No let up in MGCC action over two days at Snetterton

The MG Car Club gathered at a bright Snetterton 300 circuit for the second of the club’s three race meetings in 2020. with the Norfolk meeting being held over two days.

There was no parallel dilution in the intensity of the action though as six MGCC categories were present, and they were supplemented again by sizeable and varied Equipe grids plus two guest races for the Aero Racing Morgan Challenge. And there was plenty going on in all of them.

MGCC MG Cup supported by Peter Best Insurance

In the MG Cup’s Snetterton contest we at last got what we had been keenly anticipating all season: a straight fight out front between the evenly matched Metros of Mike Williams and reigning Metro Cup champion Jack Ashton.

We had to wait another race to get this though as Ashton missed the first counter thanks to an oil seal coming off. Williams won that race but it was far from simple as his newly fitted rear wheels had not been torqued fully. He went as quickly as he dared to beat the returning Peter Burchill’s ZS 180 (pictured above) by just 0.333 seconds.

Dennis Robinson was third home in his MG ZR 170, taking the place and the Class B victory after champion Richard Buckley slid his 170 off at Oggies late on. Robinson also got Driver of the Race while his son Carl took Class A victory in his ZR 160.

The Williams vs Ashton battle was fully joined in race two, and it was worth the wait. Williams led from the line but Ashton was quickly by and established some breathing space over Williams. But Ashton was using a new tyre compound and found his initial grip fell away meaning Williams closed and overtook. But shortly afterwards Williams had a massive moment – wherein Ashton noted Williams “almost killed himself…I think he was opposite lock three different times!” – that let Ashton back past. Williams reclaimed the lead at Riches late on and crossed the line first, but got a five-second track-limits penalty that handed Ashton the win.

It didn’t affect either driver’s relish of the battle though. “A fantastic race,” Williams beamed. “The back end was all over the shop, I had trouble trying to keep it on the road, that was the cause of the time penalty. But it doesn’t really matter because the race we had it was just absolutely immense.

“Nothing happened for me in the first race. I went round as slow as I possibly could to keep the lead. That [race two] has more than made up for it. It goes to show the racing we’re having, you win one race and you can’t even compare it to the race you’ve just come second in. That’s how it is – you come for the fun!”

Ashton concurred: “Epic race, loved it,” he said. “Got some nice grip for about five laps then all of a sudden it went to really bad jelly tyres. That’s when Mike started to reel me in quite quickly. He’d gone off a couple of times after he got the black-and-white flag, then I saw them holding the board out and I knew exactly what it was. I’d probably try to battle with him [without the penalty], but I wasn’t going to stop him, he was on fire, he was pushing that thing like you wouldn’t believe.”

Buckley this time got Class B win in fourth, just ahead of Carl Robinson who took the Class A win and got a Driver of the Race award of his own. Dennis Robinson this time suffered from lost revs with a suspected VVC Unit problem.

MGCC Lackford Engineering MG Midget & Sprite Challenge

Richard Wildman in his Midget took a double win at Snetterton and with it totalled four wins from four in 2020. As at Donington Park’s season-opening round though Wildman benefited from David Morrison hitting technical problems. Morrison took pole at Snetterton but his meeting was ended by a broken stub axle before the opening race lap was completed.

“I know I’ve been gifted because the main competition had bad luck,” Wildman said, referring mainly to Morrison. “[He’s] a good bloke to race with, I’m looking forward to taking the battle to him.”

In the first race Wildman was still being cautious with his brakes, which also had bothered him at Donington, but he held off the battling fellow-Midget pair Martin Morris and Michael Chalk to win. Morris spun at mid-distance but battled back to pip Chalk for second on the final lap; Chalk nevertheless got Driver of the Race.

Morris recalled: “I spun and then I thought I’ve got nothing to lose, I think I could have been with Richard if I hadn’t spun.”

Richard Perry returned in his Sprite to claim Class E win, his battle with Pippa Cow getting resolved when Cow had an excursion at Murrays. Philip Stader beat Mike Henney to the Class I win while Edward Easton beat Mark Witherspoon to the Class D honours.

Race two was a bit more straightforward for Wildman as he moved clear of Morris to win by 9.2s despite a safety car period, while Perry, Stader and Easton all doubled up on their class wins. Ian Burgin coming second in the Class E contest, just holding off Robin Lackford, got Burgin the Driver of the Race prize.

Wildman in race two had even sorted his brake issues – indeed he made the fix on the go!

“They were locking up in the [first] race,” Wildman continued, “when I managed to get a decent lead I used it as a bit of a test session and I’ve got a remote brake bias so I was messing with that. In the second race it seemed to work and I felt a lot more in control of it. I’m happy with the car now.”

MGCC BCV8 Championship

Ollie Neaves at Snetterton continued his imperious BCV8 championship form shown in Donington’s season-opener in his newly overhauled Class D MGB GT V8. He won both Snetterton races to make it four victories from four this year.

Neaves first set a stunning pole time on 2m04.939s, some 2.7 seconds quicker than Russell McCarthy’s time next up. And race one followed in that vein as Neaves led from the off with McCarthy chasing but unable to get within reach. This was despite a safety car interruption caused by Ronald Watt rolling his Roadster at Murrays, fortunately without injury.

Neil Fowler started at the back of the 26-car field after he found that for qualifying his distributor cap was not connected, and come the race he made fine progress to finish third, getting Driver of the Race with it.

Steve Wells beat Jim Bryan to Class C victory, while Mark Scott in his Roadster got the Class B win, not far ahead of Babak Farsian, and Russell McAngus pipped Simon Tinkler to Class AB honours.

Race two was a similar story, with Neaves leading all the way and the chasing McCarthy only just about clinging on, and it got Neaves an additional double of Driver of the Race and Saturday’s Driver of the Day. He wasn’t without problems though in the latter part of race two. “Every time I went round a left-hander the car was filling with smoke,” Neaves noted. “There’s a lot of oil coming from the rear gearbox oil seal.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend. My qualifying time, it’s still unbelievable even to me, I’ve not been able to get anywhere near it in the race. The car’s been absolutely faultless, I’m so pleased with it.”

Neaves between rounds also sorted the brakes that had troubled him in the first meeting, plus his fears of making poor starts didn’t come to pass. “Just changing some minor geometry on the rear suspension has just enabled it to launch off the line,” Neaves continued. “It’s how this goes: if you stand still you go backwards.”

And McCarthy knows the challenge for him now is to get with Neaves. “It’s quite a big learning curve for me,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the driver [causing the gap] just yet! I just need to figure out a way of getting the power that I’ve got onto the track. For the last five or six years I’ve not done anything to the car to make it go quicker because there’s been no need. Competition drives you on! That’s what good about this championship.”

Bryan this time beat Wells to the Class C win, while Scott and McAngus doubled up on their class victories. We didn’t however get to see another Fowler climb through the field, as contact with the rear of Howard Grundon’s MGB GT V8 ended his race early.

MGCC Cockshoot Cup

The Cockshoot Cup travelled far from its north-west base for this one and was racing for the first time ever on Snetterton’s 300 circuit as well as was visiting the Norfolk track in any configuration for the first time in two decades.

The track was therefore unfamiliar to many of its competitors, and there was an unusual result as Keith Egar – coming to this meeting having never won a race and never having been to Snetterton – left with two victories!

“It’s took me 55 years to get one race win and I get two in the same day!” Egar smiled. “The first two or three laps [at Snetterton] felt very alien but I soon got into it. The infield really suits the Midget, tight and twisty, and it all came together. It’s [the ECU] been mapped this week and it’s made all the difference. It was the longest 20 minutes of my life when I was in the lead [of race one]!”

Egar led all the way from pole in race one, while Karl Green’s ZS 180 rose from starting 10th, due to a qualifying piston problem, to finish second and it also got Green the Driver of the Race.

Mike Peters in his Midget finished third and got the Class B win, and he was just ahead of Class F winner Brian Butler whose VVC was not far ahead of class rival Christopher Greenbank in his TF 160. Paul Wignall in his ZR 160 won the Class A contest.

Butler challenged Egar closely in race two, and led him briefly after Egar had a swift off-track moment at Hamilton on lap one – Egar admitted he was “daydreaming”. Egar was soon back ahead but Butler chased him home to finish as runner-up within three seconds of him, an effort that got Butler both Driver of the Race and Sunday’s Driver of the Day. Green was unable to challenge this time due to an apparent recurrence of his piston problem, though he did press his smoky ZS 180 to the end to ensure class points. Peters and Wignall again took the class wins. 

MGCC Drayton Manor Park MG Metro Cup

Mark Eales in the Metro Cup was another to find race wins at Snetterton like London buses, as he took his first ever victory and then immediately bagged another.

He led all of race one to win comfortably while David Javes, his closest pursuer, first slowed then stopped with his exhaust detaching. Jon Moore finished second for his first podium result and got Driver of the Race.

Race two was an entertaining place-swapping victory fight between Eales and Javes. Eales led initially but Javes shadowed him then passed at the unusual spot of Williams. Eales stayed with him though and re-took the lead at Agostini a few laps later, and kept the place to the end.

And for Eales it made up for a so-near-and-yet-so-far round one. “Donington: second place and then led the race [two] and broke down, a seized wheel bearing,” Eales recalled. “Last time I come here [Snetterton], 2018, I was quite quick, up with the Ashtons. Two pole positions, two wins, first win and then got another one straight after, so I’m really happy.

“I said a big thank you to him [Javes], because it makes it all the more exciting, especially when you win! That’s what you want, have a bit of a battle and come out on top. With Dave being there it really pushed me. I thought he was going to disappear when he got past but luckily it came back.”

Javes was of like mind: “I just couldn’t keep up there [in first], but [a] good battle, this is what it’s all about. Mark was better on some corners than me and I was better on others.”

Tim Shooter, a Donington winner, started both races well down after a spin then his tyre getting off the rim in qualifying, and in race one he dropped out with a gearbox problem. Come race two though he rose from ninth to finish third and got Driver of the Race.

“It was hard work definitely,” Shooter said, “everybody in the midfield is so quick, it’s unreal. Nobody’s giving us an inch but we’re pretty clean so it was good.”

MGCC MG Trophy

The MG Trophy had an extraordinary start with none of the pacesetting Class A runners getting beyond race one’s opening lap. First Ross Makar had a clutch problem keeping him from the fray, then poleman Fred Burgess (pictured above) had a driveshaft break when reaching the grid. Patrick Booth then had a rod go through the block and pitted at the end of lap one.

This gave the unprecedented scenario of the Class B MG ZR 170s battling for the overall win, and it looked like Tylor Ballard would take it as he held the pursuing Adam Jackson at arm’s length.  However, late on, Joshua Bacon’s radiator blew at Oggies and Ballard spun on dropped coolant. “I was the guinea pig, I was the first one round,” Ballard rued. “I went round [spun] three or four times so was quite dizzy! Overall win, you don’t get many opportunities to see the chequered flag.”

This let Jackson by to win and he got Driver of the Race too. Ballard recovered to finish second while the returning Paul Croker was Class C winner. And Jackson was gracious afterwards. “[Ballard] was just faultless. I thought I could just match his lap times, then he got unlucky with the slippery surface.”

Burgess and Makar were back for race two and contested the win. Burgess looked reasonably comfortable in first initially but Makar closed in thrillingly in the late laps, with Burgess hobbled by a vibration from a damaged front-left tyre, but on the last lap Makar spun at Agostini trying to pass.

“Maybe I was over-ambitious but it seemed he came across over a little bit more after picked his line, and I didn’t want to hit him so just locked up and lost it,” Makar said. Makar also had already a head gasket go but he pressed on for victory regardless. “I thought why not!,” Makar added.

Burgess said: “Really pleased. The tyre is completely down to the threads so I was going round Coram at about 40mph thinking something’s to break. But Ross had a little spin which let me off the hook.

“I knew I had good pace, Ross is a quick driver but I was confident that if I managed to get off the line I could hold him, but it was just difficult at the end. I was quite lucky to get the win.”

Ballard got some consolation by taking his freshman class win, recovering from a poor start and passing Jackson for the lead with an on-the-edge move. “[It was] scary,” Ballard admitted, “I didn’t think it was going to stick, had to take to the grass to avoid him…” Ballard got Driver of the Race too. John Donnelly was Class C victor, with Crocker dropping out with what he suspected was a clutch problem – his first mechanical failure in four years!

Equipe GTS

Mark Ashworth in his TVR Grantura won both Equipe GTS races to make it three wins in a row in the category. Race one’s poleman and early leader Lee Atkins in his Grantura pulled out with a suspected head gasket problem, which left Ashworth battling with Allan Ross-Jones’s Triumph TR4 in a tight place-swapping fight for the win. Ashworth made the decisive move for first when Ross-Jones made a mistake exiting Agostini.

“Poor Lee pulled off, there was fluid coming from underneath his car so I backed off, [and] Alan dived through,” Ashworth said. “We had a battle, and then we caught up with some backmarkers and I managed to just get him on the infield – very exciting. He’s got more power but it’s a heavy old bus, this [the Grantura] is very light and nimble.”

Ashworth and Ross-Jones took up battle again in race two. Ashworth got the lead at half distance by passing Ross-Jones on the outside of Riches. Ross-Jones fell away and then stopped as his front-left wheel kept locking, possibly due to a wheel bearing problem. Mark Holme in his MGB then chased Ashworth hard and finished within two seconds of the victorious Grantura.

“It’s going well, one more round at Silverstone and I’ll be a pleased boy!,” Ashworth concluded.

Equipe Libre

Equipe has introduced a new Libre format, open to a wider mix of cars than the existing GTS, Pre ’63 and ’50 categories, and the first Libre race took place at Snetterton. Jeremy Welch followed by fellow Austin Healey runner Mark Holme were the first two to the chequered flag after a close chase between the pair containing plenty of Healey-typical opposite lock.

Trouble was brewing for both however. The safety car was brought out earlier in the race when Bernado Hartogs’ Ford GT40, who’d been chasing leader Welch, lost a wheel and got stranded. Both Welch and Holme made their mandatory pitstops under the caution, but did so just before the pit window opened. Sure enough, they both got three-lap penalties for their misdemeanours meaning third-on-the-road Robin Ellis in his Lotus Elite, who’d just resisted a recovering Lotus Elan of Stephen Bond in the run to the line, was awarded the win. Bond had dropped to 15th place after pitting a lap later than most rivals under the safety car.

“My team had held out 12 minutes [for the pit window] for me, and I did a really slow lap so we could come in hopefully in time,” Welch said. Holme added: “Jeremy’s my mentor so I just decided to follow him in.” Ellis added before the penalty was confirmed: “For the little Elite to be in the top three is pleasing anyway”.

Equipe Pre ’63 / Pre ’50

Fun Cup regular Mark Holme in his Austin Healey won the opening race for pre ’66 and pre ’50 cars. He fell behind Jack Rawles’s Healey at the start but was soon by and won comfortably from Rawles with Jeremy Welch making it a Healey 1-2-3.

“That was awesome,” Holme said, “we had some of the best Healey drivers out there and as a relative newcomer it was trying to keep these boys away. I knew if I could get in front and use the endurance mentality I could pull away a little bit.”

Bernado Hartogs in his Lotus XV then won the second race, heading a three-way victory fight that also involved Rawles and Welch, who had a frantic place-swapping battle for second on the final lap. “It was really clean,” said Rawles, “it was hard racing, but I would expect as good as I give from Jeremy, but the amount of times we were sideways and had utmost respect. It feels like a win.”

Guest races

Both Aero Racing Morgan Challenge races at Snetterton were won dominantly by Andrew Thompson in his ARV6, meaning he’s won half of the six Morgan races so far in 2020. He finished both almost a minute ahead of runner-up Simon Orebi Gann, and Orebi Gann quipped that his best hope of staying with him was attaching a rope between the two cars!

“It was a lovely run, the car was just going so well,” Thompson said. “I love Snetterton, whether we do the 200 or the 300 we always have a great day but today has been my best here, spectacular.”