Despite practice for Monaco being only three days away a good field arrived at Oulton Park to contest the latest round of the prestigious John Player Championship.
Practice for Heat 1 saw Brian Henton grab pole position in his GRD from the March of Ian Taylor, both drivers setting the same time, Taylor’s March was running properly now that the misfire that had dogged him at Zandvoort had been cured. Completing the front row was Russell Wood who had to have a new monocoque for his March following his Zandvoort accident with Conny Andersson. Row 2 saw Damien Magee, suffering rear wing problems with his Brabham, leading surprise package John Sheldon and his Royale. Australian Richard Knight should have headed row 3 but he damaged a corner on his GRD with an off at Druids that couldn’t be repaired in time for the race. Further down the grid the experienced Barrie Maskell was debuting the new MRE Mk2 and Roelof Wunderink was in the rebuilt ex-Steve Thompson/Ken Sedgley Ensign F371.
Neil Ginn’s year old GRD was really flying and took fastest time to lead the other Heat 2 runners, he was chased by Alan Jones who equalled the pole time from the first heat and Mo Harness who was another 0.4 seconds back. Row two comprised of the GRD of Tony Brise and the March of Masami Kuwashima, next up row three man Conny Anderson found his March much improved after carrying out simple modifications to his rear dampers. Further back experienced F3 man Bernard Vermilio was out in a new Merlyn Mk21 whilst Antiguan Jimmy Fuller had the ex-Chris O’Brien Brabham BT38 and hillclimber Spencer Elton was running his ex-Jeremy Gambs Ensign F372. Brazilian pseudonym “Teleco” shunted his March-Novamotor 733 at Old Hall and was rendered a non-starter.
It rained heavily just before the Heat 1 runners lined up on the grid and everyone fitted wets, pole man Henton enjoyed a spin at Old Hall on one of his warm up laps! When the flag fell it was Ian Taylor who led away from the similar March 733 of Russell Wood, Taylor was head and shoulders faster than the rest of the field and he romped away at the front to win by 13 seconds. Wood took the runner up spot by 4.6 seconds from Damien Magee who had to fight off the attentions of John Sheldon who got ahead briefly on lap 5 along Top Straight. For the next couple of laps Sheldon continued to harry Magee until a moment at Lodge dropped him too far back to challenge again. Maskell just qualified for the final despite retiring after 5 laps with a broken throttle cable and Musetti was also out with a broken clutch.
There was chaos at the beginning of the second heat, the track was drying out but everyone except Friedrich opted for wets. On the grid Brise and Anderson tried to switch to slicks but were prevented by the marshalls after both had changed a pair on each of their respective cars! The team mechanics were physically prevented from tightening wheel nuts and it was decided to hang out the “Start Delayed” board, Alan Jones decided he would go for slicks and switched off his engine but everybody was prevented from making any changes. At the end of the race Andersson was reprimanded by the officials for running both wets and slicks, an odd decision since it appeared to be their fault.
When the cars eventually got under way it was Kuwashima who took an immediate lead by driving round the outside of Neil Ginn at Old Hall, Jones and Harness were next up with Friedrich in fifth and looking to pass those ahead. Vermilio was soon out, he crashed his new Merlyn at Cascades on lap 2 when lying sixth and Wilds dropped down to tenth when he spun at Island. Friedrich was really flying on his slicks whilst those around were finding their cars very twitchy on their wets as the track dried more and more. It only took until lap 4 for Friedrich to carve his way past those ahead of him and take the lead which he immediately extended at several seconds a lap to win by 24 seconds. Kuwashima held on to take second from Andersson who found his March with slicks on the front and wets on the rear better than an all wet setup. Fourth was Ginn from Brise who was less happy with his GRD on wet fronts and slick rears, Wilds did well to recover to sixth after his earlier spin, he was helped by his rare Firestone intermediates. Other than Vermilio the other retirements were Richard Robarts whose engine overheated and lost power due to the start delay and Andy MacGregor who suffered a puncture on lap 2.
Friedrich and Taylor required push starts for the final but Taylor was able to restart on the button so escaped penalty unlike the unfortunate Brazilian. Friedrich was in pole position due to his faster heat time and he led away at the flag from Taylor, Andersson (a great start), Magee, Kuwashima, Wood and Brise. There were problems further down the grid and Harness, Tyrrell, Henton, von Preussen and Maskell all made contact with each other and had to retire with varying amounts of damage to their cars but luckily not to themselves. John Littler spun his Ensign and retired although there was no apparent damage to the car, also in trouble was Damien Magee with gearbox problems and he was soon forced to retire his Brabham from the leading group.
Back at the front Friedrich was coming under increasing pressure from Taylor with Andersson keeping a watching brief in third, Kuwashima and Brise were next not too far behind the three leaders. Mike Wilds running sixth from Wood, Ginn, Sheldon and a rapidly closing Alan Jones.
Taylor took the lead at Deer Leap on lap 3 but Friedrich immediately fought back and resumed first spot at Old Hall but Taylor wasn’t giving up and two laps later it was Taylor in front again. Friedrich continued to attack the Baty March and it was the Brazilian ahead on lap 6 with Andersson demoting Taylor to third. Brise briefly passed Kuwashima for fourth but was back down to fifth on lap 8 and the GRD driver was beginning to come under attack from Wood, Ginn and Jones who had dropped the Ensign of Wilds.
Conny Andersson wasn’t content with second and on lap 11 the Swede took the lead at Knickerbrook from Friedrich who promptly lost another place to Taylor. There was now an eight car train fighting for the lead but Kuwashima soon left them at Knickerbrook when he spun his March out of fourth and into retirement. This effectively broke the group up with the three leading Marches gaining a breather over Wood, Ginn and Jones. Friedrich now began to fall away at the front so it was all down to the experienced Andersson against the relative newcomer Taylor.
Starting the last lap it was Andersson in front and by dint of making sure his March was in the right place at every point on the track (and a bit of judicious weaving) he held on to win by 0.6 seconds from a disappointed Taylor. Friedrich took third on the road but his push start penalty dropped him to seventh, this promoted Brise and Jones to third and fourth, the two GRD men had a fraught battle with a fair amount of contact and they shared the same race time although Brise was given the verdict for third. Ginn forced Wood wide at Druids on the last lap and was able to pass the March and take fifth at the flag.