A Legend in its Own Lap Time

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The HSCC pays tribute to one of the nation’s race and rally staples

It was launched as Ford’s ‘small family car’, a replacement for the angular Anglia, but soon morphed into something else altogether: a potent competition tool, as well suited to stage life as it was to the track. Half a century on, the Escort remains widely used and worthy of commemoration…

BRANDS HATCH

It’s something of a scarcity in homogenised modern Britain – a club meeting with a feature that won’t (in this case can’t) be repeated. The Historic Sports Car Club headlined its traditional September trip to Kent with a brace of Ford Escort 50th Anniversary Celebration Races, open to the first two of the model’s iterations. This splendid initiative drew more than 20 cars, in assorted states of tune beneath a variety of flared sculptures.

The only downside was dismal weather, so much so that even an icon of Escort proportions was unable to attract an audience commensurate with its status. Such were conditions that the tunnel between inner and outer paddocks had to be drained to permit transfer betwixt the two, and the second day’s practice began behind the safety car to tame competitive zest in a world of standing water.

The Brown family dominated: Daniel (Mk2) won the opening race from the Mk1s of father Sean and brother Robert, while the trio slumped to a mere 1-3-4 in the second race as Steve Minton (Mk2) squeezed his way between them. The cars sounded the part and looked even better: one trusts something similar might be organised in 2068.

Nor was it just the circuit-based attractions. The first thing I spotted on Sunday morning was a ShellSport Escort Mexico from Brands Hatch’s early 1970s ‘celebrity’ fleet, one that raced for two seasons before being retired and later used as a wedding car by former circuit boss John Webb and his bride Angela. It has been in the hands of its current owner for more than 25 years and is regularly pressed into service for European road trips, complete with period stickers.

The adverse conditions were a boon for drivers of smaller cars in the Historic Touring Car Championship, a chance to run rings around most of the Lotus Cortinas. Adrian Oliver – son of Eric, who conquered the 1949 World Sidecar Championship with the help of passenger Denis Sargent Jenkinson – won the opener in his Hillman Imp, while Steve Platts took the second in his Singer Chamois.

One entry with a particularly original look was the lovely navy Mini of David Dunnell, the very car in which outgoing HSCC CEO Grahame White had made his racing debut at the same venue 54 years beforehand. “It is very original,” said White, “but then so it should be. It had been sitting in my barn for a great many years before we decided we really ought to take it out and do something with it.”

The meeting’s balance comprised many familiar treats, with another phenomenal FF2000 entry and yet more of the customary combat that makes Historic Formula Ford so compelling – even in a deluge. F1’s rights holder Liberty Media seems to be investing much time, money and effort in a bid to understand how to improve the spectacle of racing. The simplest solution might be to buy a couple of tickets to an HSCC meeting.

THRUXTON

The contrast was striking. A few days beyond confirmation that Rockingham (born 2001) was to cease operations as a racing circuit, Thruxton (born 1952, reborn 1968) appeared in rude health – a template for how a once loss-making venue can be turned around through diligent use of the 353 days per annum on which racing is not permitted.

The other 12 are largely consumed by events of significant profile (BSB, the British Truck Racing Championship and a double dose of BTCC from 2019), but space should always be left for meetings such as this. The stands might have been sparsely populated and the ice-cream van queues non-existent, but the Classic Sports Car Club is ever blessed with strong grids and its meetings always have a pleasing ambiance. A pity that the free-range suspension travel of the Swinging Sixties series was elsewhere, committed to a renegade calendar slot at Brands Hatch, but the meeting didn’t suffer unduly from its absence.

Some of the officiating was overzealous (one chief marshal reported a Mini driver for track limits, when the poor bloke had simply understeered wide and lost the kind of momentum that would take a fortnight to recoup… hardly gaining an advantage), but for the most part this was a common-sense clubbie with a side serving of mild weirdness.

I know the Toyo Tyres Jaguar Saloon & GT Championship isn’t new to Thruxton, but the sight of a phalanx of XJ6s bouncing through the chicane always looks slightly incongruous.

A bit like truck racing, but with added walnut and leather.

OULTON PARK

One month on from Thruxton, another CSCC voyage began when my alarm interrupted a vivid dream about a BTCC pile-up at a non-specific circuit – several contemporary cars were involved, ditto the 1993 Toyota Carinas of Will Hoy and Julian Bailey. If anyone can interpret this, feel free to drop me a line.

An omen for a strange day? Not at all. The northbound journey was effortless, the M1 both empty and bathed in chilly sunlight, and before 8am I was settling into Garage 39, Donington’s new paddock café, for a welcome first taste of its breakfast fare. Recommended.

The meeting was originally slated for the longer ‘Grand Prix’ version of Donington, but there weren’t enough marshals available to cover all posts – a situation possibly not helped by clashing, high-profile meetings (BTCC Silverstone, BSB Oulton Park) within reasonably close range. The benefit was that sawn-off Donington better suits racing of this calibre: Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, Ford Capri, Reliant Sabre 6, a phalanx of Minis and Spridgets… seldom are the sport’s roots any grassier – and the world is always a better place when you can hear a Sunbeam Tiger’s V8 symphony and use sound alone to pinpoint its precise location.

OBITUARIES

One of the greatest privileges of my professional life has been to meet a wonderfully diverse array of people, a group united by a common passion but whose journeys started from all points around the globe. It was with much sadness that I learned of the recent passing of two individuals whose company I had greatly enjoyed.

A fine driver in his day (he finished fourth in the 1972 British Formula Atlantic Championship), and later a respected engineer and team owner, Bob Salisbury lost his lengthy battle with cancer at the age of 74.

I got to know Kevin Corin during the early 1980s, when he worked as an engineer for Murray Taylor Racing in British F3. We had reconnected in recent years, despite being 12,000 miles apart, because social media provided a channel through which we could discuss our shared love of photography. Kevin died pursuing his passion, struck by a car while covering a rally in his native New Zealand. He was just 63.