OULTON PARK, 25 AUGUST 2003

SUN, SWEAT AND SLIPPINESS

This year sees the 50th anniversary of the Oulton Park Gold Cup races – a trophy won by many of the greats including Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Mike Hawthorn and John Surtees. This year the event once more took place over two days of the bank holiday weekend and the meeting contained a full programme of the best there is to see in historic racing.

Sunday (our races were both on the same day) was both hot and very humid and we arrived knowing that both our cars were up against it. The Junior was racing as in Phoenix Park with the realisation that the engine is rather down on old fashioned grunt. New for this event was the F1 Anglo-American Cooper owned by Ean Pugh of Bridgend/Dublin/Monaco. Ean is one of life gentlemen and has very kindly loaned your favourite equipe this unique car for the Goodwood meeting. Freshly crashed in Goodwood last year the car has recently been sorted by Don Haldenby who made eight new wishbones and rebuilt the suspension. The car – from 1962 – was designed by Aidan Jones from Co. Wexford in Ireland and has been in Ean’s hands since 1987. It runs a Coventry Climax 1500cc engine and a Citroen type Knight gearbox. Frankly this is a terrible item with a slow change and very weak. First gear is only for starting and all the way forward on the right. In contrast, second gear is all the way over on the left and forward – you get the picture!

Practice and qualifying for the Junior went well enough although I feel the lap times were at least three seconds down on what they might be with a “proper” engine. The car certainly handles well around the swoops of Oulton and we were obviously faster than others around corners losing out big time down the fast bits.

For the first time ever I sat in the Cooper with the engine running! Out onto the track for the first time (with Ean’s instructions not to break the gearbox ringing in my ears) I soon realised that this was a very different animal to the junior. First there was no seat and I rather struggled sliding from one side to the other – we can fix that for Goodwood. The next thing was that heel and toeing doesn’t work in this car as the throttle pedal is too stiff and badly positioned – maybe we can adjust this. The brakes are wonderful though and the car handles really well with very predictable break away under power. The fire pump engine revs to 7000rpm and has plenty of oomph and reasonable torque. The setup has lots of steering caster which takes some getting used to but the real feature is indeed the box which takes some getting used to. In an effort to save the internals I drove most of the lap with two gears (2nd and 3rd) and was pretty slow. However we were there mainly for a test so this was no problem.

In between sessions we had a visit from Sir Stirling and Lady Susie Moss – both recuperating from various traumas. A chair was provided for Stirling who was able to relax while signing autographs. Interested as he was to see the Cooper has was fascinated to see the Junior and be told that he had been is the same race as this car in 1962. Naturally he won the race (one of his last incidentally) and he well remembered Jim Palmer, the driver of the Lotus.

Race time saw the junior take part in a feverish four car dice including Bob Birrell’s Brabham and Bob Diggory’s Lightning. The Lotus was clearly quicker than the others under braking and through the corners but kept getting left behind down the straights – very frustrating. However about half way through the race I began to notice a worrying and rapidly worsening wobble from the front offside wheel which clearly was starting to visibly wobble. I was rather concerned that the wheel was about to fall off and therefore decided to ease off a little – preserving my race position and giving up the dice. We made it safely to the end and inspection revealed a wheel bearing had come loose rather than the wheel falling off! Stirling came back at that point and suggested that in should not have worried about such trivial problems!!

On to the F1 race the start was the only part that was pretty uneventful. Frank Sytner started from the back but was up through the field before long and won at a canter in his Tasman Brabham BT4. However the rest of the race was very exciting with a big crash involving two cars between the two chicanes – bodywork and bits everywhere. Several other cars pulled off elsewhere but the real fun came after eight laps when oil appeared on the track. Flags were out at the new chicane – no problems – but down at Cascades where there were no flags all hell broke loose. As soon as I came down the hill I could SEE the oil and the car lost all grip and slid wildly but thankfully decided to go on the right direction. However the three cars in question were not so lucky and went spinning off in various directions. The race was red flagged and we made it back safely!

The Junior has retired for the season and the engine is off for some psychological help. The Cooper will have a few tweaks and move on to the Revival meeting in Goodwood where the gearing should make for an easier drive.

 

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