Marcus Pye's Diary

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MAWP hails Cooper’s forthcoming 60th year and ponders the current plethora of historic motorsport meetings

July 2006:

 The Cooper Car Co’s almost unparalleled contribution to motorsport and to Great Britain’s production racing car industry is sure to be in the spotlight at next summer’s star-studded events.

Justly so, for in July it will be 60 years since the prototype Mark 1 ‘500’ — built around the front ends of two Fiat Topolinos which John gas-axed out of wrecks — made its debut at Prescott hillclimb.

To mark the occasion the Bugatti Owners’ Club, which runs the wonderfully scenic Cheltenham venue, is organising classes for Coopers of all types at its event on July 23, the week of the anniversary. Aside from the frantic bids against the clock, a marque reunion and a cavalcade of cars are planned. It promises to be very special.

I’ve had a thing about 500s since I built one of those fine Merit kits of a Mk9 as a teenager; more so since Pete Wright allowed me to compete in his splendid ex-Ecurie Richmond Mk5 at Wiscombe Park in the early ’90s. What an eye-opener that was.

Would that my feeble ability with a tool kit could sustain one, for the little cars remain the most affordable way into Goodwood’s Revival. If you are handy with spanners, and not fazed by motorcycle engines or greasy sprockets, then you should contact registrar Richard Neale at the 500 Owners’ Association ([email protected]). You’ve nothing to lose but your chains!

September 2006:

 Fixture clashes are nothing new in motorsport, and with the ever-increasing popularity of historic racing spawning more meetings, with more countries wanting to join in, the situation is getting worse. Indeed, early signs suggest that 2006 will be a logistical nightmare for competitors privileged to enjoy the pick of the crop.

The even years are always going to be difficult, since the Automobile Club de Monaco’s Grand Prix Historique (May 20-21) and the Le Mans Classic are arriving on their alternate-seasonal orbits. But the latter’s forward leap to July 7-9 is bound to impact on availability for Goodwood’s Festival of Speed.

Also scheduled to fit a gap in the Formula One calendar, thus open the possibility of enticing some more stars onto the hallowed track, Goodwood’s own Revival Meeting is earlier too, on September 1-3.

That won’t have delighted the Vintage Sports-Car Club, whose SeeRed event at Donington has traditionally been there. Celebrating 100 years of grand prix racing, which dovetails beautifully with 83-year-old circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft’s magnificent resident car collection, it’s going back to September 23-24, I hear, bumping the Spa Six Hours monster to the end of the month.

Of course, a change in the FIA World Championship’s schedule could yet throw the entire shebang into turmoil, and leave European promoters with another frantic round of snakes and ladders just to pick up the crumbs. Little wonder that Americans do their own thing.

Which reminds me, I must make every effort to experience the Monterey spectacular for the first time during next August. It comes highly recommended.

Winter 2006:

Given the apparently endless flood of events between March and October, I am intrigued that it took so long for promulgators of the major international championships to notice that four months still remained fallow. That’s one third of the year unexplored.

Sheikh Maktoum’s A1 Grand Prix initiative — which inspired an unusually large number of enthusiasts to vacate their armchairs when it kicked off at Brands in September — identified the opportunity. It is currently on its world tour, enthusing new markets with its innovative product and marketing.

Back in the 1950s and early ’60s, well before the extreme pressures of commercialism were brought to bear, racing was a year-round deal for F1 stars. Many looked forward to wintering in Australia and New Zealand, as much for the pace of life which the events, formalised into the Tasman Cup series from ’64, afforded as a holiday in the sun.