Snetterton International Meeting

March, 14th.

On paper the Snetterton Motor Racing Club had organised a first-class meeting to open the “Old World” International racing scene, with three decent-length events rather than a collection of sprint races. They were to be for Formula One cars, Formula Three cars, and Touring Cars, and the entry gave prospects of some interesting racing, but pre-race troubles, practice, the R.A.C. and the weather made a fiasco of the meeting. In past years the Lombank Finance company sponsored this opening meeting, but this year sponsorship was taken over by the Daily Mirror.

The main event for Formula One cars attracted a good entry and many new cars were expected but, as so often happens at the beginning of the season, cars were not ready or parts were late in being delivered; however, in spite of such things there was an interesting collection of cars for this opening meeting. In accordance with the agreement made by the F.1 manufacturers the teams were allocated numbers in relation to their results in the 1963 Manufacturers’ Championship; Team Lotus were numbers 1 and 2, the B.R.M. team 3 and 4, and so on. The Team Lotus entry was two 1963 cars for Clark and Arundell, one modified in many ways, to become a Type 25B, the other being a normal Type 25. Clark had the latest car, which was fitted with new suspension uprights and hub carriers, and smaller brake discs to accommodate new 13-in. wheels fitted with the latest Dunlop 13-in. tyre of enormous cross-section. This change of wheel size meant altering the steering and suspension geometry to suit, and the lower rear radius arms were anchored under the monocoque body instead of alongside. Both cars were using 5-speed ZF gearboxes and injection Coventry-Climax V8 engines. By the time these words are in print Lotus should have two 1964 cars finished, basically the same as this 25B, but with new ZF gearboxes, and these cars will be known as Type 33, the stressed-skin aluminium chassis remaining as in 1963. The B.R.M. team were not in such a happy state, having been able to complete only one car in time for the meeting; this was a revised version of last year’s monocoque design, but due to problems with a new engine it had had to be revised yet again before making its appearance. The layout of the centre-section of the 1963 monocoque car was retained, but instead of the tubular framework that carried the engine and rear suspension, stressed-skin extensions ran the length of the car from the centre-section and the engine/gearbox unit was bolted directly to these side boxes. The layout was designed to take a new engine that had the exhaust ports in the middle of the vee of the cylinders, but this unit not being ready a modified version of the 1963 engine had to be used, and this necessitated a revision of the rear suspension, with the springs mounted outboard, and slots cut in the side boxes to let the exhaust pipes pass through. This new car was built from the basis of the second of the 1963 monocoque cars that was never completed, and a second 1964 car was built from scratch and incorporated alterations to the suspension and hubs to take the new 13-in. Dunlop wheels and tyres, except that Dunlop were late in supplying the new wheels, so the car could not be finished in time for this meeting. Consequently only Graham Hill was competing, using the 1964 car with 15-in. wheels, and Ginther did not appear. B.R.M. have now settled for a programme of full-monocoque cars and have sold the two 1963 team cars, with space frames, to the Scuderia Centro-Sud. They were as used last season, except for being painted red, and Phil Hill and Baghetti drove them in practice, but Hill changed down instead of up and broke his engine, so Baghetti was stood down for the race and Hill took the remaining car. There was a further private B.R.M. V8, this being the car that Marsh used to own, now being raced by Jack Epstein.

The B.R.P. team had intended to field two B.R.P. monocoque cars, but only one appeared, it being for Innes Ireland, making a welcome return to racing after his end-of-season sports-car crash last year. This was the 1963 car but the Colotti gearbox had been replaced by a 6-speed B.R.M. unit, and the new team member Trevor Taylor was driving one of the B.R.P. Lotus 24s with B.R.M. engine and Colotti gearbox.

Jack Brabham was fresh back from his successes in Australia and was driving a 1963 Brabham-Climax V8 modified to take the new very wide-section 13-in. tyres mounted on new Brabham cast wheels. Brabham’s own car from 1963 was in the hands of its new owner Ian Raby, who had replaced the Climax engine with a B.R.M. V8 engine. The Parnell Racing Team, being run by Tim Parnell, had two Lotus 25 cars, bought from Team Lotus, for Hailwood and Amon, and they were fitted with B.R.M. V8 engines on injection, and the latest Hewland gearboxes, while this team were also busy looking after a Lotus 24 with B.R.M. V8 engine for Revson and a Scirocco with Climax V8 engine for Andre Pilette. There were but two Cooper-Climax V8 cars competing, McLaren with one of last year’s works cars and Bonnier with Rob Walker’s 1963 car, and the field was completed by Russell with an old 4-cylinder Lotus-Climax, and Collomb with his blue Lotus-Climax V8.

The saloon-car race was clearly going to be a battle between Galaxies and twin-cam Cortinas, especially as Clark and Arundell were driving the works Lotus cars, while among the small cars were two works Cooper-Minis driven by Hopkirk and the new young driver Fitzpatrick, as well as all the “tune-up” teams with their Minis. In the Formula Three event there was a big entry of Coopers, Lotus, and Brabhams mostly with Ford engines, though the Tyrell Team were using a engine in their 1964 Cooper being driven by Jack Stewart.

Altogether it looked a most promising meeting and even after a few practice bothers and a few non-arrivals the outlook remained good, but then the first blot on the horizon appeared, in the form of a demand from the R.A.C. to say that all saloon-car entrants should sign an additional declaration stating that their cars were strictly in accordance with Group 2 regulations and that in the event of being proved wrong by the scrutineers, after the race, they would pay for advertising matter in every National Daily Paper and Motoring paper saying what they had done wrong! Saloon-car racing and scrutineering is already a big enough farce, but this was the final straw and everyone refused to sign. The R.A.C. representative had no intention of arriving until after racing had begun so the Club Steward took the responsibility of permitting everyone to start without signing the forms. Before all this blew up the saloon-car race was due to be held under the new R.A.C. regulations anyway, whereby cars were only scrutineered for safety before the race, and the day after the race, or at any time during the next week or two, the cars would be checked for compliance with their written-down standards and any infringement would entail exclusion, so that there was no point in getting excited about the first car to receive the chequered flag.

Practice had taken place on Friday in fine weather but early Saturday morning the rains came, the sleet came, the wind came, the mists came, and, surprisingly enough, a fair crowd of enthusiasts came. By 2 p.m., when the first race was due to start, Snetterton airfield was a sea of mud and despondency, and all hope of serious racing could be forgotten. Everyone was cold, wet and pretty miserable, and many people wondered why they had come, especially the Brabham and Cooper boys who had just returned from an Australian summer. Under the shadow of the R.A.C. nonsense the saloon-car race splashed its way round the circuit, wipers and demisters working overtime, and in spite of prognostications that the works Lotus-Cortinas would trounce the Galaxies, the vast American cars were well able to cope with the rain and looked a lot safer than the Cortinas, while their speed in the wet was most impressive. Jack Sears in the Willment Team Ford Galaxie had full command of the race until he got involved with lapping a Mini and went off the course, which let Brabham into the lead, driving Alan Brown’s Galaxie. Jim Clark had been striving to hold onto the big V8 cars with his 140-b.h.p. Cortina but fuel starvation was causing erratic running. The two works Cooper-Minis were running round hand in hand and a lone Jaguar was assured of a class win as long as it kept going. Although Brabham received the plaudits of a winner there was no guarantee that the scrutineers would not find something wrong on the following day, and all the cars that finished were impounded and sealed.

The rain was still pouring down and the mists were swirling about, while the mud became deeper and mechanics and team personnel became colder and wetter. The length of the Formula One race was cut from 50 laps to 35 laps, a move that met with no opposition whatsoever, and seventeen cars came out onto the grid, Clark and Brabham using the 1964 Dunlop 13-in. tyres with very wide treads. In accordance with a new F.I.A. rule the start was to be on the “dummy-grid” principle whereby the field were lined up in grid formation someway behind the starting line and when ready they drove slowly up to the proper starting grid, where the official start would be given. Unfortunately the final minute signals at the start and at the dummy-grid seemed to be out of phase and when the field moved up to the start-line most of the drivers seemed unsure of what they were expecting to happen next, so that the start was a bit ragged and untidy. As the front row of Clark, Graham Hill and Arundell took off it was obvious that the new “podgy” Dunlops were not going to work in the rain, for Clark’s Lotus just sat on the streaming track with its rear wheels spinning on the water, while the cars with the narrower 15-in. tyres were getting through the water and finding some grip. Snetterton is a pretty rough and untidy circuit at the best of times but now the conditions were impossible and the rain was unceasing. Graham Hill led from Arundell, with Bonnier and Brabham trying to keep up, while Clark was not in the running, his Lotus sliding about all over the place. Drivers were having spins all round the circuit and few of them were going as fast as the saloons had gone. Hill did not last long in the lead for his B.R.M. suddenly veered off course on the bumpy straight between the hairpin and the esses and struck the bank and demolished itself, the monocoque centre-section saving the driver from any personal damage. Brabham had spun off and bent his exhaust pipes, suffering from “surf riding” on the podgy tyres, but had got going again, and Clark had managed to get into third place, so that with Hill’s retirement the two Team Lotus cars were in full command, but only insofar as positions were concerned, for Clark was anything but in command of his car. Arundell was driving in a very impressive and determined manner, though he was not responding to the “take it easy” signals from his pit staff. As the rain continued the lakes of water became bigger and spins and slides increased, while Clark and Brabham on their new tyres were having to use such small throttle openings that their Climax engines were beginning to fill up with water. Eventually they both had to call it a day and leave Arundell out on his own, but he did not last long for something broke inside the gearbox and he stopped abruptly, which let Bonnier into the lead in Rob Walker’s blue Cooper. However, this position was short lived for Ireland was getting into his stride at this point, in the pale green B.R.P. car, and he soon splashed by into the lead. His new team-mate Trevor Taylor had already retired with the B.R.P. Lotus, as had many others, but those who had been plodding on relentlessly were now appearing on the leader board, McLaren being third, Phil Hill fourth and Amon fifth, Hailwood having retired the other Parnell car. Running at a slower average speed than the saloon-car race, the wet and sodden Formula One drivers paddled out the 35 laps, with Ireland being a popular winner, and everyone was happy to see the chequered flag, most of all the drivers. At least there was no dispute about the winner of this race.

Finally, with darkness gathering and the rain still pouring down, the Formula Three race was held, but cut from 20 laps to 10 laps, and Jack Stewart in the Tyrell team 1964 Cooper-B.M.C. simply ran away from everyone to record the final win of the day.—D. S. J.

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Snetterton Snatches

The new wide-tread 13-in. Dunlop tyres were good in the dry, but acted like snow-shoes on deep water, so there must be some more deep thinking, or find a way of getting water off the track.

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On the day after the racing the R.A.C. Scrutineers literally tore the saloon cars apart and disqualified nearly everyone, so that their idea of the results bore no resemblance to what had happened in the race. Brabham’s Galaxie was ruled out for the omission of a strip of sealing rubber round the boot and Clark’s Lotus-Cortina for having a corrugated cardboard backing to the rear seat instead of flat cardboard. Did I say saloon-car racing was a farce!

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Anyone coming across Snetterton inadvertently on Saturday, March 14th, would have thought it a most suitable meeting for the Daily Mirror to sponsor.