Touring car star Butcher tops Jaguar E-type trio
Guesting in Jon Minshaw’s Jaguar E-type, British Touring Car Championship star Rory Butcher converted the owner’s conservative start to a consummate victory as the Pre-’63 GT race belatedly opened Motor Racing Legends’ season on August 15 at the Thruxton Historic event, postponed from June. Oliver Bryant (FHC) and Gregor Fisken/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards (roadster) completed the podium after a distributor failure halted series supporter DK Engineering’s new car, in which James Cottingham had led handsomely to the pit stops.
Butcher qualified the dove grey roadster on pole, his penultimate shot of 1m 31.368s (92.82mph) 0.470s beyond Cottingham’s 1:31.838 in the US export market E which Frank Morrill and future CanAm racer Merle Brennan raced extensively from new. A year to the day since DK bought it, the white car looked sensational back in its period livery, blue teardrops over the front wings accentuating its lithe feline lines.
Bryant clocked 1:33.114 for P3 in the Jag he and father Grahame debuted at Portimao last October. Best of the Austin-Healey 3000s was Mark Holme, who qualified his new pride and joy – the famous ex-John Gott SMO 746 – a superb class-leading fourth on 1:35.144 (89.14mph). Alas the long-time VW Fun Cup competitor was unable to race after its gearbox exploded in practice for the GTSCC event.
Row three contained Paul Pochciol’s E-type FHC, in which former Volvo and BMW touring car racer James Hanson recorded 1:35.393 and series newcomer Doug Muirhead and Jeremy Welch in the former’s Healey 100/6 on 1:35.654. Gregor Fisken/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards (E-type roadster), former Formula Ford Duratec racer Alex Drabble and dad Simon in their 2.5-litre Ford-powered Reliant Sabre Six and Vliegende Hollanders Karsten Le Blanc and Christiaen van Lanschot in the fabled ex-Le Mans Healey 3000 DD300 were all in the 36s.
Richard Hywel Evans white Healey sat 10th, with the little Lotus Elite S2 of Class A runners Michael Birch/Gareth Burnett a tenth slower on 1:37.212 (87.24mph). Crispin Harris/James Wilmoth (Healey 3000) was 12th quickest, ahead of John Clark’s troubled E-type FHC. His young Scottish protégé Gordon Mutch, 18, a talented Ginetta Junior racer with GT4 aspirations, was sent out first but after one flying lap its fresh engine holed a piston. The car was thus out for the weekend.
Marc Gordon’s gunmetal E-type roadster, the pretty Triumph TR4 of Class B leaders James Mitchell/Julian Balme on 1:49.863 and Formula Junior Deep Sanderson racer Chris Wilks’ MGA twin-cam – a replica of the ex-Bob Olthoff/Sir John Whitmore car also co-owned by Edward Vandyck – completed the 16-car qualifiers.
The spectacle of four Jaguar E-types, a pair of hooded roadsters leading fixed head coupes, charging round out front as the 14 survivors set off for an hour on the UK’s fastest circuit was superb. Cottingham, who got the jump on Minshaw at the start, extended a 1.3 second lead on lap one and looked supremely confident as he fired his well-raked machine through Allard with more than a hint of oversteer. He pulled ever further clear of Minshaw, as Hanson engineered a way past Bryant for third.
Hanson grabbed second on lap seven, but Minshaw responded, chasing the Yorkshireman before installing Butcher after 15 laps. Onlookers detected a slight flattening of Cottingham’s engine note at the same time, indeed five laps into Stanley’s stint he retired the #66 car when its distributor internals disintegrated. Hanson and soloist Bryant had gone ahead in the interim and they stopped 13.5 seconds apart at 20 laps, half-way through the hour, leaving Fisken and Muirhead running one-two.
Long gone by this point were Drabble’s Reliant with a broken Watts linkage mount on its rear axle and Birch’s Lotus, its engine buzzed. Just before Cottingham/Stanley’s departure Evans’s Healey stopped and Pochciol – whose Jag was making a weird noise at it left the pit lane – was out with a broken brake seal which caused part of the mechanism to snag the propshaft.
Butcher went top when Fisken relayed Blakeney-Edwards after 24 laps, but Bryant couldn’t match the Scot’s times. Ollie was struggling with a transient misfire, which he could manage by traversing Allard in third gear rather than fourth at lower revs. Thus the order was set with third-placed PB-E the only other driver on the lead lap when the chequered flag flew.
Welch, finishing Muirhead’s Healey, was a class-winning fourth, a lap clear of Harris/Wilmoth and Le Blanc/van Lanschot on the road, but their order was reversed because the Brits had not noticed the extra 30 second pit stop requirement for COVID-19 social distancing in the regs. Gordon finished seventh, much quicker than in qualifying, ahead of Mitchell/Balme (also penalised for a short stop) and Wilks who found more than seven seconds over his Q time in the green and yellow MG.