Belfast Telegraph

Darwin strikes Gold to follow in the tracks of legends

By Sammy Hamill

It has been won in the past by some of the greatest names in motor racing, including Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart, and now the Oulton Park Gold Cup has come to Ballymena.

Darwin Smith has added his name to a list of previous winners which also includes Jim Clark and Jack Brabham after a double victory in the FIA International F2 historic race series at the Cheshire circuit.

Last run as an F2 race some 45 years ago, it was won back then by another Formula One great, Ronnie Petersen, driving a March 722, and it was a sister car from the British constructor which Smith steered to back-to-back wins.

Buoyed up by a note to all the competitors from Sir Jackie Stewart wishing them good luck, Smith set the pace in qualifying, earning himself pole position by over two seconds at an average speed of 102.5mph. The last time an F2 car lapped the tight, twisty circuit at over 100mph average was 40 years ago when it did not include chicanes to slow the cars.

A former Formula Ford driver who switched to historic racing and won the European F2 championship in 2015, Smith led from start to finish to win both Gold Cup races from Richard Evans in a 742 version of the March chassis.

"Going into the weekend it was all a bit of an unknown, especially as we didn't have a lot of time to prepare and with only one test before qualifying," said Smith.

"But we made qualifying count by getting the best out of our new set of tyres when some of the others struggled. And both races went like a dream, I couldn't have asked for more.

"To win the Gold Cup with so many famous names on it was a proud achievement, made even more special by having both my sons Ben and Tom join me on the podium at the finish."

Darwin, who is managing director of Smiths Engineering Works in Ballymena, was also presented with a specially-produced Historic Sports Car Club trophy by HSCC director Grahame White.

He is now considering an invitation to race at the Hungaroring, the Hungarian Grand Prix circuit, at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, in 2016 the Ulster Automobile Club turned back the clock to a different era when they revived Knockagh hill climb after a gap of more than 50 years.

It proved a popular decision, so much so it is being repeated again next week as the final round of the Millers Oil Northern Ireland Championship.

It could prove an interesting climax with reigning champion Chris Houston again leading the series but by just two points from Richard McGimpsey who was the fastest man at Knockagh last year.

There are equally tight battles in the saloon classes with the Cages, Roger and Rudi, separated by just a point in the modified category and only two between Paul Montgomery and Adrian Mulholland in the road-going class.

Used in the 1970s as part of the Circuit of Ireland, the original hill started from the Monkstown end and climbed up to the Knockagh Monument, but it now runs from the top of the Woodburn Road on the outskirts of Carrickfergus, home of the event sponsors Cannon Motors.

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