Fun and Sun for MGCC Racers at Oulton

Plenty of racers were attracted to MG Car Club’s second race meeting of 2023, on the spectacular Oulton Park International circuit. And they were rewarded with healthy grids of competitors, fine weather and enthusiastic high-quality racing on the popular and challenging layout, all of which created plenty of smiles.

The Cheshire action was provided by four MGCC championships, plus the novelty of the Classic Sports Car Club’s Magnificent Sevens joining an MGCC meeting for the first time. They all combined to put on a packed day of entertaining racing where there was little pause for breath.

MGCC Cockshoot Cup Championship

The MG Car Club North West Centre-run Cockshoot Cup championship gathered 24 cars for its home meeting, and 2023 season opener, at Oulton Park. And the fight for the overall win was one between Chris Greenbank – who has newly upgraded from Class F to the frontrunning Class C in his MGF – and Ray Collier’s MG ZR 190 that was already an incumbent in the slick-shod class.

Sadly though the defending Cockshoot champion David Morrison – who had qualified third fastest behind Greenbank and Collier – had to withdraw from the races due to his gearbox leaking oil.

In race one both the front-row pair Greenbank and Collier at the green light as expected lost out to the fast-starting ex-Warren Hughes title-winning MGF Cup car of Mark Wright and the Midget of Keith Egar.

Collier climbed back to first by lap four and Greenbank hauled himself to second by half distance, and then ate up the 3.5-second deficit to get onto the bumper of Collier, who was struggling with glazed brakes. The pair were frequently side by side and in a thrilling finish Greenbank pipped Collier for victory on the line, the pair again side by side. Greenbank also got driver of the race.

John Payne in his Austin-Healey Sprite comfortably won Class B while Phil Rigby in his MGF was similarly dominant in Class F. Rhys Higginbotham beat Leon Wignall to win Class A by 10s.

Wright didn’t take part in race two due to a gearbox problem encountered in the first race, but otherwise the picture at the front was similar as Egar shot past Greenbank and Collier to lead at the launch. Collier on lap two however claimed the lead with a double pass. Greenbank then got by Collier for first on the following tour.

Greenbank though at half distance – admitting he was watching a backmarker rather than his braking point – straight-lined the Knickerbrook chicane, letting Collier back into first. Greenbank resumed the lead two laps later, but then the red flag was flown as Jamie Stevens’ MGF was in the gravel at Druids in a dangerous place. And Collier got the win as the result was taken from the previous lap’s order. He got driver of the race too.

Greenbank said: “I’ve raced in the F class now for five or six years, in that class you never stand a chance of actually getting an outright win and that’s what I wanted. So I had to go up to Class C – bigger engines, slicks – and try and get the win, and that’s what I did. 

“It’s fantastic, the slicks are a phenomenal difference. I didn’t think there was going to be much difference between the semi-slicks and the race slicks but they’re just a completely different ball game. Hopefully [the success] will keep on going.

“It’s the first time the car’s been out since the full rebuild. Friday was the first time I sat in the car.”

Collier added: “The MGF’s got lots of corner and exit speed, so the ZRs go in [to corners] quicker and the Fs come out [quicker]. It was nice to have a really good battle. I did really enjoy it.

“I did struggle all day with the brakes, by the last three laps the brakes were glazed so you didn’t know whether they were going to work or not.

“I overtook [Chris] a couple of times and he overtook me back. I actually went from third to first [in race two], because I went down the inside of Keith and Chris, so that was a nice move – I felt quite smug for that!”

Higginbotham – in fifth place overall – and Rigby were comfortable winners in race two in Class A and F respectively, while Payne beat Mark Bellamy by less than a second to win Class B.

MGCC Lackford Engineering MG Midget & Sprite Challenge

Stephen Watkins continued his 100% start to the 2023 Midget & Sprite campaign with two more comfortable wins at Oulton Park, wherein he led home the 23-strong pack and was largely unchallenged in the frontrunning Class A. 

In a similar pattern to in the previous month’s Brands Hatch season opener, Watkins’ Class E pursuers got ahead of his Midget at the start while he got temperature into his slicks. In Oulton’s race one reigning champion Pippa Cow plus fellow Austin-Healey Sprite runner Richard Bridge both got ahead of Watkins at the off and the front trio had an exciting battle for the opening three laps. But from there Watkins stretched clear in first and won eventually by five seconds.

Cow, Bridge and Frogeye Sprite runner James Hughes had though a close scrap for Class E honours and second place overall. Cow pulled out when her brake pedal went long, and Bridge just won the class battle after proceedings were ended early as Andrew Caldwell’s Midget was stuck in the gravel and the race was stopped.

There was a four-car battle for Class D victory, which was won by Dean Stanton’s Sprite after he fought past Hugh Simpson’s Midget, and Stanton got driver of the race with it. Ian Hodgkinson’s Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite won Class H.

Cow – her brakes now bled – again jumped Watkins at the off to lead race two, though Watkins was back ahead on the second lap for a lead he kept. 

Watkins said: “It was again just once the tyres warmed up it was a matter of getting away from the Class E people, which are very quick.

“The first race I had a little bit more of a battle trying to get past them as the tyres warmed up, but especially in this sort of weather they come in a bit quicker.

“Apart from that it was fine, a perfect weekend really. Apart from that I had a cracked brake pipe that we just happened to notice as we went out for the second race. Luckily we managed to replace the pipe so that got me out for the second one – it nearly didn’t happen!”

Cow, Bridge and Hughes again had a frantic Class E fight behind Watkins in race two, and it pivoted at three-quarters’ distance when Cow and Hughes came into contact when Hughes put in a passing attempt. Hughes went no further and Bridge nipped into the class lead. Cow however got the lead back on the start-finish straight with a lap left to get Class E victory.

And the Class D contest once again featured a close multi-car fight for the win. Long-time leader Stanton had a late off, and Simpson pipped fellow Midget runner Barnaby Collinson by just 0.038s in a thrilling finish, and Simpson also got driver of the race. Hodgkinson made it a double win in Class H.

Watkins’ Class A rival Martin Morris missed the opening race as he pulled off on the warm-up lap with an oil pressure drop, though he returned for race two and finished fourth overall.

MG Cup Powered by Cherished Vehicle Insurance

Long-time Rover Tomcat racer Stuart Tranter was tempted to race in the MG Cup at Oulton Park in an invitational entry, and the local immediately grabbed pole position for race one.

He looked good to dominate the race too as he charged off in first but after three laps reigning Class B champion Ian Boulton was suddenly on his tail, as Tranter’s tyres had gone off. Boulton got the lead after a place-swapping battle at half distance, where he first got by at Shell Oils hairpin. Tranter nipped back past on the start-finish straight but Boulton attacked again at the first corner, ran alongside down the hill to Cascades and stayed on the inside to seal the move.

Boulton stayed in first to get his first-ever outright race win. He led Tranter home by 3.4 seconds, and Tranter was just ahead of Class C winner Ashley Woodward in third place overall in his ZS 180.

Tranter sought to learn his lesson in race two by showing more pace restraint as he again led from the off. He was aided this time by that Boulton got a poor start and dropped to fifth. Boulton recovered to second by lap five and again hounded Tranter, but Tranter held on and the race ended a couple of minutes early with two cars off at Old Hall.

Dave Nixon, fourth home overall in his Tomcat, beat Woodward to Class C honours by less than a second and got driver of the race with it.

Tranter said: “I didn’t manage [the win] in the first one and rightly so, Ian was brilliant. This time [race two] I managed to just hang on. It really was ‘just’. I drove it a bit steady early on to try and preserve it a bit, then when the pressure was on at the end there was no way you could drive it lightly. I was just hoping the tyres lasted out and they did. So happy days, really enjoyed it.

“The MG Cup’s a great series. The class structure and everything is just really good. It’s relatively low-cost racing, which is what you want, and competitive racing. Generally speaking we haven’t had much damage [across the MG Cup races] today and that makes all the difference.

“It’s my 16th year with that car. It just keeps on going – that’s the way I want it!”

Boulton added: “Stuart in the Tomcat is a couple of classes above me, because it’s really a fast car. I could get alongside him but I couldn’t get past him [in race two].

“Race one was fantastic, I did get past in race one and I got the overall win, that was a very first for me so I really enjoyed that.

“Sometimes you think it’s impossible to get past [a car in a higher class] but it’s not, you’ve just got to really really wait for your moment. But [in race two] he got wise from race one in how I was going to get past him and parked the car in the middle of the track.”

MG Trophy Championship Sponsored by Mangoletsi MG

Adam Jackson did not compete in MG Trophy’s 2023 Brands Hatch curtain-raiser round, as he was thinking he might “have more of a laid-back year”. But as soon as he was watching the Brands race he was tempted to return for the Oulton Park round, joining the 18-strong line-up there.

And Jackson was rewarded in Cheshire with two dominant race victories, in both races leaving his fellow ZR 190 racer Graham Ross far behind, with Brands double winner Ross unhappy with his suspension settings.

In race one Jackson blasted past poleman Ross at the start then streaked clear to be almost 14 seconds ahead by the end, a feat that also got him driver of the race. And no-one else was in contention for first as another habitual Class A frontrunner Doug Cole was an early retiree with a driveshaft problem.

The battle for Class B victory was tight however, and was won by Tylor Ballard who kept the chasing fellow MG ZR 170 of Fergus Campbell at arm’s length.

Jackson again dominated the second race, this time from pole, and again beat Ross comfortably even though a late-race safety car closed things up after Jack Chapman was pitched off when a battery problem resulted in his rear brakes locking. 

Cole didn’t manage to start the second race due to a gearbox problem. His son James however salvaged family glory by winning race two’s Class B bout. James in race one indeed had pitted to retire a lap after Doug did, in his case with a cylinder head problem. 

The battle for the race two Class B win started early and Ballard ran across the grass on lap one. Campbell took up the class lead but Cole Jr soon overtook him and remained in the place for the remainder. He also got driver of the race.

Jackson said: “Can’t complain at that. I tend to go well around Oulton but I usually have a disaster that ruins it for me, and we’ve just not had any issues today. Just concentrate and get the lap times and that’s it.

“The car was alright, it wasn’t where we wanted it to be but it’s a lot better than where it’s been.

“There’s a lot of work to do on the front suspension. Last year a damper burst through Cascades, and I’m not running that damper, I’m still running the other damper, a matched one for it, so I need to get them sorted. Other than that it’s near enough there.”

Ross added: “I just never had the pace in the car. I suspected it because there was a glimpse of that at Brands. So my fiddling with suspension is not getting me where I want to be. I was never ever going to challenge Adam.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board, have a think, see what we can do, and just try and get some of the pace that I used to have back. I’ve gone the wrong way and I think the car’s telling me that, so I need to listen to what it’s saying and apply some common sense.”

CSCC Gold Arts Magnificent Sevens

Classic Sports Car Club’s Magnificent Sevens joined the MG Car Club as a guest at Oulton Park, with its two 30-minute races the first time that Caterhams have raced with MGCC. 

Tim Davis proved to be the pacesetter of the 22-strong line-up of machines based on the Lotus Seven Series 3 design. This, in Magnificent Sevens’ third meeting of the year, was Davis’s first outing of 2023 due to the busy racer building a Corvette for American SpeedFest.

Davis for Oulton’s race one made things difficult for himself by having a poor start. This was due to him starting in second gear as his dash display was blank making him think that first gear had not engaged. He dropped to around 10th but quickly fought back to second place by one-quarter’s distance, and he swiftly closed on leader Colin Watson.

Davis attacked Watson for the rest of the way, and frequently went for gaps to pass, but Watson appeared to have the straightline speed advantage and remained ahead for the race’s remainder.

Davis didn’t repeat his startline mistake in race two and from pole he led from the off and then dominated, winning eventually by 30 seconds. Watson, recovering from getting a 10-place winners’ penalty, climbed to finish second.

Report by Graham Keilloh. Photographs by Dickon Siddall.