What's Happening in Club Racing?
It is quite impossible for Motor Sport to record the antics of everyone who takes part in the increasingly popular Club-racing scene, and we leave this task to the motor sporting weeklies. But it is still true to say that Club racing is the cradle of the country’s Grand Prix talent, just as it was in the days when Richard Seaman and Mike Hawthorn, to mention but two, learned their skills at the wheels of Delage and Riley cars respectively. Brooklands and Goodwood, scenes of their memorable early races, are no more, but Britain still has plenty of active circuits.
Two races held in October as the climax to the Club-racing season represent how much things have changed since the old days. On October 18th, the traditional Clubman’s Championship meeting was organised by the British Racing Drivers’ Club at Silverstone, affording the lesser lights of the racing world a rare chance to tackle the highspeed Grand Prix circuit instead of the shorter and less glamorous Club circuit. This meeting has lost much of its popularity in recent years, with very few of Club-racing’s big names bothering to take part. The reason is that today the larger Clubs have season-long championships, with a dozen or more races contributing to the series at various circuits, the champions being decided on a points basis. With extensive sponsorship forthcoming from various commercial sources, any Club member who wishes to make his name well known and earn some cash to offset the expenditure he has incurred will not unnaturally concentrate his efforts on his chosen class’s own championship, be it saloons, production sports cars, Formula Ford or what have you.
At Silverstone, only two of the eight events qualified for any sort of championship. Opening the proceedings was a round in the Chapman Cup, which until last year was organised for sketchy sports cars such as the U2 or whatever home-built specials as its devotees managed to dream up, all powered by the side-valve 1,172-c.c. Ford unit. The name has now been changed from “1172 Formula” to “Formula 1200” in recognition of the admissibility of more modern 1,200-c.c. o.h.v. Ford engines, but the spirit is essentially the same as it always has been.
The 1969 winner of the Chapman Cup was decided some time before the BRDC meeting, but the new Champion, Geoff Bremner, duly appeared with his own-maintained U2 to show his season-long rivals the way home in a non-F1200 Championship race. Bremner—who is employed on the Baltic Exchange in London—showed that wealth is not necessarily essential to becoming a Club champion by leading all the way in his little car, which would cost as little as £250 to build.
In direct contrast, three of the remaining seven 10-lap races were won by Alain de Cadanet, who was using the second of the two very expensive ex-works Porsche 908s which he has used in International sportscar racing this year. The BRDC’s classes are somewhat outdated by present-day Club groupings, so de Cadanet’s £13,000 racing car was eligible not only for the sports-racing event, but also for the Grand Touring event and the Formule Libre race which closed the meeting. In the first of his two races, he was without any sort of opposition and won comfortably, progressively reducing his lap times as the day wore on.
The final race brought together some very expensive machinery, including hill-climber Martin Brain, a long-time Cooper supporter, who acquired (at very reasonable cost) one of the ex-works Formula One T86B cars with BRM V12-cylinder engines which came up for auction at the beginning of the year. Other interesting cars were a Formula Two Brabham entered by Bob Gerard for F2 regular Brian Hart, whose firm is responsible or the maintenance of most of the Cosworth FVA engines used in the Formula, and a couple of Formula 5000 cars. New Hill-Climb Champion David Hepworth drove his own-commissioned Chevrolet-powered single-seater with Ferguson four-wheel-drive system, and an interesting race was promised.
As it happened, de Cadanet was again unopposed, and eventually he equalled the Group 4 circuit record held by Bonnier and Hulme in Lola T70s. Even Hart—a driver experienced in the art of high-speed slipstream racing—could not keep up, while the remainder of the runners either retired or drove into one another.
Other races were illuminating and occasionally exciting. A match-race between the 875-c.c. Hillman Imp-powered Formula Four cars and 1,600-c.c. Cortina-powered Formula Ford machines resulted in a win for the F4 Vixen of Bob Jarvis, but his fastest lap was equalled by Derek Lawrence’s FF Titan in a new record. Difficult though it is to believe, they both lapped at over 100 m.p.h., the smaller-capacity F4 aided by its racing tyres. Formula Ford cars must race on regular road tyres, but it does not seen long since Grand Prix cars were having difficulty in finding their way around Silverstone with 4½-litres and the latest in racing rubber!
The Gold Leaf-sponsored “Clubman of the Year” title eventually went to Ford Anglia-Lotus driver Graham Bean in a very exciting saloon race which ended in victory for the LuMo Pirana Escort Twin-Cam briefly described in the October issue of Motor Sport. Driven by Bob Torric, this smart-looking car was just ahead of three others in a near photo-finish, with Gerry Marshall bringing Shaw & Kilburn’s Blydenstein-tuned Vauxhall Viva GT home in second place, followed by the Mini-Coopers of Richard Longman and Hugh Denton.
Longman, a West Country man, was one of very few drivers who attended both the Silverstone race and the British Automobile Racing Club’s Thruxton meeting on the previous Sunday. An employee of Downton Engineering Ltd., Longman prepares and tunes his car in his spare time, although he is not exactly discouraged by Downton, and is in fact entered by the works’ Social Club. Until two weeks before the Championship final, he had used the same Mini which had taken him to 46 class and overall race wins in two years. An unfortunate accident at Brands Hatch which destroyed the “old faithful” meant that a new car had to be built up in less than a week if Longman was to stay in the hunt for the Osram-GEC Championship. Somehow he managed it, with the help of some devoted friends, going on to win his class, finishing second overall to a Ford Falcon V8 in only his second race with the new car.
Longman’s nearest challenger was a Londoner, and the London versus West Country Championship struggle was repeated in the two other events of the afternoon. Ultimately, the provincials triumphed, for Chris Boulter took the Chevron Oils/Fred W. Dixon title with his 2-litre Marcos-Volvo following a season-long struggle with John Quick, who has (quite co-incidentally) decided to exchange his present Jaguar E-type for a similar Marcos, although his will be powered by a very special 3-litre Ford V6 engine.
The longest and perhaps the most interesting race of the afternoon was the final round of the Motoring News Special GT Championship, over 25 laps. Gold Leaf Team Lotus entered two of the latest Lotus 62 models, which have been entered at the more important Club and International meetings in England and Scotland this year. Now more thoroughly developed than it was at the BOAC “500” in April, the 62 is nearing the stage where examples of the car will be offered for customers to race. Works drivers Roy Pike and Brian Muir were expected to make short work of the opposition, but Terry Croker, driving a Chevron B8 CT with BMW engine, had different ideas. But although he was able to hang on to the more powerful red and gold cars, he had to be content with third place.
In contention for the outright Motoring News Championship title were Hampshire man Martin Barren and Londoner Alistair Cowin, although in different classes. Cowin, alas, had business commitments in the USA and was unable to take part in the race with his very powerful 4.7-litre McLaren M1C-Ford V8; Warren, however, was anxious about the 1,150-c.c. Ford-Holbay engine fitted to his Lotus 23, for it had not been rebuilt during the season and was in a fairly tired state. Nevertheless. he drove well, taking his usual class win, and, of course, the Championship overall.
It has been said that there are far too many Club-racing championships, and that the title “Champion” is becoming debased because there are so many people at season’s end who are entitled to call themselves champions of one sort or another. Unless the RAC steps in and gives its official approval to the principal existing championships, this situation is likely to stand. But one cannot escape the fact that the Silverstone “Clubman’s Championship” is not the event that it once was, and that enterprising Clubs like the BARC, which organised all the racing at Thruxton, have taken the initiative in running the races which decide the true champions. Without forgetting the 750 Motor Club, which undoubtedly initiated the very first Club-racing Championship with its Goodacre and Chapman Cups, there is every indication that a well-financed championship, organised by an efficient Club, not only provides a prospective competitor with a worthwhile objective for a busy and expensive season, but also gives the spectator the sort of high-quality racing which he is increasingly coming to expect.—M. G. D.