Veteran to classic -- Christie's International Historic Festival

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Flying the Flag

Just one year after the inaugural event, the Christie’s International Historic Festival at Silverstone has already become an important event in the historic racing world, on a par with the best.

This year’s races contained an interesting and mixed variety of races, all except one being split into two heats and run on both days of the weekend.

Keith Schellenberg in his 8-litre London-Sydney Marathon Bentley won both races in the Christie’s Challenge for pre-war sports cars in what was arguably the greatest collection of cars in a pre-war race since 1931. He romped away from the opposition on the straights while still going quickly through the corners in a very spirited drive. In the first race it was Peter Hannen in his 1931 Le Mans winning Alfa and Nick Mason in an Aston Martin Ulster car who looked the most serious threats to Schellenberg, but the former retired with overheating at his pit stop and the latter, after an optional driver change at the compulsory pit stop, was out of contention when Stephen Archer had a spin. This allowed the howling SSK Mercedes of Marcus and Thomas Kern up into second place, a magnificent showing especially as Marcus was having his first race in the car. Unfortunately they were unable to maintain the momentum on the Sunday and finished fourth behind the Wood/Marcias Invicta and Mason/Archer Aston Martin.

Final aggregate placings showed Schellenberg in first place, Wood/Marcias second, the Kern’s Mercedes third and the Alfa Romeo 8C of de Cadenet/Lindsay fourth. Unfortunately for Schellenberg, his teammates in the Bentley A team could only finish in 24th and 25th position with the result that the team could no better than fourth in the teams’ competition which was won by the Aston Martin team of Mason/Archer, Edwards/Hogg and Bell/Blakemore (5th, 8th and 10th). Just 5.7 seconds behind on aggregate was the Mercedes-Benz team which was principally made up of the Kern family, who finished 3rd, 6th and 15th, just squeezing out the Alfa Romeo team, which comprised of the 1931 Le Mans team cars enjoying their first reunion for 60 years, which finished 4th, 7th and 22nd.

After such a race it was difficult to imagine what the organisers could do to maintain the high level of interest, but after a parade of some 24 GT40s and AC Cobras on the Saturday, we had a fabulous line-up for the 1950s Sports Car Race in the British Aerospace series with some 40 cars taking to the track.

Ray Mallock, who won the event last year, was reunited with the 1957 4.2-litre Aston Martin DBR2/1 with which Stirling Moss won at Goodwood in 1958, started from pole position ahead of Frank Sytner in Sir Anthony Bamford’s D-type Jaguar. As the flag fell for the start of the race, though, it was Chris Drake in the short nose, ex-George Constantine 1956 Watkins Grand Prix winning D-type which led the race for half the distance. Mallock usurped Sytner from second place on the second lap and then took the lead three laps later when Drake spun in front of him at an oily Brooklands. As Sytner had already spun at Priory the lap before he was unable to capitalise as well, and so finished the first heat 6-1/2 seconds adrift of the leading duo, Mallock crossing the line two tenths of a second ahead of Drake.

32 cars made the grid on Sunday, but Mallock’s superiority in this race was short-lived for he pitted at the end of the first lap concemed at the high oil temperature. Given a clean bill of health, he rejoined the race, but in 12th place.

Meanwhile at the head of the field, it had developed into a battle between the D-types of Drake and Valentine Lindsay and the Maserati 250S of Peter Hannen who had got over the nasty experience the day before when he was almost rammed by the spinning Sytner. Unfortunately for the Silverstone crowd, the former British Touring Car Champion was competing on Sunday in the Donington BTCC. Hannen, who had finished fourth on Saturday, got ahead of Drake on the third lap with Lindsay in close attendance in third place, but Mallock was storming through the field. On the fourth lap he set the fastest lap of the race averaging over 87 mph around the revised 3.196-mile Grand Prix circuit and was up to fifth place. On the penultimate lap his mission was made easier when Drake spun out of second place and in the process caused Lindsay to go off as well allowing Mallock to close right up on Hannen’s smaller-engined Maserati. Hannen, however, remained undefeated and took the chequered flag just under half a second ahead of Mallock. Four seconds behind was Nick Mason in the “Birdcage” Maserati followed by Gary Pearson in the Cooper-Jaguar. Lindsay and Drake, the latter now suffering from wheel bearing problems, came home fifth and sixth. On aggregate it was an easy win for Mallock with Hannen second, Drake third, Mason fourth, Pearson fifth and Lindsay sixth.

Now it was the turn of the single-seaters in the Polo/Ralph Lauren Historic Grand Prix. Peter Hannen again featured as a front runner in his 6CM Maserati, but he was unable to catch Martin Stretton who was driving David Duffy’s B-type Connaught who had a flag to flag lead. Harper in a 250F Maserati was third and Roddy MacPherson in his Cooper-Bristol fourth after Nick Mason had spun his 250F out of fourth place at Stowe halfway through the race. On Sunday it took Stretton four laps to wrest the lead from Harper while Hannen slipped back to fourth place behind MacPherson after the Maserati slowed with problems. So Stretton was winner on aggregate ahead of Harper while Hannen was lucky to finish third.

McLarens dominated the AT&T Istel Steigenberger Supersports race not the M8Fs which were unfortunately missing, but the M6Bs of Soames Langton and David Franklin and an M8C/D of Richard Eyre. In the event, though, it was Richard Piper in Peter Kaus’ Lola T222 which won the first heat ahead of the McLarens after a battle which saw the lead swop several times. Unfortunately it all came to nought for Piper the next day when a broken throttle cable forced him to retire. Instead of developing into a threeway McLaren fight, two of Saturday’s leaders had problems: Langton spun at Brooklands and Eyre had clutch problems. This allowed another Lola T222, that of John Hunt, into second place while Hart in the 2-litre Lola T212 was a creditable third. On aggregate, therefore, it was Franklin in first place, Eyre second, Langton third, Hunt fourth and Hart fifth.

The final two-part race in the HGPCA Pre-65 GP Cars Race was not as exciting as it could have been. Allan Baillie in the BRM-powered Lotus 24 had fuel pick-up problems and was unable to keep his first lap lead which allowed Chris Alford in Cedric Seltzer’s Lotus 25 to finish a full 12 seconds ahead of Neil Corner’s front-engined Ferrari Dino and Hugh Leventon’s Lotus 18. The only real point of interest was watching Martin Stretton in a Cooper T51 work his way through the field from last place on the grid (after missing qualifying replacing an engine) to finish fourth.

Yet again he was somebody for whom Saturday’s work was all in vain when he was punted into the wall at the start of Sunday’s race. Nevertheless it was a far better race with Corner making more of a fight for it, Alford only taking the lead on the last lap after out-braking the Ferrari into Priory. Alford was overall winner with Corner in second place.

The hour-long FIA European Challenge Race on Sunday developed into a superb duel between Dieter Quester and Hubert Hahne in the Scuderia Bavaria BMW 1800Ti and the Simon Hadfield and Michael Schryver Lotus-Cortina. As it turned out neither car won, overall honours going to the Alfa Romeo Sprint of Maurizio/Paolo Jasson when the BMW was penalised one minute for jumping the re-start of the race while the Lotus-Cortina lost a lap in the pits when the nearside rear brake caught fire.

So long the centre of the world for historic racing, it is encouraging that we now have a meeting which can be regarded as the flagship event — and it has taken only two years to achieve that status. WPK