2005 review part three: Rallying/VSCC hillclimb

Escort service lifts Porsche driver

Armajaro MSA British Historic Rally Championship

Going into the final stage of the season, the 2005 Armajaro MSA British Historic Rally Championship was still to be won and lost. Nine miles later Steven Smith and John Nichols emerged to claim the title.

For much of the season Smith/Nichols made the running in their historic category Porsche 911, but in the autumn it all went wrong. First the gearbox broke in Belgium and then the 911 smoked its way into retirement in Yorkshire with major engine dramas. With only the Somerset Historic Stages left, Smith made a very bold decision.

The only way he could still take the overall BHRC crown was to beat post-historic pacesetters David Stokes and Ian Oakey, who were looking strong for the title in their Ford Escort Mkl. Only by beating Stokes in his class could Smith come between Stokes and the title. So, running a Mkl Escort borrowed from Chris Browne, Smith/Nichols set about taking on the Escort master in the ninth and final rally of the season. It was nip and tuck all day and, although Smith led into the final stage, it was only settled when Stokes clobbered a boulder and damaged his Escort's propshaft. The title went to Smith/Nichols by a single point, while Stokes/Oakey still took the post-historic crown.

Third were Jeremy Easson and Den Golding after a cracking season in their Escort Mkl. But for a shunt on the season-opening Robin Hood Stages, they could also have been overall champions.

Taking the fight to Smith/ Nichols among the older cars were Dessie Nutt/Geraldine McBride (Porsche 911) and Patrick Watts/ Elgan Davies (Sunbeam Tiger), with former touring car driver Watts winning three times.

Two of the best performances of the season netted top-six positions and class wins for Matt Pearce/ Dood Pearce (Mini Cooper) and Ken Forster/John Stanger-Leathes (Escort Mexico), while Peter Lythell/Gill Cotton had a fine campaign in their Porsche 911 to head their class among the post-historics.

The concurrent HRCR Classic Challenge was well won by the Mk2 Escort of Gareth Lloyd/Ryland James from Martin Freestone/ Joanne Lockwood and the rapid 2-litre Pinto-powered Mk2 Escort of Mark and Brett Clifford.

2005: a vintage season

VSCC hilIclimb season

It was one of the most open hillclimbing seasons in memory for the Vintage Sports Car Club. No driver claimed fastest time of the day more than once as overflowing entries crammed the paddocks.

Along with the established big four venues of Wiscombe Park, Shelsley Walsh, Prescott and Loton Park, the tricky Oliver's Mount hill in the suburbs of Scarborough joined the schedule due to Harewood being unavailable.

Fittingly, as the venue marked a landmark century of competition, Shelsley Walsh again fell to ERA R4D as Mac Hulbert continued to regularly dip below the 34sec barrier. His year-old pre-war record didn't fall this time, but the sight and sound of R4D at full stretch on the rush up to the Worcestershire venue's Bottom S remains an iconic sensation in vintage hillclimbing.

But that was about it as far as Hulbert and R4D were concerned in 2005 hillclimbing. He never got to the line at Prescott after the car's oil pump stripped its gears while being warmed up.

Instead, James Baxter stepped in to take FTD at Prescott in his splendid Frazer Nash, but racing commitments kept Baxter away from other events. At Prescott Carl Gray served notice of his searing pace in the 1-litre supercharged Hardy Special by leading the chase of Baxter. Gray then went even better at Loton Park to famously take YID with a climb that bettered Baxter's mark of a year earlier.

Trevor John set the standard at Wiscombe Park in May, but slithered into the undergrowth on his second run when trying even harder. John also featured strongly at Oliver's Mount, but couldn't quite match the nimble Riley Falcon special of Robert Cobden in the battle for FTD.

Among the classes, drivers having strong seasons included Michael Fitzmaurice (Austin 7 special), Brian White (Frazer Nash TT Replica), Pete Candy (Riley special) and Australian visitor Grant Cowie (Austin 7 special).

Inside line

Trevor John

VSCC hillclimber

How did your 2005 season go?

I've had quite a good year. I'm just consistent! I got my first FTD at the VSCC event at Wiscombe Park in May. I set the time on my first run, then I went off into the rhododendron bushes on my second run! But that didn't do any damage. Normally I'm aiming at the vintage section of my class, but sometimes I'm not too far behind the ERAs.

What's your sporting background?

I started in VSCC road rallies in 1979 and then had an Amilcar C6 that I used for hillclimbs for about 10 years. I then had a couple of years off before I got the Cognac in 2000 and I've competed in it ever since.

What's the history of the Cognac?

It was built in the 1930s by a Mr Cohen, with a 2-litre straight-six AC engine in a GN chassis. The name comes from the first two letters of Cohen, GN and AC. The engine design came out in 1919, so you can't get them to the high state of tune of some of the later engines. It's not strong enough to take a supercharger. But it's got plenty of torque, which is good for hillclimbing. The chassis started as a 1921 GN and the engine came from a Brooklands car. It's a mix of 1920s technology. The car has had lots and lots of FTDs over the years. Ron Footitt had it for 35 years and then Freddie and Jon Giles had it.

What are your plans for 2006?

I'll probably do about eight hillclimbs again in 2006. The VSCC hillclimbing scene hasn't changed very much at all over the years; it's still a very informal type of event.