Fifteen cars turned out for the second ever visit to
the Rockingham oval. Despite miserable weather last year, feedback had
been very positive – unfortunately the forecast this weekend was just as
bad. Team Gartside Racing made a welcome return after a year away, with
Martin taking over driving duties. Martin was talking down his chances,
even though he probably had more experience of the track in his
Westfield than anyone. The other entry of note was that, at last, Pat
Barford was making his debut behind the wheel. Pat has been a keen
supporter of the 500 movement for a few years, restoring a selection of
cars, and letting others drive. His mount for the day was equally
noteworthy – the Bueb-Arnott he has just repatriated from New Zealand.
Ivor bought the car in 1953 and extended the wheelbase with some 8” of
extra tubing in the engine bay. Ivor declared the car “almost
unspinnable” – a challenge for Pat to work his way up to. The
JAP-engined car was being fettled by Simon Frost and is a very tidy
little car – and notably meant that more than half the field were
Richard Ellingworth in the Parker-Kieft. Photo
courtesy Graham Holbon
Practice was just about completed before a heavy shower engulfed the
track, but things got a bit tricky for one team. The 500s had been
directed to the outer Paddock, a good half mile from Assembly. Whilst
most fired up the cars and drove them down (Team Ellingworth kindly
providing all the pushers and spannermen a lift down in the back of the
van), Team Hodges towed the Cooper down. A catalogue of errors and
botched tow-start resulted in a broken clutch and lots of shouting. An
emergency rebuild was started in the Paddock road. Tempers weren’t
helped as the other drivers arrived one-by-one. Presuming the Hodges
brothers knew what was going on, they all pulled up alongside, revving
their engines and awaiting instructions to join the track! Just the
thing you don’t want when you’re under pressure.
Fortunately and with a lot of help, Neil got the Cooper on track, and in
fact was able to complete several competitive laps. It wasn’t much of a
surprise to see Richard Ellingworth fastest, and Mike Fowler making up
the front row (the Snetterton debacle traced to nothing but a broken
spark plug). Darrell Woods continued to show form with the Staride, only
a couple of seconds off Mike. Roy Hunt completed the second row. JB only
got one lap in, electrical troubles halting the Cousy, whilst Shirley
managed to get lost in the huge pit lane (to be fair, there are so many
circuit options it can be difficult to spot the correct piece of
concrete for today). Problems were limited and quickly fixed for an
Mike Fowler leads Richard Ellingworth and Darrell Woods.
Photo courtesy Graham Holbon
We knew there was going to be trouble when we saw a marshal standing on
the track with a flag…
But first, against predictions, the weather gradually improved through
the day, and it was warm, sunny and dry as the cars made their way to
Assembly. All fifteen appeared, but Darrell and Roy’s cars refused to
fire. Being push-started, they also blocked to exit to pit lane.
Darrell was back in position by the time Richard brought the field onto
the banking, there to meet said marshal, but Roy was still catching up.
The marshal’s plan was to indicate where the front row should line up (a
reasonable idea), but it was unexpected, and set Richard, Mike and the
rest on edge. As he left the track, MotoGP-style, he lowered his flag,
someone up front “jumped” and the reaction cascaded down the field
followed immediately by everyone hitting the brakes – some rows were
three or four wide now, and you could almost hear the starter, wary of
avoiding a false start at all costs, thinking “What do I do now?” After
a few more seconds, the lights went out and most got going, variously in
or out of gear, and so making good or bad starts accordingly. Neil,
though was already out, stalling as he finally dropped the clutch. Also
slow, and soon departed was JB, continued electrical issues refusing to
clear on the out lap.
Mike, though, had made a great start and was already ahead into the
banked first turn (and it was notable how good the cars, particularly
the later, lower models, looked on the banking). Close on his heels was
Richard, with Darrell trying to keep in touch, but already pulling clear
of Roy Hunt. As they completed the first lap, Richard was within a car’s
length of the midnight blue Cooper and a pass seemed inevitable on the
oval section. But a tight line though Turn 1 from Mike closed his
options off, and Mike held the advantage through most of the second lap.
Richard, though was gaining again, and made the pass heading to the
final chicane, second time around. Over the line, Mike was a second
adrift, and he was unable to get quite close enough to unsettle Richard.
The Parker-Kieft, following practice form, was able to ease away by a
second to a second and a half every lap until the end, a worthy winner.
Mike may have been a bit disheartened, but a good run showed the
American Mk XI was in fine working order – the absent Mr Ashman should
be minded that his sister American car will have stiffer opposition than
for some time, next time out. Meanwhile, Darrell showed fine form to
take a comfortable third place, though yet again with no-one around he
could dice with.
Drive of the day: Shirley Monro Photo courtesy Graham Holbon
Clearly, at the front it was a fairly simple race,
with four cars considerably up the track from everyone else. But for the
remaining nine cars there was more than enough fighting to compensate.
Leading the group, and showing good form again, was Martin Sheppard.
Demon starts (perhaps by not stopping in the startline debacle…) from
Richard Bishop-Miller and Xavier Kingsland had them in sixth and
seventh. Martin Gartside, after a cautious start, had thrown cautious
Plan A out the window and was storming up on these two. Xavier was being
caught rapidly through the long Gracelands corner and was picked off on
the first straight behind the Paddock, into the Tarzan hairpin. A good
exit gave him the run on the old Cooper, and he crossed the line in
sixth place, some three-four behind Martin S.
Richard and Xavier completed the top eight, and there was a large gap
then back to Shirley, now chased by Richard Utley (after a miserable
start left him stone last). Kerry Horan was in their shadow, then Mark
Palmer and Pat Barford in close company at the rear.
Halfway around Lap 2, Martin G was on the tail of Martin S, and the move
was completed on the final straight with a better run out of Tarzan.
Frustratingly, Roy was already eleven seconds away and over the horizon,
so Martin G had no hare to chase. He knuckled down to get basic
experience of the car, in so doing improving on his practice times by a
couple of seconds (when most were only shaving tenths) on Lap 3. But on
the fourth tour, the rear sprocket came adrift and he coasted into
Richard Bishop-Miller was driving superbly, and hanging only a few
seconds off Martin Sheppard. Xavier followed, and began closing in. On
lap three he made the pass, but almost immediately pulled off the track.
The move, though, had pushed Richard back into the sights of Shirley,
who was ahead of an ailing Richard Utley. At this, it was as if a light
went on, and Shirley was inspired. For once, the car was a match for
her, and firing cleanly on all one cylinder, she set off after the
earlier Cooper. RBM made the task a bit easier, by promptly finding a
trail of Castrol R to spin on early in the fourth lap, but the little
turquoise car looked and sounded purposeful and fast. She quickly pulled
away from the battles behind, and even began closing on the silver
machine of Martin Sheppard. Martin in turn was beginning to suffer from
a slight misfire, particularly costing him on the long oval section. An
eight-second margin promptly dropped to four, then on lap 6 Shirley
homed in. Exiting the final chicane onto the banking, Martin went high,
Shirley low. The low-down grunt of the JAP easily outgunned a stammering
Norton and gravity, and Shirley was into fifth place overall. Martin
tried to fight back, but was handicapped by the engine. A brave move at
the end of the eighth lap very nearly got the place, but it wasn’t to be
– Shirley took a well-deserved fifth place, and Martin sixth.
But there’s more. Richard B-M’s spin had also allowed Kerry through, and
Richard set off in pursuit. A few seconds further back, Mark Palmer was
getting into a rhythm, now moving clear of debutant Pat, and running
just ahead of the other lime green car of Richard Utley. Pat was just
starting to drift off the back, particularly as he lost his ‘pilot’ car
ahead, but was setting perfectly respectable (and remarkably consistent
for a rookie) 2’ 08” laps.
Familiar car, different helmet. Martin takes over the
Garside family Cooper. Photo courtesy Graham Holbon.
So at the end of Lap 4, Kerry held seventh place from the recovering RBM,
only to return the favour by finding the same patch of oil and spinning
down a place. The net effect was that Kerry trailed by just a couple of
seconds (although with Utley and Palmer much closer), and he set off
again, catching and passing the Cooper on Lap 7. There followed another
spin – on the same oil – dropping him into the clutches of Mark Palmer,
and in so doing leaving a fog of methanol for Richard B-M to blind
himself on (and in the moment, bite down and crack a tooth!). Richard U
was on his tail and running well again. They crossed the line side by
side to start the final lap, Utley below Bishop-Miller, and with the
power and the line. He would sneak seventh at the flag, chased by the
other Richard. Meanwhile on the final tour, Mark Palmer got the run on
Kerry and took ninth.
Which leaves Pat Barford. Lapped by Richard Ellingworth on lap seven of
nine, his main target now was to bring the car home in one piece. The
Arnott is fitted with quite a small fuel tank, and “500-guru” Simon had
decided to eliminate the small gravity-feed tank for simplicity.
Inevitably, then, the JAP motor stuttered on his final lap. Out of the
final chicane it choked and almost died. It just crested the rise onto
the banked final corner. Pat held the car right on the bottom of the
apron and showed the Right Stuff, rocking violently to urge her the last
few feet to take the flag to the cheers of all.
So whilst a smaller entry than recently, we still put on a good show.
The lead battle was not as strong as we have seen, but from fifth all
the way backwards, there were battles and stories to be told, the stars
being Shirley and Pat. Next race is the Croft Historic Festival, which
is well worth the trip for both the circuit and the event (as those who
attended the inaugural event last year will confirm). We have French
guests, and it’s a good chance to dust off your Goodwood duds (and see
Geoff Gartside trying to blag a ride in a tank!). So book early, and
hope to see you there.