WON BY AUSTIN HEALEY SEBRING SPRITES by 6 Laps after 6 Hours, in Britain’s Longest Car Race
The annual 6-Hour Relay Race is unique in an age when there is, perhaps, too much motor racing, a lot of it far from original in conception. Why so few people watch this ingenious race, which is really a contest between sashes carried by team drivers, I can’t imagine.
The 11th of the series, over the Silverstone Club circuit lived up to its reputation as a contest in which anything can happen and does! It was fought out between 26 teams with, alas, only one 750 Formula Team. Right from the 1p.m. start action came thick and fast. Indeed, it had commenced even earlier, with some hectic practice lappery, when casualties included a broken crank in a Fairthorpe and a rod out of an M.G., etc.
From flag-fall Charles’ 3-litre Jaguar-D set about building up a lead for the Jaguar Drivers’ with Beckwith’s Lotus Eleven of the Fury Team in hot pursuit. The Lotus chaps were soon in trouble, and Sprinzel’s Sprite lost a plug, a Morgan spun when a brake locked and came in, Olthoff’s Twin-Cam M.G. had its floorboards on fire and Crossfield’s, which replaced it, slopped out fuel. A T.V.R. ran out of fuel, a Warwick shed the lead from its coil, Cracknell’s Austin 850 needed water, Waters found the clutch slipping on his Lotus 7, and the head was replaced on Leuch’s TR2.
All this, and more, occupied the first hour of the race, which had been started by Colin Chapman, who arrived in his private aeroplane. At .2 p.m. the M.G.C.C. N.W. Centre Team led from the Sprites, with the Moore Minis coming up strongly largely because Whitmore, taking Woodcote in two separate slides, was gaining 2 sec. a lap on the Bulmer handicap in his astonishing Austin 850.
During the second hour, Maurice Charles having completed his first a 1 1/2-hour run, Sturgess’ Jaguar E-type went out and at 3 p.m. the Jaguars led from the Sprites, the A.C. Ace-Bristols now third. Olthoff’s M.G. was very fast, Pierpoint’s Lotus Fifteen was weaving through the field, lamps blazing, Elizabeth Jones’ Austin Healey 3000 had lost its overdrive and she “went on the air” as a change from driving, and Aley’s Mini-Minor collected a marker tub and pushed it round Woodcote in a shower of sparks. Ted Lund was driving the Le Mans Twin-Cam M.G. coupé and the Octagon Stable were relying on the long-range tanks of Bond’s Le Mans Austin Healey to keep him out for a 2. 3/4-hour stint.
The Sprites were gaining on the Jaguars, both teams having changed sashes twice only by 3 p.m., and the A.C.s were coming up even faster. The Jaguar team put on ex-Brooklands driver Eric Brown in his XK120 with disc brakes, Dunlop lightweight wheels, etc., while A.C. put on the American driver Bowman but probably wished they hadn’t, for he went backwards into the Woodcote ditch and then came in the wrong way, thus losing a lap! Gott took over after Bond’s long spell but his rally Austin Healey had normal tankage so couldn’t go so far.
At half-distance the Jaguars still led the cheeky Sprites but the Octagon Austin Healeys were third and the Moore Minis shared fourth place with the two M.G.C.C. Teams and the scratch Fury Team, largely because Christabel Carlisle, apart from looking charming, proved able to do Whitmore’s “two-bites” cornering technique in her Austin 850.
Manfield’s Lotus-B.M.C. almost died coining to its pit – an anticlimax for this AntiClimax Team – Dempsey skilfully held a 90° slide on the now-slippery course in his A.C., and a TR trailed its exhaust. Ian Walker took over for Team Sebring, lapping at over 75 m.p.h. A nasty accident unfortunately happened to Leon Abbott in one of the limit Saab saloons. Nearly overturning at Woodcote he corrected the incipient flip, the car bounced back onto all four wheels, and went across the track and head-on into the bank. As I write, Abbott is still unconscious with severe skull injuries. How a driver swearing a crash hat and safety harness suffered such severe injuries in a crash which did not appear to break the car’s windscreen and did not cause the doors to fly open is something safety-belt addicts might ponder. Incidentally, the driver was put on a stretcher and carried across the track to the ambulance, in full view of the spectators. This gory episode did not stop a mechanic from grabbing the sash so that Summers’ Saab could resume.
Repair work behind the pits was now at its height. The gearbox bearings were replaced on a Lotus, Oliver’s D.R.W.-Ford was stripped down, and the differential nose bearing was replaced on Olthoff’s M.G. in 40 minutes, the car badly needed because Crossfield had pushed his M.G. in and immediately Clark’s M.G. had run into expensive trouble, leaving the Twin-Cams Team with only one runner. A Lotus Eleven spun and its driver ran in with his sash, and Golding’s Fairthorpe turned left instead of right at Woodcote.
By 5 p.m. the Sprites were leading, the Jaguars now down to an XK150S drophead and 3.4 saloons as their fast cars had done their full quota of laps. The Octagon Austin Healeys, thanks to Bond and Gott, were still third, and gaining on the Jaguars by a second a lap. With an hour to go the Sprites seemed to have it in the bag. They were lapping 5 sec. faster in the race than in practice and this team, composed of rally cars, had pulled a fast one on handicapper Bulmer. Sprinzel was so confident he was letting all his drivers do a spell. The Octagons had passed the Jaguars and fourth place was held by the M.G.C.C. N.W. Centre Team who, had Waterhouse spinning, and Ide taking over immediately. A Morgan stopped after a spin at Copse, the Warwick B car had been going for hours and sounded very tired, Whitmore replaced Aley as the B.M.C. Minis went in hot pursuit of the M.G.s, making a truly breathtaking last half-hour. At this late stage many were speeding up, Dempsey’s A,C. spinning and Oliver twice having “moments” at Woodcote, while Rees’ 1172 Special was boiling. In the last two minutes a Twin-Cam M.G. and the D.R.W. came in but Wilson-Spratt’s open Sprite went gamely on and so Team Sebring, ably managed by John Brown, abetted by the wily Sprinzel, took the chequered flag at 7 p.m., a well-deserved victory. Perhaps funny hats make Sprites go faster! The Octagons held off the Jaguars for second place and Whitmore’s fine driving brought the Minis in fourth, on the same lap as the Jaguars and a lap ahead of the M.G.C.C. Team; the A.C.s were sixth. – W. B.