Butch – but only for the weekend / #1973
/ DAVID LILLYWHITE / #Triumph-Dolomite
‘It even has its original Spa 24 Hours livery,’ enthused race organiser Duncan Wiltshire about his Group 1 Triumph Dolomite Sprint race car. True enough, it has… livery for Belgian sponsors Butch Tailors, complete with ‘Butch’ written across the windscreen sunstrip. But by the time I’d realised that, I’d already said yes to Duncan’s otherwise generous offer to race the Dolomite in the Historic Touring Car Challenge for Pre-91 Touring Cars (incorporating the Tony Dron Trophy, no less) at the Donington Historic Festival, up against BMW E30 M3s, 2002s and CSLs, Rover SD1s, 3.0-litre Capris, Camaros, an MG Metro Turbo, even another Dolomite.
The plan was for me to share with Motor Racing Legends media manager and experienced racer Sarah Bennett-Baggs, with technical back-up from BL race car guru Ken Clarke and sponsorship for costs from Adrian Flux Insurance Services. We managed to squeeze in three steady laps each on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit three days before Donington – and the next thing we knew it was 9am on the Saturday of the Historic Festival, and I was heading out first for the 25-minute, two-driver qualifying session.
A few things to know about the Dolomite: it was raced at Spa in 1975 (and possibly 1974) to Group 1 specification, and it’s changed little since, so it’s about as close to a standard production car as any racer will be. The 16-valve engine runs twin 48DCOE Webers and is tuned for about 220bhp, there’s a limitedslip diff and a close-ratio gearbox, suspension is uprated, and the front discs are stock diameter but vented (the rears are drums).
That’s it – so it doesn’t take long to find the newer front-runners passing the Dolomite at much higher speeds. It feels great though, with a lovely strong engine. It turns in precisely and lets go at the back wonderfully predictably; the only real weakness is the brakes, which lack bite. Sarah takes her turn, and then we have a few hours to wait for the race, during which time the sun disappears to be replaced by snow, then rain showers. We decide that Sarah should go second, given that she’ll be faster (damnit!) and I’m disappointed to find that it’s a rolling start (I love grid starts!), which I mess up completely. The Group 1 cars are at the back of the grid, and my main aim is to keep up with the other Dolomite, while keeping our car in one piece as the big boys come tearing past at very close quarters.
The big boys, incidentally, include BTCC legends Steve Soper, Matt Neal, Tim Harvey and Patrick Watts, and they really don’t mess around.
I, meanwhile, dice with the Dolomite and an Alfa GTV but never manage to stay ahead for long enough before handing over to Sarah. Just as the heavens open.
How Sarah kept the car on the track I’ll never know but she finished the 50-minute race just metres behind the other Dolomite, amid spectacular racing throughout the field – this era of Touring Car racing is going to grow and grow!
We both agreed we’d had a great time, in a much-underrated car, so huge thanks to Duncan Wiltshire and Lindsey Warren at Motor Racing Legends, Ken Clarke and team, and Adrian Flux Insurance.
Clockwise from above. David modelling the original ‘Butch’ livery; Sarah and David after testing at Silverstone; Ken Clarke shows which button to press; Sarah fights off Capri and SD1; David tussles with other Dolomite at Redgate.