Birkett 4-Hour relay race
Due to an unfavourable date, on the last day of October, the tisual 750 Motor Club Birkett Six Hour Relay Race had to be shortened to four hours this year to ensure that it finished in daylight. This did not deter the competitors, some of whom commented that it was more fun with the shorter time, six hours becoming boring. Twenty-six teams, all with at least five cars. entered and the racing was very exciting at times. especially if one had access to the handicap positions, published at half-hourly intervals.
The final result for furthest distance actually travelled went to the Porsche Club team with 230 laps after Team Solitaire’s very rapid and exciting Le Mans 512 BB Ferrari. piloted by Mike Salmon. had what appeared to be a horrifying accident after touching a slower car at Woosictue during the last half-hour of the race. On handicap, the Wilcox Motoring Services MG 13 team just heat the Aston Martin Owners Club team of post-war Astons home by less than half a lap, both teams covering 235 laps. with the handicap included.
There were the usual practice dramas for some teams, although most managers reported little trouble. The Porsche team lost one of their cars with a broken crankshaft, but this didn’t seem to upset team manager Mel Clarke. Lao year’s victors, Team Chevron. were having problems with gear selection on their fastest car, but reckoned IM have it ready part-way through the race. ‘ream Solitaire consisted of cars owned by Simon Philips, and they must have caused the handicapper some problems, since with a pre-war 328 BMW at one end of the scale and the full race 512 BB Ferrari which ran at Le Mans this year at the other, performance predictions must have been impossible. In between were Le Mans Frazer Nash, Chevron B16, SWB Lc Mans Ferrari and RSR Porsche. the latter making the handicapper, task that little bit easier by breaking the drive to its camshafts.
The Modified Midgets were having trouble with oil pouring from a recently rebuilt engine, while Team Radio Chiltern Formula 1300 discovered that Overton’s Matlock. rebuilt after an accident the previous weekend, had suffered more damage than at first thought. The Austin A35s lost their fastest car in a practice incident at Maggotts, while the Alvis Owners Club team’s great hope, “Brutus”, failed to get to scrutineering. its differential expiring as it was being removed from its transporter. As usual, there was much activity in the Chain Gang, the team of chain-driven Frazer Nashes – two of the nominated drivers were unable to get to the meeting at the last minute and a third car suffered a broken head gasket in practice, so team manager, Guy Smith, co-opted a spectating TT Rep whose owner just happened to have the correct documentation with him.
Exactly at midday on a bright and reasonably warm for Silverstone, day, the flag fell on a grid of 26 cars. Team Chevron had been lastest in practice, putting Richard Budge’s B8 on pole position. Alongside him was Barry Robinson’s very purposeful looking Porsche carrera which took the lead on the first lap, with the Chevron close behind. Simon Phillips was taking first stint , as appropriate to Le Patron. In his Chevron B16 and Colin Campbell was first runner for the Formula 1300 team. Don Praters massive V8 Aston Martin, representing the AMOC’s, team of post-war cars, and Keith Ashby’s diminutive MG Midget completed the first six on the road after one lap. Robinson was trying very hard, hut was unable to shake off the Chevron challenge, Budge keeping in touch with the leader for the first half hour, by which time the two leaders had lapped the rest of the field.
First casualty was Andy McLennan’s A35, which coasted round Woodcote after four laps with a hole in its block. McLennan carefully parked alongside the pit wall next to his team and was able to pass the little yellow ticket, which replaced the traditional sash on this occasion, up to the team’s number two. Another early stoppage was the Alfa Romer, Owners Club’s Peter Kitchin in his 2-litre GTV which lost its bonnet he was replaced on the circuit by a Porsche, driven by Dick Lust, which seems rather strange for an Alfa Club team!
There were no such strangers in any ot the three teams of Aston Martins. After half an hour, the AMOC’s post-war team, managed by Jun Broadey, was in sixth position on handicap, but fourth equal with the Modified Midgets and the Formula 1300 teams on the road, while the pre-war team, managed by Derrick Edwards, was well ahead of the Alvis tram and the Chain Gang. the only other two pre-war teams. The “unofficial” Aston team. running under the name “DAM Quick Astons”, due to assistanee from the DAM fishing tackle concern, included Aston Chairman Victor Gauntlett in his reeently acquired DB2 and was a lap down on the Club team, in tenth place on handicap.
At the one hour stage. the Lancia team which had led the handicap after 30 minutes had been relegated to tenth position, the TR Register, managed by Graham Peach, moving into the lead with the MG B team second a couple of laps down. The Porsche team were still in the lead on the road, but Team Solitaire had had to change the Chevron for the big Ferrari after about 45 minutes when the fuel system began to give trouble. and Salmon soon began to haul in the kading Porsche, taking second place from the Chevron team. The Modified Midgets were still sharing fourth place with he post-war Astons and the Formula 1300 team was in sixth spot.
After 90 minutes, the leader on the road was, predictably, the beautiful Ferrari, ahead of the Porsche team, but the Chevron team had by now fielded Van Malkie in his recent, rebuilt B19 Chevron which had been lastest in practice lapping in under a minute, with a six lap deficit to catch up. The Astons were still fourth. but the Modified Midgets had dropped back to sixth place with the Formula 1300 team fifth. Salmon’s into in the big Ferrari had also had a big effect on Solitaire’s position on handicap, bringing them up to second position behind the TR Register. Third place was held by the MGB team, and fourth by the post-war Frazer Nashes.
By the half-way mark, Solitaire, ably managed by Richard Williams, had brought in the big Ferrari and were running Vic Norman in an equally delectable short-wheelbase 250GT Ferrari, which had given the Porsche team the chance to regain the lead. Malkie’s attempts to haul in the leaders came to naught when he lost oil pressure, causing some confusion in the Chevron pit since the replacement driver was not fully prepared. The post-war Astons were holding fourth place on the road but had moved up to second on handisap behind the MGB team which had relegated the TR Register contingent to fourth behind Solitaire. Back down the field. Eric Hoult, representing the MG A team, had run out of fuel and came pelting hack to the pits on foot to hand over his yellow card,while Dick Smith who had been entertaining the sparse crowd with some very typical sideways motoring in his chain-drive Frazer Nash, stopped on the Club Straight when his magneto came adrift, necessitating despatch of the next car to collect the card.
With one hour to go, the Porsches were well in the lead on the road, but Solitaire had fielded Salmon and the big Ferrari again after Phillips had had another stint in the Chevron: Salmon had two laps to win back. The Chevrons had their house back in order, and were only one lap behind Solitaire, while the post-war Astons were in a strong fourth position on the mad, sharing the same number of laps with the Formula 1300 team. On handicap, things had changed quite dramatically, the post-war Astons taking the lead, nearly a lap ahead of the MG Bs. Solitaire were in third place, while thc Formula 1300s and post-war Frazer Nashes shared fourth. Things were hotting up on the circuit, with drivers getting well used to the conditions and driving ever closer to the limit. With such tremendous speed differentials (the leaders were capable of lapping the slowest cars within two laps, there was much use of the blur flag, and some exciting moments, especially at Woodcote which is effectively “blind”. One of the TRs and a 44 Morgan came into contact, just, the TO spinning into the catch fencing. Marshals were soon on the spot, freeing the car. which then reversed onto the track. . . A few laps later. another 4/4 Morgan had one of those spins which goes on for ever, taking the driver, Richard Casswell, well up the pit straight.
Team Solitaire’s hopes came to an end when Salmon, lights ablaze, came round Woodcote to find Tony Broom’s Turner on his line. Salmon tried to avoid the car, but in doing so, clipped it and then went out of control, rolling a couple of times and ending up in the banking, with the car, smashed beyond belief, around him. Despite the terrible damage, Salmon himself suffered no more than serious bruising. Phillips came round in a vain attempt to find the necessarY yellow card and carry on the race with his Chevron, but after seeing the wreckage from closer quarters, he decided against it and cruised back to the pits.
Thus the Porsche team had a clear run to the finish. completing a total of 225 laps to Team Chevron’s 223. A welkieserved third place went to the AMOC’s team of post-war Aston Martins with 210 laps, while the Radio Chiltern Formula 1300 team wok fourth position with 209 laps. In fifth place, despite not running for the final 20 minutes, was Team Solitaire on 205 laps. No other teams exceeded 200 laps. The handicap results gave the MG B team the lead over the post-war Astons but by less than a lap, wtth the Lancia V6 team in third place. having made an excellent recovery front their earlier troubles.
It is worth noting that three laps separated the first ten teams on handicap a real credit to the team, led by Robin Birchall, whose unenviable task moot to set the handicaps. – P.H.J.W