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Opinion

The latest enthralling chapter to the Autosport 3 Hours story

Wet conditions helped create a fascinating contest for the revived Snetterton event last weekend as drivers with a range of cars and racing experience did battle to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Jim Clark

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A pole position margin of 2.6 seconds does not usually bode well for a race, particularly one scheduled to last for 180 minutes. But those hardy few who stayed at Snetterton last Sunday to see the revived Autosport 3 Hours were rewarded with an exciting and unpredictable contest.

Not for the first time in our sport, one key ingredient was a change in the weather, even though the rain caused one member of Autosport’s party (a former staffer it might be added!) to suggest an early departure could be in order. A wet track meant the TVR Griffith of Harry Barton and Ollie Reuben couldn’t benefit as much from its V8 power and helped those in more nimble cars. And the two consistently outstanding performers around the 200 circuit – closer in spirit to the layout used in previous iterations of the race dating back to 1957 – were Oli Webb (above) and Nigel Greensall.

INSIGHT: Inside the revival of a famous historic contest won by Jim Clark

A current pro proving to be quick in a historic club event is perhaps not a surprise, but drivers like 32-year-old Webb always bring an added sparkle; it’s great to see them get to grips with cars so far removed from their usual ‘offices’. And he was driving a two-litre Porsche 911! Rarely has such a car been so brilliantly driven (Andrew Jordan at the 2015 Goodwood Members’ Meeting perhaps), and nobody could have expected a machine that qualified 8.6s off pole and was 17.5mph down through the speed trap in practice to lead for so much of the race.

Webb thrust the car up to third early on, but it was strategy that gave the 911 a genuine chance of victory. Webb made the first of the car’s pitstops, when he handed over to owner Guy Ziser, during a safety car that arrived just as the pit window opened. The TVR and frontrunning Lotus Elans did not, handing the Porsche an advantage of well over a lap when the others finally stopped.

Greensall, with impressive commitment in such conditions, began an outstanding charge (in the Elan started by rookie Ben Snee) that got him onto the same lap. He was poised to take the lead when he made his second stop and handed back to Snee.

Rookie Snee and the versatile Greensall made for a great Elan combination

Rookie Snee and the versatile Greensall made for a great Elan combination

Photo by: Richard Styles

Understandably, Ziser was not as rapid as Webb but he was consistent and kept the car in the game, eventually losing out to soloist Horatio Fitz-Simon’s Elan and the TVR as the two-hour mark approached, whereupon another safety car period arrived.

Ziser reacted faster than the other frontrunners and dived in to hand back to Webb. By the time the others had toured around behind the safety car and then pitted, the Porsche was back in front. Webb went into the final 50 minutes with a 15s margin over Fitz-Simon.

Crucially, however, the Snee/Greensall Elan had made an extra stop for Greensall to climb aboard and he was flying. Comfortably the fastest on the track for much of the stint, he had more than a minute to make up. The race was finely poised until a final safety car brought Greensall within range.

The mix of little and large (and the quick and the smart) in the conditions made this an enthralling contest

While Fitz-Simon pressured Webb – who was adept at allowing the 911 to dance through the left at Brundle to be in the right place to attack the Nelson right-hander – Greensall closed in. He took the lead with just under 25 minutes remaining and the hard-trying Fitz-Simon soon followed him through. The top three finished covered by 41s and there were five different types of car in the top six, ranging from the fourth-placed TVR to the Morgan +4 in fifth.

So the return of the Autosport 3 Hours provided a good race between wildly different machinery and a huge range of experience – the podium had someone losing their novice cross, a European Le Mans Series champion and a seasoned UK competitor.

Tricky conditions meant the TVR Griffith (l) did not have things its own way

Tricky conditions meant the TVR Griffith (l) did not have things its own way

Photo by: Richard Styles

Despite the eclectic field and appalling conditions, the driving standards were also pretty high. That was aside from the small number of drivers who ran down the escape road at Brundle and then turned round to rejoin while facing the oncoming traffic coming down Bentley Straight. Most other drivers, presumably those with more imagination(!), simply continued along the run-off and rejoined after Nelson…

If the race had stayed dry, this column would probably have lamented the lack of heavy metal, which is certainly an area to target for the future. But the mix of little and large (and the quick and the smart) in the conditions made this an enthralling contest.

Historic Sports Car Club CEO Andy Dee-Crowne asked Autosport if we were happy and would like to be involved again. Yes, we would, and hopefully others will be attracted now that the concept has been successfully revived.

The first era of the event lasted eight editions (1957-64) and winners included the great Jim Clark, while the second lasted for nine (2007-15) and was won by several of the top names in historic motorsport. It would be nice to stretch those numbers a little further, even if having a double Formula 1 champion on the winners’ list this time might be pushing it a bit. Perhaps we need to have a think about prizes…

It was getting dark and cold by the time the chequered flag waved, but all our party stayed to the end – even the man who had planned to leave early.

The fight at the front kept Autosport amused right to the flag

The fight at the front kept Autosport amused right to the flag

Photo by: Richard Styles

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