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Chain gang still DHF ‘Mad Jack’ champions

Our annual Pre-War Sports Car race, a staple of the Donington Historic Festival celebrating the derring-do of aviator and competition motorist Richard ‘Mad Jack’ Shuttleworth, winner of the inaugural Grand Prix at the venue in 1935 aboard his Alfa Romeo Tipo B – was for the fourth successive year the domain of urbane Californian Fred Wakeman and preparer Patrick Blakeney-Edwards in the former’s giant-slaying Frazer Nash Supersports. The arm-twirling combo is unbeaten since 2012, albeit the race wasn’t run in ’13.

With a pole-setting Friday time of 1m44.061s (68.47mph), almost two and a half seconds quicker than closest rival Sam Stretton in Jose-Maria Fernandez’s Alta on a fiendishly slippery track following overnight rain, there was little doubt that the hot Meadows-engined Nash would take some catching in Saturday’s curtain-raiser to the Motor Racing Legends season. Early pacesetter Gareth Burnett was a further fifth down following a shorter run in the works Talbot 105 ‘GO 52,’

The Halusa family entered its Bugatti T35C and Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Zagato for father Martin and son Lukas, but the logistics of co-ordinating mid-race stops were too complex, thus strong fourth qualifier Lukas was assigned the Bug and senior the Alfa which gridded 11th.

Undoubtedly among the stars of the meeting was Till Bechtolsheimer’s 1936 Talbot-Lago T150C, the stellar CV of which spans four Le Mans 24 Hour starts (albeit no finishes) between ’37 and ’49, many European Grands Prix, Britain’s Tourist Trophy and the Liege-Rome-Liege Rally in well-known hands. Bechtolsheimer was in the blue Suresnes-built beauty – sampling a pre-selector gearbox for the first time – within a couple of hours of landing from his New York base, thus the vastly-experienced Tony Bianchi took it out initially, qualifying a stout fifth.

Five seconds from pole, Surrey timber merchant Philip Champion and Steve Stanton sat sixth, the former’s FN Supersports the last car inside 1m50s. Best of the six Bentleys, the 3/4½ of Tim Llewellyn and his Ginetta racing son Oliver, was next up, ahead of 1973 BTRDA Gold Star rally champion Richard Iliffe’s Riley Kestrel Special and the second Bentley 3/4½ of Clive and James Morley. Richard Wilson completed the top 10 in his unusual short chassis Squire 1500 Skimpy, its progress orchestrated by a wailing supercharger whine.

Richard Hudson’s blue Bentley 3/4½, co-driven by Stuart Morley, made a dramatic and sudden exit from practice when an oil line blew passing the pits. Happily, due to quick thinking in the cockpit, no damage was done and the determined combo would start 12th. Ganged-up just behind were Trevor Swete’s rangy Invicta S-type, Duncan Wiltshire’s Bentley 3 Litre and Edward Bradley’s Aston Martin Ulster, all in the 1m56s bracket.

The marvellously eccentric Hotchkiss AM80 evocation of Steve Smith and Charlie Gillett – as wacky a racer as could be imagined in the Brooklands era – and Jonathan Procter’s Frazer Nash TT Replica were also under two minutes. Jock Mackinnon (Bentley 3 Litre Tourer), Guy Northam (Bentley 4½ Litre) and Leigh Sebba/Peter Cole (Morgan 4-4LM) were the last to complete the MSA’s qualifying criteria. Chris Chilcott/Steve Futter (FN Fast Tourer) and Heinz Stamm (Aston Martin 2-Litre Speed Model) were permitted to start from the back having run cars in other sessions.

Without Burnett’s emerald green Talbot, the water pump seal on which failed as the Pace team warmed the engine up on race morning, the imposing field numbered 21 cars as the lights went out on Saturday, signalling the start of a 40 minute dash. Wakeman bolted out of the blocks and while Stretton found a way past on lap four the spindly Nash was back ahead of the sizzling blue Alta by the uphill right-hand McLeans bend half a lap later. Stretton’s retirement with fuel pump gremlins left Lukas Halusa to chase Wakeman, who relayed Blakeney-Edwards without losing the lead on lap 14. Thereafter it was plain sailing for the chain-gangers, PBE setting a best lap of 1m34.816s (75.14mph) – 1.5s outside his personal best in the 89-year-old bolide, set in 2013, in finishing a lap clear.

The chase was fascinating for James Morley’s solid second in the big Bentley started by Clive began to look under threat in the closing stages – from Stuart Morley in Richard Hudson’s version. Hudson had made light work of climbing through the lower half of the field, but his partner was fifth within a few laps of taking over. He duly growled past Iliffe and when Halusa made a second stop for a quick fix on the Bugatti ran third with time for three laps as the clock counted down. Driving like a demon Stuart carved into his deficit, gaining around three seconds a lap on James. The flag came a tour too early for he finished 2.187s behind the class winner!

Iliffe finished fourth in his Riley, with young Halusa still fifth ahead of the fabulous Talbot-Lago of Bianchi and Bechtolsheimer, who snatched sixth on the last lap from Wilson in the nippy Squire. The race’s closest finish was for eighth, though, the Champion/Stanton Nash repelling the fast-closing Aston Martin of Stamm and Martin Halusa’s Alfa Romeo. A scant 1.6 seconds separated the trip at the chequer.

Wiltshire’s Bentley and the Frazer Nash of Futter were a lap down in 11th and 12th, Muttley Chilcott having stormed it from the back to sixth in four laps, then handed it over to his fellow Formula Junior racer in third with the pit-stop sequences almost complete. The big Hotchkiss of Smith/Gillett and Bradley’s Aston were less than four seconds apart at the flag, with Proctor’s FN and Swete’s Invicta also on 22 laps. The Bentleys of Mackinnon and the Llewellyns retired.         

Photos: Jeff Bloxham and Dave Brassington