Simon's snapshots #15

Historic Racing News

Vintage Sports Car Club, Oulton Park, June 18 1977

At the time there were fears of perhaps terminal decline. Oulton Park, one of the world’s best inventions, had been sliced almost in two from the second meeting of 1975 and the long run to the banked Esso hairpin had since lain dormant, ditto the return loop over Hill Top. As a consequence, Knickerbrook was no longer approached at anything like the speed that made it one of British racing’s foremost challenges.

Still, the sawn-off circuit had its compensations: the shorter layout meant races tended to be 15 laps rather than 10, so we saw the cars more frequently, and Fosters – the new corner linking Cascades to Knickerbrook, named in honour of long-time circuit manager Rex Foster – was a fun place to watch. Cascades was now much more open, significantly faster, awkwardly cambered… and drivers didn’t have a great deal of time to get their cars settled, stopped and turned for the new right-hander. It was a popular – and frequently spectacular – passing place. (This didn’t work if you started your move from somewhere near Manchester Airport, as Ayrton Senna discovered when clattering into Martin Brundle during an F3 tussle on August 6 1983).

Just a few months later, Senna would not have been able contemplate such a manoeuvre. There was great joy among local aficionados when the longer circuit reopened in 1984, initially as far as the new Island hairpin and subsequently all the way to Esso (now confusingly called Shell). To this day the long circuit remains majestic, even with a couple of chicanes to tame speeds on the way to and through Knickerbrook, but just occasionally I yearn for the frantic scrabbling sounds of the Fosters braking zone.

The short circuit continues to operate, but rarely so. It was used only once in 2014, but will be twice as busy this year with a BRSCC meeting on April 11 and – for the first time since 2010 – the return of the Vintage Sports Car Club. In honour of which, here is a particularly grainy snap – taken from a spectator bank, with 250mm lens – from a VSCC meeting 38 summers ago. Alain de Cadenet slides his Alfa Romeo through Fosters ahead of Peter Merritt’s HW Alta, during a 20-lap scratch race for all comers.

Probably a good idea to keep July 18 free…

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