Veteran to classic -- historic racing

Historic Racing Resumé

One of the most fascinating aspects of this year's series of historic races for sportscars of that era has been the way the old 1500 class battles between Lotus and Cooper have been repeated. Of the eight races held thus far in the season, counting the two halves of the Christie's race at Silverstone as separate events, four have gone to Lotus Xls and four to Coopers.

Leading Lotuseers have been Michael Lavers and Steve Griswold, each of whom has taken two class wins, while Italian resident Jason Wright surprised many by lapping faster than anyone else when he joined the series to place second on aggregate in the Christie's Silverstone race. All drove the Mk XI model, though Lavers showed in a couple of events that the older Mk IX is still competitive. John Beasley had been the Cooper star, winning three times, including both races at the prestigious Christie's meeting, which drew the biggest field of 1500s seen for many years. Amongst other placings he finished right on the tail of the winning Lotus at both Spa (Lavers) and the AMOC Silverstone (Griswold). The other Cooper winner was Martin Stretton (surely the rising star of historic racing), though he has not competed as regularly as Beasley or Sid Hoole, both of whom he beat at the June VSCC Silverstone meeting.

Interest in overall honours in these races has maintained its level as the season progresses, with the most prestigious British race of the year, the British Aerospace event at the Christie's Festival, falling to Ray Mallock's Aston Martin DBR2. In spite of mutterings about this car's originality, Mallock put on a good show, battling with the fastest D-type Jaguars and staging a fight-back after an early pit-stop in one of the races on his way to repeating his victory in the 1990 event.

Entries for his race excluded the Lister-Jaguars, which have otherwise continued their season-long battles with the D-types. Having suffered a series of defeats at the hands of John Harper in one of the Coventry cars, John Pearson put Frank Sytner in his ex-Cunningham Costin Lister for the Peter Collins Trophy race at the June VSCC Silverstone meeting — only to be beaten again. It was not until the following weekend's AMOC meeting at the same venue that the car, driven this time by Pearson's son Gary, managed to win, albeit in the absence of the Harper D. Steve O'Rourke's old Lister-Jaguar was second.

There was another Lister victory at Donington in July, when Mike Freeman made a rare appearance with his Costin-bodied car and succeeded in beating all the single-seaters in the AMOC/HSCC race. Early leader David Beckett (Lister-Chevrolet) was third overall.

Following Harper's win in the Peter Collins race he — and more particularly the Robert Brooks car he drove — seem to have found disfavour with organisers, and the car has not been seen since. Taking its place as leading D-type contender has been Chris Drake's car which, showing improving form, followed third place at the AMOC Silverstone by challenging Mallock at the Christie's meeting. So too did Sytner, in the Bamford car campaigned in recent years by Willie Green, but both Jaguars lost time with spins, Drake managing third on aggregate. Other D-types have shown well in the hands of Valentine Lindsay and, with a car which Henry Taylor and later Jim Clark raced in the Fifties, Willie Tuckett.

The HWM-Jaguars do not seem as competitive as they did in their heyday, but Gary Pearson showed well in a Cooper-Jaguar at the Christie's meeting, placed fifth on aggregate.

In races where the cut-off date is as late as 1960, it could be expected that big-engined Cooper Monacos and Lotus XVs would dominate. The Surbiton cars, however, are rarely admitted, and neither of the 2-litre Lotus XVs seen in action has set the world on fire. Australian Paul Samuel seems to holiday in Europe with his XV every year now, but his car is not performing as reliably this year as it has in the past. Harper drove a similar car at the AMOC Silverstone meeting and held a brief fourth place before retiring to save his misfiring engine.

Most consistent of the Maserati drivers has been Nick Mason with his 2-litre "Birdcage" model, which has taken a third place and three fourths. Regular German visitor Thomas Bscher has appeared several times with an earlier 450S model, whose original V8 motor has apparently been replaced by a much larger marine unit, but has demonstrated little more than the car's potential — as evidenced by second fastest practice time at one of the Silverstone meetings.

Races for Grand Prix cars of this era have seen an end to Harper's supremacy, not least because he has now sold his highly successful car. Taking his place has been Stretton, in a newly restored T51 Cooper-Climax. First time out at the June VSCC Silverstone meeting, he beat Harper to win the coveted Hawthorn Trophy, this being before the T53 had changed hands. At the AMOC Silverstone and again at Brands Hatch Harper let Stretton lead before hitting the front and carrying on to win, and then at the VSCC Mallory Stretton was winner again, Harper this time retiring after having been demoted to second. Stretton had a dismal run at the Christie's Silverstone meeting, missing practice while an engine rebuild was completed. He came through from the back of the field to finish fourth in the first part of the Liquid Polymers race, but was shunted into the wall at the start of the second race.

The Harper car has now been taken over by Gerry Porter, who has yet to find the form in this car that he displayed in his 2-litre Cooper T43. With the older car he was a consistent top four place-getter, but is still getting to grips with the trickier 1960 car. Rod Jolley, also in a 2-litre car, has been picking up the occasional second or third placing, but the 2-1/2-litre car of Peter Hannen has had a bad run, and had not been placed in its last three starts (two of them with Paris-resident Lindsay Owen-Jones at the wheel).

If any 1960 car could beat the Coopers it should be a Lotus 18, and the car driven by Hugh Leventon has come closer to doing so with each outing. At the Brands Hatch Racefest Leventon ran with Harper and Stretton until the car developed problems, and at the Christie's Festival was beaten in both heats only by Corner's 3-litre V12 Ferrari and a newer Lotus V8.

And where has the hitherto unbeaten Anthony Mayman fitted into all this? He campaigns his Lotus 16 only in VSCC events, but was put out of the Hawthorn Trophy race by a collision (when leading) and then forced into second place behind Stretton at Mallory. Chris Drake's similar car has run into the occasional fourth or fifth place.

In 1960, a well-driven front-engined Lotus 16 could beat an average driver in a Cooper, and the same is true today. But a well-driven Cooper remains at least a match for a well-driven Lotus.

The highest-profile British race of the year for historic GP cars was the two-part Polo Ralph Lauren event at the Christie's Festival and, as reported elsewhere, man-of-the-moment Stretton took this, first time out in David Duffy's B-type Connaught. Harper (Maserati 250F) tried hard but had to be satisfied with second place on aggregate, ahead of the theoretically outclassed cars of Hannen (6CM Maserati) and MacPherson (Cooper-Bristol). Serious misgivings about the originality of both these cars were heard in some quarters.

The 1-1/2-litre cars from the 1961/65 formula do not get many opportunities to race these days, but they were out at Montlhéry in May when Chris Alford drove a Lotus 24, and then at the Christie's meeting. Here the same driver, but this time in a Lotus 25, won the Liquid Polymers race, Allan Baillie in a Lotus-BRM 24 having also led before encountering various problems. -- KHRC