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Zoom to Benjafield’s Double 12

While the ongoing pandemic may have pushed many motoring enthusiasts away from each other due to the social distancing rules and a lack of motorsport events, Dr Malcolm Cox, North West BDC Chairman busied himself shining light through the dark times and bringing people together. Weekly Zoom calls could see 40 Bentley enthusiasts chewing the cud, and one great example would be the story of German based Matthias Heming.

“My father told me when I was a small boy about Bentley’s victories at Le Mans” says Matthias. “When I worked with the Bentley team in 2002 at Le Mans, all the clients arrived with their vintage Bentleys, supporting the team in the British racing green coloured EXP 8. From that moment on I knew what my father was talking about.’’ Joining Bentley Motors as Head of Engines he was responsible for the V8 and W12 in all Bentley models.  “It was a very special honour having in mind that the founder of the company W.O. Bentley was an engine guy.’’ 

“When William told us on Zoom that the Benjafield’s Double Twelve would run at the famous Motor Circuit, Goodwood, I was immediately set on fire. For me it is simple, there is no better place in the world than Goodwood, being surrounded by motorsport history and vintage Bentleys, but when he challenged me to ‘just get yourself there’ I knew I had to”.  Packing his car for the 2000 Kilometer round trip, Matthias left his family and drove overnight through locked down France to arrive at the circuit ready for an adventure… 

The Benjafield’s Double Twelve was an event born of the original Brooklands Double Twelve meetings of 1920-1930’s, a race that came about due to noise restrictions in period, meaning the cars would be put to the test for 12 hours each day and locked up overnight, prohibiting any repairs after the flag was waved at the end of the day. The original race was described as ‘motoring’s greatest racing test’, with the 53 competitors (referred to as ‘Speed Kings’) tackling the banked circuit at speeds of up to 140mph. 30 cars finished the 24 hours of gruelling action, with many cars having mechanical failures. Bentleys played a large part in the original event, with Bentley Speed Sixes claiming first and second place. 

The Benjafield’s Racing Club’s Double Twelve endurance race at Goodwood had to be held behind closed doors, and was purely for Bentleys produced between 1922-1932. It saw 23 vintage Bentleys storm around the circuit for 16 hours over two days, testing both the driver and the car’s consistency and reliability. It featured the mighty Speed Sixes, barking Blowers, nimble 3 Litres, powerful Super Sports and thumping 4 ½ Litres. The competition was fierce, with nearly every car holding controlled slides through St. Mary’s and Lavant. While most of the cars were storming around the circuit, there was always action to be found in the paddocks with mechanics and strategists jostling to keep the cars running. 

The Vintage Bentley team prepared 11 cars for the event, with the team members proving themselves numerous times throughout the tense race. Matthias assisted two German teams as a race engineer. The two teams were campaigning in a Bentley 1927 3 4 ½ Litre and a Super Sports. He supported the Vintage Bentley team with everything, from the organisation of mechanics, to making sure the drivers had everything they needed. In particular, Matthias had the arduous task of managing fuel consumption, tyres, brakes, driver changes and mechanical concerns. He especially had to be aware that on Saturday the cars would be brought in to the paddocks and left overnight, with mechanics not allowed to touch the cars. When asked if the event was a success for him, he promptly replied “It was a stunning event that was perfectly organised and therefore the best way to celebrate the spirit of the original Brooklands Double Twelve races. The camaraderie of the 53 drivers, enthusiasts and all the action on the track, in the paddock and during the evening events was extraordinary. Simply the opportunity to meet and to share passion, knowledge and experiences with cars that created racing history was amazing.” 

The 1927 Bentley 4 ½ Litre Le Mans of Simon Arscott and Graham Dodridge finished in first place on handicap, a well-earned victory! The 1925 Supersports of William Every second counts

Medcalf and Nick Swift completed the most laps of the circuit at 446 laps, making 1070 miles – an impressive accomplishment for the oldest car to enter the event.

In total, over 8,131 laps (19,514 miles) were completed, with the competitors covering an average of 353 laps. Many modern cars would struggle to complete nearly 400 laps of such a fast and sweeping circuit, however, the Bentleys proved that old is gold with 19 of the cars passing the chequered flag in the final hour. 

After the action each day, the drivers were treated to a socially-distanced dinner to refuel ahead of the long day of racing that awaited them. On the final day, the cars flew past the famous pit lane and through the chequered flag at 5pm before driving to Goodwood House for a prize-giving ceremony hosted by none other than Benjyman, the Duke of Richmond. The ceremony overlooked the trusty Bentleys that had endured 16 gruelling hours of tarmac-tearing racing. 

The event proved to be a welcome break from the madness of the pandemic. a fitting way to get back a sense of normality after months of hibernation. It’s not every day that you see 23 Bentleys thrashing around the West Sussex countryside, and to see these behemoths in proper use at such a historic circuit will always be a sight to behold, and a race that will be sure to stick in everyone’s memory. Matthias described the experience as “the best thing that has happened to me for a long time. It was just great to feel that everyone in the team shared the same passion for vintage Bentleys. The team spirit was just fantastic!”.

“Sometimes I just take a look at the pictures that I took during the event and it always makes me smile”. Matthias’ sentiment towards vintage Bentleys is infectious and his attitude towards older cars will help to keep them on the road for many years to come. Such enthusiasm towards seeing vintage Bentleys in action will allow all of us to witness them used as they should be, on the limit at historic motor circuits all around the world.

Thank you Malcolm and we salute you Matthias.

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