FJHRA/HSCC “Silverline” UK Championship Rounds 10 + 11; Oulton Park Gold Cup – 28th August 2017
The HSCC welcomed Formula Junior to the Gold Cup meeting at Oulton Park in Cheshire over the August Bank Holiday weekend. There were twenty-one races in total during the three-day event with the “Silverline” Formula Junior activities all taking place on the Monday. As usual there was a wide selection of cars from eleven different manufacturers in the combined front and rear engined field of only twenty cars. The slightly low turnout may have been due to all the action for FJ crammed into one day, instead of drivers being able to enjoy the full weekend atmosphere. Sadly, also, Tony Steele was unable to have his recently restored Lotus 18 ready, although he and his wife Ann were here as enthusiastic spectators. Tony confirmed that he had briefly tested the car recently and was looking forward to racing it soon.
Among the entries were the beautifully restored front engined Condor of Alex Morton and two immaculate Lola Mark 3s for Robin Longdon and Peter De La Roche. This is the first time that the writer can remember seeing two of these elegant Lolas racing together since the early 1960s. Eric Broadley, who sadly had passed away recently, had in fact only made eleven of this Formula Junior model, his first rear-engined design.
Qualifying took place early on Monday morning in the dry warm conditions which had shone over the Cheshire countryside throughout the weekend. Fastest in the session was Benn Tilley, driving very smoothly in Paul Smeeth’s Lotus 22, with a time of 1 min 55.303 secs. Second fastest was the impressive Peter De La Roche, who was not driving his usual BMC, but was having his first race in Pat Barford’s Lola Mk3. This is the ex-Joos Tollenar car (chassis no BRJ-32) which Joos had raced successfully throughout Europe for a number of years. As they are based locally, the team took the opportunity to test the car at the circuit on Saturday morning during the open test session. They returned home to make adjustments as planned, back in time for the Monday morning qualifying. Although about 1.7 seconds a lap slower than Benn Tilley, he was easily fastest in his class for drum braked cars.
The second Mk3 Lola of Robin Longdon (chassis no BRJ-31) was making its second consecutive Gold Cup meeting appearance after racing here in 2016. After going well last year, before a rear shock absorber broke and he spun off at Cascades, Robin was looking forward to a successful weekend. Unfortunately, a new part in his gearbox caused a problem before qualifying. Although Robin was able to replace the faulty part, he was unable to get out in time to qualify and would have to start the race from the back of the grid. Chris Milner took 3rd place on the grid in his Lotus 20/22 ahead of John Fyda in his Brabham BT6, despite John only managing to do 3 practice laps. Next was Katsu Kubota from Japan in his Lotus 20/22, who was making his first visit to Oulton Park, ahead of Iain Rowley, in Ian Robinson’s Lola Mk5 and the two Lotus of Laine Martin and Peter Anstiss.
Robs Lamplough, who has competed in many interesting cars during his career and had also raced in Formula Junior in period, was next in his early Brabham BT2. He was ahead of John Sykes’ Merlyn Mk5/7, Jonathan Fyda U2 Mk 3 and the leading class B2 runners Justin Fleming Lola Mk2 and Alex Morton in his Condor. The front engined Condor is the first of the two SII cars made and has recently been extensively rebuilt after returning from the States.
Ian Simmonds was next in his Envoy and was followed by Richard Nitschke in the Australian Elfin. Richard and his team, despite many difficulties, had somehow managed to rebuild the car after its unfortunate accident at Croft only three weeks before. Justifiably, they were awarded a special Formula Junior Trophy by Bob Birrell at the end of the meeting in recognition of their efforts. Andy “Ace “ Harrison in his Envoy was next up, despite a misfire, followed by Simon Jones in his front engined Elva and Martin McHugh in the unique North Star Ford. Nick Daunt was the nineteenth competitor on the track in his Taraschi, though he was only able to do 2 laps due to head gasket trouble and a spin at Cascades.
The sun was shining when the Formula Junior cars came out for the first of their two Silverline Championship races. Unfortunately, due to delays in the programme caused by accidents in earlier races, some of the events including this first Formula Junior race had the length reduced from 20 minutes to 15 minutes.
In addition to the nineteen cars that practiced, Robin Longdon joined them at the back of the grid and made a good start despite locking a brake going in to Old Hall corner. Nevertheless, it was Ben Tilley who started best from pole position and took a lead he was never to lose, as he drove smoothly away from the rest of the field. John Fyda also made a good start and was soon into 2nd place while Peter De La Roche did not get away so well and had some overtaking to do. By the end of the lap 1 he was in 5th place and then on the next lap he overtook both Katsu Kubota and Laine Martin and moved the Lola Mk3 up into 3rd position. The Lola then closed right up to the Brabham but was unable to get passed and dropped back towards the end of the race while lapping back markers.
Chris Milner, Iain Rowley and John Sykes were all going well in the next three places. But ahead of them on lap 5, after being overtaken by Katsu Kubota, Laine Martin touched wheels with Chris Milner at Brittens chicane. At the next corner, Hislops, Laine felt the handling had been affected which caused him to spin and lose three places. Behind this battle Jonathan Fyda, who had made a good start in his U2, led Peter Anstiss in the ex-Bob Anderson Lotus 20/22. Robs Lamplough and Robin Longdon also joined in the battle, but it was Peter Anstiss who finally overtook the U2 on the last lap. Robin Longdon, who had worked the Lola up to 10th place by lap 4, lost time with a spin at Lodge corner and finally finished 12th.
The leading two front engined cars, Alex Morton and Justin Fleming, were in close company behind Ian Simmonds for much of the race but found him difficult to overtake. Alex Morton did manage to get ahead of Ian Simmonds on lap 6, but unfortunately Ian had to retire his Envoy on lap 7 after the throttle cable broke. Although Justin Fleming passed the Condor near the end, the positions were reversed when the Lola briefly went onto the grass. Andy Harrison completed the unlapped runners followed by Richard Nitschke, Simon Jones and Martin McHugh. Nick Daunt completed the race in his Taraschi, but the smoking exhaust was a sign of the repeat of the cylinder head gasket problem and would prevent him starting in the second race.
Benn Tilley took the chequered flag and completed the 15 minute, 8 lap race for an excellent win some 13 seconds ahead of John Fyda, who finished 2nd. This was not only Benn’s first win in Formula Junior but the seventeen year old’s first victory ever, so he was clearly delighted as he received his Trophy. Peter De La Roche finished in a fine 3rd place and although some 10 seconds behind John Fyda, his fastest lap of 1 min 55.869 sec was a second quicker than he had managed in qualifying. Furthermore, it was almost as quick as John Fyda’s fastest lap and was only a second slower than that of Ben Tilley. Other class winners in addition to Peter De La Roche were Alex Morton, after an excellent drive in the Condor, Andy Harrison and Nick Daunt.
The second Formula Junior race was the final race of the day at what had been an excellent weekends racing in front of good Bank Holiday crowds. With the absence of the Taraschi from the grid there were only nineteen starters, though Rob Lamplough had decided to let Ben Mitchell, son of De Tomaso driver Westie Mitchell, drive his Brabham BT2. This was to be Ben’s first Formula Junior race, although he had tested the De Tomaso before, but he would have to start at the back of the grid alongside Robin Longdon.
Benn Tilley again made a good start and led away from Peter De La Roche, who made a much better start than in the first race, but who had to give way to John Fyda going into Old Hall corner. Benn gradually pulled away at the front in what was his fifth race of the day, as he had earlier been competing near the front in three Historic Formula Ford races. Peter was again unable to do anything about John Fyda who drove another good race to finish 2nd in his Brabham. Behind the three leaders Chris Milner in his Lotus 20/22 was increasingly coming under pressure from the Lotus of Katsu Kubota and Laine Martin. On lap 4 Chris Milner was overtaken by Katsu Kubota but a lap later Chris pulled into the pits to retire. Initially Iain Rowley, in the Lola Mk5, was keeping up with the three Lotus but at the end of lap 3 he also pulled into the pits to retire with a slipping clutch.
The two back row starters were quickly making their way through the field so that by the end of lap 1 Robin Longdon in his Lola was up to 13th place with Ben Mitchell in the Brabham an impressive 10th. On lap 2 Ben moved up to 9th and then up to 6th a lap later. Gradually the Brabham closed in on Katsu Kubota and finally on lap 9 he managed to overtake the Lotus. Nevertheless, despite this being Katsu Kubota’s first visit to Oulton Park, he was determined to regain 4th position which he did on the penultimate lap. Ben decided that, as the car had been kindly lent to him by Robs Lamplough for his first drive in Formula Junior, a cautious approach would be sensible towards the end. He settled therefore for an excellent 5th place after a fine drive, which will hopefully be one of many in Formula Junior in the future.
Next up was Laine Martin who had a largely lonely race which he finished in 6th place, but there was an increasingly close battle behind between Jonathan Fyda, John Sykes, Peter Anstiss and Robin Longdon. They finally finished in that order. The front engine dice between Alex Morton and Justin Fleming continued throughout the second race with Ian Simmonds in his rear engined Envoy also involved. Again, Alex in his Condor finished ahead of Justin’s Lola and this time with the Envoy close behind.
Richard Nitschke in his Elfin, after a slow start manged to overtake both Simon Jones, Elva and Andy Harrison, Envoy, though they all became more spread out as the race progressed. Martin McHugh continued to become more used to his well prepared North Star and was trying so hard that he ended up with all four wheels on the grass at Old Hall corner on lap 9. His fastest lap in the race of 2 min 12.818 sec was 1½ seconds faster than he achieved in race 1 and over 3 seconds faster than he achieved at the Gold Cup meeting in 2016.
The race ran for its full 20 minutes and Benn Tilley took the chequered flag after 11 laps for a worthy win, his second of the day. John Fyda and Peter De La Roche joined him on the podium after what had been a long but successful days racing. Katsu Kubota was also well rewarded for his good performance with another 4th place overall. Class winners as well as Benn and Peter were Alex Morton in the Condor and Ian Simmonds in his Envoy.
Although there were less Formula Junior cars here at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting than in recent years, the reliability and standard of driving was high. As well as some excellent drives by a number of the more experienced drivers, it was great to see the three young drivers Benn Tilley, Peter De La Roche and Ben Mitchell give such fast and mature performances. Roll on the Oulton Park Gold Cup 2018.
5th September 2017