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Lola wins over Lister in true David and Goliath battle at Thruxton

On paper, Britain’s fastest race-track should have favoured the most powerful pre-1961 sportscars. Eric Broadley’s little Lola Mk1s never did respect reputations however; indeed the fine-handling giant-slayers sowed the fledgling marque’s roots in ’58. The sleek Coventry-Climax single cam-engined machines haven’t slowed down, for two of them triumphed in stirring David versus Goliath contests which thrilled onlookers at the Thruxton Motorsport Celebration on June 1-2.

Thwarted by a front suspension breakage on the prototype 600 DKJ which forced them to cede to Ben Adams’ BR-32 – the final new-build Mk1 in ’62 – in Saturday’s opening race, Billy Bellinger and Keith Ahlers’ disappointment was short-lived. Following overnight repairs to the first of the line, built by Broadley and his cousin Graham behind the family tailoring shop in Bromley, the dynamic duo bounced back on Sunday to record their first outright Stirling Moss Trophy victory. The momentous day on which Keith and his [Lola owner] wife Susan celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary!

The concurrent Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy competition, for Pre-’56 machines, was equally fascinating and also saw top honours shared. Germany’s Rüdiger Friedrichs (Jaguar C-type) claimed Saturday gold as Rick Bourne/Malcolm Paul (ex-Mike Anthony Lotus-Bristol X) battled back to third following an unfortunate rear-wing denting scrape at the first corner. Undeterred, owner Paul took the first stint on Sunday, whereupon Bourne outran a pride of Jaguars to snatch a satisfying victory by less than a second.  

The distinctive wail of Jaguar XK engines rent the Hampshire air as trio of C-types, a finned D-type, XK120 and XK140s plus a Cooper T38 and Lister Knobblies powered by the fabled straight-six, comprised nine of the 23 entries in the event’s most photogenic field. But it was Coventry-Climax engines which powered artisan chassis to the top three places in qualifying: the Lolas of Ahlers/Bellinger and Adams sandwiching the ex-works/Graham Hill – and later Australian Frank Matich-owned – Lotus 15 ‘623’ of Bernardo Hartogs/Will Nuthall.

Driving the Lola prototype which contested the 1958 Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood – three weeks after Eric Broadley rolled it there, necessitating a total rebuild for the marque’s World Championship debut – Ahlers/Bellinger’s 1m30.716s (93.49mph) pole shot was, to their mystification, not as quick as they’d gone last year. Nonetheless, it was 0.266s swifter than Nuthall recorded in the two-litre FPF-engined Lotus. Local man Adams, in the black Lola in which Dickie Le Strange Metcalfe won the final race of Goodwood’s first era in 1966, clocked 1:31.056 for a promising third.

A scant 0.286s blanketed the next four, the Lister continuation cars of John Spiers and ex-F1 racer Tiff Needell and seasoned Caterham standout Peter ‘Ratters’ Ratcliff split by Cumbrian dental surgeon Andrew Smith’s rear-engined Cooper T49 Monaco. American Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards were seventh in the Cooper-Jag originally fielded by Equipe Endeavour’s Tommy Sopwith (son of aviation pioneer Sir Thomas) who died last month, aged 86.

Quickest of the RAC Woodcote Trophy contenders, the familiar red Lotus-Bristol streamliner of Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne shared the fourth row, Rick’s 1:33.773 (90.44mph) just beyond reach of a quartet of iconic Jaguars. Paul Pochciol/James Hanson were class leaders in the former’s C-type evocation, split from Rudi Friedrichs in its cousin and the ex-works/Stirling Moss original of Fred Wakeman/Andrew Hall by Ben Eastick who had again enlisted Welshman Karl Jones – the former British Saloon Car Championship racer – to share his well-travelled D-type.

The unpainted Cooper T39 Bobtail of Robi Bernberg/Paul Ugo sat 13th, ahead of the closely-matched Austin-Healey 100/4s of Mike Thorne/Sarah Bennett-Baggs (closed) and Nick Matthews (open). Steve and Josh Ward qualified both their Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar XK120 and ex-Roy Salvadori Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica with the intention of doing a race apiece in each. The XK outpaced the quicker Aston Martin DB2, Chris Jolly’s PUM 6, another class leader.

Luckless German Ralf Emmerling’s Elva MkV broke terminally at the foot of Woodham Hill in practice, thus took no further part. The Ward family’s Nash, David Stanley’s left-hooker Austin-Healey 100 Le Mans and the XK140s of Marc Gordon and Portugal’s Joao Mira-Gomes completed the pack, with the Dubonnet coloured Aston Martin DB2 of David Reed and politician Sir Keir Starmer’s stunt double Peter Snowdon between them.

The stampede into Allard corner at the start of Saturday’s race was busy, a bit too crowded in fact as the front left wing of Pochciol’s Jaguar left its shapely imprint on the right rear of Bourne’s Lotus. By the time Rick had regained his equilibrium he was almost at the back with a battle on his hands to recover lost ground. At the end of the opening lap Bellinger led a quintet comprising Spiers, Adams, Ratcliff and Smith, with Wakeman essaying to join them.

Friedrichs was top of the Woodcoteers in seventh, pursued by Eastick, the cautious Hartogs, Bernberg, Hall, Matthews, Reed and Jolley. Bourne came through 15th, but quickly began to ascend the lap charts. In to the top 10 inside three laps, Rick was in no mood to slow down – once his confidence that the car was OK – was restored. Smith passed Ratcliff for fourth on lap four and found his rhythm.

Adams was a young man in a hurry though. Having usurped Spiers to go second on his first flying lap Ben took a couple of circuits to make inroads into Bellinger’s lead. The black Lola shot ahead of the polished aluminium bodied one on lap seven, but Billy countered next time round. Their duel continued until Adams was among the earliest to make his mandatory pit stop after 11 laps. Behind the leaders, Spiers, Smith and the rapid Friedrichs – his C-type in early drum-braked spec – were now ahead of Ratcliff.

Peter had spun at the turn-in point to the chicane on lap seven and, as his works-liveried Lister gyrated, Wakeman had no chance of avoiding it. ‘Ratters’ continued but was “gutted” to see the Cooper-Jag’s nose crumpled and out of the race. Marshals quickly pushed it to safety. Already out was Hartogs’ Lotus, the engine of which was making nasty noises when it arrived back in the pits. They were the only retirements.

Leader Bellinger relayed Ahlers after 14 laps, just beyond half distance, whereupon Bourne, committed to stop as late as possible within the window, had overtaken Friedrichs and was up to second. Rudi stopped on the same lap as Bellinger and Rick went round once more before car owner Malcolm Paul took over. That left Ahlers 11.5 seconds ahead of Adams, with Needell third in Spiers’ black Lister and soloist Smith fourth.

As Adams redoubled his efforts, his deficit to Ahlers shrank to 8.45s, then 5.1s, before Keith responded as they carved through lapped traffic. Ben was flying though and three good laps brought him onto the leader’s tail with time for four more laps. He almost dropped it at Campbell, where Ahlers made some ground, but went ahead at Allard on lap 24 after which Ahlers visibly slowed. With good reason, for a front right upper wishbone mount had given way at the chicane, forcing a trip over the kerbs. “I couldn’t see it, but the wheel was doing funny things, so the car refused to go round left handers. Fortunately there are only three of them at Thruxton, but we don’t stop unless we have to,” said Keith.

Adams thus screamed past to victory, yet amazingly Ahlers was only 6.6 seconds behind at the chequered flag. Smith was third – his Cooper Monaco’s front wing dinged in a misunderstanding with Mira-Gomes’ XK140 exiting the chicane – ahead of Needell, the last unlapped runner. Ratcliff finished next, with Friedrichs sixth and a resounding winner of the Woodcote Trophy set. Paul had slipped to 35 seconds behind the Jaguar, with Jones homing in aboard Eastick’s D-type.

Matthews, Pochciol/Hanson, Bernberg/Ugo, Snowdon – performing miracles in Reed’s class-winning Aston – Bennett-Baggs/Thorne and Hall (forced to solo in Wakeman’s C-type with its owner stranded at the chicane) all completed 25 laps. At one glorious point all three C-types ran together, a photo opportunity for some, although Friedrichs’ was a lap ahead. Jolly, Gordon, Josh Ward (having survived a rotation in the cycle-winged Frazer Nash) and Stanley completed 24. Steve Ward in the blue XK120 and Mira-Gomes were also classified.

Sunday race was sensational, by common consensus the highlight of the event. Denied a maiden Stirling Moss Trophy victory by a rare car failure, Ahlers’ determination to chart new ground in the competition was palpable. Bellinger toiled away with his welding gear to shore up the Lola’s damaged suspension and the pair switched driving order – alternating per normal – to mix up the tactics.

Keith was at the wheel when, on the final warm up lap, Adams to his right peeled disconsolately into the pits with a misfire. His major rival had fallen. Deflated, Ben watched his crew fiddle under the bonnet and was sent out, but was back a lap later reporting no improvement. “It wouldn’t pull over six grand,” he groaned to veteran commentator Ian Titchmarsh.

Spiers made the initial running, but Ratcliff confidently picked up a place per lap from fourth to take over the initiative. Smith and Blakeney-Edwards – who had set off from P21 like a scalded cat in the repaired Cooper-Jaguar, passed five cars before the timing line and lay sixth after a lap – displaced Ahlers then eagerly became embroiled in a tremendous lead scrap.

“My Sunday brief was to keep the leaders in sight, then let Billy work his magic,” said Ahlers, who saw Adams pit with a misfire on the green flag lap. Smith wrested the lead from ‘Ratters’ for a few laps, with Blakeney-Edwards scorching through to third having muscled past Spiers into the chicane. Pat and Ahlers both made their stops after 11 laps, the former continuing as Wakeman was going all the way in his C-type.

Spiers dented the top lip of his Lister’s nose against Smith’s Cooper having inadvertently tagged the Monaco on the fastest part of the circuit as the lead battle intensified. Andrew’s run ended there, but Bellinger coolly hunted the big guns down. With spots of rain falling, not that he noticed in his concentration, Billy grabbed the lead on lap 17 and was unstoppable thereafter.

Ahlers was overjoyed as he crossed the line after 26 laps. “We’ve finished second and third several times before, but not won an SMT race outright,” he grinned. “It’s the perfect anniversary present and reward for all Billy’s work!”

‘Ratters,’ PBE and Needell led an exciting chase, ahead of Woodcote Trophy winners Paul/Bourne. Rick had used the Lotus streamliner’s agility to overhaul Jones, appreciating the dynamics of Eastick’s torquier Jaguar D-type, three laps from home. The C-types of Pochciol/James Hanson and Friedrichs finished third and fourth in the earlier division, with Matthews’ red and black Healey commendably close to the German, ninth overall.

A couple of laps down, Wakeman led Bernberg/Ugo, Reed/Snowdon and Ward Sr (now in the blue XK) back. Stanley, Mira-Gomes and Ward Sr (in the Nash) were also classified as finishers.

Marcus Pye.