Is the British GP the finest race on the Northants/Bucks border? Not necessarily
The wall of spray remained intense all the way from London’s western fringe to junction 10 of the M40 and beyond. It wasn’t so much that it was raining, more that somebody had decided to put the A43 through a fast-rinse cycle. But with about 115 Formula Ford cars on the horizon, no amount of inclemency was likely to be a deterrent…
This was the 17th running of the Walter Hayes Trophy, an event whose creator James Beckett continues to promote with every bit as much vigour as he did on day one. It might be the tail end of the UK racing season – with short days and temperatures struggling to break into single figures at November’s dawn – but few domestic race meetings generate anticipation on this scale.
Fresh from overseeing Joey Foster’s Formula Ford Festival victory at Brands Hatch a fortnight beforehand, veteran entrant Don Hardman was raring to go. “I can’t wait,” he said. “This is my favourite meeting of the year and always produces the best racing…”
And so it came to pass.
The meeting was initially delayed, simply because it was too wet to allow qualifying to commence on schedule, but the awkward conditions added a layer of fascination. At Becketts, some drivers stuck to the conventional line and ploughed on regardless through the standing water, a technique that seemed to compromise exit speed onto the Wellington Straight rather less than attempting to steer around the puddles. Meanwhile, 2016 winner Niall Murray appeared to experiment with a slightly different line on almost every lap, made most of them look workable and took pole for his heat by almost nine tenths (although he would be eliminated in an accident at the semi-final stage).
And while all this was going on, it was possible to keep an eye on some kind of track-day event on the South Circuit, the main feature of which was a well-driven Ford Fiesta running rings around a bunch of Ferraris
The wet also gave those in older cars an opportunity to capitalise on the reduced torsional stiffness that would normally be a disadvantage: Callum Grant (Merlyn Mk20A) and Michael Mallock (U2 Mk9) both finished fifth in their heats, obliterating much newer machinery, but as conditions dried so opportunities for further giant-killing receded. Great fun to watch while it lasted, mind.
Grant and Mallock also played starring roles in the Historic Formula Ford Consolation (effectively a final for the older cars), in which they formed part of a five-way lead tussle with Richard Tarling (Jamun T2), Ben Mitchell (Merlyn Mk20) and Mike Gardner (Crosslé 32F). There was absolutely no compromise, but nor was there any contact. It was motor racing in the old manner, hard but clean and ripe with respect. Positional changes were constant and all five were covered by 1.093sec at the flag, with Tarling ahead, though for much of the distance it had been even closer.
If there was a better contest anywhere on the planet in 2017, I’d love to know about it.
The main event was at times a little more robust, a consequence of ambition rather than intent, but the racing remained uniformly compelling. Josh Fisher (Van Diemen RF99) beat Oliver White (Medina) by 0.027sec in the first semi-final, while Festival victor Foster (Ray) positively romped home in the second: he had 0.150sec in hand over Michael Moyers (Spectrum) after the latter ceded ground by running slightly wide at the final corner. Moyers’ compensation came in the grand final, when he squeaked ahead of Fisher – just before a yellow-flag zone – to take the lead at Brooklands on the last lap. Job done.
‘Sensational’ is an oft overused adjective in all spheres of sport, but in this instance it is wholly appropriate.
The headline races won’t be the only things to endure in the memory, either. As ever at the WHT, the organising Historic Sports Car Club’s traditional almost-anything-goes sports/saloon libre races – one of them an all-female event – reaped a rich harvest. It’s not often that you see a Dallara LMP3 prototype lapping a Renault Clio in the heat of competition, but you could here. And the Dallara, tidily driven by Martin Short (once he’d finished larking about with the other prototypes, for the sake of the show), sounded fantastic – completely audible around every one of the national circuit’s 2,637,714.8 millimetres.
You want to watch a Rover P6 taking on an Elva Courier? Or a beautifully turned out Porsche 917 replica being challenged by a Clubmans Mallock? Step this way…
And then – a first at this event, as far as I’m aware – there was a two-hour Britcar ‘into the night’ fixture. A nice idea, but one had to feel for the marshals (especially as more than half the cars were entered only in the ‘sprint’ section of the race and were thus flagged off after 50 minutes).
In the paddock, meanwhile, former racer Gerrit van Kouwen could be found with his nose poked deep into the cockpit of a Lola T644E similar to the one the Dutchman had used to win the 1984 FF Festival. “I was wondering whether it had the same mods that I used in period,” he said. And teenage Belgian karter Amendola Michelangelo did a decent job to make it through to the final, but then had to sacrifice his place at the rear of the grid in order to get back to St Pancras to catch his train home…
I recently read some comments from Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s director of commercial operations, who spoke to SportsPro magazine about developing a new fanbase. He said, “We have an RFP [request for proposal] in the marketplace right now to create a live and non-live over-the-top product and to better utilise the data and metrics that come out of each race. There are 1500 points of data that come out of each of these cars every second of a Grand Prix. We’re not going to suffocate the fan but we want to identify a substantive amount of those metrics so that we can convert the ones and zeros into very compelling user interfaces to tell our story.”
I think I understand some of that, but if you want to guarantee that people will become engaged with our sport there’s a simpler method.
Send them to the Walter Hayes Trophy.
Officially the clocks had gone back one hour, although stepping out at 4.15am it felt as though they had been rewound to an ice age.
The Auto 66 Club’s annual Sidecar Bash had long been on my radar. Previously staged at Mallory Park, it always seemed to clash with some other pressing commitment (clue: involving cars), but finally on October 29 I was free to attend – and one should never spurn an opportunity to visit Cadwell, whatever the temperature.
I’ve always loved watching sidecars (without ever feeling the inclination to sit anywhere near one), but while entries are strong at BSB meetings – and even more so on the Isle of Man – they tend to be a little thin at club-level events.
There were about 100 outfits entered, ranging in shape and size from the era of Eric Oliver and Jenks to the more rapier-like missiles of the modern age. The paddock was rammed and there were a couple of decent grids for solo races, so all the right ingredients were in place. Well, all bar one: logic…
Certain bike clubs – BMCRC and Thundersport GB spring to mind – are responsible for some of the UK’s slickest motor sport, but this wasn’t from the same manual.
There were 18 races listed, but another three had to be carried over from the previous day – and the first four-lapper was then delayed by a red flag (which meant it took 53 minutes to complete). Some of these things are beyond the reins of race control, but officials persisted with reducing scheduled distances, trying to cram in the programmed number of events, and very few races settled into any kind of rhythm.
It would surely have been wiser to run categories for eight laps rather than four and then halve the number of races (same track time, less messing about on the grid, fewer green flag laps and so on). I’ve yet to find anybody who can explain why this wasn’t possible, but if somebody knows…