The British Empire Trophy, one of Britain’s oldest races has been held yearly except for the war years since 1932, but has seldom proved a racing or commercial success. The latest in the series, held as a F2 race on Saturday, April 11th, did little to disprove this reputation.
The first Empire Trophy race was won by John Cobb in the 10-1/2-litre Delage on the Brooklands Outer Circuit at 126.36 m.p.h. In 1936 it was transferred to Donington where it stayed until the outbreak of war, and in 1947 it moved on to the Douglas circuit in the Isle of Man where Bob Gerard gained three wins in 1-1/2-litre E.R.A.’s. Finally, in 1954 the British Empire Trophy came to Oulton Park where it was run as a sports car race until this year when the B.R.D.C. decided to run it as a Formula 2 event.
The entry list could hardly be called exciting, consisting of 22 Coopers or Cooper-based cars, 8 Lotus, 1 Fry and 1 Lister. Of these the Fry and Lister non-started as did two of the Lotus and one Cooper. Lotus had entered three cars for Graham Hill, Innes Ireland and Alan Stacey but only one car turned up, in the shape of the car which ran in the Easter Monday F1 race at Goodwood but with a twin-cam 1,500-c.c. engine substituted for the 2-1/2-litre unit. Graham Hill, who was down to drive the car had had a special glass fibre seat made for him which fitted like the proverbial glove. Hill apparently likes a hard, well-shaped seat in preference to the normal bucket seat. When the rains came early on Saturday morning a Lotus mechanic ceremoniously drilled three holes in the seat to let out the incoming rainwater. John Cooper had only one car, which was driven by Jack Brabham, while Bruce McLaren and Michael Taylor were driving Alan Brown’s Coopers. Ivor Bueb and George Wicken were once again in the Cooper-Borgwards and Roy Salvadori was piloting the Tommy Atkins’ Cooper. John Fisher brought along for Bruce Halford the Lotus which appeared at last year’s Motor Show and which Graham Hill drove at the Brands Hatch Boxing Day meeting. The field was made up by a number of privately-owned cars.
An interesting car technically was the Hume-Cooper driven by Chris Bristow. Basically this is a normal F2 Cooper chassis with a twin-cam Climax engine, but the suspension has been lowered and various other alterations carried out, including a left-hand gear change and modified body work with a flat tail. Several engine mods. are also planned.
In practice on the Friday Salvadori recorded a time of 1 min. 53.4 sec. on a damp track, which was only 0.2 sec. outside Graham Hill’s F2 lap record of last year. Brabham was only 0.2 sec. behind Salvadori, and Halford, Tony Marsh and Jim Russell recorded the same time at 1 min. 53.8 sec. Graham Hill could do no better than 1 min. 56.4 sec., in the works Lotus, 2.6 sec. behind Halford’s similar car. Bueb did two slow laps in Cooper-Borgward number 7 which he was down to drive and decided to keep number 8, on which he had recorded 13th fastest practice time.
On race day the rain was drizzling down as a very small crowd trickled into the enclosures, no doubt filling the B.R.D.C. with dismay at the thought of the starting and prize money they had paid out.
Preceding the Empire Trophy was a race for up to 1,500-c.c. sports cars for which the rain held off and which attracted two 1,500-c.c. Mark XV Lotus from the works for Alan Stacey and Innes Ireland to drive, two 1,100-c.c. Lolas in the hands of Ashdown and Michael Taylor and a gaggle of assorted Lotus and Elva models including an Elite in the hands of Jim Clark of the Border Reivers. From his front row position Stacey took an immediate lead from Ashdown in the tiny Lola followed by Dickson in his 1,500-c.c. Lotus. Ireland, who had not practised began to carve his way through the field and by lap 3 he was in third place, in front of Taylor’s Lola. Dickson had now dropped back to sixth place but he put on a sudden spurt and managed to pass both Taylor and Escott. He was quickly elevated to third place when Ireland called at the pits to replace a loose plug lead. Unfortunately in his search for lightness Ireland had apparently removed the passenger seat from the Lotus which John Eason-Gibson, the Clerk of the Course spotted. Ireland was told that if he continued the race he would be disqualified, so the car was retired on the spot.
Meanwhile the field had become very strung out, with Stacey having a 21 second lead over Ashdown who had a similar lead over Dickson. The order among the leaders remained the same for the rest of the 20 laps, with the “Giant-killer” Lolas gaining a creditable second and fourth place against more powerful opposition. Remembering the 90 m.p.h. lap at Goodwood these Lolas with a 1,500-c.c. engine could be formidable opponents for any car. It is interesting to note that Ashdown used Continental tyres as did Jim Russell the winner of the Empire Trophy.
The rain began to drizzle down again as the F2 drivers took to the track for the British Empire Trophy and several drivers quickly changed to visors instead of goggles. On the front row of the grid were Salvadori, Brabham, Halford and Tony Marsh with Jim Russell, Bruce McLaren and Michael Taylor in row 2. Graham Hill with the works Lotus was in row 3 and the other five Lotus were in the last two rows.
As Kenneth Evans raised the flag Brabham crept forward a little and Bruce Halford, not to be outdone crept even further and as the flag fell he leapt into the lead. First time round he was still in the lead followed by Brabham, Marsh, Parnell, Russell and Salvadori, but Brabham took the lead on lap 2. With the track in a very damp condition cars were spinning very regularly, including such notables as Salvadori, Michael Taylor and Tim Parnell. Graham Hill began to work his way through the field although one would hardly expect a Formula 1 driver in a works car to have to do this. By lap 4 he was in fifth place and going well, having recorded fastest lap at 77.41 m.p.h. Bristow in the Hume-Cooper was going extremely fast and held sixth place for a number of laps until carburation trouble set in. On lap 11 Bruce Halford came by in the lead and Brabham was nowhere to be seen. Jim Russell had also taken his chance to slip by Tony Marsh into second place. He soon set about challenging Halford and harried him unmercifully until he passed him coming out of Deer Leap on lap 14.
Brabham had by now returned to the pits, remaining there for a minute. The trouble was obviously in the fuel supply because when he rejoined the race he was holding a rubber tube in his mouth. This seemed to have little effect on his speed and he was soon carving his way through the field again. On lap 15 Graham Hill brought the Lotus into the pits but stopped for only a few moments. However he returned two laps later to retire with undiagnosed engine vibrations which his mechanics pessimistically thought was the crankshaft “going home.” Lotus hopes now rested on the slim shoulders of Bruce Halford who was holding an apparently comfortable second place.
Due mainly to retirements the Cooper-Borgward driven by Bueb and McLaren’s Cooper-Climax were now coming into the picture to take fourth and fifth place respectively. The Borgward engine seems to have no more power than the Climax in spite of its four valves per cylinder and-fuel injection. Perhaps the enormous air intake on the side of the body is holding it back! Nevertheless, this engine appears to score on reliability and without apparently speeding up, Bueb was now in fourth place. George Wicken on the other Cooper-Borgward was suffering from suspected clutch slip and was well down the field. Russell, in the immaculately prepared Cooper (even the Continental tyres were polished) was drawing well away from the field and on lap 20 had a 17 sec. lead over Halford.
All this time Russell was apparently under the illusion that Brabham was still in the lead. His signal board was of the blackboard and chalk variety and the signals were washed off before he could read them. On lap 22 Halford came into the pits and retired the Lotus with a lack of gears but he was no doubt well satisfied with a fast run in a car which he seems to like. This put Tony Marsh into second place followed by Bueb, McLaren and Bill Moss of E.R.A. fame who had been quietly working his way through the field in his Cooper. The race had now settled down into a not very high speed procession which was enlivened by the occasional pit stop and reports of various spins. Bill Moss and Chris Bristow spun together at Knickerbrook, Moss being taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm. Russell had by now lapped all but Marsh, Bueb and McLaren but, somehow the commentator had given him an extra lap no doubt hoping that this dull race would come to a close sooner. As he described the finish Russell went by to complete his final lap having averaged 76.93 m.p.h. for the 40 laps. His win was achieved on Esso fuel and oil, Champion plugs, Girling brakes with Ferodo pads, Armstrong dampers, S.U. carburetters and Continental tyres. This latter component lost Russell the £100 prize presented by Lucas for the first all-British car to finish. Ironically part of the prize money was $100 donated by Dunlop.
After the Empire Trophy an unlimited sports car race was run in similar conditions to the Goodwood Easter Monday race. Russell, Salvadori and Brabham had Cooper Monacos, Salvadori’s with the 2-1/2-litre Maserati engine. Opposing them was Graham Hill in a works 2-litre Lotus and a number of larger engined vehicles which were outclassed on this wet track. Salvadori led for seven laps but was then taken by Russell who went on to win. Hill kept a consistent third place for most of the race while Bueb in the works Lister-Jaguar just pipped Brabham for fourth place. Halford in the other works Lister went straight on at Cascades into the lake. Returning to the pits on foot he informed Brian Lister that his car floated well.
The day was wound up by a F3 race which was won by Don Parker from Philip Robinson and J. Pitcher. There were several incidents in the race but fortunately no one was seriously hurt. Harris (Flather-Norton) and Ellis (Cooper) were involved in a collision at Knickerbrook, Ellis receiving slight injuries. G. H. Symonds overturned his Cooper at Cascades but suffered only from slight injuries.
This reporter and the photographer thankfully retired to a large and comfortable Daimler for the long drive back to London, from a British Empire Trophy race which will not live long in our memories. — M. L. T.
Sports Cars up to 1,500 c.c.
1st: A. Stacey (Lotus), 85.14 m.p.h.; 2nd: P. Ashdown (Lola).
British Empire Trophy (F2, 40 laps)
1st: J. Russell (Cooper), 76.93 m.p.h.; 2nd: A. Marsh (Cooper); 3rd: I. Bueb (Cooper).
Sports Cars over 1,500 c.c.
1st: Russell (Cooper), 78.15 m.p.h.; 2nd: R. Salvadori (Cooper)
1st: D. Parker (Cooper); 2nd: P. Robinson (Stuart-Cooper).