Historic racing has a tendency to lead to cautious racing but the Historic final on Sunday at the Walter Hayes Trophy thrilled, with the historic FF1600 cars coming close to the performance of the modern cars.
Ben Mitchell, in Marcus Pye’s Merlyn Mk20, came within a protest’s breadth of a spot in grand final. Historic final winner Richard Tarling was third outright in his heat, and would have probably got into the main final, had he elected to contest his semi-final. Benn Simms, whose orange Jomo was the oldest car in the field at 50-years-old, had the beating of cars from the 1980s and beyond. How did this happen?
The decision by the organisers to change the cut-off for ‘Historic’ from 1989 to ’82 proved a good one. The British Racing and Sports Car Club Formula Ford 1600 series attract healthy Pre90 grids, but the Classic series hosts regular 30-car line-ups of Pre72 cars. The BRSCC Pre90 regulars were not much in evidence, but the Historic Sports Car Club drivers really starred.
Saturday’s appallingly wet weather helped. The handling characteristics of the older cars gave them an edge over their modern counterparts. “If it was dry, in reality, we wouldn’t be up in third position,” commented Tarling on Saturday.
Sunday afternoon was drier, and yet historic drivers were still flying. Grant’s best time in his semi was only 0.5 seconds below Chris Middlehurst, who set the fastest lap of the race. Middlehurst was driving a 2010 car.
Grant himself was pragmatic. “I couldn’t get it to turn in, but it was fast enough”, he said of his Merlyn.
Tarling expanded on the differences in handling between classic and modern FF1600 cars. “[The Post82 cars] probably have a slight advantage in the corners… and are a bit slower down the straight, because they’re wider. The bodywork tends to be a bit bigger, they’re sort of ’80s design. Whether they’ve got a slight advantage or not, I don’t know.”
Michael Mallock, whose Mallock U2 is front-engined and very distinctive, had this to add: “The balance is different, because the engine’s in the right place, unlike all the other cars. It is a slightly different dynamic, but it handles beautifully”.
The competitive environment of the HSCC championship also helps to create such a strong group of drivers. The 2017 series went down to the last round at Silverstone in October. Tarling won by one point from Michael O’Brien, in another Merlyn.
O’Brien, who was spectating at the WHT, due to not getting a car ready in time, chatted about their rivalry.
“On the track you can really go wheel-to-wheel, but actually, you know that the guy next to you will leave you a lot of space. I think the nice thing racing with Richard [Tarling] this season is that he always uses his head as well as I like to think I do. We always put ourselves in a position to win at the end of the race, not the start.”
All four Historic final frontrunners agreed with O’Brien. Mitchell said that he trusted and respected his rivals enough to be comfortable with them pushing him hard. After the Historic final, he was disappointed that he couldn’t capitalise on his pole position. He had let Tarling around the outside of him too many times, and Tarling had brought Mallock with him. Yet there was no bitterness or accusations thrown.
Historic FF1600 was agreed to be a major growth area in club motorsport. Nigel Grant, father of Callum and preparer of his car, was full of enthusiasm for the extremely close racing and lack of “karting tactics”.
The cars are relatively simple to set up. “You don’t have to be very precise on set-up. They have a window which they work in, so long as you’re in the window, then they work” was Tarling’s take on this.
The only problem now is rising prices due to higher demand.