28 May 2013

Manxed out at the Classic

Records fall at the 24th annual Isle of Man classic road races, as Mike Manning’s 650 bhp 4WD Ford Cosworth-Puma gently toasts the roadside verges

From a Skoda Estelle to a brand-new Porsche via a real Cobra and mint XK120, a massive mix of classics of all ages competed at three venues at this long-running event across beautiful, changing backdrops. ‘The cradle of motorsport’ has been hosting motor races since the Gordon Bennett Trophy in 1904, and closing roads for motorsport is enshrined in Manx statute. So far the only place you’ll find this luxury is in another offshore part of the British Isles, Jersey; the clue is that each is self-governing and neither is part of the UK.

The ‘Classic’ bit of the title stems from when the event, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, was open only to pre-1968 cars. But since its revival after the last foot-and-mouth stoppage in 2001, the entry criterion has moved with the times to allow in later cars – though the emphasis is still on classics with awards for pre-’41, pre-’68 and pre-’81. If it moves, the Manx Motor Racing Club will likely find a place for it.

In all, 86 cars entered the Classic spanning 89 years, from Mike Ward’s 1921 Brescia Bugatti to Simon Bates’ 2010 Ford focus ST. There were 15 classes, and entries ranged from Austin-Healeys to Vauxhalls, and included such rarities as three Frazer Nashes, a BMW Alpina B6, Talbot Sunbeam-Lotus, TVR Tuscan and Vixen, Ford GT40, Austin 7 Brooklands, MG J2 Midget, Wolseley Hornet Special as well as Triumphs 2 through 7. Drivers came from all over England, Wales and Scotland, with 35 Manxmen hoping for a home-field advantage.

Records in nearly every class fell as the locals pedalled harder than ever, but this year the results were eclipsed by a newcomer wielding 650bhp. Mike Manning brought his wild, fire-breathing Cosworth-powered 4WD Ford Puma to the island and blew the opposition away, gently toasting the verges of the island’s road courses with the side exhaust in the process.

Lack of grip on the first event, the Thursday evening Governor’s Sprint, meant wild slides out of the first hairpin at the gates of the cemetery, opposite the TT grandstand:  Nick Cussons kicked off his runs in traditional style, his alloy-bodied TR4 pointing every which way and loose; earlier in practice Ian Cowan wiped the nose off his GT40 replica at the far end of the straight, demolishing a wall outside the Governor’s house – but after a day of repairs and plenty of gaffer tape, he was running again by Saturday.

Manning won again at The Sloc hillclimb on Friday despite the best efforts of local Caterham-mounted fast men Andy Hardy, Paul Dangerfield and Steve O’Donohue, plus Connor Corkhill in his full-on Mk2 Escort rally car, who normally slice up the wins between them. This is a power climb up a rocky ridge in the south of the island and it’s rough – but that wasn’t going to bother event newcomers, local Tim George in a Sunbeam Alpine and Wayne Soloman in a Jaguar XK120, both having the luxury of soft suspension and a realistic expectation of being way down the results list, but Rod Stansfield retired his pretty Elva Mk7, only the second built, to preserve both car and driver. A lightning hailstorm scattered the times, but the road dried before the end of the day to put everyone on a level playing field.

Saturday was the final hillclimb, the Lhergy Frissell and the quickest way to Ramsey for the start is over the Mountain course before the road closes at 9.15 a.m. That included Andrew Smith in his Cooper Type 43. Yes, an unlicensed, untaxed, open-wheel ‘50s Formula 1 car, on public roads: this is the Manx. He’s the middle of three generations of the same family racing – dad Dick was in his 1926 Frazer Nash Super Sports, and brother Simon was without his regular Cooper FJ so shared his son Dan’s period Britax-liveried 1,293cc Mini.

The smooth but twisty course starts in the middle of Ramsey and heads around the famous hairpin and Waterworks corners, finishing just after the Gooseneck, but even local knowledge can’t sidestep 650bhp. There’s no overall winner of the Classic, though Mike Manning recorded the lowest aggregate time and won the post-’81 category. Pre-1941 class winner was Tim Greenhill in a 1935 Wolseley Hornet special. Pre-’68 went to Robert Bremner in his 289 Cobra, while Pre-1981 king was Connor Corkhill who, like Greenhill, set fastest class ftd in all three events. Bremner took pre-’68 FTD in two events, but was denied the triple by Andrew Smith, setting fastest pre-’68 time at the twisty Llerghy Frissell course in his Cooper F1 car. Then he drove it  back to Douglas. There’s nothing else quite like the Manx Classic. For the full results and entry list, check out www.manxmotorracing.com.

Next year is the event’s 25th anniversary. Don’t miss it.

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