Thruxton Silver Jubilee

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Mention Easter Monday to a motor racing fan, and the chances are he’ll think of Thruxton. For years, the BARC organised Formula 2 racing on that bank holiday which brought the top and soon-to-be-top international drivers to the Hampshire circuit; Stewart, Peterson, Hill, Lauda, Reutemann, Lafitte, and, memorably, Jochen Rindt, winner of the International event in each of the first three years.

Racing began at Thruxton early in 1968, so this June the BARC marked 25 years of its home circuit with a Jubilee meeting, mixing a fine field of Group 6 Le Mans-type sportscars with historic F2 racers competing for the Jochen Rindt Memorial Trophy for the first time since 1985. After his death at Monza in 1970, Rindt was so strongly associated with Thruxton that the F2 drivers raced for the Memorial Trophy right up to 1985, when the increased cost of the new F3000 series forced the BARC to drop it from the menu. The Trophy has not been awarded since then, so it was a fine objective for the healthy field of 1600 and 2-litre cars, amongst them the very Brabham BT36 with which Graham Hill won the first Trophy in 1971.

It was mildly ironic then that the expected highlight of the day, a lap-record breaking run by Damon Hill in his Grand Prix Williams, fell through when the Renault engine’s pneumatic valve system developed a leak and it refused to start. First of the car events was the SportsPrototype race, packed with dramatic machinery. Again David Piper had brought a selection to make the mouth water: Ferrari P1, P2, 250LM, a brace of Ford F3Ls and the Porsche 917 for himself to drive, the same car he entered here in 1970. One of the Fords cracked a gear-casing in practice, so Richard Attwood switched to the younger one for the race. In the event, Mike Knight (Matra MS650) was the surprised winner: having passed Baker’s Lola Mk3B for second, he seemed to have little chance of catching Mike Pendlebury’s Lola T70, when on the last lap the leader dropped to a crawl and peeled into the pits instead of taking the flag, victim of a loose wheelnut. Amongst many Lolas (handsome brutes, but commonly seen), the racing rarities embraced Porsche (906 and 910), Gary Pearson unusually far from the front in Rod Cody’s Ferrari 330GT, a brave Mike Harrison tackling the Lotus 40, and Anthony Taylor’s 2-litre Willment-BRM spider.

Chris Rea was upset to be biffed from behind in the 250LM, resulting in some body damage to the Piper car, much modified in its time but now returned to its classic shape, albeit with grip panels, no silencers, and a single fuel tank for today’s short races. If anyone doubted Marc Surer’s prospects for the F2 race, starting on pole and disappearing into the distance, it was the Grand Prix pilot himself: his BMW Motorsport-run March 792 had burst a hose and overheated in the morning, so he watched the gauges nervously. It was just as well he had something to look at, for there was nothing in his mirrors; Eddie McLurg, though qualifying almost as fast in the younger 822 March, settled for a smooth but lonely second, the only car the Swiss ace failed to lap. It was Surer’s first Thruxton win, ironically in the chassis he drove to the European F2 Championship in 1979, but which blew up here that year. A race-long squabble for second livened things up, being particularly impressive as both drivers were “rookies” in a way: Steve Jewell was flat-racing his Chevron B48 for the first time instead of hill-climbing it, while Roger Ealand had forsaken his rapid Marcos for a borrowed March 802. It was close, but Ealand scored.

Group N saloons made a lively final act after a rolling start behind an Aston Virage, with Ford’s family supercar continuing its domination: Escort RS Cosworths grabbed the top three places, with Charlie Cox nursing his to victory despite a tyre damaged in the rough and tumble. James Thompson was in charge of a string of Castrol-liveried V-Tec Honda Civics, going like a Sprinter train on a commuter line, while, talking of sprinters, Daley Thompson was an easy winner in the 1400 class, being the lone entry in his Peugeot 106.

Since there were motorbikes, sidecar outfits and karts racing on the same day, everyone could watch their choice of racing and still visit the cavalcade ground in the centre, where an interesting mix of road and race cars included Simon Draper’s open Le Mans Bristol 405, the lovely Lancia Zagato Hyena, a Rocket, the Lynx-restored Ecurie Ecosse transporter which carried owner Dick Skipworth’s Le Mans C-type, and, swarming with crowds, the McLaren F1. Rodney Felton treated us to the sound of Tom Wheatcroft’s BRM V16 and Thinwall Special, while the Army Air Corps flew its Auster and DH Beaver and its helicopter display team to excite the crowd. It was a busy and varied day, with elements reflecting most of the BARC’s 81-year history, from its Brooklands beginnings through its time at Goodwood, closed in 1966 due to noise problems which drove the club to seek new ground elsewhere. Thruxton airfield became Thruxton circuit in only five months, but was immediately restricted to a mere 12 days racing per year because of noise; it was a whimsical turn of fate which placed the Jubilee celebrations exactly one week after a brand new motoring event at Goodwood. G C

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