FJHRA/HSCC “Silverline” UK Championship Rounds 3 and 4 – Silverstone International; May 20th – 21st

It was certainly a full paddock for the first of two FJ events on the GP circuit – too full really with the trend changing over the last few years to large transporters all parked cheek to jowl behind the National pits, which removes much of the atmosphere, though Breda White and her team provided a welcome break with their bacon and sausage rolls to competitors and officials over both days.

It was an early practice for FJ, running as a combined field at this event, and rather denuded by 11 withdrawals, not least Benn Tilley and Peter De La Roche with continuing engine problems, and Cameron Jackson (Brabham BT2) after Thursday testing.  Newcomer Mark Shaw was with the ex-Dennis Hulme, Ed Holly (Brabham BT6) was making his debut too, but with only t/c wheels as yet, he opted to run in the CRC instead; obviously still a handful, spinning in practice, and off into the gravel early in the race.

There were still 35 FJ’s who lined up for qualifying – that is – except Sam Wilson (Lotus 20) who had forgotten his scrutineering sticker and eventually started from the pit lane. Michael Hibberd (22) looked quick but ultimately, undeterred, it was Sam a whole six seconds faster than the field, with Mark Woodhouse (20/22) and Mark Pangborn (20B) behind, followed by an impressive Andrew Garside (Lotus 20/22) and the Wainer of Richard Smeeton: Michael Hibberd was only 7th, behind Diffey, and with John Rees (Lotus 22) going very well, in 8th.

New Zealand visitor, Noel Woodford, had an overdriving moment at Brooklands after brake fade, while poor Ned Spieker (Brabham BT6), all the way from San Francisco, and tended by Matt King of MRM, as Norman and Candace were not coming over for one meeting, had a core plug come out, much steam, and an end to his racing, as his Lotus 23 was to be involved in an early qualifying attack from a larger sports racer, and that was out too.

Saddest of all was Michael Ashley-Brown’s Britannia, which had its own accident at Copse, backing heavily into the sleeper wall, with a trip to Roach Coachwork the only avenue left: fortunately, Michael himself was only bruised.

It would be an understatement to say that this was a Wilson domination, with a comfortable lead at the end, especially as Pangborn spun away his hopes, coming round in 16th place on lap 1, but working his way up to the 8th/10th place battle with John Rees and Steve Jones (going well and untroubled in his Cooper T67 – ERSA). Mark Woodhouse and Richard Smeeton (Wainer) both kept up the chase to the end, albeit in vain.

Michael Hibberd and Simon Diffey had a great race throughout, as did Chris Merrick (Cooper T59), Besley (Cooper T56) and Noel Woodford (Gemini Mk3A) finishing together in that order, while there was also a race long fight for 18th between Trevor Griffiths (Emeryson),  Bill Grimshaw (Moorland) and Peter Fenichel (Cooper T56).  Andrew Hayden (Envoy Mk 2) just took the ill handling BT 15 F3 of Canberra, Australia’s Peter Barclay at the end and Mark Haynes, local Silverstone resident, just pipped Nick Finburgh’s Envoy prototype driven by Marc Gordon.

Great to see Simon Durling, back, and going well for C1 class win, and, albeit near the tail of the field, the iconic Roger Dexter in his Elva DKW, successful passing the noise tests, and the equally iconic Taraschi of Brisbane’s Dr Nick Daunt, run by Iain Rowley.

Sadly, we lost Chris Alford with engine maladies and Andrew Taylor with a well full of oil: Andrew and father in law Peter Green rushed home for overnight repairs!

Howden Ganley had only landed at Heathrow from USA early that morning, but ever the excellent FJ Diamond Jubilee Patron, he and Joy were there for the podium prizegiving and to award the Class Trophies including Class H for Peter Barclay.  Peter was on Duncan’s suggestion, also a last minute addition to both HF3 and FJ races; quite a feat as FJ R1 followed immediately after HF3 qualifying, necessitating a rapid change of wheels and tyres from AVON to Dunlop with four willing helpers, Mike Hedger included, one on each wheel. Even so, Peter had to start from the pit lane on R1, as no time to reach the collecting area.

Saturday evening, and there was an excellent sit down dinner subsidised by the HSCC, at the BRDC Clubhouse: a special atmosphere and a good FJ attendance.

Fortunately, FJ missed the heavy thunderstorms of the weekend, with the HFF race literally brought to a halt by a tropical like downpour, and it was again a dry track for the early Sunday FJ race. Sam, once again showed his superiority, but behind, although Mark Woodhouse had led Mike Hibberd securely, by lap 6, they were together and Mike was ahead, only for Mark to wobble out on the last lap and fall behind Richard Smeeton – for a second podium of the weekend – Mark Pangborn and a well satisfied Andrew Garside taking another place as Simon Diffey exuded ominous smoke on the penultimate lap, and it was no surprise that he stopped out in the field and failed to take the flag after another, otherwise, good drive.

The sight of the two Geminis in similar Chequered Flag livery was too much to ask and just as Noel Woodford succeeded in passing John Chisholm at Nuffield, he spun, and all the great work came undone, falling back behind a stupendous Besley/Taylor T56 Class C2 battle, swapping places throughout with Besley just getting the decision as they crossed the line.  Behind Woodford, Ian Simmonds, who had been the innocent victim in Justin Fleming’s loss of a Lola wheel on the first (Copse) corner–had worked his way well up the field after a near tail end first lap, overtaking a race long battle between F3 Australian Peter Barclay, and another Griffiths/Fenichel battle, the former claiming 28th by almost the smallest margin of the day – except that just behind, Andrew Hayden and Jeremy Deeley were even closer  – so exciting to watch these side by side finishes!! And if that was not all, the ever-improving NOTA of Mark Haynes made a late charge, successfully, to head Roger Dexter home.

Once again, Howden Ganley graciously gave out the trophies, including the Cooper Car Club Own Maddock Trophy to Val Merrick (as Chris was out in the Guards Trophy, codriving with Jon Milicevic (“Such a gentleman: a real privilege” – said Chris) for Chris’ meritorious Lurani performances in 2016.

While Sam, deservedly took all the weekend’s honours, we had seen some terrific racing in the 35 car field and many smiles as FJs left Silverstone and headed home.