When Drivers Come First

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A club with a difference aims to put the fun back into historics — and tempt out some ‘new’ machinery

How many race series could you list? Don’t start, I only have two pages. But I still hear owners of some prized car, whether exotic or mundane, lamenting that they can’t find anywhere to race — at least, not without being blown off by highly modified and costly opposition.

Of course we all want to see a Ford Falcon at full stretch ahead of a pack of wheel-waving Lotus Cortinas, but the ever-rising pace of the grid-toppers has caused many competitors to retreat from the field. Who wants to finish two laps down all the time? That’s the view of longtime racer and organiser Julius Thurgood, who reckons drivers are an unsung community.

“There are more high-profile events than ever, but they’re leaving behind the car owners who aren’t famous or wealthy,” he says, pointing out that historic touring car grids have fallen of late. “Drivers with Cortina GTs or MkVII Jaguars have put them away because they haven’t got a chance against modified cars. That’s reducing the pool of cars.” This from the man who created the Top Hat group of races to give Fifties saloons and pre-1966 sports cars somewhere to exercise (that’s now overseen by the Masters group).

Thurgood’s response was to start a whole new club — the Historic Racing Drivers Club. “It’s fuelled by the needs of the competitors,” he says. “To keep down costs I’ve got sponsors involved so drivers aren’t paying for everything.” He reckons that running races is the easy bit, that it’s owners who are often preparing their own cars and towing them to meetings who are doing the hard work. And while he can’t make that any easier, he can at least make the whole thing more fun, with a relaxed paddock atmosphere where a Sprite can race without being terrorised by a 300bhp Healey. And look out for a Nash Metropolitan and a Daimler Conquest Century. You’re unlikely to see those racing anywhere else.

Thurgood aims to draw out machinery now languishing in garages. “We’ve sprung so many new cars,” he grins. As HRDC classes cater for small engines it’s a chance for forgotten gems such as Rochdale Olympic and Mini Marcos to see action. Touring Greats is for pre-60 saloons in original spec, while Grand Touring Greats stretches to 1966 — but under 1500cc, flushing out Speedwell, Ashley and Talisman entries. This year Thurgood adds GTS65 for over1500cc sports cars, featuring 45-minute races with pitstops, while TC63 provides for larger-engined tin-tops of the sort which ran in the first year of ETCC, specifically excluding the homologation specials like Cooper S, Lotus Cortina or Alfa GTA. Last year produced some terrific racing among Jaguar MkIs, a Mercedes 3005E, and even a Warwick GT — and grids were packed.

“TC63 is accessible,” says Thurgood. “There hasn’t been an arena lately where you could play among well-matched cars. It’s great that some people spend big money on spectacular cars, but the average historic racer has been frightened off by costs — some series allow lightweight hubs, big brakes and sticky rubber. We don’t, though the watchword is inclusion, not exclusion.”

In this MGB 50th anniversary year HRDC is also running the MGB50 category, where interesting Bs which don’t rate FIA status can also run. That makes five series at six meetings, including Lydden, where I don’t think I’ve been since it was a stage on the Classic Marathon I did in Henry Pearman’s E-type. Thurgood also wants to start a historics register, and run a 24-hour event too. And just to give himself more work he starts the season at max revs on April 9 for the HRDC Historica Festival at Castle Combe, with a grid 50 per cent bigger than the track is used to.

Thurgood is not exactly a po-faced character, and The Racer, the club’s monthly, showcases its cheery image — ‘Elvis to race with HRDC’ yells one — while paddock prize-givings can be as much about silliness as silverware. And each race stands alone — no full-season commitment here. Jenks thought F1 should be that way too…

One season is early to judge, but the HRDC’s expansion promises much, and it may tip the odd newcomer into buying his first race overalls.

“It’s not a step down,” says Thurgood, “it’s a destination for people who aren’t looking to be the new Vettel. Somewhere they can bring their families. And it’s bloody good racing!”

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