I wouldn’t normally begin any race meeting report in such a manner, but exceptions have to be made. For anyone with an interest in classic motoring or motorsport, I would say this is a very important read.
For those unaware, the Oulton Park Gold Cup is the Historic Sports Car Club’s premier event, designed to pay homage to the illustrious history of one of Britain’s greatest race circuits. Initially a non-championship Formula 1 event, the Gold Cup went through several different phases, including being a BTCC and British GT event. The HSCC then decided that the best direction to go in would be catering for the various classic series that had become popular. Within several years, it became Oulton Park’s star attraction. The grid was littered with priceless vehicles, grids were packed, and the drivers came from far and wide to compete - star names also provided an extra addition of glamour to the affair, as did captivating displays of historic F1 machinery. It always captured the true essence of what historic racing should be.
However, we now skip to 2015.
Armed with my only my phone, as usual, and able to only attend Monday’s action, as usual, I was looking forward to something I could really sink my teeth into.
The first thing that struck me was the emptiness of the paddock. Now, granted, this was only one day of a two day event - several races worth of cars had left the night before - but never before had I seen numbers so low. Apart from a permanent weekend structure that housed Jaguar Heritage, the paddock was virtually clear from one end to the other. This set alarm bells off in my head.
The presence of Jaguar Heritage did give me the opportunity to spend some time with the 1988 Le Mans winning XJR-9, which can never be a bad thing.
The first race of the day was Classic Formula 3, of which two races were held - the later one incorporated Classic Racing Cars, which gave us the longest race name of the weekend: “Classic Formula 3 & Classic Racing Cars Classic Formula Inc. URS Classic Formula Ford 2000 and Classic Racing Cars For The Rodney Bloor Trophy”. The first race was a dull affair, which wasn’t a surprise with the wet conditions. The second race was equally as dull - but that wasn’t my main problem. The fact that grids now needed to be combined and then passed off as a different race shows that entries are far below what they should be, and it acts as a mere filler for what should be a bumper car list.
The traditional flagship race of the weekend, the Derek Bell Trophy, was another example of a race with an underwhelming lineup. Run for historic F5000 and Formula 2 cars, it’s well known as quite possibly the loudest circuit racing series in the UK, and it constantly delivers as a fan favourite for this reason alone even if the actual on-track action can be somewhat lacking from time to time.
This year saw only a handful of F5000 cars competing, with the Formula 2 entry even weaker, meaning that, like in previous years, the field was boosted with runners from the Classic Clubmans field. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but I did end up having a problem with the results - a Mallock Clubman win with a margin of around half a lap to the rest of the field. I wouldn’t care if it won by a second or by two laps - a win is a win - and the cars that the championship actually caters for were nowhere to be seen. I fully appreciate that all efforts must be made to keep the series alive, but sports cars should not be taking victories in a championship for historic single seaters. Beyond that, I just feel as though it was too weak a grid for such a prestigious title.
The FISCAR Intermarque Challenge for the Blaster Bates Trophy, which has become a staple of the Monday timetable for several years now, was quite sensibly shortened to 30 minutes from its typical 50 minute slot. The cars represented are much more typical of a classic Gold Cup event, and whilst shortening it didn’t make the show any livelier, it did make it a far more suitable part of the afternoon lineup. The struggling grid numbers still let the series down, and I’m sure it’s a priority for FISCAR, but the cars it attracts are still a breath of fresh air in what is now becoming a slightly stale spectacle.
After a wholly decent yet not enthralling set of Formula Ford and FF2000 races, the real stars of the day were of course the Historic Touring Cars. The series, which has had support from ByBox for over a decade, blew everything else far aside in terms of excitement with a wet race 1 and a dry but dampening race 2. A mixed grid, sliding and bouncing cars, taps and bumps, plus a nail-biting final lap for race 2 was superb entertainment, and very much reminiscent of a true Gold Cup weekend.
The problem is, that was the entirety of the Bank Holiday Monday racing. Factoring in the mix and match bloated grids, all of the races could’ve been packed into one day. The crowd looked similar to the scale seen at a typical club event, and that’s what the entire day felt like - a club event.
In no way was this a bad day’s racing. Club racing isn’t an automatic switch off either, as it provides some of the most entertaining racing currently on offer in the UK. This isn’t a club event however - it’s a prestigious trophy steeped in history - and regardless of how many of the fans who turned up felt content with what they had seen, this was simply an event resting on its laurels.
MSV are sensible - they will see the attendance figures, and they will realise that they need a stronger event next year. If we look at what was lacking, the upper echelons of historic class and grandeur, only one question needs to be asked: What will it take to put the Gold Cup back on the map for them, and be placed alongside the likes of FIA Masters and the Goodwood Revival? This was the only time I was ever left feeling uninspired by the event, and I hope it’s the last. If anyone is looking for a truly captivating and mesmerising display of historic machinery, a VSCC race day is not only much cheaper, but also infinitely more rewarding.
I love the Gold Cup. It’s been part of my life since I was two years old. I can only hope that the event regains full health for 2016 - if not, it could be a very slippery slope towards a slow and painful ending.
Of course, I would like to hear your thoughts too. To finish off, here are a selection of photos from throughout the day: