A 1952 Jaguar C-type which has not seen competitive action for some 10 years returns to the track in 2012 for the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy, driven by none other than the sport’s very own racing vicar, the Reverend Simon Butler – in his very first historic race.
The Racing Reverend, currently Associate Rector of Ashtead Parish, in Surrey, started karting at an early age and has a great deal of experience in modern single-seaters.“I think I’m the only Anglican clergyman who has ever driven a modern Formula 1 car,” he says, “but this will be my first experience in historics. The C-type is owned by one of my parishioners, Tony Allen, and he invited me to share the car with Jonathon Crouch for the full series of Woodcote Trophy races.”
So why would a vicar take a break from the pulpit to take the wheel of a C-type, in a series of historic races known for being fast and fiercely competitive?
“Racing embodies for me the idea of living life to the full,” says Simon. “When I’m behind the wheel, I feel I’m pushing boundaries and taking myself and the car to the edge. There’s a real buzz taking a machine to its limit: you are on the razor’s edge of being in and out of control. You have to remain balanced on that edge. Then, of course, there’s the thrill of the race itself. It’s a matter of grabbing hold of what is offered in every one of life’s opportunities and embracing the risk that comes with it.”
And how does the C-type compare with modern single-seaters?
“Historic cars have no brakes! Seriously, though, I’ve really enjoyed the transition to historics, so much so that I might not go back. With a historic car, you need to keep it moving around a lot; there’s still a lot of precision needed, but it’s a different sort of precision.”
The drum-braked C-type which Simon will be racing, chassis number XKC 016, was supplied new in 1952 to the French Jaguar importer – hence its French racing blue paintwork. It competed in European events in 1953, until it crashed on the Mille Miglia, killing Pierre Gilbert Ugnon (who was driving at the time) and leaving his team-mate and lead driver, Luc Descollanges, badly injured.
“The damaged car sat in a yard for almost 20 years, until it was restored, piece by piece, in the 1970s by a prominent French Jaguar collector,” explains Simon. “It did a little historic racing in the 1990s, but has now been brought back to its original specification ready to compete in 2012.”
The first Woodcote Trophy race of 2012 is at the Donington Historic Festival on 5-6 May, followed by a round on the Brands Hatch GP circuit on 26-27 May, the Silverstone Classic in July and the Spa Six-Hours Meeting in September; and the Racing Reverend will be driving the French blue C-type in every round.
And by going to Donington Park for his first historic race, Simon is in some sense heading home – as his previous parish was just 15 miles away from the circuit, at West Bridgford in Nottinghamshire.