The season continued with another remarkable turnout
for Round three at the new Snetterton layout. Although Shirley Monro,
Martin Sheppard and David Stevenson were unable to attend, twenty three
cars did appear.
Most welcome guest was Charles McCabe back on tour from the States and
driving “the last Cooper” – Lex DuPont’s Mk XIII. The other debutant was
Mike Fowler’s Mk XI – another American chassis, and finished in a very
fetching midnight blue. Mike Gilbert had his Mk IX repainted in a
similar forest green and had added a yellow stripe for good measure.
The race was to be for the Jim Russell Trophy, a new award to celebrate
the local 500 legend. Jim was in attendance with some of his old cars,
and spending much time with Duncan Rabagliati.
Our first run on the redeveloped Snetterton circuit was to be on the
full ‘300’ International course. A lengthy infield section begins with a
tight hairpin at Sears, where formerly there was a rapid right hand
corner onto the Revett Straight.
What looks on paper to be a bland series of short straights and
uniform-radius corners turned out to be anything but, and everyone was
impressed whilst simultaneously unsure of the optimum line. The other
major change was the Coram-Russell combination at the end of the lap –
where the old Coram was a hang-in-there ninety degree onto a short
straight for heavy braking into the tight right-left of Russell, now it
continued in a tightening, falling 180 with variable camber, leaving
Russell (oddly renamed Murray) as a more open simple left-hander.
Opinions were mixed on this, but that may be down to even more
uncertainty about the optimum line (a spying mission to watch Mark Hales
in the headline 3-hour race only partially helped). Both faster and
earlier than the old chicane, this meant cars were arriving at first
corner Riches at a significantly higher speed, which took some
recalibrating. Elsewhere, MotorSport Vision continues to improve the lot
of the club racer, with a new back section of the Paddock formalised,
and promptly claimed for the 500s so most competitors were together.
Who are you looking at? Charles McCabe, over from the
US, with his Mk XIII. Photo Kitty Chisholm
With drought orders announced locally the day before, it was inevitable
that rain was expected, but it held off right through the day, waiting
for the Formula Junior crews racing on the Sunday (John Chisholm
doubling up with his Arnott and Gemini). With a few hiccups, everyone
was soon out for a twenty minutes of practice. Times were pretty much as
one would expect with the ‘usual suspects’ getting on with it and
quickly finding a limit, while others took more time to learn which way
the circuit went. Against recent form, it was Nigel Ashman ahead of
Richard Ellingworth for the front row. Seven seconds behind these (on a
long lap), Neil Hodges headed the next group over Gordon Russell, George
Shackleton and Rodney Delves. Within striking distance were both Darrell
Woods (the Staride looking a bit loose on some corners) and Nigel
Challis, whilst David Lecoq and Roy Hunt took their more relaxed
approach to qualifying to make up the fifth row (but still only a few
seconds from Neil and Gordon).
Surprisingly missing from this group was Mike Fowler – although the
Norton was straight out of his Mk V, it was giving no power and he
failed to complete a lap. Similarly, James Holland’s Mk VIII failed
(likely magneto problems) and Paul Hewes’’ Mk XI dipped in through the
back entrance to the Paddock (definitely magneto). Xavier Kingsland
staggered through his requisite 3 three laps with an awful misfire.
Happiest of all, though, was probably John Chisholm. With Simon Frost’s
touch, the car has been showing a semblance of reliability of late, and
Simon’s aborted run at Donington had convinced he and John to experiment
with the handling. New springs (effectively swapping front and rear
spring rates) had in John’s words “transformed the car” and he was at
last showing some of his Formula Junior form, only a couple of seconds
off Roy Hunt’s time. A note should also be made of Mike Bell’s run – the
team have had a frustrating time of late and whilst practice was quite
anonymous he led the rest of the pack in 12th place.
Time was quite limited before a lunchtime race, so those that needed it
needed to crack on (although in retrospect one has to wonder why as no
one came out better than before). Mike Fowler struggled to find a cause
for his flat engine, but rolled out for the start in hope. James tracked
his problem to a condenser, but didn’t have time to fix it and
scratched. Ditto Xavier, whose misfire turned out to be much more
terminal when shrapnel was found in the cylinder head. Neil tinkered
with his clutch, while Mike Bell (having been told off for spraying
methanol) tinkered with float bowls.
What was he looking at? Richard Utley in the JBS.
Photo Kitty Chisholm
Nigel Ashman led the pack around on a very leisurely sighting lap, which
was good news for Roy and George who had great difficulty firing in the
Assembly Area but were still able to take up position (it was also
appreciated by all the pushers, who had time to reach their new viewing
spot on Agostini’s Mountain). Being HSCC, the start was an "almost"
rolling, the first two rows were virtually stationary as the lights
changed while later rows still had momentum so twenty-one car made their
way up Senna straight, pretty much as one.
Whilst everyone got away, rather disappointingly we lost four cars on
the opening lap. When Mike Fowler, who had courteously held back
sighting lap, put pedal to the metal, the Norton refused and he barely
crossed the line before pulling in. Paul Hewes likewise failed to
complete a lap. Richard Utley had one of the more bizarre failures – a
small leak was spotted in Assembly from the fuel tank, but by race start
it must have been a torrent as the tank was empty. Hakan Sandberg in the
JBS-Triumph made a decent start, only to suffer brake failure at
Agostini corner, spinning out and ignominiously rolling slowly backwards
across an acre of run-off before gently grazing the tyre wall. A similar
fate awaited Gordon, who was in the midst of the pack on the first lap,
only to have a moment at Williams (rejoining the Revett Straight) when
the brake pedal went to the floor and he coasted back to the pits.
The revised end to Coram and into the new Murray's
lead to many adventures. Charles McCabe leads David Whiteside and Mike
Gilbert while John Chisholm tries his luck down the inside. This battle
would continue to the end Photo: Kitty Chisholm
So we were already five down, one of the worst opening laps for some
years. But at least with this year’s grids we still had sixteen cars
running. From the flag, Nigel clearly had the run on Richard’s Kieft.
Wary, though, that Richard can take a lap or so to get into his stride
(as at Donington), Nigel kept his head down and focussed on smooth fast
laps. In a reversal of form, he quickly established a five-second gap
and eased away at a second or two thereafter. Any hopes Richard had of
catching were stymied as the Kieft’s carburettor began to fall apart and
he began to fall back towards the chasing pack. And that pretty much
summarises the first two places on the podium. Nigel would win by some
17 seconds, whilst Richard took runner-up spot just six seconds ahead as
measured (and as things turned out it could have been much worse).
The first pack, though was where the excitement was. From third on the
grid, Neil made swamped by the Nortons and dropped to eleventh. His tinkering with
the clutch hadn’t worked either, and he was already nursing it in a
couple of spots. Beneficiary was Rodney who took third from the start
and held it through the first lap. Throughout, he was under pressure
from George, and off Russell/Murray George edged alongside. A move
looked on at Riches but just as quickly the JAP motor quit completely
and George coasted into retirement barely over the start line.
So over the line this group comprised Rodney, a coasting George, then
Nigel Challis, a fast-staring Roy, Darrell, David Lecoq and Neil,
covered by about five seconds. Fireworks were pretty much guaranteed.
But first we should note another interesting group was forming. About
ten seconds behind, David Whiteside had made a good start and was
effectively in ninth place. In quick succession behind were Kerry Horan,
Mike Gilbert, Charles McCabe, Mark Palmer and John Chisholm.
Last man through was poor old Mike Bell. Having tweaked his float bowls,
the carburettor was now struggling to deliver enough fuel, particularly
on the long right handers of which there are several – not least the
extended Coram. When by rights he should have been in the battle ahead,
he staggered on in the hope of at least seeing the flag. Sadly at the
fifth time of asking, Coram was too much, the JAP choked and died and he
rolled off towards the piggery. Another frustrating day for Team Bell,
and one hopes that they can catch some luck and take up their rightful
position in the pack.
Most attention was now on the battle for third place. Rodney looked
fairly comfortable, a second or more ahead of Nigel (going well) who had
a similar advantage over Roy. Roy, though had no such security, as
David, Darrell and Neil were less line astern more splayed out across
the track in his mirrors. David had found his way past Darrell up at
Sear, and Neil had got a nose ahead, but a slight hesitation for the
clutch handed the advantage back to Darrell. Neil got the exit onto the
Revett Straight, but as the Staride’s Norton wound itself up it looked
like Darrell would reassert his position. But it was the Norton that
seemed to run out of puff at the bridge (or perhaps he did not have the
confidence on the brakes). Either way, Neil led through the Bombhole.
Ahead, David was lining up through Coram for a go at Roy. As Roy hugged
the inside curb to open out Russell, David dived down the middle of the
track for the text book overtaking line – a block pass on Roy, but
opening the radius to maintain speed along Senna Straight and hopefully
cover Roy. Neither of them were expecting Neil to appear in the
Cooper-sized lane on the inside of Russell.
They were three-abreast on the entry to Russell, with Darrell close
behind trying to choose who to tail up the straight – if indeed any of
them made it through the corner. Well they did, Neil briefly up to
fifth, but Roy reclaiming it on the drag to Riches and David wondering
what just happened. It took him another corner to get back past. Despite
this, they had closed up on Nigel Challis, who in turn was now on top of
Rodney. Out through the Bombhole to Coram Nigel passed Rodney for third.
Immediately behind, the group bundled into Russell side-by-side. This
time, Roy decided to make the move to the inside, but the tricky
combination of gradient, camber and curvature was pushing the envelope
just too far. The Martin locked up and snapped right – unfortunately at
a point when everyone else wanted to go left. Mercifully there was no
contact with machine or barrier, but Roy was gone.
Roy Hunt exits, stage left. Photo Kitty Chisholm
Biggest beneficiary of all this was David. Slightly
baulked, Rodney was easy pickings up to the flag, and at Sear he passed
Nigel for third, Through the fourth lap he eked it out to just a car’s
length but thereafter could look forwards and would moved out to a
couple of seconds. Into Agostini he still had nothing, from Nigel,
Rodney, Darrell (who had passed Neil again on the previous lap) and
Neil, who promptly retook the Staride through Hamilton. Again onto
Revett the Staride wound itself up only to be caught out under braking at the bridge. Indeed
this time Neil not only held position but leapfrogged the Kieft. On lap
5 Neil passed Nigel for fourth under braking for Agostini. Darrell also
had a go, but got badly out of shape when he missed a gear letting
Rodney back past. Rodney was in fact struggling to see where he was
going, having collected a film of oil on his visor from one of the cars
ahead. He was easy prey for Darrell, who set off one more time after
Nigel. By this stage there was about a second between each of the cars,
from 3rd to 7th.
Focus though has to be given to the other group. David Whiteside still
led, but was coming under pressure from Mike Gilbert and (with
increasing enthusiasm) Charles McCabe. Kerry Horan was close behind and
looking more racy than for some time, and catching was John Chisholm.
Mark Palmer was drifting off, though still comfortably faster than the
ailing Bell Cooper.
Felt close....... Challis leads Hodges and Delves
through Murray's. Photo Kitty Chisholm
Kerry was having great fun but was slightly confused
that he was struggling to keep up. It was only once back in the Paddock
that marshals explained that the bungee cord springs at the rear had
given up the ghost, and he had been three-wheeling though the corners
with one rear wheel hanging on its stops. Kerry finished some eleven
seconds off the pack, but at least happy with how the race had gone and
making it to the end for once.
Of the remainder Charles looked the raciest. It took a while, but on lap
3 he passed Mike and quickly closed down the 3-second lead David held.
He passed on the Revett Straight and held eighth position to the end,
but not without David having several goes back and not dropping more
than a second behind. Mike in turn caught David, but a moment dropped
him back. This gave John the chance to attack. He passed Mike on lap 5
but Mike returned the favour before crossing the line. John later
discovered that his floats had sunk, costing him speed on the straights
(which just made him even more confident that they finally have a grasp
on the Arnott).
Mike still led as they started Lap 7 (of an expected eight), but at
Palmer, the first corner of the new loop, the Cooper snapped around in
front of John Chisholm. It clattered backwards into the barrier at
considerable speed, maintaining a 500 tradition of trashing Dr Palmer’s
circuit upgrades at first visit, but somewhat less conducive to Mike’s
health. The car rattled along the Armco before rolling back onto the
track and trundling slowly down towards the medical post at Agostini
corner (confusing many of us, who thought the engine had just failed),
and as they recognised that Mike was in some distress the red flag was
Mike was removed to the Medical Centre, but fortunately given the OK. He
returned to the Paddock before everyone had packed up, shaken but
basically sound. By chance his wife was attending so he wouldn’t have to
drive home. The car was rather clattered although it looked basically
sound – as evidence of how hard the impact was, Mike had managed to
completely split one of the cast Cooper wheels. Because of the red flag, results were taken from Lap
6, which ironically meant Mike regained tenth place from John.
Otherwise, positions were pretty much fixed, although Richard
Ellingworth would probably be relieved if he knew how quickly David
Lecoq & Co. were catching at the end.
Nigel Ashman avoids the fun with a great drive for
the win Photo