Classic American



- Words and photograph­y: Steve Havelock

April 23/24, 2022

The Classic Sports Car Club’s second race meeting of the year was held at a bright, breezy and somewhat chilly Thruxton circuit in Hampshire on Saturday and Sunday, April 23 and 24. I chose to pop along on the Saturday as there were three American race cars that grabbed my attention on the entry list.

First treat was the bright red Dodge Viper of Mark East from Hungerford and Iain McBay from Kenton in Devon. Twenty years ago these Vipers were racing everywhere but I really can’t remember the last time I saw one being club raced. Mark told me: “I started racing with Iain 40 years ago but I haven’t raced for over 20 years. The kids are now moving away from home so I thought I’d do something for myself for a change and bought this, sight unseen in December 2021. It’s a 2000 ACR, the American Club Racer version. It was raced for four or five years in the States, then went to Sweden where it was used as a trackday car and ended up with a Danish Drift Champion in Denmark but he never got around to using it. It’s been dry stored and not run for maybe 15 years.”

Mark and Iain work on the car themselves and since buying it have upgraded all the safety equipment. This was the first race for the Viper and the comeback race for Mark. However, the car just wasn’t behaving itself and had fuel pump issues and then developed a misfire.

Mark said: “Not really surprising after standing idle so long. It’s definitely a dream realised to drive such an amazing machine at my local track having watched them win their class in Le Mans back in the day. And it sounds awesome.”

The other two cars both belonged to longtime racer Chris Tilly. First was his yellow 1999 Corvette C5 coupe (not a Z06) and the other, a 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra.

They were bought together as a job lot at the beginning of Covid lockdown from a racer in America who was retiring. Chris said that the ‘Vette ran in ST2 spec in the National Auto Sport Associatio­n series and has an upgraded 500bhp motor. He has since added a carbon driveshaft, larger rear brakes, diff braces, better intakes, different suspension and loads more.

He said: “I always wanted a Corvette. I am closer to 70 than 60 and developing this is my retirement project. Everything is available and we can keep developing it as much as we want or until we run out of money. It’s really involving. You’ve really got to drive it. I went for a C5 rather than a C6 because it’s got a steel chassis rather than an aluminium one. More easily repairable. I am going to put in a sequential gearbox. Round here we are only really using two gears. On the back straight we are doing nearly 160mph in fourth gear and we are not on the rev limiter. Ridiculous isn’t it?”

Chris was sharing the car with hotshoe Ben Sharich and they did one race apiece. In Ben’s race, a rear wheel worked loose and he had to retire while Chris finished 13th and said: “The ‘Vette is running well and I’m comfortabl­e driving it but I’m not getting the best out of it yet. I’ve rallied and raced loads of cars over the last 40 years but nothing comes close to the ‘Vette for putting a smile on my face.”

As for his 320bhp Mustang, Chris said: “It was built as a race car from new and was nominated by Ford as one of three cars to score points in the Motorola Cup Series in the US. It won at Sebring, Watkins Glen and Daytona. It then ran in TransAm fitted with a 500bhp motor.” Since buying it, Chris has handed driving duties to 1970s exInternat­ional motorcycle racer and more recently Mini racer Alan Lee from Norfolk who told me: “I’m now in my early seventies. This is my first time at Thruxton since racing bikes in 1978. It’s a fast circuit but it suits the Mustang. There’s a fair bit of power there and you’d get in trouble with it if you have a heavy right foot. It’s quite a heavy car so you have to think ahead and line it up for the corners. A bit like an aircraft carrier.” Alan finished 14th and 16th in his races.

Chris concluded: “Bits for the Ford are a lot cheaper than the Corvette and the Ford is very strong and much simpler to work on. It has never failed to finish a race since I’ve had it.”

It will be interestin­g to watch the developmen­t of these three cars and their enthusiast­ic owners. All good fun!

 ?? ?? Lee versus Sharich at race start.
Lee versus Sharich at race start.
 ?? ?? Mark East and Iain McBay with Dodge Viper.
Mark East and Iain McBay with Dodge Viper.
 ?? ?? Chris Tilly and Ben Sharich with Corvette C5.
Chris Tilly and Ben Sharich with Corvette C5.
 ?? ?? Alan Lee enjoying the Mustang.
Alan Lee enjoying the Mustang.
 ?? ?? Alan Lee Mustang cocks a wheel at chicane.
Alan Lee Mustang cocks a wheel at chicane.

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