Pomeroy trophy

Unjust comparisons

The star may not have come but the show still went on. Most present felt a tinge of disappointment when Nick Mason’s Ferrari F40 failed to appear at Silverstone for the Pomeroy Trophy on March 4, but as the cold, grey, wet day gradually gave way to bright, sunny weather, that disappointment evaporated with the water from the track.

There were no veterans amongst the 61 cars which started the competition, but there were a couple of Edwardians. The oldest present was Hubbard’s 6-cylinder Alco, reputedly older by six years than Harrington’s 12hp Rover. There were six vintage cars and fourteen post-vintage thoroughbreds.

The 39 post-war cars present ranged from the mundane Ford Sierra estate to the slightly ludicrous MG Metro 6R4. There were seven cars from the Fifties, six from the Sixties, ten from the Seventies and 16 from the Eighties. The most-represented make was Bentley with nine present (including my own 41/2-litre), but models noticeable by their absence included the big Austin Healeys, E-type Jaguars, Triumph TRs and Ferraris.

Apart from Hubbard needing a mirror and a few others encountering minor problems, all cars got through scrutineering without any major drama.

The first test was the zig-zag section between Becketts and Woodcote, but the cones were set so far apart that little steering was required. It certainly did not need any manoeuvrability from the car or any real skill from the driver. Perhaps the organisers can take some tips from Goodyear, which proves at the annual SMMT test-day at Donington that it really knows how to set out a demanding test.

Some competitors took the task very seriously, such as Capon in his MG Maestro, a competition car used in the Maestro Challenge but only allowed to start this event at the organisers’ discretion after breaking the regulations by arriving on a trailer. Anxious to get his tyres well scrubbed, he approached the start-line with handbrake on and front tyres screaming and smoking. Whether this actually did any good on the wet track it is difficult to say, but it looked spectacular.

In what was virtually a straight-line speed test, Alexander in his 6R4 was fastest and the only one to beat 16 seconds. Felton in his short-chassis 2.3 Alfa Romeo, wearing its original Zagato body for the occasion, put up a magnificent performance and was quickest of the pre-war cars, just 0.2 sec slower than the Maestro.

The brake-test on the pit-straight was next on the agenda. Accelerating from line A to cross line B as fast as possible, and stopping with front wheels in the 20-yard gap between lines C and D, was not easy in the wet conditions, although most accomplished the task.

Quickest was Mayman’s Porsche 944, while Felton’s Alfa Romeo was again fastest of the pre-war cars. Mirth, however, was provided by Cohn’s Bentley, which thundered majestically down the straight, sailed through the designated area and was last seen heading for Woodcote.

Tests three and four were the standing-start quarter-mile followed by the flying quarter-mile down the Club Straight. The track was by now drying out in patches, but few bothered to pick out the drier line. The finish was just after the bridge and quite close to the entrance to the new chicane. Quickest by some half a second in the flying run was Channon’s AC Cobra, but this immediately came to grief against the armco and was forced to retire with damaged bodywork and front wheel and deranged front suspension — a sorry end for this former winner of the Trophy. Felton was again supreme in both tests.

Due to the paucity of entries there were only two 40-minute high-speed trials instead of three, most of the older and slower cars being let loose on the circuit first. Each competitor was given a target number of laps to achieve in the time and lost points for those not completed in the time limit. It was therefore not a race, but needless to say scraps developed up and down the field.

I had started off by religiously setting my watch and counting the laps so as to achieve my target of 26, a big task in my 41/2-litre Bentley as my lap times around the Club circuit before the advent of the chicane had been around 1min 30sec anyway, a time I now had to match with extra ground to cover. This lasted until lap ten, but there then began a long duel with Derek Green’s lovely S-type Invicta which was to last the rest of the distance after he sneaked past.

All thought of keeping account of the laps left my head as I did all in my power to overtake, catching up in the corners but losing on acceleration out of them. It was only in the penultimate corner, when Green went wide at Paddock, that I was able to sneak by. Since it was not a race it hardly mattered, but honour was satisfied. Hubbard’s Alco never made the test, having pulled out on the first warm-up lap when a small fire broke out under the fuel tank and quickly developed into a larger conflagration. Following desperate signals from fellow competitors, the American pulled off and was quickly dealt with by the marshals. Another car to suffer problems was Hescroff’s Bristol-engined AC Ace which pulled off after 10 laps when its hose-pipe came adrift causing it to overheat.

The second high-speed trial was for the faster cars, although describing Threlfall’s Sierra estate as such might fall foul of the trade descriptions laws. One of the more interesting cars to watch was Grottick’s four year-old Rover Vitesse, which understeered magnificently around the corners. An interesting dice also developed between a couple of Porsches, while Barker’s Aston Martin developed an unhealthy growl.

Results were announced commendably quickly after the event, with Ron Gammons (Chairman of the MG Car Club) winner of the Trophy in his 23-year-old MGB and Felton runner-up and winner of the Densham Trophy.

Although there is no such award, driver of the day in my books was Max Turner who, three weeks before his 76th birthday, contested the event in his son’s MG Metro 6R4. Apart from last year’s Pomeroy, it was his first event since 1933 when, as riding mechanic to his older brother Rodney in their Ulster Austin, became second to Eddie Hall’s MG Midget at Donington’s very first race on March 25 — and was pictured in the May issue of Motor Sport running to the car at the start.

Although the Pomeroy Trophy is meant to find the best all-round car, the handicapping system was originally meant to give large touring cars as much of a chance of outright success as sports-cars and competition specials. It no longer does so. The handicapping should also better reflect a car’s age, since even the youngest post-vintage thoroughbred is now almost 50 years old, and cannot expect to be compared favourably with modern cars.

For instance, the 1932 Invicta was expected to do one more lap in the 40-minute highspeed trial than the 2-litre, fuel-injected MG Maestro! While this takes into account the cubic capacity of the engine, it does not reflect suspension, steering, brakes, weight, size of wheels and petrol consumption, all of which effect overall performance. In the past, fuel consumption was an important factor in the outcome, as was public road driving.

Already the entry-list is down and the percentage of pre-war cars decreases every year. If run-of-the-mill cars continue to outclass all but pre-war specials, the VSCC, whose main interest is after all in vintage cars, will find that most of the competitors will arrive in their wives’ shopping cars and that the Trophy will become devalued.

The purpose of the event originated by LH Pomeroy was that pretty well any car in a good state of tune stood a chance of winning, but that has been lost. Maybe the answer is for the running of the event to be handed over to a club which is more in tune with modern cars anyway, but that is a different issue! WPK