CHOLMONDELEY - PAGEANT OF POWER - AUGUST 2008
Less than twelve months ago, Manchester merchant banker and dyed-in-the-wool motor sport enthusiast Peter Rickitt had the idea that it would be good for the north-west of England to hold its own version of the Goodwood Festival of Speed. He believed that, with a catchment area of more than 12 million people living within a two-hour drive, there would be sufficient interest locally to support such an event. He engaged the support of David, Marquess of Cholmondeley, who agreed to host the Pageant on the estate roads of his Cheshire family home, Cholmondeley Castle , between Chester and Whitchurch. The estate had had some experience of holding a speed event in the castle grounds, with a special stage of the Tour Britannia having visited in 2006 and 2007, and the course used for those events formed the basis of the 1.2 mile MSA -approved sprint course, which circumnavigated the castle, the return road completing the circuit. Rickitt involved a number of his local motoring chums in the organisation, notably Stuart Graham, former TT-winner on 2 and 4 wheels, Demon Tweeks founder Alan Minshaw, H & H auction’s Simon Hope, and Peter Neumark, who was deputed to collect a representative entry spanning the age of motoring.
An additional novelty was the inclusion of powerboat racing on the castle mere, and helicopter fly-ins and displays to encompass the land, air and water elements, to include greater variety in the hope of widening the event’s appeal. It all came together in a relatively short time since the public unveiling in April, by which time work had begun on upgrading the course by widening and resurfacing. From the outset, it all looked pretty promising and news soon came that Bentley, from nearby Crewe, was to be the founder sponsor with a three-year deal to help in putting the project on a firm foundation.
Saturday fulfilled the weather prophesy by raining pretty consistently and causing a lot of the potential audience to stay at home while at the castle it was very much “the right crowd and no crowding”. It was a day given over to practice runs, and each entrant got four runs on a track which was acknowledged to be very tricky more challenging than first appearances suggested, and which remained damp, at best, for the whole day.
It was on its first practice run that a well-constructed Gulf-Porsche 917 replica failed to get as far as the first corner when it skated off into the straw bales – one of the relatively few casualties of the weekend.
A splendid entry of 80 cars, ranked in class by decade, and 40 motorcycles turned out and although one or two eyebrows might have been raised by a few of the choices, quality was certainly evident with Alfa Romeo being the featured marque. This class attracted Tom Wheatcroft’s Bimotore Alfa, driven with great verve by Rob Hall before the transmission cried “enough” on the second day, Barry Cannell’s beautiful 6C Spider Corsa, Bill Ainscough’s 8C Le Mans and Umberto Rossi’s ex-Nuvolari Nurburgring-winning P3, Pilkingtons’ Zagato 1750 and Gibsons 1750 SS. Other stand-out entries included Vanwall VW7 from the Donington Collection, an all too-rare appearance of Mike Burtt’s H-16 BRM which made all the right noises (and seemed to have all 16 cylinders firing in sequence) and was again driven by Rob Hall, Eric Stansfield’s GP Opel, the 1921 TT Sunbeam driven by Brian Redman and Tim Dutton with Varzi’s Avus-winning Bugatti T54. Five-times Le Mans winner Derek Bell was on hand to demonstrate sponsor Bentley’s 2003 Le Mans-winning Speed Eight.
Happily, Sunday produced a rare bright day with only a brief, but intense, shower of rain around lunchtime and the crowd, which numbered close on 20,000 over the two days, were able to enjoy the powerboats and stroll over to the far side of the course, where the viewing was excellent.
Billed primarily as a regularity event, where the winner would be the one who finished closest to their chosen target time from practice, and with a number of cars electing to run untimed, as ever most interest centred on the battle for FTD which hung in the balance until the final runs of the day when Kingsley Ingram, driving a Ford RS200 Group B rally car (in race trim), just pipped Steve Tandy with his continuation series Lola T70 – something of a handful over the narrow twisty bits between the bales - by less than ½ a second.
The winner of the main prize, the Bentley Trophy for best runs in the regularity section was the preserve of Michael Guess with his 1932 Morgan Aero.
The powerboat classes captured the imagination of many, including a number of die-hard car and bike enthusiasts, as did the lunch-time demonstrations by the helicopters from the Army’s Historic Flight and the Defence Flying School , and in whichever direction one looked, there was something to occupy one’s interest.
There are certainly areas where improvements are needed, and which we are assured will be attended to for next year, including provision of another track crossing for spectators to ease the bottleneck just after the bailey bridge, and to prevent mud being walked onto the course between runs. The siting of some of the features could be moved to improve business for the trade stands, a number of whom said that they were prepared to return next year although business seemed a little quiet at times.
All of the comments canvassed were that everyone had enjoyed some element of it and would be keen to return for more in 2009 and, almost without exception, all of the drivers spoken to said that it had been a good experience. The only exception appeared to be with the classic boat contingent among whom was Colin Warrington, who had brought his 1914 Hispano-engined Batboat, only to find that there was no suitable slipway provided from which to launch it, and also the busy powerboat programme took precedence and for those boats which did manage to make it onto the water, little time was allocated and would not have allowed Colin sufficient time to prepare the craft for demonstration.
Winner of the Breitling watch for FTD, Kingsley Ingram, said: “All in all a superb event especially considering it was the first one and hopefully they will have me back. A very good mixture of cars competing and I believe some good static displays together with the shopping and general displays, brilliant. I liked the covered display/garage area, access for the spectators to all the cars and drivers, and plenty of runs up the course, very well run by BARC with excellent start area control.”