Postcard from Cheshire

Proof there’s only so many Bathurst 1000kms re-runs you can watch…. it was great to visit my local track Oulton Park, for their first meeting of 2011, a co-promotion between The Masters race series and Motorsport Vision, on Saturday March 5th.


Set in rural, South Western Cheshire, Oulton Park saw service during World War II as a displaced persons camp, where both General Patten and boxer Joe Louis were visitors, before being converted by the Cheshire District Motor Club, from the Oulton Estate… into Oulton Park. The hastily prepared circuit opened on August 8th 1953, with F3 racer Don Truman, the inaugural winner and fittingly 58 years on, retired Clerk of the Course and BRDC member Don, recently celebrated his 89th birthday. After the British Grand Prix, one of the biggest race meetings of the year, was the Oulton Park Gold Cup, where Australian tin–top, F5000 and GT racer Frank Gardner, was a regular contender and the “gate” exceeded 40,000.


With just 5 races and somewhat depleted grids, it was a surprise to see a very healthy attendance….had they all come to see Roberto Moreno? “Super-sub” last raced at Oulton Park 29 years ago and was invited by Masters series President, Ron Maydon, to share his Mini Cooper in the 2 driver, Pre’66 Touring car race, for the Avenue Trophy. The affable Moreno, willingly posed for photographs and signed autographs, surprised at how many people recognised him and more so, knew of his British F3, CART and F1 career. Sadly the Brazilian’s first historic race lasted just 2 laps, as he succumbed to mechanical maladies…..


Winner of the Pre ’66 tin top race, was a historical name in International motorsport – Alan Mann Racing (AMR). Based close to Surrey pre-war circuit Brooklands, Mann initially prepared and entered Ford Zephyr’s in 1962, before graduating to the now infamous, red and gold liveried Cortina GT’s. In 1965, with AC Cobra creator, Carroll Shelby and Ferrari Owners Club GB President, Jack Sears on the driving squad, the team clinched both the World GT Championship and the European Touring Car Championship, whilst 1967 and 1968, brought back to back British Saloon Car Championship titles, with Falcon’s and Escort’s and GT competition with the Ford GT40 and F3L. AMR returned to historic racing in 2004, initially running a Mustang for former team driver, Sir John Whitmore Bt, and has continued to enter historic saloon races since…Oulton Park marked Alan’s son, Henry’s first race win, driving solo and superbly in a Lotus Cortina….. he continues AMR’s success.       


Several World Sportscar Masters regular’s have new mounts for 2011 – including Marcus Mussa (McLaren M1B) and Frank and Michael Lyons (Lola T70MK3BGT), so the race for the “Knickerbrook Trophy”, was likely to be hotly contested between them and local brothers, Jason and Guy Minshaw (Chevron B8), Mike Wrigley (Chevron B16), and race preparation specialists Chris Fox (Lola T210) and Simon Hadfield (Huffaker Genie). The Minshaw’s received a drive through penalty for jumping the start, Wrigley and Fox came together at Island Bend and Hadfield’s steering seized…… all of which meant, that after a charge through the field, the diminutive Chevron B8 won.


So, a low key start to the season, some great racing and the prospect of seeing more than one “name from the past”, in Ron Maydon’s Mini during the year…..Alesi, Arnoux, Warwick,Watson? From an “armchair perspective” - hopefully Tom Kristensen can win the upcoming Sebring 12 hrs for a record sixth time, Michael Schumacher’s testing pace is indicative of his race speed and Robert Kubica returns to full health, as quickly as possible. Next stop for me, is another season opener, the Vintage Sports Car Club’s Silverstone, “Spring Start” meeting…hot soup and electric blankets anyone?