140, Paul Griffin's Connaught ALSR, and John Waterson's Lotus Elite, all chased by David Cottingham until his retirement. Behind them Robert Clarke and Keith Hampson seemed almost tied together for most of the race, the Clarke Healey 100M just pipping the Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans at the flag by half a second. In the early stages of the race, Sam Stretton had been shadowing this pair in the Nash Healey but dropped back a little, anxious to ensure a finish for this historic machine.
Everywhere you looked, there was excellent dicing going on and it was hard to keep a track of it all. Nick Ruddell and Jim Campbell were pretty much tied together for the whole race in Aston Martin DB2/4 and Austin Healey 100/4 respectively and they were still together at the flag, Nick just half a second ahead in 11th. Another close and intriguing battle was that between Martyn Corfield in his Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica and Brian Arculus in the Alfa Romeo Guilietta SVZ, our only Italian built car in the race. You couldn't get much starker a contrast in appearance between these two cars but they were together for most of the race. Martyn had got ahead on lap 4 but thereafter Brian had glued the Alfa to the tail of the cycle winged car and stayed there. The gap of two tenths at the end suggests he was virtually alongside at the flag, although they had both been overtaken on the last lap by Barry Davison in his recovery drive. Barry who had the 'occasional flash of brilliance' also had a 'worrying clonk' coming from the back of the Elite which fortunately turned out to be no more than a broken tailpipe strap.
Towards the front, Sharp was still some way down the road, but the Kurtis was capable of lapping considerably faster and Keen closed the Aston down and had moved the Kurtis into third at around half distance. Whilst he chipped away at the gap to Boultbee-Brooks, he fell short of snatching the runner-up spot by 3 seconds. Darren McWhirter headed Steve Boultbee-Brooks by just under 9 seconds as he took the flag. Sharp took a lonely fourth, with Ure a fine fifth, shadowed by the class-winning Matthews in an equally fine drive in his Austin Healey 100/4. Peter Campbell, by his own admission, was surprised at winning Class 6 and finishing 7th overall in the Wingfield Bristol Special, whilst Ian Dalglish recovered to 8th, following his spin in the Frazer Nash, and was latched firmly to the tail of the Wingfield Bristol as they crossed the finishing line. Chris Scholey having been in the thick of things early on, settled down to consolidate his position and drove, almost under the radar, to an excellent 9th in the XK120. Jason Harris also had a good run to 10th in his Austin Healey in his first time out, particularly since he had been experiencing difficulty with his gearbox. In fact, everyone excelled themselves throughout this race and you can see great and close results from them right down the field.
John Turner (with additional notes by Kevin Turner, Editor Motorsport News)
Great in car footage from Jason Harris here:-
Additional photo gallery will follow the results.