2004 Review -- Part One: The single-seaters

FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix -- Gallego steals a march on old guard

The TGP series boiled down to a head-to-head between Portuguese pretender Rodrigo Gallego and defending champion Mike Wrigley — and Gallego's consistency earned him the coveted title.

Things could scarcely have started more impressively for the TGP pack. At the invitation of Bernie Ecclestone they played support to the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix. In a hard-fought race victory went to Fredy Kumschick in a Williams FW07C. The result made him a national hero back in Switzerland: "It was wonderful. Very special."

Joaquin Folch aboard a Williams FW098C and John Wilson (Tyrrell 011) both won on home ground, at Jarama and Donington respectively, then Kumschick won at Monza.

This variety of race winners was just what Gallego (March 761) and Wrigley (Tyrrell 012) wanted, for it meant that the champion was increasingly likely to emerge from one of the other classes. In both cases they were able to regularly claim large hauls of class points, although Wrigley only just made it over the line at Donington because of a broken gear linkage.

Wilson won again at Zolder, before Kumschick added his third and final win of the year at Lausitz: "This year we didn't get the best from the car. Three wins was never going to be enough to win the title." Fredy ended the season third in the overall points, the best of the pace-setting Class C cars.

Lausitz was a turning point. "We got no points because a driveshaft broke," says Wrigley. "We didn't test and we were trying to conserve the engine by using less revs. We lost a bit of headway and people were starting to get closer to us."

After a long summer break the championship was decided at Brno and Estoril. Gallego now had the upper hand, although a shortage of starters in Class B was giving him some concern: to secure maximum points required a minimum of cars in each class. The fly in Wrigley's ointment, however, was the Arrows A6 of Steve Hartley: "We finally got the rear shockers sorted and it transformed the car. It was the best it's ever been this season." Hartley won the class in both races.

Outright wins in those two races fell to the hard-charging Hubertus Bahlsen (Arrows A4/5) and Duncan Dayton (Williams FW07C), but most eyes were on the class battles. Gallego was led by John Crowson (Ensign N177) at Brno but netted the title on home ground in an emotional Estoril finale. "It was a fantastic year. To win at home was a special moment," said Gallego.

Wrigley started from way down the grid after a qualifying off, then climbed to ninth overall and third in class. But it left him eight points adrift of the new champion.

Gallego's rise has been rapid. It was only two years ago that he attended his first TGP race at Estoril — as a spectator!

***

Rodrigo Gallego

The 39-year-old Portuguese solicitor was an unexpected overall TGP champion in only his second season racing a March 761. But his pace and consistency took full advantage of what was, at times, modest class opposition.

He started competing in rallies and then switched to racing with a Porsche 911RSR. But, captivated by TGP, he arranged a test with the Belgian MecAuto Team at Zolder in 2002. He was hooked, and raced the team's March in '03 before mounting a full assault in '04.

The result was five class wins, two seconds and a third in eight races and he duly outpointed defending champion Mike Wrigley. His success has already earned Rodrigo a place in the Hall of Fame of the Sporting Lisbon Club.

"The 2004 season was amazing." he says. "The car was always 100 per cent thanks to MecAuto and Geoff Richardson's engines. There aren't any words to express what it means to me to win the TGP championship. It's been an incredible year and it is a superb championship. To race against your peers in grand prix cars and to win such a competitive series -- it's the maximum a driver can dream to achieve!"

***

TGP Points

1. Rodrigo Gallego (March 761) -- 61

2. Mike Wrigley (Tyrrell 012/3) -- 53

3. Fredy Kumschick (Williams FW07) -- 44

= Steve Hartley (Arrows A6) -- 44

5. Ian Barrowman (Osela FA1) -- 37

6. Hubertus Bahlsen (Arrows A4/5) -- 33

7. John Crowson (Ensign N177) -- 31

8. Richard Eyre (Williams FW08) -- 28

9. Joaquin Folch (Williams FW07) -- 26

10. John Delane (Tyrrell 001) -- 24

***

Grand Prix Masters -- Sytner shows his F1 mastery

Under a new management team and with fresh investment, the Grand Prix Masters initiative took over the FORCE Classic GP series and made excellent progress in a debut season. Catering for the first decade of 3-litre F1 cars, the commitment of Ron Maydon's team encouraged some very promising grids.

Frank Sytner, armed with the ex-John Watson Penske PC3 in First National Bank livery, was his ever-competitive self when he dropped in for around half the races. In both UK double-headers, he was unstoppable and claimed double victories at Silverstone and Donington. He also tackled the opening race at Dijon in June to make it five wins. However, none were walks in the park for Sytner as he got his first real taste of racing a 3-litre F1 car. At Silverstone Peter Williams put up a fierce opposition in his March 761 and claimed second place in the first race before being sidelined with a suspension failure in the second.

Meanwhile, at Donington, John Crowson (Ensign N177), Chris Perkins (Fittipaldi F5A) and the inspired Rob Hall (BRM P201) all played a part in ensuring Sytner had to earn his wins the hard way. When Sytner missed the second race in France due to illness, Crowson won on a weekend off from the TGP. Williams had his glory weekend earlier in the year when he threaded his March through the streets of Pau for a fabulous double victory. Frank Lyons (McLaren M26) and Peter Wünsch (Brabham BT37) led the chase, and the Lyons McLaren was back on the podium at the Nürburgring in the hands of a guesting Mike Wrigley. However, the oldtimer glory fell to Joaquin Folch's M23 during a stellar weekend for the Spaniard.

***

Vintage Sports-Car Club -- ERA strong as ever

In the 70th anniversary season of both the club and the marque it was wholly appropriate that ERAs once more claimed a lion's share of the major VSCC trophies. Most notable was a Donington double for Ludovic Lindsay. Back aboard R5B after some time away, he bagged the ERA Anniversary Race and the Historic Seaman Trophy.

Earlier in the year the race run in his father Patrick's memory at Silverstone was clinched by another ERA: R3A, driven by Duncan Ricketts.

As ever, Charles Dean threw his Bugatti T51 around with panache and his major reward was victory in the Boulogne Trophy race at Silverstone in June. The earlier T35B of German-based American Michael Gans was an impressive winner of the Vintage Seaman Trophy in the rain at Donington.

An inspired Michael Steele fended off Barrie Williams in a battle of the Connaughts to claim the Hawthorn Memorial Trophy race at Silverstone.

Sadly, a dark cloud was left over the season by the death of Lagonda racer Len Thompson in a crash at Cadwell Park in June.

***

HSCC Historic Formula Three -- Almost to the Maxted

Steve Maxted was the class of a resurgent Classic Formula Three series, winning well over half the races in his Argo JM6. Richard Trott and Ian Jacobs also scored race victories in this category for Toyota-engined cars of the late 1970s and early '80s.

The strenuous efforts of the Classic F3 Association turned the class around for 2004; it had been on the verge of expiring a couple of seasons ago. An invitation class for period FF2000 cars led to 30-plus grids for the most popular rounds of the non-championship series.

Maxted opened as he meant to continue with five wins in the first six races. Only suspension failure at Silverstone in early June prevented his clean sweep, but that opened the door for Trott to score a debut F3 win in his Ralt RT1, two decades on from his F3 campaign as a rising young star. Trott concluded the season with another Silverstone win, this time on the National circuit in pouring rain.

The only other race winner was Jacobs in his very quick but somewhat unfashionable Martini Mk31, while Ian Smith (ex-David Sears Argo JM6), lain Rowley (March 793) and Keith White (Ralt RT1) were regular podium visitors.

***

HSCC Derek Bell Trophy -- Hadfield to the four

It was a season of highs and lows for the Derek Bell Trophy series, which enjoyed support from Motor Sport. The highs were packed grids of well-presented cars: the lows were disappointing grids for one or two races and an abortive season finale at Silverstone when a multi-car start-line shunt in heavy rain decimated the field. The consistent factor was Simon Hadfield. In four Formula 5000s from his stable, the veteran won five of the seven races and took second in another. Whether in a Trojan T101, a Chevron B37, a Lola T330 or a Chevron 840, Hadfield was the class of the series. But when Michael Schryver took over the Trojan on the Brands GP circuit, Hadfield was bested in the B37.

The only race not won by an F5000 from Hadfield's team was the Gold Cup round at Oulton Park when the B37 clouted the barriers on the out-lap of a restarted qualifying session. Instead, late-1990s F3 star Martin O'Connell swept to victory in Sandy Watson's Lotus 59/69.

With as many as 10 F5000s in the field, the V8s tended to dominate, but a heroic campaign from Stuart Tilley ensured that his rare Modus M1 was clearly the best of the 2-litre cars. His brave pursuit of Hadfield in the spray of Mallory Park almost netted him an overall win.

***

HSCC Classic Racing Cars -- Bladon weathers the storm for title

The dreadful conditions that hit the HSCC finale at Silverstone decided the destiny of the Classic Racing Car Championship. Until that day John Bladon (Merlyn Mk9) and Matthew Watts (Brabham BT16) matched each other point for point. It all hinged on the final race.

"The car swapped ends going down the Club Straight," explained Watts after aquaplaning out of the lead and into the barriers in his ex-Jack Brabham/John Watson chassis. So Bladon's measured drive to second in class settled the title.

The Brabhams of Edwin Jowsey (BT28), Steve Worrad (BT30) and Ian Gray (BT30) generally set the overall pace, but the fact that both Bladon and Watts were unbeaten in their classes for the first seven races left them well clear at the head of the points.

David Brown (Brabham BT6) and Anthony Keele (Palliser WD3) frequently offered class opposition to Watts and Bladon respectively. Fittingly, they tied for third in the final standings. The class for 1-litre F3 cars was a Chevron B17 benefit between David Pullen and Chris Smith, which ended abruptly with the latter's heavy Goodwood shunt.

***

HSCC points -- Classic Racing Cars:

1. John Bladon (Merlyn MK9) -- 75

2. Matthew Watts (Brabham BT16) -- 69

3. Anthony Keele (Palliser WD3) -- 45

= David Brown (Brabham BT6) -- 45

***

HSCC Historic Formula Ford -- Hat Trick for Fowler

Neil Fowler swept to victory in the ever-popular Historic FF1600s for the third year on the trot, with six wins in eight races.

From the off Jason Minshaw took the fight to Fowler. His Merlyn ended the season-opener in the Donington Park gravel, but twice in the summer Minshaw got the upper hand, at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Both times Fowler made miraculous recoveries from spins that cost him remarkably little time.

Then, with four rounds still to run, Minshaw's season came to a violent halt against the Oulton Park barriers when racing a contemporary FF1600. A major blow to the head forced him to sit out the balance of the season.

Nigel Bancroft netted second in the points in his Crosslé 20F even though his season concluded in the Silverstone gravel. Instead, former Caterham racer Nelson Rowe won the final race in his ex-Mike Whatley 20F after quickly finding his single-seater feet in only half a season. John Goldsmith bagged third in the championship with a consistent campaign, while Alastair Garratt topped the novices.

***

HSCC points -- Historic Formula Ford:

1. Neil Fowler (Lola T200) -- 190

2. Nigel Bancroft (Crosslé 20F) -- 112

3. John Goldsmith (Macon MR8B) -- 102

***

Historic Grand Prix Cars Association -- Magnificent Seven for Silver Jubilee

The HGPCA marked its 25th anniversary with a compact seven event season. Losing the Zandvoort meeting meant that it was done and dusted before the end of August!

The Donington Park opener was notable for the debut of Michael Schryver's Lotus 18, the ex-Surtees/Clark chassis 373. Michael took the fight to Frank Sytner's Brabham BT4 in the pre-1966 race and then scored a double victory at Pau three weeks later.

Schryver won again at Dijon in July, but missed the season finale at Oulton Park, preferring to save the car and its fragile gearbox for Goodwood. Instead, John Harper's Brabham BT4 won the Gold Cup race after a fine tussle with the similar car of Alan Minshaw.

Given the high cost and technical challenge of running the older cars, the pre-1961 grids were thinner, as a horde of Coopers boosted the pre-1966 fields. The Lotus 16s of Philip Walker and Joaquin Folch each took a brace of victories, the Spaniard dropping into the series for the Nürburgring's Oldtimer GP.

Burkhard von Schenck and Peter Neumark put their Maserati 250Fs up onto the podium, while Nick Wigley had an excellent campaign in his Connaught. He ran second at Oulton to the reconstructed Aston Martin DBR4 of Barrie Williams.

***

Lola gains from graft

Neil Fowler has made the Historic FF title his own in a Lola T200 (left), yet in period the car was never a force... "It's taken a lot of time and effort," says team boss David Goodwin. Fowler and Goodwin now field six T200s and would run more. "They are very difficult to find," says Goodwin. "A lot went to the USA originally, but there are very few about.

"The change to Avons suits us and the lower ride height has made all the difference. We also use softer springs. This makes the car very nervous and not all drivers get on with it."

Fowler will not chase the title again in 2005. preferring to concentrate on working with customers.

FIA Lurani Trophy -- If the cap fits make sure it's secure

The destiny of the coveted Lurani Trophy was ultimately decided by a tie-break, and the nod went to Kevin Musson on the basis that his Lotus 18 was older than the Merlyn Mk5 raced by Denis Welch.

While taking nothing away from Musson's excellent campaign in the rear-engined FJ1 class, it is easy to have sympathy for Welch who had earned his points at the front of the jostling pack in the highly competitive FJ2 category. With four wins on the trot to back up a second place to Duncan Dayton's Cooper at the Jarama opener, Welch looked good until Spa in mid-September. But after a blown tyre in one of the Belgian races, followed by a substantial off in the second, suddenly he found himself on the ropes.

Welch never intended contesting the Mantorp Park races the weekend after Spa, but he went to Estoril with the title still well within reach. He borrowed the Brabham BT6 of Bob Birrell and needed only a top six finish. However, officials investigated the car's electrics after qualifying... Nothing illegal was found, but the distributor cap fell off after just two laps. Denis was leading by a good margin at the time.

"It was extremely annoying," said Welch, still simmering two months later, believing that the officials had not replaced the cap properly.

Formula Junior's prime mover Duncan Rabagliati finished a class-winning third overall in his Alexis HF1, while Urs Eberhardt (Lotus 27) was second in class to Welch after a couple of truly epic battles with the British racer. One of these concluded with the closest finish ever recorded at Monza — Welch won by three-thousandths of a second. Not at all competitive, then...

***

AMOC Formula Junior -- UK Junior series won by teenager

Edwin Jowsey was clearly the class of the domestic Formula Junior series as a record 91 contenders once again proved the unfading popularity of this category. The youngster's Lotus won eight of the 13 races and he was a commanding champion.

Yet in terms of overall race wins Jowsey had plenty of rivals, including Mark Woodhouse (Lotus 20), Paul Smeeth (Lotus 22) and Michael Hibberd, though the latter tackled only a few events in a Lotus 27. Simon Hadfield (in Bob Birrell's Brabham BT6) and Michael Schryver (Lotus 22) also won on singleton outings, while Simon Armer (Cooper T59) came close to unseating Jowsey in the pouring rain at Mallory Park in October.

Class winners were: Derek Walker (Terrier), Michael Ashley-Brown (Volpini) and Doug Martin (Elva).

***

FIA Jochen Rindt Trophy -- O'Connell streets ahead in 1600's

It was a relatively quiet season for the 1600cc historic F2 movement, with a five-meeting calendar for the category's final year under the wing of David McLaughlin.

British chargers Martin O'Connell and Andy Middlehurst were usually the pace-setters. The impressive O'Connell topped his season by beating all the 1600cc cars at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting. But the presence of a few more recent 2-litre cars that weekend offered a challenge which even he could not conquer; Christian Fischer's March 782 won overall, while the former F3 star coerced Sandy Watson's Lotus 59/69 into a class-winning second.

O'Connell and Bob Juggins (Lola 1240) shared the wins at Donington as Middlehurst kept his Lotus 69 on the podium. However, at Monza earlier in the year, Robert Simac won twice in his March 712.

Before the end of the season McLaughlin had handed the reins over to Fredy Kumschick and the signs are that the category will prosper again in 2005.

***

European F2 -- Fischer dominates in a small pond

Created by the Switzerland-based European Formula 2 Club, this new series was aimed primarily at the 2-litre cars that had once again split away from the older 1600s. Sadly, the number of still-active cars from the second half of the 1970s remains limited, and though an undoubted spectacle, they must appear in greater numbers if the series is to survive. The grid was bolstered slightly by a few 1600cc cars and some period Formula Atlantics.

The calendar included some long-haul races in Europe, but the planned race on the Brands Hatch GP circuit in July never materialised.

Christian Fischer set a scorching pace in his March 782 whenever he appeared, and he took time out to dominate the F2 race at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting in August. Elsewhere, series stalwarts Philip Harper (Ralt RT1) and Jacques Colibert (Martini Mk19) were leading contenders.