Historic Endurance Racing with XOV - the Spa alternative
The annual Morgan pilgrimage to Spa has been one of the highlights of the racing calendar for us, so it was a very disappointed Chris who broke it to me that "due to a vital work commitment on Friday 10th May" we would be unable to go this year. Disappointment was short-lived however when the invitation came through to race in the BPR Historic GT Endurance race in support of the BPR World Sports Car Championship race at Silverstone - same weekend but, being only Sat/Sun, allowing the work commitment to be honoured.
The Historic GT race was to be run over an hour on the Grand Prix circuit with 1 or 2 drivers, including a 60 second compulsory pit-stop. Cars taking part were of a high calibre (and value!), FIA registered, including AC Cobras, Ferrari 250 Le Mans and GTO, Jaguar E-type and XK14O, Aston Martin DB4GT and Project, Lotus Elan, Alfa TZI and the 2 Morgan +4s - Chris' XOV 555 (GTP class) and Rupert Richards' green Super Sports.
We travelled down late Friday afternoon (along with most of the population of the North West on their way to Wembley for the Cup Final!) arriving at Silverstone at about 7. With only a fax from Paris as proof of entry, we went in search of tickets - to no avail - but we sweet-talked our way through security and delivered the car to the paddock.
The main paddock was teeming with mega-transporters and support for the Sports Car teams and there was a definite continental feel - except for the weather which was bitter how was it at Spa I wonder?).
We met up with XOV's other "pilote" Rick Bourne and Cathy T. and had an enjoyable evening together. Early Saturday morning we arrived at the circuit again (still no tickets - more sweet-talk to get in) and met up with the remaining member of the pit-crew, Jan Bulinski.
The paddock and pits were a-buzz with activity with most races having more than one practice session.
Chris took the first practice and whizzed round in consistent time - he came in slightly early a bit concerned about a water-temperature rise but mostly because he was finding it a wee bit lonely out there - the GP circuit with 16 cars spread out over it seemed a bit processional.
Back to the paddock to fettle - there was now suspicion over the head gasket - fill her up with water and fingers crossed. Rick went out to practice a couple of hours later and recorded more good times which, in combination with Chris', qualified them 11th on the grid just ahead of Rupert.
The afternoon was spent fettling (more water in the car - decision to limit the revs to a maximum of 5500 in the race to try and preserve her), practising the driver change routine and watching the "big" cars practise. In the paddock we rubbed shoulders with the likes of Nelson Piquet and Jacques Lafitte. A trip to the Morgan pit discovered much hard work and later delight in qualifying for Sunday's race. (Such a tragic shame that all this went for nought when the works' Morgan was taken out by a Porsche on lap 2). It was great to have the team's moral support for our race.
As race time approached the storm clouds gathered but fortunately we had no more than an intermittent drizzle. The cars lined up behind the course car on the grid and set off on the warm-up lap. The start was by rolling start and, as the course car pulled off at the start of the pit straight, the cars accelerated - only to discover the lights still on red! Much frenzied braking, hearts in mouths - then lights to green and away they went.
Chris had a good start and everyone got away safely. The main cars the Morgans were gunning for were an Aston DB4GT and Lotus Elan and Chris, ahead of the other Morgan, had a tremendous dice with the Aston (driven by ex Morgan racer Graham Bryant).
At about 11 laps cars started coming in for pit-stops, marshalls ensuring the 60 second stop was honoured by all. Chris and Rick's driver change went smoothly and Rick stormed out to do his stint. Rupert had come in at the same time only to retire 2 laps later with - a water leak!! There were several other retirements for various reasons too and we were worried in the pits by a signal from Rick which we misunderstood to mean he was coming in for more water. What he really meant was he was going to back off a bit and nurse XOV with her problems - his lap times fell by a few seconds a lap but he continued to go round - and to our delight finished in 6th place ahead of the Aston and the Elan.
XOV had lost about 2 litres of water and there was now little doubt over the blown head gasket; indeed some question as to whether the damage might be more. But she'd lasted the race - and finished as high up the grid as could reasonably be expected against such an elite opposition.
(c) Beverley Phillips 1996