The adoption of the Gold Cup nomenclature for Oulton Park’s premier annual historic race meeting adds a gravitas which befits a meeting in full maturity. From tentative beginnings it is now a major sporting draw locally and attracts bumper entries on track, as well as enormous crowds and many local car clubs. A grateful beneficiary of the Cheshire Lotus Owners’ Group’s kind hospitality, an early morning sprint around the Cheshire lanes was welcome and a fine convoy of Loti descended on Oulton. Sadly a slightly late arrival meant there were cars spread over a wide distance, rather ruining the effect of the club stand but how fantastic to be at Oulton on an August Bank Holiday and not suffering the usual precepitous weather!
Perhaps the Gold Cup’s first hero to me in its HSCC guise was Flavien Marcais who danced to victory in the headline race for Formula One machinery in the sonorous BRM P180. While the event no longer features a race for 3.0L F1 cars, this was a day of epic performances in exceptional machinery.
The Guards Trophy’s battle for racing sports cars was opened up to “Big Bangers” for the first time. What a treat to see McLaren M1Bs going toe-to-toe with Lola T70 and Lotus 30 against the hordes of small capacity prototypes from the usual suspects – Chevron, Ginetta, Elva, et al. Andrew Smith looked the form man in his T70 Spyder, looking resplendent in the sunshine, but mechanical maladies stimmied his challenge early on. He returned to the track to turn in some spectacular lap times, to the delight of the crowd. Recollections of Denny Hulme wrestling a similar car in period around the great track duly aroused, even among those of us only old enough to picture the scene from photographs. At the end of a long race it came down to Andy Newall in the JCB liveried Chevron B8 being chased by the Minshaw clan’s similar car. In the end, Newall held on to take a worthy victory but it was a genuine grandstand finish with superb performances from both protagonists and the big bangers duly vanquished.
The HSCC always lays on a few track demonstrations to showcase cars from different eras and this year saw the turn of Group C. While the mighty sports prototypes of the 1980s never officially raced at Oulton in period, the bubble cockpits put one in mind of the Prosport 3000 battles which brought a young Peter Hardman to our attention in the last century at the great track. Far from one-make facsimilies, however, the HSCC had gathered a Jaguar XJR9, a brace of turbocharged Nissans and the unique Cougar C26s. The pace was respectful, rather than shocking but the sound of that epic 7.0L V12 in the Jaguar is nape-prickling; juxtaposing with the wastegate swooshing of the turbo cars. Today’s diesel Audi and Peugeot LMP weapons, as dramatic as they undoubtably are, simply do not cut it aurally compared to their ancestors.
Also out on track was Sir Stirling Moss. This most remarkable of men may appear a little more frail as a result of his horrifying lift shaft fall but he remains sharp, charismatic and the darling of the crowds everywhere he goes. He was running a few laps in the Ferguson P99 four wheel drive Formula One car which he used to take victory in the contemporary Gold Cup in 1961. He followed a camera car, producing shots for a wonderful feature in Motor Sport magazine, but still taking time to wave to the appreciative crowd. A very evocative sight, and one can only hope that the P99 retains a public profile despite its recent sale as it remains most beguiling.
Back to competition and Sir Stirling has given his name to a trans-European race series for 1950s sportscars and sports racers. The outstanding car/driver combination was the Lister Chevrolet of Jamie McIntyre which simply bludgeoned the opposition over a one hour race. With seismic V8 thunder from side-exit exhausts, his gentle drifts lap-after-lap out of Knickerbrook were a delight to behold. Despite opposition of the quality of the Minshaw T61 Birdcage Maserati and a plethora of D-Type Jaguars, as at the Goodwood Revival three weeks later, McIntyre was untouchable. In spite of the dominance at the front, Oulton was blessed with a full grid of beautiful racers from diniuitive Lotus 15s to upright Aston Martin DB2s. We look forward to more of the same in 2011.
The fastest cars of the weekend feature in the Derek Bell Trophy which focuses on historic F2 and F5000 machinery. While 5.0L Chevy grunt usually counts for much, around the swoops and sweeps of Oulton nobody could touch Richard Evans in his pretty ex-Fred Opert F2 Chevron B40. The big bangers of F5000 were left breathless as he crushed the field to win by 30secs in the 12 lap encounter – this was emphatically man and machine in perfect harmony. Even so, the spectacle of the old warhorses thumping their way up Clay Hill always leaves an impression, and the Formula Libre battles of David and Goliath enthralled.
A short walk around to the new spectating area at Druids offered a new perspective on a familiar circuit. The FF1600 drivers gave a worthy account of themselves carving a smooth arc through the quick double-apex right hander. A field which included 1988 BTCC champion and Frank Sytner and former Grand Prix driver Ian Ashley was left vanquished by the young Darren Burke. Having won every round of the HSCC championship in 2010, surely this is a man who deserves a leg-up to achieve greater things. Let us hope that any proposed move onto the contemporary single seater ladder proves successful. The breath-taking speed he carried through Druids compared to his opposition suggests a bright future.
The Guards Trophy GT race packed an enormous number of varied cars into its traditional mini-enduro format. Jon Minshaw continued the pattern of dominance with his Lightweight E-Type. This same car has seen victory at Silverstone, Donington Park and Spa during an action-packed 2010 campaign. Behind him, the hordes of Healey 3000s, E-Types, Marcoses Triumph TRs and MGs proved as entertaining as ever with lurid powerslides the order of the day. The valiant efforts of little Lotus Elites and 26R Elans to overcome the might of V8 TVRs seems only to become more fascinating with the passing of time. In the end, though, this was always going to be Minshaw’s race to lose.
A wander back from the Knickerbrook outfield to the paddock towards the end of the day neatly coincided with furious action on the rally stage as an array of forest-dwellers skidded their way around the tight twists of Oulton’s answer to Kielder. From lumbering Rover SD1 to lithe Minis, the sliding, three-wheeling antics served only to highlight the fine miscellany present over the weekend. The paddock cleared as tired competitors tried to avoid the Bank Holiday rush but the atmosphere remained; it is genuinely heart-warming that the circuit I call home offers such a fine historic event. While it lacks the glamour of Goodwood, its intimacy and the resplendent parkland circuit offer one of the annual highlights of a hectic domestic racing scene. Long may it continue.