Piper stars at Oldtimer Festival

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Night racing came to the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix at the Mirburgring for the first time last month, with the 66-year old David Piper cleaning up the feature 500km Historic Marathon, anchoring David Pennell’s Jaguar D type team to an emotional success in the annual showpiece for sports and GT cars of the 1950s and ’60s.

Although a renowned Ferrari man, ‘Pipes’ goes way back with Jaguars too. “I was reserve for Maurice Charles’s D-type at Le Mans in ’56, but he crashed on the second lap so I didn’t race,” said Piper, overjoyed after virtually the entire pit lane had rushed to congratulate him and co-drivers Richard Attwood and Gary Pearson.

More than 40 cars howled away in brilliant sunshine at the start, led by the Maserati Tipo 61s of Mark Hales and John Nielsen. The rorty D and a sinister black Chevrolet Corvette growled round amid more ‘Masers,’ while Burkhard von Schenk’s pristine Porsche 906 the caught the eye in an evocative field.

As darkness fell, little by little, Liz (wife of David) Piper’s illuminated pitboard came into its own, the race becoming a fight between the surviving Birdcage Maserati and the D which, while less agile, sounded as if it would go on forever. Thomas Bscher maintained Nielsen’s early lead and handed the car back, but the Dane was beached by a broken hub when victory looked a formality.

Pearson clawed back the deficit, dodged the stragglers and rattled off the final 20 minutes to take the flag at 10pm. “The biggest problem was the gravel all over the first corner and the chicane,” he said. “It was like driving into a snowstorm when people went off; and it was difficult to pick it up in the headlights.”

John Beasley, Sid Hoole and Stuart Graham finished second in Beasley’s Cooper Monaco,ahead of Wulf Goetze and Wolfgang Kirsten in their Lotus Elan. The Porsche 906 ran fifth before gearbox problems hit, and there were super drives and fine tales to tell throughout the field, none more bizarre than that of the Andrew and James Scluyver-crewed Lotus XI which won its class with the de Dion axle lashed in with Willans trailer straps!

Piper’s superb weekend was improved further when he won Sunday’s GT race, bounding his faithful Ferrari 250LM over the kerbs at the final chicane as he picked off various Marcos, TVRs and Elans. “That was hot work,” chuckled the old stager as he alighted in parc ferme, poured a bottle of water over his head and reached for his trademark pipe.

Pearson switched to a Lister-Jaguar for the 1950s Sportscar events, but had a carburettor float puncture while in the lead on Saturday and was pipped by Richard Austin’s superb Lotus 19. Christian Glasel was a surprise victor in the Historic Grand Prix Cars with his Maserati 250F, when Burkhard von Schenk’s broke, while Nick Mason was a winner in his Bugatti T35 and daughter Chloe had tremendous fun dicing with Chris Chilcott’s Frazer Nash in her Aston Martin.

Martin Stretton led the first lap of the FIA Cup Thoroughbred Grand Prix Car race in the ex-Stewart Tyrrell 005 but Bob Berridge powered past in his later RAM but Martin hounded him all the way, his commitment and control awesome. Mike Whatley’s Ensign N175 looked the contender it was in Chris Amon’s hands when new and came home in third place. The best 1600cc F2 field of the season came out twice, but a woefully inattentive backmarker cost Bob Juggins any chance of victory in the first race. Fredy Kumschick powered his Lotus 69 past as the Lola T240 driver was baulked, only to spin and hand victory to Rob Hall. Juggins made amends the following day.

The beautifully-presented BRM P154 Can-Am car of German Jost Kalisch was top dog in the first leg of the International Supersport Cup leg, pursued by American Craig Bennett (Lola T222), Chris Chiles’s March 717 and Peter Hoffmann’s pink McLaren M8F. When Chiles spun, Hoffman moved up and won on aggregate when the BRM broke a driveshaft on the second day. Chiles won Sunday’s race from Richard Eyre’s M8F.

Kent Abrahamsson blasted his Chevron B16 away from the Lola T70 hordes on the Saturday, but Jonathan Baker ate his advantage and attempted to pass for several laps. When Baker overcooked it into the first corner Kent was home and dry.

The FIA Touring Car rounds both featured prolonged tussles, but the driving in the large-capacity race left much to be desired. Having been attacked early on by an Alfa Romeo, Swede Bengt Winqvist’s Ford Falcon rumbled on to win after a scrap with Helge Snabb, but many cars came back with extensive body damage. When Baron Donhoff instigated the Oldtimer GP in 1973, he probably had little idea it would grow into one of the greatest Historic events. More atmospheric than Coys (Eifel Mountains vs glorified airfield equals no contest) albeit with a fiddlier and less suitable track, the German classic is still a huge draw. Indeed, in the eyes of many, the ‘night race’ has given it a unique edge. David Piper might well agree. MP

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