D.S.J. endorsed my own belief when, reporting on the South African Grand Prix, he said that every Renault owner from humble R5 to V6 saloon must have thought (after seeing René Arnoux win in the RE21) "Man, look at these Renault cars, aren't they something", and that the Renault F1 success must have "influenced a lot of people that Renault was the car to buy". Thinking that, to a lesser extent, something of the same sort would apply to Rover, if one of the two Team Triplex 3500s won the second round of the Tricentrol British Saloon Car Championship (they had been beaten at Mallory Park by the Autocar Ford Capris), and having the long-range road-test Rover 3500 in which to make the journey to the BRSCC Meeting at Oulton Park on Good Friday, I went along to see what would happen.
It seemed a bit odd watching motor racing on a religious holiday — remembering that no racing was ever allowed to happen on Sundays at Brooklands, although it was all right to take your girlfriend to Thé Dansant, to the tune of the gramophone, on the Hill on Sunday afternoons in the 1920s. . . .
Anyway, to Oulton Park on Good Friday, I drove, unhampered by holiday traffic, although plenty of that was using the Shrewsbury by-pass on its way to the beauties of North Wales. The first surprise at Oulton was being told politely that, although the car was displaying the correct sticker, the Paddock was full, two hours before the first race. (I was soon to discover that the way to get in was to arrive in an impressive Mercedes-Benz and tell the gate-marshal that you were "ITN, loaded with heavy cameras." . . .) Entering on foot the holy-of-holies, came the next surprise. Used to walking freely over the grass at VSCC meetings, chatting to friends, on this day of The Sun F1 Gold Cup Race (first round of the 1980 Aurora AFX National F1 Championship), you couldn't see the grass for the marquees and the hospitality caravans.
However, it was all nicely informal. For instance, I was able to walk into the tent in which the Team Akai Audi 800GLEs were being readied for Moss and Lloyd without restraint and the big marquee in which the thirteen BMW 323i saloons were being prepared for the BMW County Championship Race was open to the public — this race is nothing new, incidentally, for did they not have one-make races for Model-T Fords, Austin 7s, Morris-Cowleys, Fiat 500s, etc., at Brooklands before the war? After an orange squash in the Audi Akai caravan and a hand-shake from Stirling (who had his smaller personal caravan adjacent and was on his way to meet the photographers), I went to the Press box. This, too, was fully-manned, whereas at vintage meetings you share it with a few tired flies endlessly climbing the windows in search of more sustenance than is provided by the few crumbs and tobacco-ash left by the motor-noters. Talking of windows, what a pity one isn't provided in this Press box so that the action on Old Hall Corner could be seen.
It was no doubt Moss who had brought the big crowds of spectators, estimated at over 20,000 (a £50,000 gate?), to see what he would make of his second appearance in the Saloon Car Championship. Alas, it didn't work out for them. Although Stirling had pole-position on the grid, from the faster Toyota Celica of Chris Hodgetts, he made a bad start, was in sixth place after three laps, behind Hodgetts, Lloyd, Morris (VW Scirocco), Watts (Talbot-Sunbeam Avenger) and Longman (Ford Fiesta), and although Moss got up to fourth position after six laps, he was never in the running and clutch trouble dropped him to seventh at the finish. The Toyota led throughout, from the VW and the other Audi, and I wondered how many of the hard-headed North Country onlookers present would go away determined to buy a Japanese car?
It didn't work out any better for the Rovers in the larger-capacity section of the Saloon Car Championship. The Ford Capris of Gordon Spice, Andy Rouse and Vince Woodman were on the front row of the grid and it was a race between the two former drivers, who ran right away from the others. They delighted the crowd by running in very close company, even side-by-side past the pits-grandstands on lap seven of the 25-lap contest. Spice led almost all the time, except when Rouse took the lead momentarily on laps nine and 11. It has been said that the Motor Rovers emit a fine battle-cry. But for my money it was the two Ford Capri IIIs that sounded so splendidly crisp at Oulton, with Woodman's Capri emitting a grand yowl.
For a time Jeff Allam's Rover led the "second race", but right out of sight of the flying Fords, and after ten laps he was overtaken by Goode's Capri. Rex Greenslade, in the other Motor Rover, ran behind Win Percy's Mazda RX-7 which won the 1.601-2,300 c.c. class of the race at 83.07 m,p.h., tailed by the other two RX-7s, both of which were a lap behind. Spice's Ford Capri, in winning outright, averaged 85.65 mp.h. and set a new class lap-record of 87.19 m.p.h, endorsing my opinion that Ford make outstanding Sporting Cars. There was a field of 13, from which the only retirement was Graham's Ford Capri 3000S, after four laps.
Of the other races, the BMW thing, also with 13 runners went to Redman, who won at 80.37 m.p.h. from Brundle and Williams, the £250 first prize going to The Lord's Taverners charity — a nice gesture.
The Sun Gold Cup race for F1 and F2 cars again had a field of 13. It dragged on for 65 laps of the 1.65-mile circuit. Guy Edwards had no trouble winning it, at 107.8 m.p.h. in the Cosworth DFV-engined Arrows A1B. He led all the way and was preoented with the great Gold Cup by Stirling, who I see, from the Kettlewell Book, has himself won it five times at Oulton Park, in Maserati 250F (twice), Cooper T45, Lotus 18 and Fergusson P99 cars. Desiré Wilson was third for 14 laps but her Wolf WR4 later retired, and it had already been passed by Lees' sister car, in spite of a spin on his opening lap, this chassis having had seven inches extra wheelbase welded into it shortly before the start. However, it was the Chilean driver, Eliseo Salazar, who pressed Edwards if anyone did, until his Cosworth-powered Williams FW07 retired on lap 58 with engine trouble. That left the Edwards' Arrows a certain winner, with Emilio de Villota (Williams FW07) second, and Ray Mallock third in his Surtees TS20 which had lost its brakes around half-distance and which was apparently handling less effectively than as previously set-up. Crawford's Chevron B42 was fourth, leading the F2 section of the race, from the Chevrons of Robinson and Dean. Edwards' win gave a substantial sum to a charity for deaf people — appropriate, in view of the noise of the cars!
The Derwent TV Sports 2000 15-lap race was won by Ian Taylor, who led from start to finish in the Nelson-engined Tiga SCRO. In this processional race Weaver's Scholar-powered Tiga SC79 was the only car to keep close to the leader.
Having had my fill of this kind of racing, I decided to get away at 17.45 before the big crowd began to leave. No way! Those around me with like intentions sat in their cars for 1½ hours without moving. It might be thought, especially by the less-enthusiastic, that it is a bit of a "con" for Cheshire Car Circuit Ltd. to bring all these cars in over a single-lane Bailey bridge with a 5 m.p.h. speed-limit, let them park without much supervision, and then leave them to get out as best they can. I cannot resist remarking that before they ever saw any motor racing at Brooklands Track the constructors put in a car bridge, a car tunnel, pedestrian tunnels, and later a pedestrian bridge, to facilitate entering and leaving while racing was in progress. Progress? Mr. Webb, please note!
However, if it was difficult to get away from Oulton Park, and if the Rover challenge to those so-effective Ford Capris had again come to nought, my ordinary Rover 3500 proved an admirable car for covering the rural-route home, by way of Tarporley, Whitchurch, Wem, Shrewsbury, CIun, Knighton and Penybont, in two hours. — W.B.
N.B.: Not having gone to Thruxton on Easter Monday, it would have been nice to have known how the saloon-cars fared there. But, although Murray Walker and James Hunt gave a good coverage of the FF, F3 and F2 races in the BBC's "Grandstand" programme, saloons were ignored. As so many football and horse-race results are flashed on the screen, why couldn't this have been done for these motor races?