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The VSCC kicked off their 2016 race calendar in style with a busy 11-race programme at Silverstone on Saturday April 23rd, with a wide spread of classic categories providing some fine racing.
Opening the action was an over-subscribed race which saw the larger capacity cars of the club’s ‘Set 3’ for Standard and Modified Pre-war Sports-Cars take on the ‘Specials’, with two prestigious pieces of VSCC silverware to be decided. Having qualified third on his competitive debut after 15-years of club membership, German Rudi Friedrichs powered his Alvis Firefly Special into an early lead, which he was not to relinquish, despite close attention from Sam Stretton’s ever-competitive Alta for all nine laps, claiming the race victory and Silverstone Trophy. Last year’s battling duo, Durward Lawson and Dougal Cawley renewed their rivalry once more, with the former’s Riley beating out the Longstone Tyres chief for third place. Meanwhile, Mike Preston was able to comfortably hold off the challenge of Nicholas Ball’s Invicta and the Ballamy-Ford of Mark Brett, as he piloted his Bugatti Type 35B to his first Fox & Nicholl Trophy success.
There was much anticipation for the next event, as an historic line-up of both Pre- and Post-war Frazer Nash and GN cars – perhaps the largest gathering of later cars ever assembled on a race grid – enacted a thrilling spectacle. Despite the variety of technology on display, the contest between the two eras was as close as expected, with three Pre-war and three Post-war representatives amongst the eventual top six. On the ninth lap of the titanic battle between pole-sitter, Eddie Gibbs’s 1935/29 Single Seater and the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica of Martin Hunt, back-marker Tom Thornton’s Frazer Nash/BMW 319/28 lost a wheel at Brooklands just ahead of the leaders, allowing the younger machine through to the head of the race. However, with the car stranded, there was little choice but to ‘red flag’ the race and, having completed three quarter distance, the results were taken from the last completed lap, with the Pre-war racer taking a deserved victory. Another Pre-war completed the podium, with Tony Lees in the ex-Ron Footitt AC/GN ‘Cognac’ able to keep Ian Dalglish’s 1950 Le Mans Replica at bay.
The HGPCA made a welcome return to ‘Spring Start’ following a year absent with another Pre-1966 Grand Prix Cars Race. Following a coming together between Paul Smeeth’s Lotus and Michael Steele in the Connaught at Copse on the opening lap, the race was red flagged and re-started. Inheriting pole from the missing Lotus of Sam Wilson, newly re-appointed HGPCA Chairman, Barry Cannell put on an impressive performance in the ex-John Bond-Smith Cooper T51 – successfully campaigned by young Miles Griffiths over the past few seasons – but was unable to get the better of Peter Horsman’s Lotus 18/21, with Rudi Friedrichs returning to the winners enclosure in third place, this time in his Cooper T53.
Although lacking the larger capacity cars from the line-up, the remaining Ccmpetitors of the Standard and Modified Pre-war Sports-Cars put on a spirited display of their own, with the Club’s often highlighted rivalry between Frazer Nash and Riley coming to the fore. Having fought his way through to second place, Andy Bush set off in hot pursuit of leader Jo Blakeney-Edwards’s Frazer Nash Super Sports before his Riley TT Sprite succumbed to mechanical problems on lap six, leaving the club’s leading lady driver to take the race win. She was kept honest by fellow ‘Chain Gang’ racers, Philip Champion and Mark Groves, who, despite the latter’s late spin, followed her home for a ‘Nash 1-2-3.
The day’s title feature proved to be the highlight of the day for many, as the VSCC’s prestigious GP Itala Trophy for Vintage Racing Cars was combined with a special Stanley Mann Cup class for W.O. era Bentleys, in memory of the long-standing club supporter. Having provided several highlights of the 2015 season, ‘Set 1’ did not disappoint with a thrilling spectacle featuring the most eclectic of grids, from aero-engined ‘Specials’ to genuine Grand Prix Bugattis and several British Bentley representatives. As expected, Tom Walker’s mighty 12-litre Hispano-engined Amilcar launched itself ahead of Julian Majzub’s Bugatti from the front row of the grid into an early lead and never looked back, leading to the finish for another race victory for the Leicestershire racer. Behind, another aero-engined machine made hay, with Robin Tuluie’s Menasco Pirate making a welcome return to VSCC circles after a few seasons; he led the chasing pack before mechanical issues brought his race to a premature end on lap 7. Majzub’s wonderful sounding Type 35B was soon passed by the battling ‘Chain Gang’ pairing of Tony Lees’s ‘Cognac’ and marque supremo, Patrick Blakeney-Edwards in his Super Sports, the latter finally passing the valiant single-seater on the penultimate lap, to claim the runner-up spot and the Itala Trophy for the first Standard or Modified car home.
The Stanley Mann Cup stakes were a ‘comparatively’ sedate affair, with the eight contenders split amongst the compact field, amongst them Philip Strickland driving Stanley’s own 4.5 Le Mans VDP. Although starting behind, Clive Morley was soon able to reel in Peter Butler’s ally-bodied Special to lead on lap one and continued on to a tenth place finish overall and first Bentley home in his 3/4½ Litre example to claim an emotional victory – eight months on from a serious incident at the Bentley Drivers’ Club Silverstone Meeting, the day marked his first race back. Following the race, he was presented with the silverware by HRH Prince Michael of Kent in front of Stanley’s family, fellow Bentley supporters and photographers.
FISCAR were another returning series, this year hosting the Tom Cole Trophy Race, which included the famed Nash Healy, which was driven to a third place finish at Le Mans in 1952 by Tommy Wisdom and Leslie Johnson. Entered by current owner José M. Fernández, Sam Stretton safely brought the car home in what is thought to be its first race outing in the UK in 65-years. At the head of the field, it was an expected victory for Darren McWhirter, with the power of the Lagonda V12 Le Mans too much for its rivals on the long straights of the National Circuit, ahead of Steve Boultbee-Brooks’s Aston Martin DB3S and the Kurtis 500S of Chris Keen.
The Handicap Race was an enthralling feature as usual, with James Whitmore’s Riley 12/4 Special victorious ahead of a hard-charging Trevor Swete in his Invicta S Type. In true VSCC style, the race proved the level playing field with John Skeavington’s Austin Ulster Replica able to keep the chasing pack at bay to take final place on the podium.
An early spin for Robert Giordanelli’s Chevrolet-powered Lister Knobbly robbed us of an intriguing contest with poleman, Mark Lewis’s similar machine at the head of the 1950s Sports Racing Cars Race. However, the incident ensured plenty of excitement as the racing instructor and motoring writer carved his way through the field to an eventual third place finish, although did not have enough time to catch the leading pair. Ahead VSCC stalwart, Tony Bianchi had found the perfect start to lead in the Allard-engined Farrellac but could not hold off Mark Lewis for long as he took over the lead on lap five and just kept ahead amongst the back traffic to take a second consecutive VSCC Silverstone victory.
Yet another headline feature soon followed with the Club’s prestigious Patrick Lindsay Memorial and Amschel Rothschild Trophies for Pre-1961 Racing Cars. Unsurprisingly, the overall race victory was contested by the front-running Post-war machinery on display. On pole, Philip Walker’s Lotus 16 started as hot favourite and appeared set for a dominant victory as he stormed into a strong lead. However, a spin on the penultimate lap – not the first to find oil throughout the day – allowed Andrew Smith through in the Lotus 12; in its first outing since suffering significant damage at an incident at Pembrey three years ago, it was a happy result for owner, Nick Rossi, with the unfortunate Walker second and Fred Harper’s Indy Kurtis third, coming out on top in the battle of the ‘Monzanapolis’ machines, ahead of Rod Jolley’s ex-Ecurie Ecosse Lister Jaguar and Geraint Owen, a challenger for the podium in his Kurtis before late mechanical issues.
With four of Bourne’s revered ERA voiturettes on the starting grid, the marque was strongly tipped to lead the Pre-war stakes and so it proved. It was an uneasy start, however, as Ben Fidler couldn’t get going in AJM 1, eventually setting off a lap down with the help of a push-start from the marshals, whilst issues for Julian Wilton’s R7B brought his challenge to an early end. But two remained, including Nicholas Topliss in R4A; he came under pressure in the latter stages from Duncan Ricketts in the Alta – last year’s trophy winner – before his challenge was halted by a mis-fire, leaving the ERA to take the spoils, with Terry Crabb another strong performer for the badge in the 1½ Litre R12C ahead of an ever-approving Julian Grimwade in his Frazer Nash. Given his long association with the marque, it was apt to welcome Patrick Lindsay’s sons, Valentine – of Race sponsors V12 Telecom – and Ludovic to the pit-lane to see the silverware ‘returned’ to the ERA ranks.
The All-Comers Pre-war Short Scratch race was the programme’s finale, as the ERAs again took centre stage. This time there were two new examples at the front of the grid, with Nick Topliss enjoying a competitive debut in Brian Fidler’s newly acquired R4D and Duncan Ricketts in the stunning torpedo-bodied E-Type ‘GP 1’. But it was the fast-starting Terry Crabb who took an early lead in R12C before being passed by his 2-litre compatriots. Although briefly ahead, Topliss was unable to keep the notoriously menacing R4D in front as Ricketts passed on lap three to ease to victory, with Terry Crabb completing an ERA 1-2-3.