MGCC Racers Live Up To The Centenary Occasion
The MG Car Club’s mid-summer Silverstone Historic Grand Prix circuit showpiece is always a meeting to savour, with its variety of infield attractions supplementing the full range of racing classes battling on track. Yet this year’s event was particularly special as it also marked MG’s and Triumph’s 100th anniversaries.
Aptly for a meeting celebrating a stretch of 100 years, MGCC’s six racing classes on show included the pre-war Baynton Jones Triple-M Racing and represented many other eras of MG machinery right though to theMG 3 competing in the MG Trophy. Also the latest offering from MG Motor, the Cyberster electric sports car made its public debut in the UK and attracted much interest and admiration from those who visited garage Zero. The weather also was in keeping with the event’s status, being hot and sunny for almost the entire duration.
Equipe Classic Racing’s eclectic and vast line-ups had no shortage of MGs and added to the occasion. The GT & Sports Car Cup’s 90-minute season-opener completed the packed schedule of races.
MGCC Bayton Jones Historic Motorsport Triple-M Racing Challenge
It was appropriate that in a meeting celebrating the full extent of MG’s past that the pre-war Triple-M machines provided some of the most captivating action.
Mike Painter in his MG Kayne Special led the first race from pole, but spun down to fourth on the second lap. Before we could get a clear sense of whether Painter could climb back to P1 he slowed as his gearbox started to leak oil that got into the clutch.
Roland Wettstein in his Parnell-MG K3 won by 11 seconds and with it got the Kimber Trophy. Charles Goddard in his MG PA-PB and Brands Hatch double winner Charles Jones in his MG L Magna finished in P2 and P3 were respectively Class B and Class C winners. Class A was won by Tim Sharp’s MG PB not far ahead of the MG PA of Richard Stott who was awarded Driver of the Race by the commentators.
Mike Painter’s son, Harry, took over the car for the following day’s race two, and quickly charged into P1 from the back of the grid. However, he then slowed with exactly the same clutch trouble as his father had in the first race which allowed Wettstein to close in on him. They had a close battle for the lead but Painter’s problem worsened on the last lap and Wettstein streaked ahead.
But then sensationally Wettstein spun at the Loop on that final lap which let the ailing Painter back into first. The recovered Wettstein closed rapidly in the final turns and prevailed in the drag race to the line taking victory by half a car’s length.
Painter got the compensation of being Class B winner, and Driver of the Race while Jones and Sharp doubled up the victories in their classes.
“That was very eventful!,” Harry Painter smiled after his race. “Roland spun, I thought ‘oh great, try and feather the clutch and nurse it’, but he just pipped me by less than half a car length over the line. That was a stonker.”
“I had exactly the same problem [as in race one], the gearbox leaking oil onto the clutch. It sort of got a bit better but then the last lap it was really bad. I thought ‘I don’t care if it ruins the clutch, it’s b******d anyway’, so decided to carry on! Roland’s just got the power down the straights, just left me for dead. He’s got about twice the size of engine in his. I was just trying to make every little count in the corners.”
MGCC Lackford Engineering Midget & Sprite Challenge
Stephen Watkins entered this Silverstone meeting with a 100% record in the 2023 Midget & Sprite Challenge but this round proved a tough one for him as he missed the opening race after damaging his MG Midget early in qualifying.
Martin Morris started that race from pole though, as expected, reigning champion Pippa Cow leapt into the lead in her nimble Sprite. However, the Midget of David Weston – racing for the first time in two years – took the lead from Pippa on the inside of Copse at the start of the second lap and stayed in front to win. It was a most significant win for Weston because with his victory he won the Ted Reeve Memorial Trophy: he was Reeve’s mechanic for 17 years and also made the trophy!
Pippa was second home and Class E winner not far ahead of Richard Bridge while Barnaby Collinson beat fellow MG Midget runner Hugh Simpson in Class D, which also earned Collinson Driver of the Race. Mark Turner in his Austin-Healey Sprite won the new Historic class which is growing in popularity.
Watkins, complete with some new fibreglass, was back for race two the following day and charged through from the back of the grid to challenge Weston for the lead. However, on the final lap Watkins pulled out to pass Weston on the pit straight and collected James Wheeler from the BCV8 championship (which was sharing the track with the Midgets and Sprites) who was attempting an overtaking manoeuvre. The clash, for which Watkins held up his hands, accounted for Wheeler, Watkins and Weston as well as Jason Meredith’s Class E Midget. It all let the close-at-hand Morris through to win. Morris also got the Driver of the Race award.
Pippa pipped Bridge to double up in Class E, while Collinson and Turner also took their second wins of the weekend in their classes.
Watkins said: “Both times, stupid mistakes from me. I took the wrong line in practice into the Loop. I spent all day yesterday fixing [the car], lots of fibreglassing. We were working on it until about 23.00hrs. And race two was going great until we had a coming together.”
“I was lining up behind Dave to overtake him. As I pulled out to go past Dave, I caught Wheeler. The BCV8s are just so much quicker in a straight line but I should have seen him. These things happen and the car’s not too bad. I’ve got a spare bonnet and the rest of it isn’t too difficult to fix.”
MGCC BCV8 Championship
The battle at the front in BCV8 races was between Neil Fowler in his MG B GT and James Wheeler, now back in his Class D MG B V8. They ran in tandem out front in the first race with Fowler ahead as they climbed through the Midget & Sprite pack that started ahead of them on a split grid.
Fowler remained ahead until the last lap when Wheeler got by to win. Fowler had been struggling with his gearbox though Wheeler had his own concerns about overheating.
Andrew Young in his MG C GT was third home and a comfortable Class C winner while Stuart Dickinson in his MG A Twin Cam was an equally comfortable Class I winner.
The second race was a similar tale as Fowler and Wheeler again broke clear from their fellow BCV8s and climbed through the Midget & Sprite pack together. However, the battle concluded in unfortunate circumstances on the final lap when Wheeler had Midget & Sprite frontrunner, Stephen Watkins, who was in his own battle, pull out in front of him on the pit straight. The resultant clash put Wheeler out. Fowler, ahead of the fracas, won.
Young was second home and again won Class C just ahead of class rival Oliver Wardle in his MG B GT V8. Dickinson again comfortably won Class I and Young got Driver of the Race.
Wheeler said: “The win in the first one was cracking, winning on the last lap, loved it, great race with Neil. It was all about managing temperatures. And then that second race, again temperatures. I was having to manage them and Neil was managing a gearbox problem.”
“Getting Neil on the last lap [of race one] was mega, because I thought he had the better of me in that race. I’ve got to learn to get that thing off the line, because if I got in front I’d stay in front.“In race two one of the Midgets pulled out on me, that’s got to be 130, 140mph down there. So it felt like a bit of a NASCAR crash as I was spinning down the main straight. But everyone’s alright, we all shook hands. We’re all gentlemen. He didn’t jink out on purpose. He’s obviously not looked in his mirrors but at the same time we’re coming quite fast. He’s held his hands up to it but I can’t get angry with him, it’s not the way MG people are. We live to fight another day.”
MGCC MG Cup
MG Cup’s Silverstone double header had a new look. Matt Simpson was back in the category in his Rover Tomcat after a year away and won both races. And in both he was chased gamely in second by Chris Boulton who, at last, had his new Class C MG ZR 190 running competitively. Boulton previously was a long-time competitor in a 170.
Simpson led all the way in race one, beating Bolton home by just under seven seconds and also received the Driver of the Race award.
Dan Ludlow was just behind Boulton in third and won Class B in his ZR 170 beating reigning class champion, and Chris’s cousin, Ian Boulton.
Race two’s story was similar. Simpson again dominated from pole and Chris Boulton was second but this time the gap was some 16 seconds. Jack Chapman in his MG ZR 170 was a close third and won Class B ahead of Ludlow and Ian Boulton. Craig Bayston meanwhile got Driver of the Race having climbed to finish P6 in his MG ZS.
Simpson said: “The car’s got really good pace and I knew if I got out in front and started picking off some of the Cockshoot cars [which it shared the grid with the MG Cup] that would slow Chris Boulton down so it was a real big push at the beginning.”
“I’ve come here without having done too much to the car in the past two years, aside from race it here last year. No new tyres or anything. I’ve done it on a small budget this year, old tyres, just spanner checked it and hoped for the best.”
Simpson’s dominant double was not without its problems though. “I’ve been dealing with a fuel pressure issue around slow corners so getting out front was important so that I could manage it,” he explained. “And then towards the end of the race, no tyres, oil pressure on the floor, I could smell burning oil. I couldn’t wait for that chequered flag!
“It’s [Silverstone] close to home and is a perfect circuit for the Tomcat. It’s just a shame to have the car sitting in the back of the workshop. So I give it a birthday every year and bring it out.”
Boulton meanwhile explained of the conspicuous improvement of his 190: “The car’s just not been feeling right and a bit underpowered, and it turned out that it had the wrong throttle bodies on it. So we got that sorted and this is the first time it’s been out. We didn’t get much testing on it, but out of the box it’s flying. You can always improve your driving but if the car’s good to start with we’ve got half a chance of getting somewhere.”
Luckiest man of the race must have been Paul Rigg, after the flywheel on a ZS became detached and a rather large chunk of it pierced the MGF’s windscreen, hit Paul on the shoulder and embedded itself in the rear bulkhead. We wish Paul and the car a speedy recovery. Equally lucky was Alan Forster whose Montego Estate was also struck by a piece of the flywheel. The impact, right in front of the driver, thankfully did not pierce the windscreen.
MGCC Cockshoot Cup Championship
MGF Cup car enthusiast Mark Wright in his ex-Vince Martin Morris-Diamond machine – switching from the ex-Warren Hughes version he raced at Oulton Park – was dominant on pace in Silverstone’s Cockshoot Cup double header. Chris Greenbank in his uprated-for-2023 MGF, in which he looked potent at Oulton Park’s season opener, was Wright’s closest challenger and chased hard in second and left the rest behind.
Late in the first race though both Wright and Greenbank retired almost simultaneously – Wright because a crank nut loosened and Greenbank had driveshaft failure. This let Keith Egar in his Midget through to win.
Reigning champion David Morrison was comfortable Class B winner while John Payne, second in Class B in his Austin-Healey Sprite, got Driver of the Race. Karl Green was third home overall after being disqualified from qualifying for passing under yellows.
Paul Wignall in his MG ZR was clear winner in Class A while Phil Rigby in his MGF was also a clear Class F victor.
Wright and Greenbank kept going until the end of race two to take P1 and P2 respectively. Wright – who also got Driver of the Race – beat Greenbank by 25s, and Greenbank was 10s clear of Morrison, again the Class B winner in third overall. Wignall and Rigby also doubled up as class winners.
Wright said: “We’ve had a fraught season really with the various cars we’ve been out in. Some seasons just don’t link together.
“It’s the first time I’ve driven this car in its present state. So really pleased with how it was handling out the box and while we set it up last year we were late getting the engine and getting it al put together this week. We didn’t have much set-up time on it.
“Race one was unfortunate – we had a bolt break and it caused something else and that caused something else. That’s racing cars but we’ve got a great engine builder, Paul from Exon, and he came over and checked everything was alright. We wanted his professionalism on the job. So it was like ‘it’s down to me now’. And it’s great for MGFs, it’s a great little race car.”
MGCC MG Trophy Championship
A significant figure from the past returned to the MG Trophy. In 2021 Fred Burgess was a consistent frontrunner in Class A and finished 3rd overall in the championship. Racing for the first time in 18 months, he was immediately back in the groove and won both Silverstone races.
Having started race one in P2, Burgess got past poleman Adam Jackson at the start of lap two and moved clear to win by five seconds. Jackson then headed a close three-way battle for second with Graham Ross and Doug Cole which was went in Ross’s favour when he passed Jackson at Becketts at half distance and Cole span out at Vale on the final lap. Cole recovered to a distant fourth but got some recompense with the Driver of the Race award.
Tylor Ballard won Class B, beating Fergus Campbell by 2.2s, while Ballard’s closest challenger, James Cole, dropped out with a broken damper.
Race two was much closer at the front as Jackson sorted his race one overheating problems with a radiator change. He passed Burgess to lead early on when Burgess missed a gear but Burgess was soon back ahead for a lead he kept to the flag. Jackson maintained his challenge until the final lap when he slowed as a CV boot blew filling the cab with smoke. He still finished P2.
Ross and Doug Cole both dropped out mid race, with alternator and gear linkage problems respectively.
Ballard pipped James Cole for Class B honours, though Cole made it a family double by getting the Driver of the Race award.
Burgess said: “Adam put me under a lot of pressure. I knew if I could keep it together and not miss my gears and not make silly mistakes I’d have a good chance. He was right behind me for most of the race so I was never comfortable but it was a really enjoyable race. I’m pleased to come back and be competitive straight away.”
“I think I will do Snetterton, we’ll see how we go, and I’ll probably be back next year for a full assault on the championship. I was a little bit rusty but enjoyed it. It makes you not want to stop.”
Equipe 70s | Pre ’63 | 50s
Equipe’s range of 40-minute pitstop races featuring at Silverstone started with its 70s, Pre ’63 and 50s contest. And it was won by Grahame Bryant in his Morgan Plus 8. Bryant, who hadn’t been in the car for a while, was cautious in qualifying and started only fifth but in the race he rose rapidly to lead by the third lap. He stayed in a net first place for the rest of the way, helped by a conveniently timed pitstop just before the safety car was deployed.
Steve Dance in his Ford Capri was always close behind Bryant though and the pair indeed swapped the lead when green flag racing resumed. Bryant re-established command however and the race was stopped a few minutes early after Alex Quattlebaum’s Leco Sport pulled off at Becketts then Richard Hywel-Evans’ Porsche 911 went off on his oil.
Richard Dafyd’s Lotus 11 was third home and the first 50s car, while Mark Holme’s Austin-Healey topped the Pre ’63 runners.
Equipe’s Libre race had a packed 60-car entry and Mike Whitaker won out from pole in his TVR Griffith. He had a close challenge from David Methley’s AC Cobra but Whitaker was handed a lead of upwards of a minute under a mid-race caution when the safety car picked up the cars behind Whitaker’s. That let Whitaker cruise to victory in the short period of green flag racing that remained while Methley was second home just ahead of Christian Douglas’s fellow TVR Griffith and Bruce White’s Lotus Elan 26R.
Tom Smith surprised himself by winning Equipe’s 55-car GTS race in his MG B Roadster. Smith assumed his car’s relative shortage of straightline speed would be punished on the vast and open Silverstone Historic Grand Prix track. His strategy was to stay away from other cars so not to be eaten up on the straights and that included making his compulsory stop early.
He was also aided by ex MG Trophy champion and pole sitter, Sam Kirkpatrick, leaving the contest early. Kirkpatrick had a poor start in his Roadster and then, on the second lap, his car started to feel strange at Becketts so he slowed but come the Loop the problem revealed itself as a front hub shearing, leaving him stranded with three wheels. This heralded a safety car intervention which wiped out Smith’s early race advantage, much to his chagrin. Yet Smith’s strategy worked as he was still ahead at the flag, though throughout he had the TVR Grantura of Lee Atkins – returning after nine months away – not far in arrears.
Equipe Super Libre
Mike Whitaker took his second race win of the meeting in his TVR Griffith in Equipe’s Super Libre race. It looked like he would have to give best to Nick Whale’s Ford Escort Mk II who led from pole and built a lead of 12 seconds over the chasing Whitaker.
However Whale’s mid-race pitstop proved a lengthy one due to an exhaust problem and, although he eventually resumed and continued to lap quickly, he had lost a lap to Whitaker who won with Whale a distant 10th.
Oliver and William Pratt’s Morgan Plus 8 and John Tordoff’s Lotus Elan 26R completed the podium.
GT & Sports Car Club
The two-day meeting concluded with GT & Sports Car Club’s season-opening 90-minute pitstop contest that, in contrast to the brilliant sunshine that characterised the meeting, was run in gathering heavy cloud threatening thunderstorms that never in fact arrived.
Polesitters James and Graeme Dodd were well on top in the Jaguar E-type and dominated contest but lost victory with two pitlane speeding drivethrough penalties, the second offence committed while serving the first sanction.
This let fellow E-type runners John and Gary Pearson through to win, while the Dodds duo were classified third after the race was stopped a few minutes early due to lightning. They’d just passed the E-type shared by Richard Kent and GT ace Joe Osborne for second, but the places were swapped back on the countback.
The next MGCC race meeting is scheduled for Cadwell Park on 30th July 2023.
Race Report by Graham Keilloh. Photographs by Dickon Siddall