Race of Champions
A Great Day for Anglo-American Racers
Brands Hatch, March 12th: With the help of the Daily Mail newspaper the B.R.S.C.C. revived their Race of Champions, which was first organised in 1965, and they gathered in an excellent entry of Grand Prix cars and drivers, the only notable omissions being the works teams of Lotus and B.R.M. Details of the cars and drivers are enlarged upon in a separate article, but the entry list read as follows : Brabham, Hulme with Brabham-Repco V8s, Rindt, Rodriguez with works Cooper-Maseratis, Gurney, Ginther with Eagle-Weslake V 12s, Surtees with a lone Honda V12, Amon, Bandini and Scarfiotti with works Ferrari V12s, McLaren with his latest car with B.R.M. V8 engine, private-owners Ligier and Anderson with Cooper-Maserati V12 and Brabham-Climax 4-cylinder, respectively, Siffert with the Walker/Durlacher Cooper-Maserati, Spence with a works H16-cylinder B.R.M. entered by Tim Parnell, Irwin with a Lotus-B.R.M. V8 from the same team, Lawrence with the Cooper-based Pearce-Ferrari V12 of John Pearce, Courage with the Charles Lucas Lotus-Martin V8 and two F.2 Matra-Cosworth 1,600.c.c. cars for Beltoise and Ickx, making a total of twenty cars.
Practice took place on Saturday, March 11th (the race being on Sunday which itself was an innovation, being the first time there has been a trade-supported event on a Sunday), and there were two sessions for the Grand Prix cars, one from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, and the other from 3.15 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Ferrari team had made a big effort, with three V12-cylinder cars, one with a new engine, and high hopes were pinned on Amon who was to have his first formula one drive for the Italian team. Unfortunately he had an accident on his way to the Kentish circuit the day before and was feeling very unfit, with badly bruised right ankle and arm. Amon's ability to scratch round the tight little 2.65-mile circuit is undisputed and he would have got the Ferrari round very quickly. As it was he had to drive with one hand and could not use his right foot on the brakes very effectively, so after doing his best in the two practice periods he decided it would be unwise to try and race in his battered condition and withdrew, leaving Bandini and Scarfiotti to uphold the honour of Maranello. Bandini drove the latest Ferrari but the ignition was not absolutely right and Scarfiotti led the Italian attack with one of the late 1966 cars. The Eagle team were in fine form, confident of their cars, engines and drivers, and Gurney led with terriflc force, soon getting below the existing lap record of 1 min. 35.4 sec. and reducing it to a remarkable 1 min. 32.2 sec. before mid-day. Ginther's car was brand-new and after a little nonsense with the balance weights on the left rear wheel scraping on the brake caliper he was able to get down to some serious motoring. Both cars were sounding very healthy, the V12 Weslake engines running sweetly and obviously giving the quoted 400-plus horsepower, and presenting no problems. Much was expected of Surtees with the Honda V12, but before he could get going properly the suspension had to be raised as the car was grounding badly at the bottom of the dips and this involved a lot of work. By the end of the morning practice he had got things working properly and got down to 1 min. 33.8 sec., a very respectable time indeed, but a long way from Gurney's time on this short circuit. Ginther equalled the Honda time as the morning session drew to a close. McLaren was really enjoying himself with his little F.2-based car, though the 2-litre B.R.M. V8 engine did not have enough power to challenge the really powerful 3-litre cars, but it was faster than the Brabhams, Ferraris and Cooper-Maseratis. However, his dicing came to a stop when trouble intervened in the Hewland gearbox, so the team returned to Colnbrook to mend it and missed the afternoon practice. Both Scarfiotti and Bandini got below the old lap record, set up by Clark in 1965, which was very creditable as neither of them can be considered to be "at home" on the Brands Hatch circuit. Brabham and Hulme were late out for the first session and Hulme's car was definitely off form, while Brabham himself only just managed to equal McLaren's time. The works Cooper-Maseratis just were not going fast enough, and Rindt tried the spare car as well as his own, but it was Siffert who was fastest of the Anglo-Italian cars by lunch time. The lone H16-cylinder B.R.M. was far from right and Spence never did have a proper go at putting in a fast lap. Only one Matra appeared for the first practice, this being the Tyrrell team car and as it had only arrived from Paris the previous evening, never having been run, they had enough to do to get it going and sorted out. Ligier was having his first drive since his accident at Nurburgring last year but before the end of the morning he had struck a bank, due to a tyre deflating he thought, and bent the front end rather badly.
All morning an icy wind had been sweeping across the Brands Hatch valley and during the interval between the two practice periods this turned to rain, sleet, hail and very nearly snow, at which time the Group 5 souped-up saloon cars were trying to practise. However, it did not last long and the track soon started to dry. In the afternoon session for the Formula One cars Brabham, Hulme, Ligier and McLaren were missing, but Lawrence (Pearce-Ferrari) and Courage (Lucas-Martin V8) turned out, the latter getting down to the very respectable time of 1 min. 36.2 sec. Beltoise was still without his works Matra so he did a few laps in the Tyrrell car; merely to qualify. Gurney did not go as fast as he had done in the morning, but he was still the fastest and with Ginther backing him up well, the Eagle team were really setting the pace, only Surtees with the Honda providing any serious opposition. Although the official lap record stood at 1 min. 35.4 see., from 1965, Brabham had done 1 min. 34.5 sec. in 1966 with the Brabham-Repco V8 during practice. Rindt and Scarfiotti improved on this time, along with Gurney, Surtees and Ginther, but it was clear that the Eagle-Weslake and the Honda were getting into their stride and setting a much higher standard than that established by the Brabham-Repco V8 last year, the V12-cylinder engines proving more effective than the V8-cylinder engines. In spite of his injuries Amon got down to 1 min. 34.6 sec. but he knew he would not be able to keep it up for a whole race, and Spence equalled this time with the H16-cylinder B.R.M.
The final count saw V12-cylinder engines on the front row, all with four valves per cylinder, the Japanese Honda being sandwiched between the two Anglo-American Eagle-Weslake cars, the Weslake engine being as small and compact as the Honda engine is bulky. The Eagle team were well satisfied with the situation, for even without the Lotus and the B.R.M. teams the entry was pretty healthy.
Race day was cold but dry and the programme was to run everyone in two short 10-lap races and then everyone in a 40-lap final. Apart from the possible elimination of some of the weaker cars, the point of the two short races was not very clear, other than deciding grid positions for the final. The grid for the first 10-lap event was according to practice times, the grid for the second 10-lap race was in the order of finishing the first race, and the grid for the start of the final was to be in the order of finishing the second race. Apart from the two Pearce-Martin V8 cars, which did not make practice, the only non-starters were Amen and Courage and the remaining eighteen cars lined up as follows, with Ligier having been loaned the spare works Cooper-Maserati.
When the flag fell the two Eagle-Weslake cars out-accelerated the Honda and it was Ginther leading Gurney into Paddock Bend, with the Honda right behind them. This was something quite new for racing spectators, two American cars with American drivers leading a Formula One race, followed by a Japanese car, but British hopes were raised by Spence who was in fourth place with the H16 B.R.M. It had not been the Eagle team's plan for Ginther to lead, it was just that he made the best start, so on lap 2 he moved over and let the President of A.A.R. Incorporated take the lead and then we could see the Eagle strategy. While Gurney motored on hard Ginther eased off and spread the Eagle's wings, so to speak, so that neither Surtees nor anyone else could get by. This was team driving at its best and the sort of stuff that could put new life into Grand Prix racing. However, Surtees is a slippery customer and on lap 3 he slipped by Ginther but it was too late and there was no hope of catching Gurney in the 10 short laps and Ginther had done his job well. In fourth place Spence was not happy with the gear-change on the B.R.M. and McLaren got by him on the fifth lap, the New Zealand driver's little F.2-based car performing well and allowing its driver to have a really enjoyable drive. Right from the start Rindt was in trouble with a clutch that would not free properly, and stopped at the pits on lap 2, continuing slowly to be counted as a finisher. Neither the Brabhams nor the Ferraris were in the picture, for Gurney was setting a cracking pace, with a new lap record of 1 min. 32.6 sec. (103.02 m.p.h.), but even at that he was not having to drive over the limit and both car and driver looked very relaxed. At the back of the field Irwin and lckx were haying a good scrap, the skinny little Belgian boy getting the better of the dispute.
The 10 laps were soon over and the finishing order was Gurney, Surtees, Ginther, McLaren, Spence, Scarfiotti, Brabham, Rodriguez, Hulme, Bandini, Siffert, lckx, Irwin, Anderson, Beltoise, Ligier, Lawrence and Rindt, the last named being the only one to have trouble, although all was not as it should be with Hulme's Repco engine. Some 30 minutes later they lined up in rows of three, two, three in the order of finishing Heat 1 and were off once more with the Eagles again winning the "drag race" to Paddock Bend for they seemed to have far better traction than the Honda, even though all three were on Goodyear tyres. For this 10 laps everything went exactly to plan for the Eagle team, with Gurney leading from start to finish and Ginther holding second place and easing back very craftily so that his team leader could motor off into the distance, untroubled by the opposition. This time Surtees could do nothing about the number two Eagle and they were not loitering for only Scarfiotti was able to keep up with them. Rodriguez led the next group of cars, comprising McLaren, Spence, Siffert and Bandini, but the new Ferrari engine was misfiring badly, something being amiss in the ignition. Both Brabhams were in trouble, Hulme's Repco V8 engine breaking its camshaft drive chain on lap 6 and Brabham's engine suffering from fuel starvation due to a blockage in the filter system. Ginther did a fine job and must have grinned broadly as he saw the four vicious-looking exhaust pipes of Gurney's car drawing away all the time, knowing that he was in second place and no-one was going to get by. This time the finishing order was Gurney, Ginther, Surtees, Scarfiotti, Rodriguez, McLaren, Spence, Siffert, Bandini, lckx, Anderson and Irwin, with Gurney equalling his new lap record of 1 min. 32.6 sec. Beltoise was in trouble with the injection system on his new Cosworth engine, Ligier was having clutch trouble on his borrowed works Cooper-Maserati and Rindt was still in trouble.
We now had a race for very non-standard saloon cars, to Group 5 rules, which allow almost any modifications providing the cars look standard. The speed and power of Gardner with the Alan Mann Ford Falcon was truly impressive, and Elford was very good with a nearly standard Porsche 911, now hornologated to run against the Team Lotus fuel-injected Lotus-Cortinas. As ''All part of the new job " Graham Hill drove a works Cortina in a happy and spirited fashion but he would have rather been in the Formula One race, and among the little cars Gordon Spice was in terrific form, really giving the works Mini-Coopers trouble with his privately-owned Mini. The Alan Fraser team of Hillman Imps successfully shot down all the recent criticisms that they only win Club-type races, by soundly beating the Broadspeed Ford Anglias in the 1,000 c.c. class. This was in fact only half a race, as the second half took place after the 40-lap Formula One race, the overall positions being by the addition of the times.
After a long-drawn-out interval we finally got to the whole point of the day at Brands Hatch, the 40-lap race for the Daily Mail Trophy and the £500 cheque, though all we seemed to have achieved up to now was the elimination of some of the cars and a complete reshuffling of the starting grid as it had been decided by practice times. Lining up in the order of finishing the second to-lap race, we had the Eagles now side-by-side on the front row, with Surtees in the Honda on their left, and Scarfiotti and Rodriguez behind them. Hulme and Ligier were non-starters and poor old Rindt was on the back row alongside Lawrence. Yet again the Eagle team's plan worked out and I could not help feeling I had seen it all before as Gurney led Ginther away on the opening lap, with Surtees gnashing his teeth for the third time, knowing Ginther was going to hold him back while Gurney built up a commanding lead. Brands Hatch is such a niggly acrobatic circuit, with no real straights and nearly every corner immediately followed by another one, that passing is very difficult at the best of times and practically impossible if the man in front does not intend to relinquish his position. As Ginther said (with a grin), " Hell, I wasn't going to give up my second place."
Siffert had made a terrific start and was holding a splendid fourth place, in the thick of the works cars, but Brabham was beginning to show all his old form and now that his Repco V8 engine was getting good clean petrol it was going well. He moved steadily up from eighth on the opening lap to third on lap 7, just as Surtees slowed and headed the Honda towards the pits, the engine sounding very odd, as the throttle slide on one bank of cylinders was not shutting. With a healthy engine and a £500 prize in view Brabham really went motor racing and rushed past a surprised Ginther into second place on lap 11. Gurney was still comfortably in the lead, but his Weslake V12-cylinder engine was showing signs of losing power, a lot of oil being pumped out of the breathers into the catch tank, which was filling up and slopping over on the corners. The symptoms were of piston or piston ring trouble and the power loss meant that he could not get away from the very determined Brabham. Just as things were getting embarrassing the Repco V8 engine died and Brabham coasted into the pits. Hulme quickly diagnosed the trouble as the ignition pick-up wires under the flywheel being off; the special anti-vibration, safety push-on clip had fallen off ! By the time Brabham got going again everyone had gone by so that he was right out of the running. The 1967 Ferrari was performing properly at last and Bandini was working his way through the field from his poor starting position and by half-distance he ousted Siffert from third place, having passed his team-mate Scarfiotti, Rodriguez and Spence. At this point we had six cars going by in quick succession, all with 12-cylinder engines, in the order Eagle, Eagle, Ferrari, Cooper, Ferrari, Cooper and I could not help anticipating what this season is going to be like when we get this mass of machinery on a proper Grand Prix circuit, with the 16-cylinder B.R.M.s joining in. Exciting !
Surtees went out for three more laps at the end of the field but the throttle slide trouble was still there so he packed it in. McLaren had disappeared very suddenly at the end of the opening lap when his B.R.M. V8 engine suffered broken camshafts, and Spence was having a miserable ride as he could not get all the gears in the B.R.M. 6-speed gearbox and the engine was going off song. Irwin was driving a smooth steady race, being in the only non-3-litre car that was still running properly, but was about to be lapped by the leader. With Brabham a lap behind Gurney could ease off and as he slowed Ginther kept his distance, but this encouraged Bandini who began to gain on the two Eagles and as he pushed the new Ferrari along he was hotly pursued by Siffert, Scarfiotti and Rodriguez and it was suddenly painfully obvious that Britain had momentarily lost its grip on Formula One racing for there wasn't a British driver in the first six places, not even a colonial driver to come to our rescue in this International racing scene. Ginther was being troubled by a funny feeling in the steering of his Eagle and with only five laps to go he had to ease off as he was afraid something was going to break and on lap 37 he retired rather than risk crashing the car in this unimportant event, as the Eagle team have only the two 12-cylinder cars at present. This let Bandini into second place and he was doing his utmost to close on Gurney in the ailing Eagle. It was an exciting finish to the 40 laps, for Bandini was right behind the Eagle and behind these two Siffert was being pressed by Rodriguez who was having a last-minute do-or-die effort, having got by Scarfiotti. These five were the only ones to complete the full 40 laps and a bare four seconds covered the 1st to 5th cars after more than an hour of racing, and people say Grand Prix cars are dull. The noise alone of five V12 a-cylinder cars going by nose-to-tail racing for the finish was worth going for.
While not being an important race in the overall International picture, and only half the length of a proper Grand Prix, the Race of Champions was a significant race and there was much "writing on the wall" to read afterwards, and not much in basic English.-- D. S. J.
Results (Final --top five): Brands Hatch -- 2.65 miles/lap -- 40 laps -- 106 miles.
1st: D. Gurney (Eagle-Weslake V12 -- 3-litre) 1 hr. 04 min. 30.6 sec. -- 98.66 m.p.h.
2nd: L. Bandini (Ferrari V12 -- 3-litre) -- 1 hr. 04 min. 31.0 sec.
3rd: J. Siffert (Cooper-Maserati V12 --3-litre) -- 1 hr. 04 min. 32.6 sec.
4th: P. Rodriguez (Cooper-Maserati V12 -- 3-litre) -- 1 hr. 04 min. 33.4 sec.
5th: L. Scarfiotti (Ferrari V12 -- 3-litre) 1 hr. 04 min. 34.8 sec.
Brands Hatch Burbles
The Race of Champions was a bit short of Champion drivers, Clark, Stewart and Graham Hill not being entered. However, it was a race of Champion plugs; they were used by the first three cars.
Chris Irwin had the distinction of being the first British driver to finish, in sixth position. The first five were American, Italian, Swiss, Mexican, Italian; a truly International Race.
Eagle team were not signed up with any of the fuel companies and bought their petrol on the way to the circuit ! It could not officially be Esso, B.P. or Shell as they had no contract with any of these companies, so they said it was JET. It could easily have been VIP, HERON, AMOCO or any of the others. It was probably Esso Golden.
One got the impression that "egg-timers" were being used by the timekeepers as lap times were only given to the nearest fifth of a second; in this day of electronics and beam timing, too.
What a pity Amon was not fit enough to drive, he would have made the Ferrari really fly.
It really was a multi-cylinder 3-litre engine race, and this is only the start of the second year of this new Formula for Grand Prix racing.