MALLORY PARK – 23rd August 2020
FJHRA/HSCC “SILVERLINE” FRONT ENGINED CHAMPIONSHIP Round 1 – JOHN TAYLOR TROPHY RACE
An excellent entry of 20 cars – reduced to 18 when Mike Hibberd withdrew in the week preceding and Taff Smith the day before after mechanical woes testing his Elva 100 at an airfield (reportedly his own!).
Notably present however were Rudolf Ernst from Hamburg with his fascinating Mitter DKW, with both Simon Hadfield and Tim Bishop on spanners, Covid survivor Richard Bishop-Miller persevering with the Triumph Herald engine in his Autosport – I imagine he eagerly awaits the restoration of his Stanguellini project. Adam Bruzas was having his first ever race as an invitation entry in his recently US imported Lotus 18 ex Roger Ealand and then Kim Shearn, Xavier Kingsland his first FJ race for almost two years in his unique and very pretty Hillwood. For interest, we discovered that we had raced against each other in FF1600 in 1972 – he (no doubt currying favour with DCPR) in an Alexis 18B, me in a Hawke DL2B – and very certainly last but not least Duncan Rabagliati was back on track (peace and blessings upon his name) having not driven any car (road or race) since March!
Yes, its practice – this is after all VSCC. A dry track and some committed and talented drivers – actually, from the sidelines, it looked almost as if the race had started already! Mark Woodhouse (Elva 100) and Alex Morton (Condor SII)– going at it Hammer and Tongs – passing and repassing. Mark just made it to pole by 0.32 seconds from Alex – maybe an unfair advantage by having a skilled engineer from the very highest professional levels engineering his car (yes, you guessed – son Jack). Third fastest was Robin Longdon in his faithful Lola Mk 2 – actually, after a few laps he looked distinctly and uncharacteristically hairy through the Esses – it came therefore as no surprise when Sue later informed us that the car was withdrawn as a rear shock absorber has broken. Fourth fastest was Jonathon Hughes giving his well turned out Terrier T4 Series 2 its first race in his hands. John Arnold and Crispian Besley were well matched in their Elva 100s promising a close race being 0.03 apart after practice: however it was never to be. Ah well, that’s the way the croissant crumbles! Adam Bruzas went steadily and well in this, his first ever race outing – he had a dramatic slide at the Esses but handled it perfectly and neatly – just the right amount of opposite lock.
Sadly, a few further cars succumbed to their unaccustomed exercise and were posted as non starters as follows; Rob Goodwin Kieft – Handling and brakes, after an impressive 5th fastest in practice despite misfire and Crispian Besley – differential. Relative newcomer Jeremy Knight had fuel pump trouble with his Elva 100 but Elva guru John Arnold set about a cure while healing his own Elva 100 which had expired with ignition trouble towards the end of practice. Richard Bishop – Miller’s Autosport completed only 1 lap of practice but the most helpful and understanding Clerk of Course arranged for him to complete the required laps behind the course car in the lunch interval despite a very tight schedule, but the problem sadly returned and prohibited a race start.
The predicted rain fell on time shortly before our race – it’s an inevitable fact that many pre- war racers distribute more than their fair share of oil on the track surface – this combined with the rain produced an exceptionally slippery surface – it is to the great credit of all drivers that there were few spins (I observed only one), no contact between cars, no car damage and no loutish behaviour – well done everybody – exactly the spirit of Formula Junior.
The start was a standing start, first into Gerards from the second row was Jonathon Hughes pursued by Alex Morton with polesitter Mark Woodhouse already falling back. First time through a very slippery Esses the order was, Hughes, Morton, Woodhouse, Haynes, going really well in the Nota, Barron, Rabagliati, having passed Arnold on the outside of Gerards– revelling in the slippery conditions in which he excels, Rudolf Ernst flying in the 2 stroke Mitter, Pearson, Bruzas, Brock and Kingsland. We had already lost Jeremy Knight after the green flag lap, when he became aware of a brake problem, then about halfway round the rear bodywork came loose , so he diverted to the pit lane and got the help of a Marshal and a Clerk to refit the bodywork, however when the start lights went out and he pulled away in the pit lane, upon trying the brakes realised the problem was too much to continue so diverted to the paddock. Jerry’s mentor John Arnold also retired after two laps with carburettor flooding causing the engine to badly cut out on circuit.
On lap three, Graham Barron, driving so very smoothly swopped places with the remarkable Nota and Rudolf Ernst was on the move – the 2 stroke DKW sounding glorious as he moved up the order – reaching an eventual 5th place, catching out Duncan and Mark with his pace as he overtook them fooling them into believing he was lapping them, his fastest lap was just a few tenths shy of 3rd place Mark Woodhouse’s best – wow!
There was a Class A battle between the two voluptuous Italian cars – Tony Pearson in the Bandini and Roger Woodbridge in his gorgeous Volpini, this internecine battle was narrowly won for Yorkshire by Pearson. Meanwhile Rabagliati was as usual in difficult conditions really pressing on in the almost silent “flying carrot”. This meeting has a rare dispensation from Mallory Park for 108 db noise – Duncan’s car seems to emit hardly any noise at all – could he to his son’s delight be running a hybrid electric motor?
The big story was, though, at the front – Alex Morton was close up behind the Terrier – for the entire race – at times he seemed to be fractionally quicker through Gerards but not quite able to get alongside on the short stretch before the Esses – in fact both drivers drove with great skill and sound judgement – it must have been tempting to make a do or die attempt on the lead with potential and predictable tears – Hughes knew exactly where to place his car – perfectly fairly and without intimidation – without leaving any invitation to pass either! This guy has after all won a front engine Formula Junior race at Monaco.
And so the race ran out, Morton finishing just 0.24 sec adrift after a most impressive drive by, it must be said, the entire field – despite really difficult conditions with so little grip.
There was as is the new norm, no prizegiving after the race – In period Formula Junior driver Jeremy Bouckley conducted a small ceremony, presenting Hughes with the Magnificent John Taylor Memorial Trophy – John Taylor was a most accomplished driver who drove in Formula Junior, F3, F2 and F1 for Bob Gerard – he held the outright lap record at his local circuit – Mallory and in 1966 drove an F1 Brabham in the German Grand Prix on the Nurburgring Nordschleife – It was extremely wet damp and gloomy – I was there in the press box in the old wooden grandstand – I saw the aftermath of John’s accident on an indistinct black and white TV screen, John survived initially but succumbed to his injuries a week later. How fitting it is that we remember this fine man and fine driver at his second home, Mallory Park.
By Bob Birrell