Nash duo topples Alvis Firefly for famous victory
Not since the Aston Martin Owners Club held an event at Thruxton in 2002 has a race for Pre-War Sportscars been run on the Hampshire airfield circuit. Restricted to 12 days of racing activity per year since the start of 1973, opportunities to compete on the UK’s fastest track must be seized with both hands. Thus it was wonderful to see 22 fantastic machines take to the 2.356 mile course, in front of a discerning audience. The battle for supremacy between Michael Grant Peterkin and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards in the latter’s 1929 Frazer Nash Super Sports and German ace Rudi Friedrichs’ potent 1933 Alvis Firefly was resolved in favour of the Britons, but the experience made every driver a winner.
Blakeney-Edwards tore round in 1m40.522s – an average of 84.37mph in a 91-year-old chain-driven car powered by a 1496cc Meadows engine, think about it – to annex pole position. Gareth Burnett’s 1939 two-litre Alta Sports (at 81, the youngest car in the field) was 2.736s slower, with Friedrichs barely a tenth slower in his well-developed 4.3-litre six-cylinder car.
Michael Birch, his Rubens Barrichello tribute helmet in sharp contrast to the glorious green straight-six ’33 Talbot AV105 Brooklands beneath him, set a commendable 1:44.870 for fourth on the grid. Team mate Richard Bradley, who races 190mph sports prototypes professionally, clocked a solid 1:47.504 in father Edward’s 1500cc Aston Martin Ulster of ’35. Also inside 1:50 was the quickest of nine Bentleys, the 3/4½ of Richard Hudson and Stuart Morley.
The next quartet was closely-matched, the intrepid Sue Darbyshire, sharing her Morgan Super Aero with Ewan Cameron, seventh overall on 1:50.388 (76.83mph) with one-wheel drive! Alas Alexander Hewitson’s Riley 12/4 TT Sprite Replica broke in the course of qualifying eighth, thus was withdrawn, leaving a gap for ex-England rugby international David Cooke’s superlative two-tone blue Alfa Romeo 8C Monza and former BTRDA rally champion Richard Iliffe (Riley Kestrel) to aim for.
With James and Clive Morley unable to set a time, their 3/4½ having oiled a plug, second Bentley was the 3-litre Tourer which Jock Mackinnon urged round inside two minutes for 11th on the grid. Eight tenths of a second blanketed Simon Edwards’ Morgan Super Aero, Graham Goodwin’s shapely Delahaye 135CS, David Ayre in the imposing Bentley Barnato Hassan Special – raced here by Keith Schellenberg in the early 1970s, but harking back to event organiser BARC’s Brooklands roots – and Nigel Dowding’s Riley Brooklands.
The rest of the Bentley boys were split by Christopher Scott Mackirdy’s Aston Martin Le Mans. The 3/4½s of the Ward and Elbourn families were grouped with debutant Paul Pochciol’s 4½ (its new brake linings barely run-in), while towering over the blue Aston from behind were Clive Morley – qualifying his 3/4½ pending repairs to the faster #17 – and MRL supremo Duncan Wiltshire’s 3-litre, separated by 0.331s.
Sunday afternoon’s 20-car race grid made a fabulous sight. When it was unleashed Friedrichs used his Alvis’ greater power to lead from Burnett’s Alta and Grant Peterkin in the spartan chain-gang Nash. Richard Bradley started swiftly, nosing his Aston ahead of Birch’s Talbot for fourth. They exchanged places for a while giving coach Bradley plenty of feedback for his buddy.
Cameron had the black Morgan three-wheeler up a place to sixth initially, ahead of Hudson, Cooke’s gloriously sonorous Alfa, Iliffe and Edwards, with Mackinnon, Goodwin, Ayre and Clive Morley – going like the clappers from the back, doubtless to the approval of father Peter, 86, watching from trackside. Back in September 1974 Clive (then 15) had accompanied Peter to Thruxton when he won a VSCC race in the mighty Napier-engined Bentley! Happy days of a bygone era recreated…
As Friedrichs began to stretch an advantage which would extend to almost seconds, Burnett held MGP at bay before pitting on lap eight. Unfortunately the Geoffrey Taylor-built Alta remained parked, joining the Bentleys of Mackinnon, Wiltshire and William Elbourn Sr in retirement. Thus the lead contest distilled to a straight fight between Friedrichs and the Nash, which Grant Peterkin handed over to Blakeney-Edwards after 11 laps, just before half-distance, with some mid-1:45 laps on its slate until relentless traffic intervened. Friedrichs, who had cut several 1:43s early on, stopped a lap later. Then the fireworks began.
The 16.9 second gap between them reduced to 10.1s and then, astonishingly, 2.8s as Pat got his head down and Rudi was delayed. Blakeney-Edwards, twitched and hopped over the chicane kerbs on lap 16 and swept ahead next time round. With his rival unable to respond, he won by 22.221s. The contrast between the FN and the big Rover, in which he’s taken the HTTC chequered flag an hour and 40 minutes earlier could not have been more marked. “It’s pretty scary out the back [of the circuit] where the forces are high. My arms are knackered from holding on,” he smiled, clutching a can of beer and reflecting on a best lap of 1:42.050 (83.11mph). For team-mate and team technician Mike it was a special day too, watched proudly by racer father Martin Grant Peterkin, who he’d supported as a lad.
Power prevailed over agility in the Talbot versus Aston Martin tussle for third, Birch beating soloist Bradley by 1.377s. A lap down Hudson/Morley beat Clive and James Morley to fifth by 10 seconds, with the Cameron/Darbyshire Morgan seventh, having also covered 22 laps. Iliffe, Cooke and Ayre completed 21 apiece, David having spun the vast pale blue single-seater Bentley at the chicane having missed a gear as the leviathan arrived. Goodwin, Pochciol, the Wards and Scott Mackirdy completed the finishers after a thoroughly entertaining 40 minutes enjoyed by participants and onlookers alike.
MAWP Photo: Jeff Bloxham