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VSCC Formula Vintage triumphs at Silverstone Season Opener

VSCC Formula Vintage triumphs at Silverstone Season OpenerThe Vintage Sports-Car Club basked in the glow – both figuratively and literally – of an extremely successful opening Formula Vintage event at Silverstone this past weekend, where the sun shone brightly upon the celebrated Northamptonshire venue over the 22/23 April.

Widely considered the official Historic Race Season opener in the UK, the popular traditional ‘Spring Start’ seems to have discovered a fresh lease of life under the Club’s new Formula Vintage brand with a record number of Spectators through the gates over the weekend. Undoubtedly attracted by the addition of more off-track entertainment, including a Vintage Funfair, more families than ever before were in attendance, many enjoying their first ever experience of Historic motorsport.

Proceedings began on Friday evening when, following the annual HGPCA Test Day, the VSCC welcomed almost 100 guests to an informal Formula Vintage Season Launch event in the Brooklands Suites, including members of the Press, Race Series organisers, drivers and other Club representatives.

Whilst Competitors took to the track for Saturday’s busy morning Practice schedule, the Paddock was buzzing with excitement, as the crowds enjoyed open access to explore the incredible competing machinery, as well as yet another stunning display from Club Principal Associates Bonhams and the dedicated Members’ Pre-war Car Park, which appeared to receive its best support in years with dozens of wonderful Pre-war and Classic cars on parade.

A free Concours competition took place each day, with a Club Director picking a favourite car, with winners receiving a bottle of Champagne and pair of tickets to the Club’s ever-popular Prescott Speed Hill Climb in August. Another successful addition was a new Members’ Lounge, again located in the Brooklands Suites, where VSCC Members could enjoy exclusive access throughout the weekend, with its own catering facilities and balcony overlooking the assembly area and track.

Saturday morning’s AutoSolo feature was another entertaining addition to the weekend, with more than 20 Pre-war Touring and Sports-Cars in action in the Driving Tests competition, won by VSCC youngster Angus Frost sharing Robert Moore’s Austin 7.

Whilst the additional attractions kept visitors entertained, the extensive 18-Race Formula Vintage programme remained the ultimate draw of the weekend, with more than 300 Pre-war and Historic Racing and Sports-Cars taking part, buoyed by the addition of a number of the UK’s most popular Race Series.

Saturday saw the Vintage Sports-Car Club’s prestigious GP Itala Trophy races take centre stage during the afternoon. A combined grid of Special Pre-war Sports-Cars and the larger capacity cars from the Club’s revered Standard & Modified Sports-Cars – moved due to oversubscription for the popular series – began proceedings with a capacity line-up of road-going machinery in action. Winner of the same race last year, German Rudi Friedrichs got the better of pole-sitter, Dougal Cawley’s GN/Ford from the start and powered his Alvis Firefly to a comfortable Silverstone Trophy victory, with Historic racing stalwart, Richard Pilkington claiming his 7th Fox & Nicholl Trophy success in his Talbot T26 amongst the ‘Set 3’ contingent.

Regular supporters of the ‘Spring Start’ meeting, the HGPCA hosted a race for their prestigious Pre-1966 Grand Prix Cars on each day. Driving Charles McCabe’s Lotus 18, Chris Middlehurst converted his pole position into victory in race one, hounded throughout by the Lotus 18/21 of Peter Horsman and the Sam Wilson in Sir John Chisholm’s Lotus 18. It was a familiar story on Sunday, as the same trio battled at the head of the race before both Middlehurst and Wilson succumbed to mechanical woes on laps 4 and 10 respectively, allowing Horsman to take victory, just ahead of Andrew Hibberd in Stephen Bond’s Lotus 18, whilst HGPCA Chairman Barry Cannell broke the Lotus stronghold bringing the newly acquired Brabham BT11A home for third.

The remaining Standard & Modified Pre-war Sports-Cars put on another stunning display in their original machinery, with perennial series frontrunner, Andrew Mitchell leading the pack home in his HRG, ahead of the Riley TT Sprite of Tim Kneller and Simon Blakeney-Edwards, the pick of a strong Frazer Nash challenge, whilst a trio of sublime Aston Martin Ulster machinery enjoyed their own intramarque battle behind.

An undoubted headline feature, the titular GP Itala Trophy for Pre-1931 Vintage Racing Cars lived up to the billing as some of the oldest machinery of the weekend thrilled the crowds. Having set the pace in morning qualifying, the experienced Julian Majzub was in scintillating form in his original Bugatti Type 35B Grand Prix racer and had the pace to keep the battling Frazer Nash pairing of Patrick Blakeney-Edwards and Charles Gillett at bay for his 7th GP Itala Trophy victory. Following last year’s inaugural edition, the race again included a special Vintage Bentley Class for the Stanley Mann Cup in memory of the much-loved Club Member and marque exponent, won by the Bentley 3/4½ of Ewen Getley, who received the silverware from HRH Prince Michael of Kent, a long-time friend of Stanley.

Also returning to the programme, the competitors of the Fifties Sports Car Racing Club (FISCAR) took part in the second Tom Cole Trophy Race for drum-braked cars of the era. Newcomer Guillermo Fierro Eleta was enjoying a spectacular debut in the awesome Maserati 300S but in the excitement failed to make his mandatory Pit Stop, the subsequent 3-minute penalty demoting him to runner-up and handing victory to the Kurtis 500S of Chris Keen, with Steve Boultbee-Brooks’s Aston Martin DB3S on the podium again in third.

A penalty also told for Malcolm Hills in the following VSCC Pre-war Handicap, with his MG KN Special denied victory after being out of position on the grid, with youngster Harry Painter inheriting the win in his MG PA, just holding off the Frazer Nashes of Paul Baker and Theodore Hunt. Sunday’s Pre-war Handicap became a two-part feature with Anthony Fenwick-Wilson’s Railton beating out the American Hillegass track racer of Douglas Martin, whilst Stephen Riddington claimed the second race in his Riley, ahead of Ian Fyfe’s Alvis and a jubilant Stephanie Wilton, making her VSCC racing debut in the Austin 7 Kaye Petre Replica single seater.

A mouth-watering line-up of Pre- and Post-war Grand Prix machinery contested the Formula Vintage weekend’s other VSCC main feature in the combined Amschel Rothschild and Patrick Lindsay Memorial Trophies for Pre-1961 Racing Cars. Starting from the second row, Fred Harper launched the mighty Offenhauser-powered Kurtis Indy Roadster to the front and never looked back to claim the race victory and Amschel Rothschild silverware as first eligible Post-war finisher, as Guillermo Fierro Eleta – this time aboard the stunning Maserati 250F – won a thrilling battle with VSCC youngster, Charlie Martin in the invited Cooper Monaco T49 of Justin Maeers and Marshall Bailey, who was forced to retire his Lotus 16. The trio were followed home by the two leading ERAs of Mark Gillies and Nick Topliss, with the former’s R3A taking the spoils and an unprecedented 10th Patrick Lindsay Trophy ahead of R4A. They were joined in the ranks by Terry Crabb’s R12C and R7B of Julian Wilton, whilst the Post-war classes saw a second 250F of Graham Adelman, the Ferrari 246 Dino of Tony Best and the one-of-a-kind Turner F2 car of Ian Nuthall amongst a host of stunning racing machinery.

Steve Boultbee-Brooks claimed his second podium finish of the afternoon with victory in the VSCC 1950s Sports Racing Cars ‘sprint’ feature, this time in his Lister Jaguar Flat Iron. In one of the undoubted highlights of the weekend, he enjoyed a race-long battle with the Cooper Monaco T49, now in the hands of owner Justin Maeers. Whilst the more nimble Cooper had the better of the slower sections, the Jaguar-powered machine enjoyed the ultimate advantage of power on the long straights of the National Circuit and was enough to keep the hounding Monaco at bay. Suffering a misfire, perennial challenger Tony Bianchi was unable to keep pace with the leading pair, bringing the Farrellac home in third.

Despite a smaller entry than hoped, the ever-popular F3 (500) Racing Cars put on a show in the day’s penultimate event, as the experienced pairing of Gordon Russell (Mackson) and Xavier Kingsland (Staride) traded places throughout, with the former making the telling pass on the exit of Woodcote on the final lap. Having led early on, Richard de la Roche took the final podium place in the 2015 Championship winning Cooper Mk 5.

A final All-Comers Pre-war Scratch Race brought day one to a satisfactory conclusion as Mark Gillies returned to action to claim another dominant victory in Dick Skipworth’s ERA R3A. Behind there was a surprise result as Julian Grimwade wrestled the Frazer Nash Norris Special ahead of Terry Crabb’s ERA R12C for second, whilst the ex-Templeton MG KN Special continued to show good form on its return to the track in the hands of James Ricketts.

An almost ever-present of the VSCC Silverstone programme since 1949, the Club’s traditional High Speed Trial for Pre-war Sports-Cars opened Sunday’s racing activities, with a number of newcomers in the line-up for the introductory event, including a welcome outing for Robert Middleton’s ex-Works and Dick Seaman Aston Martin Speed ‘Red Dragon’, a multiple participant of Mille Miglia, Le Mans 24-Hour and Ards TT races in period. He was one of nine ‘qualifiers’ who successfully completed their lap requirement in the 30-minute event.

Following several popular outings with the VSCC during the 2016 season, the Club welcomed the return of the AR Motorsport Morgan Challenge Series, with two races at Formula Vintage. Keith Ahlers was once again a class apart in his modified 1993 Plus 8, claiming a dominant double-victory on the day, with last year’s young Championship winner, Elliot Paterson runner-up twice in his new Morgan ARV6.

Although having lost the two fancied ERA machines to mechanical troubles the previous day, Sunday’s All-Comers Pre-war Scratch Race proved no less entertaining as Julian Grimwade followed up his previous success with race victory in the Frazer Nash Norris Special. Behind saw an exciting contest between the Riley Super Rat of Pete Candy and Rudi Friedrichs in the mighty Alvis, who traded positions as they battled through back-markers before the former’s supercharged racer eventually took the spoils.

Hot off the recent success of their ‘Academy’ series for Austin A30/35s, Julius Thurgood’s HRDC brought their new ‘Coombs Heritage Challenge’ for Pre-1966 Jaguar Touring Cars to debut at Formula Vintage and proved another of the weekend’s racing highlights, as the sight of the grand Mk 1 and Mk 2 saloons being pushed to the limit thrilled the crowds, in particular the grey Mk 1 of the exuberant Grant Williams. In a half-hour race filled with excitement, a spectacular gearbox failure for one entrant left oil deposited on the exit of Woodcote and debris along the Pit Straight, adding further challenge to the drivers at one of the fastest points of the circuit. In a battle of attrition, Alistair Dyson’s 1961 Mk 2 emerged victorious as Peter Dorlin’s similar frontrunner was left out of the running after a collision with a backmarker on lap 18.

Bringing the Formula Vintage weekend to a fitting conclusion was the Mike Stripe Team Relay Race, with the usual array of Pre-war Sports-Cars on display, with Frazer Nash, GN, Riley and Aston Martin amongst those marques represented. The unfortunate withdrawal of one of the highly favoured Frazer Nash trios opened the door for the other ‘Chain Gang’ teams with the combination of Dougal Cawley (GN/Ford), Charles Gillett (Frazer Nash) and Brian White (Frazer Nash/BMW) romping home to a convincing race win. Still suffering with mechanical issues that had plagued the Cirrus-engined Parker all weekend, Justin Maeers and his GN team were unable to keep pace, with Mark Walker and Tom Waterfield carrying much of the burden for the 90-minute endurance event, with Riley contingent ‘The Pistol Knights’ proving the winners’ closest rivals, led by Tim Kneller’s TT Sprite.

The Handicap element was hotly contested with the Aston Martin team of Richard Bradley, David Ozanne and Christopher Scott Mackirdy taking a well-deserved victory after a consistent performance.

And so the end of a triumphant Formula Vintage season opener with virtually universal approval from all quarters of the Paddock. Attention now turns to the remaining rounds of the season, with the next Formula Vintage event at Oulton Park on Saturday 10 June, followed by events at Cadwell Park (23 July), Mallory Park (12 August) and Snetterton (17 September).

The Club offers its sincerest thanks to Club Principal Associates, Bonhams and Hagerty Classic Car Insurance, to Tom Hardman Ltd for their support of the Live Timing services and Drivers’ Club facilities, and to Maison Louis Latour for providing our wine prizes for the podium presentations.

We also thank all Competitors, Spectators and the many Marshals, Officials and other volunteers who helped make this Formula Vintage weekend such a resounding success, and helped reaffirm the Vintage Sports-Car Club’s place at the head of Pre-war motorsport in the UK.

Full Race Results are now available to download from the Silverstone event pages of the Club’s website (CLICK HERE).

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