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For various reasons, aside from the Goodwood Festival of Speed, my motorsport season did not really get underway until September, but what a busy few weeks it has been, with three very different events in three different countries on successive week-ends!

To start off, there was the 2emeWeek-end de L’Excellence Automobile de Reims, which as the name suggests is held on the old French Grand Prix track, the Circuit de Gueux, which last saw serious action in 1969. And yes, you’re right, the track is comprised of public roads. And yes, they did simply close the roads again, notwithstanding the fact that the long, fast, back straight down to Thillois is now incorporated into a dual carriageway. The solution was simple; close one side for the race cars whilst the normal traffic picked its way through a contraflow on the other side. Simple really. Four years’ of living in France has taught me that the French can usually find a sensible, logical solution to most things. None of your messing around with health & safety-type nonsense that Britain and other places use to obstruct you at every turn.

Anyway, back to the event. It’s a quirky little affair that hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be yet, with a heady mixture of the sublime and the very down to earth (quite literally, when persistent rain turned the place into a quagmire on Saturday afternoon!). As last year, Mercedes-Benz heavily supported the week-end, bringing along a 1955 W196R to demonstrate and in contrast to the recalcitrant Streamliner last year, it performed impeccably. Local hero Jean Alesi could only stay until Saturday lunchtime as he had duties at the Italian Grand Prix, so Hans Herrmann took  over at the wheel for the rest of the week-end, although that rain meant that he did not actually take to the track until the much brighter Sunday, when he undertook a couple of three-lap runs. Now 80 years-old, just sitting in the W196 brought a twinkle to his eye, as memories came flooding back of the 1954 French Grand Prix when he set the fastest race lap in the Streamliner. No lap records today but it must have been a bit of a shock to those motorists on the N31 as he blatted past them!

That aside, the rest of the track action consisted of demos, essentially for pre-’69 machinery, although later cars “of special interest” are permitted, hence the unlikely spectacle of a Pike’s Peak Peugeot 405! It’s very much a case of you pays your money and run what you brung – really, if the event is to grow the organisers need to do something to attract some more interesting cars. Having said that, there was a good spread, from 1910 Leon Bollee to 1976 Rondeau Inaltera Le Mans car. The only F1 car aside from the Merc was Klaus Edel’s Maserati 250F, but there was a healthy clutch of Bugattis, despite there being a major event at Molsheim on the same day.

Amongst the more interesting and unusual runners were a Dangel Mangouste – dating from 1968 it’s vaguely Lotus 23-like – Peugeot Darl’Mat, Delahaye 135, a replica NART Le Mans ’72 Corvette, and even examples of both Marcos Mini and Unipower.

Having learned lessons from last year, temporary barriers were used, allowing fewer chicanes and thus higher speeds. Didn’t work for everyone though as there were a few accidents – and these were just demos! Someone achieved the near impossible and rolled a Renault-Alpine, whilst John Lewis put his father Simon’s Jaguar E-Type off. In the gloom of Saturday evening a near- new Corvette had a little adventure; whether the front wheel rim detaching itself from the hub was cause or effect I never did discover...

A pleasant week-end then which could be so much more. With new organisers this year, the support of Mercedes and local champagne house Domaine Pommery (the impressive venue for signing-on, a Gala Dinner etc) it hopefully will grow – it deserves to, but to do that they have to attract more quality runners and better support from the clubs. They already have public support, not even the dismal weather on Saturday deterred them. I was pondering this as I enjoyed a pleasant cross-country drive home on Sunday evening, meeting what appeared to be a classic car run from England coming the other way as I neared Laon. ‘Pity you didn’t come a day or two earlier, you don’t know what you’ve missed.’ I muttered.

Just four days later, with the Reims mud washed off the car, it was time to head for a P&O ferry and the manicured lawns of Goodwood for the Revival. This trip being in the immediate aftermath of the Channel Tunnel fire and the consequent travel disruption I had good cause to be grateful for P&O’s generosity to Guild of Motoring Writers members and the consequent use of the Club Lounge. It was a bit busy downstairs!

It’s amazing to think that the Goodwood Revival was itself celebrating its tenth anniversary this year – how long before we are celebrating revival Revivals? I’ve been to them all and have to say it is the one and only event I will not miss each year. Lord March and his team go to truly great lengths to create an amazing event year after year. This being the 60th anniversary of the original opening of the circuit, a feature was a somewhat poignant tribute to the great names who have contributed to the history of Goodwood over the years, both in it’s heyday and during the current period. Sad to recall though that we have already lost one or two of the ‘greats’ who taken part in the Revival, in particular former World Champion Phil Hill who passed away earlier this year. Just a year or two ago he shared a Daytona Cobra Coupe with son Derek in the RAC TT race. Spitfire pilot Ray Hanna was another to have wowed us in recent years. Sir Jack Brabham also has entertained us recently; despite now being 82-years-old and in poor health he travelled all the way from Australia for the event, such is the lure of Goodwood.

The racing was as terrific as ever, with the RAC TT forming the centrepiece as usual, with victory going to the Peter Hardman/Bobby Verdon-Roe Ferrari 330LMB, a scant 2.2-seconds ahead of the Lister-Jaguar Coupe driven by Justin Law and Anthony Reid after an hectic hour of racing. The two-part St Mary’s Trophy race for saloon cars (1950’s era this time) saw the overall win going to the Austin A95 Westminster of John Fitzpatrick/John Young, this despite Fitzpatrick rolling it at the chicane in the first race after a close encounter with Tony Jardine’s Austin A35. Fortunately a red flag and count- back ensured that he still scored a good result.

It was perhaps a fitting result, it being 50 years almost to the day that Jack Sears clinched the first-ever British Saloon Car Championship at Brands Hatch in a similar Westminster, although I suspect the John Young-owned car at Goodwood had benefitted somewhat from 50 years’ worth of ongoing development! Also good to see a number of recent BTCC stars competing at Goodwood, with multiple champion Andy Rouse in the third-place Volvo PV544, followed by Anthony Reid, again sharing a Jaguar with Justin Law. Tiff Needell (Jaguar MkV11), Alec Poole (Morris Minor), John Cleland (MG Magnette), Sir John Whitmore (Austin A50), Tony Dron (Ford Zephyr) and Robin Brundle (Volvo 122S) were also out there.

They like their anniversaries at Goodwood and the date of the event this year (19-21 September) was designed to be as close as possible to 18 September, for 60 years ago on this day the very first race meeting took place whilst the first Revival was held on 18 September 1998. The relatively late date with fading daylight at this time of year provided the opportunity to have a race into the twilight on Saturday evening, this being the 90-minute Freddie March Memorial Trophy for cars in the spirit of the Goodwood Nine Hour races held between 1952-1955. This provided a victory for the Stuart Graham/Emanuele Pirro-driven Austin-Healey 100S. Pirro is a big fan of Goodwood, although Audi commitments have often kept him away in recent years. The Healey was one of several cars he drove over the week-end, but he clearly enjoyed wringing the utmost performance out of it, driving it far faster than a Healey ought to go.

As ever Goodwood was packed with attractions, a major new feature being a re-creation of Earl’s Court, the former venue of the London Motor Show back in the days when it was a major event. Earl’s Court was so-called because the property was owned by the March family, but according to Lord March one of his ancestors gave it away to a mistress who promptly sold it to buy a yacht! One attraction that sadly did not happen was the air display by the Vulcan bomber. Vulcan XH588 has been the subject of a lengthy privately funded restoration to return it to air-worthiness – something recently achieved. Unfortunatley, a routine flushing-through of fluids during the previous week saw one engine emitting metal filings, so with the prospect of performing over the heads of 100,000 people, discretion became the better part of valour. The good news is that the ‘plane has subsequently returned to the air, but more support is urgently needed. Most of us are familiar with what it takes to restore a car but can you imagine the commitment needed for a project such as the Vulcan?

All too soon it was Sunday evening and time to go out the gates and back into the real world but even the drive home on Monday brought its moments. As I climbed up over the Downs from Chichester I found myself sandwiched between Ferrari F50 and Daytona until we went our separate ways at Petworth. Still not quite over though as I then shared the ferry with a little contingent of homeward-bound Germans in an assortment of classics.

Barely time to get over all that and it was time to head to Belgium and the Spa Six Hours meeting the following week-end. A Belgian photographer I had a coffee with whilst sheltering from the Reims rain assured me – not entirely convincingly – that the weather would be fine at Spa. And do you know what? He was right! The Ardennes forests, with just the first hint of autumnal hues, were bathed in blue skies and unbroken sunshine for the entire week-end. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that global warming was a reality, but such silly notions were quickly dispelled when we had to scrape frost off the car windows in the morning. Banished from the mind completely were all those computer-enhanced images of sad-eyed polar bears sloshing around in slushy puddles.

The Spa Six Hours is a very different event to Goodwood. It’s all about racing with none of the theatricals but at least as much drama. Thirteen races were packed into the week-end, the main event being the Six Hours, whilst another lasted for 121-minutes and no less than seven races were of 61-minutes duration, so not much of a let-up once the action starts. Why the odd minute, I hear you ask. Well, race distance at Spa determines the number of starters you are allowed; upto one hour so many can start, over the hour, a few more. No less than 93 cars qualified for the Six Hours!

The Six Hours was run for the 16th time this year but has really grown in stature in recent years, the opportunity to drive a long-distance race on the fabled Spa-Francorchamps attracting a good-quality entry of predominantly Brits with a healthy contingent of Dutch, Belgian and German competitors plus a smattering of others. After problems with what were essentially a bunch of hot-rods a year or two ago that threatened the integrity of the event (and led to a year-long thread on Ten-Tenths forum!) the organisers have tightened-up somewhat and the result is now a very competitive grid with a huge variety of cars ranging from Mini Marcos to Ford GT40.

Not for the first time, the GT40’s proved fast but fragile, taking the top spots on the grid and setting a fast pace in the early stages, only to encounter problems. The pole-sitting GT40 of Richard Meins/Chris Lillingstone- Price/Julian Rouse grabbed the lead at the start and charged off into the distance, hotly pursued by the similar car of Michael Strasoldo/ Marcus Graf von Oeynhausedn/Gareth Burnett, but it was not to last. By one third distance, the TVR Griffith crewed by Jon Shipman/Mark Hales/Andy Wolfe was at the head of the pack. In a highly competitive race the lead constantly changed, but towards the end the TVR looked set for a remarkable victory.   It was not to be though, as Hales headed for the pits with a brakeless car just twenty minutes to go; the fluid had leaked away and new pads were also needed. Rapid  pitwork saw the car back on track but the damage was done, fifth place poor consolation for a terrific drive. After a Spanish Porsche was excluded from third on the road it became an all E-Type Jaguar podium. Jon and Jason Minshaw together with Martin Stretton were the winners, having completed 110 laps, one lap clear of Andy Jenkinson/John Young/Oliver Bryant and John Clark/Chris Clark/Alister McCaig. For Bryant it was a remarkable evening as a sterling drive in the family AC Cobra, shared with father Grahame and Andrew Smith, also resulted in fourth place. If he’d crossed the line just seven seconds earlier he would have put two cars on the podium!

Most of the rest of the programme was made up of the various series run under the Masters banner, together with the pre-war and 1950’s sportscars overseen by Motor Racing Legends. However, for sheer action they were all surpassed by the Under 2-Litre Touring Car championship counter. This series, the brainchild of Carol Spagg, really invokes memories of touring car racing from the 1970’s and with a field full of Alfa’s, BMW 1800’s, Lotus Cortina’s, Mini Cooper’s and the like, somehow seems very appropriate to Spa. The 61-minute race saw battles raging all the way down the   order, but at the front a trio of Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA’s quickly pulled away from the rest to stage their own fight, ultimately becoming a two-way scrap with German Dominik Roschmann’s red and yellow car just getting the better of Austrian Dieter Anton’s white version (this very successful car sporting ‘for sale’ notices) at the finish, with Andy Wolfe’s Lotus Cortina a comparatively distant third.

After Spa there was a week off, and with relatives visiting, we took a trip out to Le Touquet on the Saturday – only to discover that the 48eRallye Le Touquet was in full swing! I had a hard job convincing the others I had been unaware of this as they went in search of a coffee whilst I watched the last half of the field depart from the sea-front starting ramp. Pity I’d missed the earlier starters as this being an FFSA round, instead of watching hordes of Citroen C2’s, Suzuki Swift’s etc I would have seen some more upto date WRC cars. Must look out for the date next year. With the starting ramp, service area and so on all on the sea front it is very accessible to the public too.

Despite being a traditional seaside resort with a fabulous beach, some interesting architecture and very good shops, Le Touquet is probably best known for its golf courses but it is actually home to a few motoring events. Most well known is probably the six-hour ‘bike enduro run on the beach and thru’ the dunes (although not so much of the latter since the greens got twitchy). Held in February, it attracts some 1,000 competitors from all over Europe and makes quite a spectacle, especially if the tide starts coming in more quickly than expected, as happened last year! Aside from that, Le Touquet also hosts a classic car rally in May and a rather exclusive concours later in the summer.

One week later and I swapped the French seaside for a genteel English country town, for Huntingon, the home town of Lola, was honouring the company’s 50th anniversary. After leaving home early to catch one of the few Tunnel Shuttle’s now running, I arrived in Huntingdon at about 9.30 am, just as the fog that had enshrouded my entire journey lifted to turn into a gloriously warm, sunny Sunday.

Thanks largely to the hard work of Sam Smith and Glyn Jones, a ‘grid’ of 16 cars was assembled in the road outside the Lola factory, and when the signal was given, set off to drive through the streets before parking up in an improvised paddock in the town’s main square. The parade was led by RML’s MG-Lola LMP2 Coupe driven by Mike Newton, whilst Lola founder Eric Broadley was ‘chauffered’ by John Surtees in a T70 Mk111B – probably the most iconic Lola of them all. Present-day company boss Martin Birrane was at the wheel of a 1967 T92 Indianapolis car, James Weaver drove a car he never raced, B2K/40 SR2, whilst Julian Bailey was re-united with the T640 with which he won the Formula Ford Festival in 1982. Proudest of all though was young James Leslie as he drove the 1958 Mk1 that his late father, David, so painstakingly restored.

Huge crowds, estimated at 10,000, lined the streets and then packed into the tiny square to see the Mayor, Saeed Akthar, present scrolls to Broadley and Birrane, and collect autographs. John Surtees proved particularly popular as he signed away before whisking off to Donington where son Henry was making his F3 debut. The formalities over, the VIP lunch became an extremely enjoyable affair as TV pundit Tony Jardine cajoled Lola-related stories out of the various celebrities present. It was a day that Lola and Huntingdon can be proud of and it is interesting to see that the local paper, the Hunts Post, is conducting a survey on its website to see if something similar should become an annual event. Sam Smith would probably rather wait another 50 years!

So, that was it – an entire motorsport season packed into a month.

John Elwin

October 2008

Week-end de L’Excellence Automobile de Reims
Vulcan XH558                                                      
Spa Six Hours                                                                
FFSA/Rallye Le Touquet                                                        
Lola Cars International Ltd                                           
Hunts Post                                                              

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