Four cars. Transported across four nations. 1500 miles door-to-door. Three days and nights on the road. Kind of sums up the often colossal effort needed to get a classic car on to the grid of a historic race meet, ready and willing to give its best.
But this just wasn’t any old meet. Although in only its second year, the Algarve Historic Festival is already shaping up to become a highlight on the classic racing calendar.
The early autumn sun is warm and inviting for starters. The spectacular geography of the Algarve itself is of course a honey pot, alive with the eager buzz of tourists and motoring enthusiasts from around the world. And the region’s bright and fizzing tone is mimicked in the track, too.
Practically brand new and looking a million dollars, the Portimão circuit rises and falls 106 feet through rocky hills for nearly three miles. Technically challenging, there are blind brows and steep drops, threaded together like pearls along a string of corners with complex changes in camber and a tightening double apex or three.
You can see why the event drew 350 drivers and 270 race teams.
Then there were the two races we’d entered. The weekend’s last race was one of the weekend’s Masters series, in which we had a Ford GT40 competing for the World’s Sports Car title. The feature race though was the last in the Stirling Moss Trophy series this year – six very special events launched on the back of the highly successful eponymous one-off race at the Algarve’s inaugural meet in 2009 (held in celebration of the racing legend’s 80th birthday).
The series is for genuine, pre-1961 sports cars and sports-racers. The promoter, Motor Racing Legends, aim to offer the most authentic historic motor racing possible, with longer, two-driver races at high-profile meetings. Only genuine cars built to period specification are invited, with an expectation of ‘gentlemanly’ driving standards that are nonetheless highly competitive.
We had three cars accepted in the line-up for the feature race; an Ecurie Ecosse Lister Knobbly, a Jaguar C-Type (originally owned by the Argentine racing marvel, Fangio) and a Cooper Jaguar T33.
Ups and downs
First up for qualifying on Friday morning were our three cars from the 1950s. In a field of 34, the C-Type, driven by Wil Arif and Jarrah Venables, qualified in 21st. The Cooper, manoeuvered by our own Derek Hood, accompanied by Andrew Smith, qualified in a very respectable 12th place.
However, catching the eye with a tremendous lap was the Lister, which won 2nd place on the grid.
Immediately after that, qualifying for our GT40 in the Masters race got under way, with Gary Pearson doing very well as the fastest GT40 by 3.5 seconds, qualifying in 11th place out of 31 vehicles. This was made all the more commendable when you realise that Gary had also been behind wheel of the Lister with John Young in the previous qualifier. But despite his herculean efforts doing as well as he did helping to get two cars through back-to-back qualifiers, Gary would be back in both cars within hours of each one the following afternoon. With that kind of schedule, not only was he going to need great skill and stamina, he was probably going to need some luck along the way, too…
Come Saturday, Gary’s first race in the GT40 passed uneventfully and he won a highly respectable eighth-place finish (albeit second in class behind a more mighty McLaren M1B). Not a bad start to a demanding weekend, so we were trusting this augured well for the big one just one and a half hours later.
5.25pm came soon enough and the Trophy race got off to a flying start. The tough two-hour marathon demanded two driver changes. Gary, Andrew and Wil took the first legs and all was going well. After 30 minutes, the Lister was still lying in second place as it came in for its first driver change. However, although John Young rejoined the field a little further back, it didn’t take him too long to begin picking his way back through the pack. Our calculated gamble to fuel all three cars for the entire race, eliminating pit stops for fuel, appeared to be paying off.
Then it all started kicking off…
Andrew Smith did a fantastic job holding the Cooper together after its front near-side wheel collapsed at high speed. The car was recovered from the track and we worked feverishly on fitting a new wheel to get it back in the race. But it rejoined the race way down the field.
And then, over two-thirds into the race, we learnt we had a drive-through penalty! It had taken an age for the stewards to tell us as presumably, the Lister had transgressed at the first driver change. Even so, despite all this, the Ecurie Ecosse was still competing for first place and eventually took top spot handsomely.
But the race wasn’t over yet.
With 25 minutes left to go, the safety car came out. By now, dusk had fallen and the cars had their headlamps on (to be seen rather than to see) which leant even more spectacle to an already glorious parade. But the biggest effect of the safety car was to bunch the field up. And this meant that the Lister’s main protagonist – a feisty Lotus 15 – was now that much closer…
In the end, 6.5 seconds was all that separated our famous Lister from the Lotus. But Gary and John had done it, they’d won first place!
Derek and Andrew had competed manfully in the Cooper and had done really well to reclaim their 21st starting position by the race end despite their unforeseeable mishap with their front wheel. Will and Jarrah in the C-Type did better still, claiming first in class and seventh overall. Ours was the first Jaguar to cross the finish line by some margin – despite the fact that our C-Type had drum brakes and our next two rivals were using disc brakes. In other words, two extremely respectable results together with a tremendously exceptional one!
Come Sunday, Gary must have woken up with the adrenaline still coursing through his veins following Saturday evening’s big win. But he couldn’t afford to rest on his laurel – as prestigious as it was – as he had another half-hour race in the GT40 to tackle.
But after the second lap, he found himself in last position! Those tightening double apexes and complex camber changes take some manoeuvering. And somehow, Gary’s glove had released his seatbelt whilst negotiating the steering wheel and he had to pit to get it sorted!
Undeterred, he did extremely well to claw his way back through the field for another second place in class finish, thirteen seconds ahead of the third-place GT40. It might not have been the outcome we were hoping for, but all things considered, it certainly was a weekend to treasure.
So all-in-all, all that effort was more than worth it. And we trust our two sterling transporter drivers felt the same way – although to get our prize-winning wheels home, our heroes had to do the same arduous 1500 mile journey in reverse.
Still, it always seems quicker coming back than it does going, doesn’t it?…