A fantastic performance by Germany’s Rudi Friedrichs and his rorty 1933 4.3-litre Alvis Firefly SA ended a run of four straight victories for the mighty Frazer Nash Supersports duo of Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards as MRL’s popular ‘Mad Jack’ Pre-War Sports Car race – celebrating the life of 1935 Donington GP winner and aviator Richard Shuttleworth – provided the closest finish and, by general consensus, the most exciting contest of the 2018 Donington Historic Festival.
Friedrichs made a storming start from P3 on the grid but Gareth Burnett – in John Ruston’s latest Alta, racing for the first time in 70 years – went with him from P7, haring past the potent 1928 Meadows-engined Nashes of polesitter Wakeman and Charles Gillett, who was immediately in trouble, to lead. Second by lap 5, Wakeman confidently hounded down Friedrichs and handed team-mate PBE a fit car for the chase to the chequer. Pat was but 0.496s short at the stripe.
Twenty nine cars made a most impressive sight in Friday’s 25-minute qualifying session, in which the spindly narrow rear tracked Nashes of Wakeman/Blakeney Edwards and Gillett/Eddie Williams were separated by 0.053s. Pole fell to the former pairing at 1m33.510s (76.19mph) amid consternation in the Gillett camp as Charles’ engine was leaking oil. Class leader Friedrichs was three tenths shy on 1:33.880, closest rival Michael Birch gridding sixth, six seconds shy of the well-developed Alvis Speed 20 derivative in his gorgeous green Roesch Talbot 105.
Quickest of the seven-strong Bentley crew was Clive Morley, whose beetle-backed 3/4½ shared row two with Friedrichs. A third FN, the 1926 Fast Tourer of Chris ‘Muttley’ Chilcott and Steve Futter – quite a contrast from his slick-shod Formula 2 Ralt of the late 1970s – sat behind with Birch alongside. Fresh from winning the Flying Scotsman Rally, Burnett was next up, the last driver inside 1m40s in Ruston’s pristine blue Alta, a naturally-aspirated 2-litre model from Geoffrey Taylor’s stable as opposed to the ‘hotter’ blown versions seen previously.
Surrey timber merchant Philip Champion – whose New Malden outlet is close to the old Alta works in Tolworth – partnered by FN specialist Steve Stanton, started his maroon Supersports eighth. Martin and Lukas Halusa’s magnificent Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Zagato, James Morley (Bentley 3/4½) and the Morgan Super Aero of Sue Darbyshire/Ewan Cameron had all lapped within half a second, clear of Scot Tom McWhirter’s charismatic six-wheeled Jaguar SS100 in 12th place.
Richard Hudson/Stuart Morley (Bentley 3/4½) and former BTRDA rally champion Richard Iliffe (Riley Kestrel Sports) were closely matched in the ‘42s,’ pursued by Alan Middleton, whose splendid ex-Richard Seaman 1936 Tourist Trophy-contending Aston Martin 2-litre, dubbed ‘Red Dragon’ post-war by Welsh owner Dudley Folland (was the fulcrum point of the impressive 29-car field, long on quality.
Jock McKinnon (Bentley 3-litre Tourer), Trevor Swete’s Kentish Invicta and Edward Bradley (Aston Martin Ulster) cut similar times, with Chris Lunn in his Fox & Nicholl Talbot 105 team car GO 53 and Channel Islander David Ozanne (Aston Martin Speed Model) the last drivers to lap inside the 1m50s barrier.
Three Morgan 4/4 Series 1s graced the pack of which the Le Mans replica of Simon King/Philip St Clair Tisdall was comfortably quickest. They gridded 22nd, ahead of event promoter Duncan ‘Mr MRL’ Wiltshire in his faithful blue Bentley 3-litre and welcome returnee Robert Lewis, at the wheel of a gloriously burly Lagonda V12 Le Mans, a replica of the barely completed WO Bentley-designed cars which finished third and fourth in the 1939 24 Hour race.
Invitee Rebeca Rettenmaier was the latest representative of the fanatical German Maserati dynasty on track, aboard a stunning 8C 3000. The multi-marque miscellany was completed by brothers Richard and Andrew Frankel in the former’s 1921 Bentley TT, Guy Northam’s Bentley 4½, the Morgan 4/4s of Leigh Sebba/Peter Cole – which competed in the 1938 and ’39 Le Mans 24 Hour races – and the ex-John Clarke example of husband-and-wife Philip and Sharlie Goddard, plus HSCC Lotus 7 racer Teifion Salisbury in his 1934 MG K3.
Glorious sunshine greeted competitors on Festival Sunday, but as Friedrichs blasted his black Alvis into the lead, chased by Burnett and Wakeman, Clive Morley, Chilcott and Birch, Gillett turned his Nash forlornly into the pits at the end of the opening lap. “I think I’ve rattled the motor,” rued Charles. “It seemed OK when I ragged it last night, but the oil pressure dropped off to 10psi at the start and it had no power. My Donington jinx continues, but I still love the circuit, it’s one of the best.”
As Chilcott passed Clive Morley for fourth and Iliffe demoted Halusa Sr to ninth on lap 2, there was plenty of dicing down the order. McWhirter was also on the rise, ousting Birch from his early sixth. Morley and Chilcott were next to fall prey to the Scot’s snarling Jaguar, by which time Wakeman had annexed second from Burnett. Friedrichs was almost six seconds up the road, though, and would take some catching.
Burnett was first of the frontrunners to make his mandatory pitstop, on lap 10, the Alta engine bursting back into life only after a push start. Friedrichs stopped after 13 laps, promoting Wakeman to the lead. The American went 16 before relaying Blakeney-Edwards, who emerged 6.7s behind Friedrichs who had just set fastest lap. Rudi stretched his advantage to 8.7s before the pendulum swung the other way and the tail-wagging Nash ate into the deficit with relish as Pat got his clog down.
A new fastest lap saw the gap halved to 3.5s, whereupon Friedrichs appeared to respond. Pat redoubled his efforts, though, hacking it back to 1.5 as the duo closed on a gaggle of slower traffic. With the Nash in its element, headlights ablaze, Rudi had to throw caution to the wind over the last four laps as the clock ticked down. Despite PBE’s determination to land a fifth straight ‘Mad Jack’ victory with Fred, and getting into the Alvis’ slipstream at McLeans corner on the last lap contributed to the ultimate fastest lap at 1m31.305s (78.03mph), power j-u-s-t trumped agility as they dived into the final chicane.
“Not one lap more could I have kept him behind,” admitted Friedrichs. “The brakes were getting soft so I had to take some risks [passing slower cars in the Craner Curves on the final lap] but we just made it!” Broad smiles and warm handshakes at the podium told onlookers that all combatants had thoroughly enjoyed the dogfight. Burnett, a doughty competitor himself, finished a distant third but top of the class after a promising run in the Alta, the only other car to go the full distance.
McWhirter was a strong fourth, ahead of Birch who was caught on the finishing line by the Alfa which Lukas Halusa wound up to great effect having taken over from his father. Clive Morley and Iliffe – who clocked similar best laps – were seventh and eighth, a lap clear of Hudson/Morley and James Morley in their Bentleys. Cameron/Darbyshire, Middleton and Champion/Stanton also completed 26 laps.
Swete, class winner McKinnon, Bradley and Lewis covered a lap less, one more than Wiltshire who’d had a torrid time. “I’d mucked-up practice, and was running on only one mag, so hung around and waited for my nemesis Jock to lap me. Then I had a good race!” Driving the oldest car in the race, the Frankels headed the next posse, clear of King/St Clair Tisdall, Northam and Rettenmaier. Salisbury and the Goddards completed the finishers, the Morgan pair having duelled with the Sebba/Cole 4/4 before its retirement.
Photographs by: Jeff Bloxham and Dave Brassington. Words: Marcus Pye