A stirring dogfight for victory between past masters Gareth Burnett (in John Ruston’s 1931 Talbot 105 ‘GO52’) and Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards (1928 Frazer Nash Supersports) wowed spectators as the Pre-War Sportscar race, last run in 2015, returned to the Silverstone Classic’s card by popular demand. Named for and run in the spirit of Glen Kidston, 1930 Le Mans 24 Hours winner with Woolf Barnato in a Bentley Speed Six, the showpiece not only attracted the weekend’s most diverse grid but also provided its closest finish, the imposing Roesch Talbot taking the chequered flag 0.162s ahead of the raffish chain-driven Nash which had briefly snuck ahead at one point. Another whirring Nash in the hands of Charles Gillett/Eddie Williams finished a feisty third.
Wakeman/PB-E claimed first blood, annexing pole position with the only sub-2m50s lap of Friday’s practice session, their 2:49.479 (77.31mph) best in the 1500cc Meadows-engined car 0.896s swifter than Burnett – three-time winner of the BRDC 500 retrospective which graced the Classic from 2004-’09 – managed in the 3.5-litre straight-six Talbot.
Amazingly, given the breadth and range of the 44-car field, Germany’s Rudiger Friedrichs (4.3 Alvis Firefly) and Gillett/Williams were also within 1.1s of the outright pace, almost three seconds clear of Sam Stretton (soloing in Jose Fernandez’ supercharged Alta) who had 2.7 seconds in hand over the swiftest of four rapid Bentley 3/4½s in the skilled hands of Richard Hudson/Stuart Morley, with which he would share row three at the rolling start taken by 41 survivors.
The Bentleys of James Morley, his father Clive and Ewen Getley/Bert Degenaar surrounded the Halusa family’s Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Zagato (with Niklas up) and Bugatti T35C (father Martin) at the other end of the top 10, with the Aston Martin Speed model of Robert Blakemore/Simon Diffey and the Talbot T26 SS of Richard Pilkington and daughter Tania – on whom it ran out of fuel – in the thick of a strong group bunched around the three minute mark.
The two-litre Aston Martin Speed Models of Alan Middleton (‘Red Dragon’) and Paul Chase-Gardener sandwiched Chris and Nick Ball’s low-chassis Invicta, with Theo Hunt’s Frazer Nash TT Rep, the Talbot 75/105 of Michael Birch/Bill Cleyndert, Philip Champion’s FN Supersports, BTRDA rally champion turned VSCC stalwart Richard Iliffe’s Riley Kestrel also ensconced in the top half of the field with Tim and Oliver Llewellyn’s Bentley 4½ and Austrian Peter Dubsky’s Aston Martin Special.
Among the rest nestled such gems as Richard Wilson’s evocatively-named Squire Skimpy, which had shown well at Donington, Trevor Swete’s Invicta, Gregor Fisken’s well patinated Vauxhall 30/98 Brooklands with Rory Henderson/Robert Fellowes up, Chris Lunn’s Talbot 105, the Bentleys of Duncan Wiltshire (3-litre) and French hotelier Martin Overington (4.5 Blower), Roger Buxton’s Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS and a pair of Morgan 4/4 Le Mans models.
Sadly out after qualifying, however, was Steve Smith’s extraordinary Hotchkiss AM80 recreation – a crowd-pleaser wherever it appears –which suffered an engine bay fire after a camshaft bearing shell spun. Hopefully killing the ignition quickly will have restricted damage and the black monster will be back in action soon.
Unsurprisingly, the torquey Talbot and Alvis outgrunted the intrepid Frazer Nash chain-gangers at the rolling start to Saturday’s race, Burnett and Friedrichs haring round with Gillett’s blue Supersports in tow. Wakeman was holding a watching brief, with Stretton’s shrill Alta, the thumping Bentleys of Morleys James and Clive, plus Getley over his shoulder ahead of Lukas Halusa’s Alfa and Hudson’s Bentley.
Sadly the Maserati Safety Car was en route before the leaders completed a lap. Halusa’s Bugatti got a bit sideways on exiting Luffield, colliding with Richard Pilkington’s Talbot in the process. The Talbot came to rest having hit the barrier backwards with ‘Pilks’ semi-ejected. To everybody’s relief the Devon veteran clambered to his feet and retreated to the marshals’ post, from whence he was taken to the medical centre with friction burns. Halusa’s Bug sustained a broken steering box and a couple of damaged wheels. Caught up in the drama, Blakemore withdrew his Aston thereafter.
Once the full-course yellow was withdrawn and green flags invited racing to continue, Burnett and Wakeman made their mandatory stops immediately, the latter putting Blakeney-Edwards into bat. They resumed close together, whereupon PB-E resolved to take the race to Burnett. Pat caught Gareth in traffic, the pair lapping a Morgan on either side at Abbey on lap 9, then waged a mesmerising battle.
Often the Nash – fully 5mph slower on the Hangar Straight than the Talbot, which clocked 106.2mph before Stowe corner – was hidden from HayFisher’s cameras until Pat, hunched over the wheel, popped it out of the tow for a look into the corner. Often abreast through the slow corners as two drivers at the top of their game pounced on traffic, the fight would always be decided on the Hangar or Wellington straights. Not that PB-E was deterred. He nipped past before Becketts, only to be gobbled up instantly again, and finished within touching distance of the Talbot’s shapely tail. “That was the widest car I’ve ever had to follow,” said the arch-showman, “but it was some of the tightest, closest racing I’ve ever done.” Burnett was equally chuffed with a fine show. “Fantastic, but I could only do that with somebody I trust,” he said after much congratulatory shaking of hands.
Having given Friedrichs the slip in the duel for third, Williams finished only six seconds behind in Gillett’s Nash. Did turning its headlights inwards 90 degrees to reduce its frontal area contribute to Charles setting fastest lap at 2:49.0125 (77.52mph)? Who knows, but the top four all lapped beneath 2m50s, Burnett and Blakeney-Edwards both setting personal bests, PB-E’s 0.003s quicker, on the dash for the flag.
Stretton finished fifth ahead of the three Morley ‘Bentley Boys,’ Stuart having restored Hudson’s car to the head of the group, chased by brother James and father Clive. The Llewellyns’ Bentley and Halusa completed the top 10, with Austrian compatriot Dubsky and Chase-Gardener battling on the Alfa’s tail. Iliffe, Hunt, Middleton, Champion and the Invictas of Swete and the Balls also finished on the winner’s lap. Jock Mackinnon, 20th overall in his Bentley 3-litre Tourer, beat Wiltshire by 17 seconds to win his class.
MAWP July 2017