In praise of Charles Lucas
Having been an avid reader of MOTOR SPORT and Denis Jenkinson for over 30 years I long since realise that D.S.J. has a number of prejudices which he likes to parade in his column from time to time. One of these is that historic races cannot be compared with the real thing and whereas they are mildly entertaining, the car’s performances in the hands of mainly amateurs are only average. The article on the Maserati 29SF number 2528 made excellent reading but his comment that “Charles Lucas’s lap times were barely equal to that of a well driven Mini Cooper” is just not true.
I competed in most of the historic events when Luke was racing this car and although my records are not complete — the race results service in the 60s was only just beginning to become efficient — I have the results and the programme for the historic race at the Martini International meeting on the pre-chicane Silverstone GP Circuit on 20th May, 1967. Lucas’ winning speed in his 250F was 97.41 m.p.h. with a fastest lap at 1 min. 44.2 sec., 101.12 m.p.h. The touring car 1000-1300 group 5-lap record stood that day to John Rhodes in a Mini Cooper at 1 min. 50.8 sec., 95.01 m.p.h. — hardly comparable.
Incidentally Luke’s time would have put him on row 2 in the 1956 British Grand Prix which was held at Silverstone with Jean Behra on row 5, albeit with the earlier heavier car. Unfortunately direct comparison cannot be made with the 1957 race when the lightweight car first came out as the GP that year was at Aintree but in 1958 the best 250F practice time was Bonnier’s time of 1 min. 43.0 sec. Before anyone shouts “better tyres and circuits” these were only marginally better in 1967. The circuit surfaces at that time were very average and the “sticky” compound tyres for historic cars appeared with Dunlop’s 184 compound in 1969. I well remember this as most of us reduced our lap times at Silverstone by four seconds at least. Before that date we used very hard tyres which, although economical, as they would often last for two seasons, made the cars much more difficult to drive and if a race was accomplished without someone having a major accident we thought we were lucky. Most of us who drove regularly in these events survived a number of these as we were always very anxious to put on a good show otherwise the risk was always there that the race organisers would lose interest if we were not entertaining to the paying public. As a consequence very good races developed all through the fields between the individual cars despite the disparity in performance.
Those early races during the 60s provided the foundation of the highly organised and entertaining historic championship events which we now have.