SILVERSTONE, 29 JULY 2007

PORTO AND SILVERSTONE

Possibilities and Pain at Porto followed by Sunshine and Sadness at Silverstone!!

 

Historic Grand Prix at Porto

July 13-15, 2007.

 

There is no doubt that at the best of times motor racing is a dumb game and perhaps the historic form is the most stupid of all.  There we have it – lots of rare and expensive old machines, being raced by expensive and old drivers of mixed and sometimes highly dubious levels of ability.  It’s a sure fire recipe for disaster even if all is going well.  But then transplant that fragile show away from the wide open spaces of a modern racing circuit into the cement surrounds of an ancient street circuit and one might as well take a hammer to the car at home and not bother travelling.

 What do we know about Porto?  Well of course it is where Port comes from by definition.  Stirling Moss won the Grand Prix there in period and John Surtees very nearly did.  Didn’t Graham Hill or someone like that get his wheel stuck in a tram line and have to follow it off course during a race?  Certainly sounds like the sort of place to hold a full on race for ‘70s F1 cars eh?

 These minor considerations would certainly not discourage Frank Lyons and family.  Off they went armed with F1 McLaren M26 and Hesketh 308 for the latest round of the Masters Series.  Tagging along for the ride was 16-year-old son, Michael, who has been impressing everyone in his FF Merlyn in HSCC events this year.  On this occasion he was making his Formula Junior debut in the Ecurie Scalpel Lotus 20B.

 Lets get the McLaren out of the way first then.  Or at least that’s what Frank was wishing he could have done after first practice.  Now Frank is no mean peddler when it comes to these cars but a momentary lapse had disastrous consequences.  In the blink of an eye the concrete chicane had done its worst and the car was missing two wheels.  The Silverstone Classic was only days away and McLaren bits are quite rare down the local Halfords supply. 

 Not to worry though, Michael was showing everyone else how it should be done.  Never having raced a Junior before he hops in and plants the thing on the front row beside the very rapid Martin Walford in his truly beautiful ex-Peter Arundel Lotus 22.  Off they went in the race – by now it was pouring down – and Michael was not fazed at all.  Comfortably stroking it along in second place he impressed one and all.  Did it have a happy ending on the podium first time out??  Need I ask?

 Now I have to state at this point that several independent witnesses – including Derek Bell – have all said the same thing and it is on video!  Pouring rain, concrete walls, confused Italian backmarker, blue flags – and bang.  Michael is driven into and the cars are both out – along with others including John Truslove and his Brabham BT6.  How do I know the nice Italian was confused?  Because he said so when asked why he ignored the blue flags!! 

Not to worry though.  The damage is slight and Michael knows it was not his fault.  The next step was rapid repairs – the M26 for Silverstone and the 20B for Oulton Park.

 Silverstone Classic, July 27-29, 2007

 So off then to Silverstone for the revitalized Bonhams Historic Classic Festival.  Three solid days of historic racing sat alongside the circuit full of family friendly attractions – a sort of less stressful Goodwood Revival if you like.

 As some may already know, I had lent my Surtees TS9B to Derek Bell who had originally driven the car in its debut at the 1971 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.  In recognition of this I was generously allowed by the Master organizers to take part myself in the Ex-VDS Chevron B28.

 Frank Lyons and the team had worked miracles and the M26 was restored to health and appeared alongside July’s Hesketh so the full team was present and correct (although Rick Hall and his team were running Derek Bell). 

Friday practice was dry, sunny and VERY hot.  Briefly, the McLaren had terrible understeer, the Chevron had wrong gear ratios such that I never got into 5th in the entire session and the DFV broke in the Surtees after three laps!  Yes, sadly you read it right, after a few sighting laps Derek set off for a hot one and coming around Luffield the oil light came on.  The gauge still said 40psi but he cam in immediately and switched off – I could think of others who might have kept going. 

Subsequent investigations showed the engine still running with 60-70psi and full of oil.  However some metal filings appeared in the filter and we suspect the main bearings may be kaput.  I will state it clearly here – definitely not Derek’s fault and it could have happened any time.  He was as disappointed as me (well almost) but not as sad as his feisty young son Sebastian who had come along to see his Dad drive a proper racecar!  So, after all that we put the old girl away and retired wounded.

Race 1.

 Off we went on the rolling start with the two F5000 runners under instructions not to overtake too many fancy F1 cars!  We didn’t have to because for the most part they broke down themselves!  Manfredo Rossi – the pole man who rather superfluously won a case of champagne for this effort – blew his engine on lap 2.  This left some oil around the section after Stowe and Bridge.  Frank Sytner broke his gearbox, Simon Hadfield had a petrol line break, and the electrics went in Rob Hall’s Surtees etc etc etc.  After all that I ended up 10th having taken 5 seconds off the qualifying pace.  A 1.50:9 – average speed of just over 102mph might seem reasonable although I know for sure that time was being lost at Copse and Stowe.  From Stowe until the end of the lap I was quite a lot quicker than many of the F1 cars but was eaten up in the entry to Stowe where they break much later.  The race was won easily by Peter Dunn in his March 761 with a best lap of just over 1.43.  Best race lap though was a startling 1.40 by Simon Hadfield in the ex-James Hunt Dutch GP winning Hesketh now owned by Frank Sytner.

 Race 2.

 Now the second race was clearly going to present some problems with a host of seriously fast folks starting from the back of the grid.  Somewhat to my surprise though it all went off without too much trouble.  I started alongside Rob Hall and he was gone immediately and shortly after that Sytner and Hadfield came past locked in a firm (and subsequently rather tetchy) battle.  I ended up battling with Sid Hoole (Lotus 80), Andrew Wareing (Williams FW07) and Bernard de Dryver (March 761G).  At the end of the race I had lost out to Sid, beaten off the Williams and stupidly lost out to the March two laps from the end. 

The race was won again by Peter Dunn who only just beat Hadfield who once again put in a lap three seconds faster than anyone else.  Sytner lost all his oil again and Frank Lyons had further trouble with a rear wheel feeling as though it was falling off – it wasn’t and maybe there is a driveshaft problem.

 Overall though it was good fun and a safe return after two races was pleasing.  The car is better than before with no petrol leaking and the gearbox now works well.  I am still trying to gain confidence in the car but that should come with more practice. 

I also need to thank Derek Bell for being so understanding about the Surtees.  These famous drivers are occasionally said to be somewhat prickly and demanding.  Not so this one!  A true gent as the phrase goes and a real pleasure to talk to.  Next time maybe? 

Next up is Oulton Park and the Gold Cup meeting.  I plan to run the Brabham BT35 and the Lola Mk1 should be making its debut after a year of restoration.  Basically it will be shaken down before the Goodwood Revival.

 

 

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