Following two years in which Gregor Fisken (2015) and Sam Hancock (2016) had danced the Leventis family’s wonderfully lithe NART Ferrari 246 Dino to victory in the Stirling Moss Trophy showpiece at the Silverstone Classic, Chris Ward put a Lister-Jaguar back on top for the first time since 2012 when he converted Alex Buncombe’s opening stint in JD Classics’ Costin-bodied car. This time, however, Chris soloed in the 50-minute mini-enduro and had to fight from lights to chequered flag to defeat his old buddy Rob Barff, wringing every last ounce of performance from Dragon Racing’s two-litre Lotus 15 having supplanted Oliver Bryant’s sister car as Ward’s principal opposition.
The knowledgeable audience was treated to a fabulous inter-Lister scrap which raged for most of the race between Gary Pearson (in Adam Lindemann’s ferocious 5.7-litre Chevrolet-powered Knobbly), and the Jaguar motivated cars of Richard Kent (Costin) and Tony Wood/Will Nuthall (Knobbly). Having hung their steeds’ tails out at all angles, Kent wriggled his bright blue monster through to the head of the group and flashed over the line third, with Pearson and Nuthall on his tail. Barely four tenths of a second separated them in the final reckoning.
A sensational entry of 47 cars went out for qualifying, on a drying track, on Friday morning. Conditions clearly favoured agility over brute force for much of the session as Bryant and Barff wound up first and third in their lightweight Coventry-Climax FPF-engined Lotuses. With the 3.63-mile Historic Grand Prix circuit getting grippier by the lap most competitors set their grid times in the final minutes. Bryant’s 2:24.071s (90.94mph) shot was 0.599s better than Ward managed in the bulbous green Lister, but Barff was also in the ‘24s,’ with a menacing Lister pack towering over him if he dared to look in his mirrors.
Jon Minshaw and Wood/Nuthall were less than a tenth apart in their Knobbly-Jaguars, ahead of Pearson, Kent and the immensely versatile Nigel Greensall in Chris Milner’s improving 5.5-litre Costin-Chevrolet completed the first four rows.
Best of five Cooper T49 Monacos – propelled by the same four-cylinder FPF engines as the Lotus 15s, albeit rear-mounted and transmitting their power through light alloy ERSA gearboxes derived from those turning the front wheels of Inspector Maigret-type Citroens! – was that of Justin Maeers/Charlie Martin in ninth place. Oil pump failure sadly rendered putative row mate Michael Gans’ ex-Roy Pierpoint Lotus 15 a non-starter however. Following a promising debut at Brands Hatch in May, the American at least had other cars to play with across the weekend.
Two months after marque founder Eric Broadley’s death, the presence of five Lola Mark 1s was a fitting tribute to the intuitive designer whose cars went on to win races in the sport’s highest echelons. Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger were on sparkling form as usual in the 1958 prototype, 2:28.248s (88.38mph) qualifying the 1220cc single-cam Climax FWE engine car 11th in exalted company, shading Portuguese pro Rui Aguas in Kriton Lendoudis’ 5.7-litre Lister-Chevrolet Knobbly, the last to break 2m30s, and the ex-Jim Clark ‘Flat Iron’-bodied Lister-Jaguar of Steve Boultbee Brooks/Andrew Smith.
Second of the Lola Mk1s was the black BR-32, sitting 14th first time out in the hands of rapid former Turner racer Ben Adams. Acquired by Ben’s father from Peter Rutt, the significance of this car – supplied in 1960 to Tom Hart – is that it won the last race at Goodwood in ’66 with third owner Dickie le Strange Metcalfe. The sister Lolas of Neil Fowler and New Zealander James Lovett (Robs Lamplough’s ex-Allan Ross BY-2) and Swiss veteran Jürg Tobler were together in 22nd and 23rd, with Belgian Marc Valvekens’ example towards the back.
The Lister-Jags of former F1 racer Tiff Needell/Tom Harris (Knobbly) and Dutchman David Hart (Costin) sandwiched Paul Woolley’s Cooper Monaco which outpaced the barely separable sister cars of Tony Ditheridge/Barry Cannell and Lebanese pairing Tarek Mahmoud/Cyril Bustros by five seconds, with Paul Griffin’s ex-Noddy Coombs/Jack Brabham version out for the first time in a while. The other Cooper present was the 1500cc Manx-tailed T39 of Robi Bernberg/Paul Ugo.
Going well in the thick of the upper half of the field was invitee Mark Ashworth who chauffeured the unique Brian Mann-built Marina Rolls-Royce – raced in period by northerner Jimmy Blumer – round in 2:31.974. The 6.25-litre V8-engined machine lapped a fraction quicker than the sublime Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage of Guillermo Fierro/Steve Hart and the class-leading Lotus 11 Le Mans of Philip Champion/Sam Stretton to head an all-red section of the pack. Another Lotus 11, Costas Michael’s, hit mechanical woes on its debut however.
John Young in Nigel Webb’s Jaguar D-type, the Lister-Jaguar Knobbly of Sam Thomas (sharing with FIA Historic F1 champion Michael Lyons for the first time) and the Willment-Climax of Charles Gillett/Steve Smith were entrenched in a tight group bookended by the Lotus 11s of Jason Yates (the ‘Custard Climax’s time set by Formula Ford ace Ben Mitchell from William I’Anson’s Cotswolds classic car emporium) and the Swiss Serge Kriknoff. American Michael Malone’s Lotus 15 was in there too, with Belgian Gregory de Prins the sole Rejo marque representative.
Ernie Nagamatsu’s famous Old Yeller Mk2 – all 1.2 tons of it, built by US West Coast hot rod legends Max and Ina Balchowsky and raced by the likes of Carroll Shelby and Dan Gurney – put new colours in the palette of co-driver Shaun McClurg. The British spannerman found that the 6.6-litre iron-blocked Buick-motivated US West Coast special didn’t so much accelerate as gather momentum, but stopping it was a new challenge. They made it into the field, but Mark Dwyer’s Lotus Consul Mk4 Singford (an NZ-built 11 clone) broke on its out lap.
As the start lights changed for Saturday’s race start, with the leaders up to five abreast on a dry track, Ward grabbed an early advantage which he extended in clear air, motoring away from Pearson, Kent, Barff and Minshaw, polesitter Bryant having been swallowed in the stampede. Indeed, Ollie came round sixth at the end of the first circuit, ahead of Wood – who had spun wildly into Village corner but continued unfazed after some fine avoidances – and Hart, but was quickly on the climb. Out after the first lap was Greensall, with V8 engine bothers, while Minshaw was forced to abandon his Lister when a suspension upright sheared on lap 3. The Willment and Michael’s Lotus lasted little longer alas.
As Bryant made progress through the quickest Listers, trying not to get swatted by the tail-happy leviathans, Barff was shaken off but found equilibrium in clearer air. By the time Ollie had hit P2 Ward was more than eight seconds up the road staking a convincing claim for victory. Wieldier through the Village/Loop/Aintree and Brooklands/Luffield complexes, the Lotus closed in dramatically over the next few laps.
Just as onlookers began to sense an upset, and a possible repeat of Bryant’s 2013 win [Ewan McIntyre had won the first two Silverstone Classic SMT races in a sister car in 2010 and 2011 incidentally] Olly pulled off at Becketts when a tyre delaminated. There were groans from the audience, who always love an underdog, but Ward’s task was now greatly simplified. The fight between the chasing Listers was slowing them down and in turn helping Barff.
Pearson’s Lister-Chevrolet was by far the quickest car of those which stopped the clock on the Hangar Straight – pulling 149.5mph through the speed trap, although Gary did comment that its gun-barrel nose caused significant turbulence which was trying to rip his crash helmet off in qualifying – 5mph up on Minshaw’s short-lived Jaguar version and the Marina Rolls-Royce on 144mph, suggesting that the latter’s power output was “adequate” as period adverts reported. By contrast the Lotus 15s and the Maeers Cooper Monaco were just topping 130mph and the swiftest Lola Mk1s 119mph.
Barff’s stop – from the lead on lap 14, after those of Lister battlers Wood, Pearson and Boultbee Brooks, who came in together for driver changes, and Ward’s a lap later – saw him gain nine seconds over Chris on the out lap, raising rivals’ hackles, but Ward rode out the rest of the race conservatively to win by 14 seconds. “At the start I just went at it to [try to] break the guys,” said Chris. “It’s great to be on top of the podium with Rob as we started racing together in 1993, in the Champion of Oulton FF600 series.”
“I had a little brake issue, so I lost out where I’d usually expect to have an advantage,” said Barff, ‘but when the other Listers pitted early I decided to do the opposite, go for the undercut and get my head down. Kent, who tried to give his Lister rivals the slip as with a different pit strategy, was aided by team-mate Pearson keeping Nuthall occupied, and delighted to land third after some “really tight, clean racing.” Richard could not relax for a nanosecond, for Gary and Will were in his slipstream at the chequer.
Modern GT racer Lyons was a distant sixth, a minute and a quarter adrift, after a strong Lister debut, but arguably the finest result of the day was Ahlers/Bellinger’s heroic seventh overall in the first Lola, the little aluminium-bodied roller skate a giant-killer as it was when new. They won a special Eric Broadley Trophy presented by subsequent Lola owner Martin Birrane, another great exponent of the hallowed marque. Woolley’s Cooper Monaco also went the 20 lap distance in eighth place.
Hart in the Maserati T61 pipped the intrepid Ashworth’s Marina for ninth, ahead of Stefan Ziegler’s Lister-Jaguar Knobbly. Tobler’s Lola and Stretton’s MT4-winning Lotus were next in together, as 20 seconds later were Malone’s Lotus 15 and the Lebanese team’s Cooper. Chris Keen/Richard McAlpine made up 16 places to finish 19th in Chris’ thuggish Kurtis-Chevrolet 500S, ahead of Maeers, who earned ‘Bozo of the Day’ honours for stopping at the Wing, not the Heritage Pits where Martin was waiting to take over the Cooper!
Having lost a lap before the start, after his Lola’s carburettor linkage broke in the assembly area, Ben Adams drove it like the wind, jostling back to 22nd and third in class behind Ahlers/Bellinger and Tobler, setting top 10 lap times mid-race. A split cylinder head on a fresh Climax engine unfortunately halted five-time Historic Formula Ford champion Neil Fowler before he could show Lamplough’s metallic blue Lola’s paces.
Needell’s race ended abruptly when his Lister’s gearbox seized, pitching him backwards towards the BRDC, destroying the polystyrene Brooklands corner board en route. Hart’s Lister was already sidelined, joining those of Minshaw and Greensall and Young’s Jaguar D-type.
MWAP – JULY 2017