16-18 October 2009
Sir Stirling Moss Trophy Race
"As good as Spa or the Brands Hatch GP circuit"… "Really tricky to learn"… "Bloody fantastic!"
These were just some of the comments about the new Algarve International Autodrome, which enjoyed clear skies and temperatures up to 29 degrees C for the first Algarve Historic Festival on October 16-18.
The feature race on the Saturday evening was the two-hour, two-driver Sir Stirling Moss Trophy race, run by Motor Racing Legends - with support from the HGPCA - and combining our usual grids of 1950s sportscars from the Royal Automobile Woodcote Trophy and BRDC Historic Sportscars.
The Portuguese circuit is around 4km long, rising and falling 106 feet through the rocky hills, and presenting a tricky technical challenge to the drivers. Some competitors took to it straight away, while others were, at first, a bit shaken. There are blind brows and steep drops, strung together by corners with complex changes in camber and the odd tightening double apex - plus a lot of head-scratching, as the drivers rose to the task of unravelling the circuit's secrets.
For a large portion of the two-hour race, it looked as though the D-type of Gavin Pickering and Spencer Marsh had it all sewn up - but a transmission problem put them out of contention after 41 laps. The pole-sitting Lotus XV of Roger Wills and Joe Twyman had lasted just four laps, while the second-on-the-grid Lotus XI also failed to finish. So, when the field settled down after the pitstops, it was the Lister Knobbly of Barry Wood and Barry Cannell which scythed to the front and emerged as the clear victor overall. The only car to finish on the same lap was the second-placed Lotus XI Le Mans of Michel Thoulouze and Jean Jacques Gravier, while the Adrian Hall/Nick Adams Lotus X came third.
Aside from the fabulous, undulating circuit, two factors made the race especially memorable. First, that it finished at 7pm on the Saturday - by which time the sun had set in dramatic fashion and all headlights were on; and secondly, because Sir Stirling himself drove in the race which bore his name, sharing his 1956 Osca with Roger Earl. The little 1495cc car took second in class and 13th overall in a field of 32 starters.
The Motor Racing Legends Spirit Award went to David Alborough, who not only drove his AC Ace Bristol racer all the way to the Algarve, but managed to blow it up en route, rebuild it - and finish the race, too. Meanwhile, the HGPCA presented a 'Driver of the Day' award to Malcolm Verey, whose Lola Mk I (shared with Tony Bianchi) finished 11th overall and first in class, despite gearbox troubles.
By the end of the weekend, there's little doubt that the racers were eager to return to the circuit as soon as possible. The Algarve Historic Festival could well become a much-admired fixture on the racing calendar. Congratulations to Francisco Santos, who made the whole thing happen.
Motor Racing Legends Pre-War Sports Cars
Talk about David and Goliath. The first half of the Motor Racing Legends Pre-War Sports Cars race on the fantastic, undulating Algarve race circuit was dominated by a jaw-dropping battle for the lead. The pole-sitting bulk of John Paul Mason's Alvis Speed 25 Tourer repeatedly swapped places with the tiny, light, 3-wheeled Morgan Super Aero, with Sue Darbyshire at the wheel.
The Morgan's 1260cc engine was no match for the 3.5-litre Alvis on the long, fast straight - but the left-hand hairpin, followed by a steep climb, offered the perfect opportunity for Darbyshire to nip past and re-take the lead. This happened lap after lap, only for the Alvis to thunder past on the straight once more. Riveting stuff.
"We were really going for it, and I was thinking 'I'm not sure I can keep this up for a whole hour!'" said Mason after the race but, sadly, the Morgan hit an electrical problem which saw Sue suddenly drop back. Ever the gentleman, Mason backed off long enough to check his opponent was okay, before surging forward to take the now undisputed lead. A pitstop and driver change for the Morgan didn't sort the electrical issues but the team wasn't going to give up just because the car was one cylinder short. Now running on one cylinder (and three wheels), and with Gary Caroline in the driver's seat, the little Morgan carried gamely on to finish eighth.
The pre-War grid was small, but the action was so spectacular as to make it a genuine highlight for spectators. Tackling the hills and dips, fast and slow corners, it was a real challenge for both driver and car. On exiting that tight, uphill hairpin, for example, some cars would slide with perfect control - while others took several laps to get to grips with it. "That downhill stretch into the hairpin is hard on the brakes," said race winner Mason, "but the beauty is that everything cools down again on the long straight."
Joining Mason on the podium were Rob Blakemore and Steve Skipworth, whose Riley TT Sprite Replica finished second; and Richard Lake and Jane Varley, who took their Aston Martin 15/98 Speed Model to a fine third place.
© Motor Racing Legends; photo credit, Jim Houlgrave