It was an early (-ish) Wednesday morning as the OUMF student race team pulled away from our shed in Oxford and set off for Chichester, with rising excitement. The team had been spending every spare moment there in the previous 4 weeks following the arrival of the unexpected 11th hour invitation from the Goodwood Revival selection committee to race the 1959 Riley 1.5 in the two part St Mary’s Trophy race.
We knew there would be guest driver for the Part 1 race, and that the first rule of the St Mary’s is to try and take spares of all major components to ensure the car makes both qualifying sessions and both grids. So, with the clock ticking, we set about this mammoth task – and finding all other support we needed - immediately. With the invaluable help of Owslebury Crankshaft Services, Dave Crisell, Race Winning Brands Europe, ARP, UK Engine Parts, G&S Valves, Kent Cams, MASS Dynos, and many others, we managed to assemble a spare rally spec engine, a gearbox, and a back axle, just in time. John Yea at British Motor Heritage and Stuart Talbot kindly donated a full set of Dunlop historic racing tyres, and as always, Phillips Tyres of Oxford deployed their skills in fitting them all and setting up the tracking on their laser rig. But finally, after many late nights (that had included rewiring the car too!) the day had come to leave for this greatest of historic racing events.
The team set off with anything but haste - as the van led the OUMF convoy south at a maximum of 60 downhill, slowed by the Riley racer being towed in the trailer. All accompanying vehicles were instructed to stay close behind in case of trouble along the way. Two and a bit rather ponderous hours later we arrived at the Goodwood Estate and set up camp in the Competitors Field before we hit the pits with the Riley to prepare for the forthcoming long weekend of racing. At last it was pub time! We struck gold in the shape of The Anglesey Arms in the nearby village of Halnaker, and enjoyed some of the best pub food ever!
After a good night’s sleep, the whole team were up at a reasonable hour on Thursday, eager to crack on with prepping the car. First we had to get the Riley through Scrutineering – which we did – and then to make sure we could post some competitive times in the two qualifying sessions the following day. Our guest driver, Mat Jackson, from the British touring car championship, also popped by to take a look at the car, and meet his co-driver Ding Boston and the rest of the OUMF team.
Later that day saw the arrival of Jamie Higgins - OUMF’s very own culinary master mind - with a second, smaller trailer containing not just an enormous barbeque and field kitchen, but also the Riley’s spare engine, gearbox and axle, plus a rather tired 1950’s folding bike and a small four-wheeled spares trolley for it to tow. (Unfortunately, the bike was soon rendered unfit for towing our trolley, as the spline connecting the sprocket to the pedals was swiftly stripped. This was, I’m sure, to do with the bike’s age: not because one team member was trying to tow another up an incline across a rough field…).
Midway through the ‘wing and a prayer’ zip-tie repairs, it was time to head up to the front lawn of Goodwood House for the celebrity cricket match tea, and a low level air display by a Spitfire before the Drivers Briefing. With the V12 Merlin engine still ringing in our ears, we were then invited up to the champagne reception party at Goodwood House were we spent an hour chatting with drivers and paddock pals, and over-enthusiastically enjoying the delights of Veuve Cliquot. The joy was all too short lived, and we headed back to camp to be treated to a lovely stew and many beers. Unexpectedly, the stew was served by someone who wasn’t Jamie - as he had promptly passed out in his van upon returning to the camp site.
Come Friday morning, we were awoken by the roar of two P-51 Mustangs and a Spitfire cutting through the sky, low to the campsite. A lovely, loud alarm call for a few somewhat hung-over heads. We headed for the St Mary’s paddock at 9 am to complete all the necessary checks before we handed the Riley over to Mat Jackson for his qualifying session. Ding was understandably nervous as this was to be the first time any one else had ever driven the car in anger on track since it was built five years ago. However, Mat got progressively quicker, and by the end of the session he had posted a lap time of 1:38.8, which qualified him a splendid 10th on the grid. He said he loved the cars set up, and he thought there might still be a couple of seconds to find. Once back in the paddock, the Riley was subjected to a full spanner check in advance of Ding’s qualifying session, and a crack was discerned in the front left hub. We were relieved that it had finished the qualifying session and been discovered so quickly.
Luckily, we had brought a spare hub, and this was soon fitted as Ding’s qualifying was fast approaching. Another set of wheels with new tyres were also put on the car, as this would be last opportunity to scrub them in before the race the next day. However, Ding pulled into the pits at the end of his very first lap reporting severe vibrations from the front. The wheels were whipped off and the hub checked but all appeared fine, so with only 10 minutes remaining, we swapped the front right wheel with our spare and sent him out again. It was clear that something was still wrong as he was about 5 seconds off his usual pace, but none the less, he completed the 3 full laps required to qualify for the main race and managed to secure 22nd on the grid: disappointing but a lot better than not finishing at all.
When the Riley returned to the paddock, all four wheels went to Dunlop to have their balance checked, and it was found that the right front was 90 grams out of balance, and the left front was out by 220! On top of this, the replacement hub had discernable play in the bearings, so the race was on to find new ones and press them in before Mat Jackson raced in St Marys Part 1 the next day. After a call to Stuart Talbot in Oxford he promised to find a set and deliver them to us when he arrived on Friday morning, so we went to bed that night confident the car would be back in bullet-proof condition for the race the following day.
Once again, on Friday we were woken by the Spitfire and Mustangs roaring past overhead as the first race day began. Stuart arrived with new bearings, but disappointingly, after they were pressed into the hub the issue appeared to be unrelated to the bearings themselves as some play could still be felt. Nothing that packing the hub with grease couldn’t fix for a couple races however!
Once the Riley was reassembled, we hit the collection area, and then Mat Jackson headed out onto the track. With the Green flag lap complete and the tyres warm, the thirty car grid sat in anticipation of the dropping of the Union Jack to start the race. The flag dropped and the cars roared off down the start-finish straight towards Madgwick corner. Within the first lap the Riley had climbed to an easy 6th position as Mat sped past the pits. Then sadly, half way through the second lap, a Volvo PV544 crashed off the track, destroying a length of tyre wall in the process. The race was almost immediately red flagged, and the cars had to return to the collection area.
The D-Day parade was run to soak up the time taken to rebuild the tyre wall, and eventually the race was restarted, but with a reduced length of twenty minutes, rather than the original twenty five. Once again, after a good start, Mat Jackson was flying, and after a few laps the OUMF team was astounded and ecstatic to witness the Riley rise to a strong fourth position behind the Jordan’s A40, the Alfa Guilietta Ti and a huge Studebaker, and ahead of many cars we had assumed would be far superior to ours.
And then….disaster struck! The big screens indicated that Mat Jackson had inexplicably dropped down to twelfth, and then soon the Riley dropped out of the race altogether. We later learned that after he had come off twice during his last full lap, he then realised the engine was severely overheating, so he pulled off and came to a stop halfway down the Levant straight with steam pouring out of the bonnet. (Only later did we learn that if he had finished in that fourth position, we would have ended up with a podium position as one of the three leading cars was subsequently disqualified for using prohibited roller-rockers!)
It promised to be yet another hot, sunny day as the historic planes blessed the skies for the last time on this iconic weekend. We dismantled and packed most of our campsite before the team made its way over to the circuit to the St Mary’s paddock for the last time. Again our pit was constantly crowded with supporters, visitors and well-wishers throughout the day who were delighted to see such a youthful team being given the opportunity to experience the Revival and take on the legends of the historic motorsport world. All too soon it was time for the St Mary's Part 2 and we pushed the Riley through the thronging crowds to the collection area for its final performance. Given the events of the past days, and the necessary fitting of the much less powerful engine to take part at all, the team felt that Ding should simply focus on finishing the race, rather than pushing for places.
After the green flag lap, the grid came to rest briefly, and waited for the starter’s flag to fall…and then with a roar, they were off! The Riley was soon making its way up from 22nd, and having an excellent dice with the Morris Minor ‘Panda’ police car behind, driven by Nick Swift. The Riley often sounded as if it had a misfire as it passed us, but, with a low diff and 1500 less revs than the race engine, it was actually the rev limiter cutting in at top whack! The OUMF Riley’s progress up the order stole the commentary for the first 2-3 laps, and then a whole lot more when it later span on oil at Madgwick! Sunday’s race featured some awesome racing, including a few very sideways moments from a Jag and A40, and by the time the chequered flag fell, the Riley had climbed to tenth from twenty second on the grid, and posted a respectable lap time of 1:42.4.
When the aggregate times of the two races were announced, and a number of cars were disqualified for eligibility issues, the OUMF team’s Riley finally finished in a cracking twelfth Overall. An impressive performance from our car, especially with regard to the issues we ran into, and which we could not have predicted. A fantastic result for the first ever student team to contest the prestigious St Mary’s Trophy - and in car they have built themselves. It was a spectacular event at which we met so many amazing people and received so much help, support and encouragement – as well as putting stacks of practical experience under the period ‘Sam Brown’ belts of all the young OUMF team members! I found it totally inspirational, and I know the whole team is hopeful of being invited back to the next Revival to better our result in the St. Mary’s Trophy - and we will all have our sights on that podium!!
I simply could not sign off without thanking all our wonderful sponsors and supporters for providing so much of the wherewithal that enabled us to compete at the Revival at all. Special thanks are due to Julius Thurgood and the HRDC for giving this team, and so many students before us, the spring board to launch our interest in historic racing, and the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, and his team, this glorious stage on which to perform. We are truly grateful.
2nd Year Engineer, Oxford Brookes