SVRA U.S. Vintage Grand Prix – Watkins Glen International; 6th – 10th September 2017
Another long and flowing track, steeped in history. The regulars participated in the TOPS programme for added comfort and speed, but sadly the Jocko of Neil Tolich was already in trouble with a broken diff on Wednesday, and the next morning Michael Sexton’s Gemini lost a bolt out of the gearbox, with oil flooding the cockpit. There were extended test sessions on Thursday morning which also brought out Ray Mallock, new to the track, and returnee Mark Shaw, looking fast: Good news was that Neil McCrudden had installed the 20/22 engine in the Panther and Erik Justesen had cobbled together another motor for the Koala, but saddest of all, Jac Nellemann had withdrawn from this Sector, his Lime Rock replacement motor a non-runner. Also, Billy Goldkind entered in his Lotus 20 had broken his wrist in a last (F Libre) race accident at Lime Rock, in his FF, and was also out.
The best news however was that David Clubine was back in his 22, in tribute to Bob Woodward, in whose name this Sector honours, who sadly died last week, while Phil Lamont’s 18 problem was found to have been 12-year-old brake cylinders
The first official practice was on Thursday afternoon. Rain came down in the holding area which kept back Mark Shaw, Bruce Edgar and Robert Hoemke until it cleared. Of those with transponders, Marty was comfortably fastest with Shaw and Hoemke up next and then a storming Ray Mallock in the front engined U2 fourth fastest. Duncan felt disappointingly slow intimidated by barriers, new track, rain and testing higher than usual tyre pressures. Nigel Russell was the only stoppage, the rear axle dislocating through the hub. Overnight work had the Jocko with repaired diff thanks to an aged local craftsman, and both Sexton and Russell also repaired.
Thursday evening was the drinks and nibbles at the International Motor Racing Research Centre in Watkins Glen town: a veritable archive but already running out of space: Duncan found more programmes for the books and made new contacts.
Friday qualifying was divided into two sessions; Mark Shaw stamped his dominance. Local expert, David Clubine (22) said “I have gone faster today than ever before, and Mark is still two seconds faster!!”. Marty Bullock was a close 3rd with Robert Hoemke and a late arriving Chris Drake four seconds adrift. Steve Morici (1.5 T67) joined this session: Neil Tolich was happy with his 2m 40s. Erik still had no transponder.
Second session, and Mark was faster still: the New Zealander’s all decided to hold their fire, while the going was good: Duncan now shaved another 8s off his times. Lance Carwardine stopped with a fuel pump problem, Neil McCrudden likewise with oil pressure problems as he sorted out the ex 20/22 engine installation in the Panther, Erik with engine maladies, and Tony Olissoff had a plug lead off.
Friday night was the Tour of the old circuit and a gathering and street party in Watkins Glen town. Leo Basile had the F3 Cooper T 75, but star of the show was Peter Giddings in the Lancia D24: wonderful to see this lovely car on the streets.
Wisharts, Strauss, Rabs and Kim with Tom Smith, with Katelyn and Paul adjourned to the Tony R Restaurant in Main St Corning.
Race 1 was early on Saturday: an impressive 100% turnout of the 28 cars present. Mark Shaw was still in a class of his own with David Clubine (22) and Marty Bullock (27) spread out behind. There was a good dice for 4th with Robert Hoemke taking Chris Drake on the penultimate lap, but Robert missed a gear through Turn 1 on the last lap and Chris was back through. David Kent was going strongly, just ahead of Ray Mallock, till he came to a halt up from T2 with a broken drive shaft coupling, while there was a terrific race-long battle between Dave Watkins (Elfin), and Dave Innes (Lola 5A), with Bruce Edgar edging in at times, and Don Thallon following. Midfield, Peter Strauss (Brabham BT6) and local man Gary Harrison (Lotus 22), going exceptionally well, were in a ding-dong, with Doug Elcomb’s Dreossi falling to the pair, and Tony Olissoff (Emeryson Elfin Mk 1) also succumbing to the flying Strauss. Michael Sexton stopped on lap 1 with broken fuel pump wire, Lance with fuel starvation, and Leo Basile was troubled with oil pressure, despite having completed the down town event, and poor Erik was blowing out black smoke from the Koala, and was black flagged. Duncan continued to improve his times, ahead of Steve Morici’s T 67 Cooper.
Saturday night was truly party night, with the Monoposto Party at GMT, sponsored by Jay Galpin and others, followed by the Circuit party with live band, a few FJs taking to the floor!!
The final race on Sunday was warm, unlike the previous day, but although scheduled for 10.10 was, like the previous day, over half an hour behind schedule by then: Mark Shaw was again a convincing winner, but marginally slower, but both David Clubine and Marty, and very significantly, Chris Drake, the leading drum braked, were faster than before. Behind these four was Robert Hoemke (T59), who was perhaps pacing himself for Road America, then there was a roaring dice between Daves Watkins and Innes, positions changing four times in the 8 laps. Having started near the back, David Kent (Lynx) with driveshaft very kindly borrowed from Jeremy Deeley’s T56 Cooper (Jeremy willingly signalling permission from the Goodwood Ball!!!!), was slicing through the field and was on the tail of Ray Mallock at the flag. The second race long battle was between Strauss, Gary Harrison, Tony Olissoff and Kim Shearn (18) following. At the end of the 5th lap as they powered together through T1, Tony was on a charge and just tipped poor Gary into a spin, unfortunately he was unable to restart. WARM mastermind Neil McCrudden was very happy to get the Panther home, ahead of Malcolm Wishart, happy and untroubled in the T65 Cooper, with a wrongly geared Dreossi behind that. Duncan improved his lap time by a further 3 secs to stay ahead of Steve Morici, they were almost side by side at the flag. Lance Carwardine came to a halt at the bus stop on his last lap, while Leo Basile stopped as oil pressure dropped but resumed for a final lap. Nigel Russell had the float chamber come adrift, but provisionally sold the Sadler in the paddock nonetheless to ex-USAF pilot and Sprite racer Robert Mackay, while poor Michael Sexton found no link to his gearchange stuck in 3rd and called a halt.
After the race, all the cars and drivers were ushered into the Podium Circle for photos and all FJ Class 1-2-3 received medallions and hats.
A terrific weekend for the FJs but as a race meeting, it was a strange affair. The SVRA organisers including Tony Parella, Alex and Kim could not have been more friendly but the other race content with much Jaguar, Porsche, IMSA and TransAm cars was of quite different and more modern content than we recalled from 9 years ago.
But we did have several visitors, the most significant being Otto Linton, born in Vienna Austria in 1917!!! Otto raced a FJ Scorpion -DKW at both the Glen, and earlier in Nassau, Bahamas: he said that he preferred Nassau because it was a lot warmer!! The Downtown festival this year was dedicated to Otto who first raced at the Glen in 1948.
Also, we met Gary Hatch who had raced an Elva 100 back in the 60s.