FJHRA/HSCC “Silverline” UK and Front Engined Championships Rounds 1 & 2 DONINGTON HISTORIC FESTIVAL; 28th – 30th April 2017

Qualifying – Front Engined

This was the opening action of the Festival weekend – and very closely contested – Robin Longdon and John Sykes swopped the pole throughout – Longdon, newly arrived from the colonies (New Zealand), just shaded it by well under 1/10th.

Two more visitors from another Colony (USA) were Harin de Silva and Nick Grewal both in immaculate Lola Mk2s and both of whom went well at an unfamiliar venue.

Keep an eye on Harin – the last guy called de Silva that I raced with was light years ahead of me – mind you, shortly after that (1982), he changed his name to Senna!

Justin Fleming started cautiously but remembered soon enough what to do and secured 3rd place just before the end of the session.

Taff Smith stranded his unfamiliar Elva 100 on lap 1 but, after an efficient “snatch” from the marshal team, he rejoined and did enough laps to qualify.

Others in unfamiliar cars were Mark Haynes in his newly acquired Nota (from Australia) and Hans Ciers in what was described in the programme as a Mallock F3″ (surely a U2?) anyway, rather different to his customary Lotus 20. Tom Smith was exercising Vern Williamson’s unique Scorpion – sort of a Ford engine Elva I think?

RACE 1 – Front

What a cracker – from a well won 4th on the grid, Ralf Emmerling made a superb start and led into Redgate before Robin Longdon took the lead on the exit.

Nick Taylor in his Elva kept up well in a close 4th place behind a mighty scrap for the lead between Sykes and Longdon, with Ian Phillips in his BMC Mk 1 not far behind the Elva.

Ralf Emmerling had kept up after his wonderful start with his Gemini but sadly retired with 2 laps to go.

Sykes and Longdon changed places for the lead at least twice per lap – when the differential in Longdon’s Lola cried enough with 2 laps remaining, the large crowd were greatly disappointed – including I suspect Sykes who being a true sportsman in the FJ tradition would rather have continued the dice. Justin Fleming had joined the fun (after joining the pre-grid with seconds to spare) – he passed Longdon briefly and on Robin’s retirement was a secure 2nd finishing ½ second behind a delighted John Sykes in his immaculate Merlyn Mk2.

Nick Taylor and Ian Phillips finished 3rd & 4th with de Silva upholding matters for the visitors.

Tom De Gres surprisingly was the sole runner in Class A – despite this, he drove his Stanguellini neatly and well – yes OK, he did win his Class.

Qualifying – Rear Engined

An absolutely full grid with some unfamiliar faces – Benn Tilley in Paul Smeeth’s familiar Lotus 22 – Ben is at 17 years old, a hotshoe from Historic FF1600 – Harin de Silva in the Brabham BT2 run by the Hibberd Team, with Mike Hibberd himself driving the Lotus 22 normally driven by Andrew who was in charge of spanners for the weekend.

The Fyda Clan had, after Hockenheim only a few days before, returned to base in Dundee, refurbished both cars and prepared for battle.

Nice to welcome returnee Stuart Tizzard in a Lotus 18 and John Lord, bravely returning from illness.

James Murray set the pace, Mike Hibberd started steadily but soon showed he hadn’t forgotten after all, ending the session 11 thousandths of a second shy of poleman Murray. Benn Tilley was an impressive 3rd quickest followed by Andy Willis (in Tony Best’s Lotus 20/22), John Fyda and Pete Morton in the Lightning Envoyette.

Sadly, de Silva tried a demon outbraking effort which went badly wrong and collided with Chris Chilcott’s similar Brabham BT2 – both cars damaged and Hors de Combat for the weekend.

Race 1 – Rear

James Murray made the best start and led into Redgate pursued by Tilley, Hibberd, Morton and the pack, Tilley pressurised Murray throughout but by dint of some spectacular late braking, Murray kept a decent margin at the finish. Hibberd joined the fun but slowed before pitting with a brake problem.

Redgate is an excellent place to assess driving skill – this writer was particularly impressed by Peter de la Roche in the BMC Mk 2 – certainly not the fastest car, but his technique was ultra smooth, very early on the power and using every inch of track but no more – identically every lap – really impressive.

Andrew Wilkinson maintained his qualifying advantage over John Chisholm to win Class D2 in his gorgeous Lynx. D2 being hotly contested this year.

C2 was won by a very small margin by Nick Finburgh (Envoy) from Crispian Besley (Cooper T56).

So, encouraging to see youngsters with us – great for the future – even if  “old age and treachery” prevailed – only kidding James – I confess to imagining James to be a youngster on account I raced with his father Roger a few years ago – I keep forgetting that James is himself a father! Not only that but he has a “grown up’s job” too.

Race 2 – Front

The Fronts put on another terrific show on Sunday with a three way battle all the way, and separated by a mere ¾ of a second at the flag. Robin held the lead – just! – until the 7th lap and side by side crossing the line, the Merlyn of Sykes edged ahead; the battle was so intense, that when Fleming nudged Robin at the chicane with a severe dent in the back, and partly dislodged it, Robin did not realise that he was racing with an air brake!!

Behind these three there was an equal battle between Harin de Silva’s Lola Mk2 and Nick Taylor, racing his own ex-John Arnold, David Watts Elva 100/27, while John Arnold was yet to get full measure out of the ex-Chris Henderson, David Stevenson 100-66, now in new livery. Further back there was yet more close racing, Graham Barron (Gemini Mk II) finally getting past Simon Jones in Elva 100/99. Class B1 was an excellent drive by young Tom Smith in Vern Williamson’s Scorpion, just not quite having the measure of Ralf Emmerling (Gemini Mk II) and Crispian Besley (Elva 100).

Race 2 – Rear

It was not until the end of the afternoon that the rears were out for R2, and another exciting battle all the way side by side between James Murray (Lola Mk 5A) and Benn Tilley (Lotus 22) only for Murray to spin on lap 7 challenging Tilley around the back, but all in vain, as Tilley was sadly out 2 laps later when an oil seal failed, leaving John Fyda to a welcome victory, to avenge his previous tribulations at the circuit, from Murray and Peter Morton (Lightning Envoyette) who had got by Michael Hibberd (Lotus 22) with 3 laps to go after a lap by lap close battle, surpassed only by the John Chisholm (Gemini Mk 3A), Peter de la Roche (BMC Mk2) dice, side by side by side until Peter tucked into the pits to take the flag pitside, detecting engine maladies.

Almost overlooked in this race of excellence was Andy Willis in Tony Best’s Lotus 20/22, keeping Woodhouse in sight, and with leading D2 car, young Lukas Halusa, in his wake.

It was true excitement throughout the field, for back around 20th spot, there was a race long 5 car train of Steve Futter (Lotus 20), Gil Duffy (Kieft), Fenichel (Cooper T56), Deeley (Cooper T52) and Wilks (Deep Sanderson) – quite some racing.  Last couple of laps, Duffy pulled ahead, but Futter, Fenichel and Deeley after much place swapping, finished in line astern, from Wilks, ahead of Sharon Alderman’s Brabham BT6.

A fantastic showing, and close racing by all the FJ’s, in two great fields – and young Benn Tilley and Peter de la Roche are certainly to be watched for some more upsets ahead for the old school!

Col.Bob (Qual and R1)/ DCPR (R2)