DONINGTON PARK, 02 MAY 2004

GENTLEMAN DRIVERS & SPORTS RACING CHALLENGE

This event marked a new venture for yours truly and the intrepid Ecurie Scalpel team in a couple of areas. First the race was to be run over ninety minutes. Apart from the fact that we had never gone over an hour before this extra half hour would mean a re-fuelling stop. For this race we were also being joined by a much different type of co-driver and one who would bring so new challenges. Tony Dron began his racing career in Formula Ford in 1968 and raced in all the single seater categories before a lack of money (!!) and an excess of height – Tony is a lithe 6’7” – halted the rise to F1 that his talent surely deserved. This lead to a period driving sports cars and saloon cars including the venture that he is perhaps best known for, the works British Leyland team running the Triumph Dolomite Sprint’s in the British Touring Car Championships.

A long serving editor of Classic Cars Tony has driven them all and done most things over a long and illustrious career. However, he had never even seen our little Elva never mind driven it. Despite being pre-warned about the height issues I was still very anxious to see whether he would fit – and the first signs were not good! Tone struggled to get comfortable – truth be told he was never really settled all day – and spent a long time with Don making up carefully positioned foam rolls and padding sheets to see what was possible. Eventually we managed to find a position that at least allowed him to drive even though it was not ideal to say the least.

The qualifying session was 35 minutes so the plan was for me to do 6 laps to get settled and leave the rest to Tony who of course needs more time to get used to the car. My session went well enough and I managed to get down to the 1’ 24” bracket quite easily. The newly fitted central mirror soon proved to be useless as its mount was too loose. The new lap timer however worked perfectly and allowed me to both count laps as well as seeing each lap time instantly I passed the pits – very high tech indeed!

Tony drove the rest of the session and pronounced himself delighted with the car and very unhappy with his seating position! So unhappy in fact that he took himself off around the paddock to look at other similar cars and see where we had gone wrong. The answer was soon at hand with the beautifully prepared car of David Clark having a raised central chassis tube just across the knees – the work of restoration ace Simon Hadfield. An elegant modification that we will definitely work on as it also allows the seat position move lower and allows the driver sit in the car rather than on it. I tried the Clark model for size in the paddock and he is right – it feels totally different!

For the immediate problem however it was back to the foam and tape in preparation for the race which Tony had decided I would start. I have to admit I was rather concerned about the whole event as I had never driven a 45 minute stint before and was working on three 15 minute segments as the best approach. Our biggest problem however was the need for re-fuelling. The organisers had decided that the car had to be stopped foe a minimum of two minutes for this process but that cars that did not need extra fuel could simply drive away leaving us with a big time penalty. Qualifying left us 11th out of 22 – exactly midfield – with a best time of 1:23.018 set by Tony.

Come the race my master plan was to get ahead of the Cooper Monaco alongside me and using my demon starts. However, the car turned out to be driven by Barrie “Whizzo” Williams and he simply left me for dead. However I did manage to make up three extra places on my own before the first corner and soon settled down into a regular pace. With a bit of a gap behind me I was able to concentrate on driving and my times gradually came down. My stint was going to be about 30 laps and my best time was 1:21.85 at about lap 20 or so. After that I began to get a bit tired and noticed that my times slipped a bit but I managed to keep my concentration well enough only having one serious moment into McLeans before pitting for the change.

Painfully slow we were stationary for almost three minutes before Tony got away some three laps down on the lead car and down in 9th place. For a good 15 minutes I thought he had a problem as his lap times were slower than mine! However slowly but surely he picked up the pace and moved up the field. Unlapping himself from the King Cobra Monaco Tony set the best lap for the car just before the end at 1:20.96 and came in a very pleasing 6th place overall and third in class. The car ran faultlessly and we came away determined to make the necessary modifications to allow Tony drive again when he could be comfortable enough to really show his great skills.

The race was won by Willie Green after a solo performance in the Bamford family Ford GT40 some 14 seconds ahead of veteran Denis Welch in his Lotus 23B. Again a solo affair Denis put in a stunning performance that simply should not be possible in a 1600cc car. Final place on the podium was the second GT40 driven by Martin Stretton before the three cars in our class.

Overall it was a successful day for the team. Podium place in class, sixth overall and fastest laps around Donington for both me and the car. We have learnt a few things about the car which didn’t miss a beat and will come back faster again. Many thanks must go to Tony Dron for struggling against all odds to give us that extra speed.

 

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