MG Car Club racers have spring in their step in Brands Hatch opener

The MG Car Club held its 2021 racing season opener on a sunny spring weekend in Kent for condensed dicing on Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit. Six of MGCC’s race categories were present and, underlining the club’s variety, cars from pre-war right up to the modern day were catered for. And, adding to the assortment, they were joined at Brands by no fewer than eight packed and eclectic Equipe Classic Racing contests, as well as by the Morgan Challenge.

And the competitors throughout the categories didn’t need much time to get down to business and provide racing thrills.

MGCC MG Cup powered by Cherished Vehicle Insurance

We are long used to Mike Williams winning MG Cup races, but don’t be fooled into thinking the two more that he won at Brands Hatch were straightforward. Firstly, he doubted until the 11th hour that he’d be able to take part at all due to technical problems with his Metro (pictured above). And then, having resolved those, he had a new on-track challenge in the shape of Morgan Short, son of famous racer and team boss Martin.

Morgan raced in a Class A Rover 216 GTI last year, and he has now upgraded to a frontrunning MG ZS 180 (also pictured above) that he raced for the first time at Brands. And like Williams his participation was in doubt in advance, as he was initially only on the event’s reserve list.

Matt Simpson led from the start in his Tomcat, while poleman Williams dropped to third behind Short. The Metro man passed after a few laps’ battle, but soon had to do it all again as the race was red flagged when Ian Boulton went off at Surtees, and Williams dropped back behind Short on countback. Both Short and Williams vaulted past Simpson at the restart, and a few laps later Williams got the lead from Short exiting Graham Hill Bend. Short dropped to third behind Simpson by just 0.039 seconds with a last-gasp track-limits penalty.

Iain Dowler, in fourth place overall, comfortably won the Class B contest in his ZR 170, while Jon Gil got the Class A win, and Driver of the Race with it, after passing Jago Keen.

It looked like race two would be more straightforward for Williams as he led from Short, but at mid-distance he spun at Graham Hill Bend, letting Short by into first. Williams though was able to quickly hunt Short down and pass him for the lead, again on the exit of Graham Hill Bend, aided by the fact that Short’s MG ZS was surging due to being short on fuel.

“It’s been a funny week,” said Williams. “We had so many issues with the car, didn’t really get to start it until last Saturday. Matt [Simpson] came round to help me and we got the engine in: because of the new regs I’ve had to downgrade to a standard engine now. It was problem after problem after problem on the rolling road, then I did some laps here on Friday but I was having to change up at 6000rpm; that’s just unheard of. I was introduced to Dan Surridge, we stripped the whole of the VVC mech out and he fixed all of the stuff. Went out today and it was so much better.

“It was just an awful week waiting to happen and all of a sudden it’s just become fantastic. Great qualifying; great race. Not just the result but the feeling of going round doing what we were doing. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s still buzzing me.”

Short was fairly satisfied too. “It’s brilliant. For a big heavy car [the MG ZS] handles really well. The car was extremely understeer-y in the first race – with that big V6 hanging over the front wheels. I was quicker than [Williams] in lots of places but I was losing all of it in Graham Hill Bend and that’s where he got me.

“Second race we made some changes to try and reduce some understeer which really helped. We put in five litres less of fuel than we did the first race, and it started to surge once I got past Mike, literally two laps later. Coming through Paddock it was like the throttle’s just not on. But realistically P2 is where I deserved to be.”

Dad Martin added: “In the first race he was very gentlemanly, and [after the race one restart] he grew some horns. He’s learning so much in a very friendly but very competitive environment.”

Darren Harris won Class B, and took the Driver of the Race award, after passing Dowler mid-race. Gil again won Class A.

Hickford Construction Limited MGCC MG Metro Cup

The MG Metro Cup shared the track with MG Cup and provided plenty of its own drama. In the opening race’s opening stint Mark Eales (pictured in car 444 above), Dan Willars and Tim Davies led the way, but then in the restart all three came together in the run to Paddock. The trio continued albeit well down.

That left Phil Goodwin in first but he soon pulled off when he lost drive, which he suspected was due to a gearbox seizure. Tim Shooter then led and kept the place to the end, and the birthday boy got an additional present of Driver of the Race.

Eales recovered to second and was chasing Shooter, but spun at Paddock on the final lap when a car ahead put fluid down. He was not able to rejoin due to a cracked radiator from the restart incident and this kept him out of the second race too. David Javes (pictured in car 96 above) and Richard Garrard completed the race one podium, while Les Tyler also spun on the treacherous Paddock surface and recovered to finish fifth.

Shooter made it a double in race two. Davies led from the off and Javes jumped Shooter for second when the latter lost momentum after attempting to pass Davies. Javes and Shooter soon cleared Davies then Shooter took the lead he wasn’t to lose from Javes at Paddock. Tyler completed the top three and fourth-placed Davies got Driver of the Race.

“It was absolute carnage [in race one], I just benefited from it really,” Shooter said. “I could see [Eales] coming, and then I looked in the mirror and he’d gone. Well pleased just to get through without any damage! Just right place right time!

“[In race two] Tim Davies and David [Javes] both got past me in the early laps, managed to get past Tim and then managed to get past David. I had a decent battle with him for a couple of laps, and then managed to gap him and then tried to keep my concentration. Really pleased with race two: it felt a bit more like it was on merit than just inherited.”

MGCC The Boretech Engineering MG Trophy

Sam Kirkpatrick at Brands continued his strong form from last season by taking two wins from pole position in his ZR 190. And it was two young guns who fought for first in both races from the front row. In race one Kirkpatrick just held off his fellow young gun Fred Burgess (car 16 seen above), who also continued his good 2020 form. Burgess made many attempts to pass, including at Druids on the last lap, but Kirkpatrick clung on,

The MG Trophy’s qualifying was disrupted by many incidents as drivers reported the surface offered little grip at that point, and this resulted in a somewhat jumbled pair of grids. Doug Cole was one impeded by this but he recovered to finish third in race one.

James Dennison beat Fergus Campbell to the Class B win, pipping him in a thrilling run to the line, and Dennison got Driver of the Race with it. James Moreton in his ZR 160 won the Class C race.

Race two was a similar story at the front though this time Kirkpatrick beat Burgess with a little more comfort, managing to get Burgess out of his slipstream.

“Good day, two good wins,” smiled a satisfied Kirkpatrick. “The first one was a bit more hard fought, the second one was a bit more relaxed. In the first one I had a bit more understeer and didn’t have much confidence. [Race two] it felt good, I had a bit more confidence and I could break the tow. We made no huge changes [for race two], I think the track might have been better, felt grippier.

“It was a good start to the season, hopefully more of the same next time! I think next time everyone will be more on it and it’ll be quite close.”

Burgess added: “It was a very messy qualifying, I felt like I had the pace to get maybe on pole. [In the first race] I put Sam under a lot of pressure, I had a really good car, good balance, good pace. I was hoping I could have the same in the second race but the balance wasn’t quite right. Didn’t quite have the grip, halfway through the race I settled for second. Maybe we’ve got to learn how to manage the balance of the car as the tyres fade away; I’m sure we will learn.”

Adam Jackson – newly graduated to Class A – completed the podium, climbing from a 14th-placed start amid the disrupted qualifying. He finished eighth in the first race as he’d left the track avoiding the suddenly slowing fourth-placed Patrick Booth ahead whose car had seized.

Two-time MG Trophy champion Graham Ross returned to the contest in a left-hand-drive ZR 190, and his day was a struggle after a qualifying off. He only finished 12th in race one thanks to a tyre problem, while in race two he was fourth.

“It’s a bit disappointing if I’m honest,” said Ross. “Ever since the off in qualifying it’s just been an uphill struggle, just trying to get the car right. In the first race it turned out to be a duff tyre, the rear left was always stepping out every right-hand corner. I changed the tyre and it was a lot better, but that second race was just frustrating, the pace wasn’t in the car. Back to the drawing board!

“The front end of the car is not right, after the off in qualifying it hasn’t got the right camber on, I think it’s bent a crossmember or something. If it was right would I have been on the pace? I’m not sure, you get these weekends.

“In both races [left-hand drive] was fine. It took a bit of time yesterday in testing to get used to it.”

Dennison made it a double Class B win in race two, winning by 9s, and he was awarded Saturday’s Driver of the Day. Moreton made it a clean sweep of MG Trophy doubles in this meeting by winning Class C’s race two. He shadowed Guy Tolley for much of the distance and passed him to win late on at Druids. Moreton got also Driver of the Race.

MGCC BCV8 Championship

Reigning champion Ollie Neaves was another at Brands to start 2021 in a similar vein to 2020, in his case continuing his all-conquering form. He won both races, in both being decisively clear of his closest chaser Russell McCarthy. Neil Fowler, learning the set-up ropes of his new MGB V8, completed the symmetry with third place in both races.

“Race one was fairly straightforward but really hard at the beginning with Russ hunting me down,” Neaves said. “And again in race two the first five laps Russell was really on me and suddenly the car came a bit better and gave me that gap. And I got a bit better luck with the backmarkers than Russell did.

“Absolutely [I keep pushing when leading] because I know what Russell’s like, he doesn’t give up. If I back off then he’ll be right back.

“I did an awful lot of work trying to work out how I wanted the suspension to be when I built [the car] and it’s all worked out really well. I feel really good in the car, it feels really controllable and really nice to drive on the edge. Whereas a lot of cars I’ve driven, similar class, can be quite snappy.”

Reigning class champion Jim Bryan was race one’s Class C victor after long-time class leader James Wheeler retired late on when his coil lead detached. James’s dad Jonnie got to drive the Class D Roadster at this meeting as a reward for all the work he’s done on the car. Reigning AB class champion Russ McAngus comfortably won his class contest.

Simon Cripps had a particularly eventful meeting. He started qualifying in a Class D MGB GT V8, but its clutch failed early in the session then he had a collision when pulling off the track. He therefore dashed away to fetch a Class B MGB, and he won in class in race one despite a quick pitstop to check his pressure gauge after having fluid on his windscreen that he worried could have come from his own engine. After returning to the track he swiftly recovered his lead. This all got him Driver of the Race.

Wheeler made up for his race one disappointment by winning Class C battle in race two, holding off Andrew Young, though Young got the compensation of Driver of the Race. And McAngus doubled up in Class AB, winning by 1.4s from Simon Tinkler.

MGCC Lackford Engineering MG Midget & Sprite Challenge

The MG Midget & Sprite Challenge, also competing for the Steve Everitt Memorial Race, didn’t let us down in the drama stakes. The opening counter had a thrilling four-way all-Midget fight for first between David Weston, Martin Morris, Richard Wildman and Michael Chalk.

Chalk led early but then was jumped by his three pursuers leaving a Paddock Hill Bend yellow flag zone, and not long later had a quick gravel detour at Clearways. This left Morris and Wildman disputing the lead, but the pair at half distance touched at Paddock and Weston got momentum on both to take a lead, while Morris immediately parked on the outside of Druids. Weston won with Wildman and Chalk still close at hand, and the victor got Driver of the Race too.

Pippa Cow won the Class E contest in her Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite while her chief pursuer Tom Walker pitted after sustaining front-end damage to his Healey Sprite MkI from contact with a backmarker. Dean Stanton in his Healey Sprite comfortably won Class D.

Race two featured a straightforward win for Chalk as the only one from race one’s frontrunning quartet to take part, with Wildman and Morris sitting out and Weston’s son Edward taking over his car. Chalk won by 10s over the Class E battle that Walker edged from a closing Cow, Walker relieved by a late spin from his opponent. Cow though got Driver of the Race for her effort. Stanton was again a clear Class D winner.

Baynton Jones Historic Motorsport MGCC Triple-M Racing Challenge for the Mary Harris Trophy

Brands was the scene of a welcome return of the pre-war Triple-M Challenge contest, and it too provided its share of thrills. The first race had a diverting victory fight between Oliver Sharp’s Class C MG N Type Magnette and Tony Seber’s Class D Wolseley Hornet Special.

Seber seized the lead from Sharp early on but Sharp was able to stick with his opponent. Then Seber sensationally spun at Surtees on the last lap, letting the closely chasing Sharp by to win. Sharp also got Driver of the Race.

Harry Painter’s MG PA (pictured above) was a clear third overall and an equally clear Class B winner. Barry Foster in his Montlhery Midget just beat Fred Boothby’s J2 by 0.5s to win Class A1, while Simon Jackson in his MG PB was a clear Class A2 victor.

Sharp won again in race two, and it was less dramatic this time as he led throughout from Painter and David Seber who had taken over Tony’s car.

“The first race was very frenetic,” Sharp said. “I was probably slightly faster than the Wolseley Hornet. I kept closing on him but the backmarkers were difficult. It was hard work, I was driving as hard as I could but trying to constantly negotiate traffic, it’s a short lap.

“It’s scary when someone spins in front of you in an old car, so you go onto hyper alert and do what you can to avoid it. [When Tony Seber spun] I was thinking ‘don’t hit me!’ I went off onto the grass because he was coming back across the circuit. I felt I deserved the win because I was quicker. I really enjoyed the battle, it’s really nice just having a dice.

“Second race was much easier really, I just made sure that I kept my position and pulled out a few seconds. It was a great day, it’s a wonderful circuit, great fun and it’s an amazing bunch of friends and camaraderie here.”

Foster again beat Boothby in the Class A1 bout, this time by 4.2s, and Jackson also doubled up in Class A2. Andrew Long got Driver of the Race after finishing sixth overall and third in Class C in his KN, while Sharp was delighted to receive Sunday’s Driver of the Day for his double triumph.

Equipe Pre ’63/50s

The opening race for Equipe pre 1963 and 1950s machines had one significant example missing, in the shape of Peter Haynes’ Lotus Eleven Le Mans (pictured above) that had claimed pole 1.5s clear of the rest. It transpired that his absence was a simple matter of having lost track of time and missing the start! In Haynes’ absence, Roberto Giordanelli moved clear to win in his Jaguar E-type, while Andrew Williams’ Austin-Healey 100M was the first 50s car to the flag in eighth place.

To relieve his own blushes Haynes, contrary his initial plans, returned the next day to make up for it in race two, and this he did by winning by over a lap. Nigel Winchester in his distinctive and powerful Shelby 260 finished second and was the first pre-’63 car home.

Equipe GTS 1

Mark Ashworth in his TVR Grantura won the opening Equipe GTS 1 race, holding Robi Bernberg’s Grantura at arm’s length. Poleman Rob Cull, also in a Grantura, dropped out from second place before half distance as his differential failed.

Another Grantura runner, Mark Owen, won the second GTS 1 race on Sunday. Owen from pole initially dropped to third behind Cull and Ashworth, and the trio crossed the finish line for the start of the second lap three abreast! Ashworth emerged from this as leader from Owen, but Owen got the lead from Ashworth on lap six at Surtees and remained ahead of Ashworth and Cull for the rest of the way.

Equipe GTS 2

The opening GTS 2 was interrupted by a red flag after Chris Ryan, who was running second in a Triumph TR4, had a spectacular barrel roll entering the pitstraight when a wheel detached (picture above shows it loosening). Lee Atkins in a Grantura won by 3.8s from Tom Smith’s MGB.

Atkins was denied a potential double the next day when he retired from the lead when his head gasket failed, repeating a problem he’d had in Friday testing even though it’s a new engine. Jon Payne, who’d qualified second in his Triumph TR4, dropped out on lap one when his rear brakes locked approaching Graham Hill Bend and he decided not to risk continuing. Smith took a straightforward win.

Equipe Libre

Chris Beighton in his Sunbeam Le Mans Tiger dominated the first of the eclectic Equipe Libre races, only briefly dropping behind James Haxton’s Austin-Healey 3000 MK1 at the start then winning by 20s. Haxton had a long fight for second with Rick Willmott’s Jaguar XKE, in which Willmott prevailed after passing Haxton late on. Haxton took a clear win in the second Libre race 6.4s ahead of Cull in second.

Guest races

Oliver Pratt dominated both Morgan Challenge races from pole in his Plus 8, Having set a best qualifying time 1.7s quicker than then rest he won the opening race by 24.8s and race two by 28.5s. During the meeting he also beat the Morgan Brands Indy lap record that had stood since 2003. In both races as well as in qualifying Roger Whiteside, also in a Plus 8, was Pratt’s closest challenger.