What little difference 50 years can make...


It is quite amazing how little racing drivers change. They could have stopped racing 10 years ago, but put them in a car on a track today and I can pretty much guarantee you that they’ll have something to say about the car setup or the tyre pressures or even perhaps, how much less powerful the engine was ‘in their day’.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t through them still being overly competitive brought about by years of winning (or not). But is merely a professional falling back into what they do best: driving a car fast and knowing if it can go faster and why.

This has never been more evident than when I made the trip up to Silverstone last week to see BTCC driver Jason Plato swap cars with Jack Sears, who won the British Saloon Car Championship in 1958. Jack was tied on points with Tommy Sopwith after driving an Austin Westminster A105 throughout the season and went on to have a shootout at Brands in two Riley 1.5s.

With a SEAT Leon Cupra from SEAT Sport and the A105 in which Jack won the Championship kindly lent by a private owner, the two set out onto the track. After an initial two laps behind the wheel of the A105, Jack was asked whether the car felt the same today as in 1958, the last time he drove it. “It’s very much as I remember it actually, but I think the tyre pressures want some attention.” Indeed they did, Jack used to run 45 pounds in the rear Dunlops and today there was only 23 psi of pressure keeping the car on the Tarmac. Yes the pressures were a long way off, but having not driven the car for 50 years…

Jason also seemed to enjoy his time in the classic and having completed a couple of laps with Jack in the driver’s seat, they swapped to give the current BTCC driver a feel of how the winning car drove in 1958. “Even though I’ve been in a few classic cars like this I haven’t had that much experience in them. It’s just how soft they are… but as Jack rightly pointed out that could be because the rear tyres need a bit more pressure. But a lovely old noise, and quite an amusing smell inside.”

The A105 is currently fitted with the latest bucket seats and 4-point harnesses which is quite a change from how it was kitted out 50 years ago and the 1958 Champion was keen to point out that things had changed a little, “back then I had standard seats and no seat belts, no roll cage.” Different times indeed.

It was easy to pass off the day as a well-organised publicity stunt, and there’s no denying I would have been invited along if it wasn’t, but the whole thing came about from a conversation the two drivers had 8 weeks ago. Just a simple, “I know, why don’t we swap cars for a day”? Was all it took to get these two very quick, yet very different drivers behind the wheel of a car they missed racing by 50 years.

Having done a few laps in the present-day SEAT Jack was fairly surprised by the grip generated by a set of slicks and a hard set-up, and indeed the correct tyre pressures in the Leon.

“The thing about the SEAT is that I’ve never raced on slick tyres,” Jack informed me. “So slick tyres are a totally new experience for me, and of course the paddle change and the extra horsepower. I don’t know how much horsepower my Austin used to produce, probably 150 or 60 or something like that. I think this SEAT produces 300 or something so there’s a lot of difference. The G-Forces were huge on the SEAT, and on the other hand you have the ‘rock and roll’ style of the 105. I’m not decrying its virtues but it is a different handling car isn’t it?”

Both cars, Jason and Jack will be back at the Northamptonshire circuit on Sunday 31 August for Silverstone’s round of the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship. Visit www.silverstone.co.uk for further information, or to book tickets.

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