Club col­umn: Mar­cus Pye

While the Bir­kett Re­lay is a source of con­stant fas­ci­na­tion, per­haps it’s time to con­sider tar­get­ing lapsed com­peti­tors in more-ven­er­a­ble ma­chin­ery

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - MAR­CUS PYE


Among the fas­ci­na­tions of the 750 Mo­tor Club’s Bir­kett Six Hour Re­lay race, first run at Sil­ver­stone in Au­gust 1951, is its con­stant propen­sity to sur­prise. In this year’s 68th edi­tion – there were two in 2000 – com­peti­tors from 66 teams faced the chal­lenge of For­mula 1’s Bri­tish Grand Prix cir­cuit, with the 90-de­gree exit from Vale, in­stead of the His­toric ver­sion of re­cent sea­sons. Cue re­cal­cu­la­tions in the handicapping of­fice, for all os­ten­si­bly start with an equal op­por­tu­nity of land­ing the cov­eted prize, and some cars brake and cor­ner bet­ter than oth­ers.

The great di­ver­sity that was the norm a decade ago, when Austin Sev­ens from the club’s roots, chain-driven Frazer Nashes and For­mula 750 cars squared up to AC Co­bras, a Porsche 935 clone or two and hordes of mar­que teams, was on the slide from the mo­ment the race switched from the In­ter­na­tional track to the 3.66-mile lay­out. While ag­ile high-down­force Suzuki Hayabusa-en­gined Rad­i­cal SR3S, tur­bocharged Subaru-pow­ered Sak­ers and po­tent be­winged TCR SEATS tra­verse the Beck­etts flick-flack with rel­ish, and meaty BMW E46 M3s en­joy the blast to Stowe, sus­tained high revs on the long Han­gar Straight can fin­ish off el­derly rolling stock.

As I drove over the in­field bridge on Satur­day, two long lines of cars to my right were un­der­go­ing noise test­ing and pre­par­ing to join the Welling­ton Straight for the open­ing prac­tice ses­sion. It struck me that they were fac­ing the op­po­site way to those who raced on the mon­ster run­way that linked Stowe and Copse cor­ners on the track used in 1951. So com­ing face to face with Steve Allen’s 1928 Bent­ley 4½-litre spe­cial – David Turner’s mount in the win­ning VSCC team that day – out­side race con­trol in the pad­dock was a joy.

The cur­rent race is not short of va­ri­ety, as Austin A30 to Dodge Dart and Citroen C1 to Ariel Atom at­tested in mixed equipes. The Cater­ham hordes of pre­vi­ous years had no­tice­ably re­treated, with Honda Civic Type Rs and BMWS in the as­cen­dant, but two teams of VW Fun Cup cars joined the mis­cel­lany for the first time. Ac­cus­tomed to jostling round Spa for 25 hours at the pin­na­cle of their en­durance pro­grammes, the Audi-en­gined tube­frame Beetle clones should find six a ver­i­ta­ble breeze.

A tour of the pits re­vealed some ea­ger new­bies amid vet­er­ans for whom the Bir­kett re­mains the sea­son’s‘must-do’(and in some cases only) event. Ex-for­mula 3000 ace and 1990 Fford Fes­ti­val win­ner Dave Coyne was look­ing for­ward to ex­er­cis­ing Chris Comp­ton-god­dard’s newly im­ported Fer­rari 430, the tal­ented Ab­bie Ea­ton – a race leader at July’s Sil­ver­stone Clas­sic in dad Paul’s gruff Holden Com­modore – sad­dled a BMW M3, and teenager Max Lynn (younger brother of As­ton Martin WEC racer Alex) was Cater­ham 7-mounted, fol­low­ing the lead of His­toric ace fa­ther Shaun who cut his rac­ing teeth in them.

Sadly there was only one Club­mans squad, and even The De­fib­ril­la­tors was forced to di­ver­sify into Rad­i­cal ter­ri­tory to ‘neu­tralise’their hand­i­cap in the al­most un­think­able ab­sence of Chris Hart’s ri­val Hart At­tacks. The Bir­kett with­out the Hart At­tacks – to which the late Justin Fo­ley and I were co-opted at a very wet Snet­ter­ton in the 1990s, and helped se­cure the scratch win – is like Christ­mas with­out a tree, al­though the front-en­gined sports-rac­ers’small fuel tank­age is a ma­jor (un­der­com­pen­sated?) hand­i­cap when some of the quick­est ma­chines can run way over an hour flat-out.

The race’s in­ter-ser­vices el­e­ment has grown over the past decade or so. Four com­peted this year: the Armed Forces Race Chal­lenge team of Mark In­man (Vaux­hall VX220), Stan Palmer (Honda Civic Type R), Trevor Han­cock (Peu­geot 206 GTI) and Martyn Hath­away (Mini Cooper S) fin­ished sev­enth on hand­i­cap, pre­vail­ing over three-time win­ners and reign­ing cham­pion RAFMSA, which wound up 15th in the Royal Air Force’s cen­te­nary. Royal Navy Royal Marines and Army Sports Car Rac­ing will surely up their games in 2019.

As more so­phis­ti­cated cars have joined in, many team sizes have shrunk from six driv­ers to three or four be­cause own­ers want more track time or to max­imise stints. Of course this can bite them through me­chan­i­cal drama or in­ci­dent, the avoid­ance of which de­mands seam­less con­cen­tra­tion in con­stant traf­fic and chang­ing weather con­di­tions like Satur­day’s. But it was good to see the Red Ras­cal squad win­ning the blue-riband hand­i­cap prize with a fleet of three BMW E46 M3s each shared by two driv­ers in the spirit of the com­pe­ti­tion. And the Cupra Rac­ing boys pi­loted their front-wheel-drive TCR SEATS bril­liantly to pip the top Rad­i­cal team to scratch gold in a photo fin­ish.

Per­haps the 750MC’S 80th An­niver­sary could be cel­e­brated with two Bir­kett Relays at Sil­ver­stone next year… Rather than weed out the fastest cars (and risk alien­at­ing re­peat cus­tomers al­ready look­ing to 2019), how about a sec­ond one on the Na­tional Cir­cuit, tar­get­ing the type of cars that com­peted in the races of yore – at cir­cuits as far afield as Thrux­ton and Don­ing­ton – re-en­gag­ing lapsed com­peti­tors who might re­turn given smaller speed dif­fer­en­tials? Just a thought from a fan.

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