750MC Birkett Six Hour Relay Race

Austin Sevens must be going faster this year. The final handicaps issued at the start of the 1983 Birkett Relay Race at Silverstone on the second weekend in October showed that Team 7, Austin 7s of the organising Club, had only 124 credit laps over the Chevrons on scratch, compared to 128 last year. In between these expected limits were 26 other entries, some one-make clubs such as Jaguar, Alfa, and two Porsche teams, and some based on club formulae like Formula 1300 and Post-Historic Road Sports, a healthy mouthful which concealed amongst others the V8s of John Atkins (Cobra) and Roger Cannel (TVR Griffith).

Shortly before noon, the grid assembled, under chilly skies which threatened rain but in the event held off for the full six hours, with Dodkin’s Chevron B8 and Chapman Spanner’s magnificent Lola Aston up front, the latter not driven as expected by Jonathan Palmer, but by Mike Wilds. With a curious assortment of noises 28 clutches were released, and as the thunder of the Lola Aston faded towards Copse, the tyre-smoke cleared to reveal Ravvson’s A7 proving the handicappers point and already well down on the next car. By lap two Wilds was already lapping cars and it was clear that the 150-lap limit on the Lola was a wise decision. The first visit to the pits occurred as early as lap four, when Don Shead’s Lister Jaguar was replaced by Hamilton’s E-type, giving those new to this event their first opportunity to witness the transfer of the velcro sash which takes the place of the athlete’s baton in this motorised version of the relay race. Setting a furious pace at the head of the field were still the Chevron team, now championed by Ray Bellm, and Wilds, who could easily fend off Bellm on the straights but was having to work hard to stay ahead through the corners, while a surprise third on the road were the Westinghouse Formula 1300 team, just ahead of the Ginettas and the Porsche Carreras.

Positions were given over the PA system both on handicap and actual laps completed, but the talk in the pits was only of on-the-road places, most of the rather sparse onlookers being content to find out the corrected positions after the excitement was over. A minor problem for the team managers was that as the Paddock PA is reserved for special announcements and does not relay the commentary, the spectators sometimes knew before the teams that there had been an off or a breakdown. A solution to this, and to providing enough speakers to thoroughly cover a circuit, might be to hook the PA up to a low-powered VHF transmitter so that anyone with a pocket radio could tune in anywhere around the circuit and net constant sound quality. Worth considering, Silverstone and MCD?

When the Lola eventually pulled in, it was replaced by Don Prater’s Aston V8, almost as loud if not quite as fast, which immediately slotted into the battle with Dodkins, while further back the AC Ace of Howard Pessall displayed astounding roll angles and a strong desire to oversteer at Woodcote. At the other end of Club Straight, Becketts was catching out several drivers, first a Morgan spinning, then Phelan’s Ginetta, which was narrowly avoided by an errant Matlock. It soon became obvious that Phelan was unable to restart, sodas soon as the team realised this, a replacement was sent off to collect the sash. This delay helped the Porsche Carreras up to fourth, just in front of the Post-Historic Road Sports cars, but what the printed half-hourly reports soon began to show was a decline in the Chevron fortunes and the steady progress on handicap of the Caterham Seven team, who numbered driver / journalists Tony Dean and Jeremy Coulter amongst their equipe. Some very rapid and neat driving by Rob Kirby in the Napolina ‘Sad meant that the Alfa Owners Team pushed their way up to fifth and then fourth on handicap, as well as running possibly the noisiest car there— the raucous but well-prepared Bertone GTV of Pietro Caccaviello.

Minimising the time loss in the pits at changeovers was obviously important and some alarming near-misses resulted — notably when the howling of tyres announced the sideways arrival of a Bentley, scattering onlookers and mechanics alike. Porsche Club Gentlemen suffered a misfortune when Geoff Styring was hit by another car and left the circuit, badly damaging a wheel, but Stuttgart’s honour was maintained by the Carreras who settled into a solid fourth position, though still trailing the F1300s who seemed slightly bemused by their unexpected luck. A steady trail of petrol was being laid through Becketts by Mason’s famous Ulster Aston, but this seemed to cause no particular problems to following drivers. It was here that another problem hit the Porsche Goats — Jake Allport arrived at the hairpin at a speed that a city policeman would have overlooked, with flapping rubber betraying a puncture on the left hind.

The efficient results service (including a VDU readout) showed, at three-quarters distance, that the flamboyant rally-style cornering of Dennis Welch in his Healey was helping the AH Club into third on handicap, although seventeenth overall, but what seemed odd was that the Chevrons, while clinging on to first overall, were slipping badly on corrected laps, down to eighteenth at one stage. In fact it was a series of mechanical problems which prevented them from living up to the handicappers’ expectations in the latter part of the race, although they still had some taps in hand over the Astons. In an attempt to wrest the lead, Wilds set off again in the Lola Aston, an eager to go that he barely avoided colliding with the pit-wall, and there followed a dramatic struggle between him and Alan Eisner in the Apollo Cosworth Chevron which climaxed with Wilds grabbing the lead leaving Becketts — and promptly diving into the pit-lane!

A clutch of Lotus-Cortinas had been putting in steady times for the Classic Saloon Car Club, and it transpired that the unknown Chris Thackwell was in fact Mike Thackwell, having a fun break from his F2 career as Jonathan Palmer’s Ralt-Honda team-mate. In the final hour the positions on the road were still the same — Chevron, Aston Post War, F1300, Carrera, Ginetta — but corrected places were very different. First were the Caterham Seven team, pursued by the F1300s, Carreras, and, still in fourth, the Alfas. Most teams seemed tube making a last effort to boost their totals, Nick Mason breaking the pre-War AMOC track record no fewer than four times, despite the markedly fading light. The honour of the Austin Sevens was in the flailing hands of Tim Myall, who slithered his diminutive mount through Woodcote with no respect for the laws of physics, but there was no doubt about the fastest team as, almost exactly at 6 pm, the flag fell on Alan Eisner for the Apollo Chevrons. But as John Goate aimed for the flag and second place in his Aston DB4, he suddenly spun and stalled right on the exit line of Woodcote. Cars slewed pastas all angles, and for a moment it looked as though Bill Cowling would have to start again on his gleaming rebuilt Ferrari Dino, but he just slithered outside the stricken Aston, while Kirby surely polished some paintwork as the ‘Sud shot past.

Final results proved that the Carreras had just pipped their F1300 rivals for second, but handicap winners by five laps were the Caterham Seven team — somewhat to then surprise, according to Dron, who said “We didn’t go expecting garlands…”

The Chevrons might have been expected to win, the Astons never quite gaining the ten laps that separated them at the finish, but third overall for the Formula 1300 cars was an excellent all-round achievement. — G.C.

Overall —
1st Apollo Chevron Team
2nd Aston Martin Post War Team
3rd Westinghouse Formula 1300 Team
Handicap —
1st Thoroughbred & Classic Cars Team Super Seven
2nd Porsche Glub Carrera
3rd Westinghouse Formula 1300 Team