I.O.M: A dramatic British Empire Trophy Race
Parnell's Maserati loses on the last lap. Victory for Geoffrey Ansell's E.R.A., ahead of Hampshire in Parnell's E.R.A. Brooke's E.R.A. takes third place.
This year's British Empire Trophy Race was one of the most exciting races of all time, the result changing on the very last lap when it seemed a foregone conclusion.
The non-starters comprised Hampshire's Delage, Mrs. Darbishire's E.R.A., Mortimer's E.R.A., Gordon's Maserati, Seyd's Maserati, Brooke's Ferrari and Comotti's Talbot, neither of the Continental entries coming over. Brooke consequently drove his old E.R.A. and Parnell sportingly lent Hampshire his E.R.A., Wilkinson taking Parnell's E-type E.R.A., now with single-stage supercharger, and Parnell his 16-valve Maserati with outboard auxiliary fuel tank in place on the off side of the chassis. Johnson at last produced his Zoller-blown E-type E.R.A., the engine of which started rather reluctantly. Last minute work was in progress on the Duesenberg-engined Emeryson, a wheel and plugs being changed. As the cars lined up Gerard was seen to have chosen the pits-side of the road, the actual positions being, from front to back:
Rolt (Alfa Romeo), Parnell (Maserati), Gerard (E.R.A.).
Mays (E.R.A.), R. Ansell (Maserati).
Emery (Emeryson), Brooke (E.R.A.), G. Ansell (E.R.A.).
Hamilton (Maserati), Bolster (E.R.A.).
Wilkinson (E-type E.R.A.), Abecassis (G.P. Alta), Hampshire (E.R.A.).
Jason-Henry (Delahaye), Walker (E.R.A.), Baring (Maserati).
Salvadori (Maserati), Watson (Alta).
Johnson (E-type E.R.A.), Chorlton (Bugatti).
As mechanics were ordered off the course Rolt stalled and Freddie Dixon, going to his aid, was pushed back by a marshal, while the Emeryson was another that was only just got going in time.
As the pack shot away in one of the finest full-throated roars ever heard, Rolt and Parnell were neck and neck in the lead, with Gerard, Bob Ansell and Mays right behind them. The Emeryson was pushed away last.
After the first lap Parnell led Rolt by 2 sec., 67.45 m.p.h., with Gerard 3rd, Bob Ansell 4th, Wilkinson 5th, G. Ansell 6th, Leslie Brooke 7th, and the rest howling along behind -- all, that is, save Mays, whose supercharger drive had sheared, and Walker, who lost about three-quarters of a lap having a plug changed.
After two out of the 36 laps Parnell was a mere second in front of Gerard, Bob Ansell 3rd and Rolt now 4th and indicating to his pit that all was not well. "Wilky" lay 5th, Brooke 6th, G. Ansell 7th, with Hampshire and Bolster close together behind. After this group came Abecassis, Emery, Hamilton, Harrison, Baring, Johnson and the rest. It was now Watson's turn to come to the pits; he instructed his mechanics from the cockpit and, thus early, called for beer.
Walker was also in again, while Bob Ansell overshot Parkfield Corner, and Harrison stopped for a plug-change. Already Gerard and Bob Ansell had lapped at 70.53 m.p.h. After 5 laps the order was :—
1st: Parnell (Maserati), 69.27 m.p.h.
2nd: Gerard (E.R.A.), 69.13 m.p.h., 2 sec. behind the leader.
3rd: R. Ansell (Maserati), 68.84 m.p.h., 6 sec. behind the leader.
Gerard's admirers had a bad 30 seconds when he came into his pit for a brief conference, and was reported to be losing oil. Soon, however, it was announced that the oil was coming from the engine-breather and was of no consequence. Wilkinson then lost one minute having a clean plug inserted in the E-type E.R.A. while Salvadori's old four-cylinder Maserati also required the same attention; Baring's Type 6C Maserati being yet another car that had fouled its plugs.
Came suspense! Gerard, still in second place but losing a little ground to Parnell, signalled to his pit that something was amiss at the back of his car. Mrs. Gerard calmly discussed a possible explanation with his mechanics, and next time round last year's winner pulled in. A jack was hauled over the fence into his pit and the rear axle lifted clear of the ground. Hope faded as Gerard himself inspected the off-side rear wheel, and when he removed his crash-hat we knew it was all over -- the E.R.A., victorious at Jersey, was eliminated due to a cracked brake torque plate. The fuel tank also seemed suspect. Mrs. Gerard left the pit, had a few words with Sheila Darbishire, and walked sadly away...
This altered the position, which at 10 laps was:
1st: Parnell (Maserati), 69.58 m.p.h.
2nd: R. Ansell (Maserati), 69.54 m.p.h., 4 sec. behind the leader.
3rd: Brooke (E.R.A .), 67.59 m.p.h., 59 sec, behind the leader.
Geoffrey Ansell lay 4th, Hampshire 5th, and Rolt 6th, and the feeling was that lots of elderly E.R.A.s were going along very well indeed! Johnson had caused no little sensation by lapping at 72.35 m.p.h. in his virtually-untried E-type E.R.A., while Ansell did three consecutive laps at 69.82 m.p.h. and on lap 14 passed Parnell to lead the race.
Watson had been in again for plugs, Johnson hit the bank at Cronk-ny-Mona without apparent damage to his E-type E.R.A., and Rolt overshot Parkfield, retiring with a broken axle casing. The Emeryson was the next to come in, losing two minutes while oil was put in, and later stopping at Cronk-ny-Mona with "radiator trouble." Parkfield now got another victim, Hamilton turning round, but continuing. More oil was put into the Emeryson, Salvadori changed another plug, then the former car came to rest at Cronk-ny-Mona with a transmission that wouldn't transmit, and Paul had to walk home. The new G.P. Alta, which had only been driven 150 miles or so on an airfield before the race, now retired with gearbox maladies. Johnson had now slowed so much that Hamilton passed the E-type by the pits, although he was re-passed later.
Bolster snatched a slick stop for brake adjustment, his, Brooke's and Hampshire's E.R.A.s all sounding very fit. John also lifted his vizor to drink while his minions toiled. By 15 laps the order was:
1st: R. Ansell (Maserati), 69.92 m.p.h.
2nd: Parnell (Maserati), 69.78 m.p.h., 6 sec. behind the leader.
3rd: Brooke (E.R.A.), 67.90 m.p.h., 89 sec. behind the leader.
G. Ansell, Hampshire and Bolster formed an E.R.A. trio behind.
This order held at 20 laps, but Ansell now led by a mere two seconds, his average up to 70.19 m.p.h., against Parnell's 70.15 m.p.h. "Wilky" had moved to 4th place ahead of Geoffrey Ansell's blue E.R.A.
On the next lap Parnell went back into the lead at Cronk-ny-Mona and built up a 7-sec. advantage from Ansell, while Brooke held 3rd place, 2 min. 20 sec. behind.
Alas, Bolster drew into the escape road at Willaston with a half-shaft gone; Hamilton had a brief stop, one minute only, for fuel, and Salvadori was out with reputed valve trouble.
Melted tar now rendered Parkfield Corner if anything more tricky than before, but still Reg Parnell, crouched in the cock-pit of his red car so that his blue crash-hat seemed scarcely to protrude, held and established his lead. At 25 laps he was 14 sec. ahead of Bob Ansell, both, of course, in 16-valve Maseratis. Parnell's average was now up to 70.34 m.p.h. and he had equalled fastest lap, with 72.35 m.p.h.
The Parkfield tar nearly altered the whole complexion of the race, for Jason-Henry skidded through 90 degrees in the Delahaye and stopped by the wall round the corner, the car being scarcely pushed back before Parnell was there and diving through the narrow gap.
Chorlton's Bugatti took three minutes or more over fuel and water, Hamilton had a long stop, six minutes, for plugs, and Baring lost almost twice as much time while his Maserati's broken blow-off valve was rigged. Chorlton then came in, his Bugatti resembling a steam car, and Jason-Henry stalled at Nursery Corner and flung his helmet (fortunately a cloth one) at the Delahaye's engine; he subsequently wired up a broken throttle control and roared back into the race. Brooke twice overshot at Willaston; Chorlton lost his Bugatti's gear-lever but pressed on, shifting ratios with finger and thumb; Hamilton finally gave up, and -- sensation -- Bob Ansell's fine drive ended at Governor's Bridge when a rod appeared through the side of the Maserati's engine. That put Geoffrey Ansell in 2nd place, with Hampshire 3rd, the latter snatching a very quick refuel. Brooke had fallen back. Watson also replenished the Alta with fuel and oil very slickly. Ansell walked in.
It looked to be all over and then came a most dramatic happening. Parnell motored off on his last lap, the Maserati sounding as fit as ever -- and it failed to come round for the chequered flag The auxiliary fuel tank feed had failed and the car had run out of fuel. Poor Reg attacked that tank, hoping to free an air-lock, filled up from beer bottles of fuel mysteriously produced, dented the tank and tore its fuel pipe away -- all to no avail. The seconds ticked on, became minutes. Then down to the finish came Geoffrey Ansell's blue E.R.A., to win the 10th British Empire Trophy Race, followed by four more E.R.A.s.
Parnell was not even to finish, after his magnificent drive. Wilkinson was eventually towed back to the pits in the Maserati and tried to ascertain the cause of the trouble. Reg waved away the autograph hunters, but gallantly commiserated with Bob Ansell on his misfortune. Seldom has a race been so nearly won only to be lost. As it was, the result became:
1st: G. Ansell (E.R.A., 1,488 c.c., S/C), 67.71 m.p.h.
2nd: D. Hampshire (E.R.A., 1,488 c.c., S/C), 67.32 m.p.h., 43 sec. behind the leader.
3rd: H. L. Brooke (E.R.A., 1,488 c.c., S/C), 66.86 m.p.h., 94 sec. behind the leader.
4th: T. C. Harrison (E.R.A., 1,488 c.c., S/C).
5th: L. G. Johnson (E.R.A., 1,488 c.c., S/C).
6th : G. M. Watson (Alta, 1,490 c.c., S/C).
7th: G. Jason-Henry (Delahaye, 3,557 c.c.).
8th: M. C. Chorlton (Bugatti, 1,498 c.c., S/C).
Retirerments: Mays (E.R.A.), sheared blower drive; Gerard (E.R.A.), cracked brake torque plate; Abecassis (Alta), gearbox trouble; Walker (E.R.A.); Rolt (Alfa Romeo), broken back-axle casing; Emery (Emeryson), transmission trouble; Bolster (E.R.A.), broken half-shaft; Salvadori (Maserati), valve trouble; Baring (Maserati), broken blow-off valve; Parnell (Maserati), fuel feed trouble; Wilkinson (E.R.A.); Hamilton (Maserati); R. Ansell (Maserati), broken connecting rod.
Fastest Lap: Tie between Parnell (Maserati) and Johnson (E.R.A.) at 72.35 m.p.h.
The British Empire Trophy Race was an E.R.A. benefit.
The race-organisation was really first class, and Rodney Walkerley gave an excellent commentary which made the races easy to follow. Incidentally, he was very fair to the slower sports-type cars, quoting them as such. The Press were, in our experience, allowed commendable freedom and were very well served indeed with information -- not forgetting refreshments -- in the Press box. Our thanks to Denis May, who was in charge of Press affairs.
Lucas ignition equipment and Lodge plugs figured on most of the cars that came home "in the money."
Geoffrey Ansell receives the British Empire Trophy and £250. Amongst the contributors to the prizes were Joseph Lucas, Ltd., and the Dunlop Rubber Co., Ltd.
Sartorial scene : Hamilton wore a cloth helmet and overalls; Leslie Johnson the same attire as for the Manx Cup race; Jason-Henry a dark cloth helmet with overalls to match; Bob Ansell a white crash-hat; Geoffrey Ansell a crash-hat and vizor; Brooke drove bareheaded; Parnell was in a blue crash-hat and white overalls; Watson a crash-hat and vizor; Bolster ditto; Gerard again ditto; Chorlton was in white cloth helmet and overalls.
Hamilton was getting considerably thrown about in the ex-Abecassis Maserati. Watson's refuel was carefully conducted, aided by a vast square funnel and fuel churn. The numbers on Salvadori's Maserati were formed of tape.
Congratulations to Leslie Johnson, who not only got his E-type E.R.A. to the start, but also to the finish, equalling fastest lap on the way. But we gather that he came in close company with another competitor on one occasion.
While it was running the 1948 G.P. Alta sounded grand.
We still think Seaman's 72-m.p.h. lap In the vintage 1-1/2-litre Delage a very fine thing! Especially as it was done twelve years ago...
The stewards of the meeting were Earl Howe, S. C. H. Davis, "Goldie" Gardner and Hanson, while the Marquess Camden and T. G. Moore, M.H.K., acted as judges. Joseph Lucas, Ltd., made the special starting-light apparatus that replaced the traditional Union Jack. We were very sorry to learn that the death of Mrs. Cobb prevented John Cobb from starting the races.
During the afternoon H.E. The Lieutenant-Governor inspected the functioning of the race control office.
"Bira" was a much-missed absentee, but not everyone was surprised that Prince Chula did not enter him.
Mrs. Parnell did what she could to convince her husband that it wasn't his fault the Maserati failed, and many were his rivals who came to offer their sympathy when he eventually got back to the pits.
Which car was it which nearly didn't run because the compressed-paper centre of one of its massive timing-wheels collapsed while it was being driven to the course ?
The I.O.M. really is a delightful place, what with racing cars being driven about Douglas before and after the race with no restrictions, the well-built policemen friendly to the last man, food plentiful and nearly all the inhabitants visibly keen about having motor and motorcycle racing in their midst. The Isle of Man Times held back its afternoon edition to include the race results therein. In contrast, a model-T Ford tourer, with full load aboard, was encountered touring the Island after the race, quite oblivious that this was a day of speed! We were genuinely sorry to leave this island of comic firemen, horse-drawn trains and "free-and-easydom." -- W.B.
(This report was flown back after the races from Ronaldsway to Croydon in 2 hr. 5 min. in a private Percival "Proctor".)