British club racing 1978

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Another fascinating, if overcrowded, calendar

British club racing has now reached the stage where there are more clubs organising more races for a greater variety of racing cars, which in turn require far more championships, than has ever been known before in the history of the sport. New formulae are being introduced all the time, few, if any, are being killed off, and we are now re-introducing defunct classes of racing into an already over-crowded club racing calendar. For instance, this year alone there are well over sixty championships for the “club racer” to compete for.

However, we won’t go into the reasons why club racing has reached such a point here, but what we will do, is attempt to give you a brief run-down of what to expect in both primarily British-based “International” racing and British club racing in general in 1978, starting with the premier single-seater championships.

The most prestigious of all the single-seater championships being held in Britain in 1978 is the new format, combined Formula One/ Formula Two car series, Aurora AFX British Formula One Championship. Last year the old-style Group 8 series attracted its fair share of F1 cars, but this season’s championship looks like being very well stocked with Formula One machinery, which will be supplemented with a separate class for Formula Two cars, to run alongside the F1 cars at each race.

As this is being written prior to the first round of the championship scheduled to take place on Good Friday at OuIton Park it is somewhat difficult to predict winning car/driver combinations, but on looking down the list of entered runners, one or two likely looking victors do show through, namely last year’s champion Tony Trimmer, who will have a McLaren M23 at his disposal, Guy Edwards, who has one of the new F2-based DFV-engined March 78s and Spaniard Emilio Villota, who, like Trimmer, also has a McLaren M23. Other interesting entries include ex-F5000 champion Teddy Pilette, who will have the so far unsuccessful BRM P207 (to be run by BRM themselves), Alo Lawler, who has bought the Divina Galica Surtees TS 19, stuntman Val Musetti (March 761 DFV) and those two ex-golden boys of British club racing, Geoff Lees and Stephen South. Lees will have an Ensign F1 car, while South is hoping to race the March 771 which was raced by Ian Scheckter for the works March team in World Championship Formula One races last year. When you add a string of Formula Two drivers and cars, plus the odd F5000 car (with a DFV in the back) to the above, you have all the ingredients for a most thrilling championship.

Formula Atlantic continues to be nonexistent in this country after the Indylantic effort in 1976. However, in Ireland they operate a successful series and on April 23rd they will be bringing their cars, most of which seem to be Chevrons, incidentally, over to Donington Park for a round of their championship, which should prove to be interesting.

Certainly up to now, Formula Three has been something of a let down after the tremendous season’s racing we had last year. The grids have been small, while the racing certainly for the lead, anyway has been very sub-standard.

We had all hoped to see plenty Of young British talent in F3 this term, but at present the vast majority of the runners either seem to be foreign or Britishers who have been on the scene for years. However, Hampshire driver Derek Warwick has given us some hope with some sterling performances so far with his family business-backed Ralt-Toyota/Novamotor RT1. Derek, a former stock car and FF1600 champion, looks a safe bet for end of season honours at the moment, while two other talented young Englishmen, Phil Bullman and Nigel Mansell, could be up there with him if they get the adequate finance needed to do a full season’s F3 racing.

Obtaining such money is a big problem in F3 at present, and when you realise that some teams are talking of £40,000 and upwards for a year’s racing, you can understand why. One driver for whom finance seems to be no problem is last season’s FF1600 star, Brazilian Francisco “Chico” Serra. Serra is being run by long-time F2 entrant Ron Dennis in a new March 783, which will be fitted with engines prepared exclusively by F2 engine expert Brian Hart. Needless to say, the Brazilian could prove to be a real threat to Warwick once he aclimatises himself to the formula. Stefan Johansson, who races an Argo, is another dark horse, while Geoff Brabham, triple world champion Jack’s son, should also be seen at the front with his Ralt when he appears, which apparently isn’t going to be all that often. One driver who will be wanting to race as often as possible is the very talented New Zealander Brett Riley, who is waiting for a leg broken in a crash in the New Zealand Formula Pacific series to heal up properly before returning to this country to race a new March.

At a rough estimate there are probably around fifty Formula Ford 2000 cars currently in Britain alone. Sadly, though, the occasions who they all enter a race en masse, as it were, are for and far between a great pity. 1978 sees the usual two championships available for the FF2000 competitors; these being sponsored by Allied Polymer Group/Lord’s Taverners ad British Air Ferries. Most of last year’s stars won’t be seen in the formula this season, so it’s a little difficult to say who will be doing most of the winning, but one of the few newcomers, who will definitely be a man to watch, is young Scot David Leslie, who will have a works-run Van Diemen at his disposal. Also look out for regulars Jeremy Rossiter and David McPherson, who both posseses more than the adequate talent to clean up.

Formula Ford 1600 continues to be far ma away the most healthy of all the British club formulae. A vast variety of cars abound all over the country and it is a rare sight indeed, to find a small FF1600 grid. The main championship, terms of prestige, is the official RAC series, but the national Townsend Thoresen, Esso and Philips Car Radio championships are all nearly as important. As the years go by, more and more brand new cars appear at the circuits and this season holds no exception, with just a few more new cars from the East Anglia firm Van Diemen appearing than from any other marque. As evidence of just how many cars exist at preset, there were twenty-four different chassis manufacturers entered for the Formula Ford, heats at the Silverstone International Trophy recently.

It would, therefore, be quite safe to say that one can expect to see yet another intensely competitive season of FF1600 racing this year. Some names you might like to watch for are Kenny Acheson, Michael Roe, James Weaver, Tom Wood and Jim Walsh.

The two Volkswagen-based single-seater formulae, for the Formula Super Vee and Formula Vee cars will continue, but probably on an even smaller scale than in the past, with the Super Vees now being allowed to run with water-cooled VW engines. Unfortunately Super Vee has never really caught on in this country, but elsewhere the formula thrives. Whether or not Super Vee can lift itself in Britain remains to be seen.

The attractively-presented Formula Four single-seaters look to be ready to provide yet another good season of fast, clean motor-racing powered either by their 1-litre screamers or the 1,300 c.c. Ford pushrod o.h.v. engines, which were introduced into the formula’s regulations just over a year ago.

The Monoposto Club’s own Monoposto Formula (for home-built specials of any age or commercially built chassis constructed at least five years prior to January 1st of the current season) has its now familiar Varley Batteries sponsored championship, while the class of racing introduced by the Monoposto Club three years ago for the old Formula Junior cars, has its third consecutive series sponsored by Chandler Hargreaves. It is heart-warming to see the way the vast majority of these old cars are “pedalled”, the formula having become a firm favourite with spectators all over the country, since its return.

This year’s RAC National Touring Car Championship will be sponsored once more by Tricentrol, and already the prospects look excellent for another season of close racing. Although the entry for the opening round at the International Trophy at Silverstone wasn’t particularly full, the quality was really good in the largest class for cars between 2,301 c.c. and 3,000 c.c. Ford Capris were entered for Chris Craft, Gerry Marshall, Gordon Spice, Stuart Graham, Vince Woodman and Jeff Allam, while challenging them was the recently announced Tom Walkinshaw-managed BMW 530i team which consists of Dieter Quester, Scot Norman Dickson and ex-FF2000 champion Rad Dougall. Other drivers are expected to drive for this team later on in the season.

The outright winners of some of the rounds will no doubt come from the largest class, but some wins are expected to fall to the amazingly rapid Leyland Cars Triumph Dolomite Sprint of erstwhile journalist Tony Dron, who drove with tremendous verve last season, scoring outright victories with alarming regularity. Dron’s competition in his own class, the 1,601c.c. to 2,300 c.c. class “B”, looks to be minimal at present save for the very real threat which will inevitably come from John Fitzpatrick and the Hermetite Products Dolomite, the other half of the Leyland-Broadspeed team. Whether “Fitz” will prove to be quicker than Dron is a matter of great interest to everyone. Jon Dooley’s Napolina Alfctta, with some newly homologated parts, could spring a surprise.

The class “C” 1,301 c.c. to 1,600 c.c. class should see ex-Camaro drivers Richard Lloyd and Brian Pepper (in Volkswagen Golf and Scirocco respectively) winning on most occasions, while in the smallest, up to 1,300 C.C. class, Richard Longman should have things all his own way with his self-prepared Mini 1275 GT, as long as last year’s champion Bernard Unett sticks to the rallying he is currently doing for Chrysler, and doesn’t return with his usually invincible Chrysler Avenger GT.

Special Saloons, probably the epitome of British club racing, have a myriad of championships to race for during 1978, with the best ones appearing to be those sponsored by Wendy Wools, Rivet Supply and Brush Fusegear. The “Super Saloon” class, which caused such a stir at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1975 because of their immaculate presentation and preparation, have been given their own series once more by the BRDC for 1978, which is good news indeed. Now, one can only hope that full entries can be obtained for each of the nine scheduled rounds. New names and cars are always appearing on the special saloon scene, making it a constant source of interest.

Production Saloons, “the less modified club version of Group One”, has its regular two national championships in the form of the Shellsport/Derrent Television and Britax series and is bound to’provide its usual brand of fun and games.

The one-make classes for Ford Escort Sports and Renault 5s continue as does the Leyland Cars National Mini Challenge which caters for the Mini 1275 GTs, 1000s and 850s with three separate championships, all of which usually produce fraught battles for every single position available!

A brand new one-make championship, solely for Porsche 924 cars (see February’s Motor Sport) will start this year, with the first round taking place at Donington Park on May 20th/21st. Various noteworthy club drivers have already shown an interest in competing, and if they do, then the championship should prove to be highly spectacular, not to say successful.

Sports 2000, introduced at the beginning of 1976, is one formula which seems to have a lot less trouble than most in attracting sponsors. The cars, which are basically Formula Ford 2000 cars, but with sports-car bodywork that must provide cockpit space for two seats, are getting more plentiful every week. At the opening round of the championship (sponsored by Sodastream, the soft drinks manufacturers) at Silverstone at the beginning of March the race was full to the brim with Lolas, but ironically the race was won by the only Tiga car present, driven by ex-Classic sports-car driver John Webb. The opening laps provided some excellent entertainment with a tremendous battle for second place and, hopefully, when more manufacturers start to produce cars, the formula will become even more evenly matched!

Clubmans Sports Cars, which went through a lean patch a couple of seasons ago, are thriving again thanks to the efforts of the friendly Club mans Register, who have recently announced their own championship for “A” class cars, cars that have fully modified 1,600 c.c. overhead valve pushrod type engines, to go along with those already sponsored by Tricentrol and Oceanair Concorde. The latter series is being run entirely for the “B” class cars which have their engines to FF1600 specification.

Modified Sports Cars, for so long a backbone formula in British club racing, has two main national championships this season as well as sundry localised championships to race for. Once again, the usual sprinkling of Lotus Elans will tend to dominate the overall results in the hands of people like Jon Fletcher, but the proposed return to the class of several E-Types and some quick Datsun 240Zs should stir things. The lower classes will no doubt be the preserve of the speedy Mini Marcos and Davrian cars, while a car that should present the Elans and Jaguars a problem, taking past form into consideration, is the splendid Marcos GT which will be handled by young London driver Jonathon Palmer.

Production Sports Cars continue in 1978 with two national titles for its drivers to aim for, these being the Aleybars and the DB Motors of Leicester championships. There are always going to be problems between fellow competitors in for mulae with such stringent rules as Prodsports, but it would be nice to think that all the arguments that have taken place in recent years will not continue into this season. Leeds businessman Chris Meek, who has dominated the class in recent years with immaculately prepared Lotus Europas, has started this year behind the wheel of an MG Midget in the small class, so it looks as though the Morgans and TVRs will be doing all of the winning, unless, of course, Meek reappears in a Lotus! Another Leyland product, apart from the Midget, that looks as though it could do some winning of its particular class Class B is the Triumph TR7, which has shown well early on in the hands of Martin Birrane.

The Formula 1300 and Formula 750 sportscar classes will be run as ever by the enthusiastic 750 Motor Club (who also promote Formula Four) and the low cost little cars will provide their own form of entertainment for competitors and spectators alike, with full grids almost always the rule of the day.

The only other two sports-car championships are the BARC promoted series for Thoroughbred Sports Cars, which usually produces quick racing and capacity grids full of listed production cars built between 1946 and 1959 (inclusive) and the Classic Sports Car Championship, filled with exotic machinery ranging from Ford GT40s and Lola T70s to Chevron B8s and Lotus Elans. This year’s Classic Sports Car series, by the way, looks like being the best so far with fourteen rounds planned. M.C.S.

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