The British Empire Trophy

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A weak shadow of its former self

Donington Park, May 7th

The British Empire Trophy is an event steeped in history. Since its inception in 1932, it has been won by many Of Britain’s leading racing drivers from John Cobb in that first year, to Freddie Dixon, Richard Seaman, Raymond Mays and Stirling Moss. Nowadays the Trophy is a weak shadow of its former self. Last year it was revived once more and it was competed for, at Donington Park, by Historic Racing Cars. It was won (for the second time) by Neil Corner in the Donington Collection’s very own BRM P25. This year, the British Empire Trophy was very poorly supported indeed and just ten cars started the meagre 12-lap, 231-mile race. With no really Strong opposition, Corner scored his hat-trick, again in the BRM.

Whether or not the Trophy will ever regain any of its true prestige in the years to come now remains to be seen. If it is to do so, then surely it must be competed for by a class of racing that can combine both competitive fields and, preferably, up and coming drivers? The Trophy was last run for such a class of racing in the early nineteen-seventies, when Formula Three drivers battled furiously amongst each other at Oulton Park for two successive Seasons for the honour of winning the prestigious Trophy. Both these meetings were well supported, both were a successin terms of good motor racing, and the second one was televised, live this year’s event wasn’t.

It would be nice to think that next year somebody could organise the race for a formula like Formula Three, where there is strong European support available. But to make it a success, one would have to increase the prize money, make it a „separate race devoid of championship status and, most importantly, make sure that it was the main event of the season for that particular category of racing. It should be well worth the effort.

It became obvious not long after the pathetically short 15-minute practice session, when the times were released, that Neil Corner and the BRM P25 were going to take some beating. The Neasham driver recorded a time of 1 min. 21 sec., a speed of 86.99 m.p.h. in the Donington Collection car and only Willie Green, in Anthony Bamford’s Maserati 250F, could get within two seconds a the chassis from Bourne. Joining Corner and Green on the front row of the grid was the quickest Cooper-Bristol, that of Roddy McPherson. The last named managed a 1 min. 29.6 sec., which was, a tenth of a second quicker than the similar car of Simon Phillips, which headed the second row of the grid. Ex-Grand Prix driver Bruce Halford had his pristine Lotus 16 alongside. Row three contained Martin Chapman’s splendid Monza Lister-Jaguar, Gerry Walton’sConnaught A8 and Peter Mann’s ERA R9B, which failed to make the grid, leaving just ten starters; the field being completed by Barry Simpson’s Cooper-Bristol, David Vine’s Cooper-Bristol and Peter Merritt’s slow, but nevertheless interesting, HW Alta.

Not surprisingly, Corner made the best start in the BRM to lead from Green, McPherson, Phillips, Halford and the rest, all of whom soon faded into obscurity as the leaders, especially Corner, forced the pace. Halford was quickly past the dicing Cooper-Bristols of MacPherson and Phillips and into a secure third position, while Green lost any chance he may have had of staying with the leader with a couple of moments at Park. Although the BRM wasn’t running as well as it had in the previous year’s Empire Trophy, it still ran out an easy victor, but its fastest lap, needless to say, was nowhere near the record Corner had previously set in the car.

At the fall of the flag after 12 laps, Green was less than three seconds down in second place, a good effort, while Halford was a lonely third. Phillips, having overtaken MacPherson on exiting Park three laps from the end, was placed fourth. Martin Chapman’s Monza Lister-Jaguar was a distant sixth and the last unlapped runner. Hardly the greatest of races; let us hope that next season’s event, for whichever formula, will regain some of the British Empire Trophy’s former prestige.

Supporting races included a Classic Sportscar event, won by Brian Cocks’ Lotus 23B, and an Historic Sportscar Championship round won by Mr. Sports Motors himself; Rodney Moor in his EVA-engined Chevron B8. Peter Morgan’s Lola won the Esso Formula Ford Championship round, John Trevelyan’s Lola led the furious Sports 2000 race throughout, Bruce Venn’s Lola took the National Formula Super Vee Championship round and Michael Parkes’ spaceframe Mini won an entertaining special saloon bout. -M.C.S.

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