Formula Vintage Lights Up Damp Oulton
Picture: Paul Lawrence.
The Vintage Sports-Car Club’s new Formula Vintage series enjoyed a second successful outing last weekend, despite the weather’s best efforts to disrupt the track action throughout the afternoon at Oulton Park on Saturday 10th June.
Following the great success of the Club’s inaugural Formula Vintage event at Silverstone in April, it was a highly anticipated return to the celebrated Cheshire venue, where the VSCC has held meetings since 1955, with the club’s prestigious Hawthorn Memorial Trophies headlining a packed 11-race programme for Vintage, Post-Vintage, Historic and Classic Racing and Sports-Cars, alongside additional AutoSolo and Concours features for Pre-war machinery.
As always, the resident MotorSport Vision team had presented the circuit in top condition, the rolling parkland stunning in the sunshine on arrival for setup and scrutineering on Friday afternoon, as more than half the entry reported for registration ahead of the following day’s racing. The summer weather was not to last, however, as heavy rain set in overnight, assuring a wet start to Saturday’s proceedings.
Whilst the morning’s qualifying got underway, the annual AutoSolo feature entertained the gathering crowds in the secondary paddock arena, with twenty-plus road-going Pre-war Touring and Sports-Cars tackling the Driving Test challenges. Jon Fleming’s nimble Austin 7 Ulster took victory, ahead of the Frazer Nash/BMW Saloon of Richard Gatley and Nicolas Williams, winner of the long wheelbase class in his Morris Sports Tourer.
Also a long-standing element at VSCC Oulton Park events, the Cheshire Life Concours was won by the 1934 Lagonda M45 of long-time local Club Member Brian Green.
The rain soon passed and by the time of the first race ahead of the scheduled lunch break, a steady breeze had already begun to dry the track, paving the way for more favourable conditions for the start of competition.
In a late change to the programme, the Fiscar Blaster Bates Trophy had been cancelled and replaced with an additional Pre-war All-Comers Scratch Race.
In typical fashion, Tom Walker launched the mighty 12-litre Hispano-engined Amilcar into the lead from the second row of the grid as pole-sitter, Justin Maeers gave chase in the GN Parker, also aero-engine powered. By mid-race, the Amilcar’s brakes had become over-heated through use at the heavy braking areas, allowing the Cirrus-Parker through to take the opening victory, ahead of Walker and Christian Pedersen’s potent Austin 7 Monoposto.
The first event after lunch saw the VSCC’s Special Pre-war Sports-Cars battle for the Oulton Park Trophy, accommodating the more modified of the club’s road-going racing machinery. Having set the fastest time of practice, it was a somewhat inevitable victory for the GN/Ford ‘Piglet’ of Longstone Tyres Chief, Dougal Cawley who has been one of the leading exponents of this series for the past few seasons. A misfire during the morning resulted in a third row start for Andrew Mitchell, who seemed to have solved the issue by race time, making quick progress in the rapid HRG to eventually claim second, ahead of Mark Gillies in Dick Skipworth’s Aston Martin.
A new addition to the VSCC and its Formula Vintage programme, it was a warm welcome for the Ferrari Owners’ Club of Great Britain, as their pre-1997 modern classics entertained with a double-header of their popular Pirelli Ferrari Formula Classic Series on the day. Pole-man, Gary Culver took both race wins in his modified 1986 328 GTB, the first ahead of Pete Fisk’s 550 Maranello and Chris Butler’s unmodified 328 GTB, with Butler second in a wet race two ahead of Richard Moseley’s similar charge.
The Bill Phillips Trophy saw yet another busy grid of original Pre-war Sports-Cars in action, with Mitchell enjoying more success. Again starting down the grid, the HRG pilot made another quick start, making up multiple places on the opening lap to find himself second, but could not match the pace of young Eddie Williams, who powered clear in Charles Gillett’s Frazer Nash. However, there was more drama to follow as the Nash was adjudged to have jumped the start, with the subsequent 10-second penalty just enough to deny Williams a maiden victory, with Mitchell taking the silverware by just 0.63 seconds ahead of the youngster, and Tim Kneller a satisfied third in his Riley TT Sprite.
Returning to Formula Vintage again, the AR Motorsport Morgan Challenge provided another thrilling feature, with a pair of the marque’s new ARV6 models on the podium in the hands of reigning champion, Elliot Paterson and Andrew Thompson. But it was the Plus 8 of perennial frontrunner, Keith Ahlers that led the way once more although brake issues deterred his dominance on this occasion as young Paterson hounded him all the way to the chequered flag.
The highly anticipated Boulogne Trophy saw a repeat of the day’s earlier Walker/Maeers battle as the pair were joined by the fastest of the club’s Pre-1931 Vintage Racing Cars for the headline feature, including trophy holder, Tony Lees, who would start from pole in the ex-Ron Footitt AC/GN ‘Cognac’. A poor start saw Lees drop back as Walker and Maeers again streaked ahead. The earlier brake issues seemed to have been resolved as Walker’s Amilcar soon built a dominant lead he would not relinquish to claim victory and a semblance of revenge for his earlier defeat. He was followed home by Maeers – only discovering at the finish that he had lost both a chain and handbrake lever during the race – and Lees, who overcame his poor start and close battle with fellow ‘Chain Gang’ representative, Charles Gillett to take the final podium place.
By the time of the day’s title Hawthorn Trophies race the rain had returned, combining with the now greasy track to produce treacherously slippery conditions for the pilots of the Historic Pre-1961 machinery. Having set a searing pace during the morning’s wet qualifying, Mark Gillies was a hot favourite in the sole surviving ERA, and proceeded to demonstrate his supreme ability in the deteriorating conditions at the wheel of Dick Skipworth’s R3A to win his 7th Hawthorn Spanish Trophy. Whilst unable to keep pace with the flying pre-war machine, Charles Gillett enjoyed an impressive competitive debut in the newly acquired invited Cooper T43 to take runner-up spot, relieved to bring the famed rear-engined racer home safely ahead of Fred Harper – the winner of the last round at Silverstone, he was happy to claim the Hawthorn Memorial Trophy as the first eligible Post-war finisher in his Kurtis-Indianapolis.
Always a highlight of a VSCC Race Meeting, the penultimate Vintage event saw another exciting edition of the ever-popular pre-war handicap format, with another eclectic array of racing and sports-cars on the grid. As the rain continued, there was every chance that one of the early starters could stay out front for the duration and so it proved, as young Robert Moore kept his plucky Austin 7 ahead of all but a couple of the quicker challengers to claim a heroic podium finish. Ahead, it was the Morgan 4/4 Le Mans of Simon King who took a narrow victory over Alan Harpley’s Avon/Alvis Special, the pair separated by less than two seconds at the finish.
Regular supporters of the VSCC, the 500 Owners Association were another welcome addition to the programme as they brought a strong entry of their F3 (500) Racing Cars. Renowned for his ability in the wet, Richard de la Roche proved a worthy winner, converting his pole position into race victory in his Cooper Mk 5. It was by no means an easy ride, however, as he was pressed by the fellow Coopers of Mike Fowler and Darrell Woods, the trio traded blows throughout and were never separated by more than a couple of seconds.
Those who braved the conditions to the end were treated to a fitting finale in the form of another of the club’s All-Comers Pre-war Scratch races. A jump start penalty could not deter Mark Gillies who dominated proceedings once more in ERA R3A ahead of yet another podium for Justin Maeers in the ‘whole again’ GN Parker. There was somewhat of a surprise result for third as Tony Seber, one of four of the family competing at Oulton, scored an impressive finish ahead of the battling Frazer Nash Norris Special of Julian Grimwade and Tony Lees in Cognac.
The next Formula Vintage round takes place at Cadwell Park on Sunday 23rd July, followed by events at Mallory Park (12th August) and Snetterton (17th September).