Marcus Pye's Diary

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The cycle of life: Gerry Marshall is gone, but there’s a new kid with captivating car control and a special talent

Donington Park: Pure driving talent has never been in short supply at historic race meetings, but it is not often that I drive home knowing that I have seen a young driver with the potential to go all the way and make a career in the sport.

One who possesses that special gift, however, is 19-year-old Oliver Bryant, who set the track alight when he took over father Grahame’s AC Cobra en route to yet another victory in the May Day Bank Holiday Gentleman Drivers race. Watching him balancing the car on the limit, without overdriving it, was utterly mesmeric.

It’s no ordinary Cobra, mind you, for as a Chequered Flag team entry in 1965, GPG 4C showcased the skills of young gun Roger Mac, as well as the abilities of seasoned veteran Roy Salvadori and emerging American hotshoe Roy Pike.

Intriguingly, the coil-sprung car was not factory built, but supplied in component form to privateer Tommy Atkins’s High Efficiency Motors concern for completion, hence its chassis number HEM-6.

Young Bryant first tamed the car brilliantly — on the back of a couple of seasons of MGB racing — at Spa’s sensational Six Hours meeting last September (where I was commentating). His grounding also shone through as he gave the family Lotus 15 its historic debut in Belgium. At Donington Grahame entrusted Ollie with a Ferrari Daytona for the first time, and his measured control of three diverse machines was testament to growing experience. One which is beginning to irritate the old guard — a surefire sign that they would like Bryant Jnr to duff up people his own age in the playground, or at least move into contemporary racing. Which is his avowed intent.

Having driven a Lamborghini GT impressively in Bahrain last November (he pitched up ‘on spec’ and did a prudent deal) and raced a Morgan Aero 8 and Ferrari 360 on home soil, 0llie’s goal is to race in the Le Mans 24 Hours. With everything stacked in his favour and skill to match his ambition, you can bet on it happening.

Mallory Park:  ’69’ was a very big number for Lotus, Dave Baldwin’s design brief encompassing Formulae Ford, Three, Atlantic (B in the USA) and Two, as well as both spaceframe and monocoque chassis constructions. American Pete Lovely even jammed a Cosworth DFV in his for Formula One duty in 1971.

Perhaps the most famous chassis, however, was 69 F2 4, with which Jochen Rindt mopped up in the early F2 races of 1970. Rediscovered by former MGB racer Peter Spooner while clearing his late father’s garages (“I’d seen it racing in period, but had no idea it was there”), it’s back on track courtesy of Austrian Rindt fanatic Johannes Willenpart. Its first run-out, after a sympathetic Hall & Hall restoration (with a historic F2-spec BDA in place of its retained original FVA engine), was at Mallory Park, where Spooner emerged goggle-eyed after his drive. Rob Hall was due to give the 69 its historic racing debut in May at Pau, scene of Rindt’s win 35 years ago.

April 21: A day which will go down in history among motorsport fans as that on which the great Gerry Marshall enjoyed his last ride at Silverstone.

You will already have read the obituary of the man who claimed no fewer than 623 race victories in a colourful and sometimes controversial career. Looking back, I feel privileged to have witnessed at least 100 of them, and to have greatly enjoyed Gerry’s company, particularly at the Goodwood Revival event in recent years.

Ever the showman, Gerry first raced a Lotus Elan there in 1964 and loved every moment of playing to the crowd at Lord March’s parties. Given his declining health, his was the classiest of exits, a non-damaging expiry before the BRDC pavilion at his beloved home circuit.

When I heard the news later that Thursday afternoon, my thoughts immediately flickered back to Thruxton in 1976, when John Wingfield (Gerry’s business partner in the motor trade) died of a heart attack in his F2-spec Ralt RT1. And to his mechanic John Somers with whom, as a teenaged marshal, I helped load the wrecked car in the evening.