A Strange Race
Brands Hatch, March 17th.
There was a time when the B.A.R.C. led the way in British motor-racing and opened the European Formula One season with a race at Goodwood, but of recent years the B.R.S.C.C. has taken over this lead and Brands Hatch has become the scene for the first Formula One race. Sponsored by the Daily Mail the race carries the title of “Race of Champions” but being early in the season it tends to lack champion drivers, but nevertheless gets an interesting entry and this year was no exception. The entry was not large, but it contained a galaxy of new cars and showed that interest and activity in Grand Prix racing is not lacking, which gives good prospects for more important races later on.
Heading the list were Hulme and McLaren with the two brand new McLaren cars making their first public appearance, both powered by Cosworth-Ford V8 engines. Then came Graham Hill with a lone entry from Gold Leaf Team Lotus, it being a 1967 Lotus 49-Cosworth V8, painted in the red, white and gold of the John Player’s cigarette company. The Cooper Car Company had the first of their 1968 cars with B.R.M. V12 engine and driven by Brian Redman, while Ferrari arrived in force with their three 1967 cars, all with 48-valve engines, with Amon, Ickx and de Adamich as drivers. B.R.M. had two 1968 cars, both with V12 cylinder engines, driven by Rodriguez and Spence, and Ken Tyrrell’s Matra-International team had a brand new Matra with Cosworth V8 engine for Stewart to drive. The Walker/Durlacher team entered their new Lotus 49 but during unofficial practice on the Friday before the race Siffert lost control of it in the wet and crashed badly, the car being severely damaged but he escaping injury. The following day the Walker racing department had a disastrous fire and the remains of the car were completely destroyed, together with much other valuable material. Brabham entered a single Repco V8-powered car for himself or Rindt to drive, but it was not ready in time, and having sold his last year’s cars he had to withdraw. Reg Parnell (Racing) Ltd. entered their new car but they were still awaiting a V12 B.R.M. engine so also withdrew, and Surtees had no new Honda available so entered his 1967 Lola with 2-litre radial-valve B.M.W. engine. To swell the entry list numerous private owners were invited to compete and these comprised Bonnier with the ex-works McLaren-B.R.M. V12, which he purchased after the South African G.P., David Hobbs with Bernard White’s B.R.M. which was one of the 2-litre V8 Tasman cars, but has been lengthened some seven inches behind the cockpit and a V12 B.R.M. engine has been installed, Silvio Moser with Vogele’s ex-works Brabham-Repco V8, Gethin with Frank Lythgoe’s Brabham-B.M.W., and Lanfranchi with a Brabham-Climax 4 cylinder. Non-starter among the private-owners was K. St. John with Sheppard’s car which is one of the original McLaren single-seater with the old Coventry-Climax V8 “Godiva” engine that dates from the mid-fifties.
All told the entry was satisfying for a race so early in the season and the new models were very impressive, especially the two orange McLaren cars, while the V12 B.R.M. cars looked very powerful, if somewhat sombre in their dark green, in contrast to the vivid blue of the new Matra, as did the dark green with white stripes of the works Cooper. Practice was well organised on Saturday, with a two and a quarter hour session in the morning, and a further one and three-quarter hours in mid-afternoon, the only drawback being the icy wind that blew along the Brands Hatch valley all week-end. The lap record for the full-length circuit was standing to Gurney when practice began, with a time of 1 min. 32.6 sec., set up in March 1967 with an Eagle-Weslake V12 so it was no surprise when first practice lap times soon got below this figure, but it was a surprise that it was Spence who was setting the pace. He was driving very neatly and smoothly, the B.R.M. V12 running well and the Len Terry-designed chassis handling splendidly. In contrast the Lotus 49 of Hill was looking terrible on the corners, and not much better on the straights, a re-arrangement of the weight distribution not working out at all well. This had been brought about by transferring the oil tank and battery from the front of the car to the rear, mounting a new saddle-shaped oil tank over the gearbox, with the battery in a recess on top of the tank. For the afternoon session the battery was returned to its forward position, but the car was far from right. McLaren had been doing a lot of pre-race testing with his new car and was well in the hunt for fastest time, though Hulme was not as impressive. Tyrrell was getting the Matra sorted out for Stewart, who was making full use of the power of the Cosworth V8 engine, but he could not challenge his old team-mate Spence, though he was second fastest during the morning. The complete Ferrari team formed a consolidated block behind these three, in the order Amon, de Adamich and Ickx and it would seem that a real champion driver would be able to get one of the red cars well up the front. Redman was being prevented from getting down to serious practice by little things going wrong or being altered on the new Cooper, and Hobbs was not happy with the gearchange on the modified Tasman B.R.M. for it has the gear lever built into the left-side of the cockpit whereas the Hewland gearbox it is using has the selector mechanism on the right hand side. As it is not possible to modify the monocoque easily, or have a Hewland gearbox with opposite side selectors, the gear-change linkage has to do a cross-over behind the engine; in addition the coolant was getting over-hot as the car still had the Tasman radiator. Poor John Surtees was looking rather lonely and forlorn with his little oversize Formula Two car amongst all the new 3-litre works cars, but now that Honda have withdrawn from classic motor-cycle racing, including the Isle of Man T.T., it is likely that they will make a really serious effort in Grand Prix racing and then Surtees will be able to do full justice to his driving ability.
In the afternoon session nearly everyone, except Rodriguez and Hobbs, improved on their times and McLaren’s new car was going better than ever, getting down to exactly 1 min. 30 sec., while Spence improved from 1 min. 30.8 sec. to 1 min. 30.4 sec., being very satisfied with the car at this pace. The Matra improved by nearly half a second and Amon continued to lead the Ferrari team, being fourth fastest overall, so that there were four different makes heading the practice list, McLaren, B.R.M., Matra and Ferrari. The Ferrari team suffered a loss when Andrea de Adamich got out of control while braking for Paddock Bend and struck the bank on the outside and wrecked the rear end. Prompt action by the B.R.S.C.C. marshals prevented a disaster and the driver was only slightly hurt, suffering concussion, but he was out of the race.
On Sunday a good crowd of 40,000 packed the circuit and after a Formula Ford race for amateur drivers and the first half of a saloon car event, the Grand Prix cars came out for the 50-lap race for the Daily Mail trophy and £500 first prize. Though conditions were fine and occasionally sunny the freezing cold wind was still blowing, the splendid noise of the 3-litre engines being the only thing that prevented most people from turning into blocks of ice. The list of starters was reduced to fourteen when Surtees withdrew the Lola-B.M.W., and as the field rolled forward from the “dummy-grid” it looked as though the list would be further reduced for Hobbs was having trouble starting his V12 B.R.M. engine and the Rodriguez car was still having its plugs changed. McLaren was very happy and confident on pole position and his whole team were elated at having a really competitive engine after two seasons of floundering about with under-powered engines. From the start the front row went away in practice order, but Hill nipped through into fourth place from the third row. Hobbs got started in time and Rodriguez just made it but was last away, apart from Gethin who was having bothers with his Brabham-B.M.W., and started late. McLaren led the field on the opening lap with Spence and Stewart following, but not challenging, while the Lotus 49 of Graham Hill was not looking very stable and he had Amon (Ferrari), Hulme (McLaren) and Ickx (Ferrari) right behind him wondering which way the Lotus was going to twitch next. McLaren was looking extremely confident, driving in a smooth and relaxed manner, not having to strain his car at all and yet steadily widening the gap between himself and the rest of the field. The new car was performing as immaculately as it looked and for the whole 50 laps McLaren led the field, this splendid performance more than making up for the troubles and frustrations that have beset McLaren Racing’s Grand Prix efforts since they started. Stewart tried in vain to challenge Spence, but the amount of effort he was expending in wrestling the car round the corners was not being justified and Spence was having no difficulty in keeping the V12 B.R.M. in front of the bright-blue Anglo-French Matra. Hill was working away in fourth place, but it was a very shaky fourth and had there been a bit more distance between the corners Amon might have been brave enough to try to force his way by and Hulme would have certainly followed him through; as it was it seemed a case of stale-mate. Ickx over-cooked things on lap 5 and dropped behind Redman and after that failed to make any impression on the new Cooper driver, who was running a steady seventh. At the back of the field Rodriguez had really got the bit between his teeth, being worked up after his late start, and was carving his way past the tail-enders in line fashion, demonstrating that if you are brave and courageous enough you can overtake in all sorts of unlikely places around the Brands Hatch circuit.
McLaren cruised round giving a fine demonstration of competence, completely untroubled by the rest of the runners, and Spence was doing a satisfactory job in second place, unruffled by Stewart’s brief attack. The Matra had fallen back a bit, but was secure in third place and for ten laps Hill kept the Lotus 49 in fourth place, but then the left-hand inboard drive-shaft universal joint broke as he plunged down Dingle Dell and the flailing end split the oil tank and he had an exciting moment bringing it all to a stop. This gave Amon and Hulme a clear run, but they were too far back to challenge the first three cars, though they could not relax as Rodriguez had rushed past Ickx and Redman and had his sights on the orange McLaren of World Champion Hulme. Of the tail-enders Hobbs had made a brief stop to fix a breather pipe. Moser had retired with low oil pressure in his Repco V8 engine, and Bonnier had managed to get past Lanfranchi. The whole race had now become a bit processional, apart from the progress of Rodriguez who was becoming more inspired as he caught and passed Hulme and then dealt with Amon in the short space of two laps. As he was doing this Spence coasted into the pits with the other V12 B.R.M., his race finished as an oil pipe under the car become detached and had been rubbed through as the car grounded on it at various parts of the circuit. The courageous Rodriguez was still well wound up and not being a respecter of names and faces went past Stewart’s Matra and into second place. It was not so much that the Mexican was going fast, it was more that everyone else was going slowly, for though he passed everyone except McLaren, it was the New Zealander who held fastest lap with a new record time of 1 min. 31.6 sec.
At half-distance, which was 25 laps, McLaren was comfortably up around Druids hairpin before Rodriguez came into sight at Clearways, and there was no need for him to strain his new car at all to maintain this distance. Hulme had got past Amon and when Stewart began to have trouble with the pedals on the Matra the orange McLaren moved up into third place, much to the joy of the chaps from Colnebrook. The trouble on the Matra was in the pedal pivot department and the clutch pedal was fouling the brake pedal and vice-versa, all of which did not make for fast driving, and eventually Stewart was forced to stop at the pits on lap 34. lckx had also stopped, with fuel pump trouble, but got going again, running in company with Amon, though four laps behind him, and the two Ferraris made a fine blare of sound. Stewart lost over a lap while a repair was effected and rejoined the race ahead of Rodriguez on the road, and got in the way of the B.R.M. for quite a time, though it did not really matter as McLaren could not be caught, and anyway he had plenty in reserve. With Stewart dropping out of the running Redman took over fifth position with the new Cooper-B.R.M. V12, driving a nice steady race and still on the same lap as McLaren, and he held this position until the finish. It was a well satisfied McLaren who got the chequered flag, his new car as immaculate at the finish as it was at the start, and though he had led from start to finish and made a new lap record it was not to give false confidence for he knew he had not had to face the challenge of Clark, Gurney, Surtees or Brabham, while the new Matra was too new and the old Lotus 49 was not on top form. However, he was confident that at last he had got a truly competitive car, and that he and Hulme could now face the serious Grand Prix season in the knowledge that they were one jump and one race ahead of their rivals.
The B.R.M. team were happy with the way their new cars had performed and Cooper were not dispirited for their B.R.M. engine was only a “hack” one and had done over 400 miles of testing before the race had even begun. The Goodyear Tyre Company were very pleased for the first three cars were on their rubber and the McLarens and B.R.M. were all on Shell petrol and oil, and all used Champion sparking plugs. Ferodo brake pads, and Lucas electrics and fuel-injection equipment.
The cold, windy day ended with the second part of the saloon car race and then the 40,000 queued-up to join the public on the A20 road back to London.—D. S. J.
The Gold Leaf Team Lotus were forced by the circuit organisation to black out the Players Cigarette “Sailor Boy” symbol on the side of the Lotus 49. Could it be that Guards have purchased a cigarette monopoly on Brands Hatch—after all they do present the Trophies for the saloon car racing?
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The Owen Racing Organisation still maintain that their V12 engine was designed as a sports-car unit and that the H16 is really their Grand Prix engine. Ford say that the V8 Cosworth engine is their Grand Prix engine, but are using it in their Group 6 sports car. Confusing isn’t it?
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Some people view the Tyrrell Matra as the reappearance of France into Grand Prix racing, but with a British engine, gearbox, tyres, electrics and driver, to say nothing of the very English team-manager, the French element is a bit thin. The works Matra V12 driven by Beltoise really will see the true return of the French blue.
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The accidents to Siffert and de Adamich make you wonder whether 400 b.h.p. in just over half-a-ton of motor car are not taxing some drivers’ possibilities too far.
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As a season-opener the meeting was interesting, but not exciting.