A scintillating second stint by Amspeed technician Chris Boardman – as opposed to his Olympic cycling gold medal-winning namesake, who hails from the nearby Wirral peninsula – on his debut in Paul Hogarth’s ex-Tim Harvey Labatt’s Blue BMW E30 M3 was the decider in a resounding maiden Historic Touring Car Challenge victory when Motor Racing Legends’ all-embracing tin top competition returned to the popular Oulton Park Gold Cup event on Bank Holiday Monday, August 27.
Originated in 1954 and centred on a non-championship Formula 1 race won by Stirling Moss – for whom the organisation’s Pre-1956 Sportscar series is named – in a Maserati 250F, the annual meeting, a must-see for motorsport fans in the north west of England, has been historic-focussed for more than a decade.
Quickest in qualifying, Hogarth/Boardman won the drama-laced 50-minute race, beating the Bigazzi-originated ex-Steve Soper M3 of Amspeed team-mates Mark Smith/Arran Moulton-Smith by a lap, with Ric Wood’s snarling Ford Capri homing in on the latter after a drive-through penalty for stopping before the pit window opened.
Tom Houlbrook (gaining confidence in the ex-Thomas Danielsson/Eiichi Tajima Japanese Touring Car Championship M3, also from the Amspeed stable) finished fourth, reflecting qualifying order. Tom Burgess was a sensational fifth overall, humbling more powerful cars to win the concurrent Tony Dron Trophy Group 1 race in his Datapost Fiesta.
Burgess’ eye-catching performance took him from 11th on the grid, fourth of the TDT contingent, past the Ford Capris of John Spiers and Patrick Watts and the raucous VW Golf GTi of Jim Morris/Tom Shephard which had scooped divisional pole. Another Capri, the Track Marshall example of veteran Graham ‘Skid’ Scarborough and seasoned Caterham ace Peter ‘Ratters’ Ratcliff – fresh from a win at super-fast Thruxton, where the HTCC debuted in June – and the magnificently-conducted Escort RS2000 of local man Jason Minshaw led the chase at the chequered flag.
A fine array of 24 cars set out for qualifying on an overcast race morning, Hogarth/Boardman earning pole position as the only combo to lap the fabulous undulating 2.69-mile Cheshire circuit inside 1m 50 seconds. Their superb 1:49.862s (88.21mph) best was 1.840s quicker than Smith/Moulton-Smith who recorded 1:51.702 to top the roster of cars with verified engine capacity, a growing MRL initiative which is attracting a strong following. All but four at Oulton had signed-up to the charter, championed by its ringmaster Duncan Wiltshire and veteran MSA scrutineer/FIA technical delegate John Hopwood.
With BTCC Mercedes-Benz ace Adam Morgan elsewhere, CNC Heads boss Wood pulled more than 120mph down Lakeside towards Island Bend and the Shell Oils hairpin as he soloed his late-built Liqui Moly tribute Capri-GAA to grid third on 1:54.389, clear of Houlbrook on 1:55.519 and the Ian Goff/Chris Fox Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500, the last car to break two minutes. The nose of the fire-breathing Sierra was deranged against George Pochciol’s Capri at Knickerbrook corner en route, but both were repaired.
Sixth quickest overall, Morris/Shephard hurled the ex-John Morris (Jim’s dad) and Alan Minshaw (Jason’s) Golf to a cracking 2:01.469 (79.78mph) Dron division pole, with the three-litre Capris of Watts (Frank & Jeans) and John Spiers (Hermetite) on its heels, less than a tenth apart. Les Ely and Ford Anglia 105E racer Neil Wood brought the former’s BMW 2000, the oldest car in the race dating back to the mid-1960s, ahead of the imposing Rover SD1 of Martin Overington/Guy Stevens.
Burgess led the rest in his Fiesta, with Tony Hart/Will Nuthall (Renault 5GT Turbo), dad-and-lad Ken and Tim Clarke (ex-Steve Soper Hepolite Rover Vitesse), Minshaw guesting in Welshman Nigel Parry’s orange Jägermeister-liveried RS2000, Ratcliff/Scarborough, Craig Davies’ troubled Alan Mann Racing/Sub-Zero Wolf Boss Mustang and Pochciol’s Esso Capri all within a tad over two seconds.
A second adrift of Pochciol, Peter Mallett and the versatile Cornishman Iain Rowley (Rover SD1), Simon Blanckley’s Triumph Dolomite Sprint, Jim McLoughlin’s Faberge Brut Capri – which managed only four laps, but was back on song for the race – Mark Robert’s Datapost Fiesta and Robin Benn’s road-registered Capri were split by barely 1.3s, thus the prospect of plenty of great battling lay ahead. The sonorous Alfa Romeos of Paul Clayson/Chris Snowdon (the white and lime green Alpilatte GTV6) and ophthalmologist Glynn Allen and car preparer Darren Roberts (Bertone-styled 105-shaped 2000 GTV) rounded-out the pack.
All but the Boss Mustang made it out in the afternoon when acknowledged Oulton Park specialist Wood unleashed his Ford GAA V6 power at the rolling start to storm past the four-cylinder BMWs and into the lead. Mark Smith and Hogarth led the chase at the end of the opening lap, with Houlbrook and Goff’s sizzling RS500 disputing fourth and Morris, Spiers and fast-starter Ken Clarke’s ochre Rover battling in their mirrors.
Wood stretched his advantage to more than seven seconds in as many laps, with Smith and Hogarth engaged in a duel for second and Goff now ahead of Houlbrook. A safety car, deployed for the recovery of McLaughlin’s Capri [Benn’s was already out], reunited the field but after a lap in crocodile formation leader Wood appeared off-line over Deer Leap and dived into the pits. His crew opened the bonnet, poured oil in to the tank and sent Ric on his way with Hogarth – who had clawed his way past Smith on lap five – now leading his rival. Alas for Wood, the 20-40 minute window wasn’t yet open, thus he could not count it as his mandatory stop.
Former TWR engineer Clarke was doing a fine job keeping his big Rover ahead of Watts and Spiers, with Wood in the old-style red BMW ahead of the Burgess and Overington catchweight contest before the interlude. As ever, the complexion of the race would change amid the mandatory stops. Soloists were eager to get straight back up to racing speed as rival teams which made driver changes went through short acclimatisation phases.
Hogarth, in from the lead, put former Super One karter Boardman in to bat after 10 laps, one before Goff from third, leaving Smith and Houlbrook haring around out front. They both came in after 12 laps, Mark relaying son Arran Moulton-Smith and Tom resuming. Clarke, third at this point, also put his lad in at the busiest time in pit lane. Neil Wood, Burgess and Ric Wood [needing an extra stop] completed the top six at this point. Watts and Spiers had been in one tour previously, about nine seconds apart, but resumed their early squabble thereafter.
As the pitstop ‘stagger’ unwound, later stoppers Neil Wood and Burgess went top before the natural order was restored. Following a second full course caution Boardman passed Ric Wood to regain the lead on lap 16, with Moulton-Smith third, clear of Houlbrook. Having the time of his life, Boardman – who set the best split times in each of the three lap sectors as his fuel load lightened – recorded the quickest lap of the race at two-thirds’ distance, 1:50.739 equating to 87.51mph.
Although Wood did grunt back ahead of the blue M3 briefly, four ‘51s’ from occasional CSCC BMW Compact racer Boardman in a devastating driving stint – which included best times in all three sectors – paved the way to a hard-fought victory over Smith/Moulton-Smith to Hogarth’s unalloyed delight. The hot Capri served a drive-through penalty for the pit infringement on lap 22, but despite Ric improving his straight-line speed to 124mph in the charge, he could not better third place.
Houlbrook finished a solid fourth, with Burgess a mighty fifth in his Fiesta, ahead of the Clarke family Rover and Scarborough/Ratcliff’s Capri. In what was the drive of the race, Minshaw’s orange RS2000 was all over ‘Ratters’ for lap after lap, Jason flinging the droop-snooted Escort through Hislops in a series of beautifully-controlled drifts, but couldn’t squeeze any more from the wheezing Pinto engine to counter the V6. “I’d not driven it until this morning, but it’s fantastic fun. I hope I get invited back,” he grinned.
Watts and Spiers were 1.4s apart at the chequer, with former Special Saloon racer Shephard reeling them in aboard the Morris Vulcan/Lifeline Golf. Tom was less than a second from John, 11th at the finish, pursued by Overington/Stevens and Blanckley. Ely’s BMW, Roberts’ Datapost Fiesta and the Mallett/Rowley were classified next, ahead of the Allen/Roberts Alfa and the Renault 5 which, after a couple of early stops, Nuthall whirled round in a remarkable 2:00.184s, almost three seconds better than in qualifying. Pochciol and the Alfa GTV soldiered on to the end, but Fox abandoned the RS500 after 20 laps.