Race of champions and surprises
Brands Hatch, March 18th.
BRANDS HATCH’S Race of Champions has, for several years, started the European Formula One season but anyone looking for a pointer for the year from the results of the 1973 race can forget it—unless the lesson learned is that Formula One cars are going to be more unreliable than ever before. It turned out to be a quite extraordinary race during which the lead changed five times in the space of the 40 laps, the last and final time coming within two miles of the finish. The surprise victor who snatched this last lap lead was Peter Gethin, the former BRM and McLaren Formula One driver, who was at the wheel of a brand new Chevron B24-Chevrolet Formula 5000 car, for this race also included the stock block powered cars to make up the numbers on the grid. No one expected a Formula 5000 to win but Gethin practised strongly, finished the first lap in sixth position, and then had the five Formula One cars in front of him wilt under the strain. This was the first time in Britain that the Formula 5000 brigade had triumphed over Formula One and the whole affair must have made John Webb of Motor Circuit Developments happy, for it is he who has campaigned so vehemently for the continuance of this class in Britain. Furthermore, a huge crowd turned up at Brands Hatch, probably the largest ever at the circuit apart from a British Grand Prix.
An entry of 16 British-based Formula One cars was received for the event and there were more than enough Formula 5000 cars entered to fill the grid out to 36, a massive field by any standards. Something of a disappointment was the non-appearance of the Shadows for Jack Oliver and George Follmer, these cars being in the process of modification following the South African Grand Prix, while Hill’s similar private car was not ready either. The little Ensign team have still not completed their Formula One car for the hopeful Rikki von Opel and Team Surtees scratched Carlos Pace following their Kyalami disasters. But on show for the first time was the brand new Brabham BT42 driven by John Watson and Formula Two driver James Hunt made his debut in a Grand Prix car.
John Player-Team Lotus brought along their two earlier Lotus 72s, chassis R5 and R6 for Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson, these two cars having been completely rebuilt as new during the winter months. Not only did they now have a fibreglass and foam sandwich cladding to comply with the new safety regulations but also the suspension was completely revised too. The cladding hardly altered the appearance of the cars at all, except that the line around the radiator ducts was a little different. The suspension changes were fairly major, a much wider front track, by four inches, being incorporated and this necessitated completely new wishbones and driveshafts. The rear suspension had cast instead of the customary fabricated rear uprights and some geometry changes to suit the latest 26-in. diameter Goodyear tyres. All this work was only finished at the last minute and the cars arrived at the circuit in their new trim completely untried and untested.
Marlboro-BRM were taking the race seriously and entered a full complement of three cars although, naturally, Clay Regazzoni wasn’t fit enough to drive and his place was taken by Bourne’s apprentice Vern Schuppan. He had a P160 just like those of Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Niki Lauda, the cars being as raced in South Africa.
McLaren Racing brought along their brand new M23 for Denny Hulme and an M19C for Jody Scheckter, who had made his British Formula Ford debut at this meeting two years earlier. Team Surtees originally entered a pair of TS14As but, following the ravages of Kyalami, reduced the entry to the prototype TS14 for Mike Hailwood while a TS9B was “loaned” to Lord Hesketh’s team for James Hunt to make his Formula One debut.
Motor Racing Developments Ltd. had their new BT42 ready and, rather than bring over Carlos Reutemann or Wilson Fittipaldi from South America, decided to give John Watson the opportunity to race and test the car. It was the Irishman’s second Formula One appearance. The new car, designed by Gordon Murray, is quite a startling new shape with flat sides which form a near 45º angle to the road. Twin front radiators are mounted in a wide nose and cooled by slats, while the airbox is narrow and angled forward. The concept of the shape is to achieve as much downforce as possible from the actual body as well as present a clean airflow to the rear wing. The suspension is fairly conventional although Murray has gone for lightness in this department, and also has a very narrow rear track. Several smaller features of the car are interesting but space here is unfortunately limited so the car will be covered in fuller detail next month. With Graham Hill’s Shadow not complete, Brabhams were prevailed upon to run a BT37 for their former driver. Finally the Frank Williams Iso Marlboro team brought along both their cars as seen in South Africa for Howden Ganley and local boy Tony Trimmer, this being one of several occasional F1 drives he has had over the past three years.
The Formula 5000 entry was terrific, at last this class has suddenly found its feet in Britain. In direct contrast to last year there were something like 14 brand new 5000s in the paddock and the remainder were nearly all reasonably competitive too. Some of the new cars are actually destined for the USA series but nevertheless more than enough will be remaining in Britain to make this category, strongly supported by Rothmans, very exciting this year!
Lola seem to have had the biggest share of the market and there were new T330s for Hobbs and Lunger (Hogan Racing, USA van Lennep and Belso (Shellsport, Luxembourg team), Edwards (Barclays), and Ashley (Henly Fork Lift). Chevron are not doing badly either with Peter Gethin in the works: B24, which he will race under the banner of USA, while Tony Dean and Bob Brown had Doug Shierson Racing/Marathon Oils in the two similar cars entered by Anglo-American Racing Team (nothing to do with Dan Gurney) and Steve Thompson had the prototype B24 from last year. Keith Holland had the works-backed Trojan but the private cars of Sid Taylor Racing and Bob Evans non-started, there was a new March for John Gunn from America, Graham McRae -and Jock Russell had last year’s McRae, and there were several others mainly in older McLaren and Surtees cars. All were Chevrolet powered.
In fact the Formula 5000 brigade had their own race on Saturday and in this Peter Gethin showed that he will be a very hard man to beat in this category in 1973. He romped home to an easy win from American Brett Lunger, who moved up after several retirements, sports-car driver Edwards being particularly impressive while he was still going, while Holland was unlucky not to finish after lying second for most of the race.
Friday’s practice was generous but was completely untimed and unofficial and was really just an open test day, the cars not even having to pass through scrutineering before taking to the track. Official practice was on Saturday morning with 2 1/2 hours available, this proving all too short for most teams. But the BRMs, with some good previous results behind them at Brands Hatch recently, seemed better prepared than anyone and their Firestone tyres were helping a good deal too. The team totally dominated the session, with Beltoise very quickly under the lap record of 1 min. 23.8 sec. He seemed to have little difficulty in lowering his time to 1 min. 21.1 sec. to take pole position. Lauda showed his best ever form in a Formula One car to lap in 1 min 21.9 sec. and finish up on the front row of the grid, much to everyone’s surprise, while not to be outdone Vern Schuppan worked hard to equal the Austrian’s time and in so doing finished up with 1 min. 22.2 sec.
Jody Scheckter was fastest of the non-BRM, non-Firestone, runners and lapped in 1 min. 22.6 sec., while both Hailwood and Peterson worked hard for 1 min. 22.7 sec. Neither the Swede nor Emerson Fittipaldi, who was next fastest at 1 min. 23.1 sec., thought much of the new suspension set-up although really there just wasn’t enough time to sort it all out. John Watson was trying both the BT42 and the BT37 and the general idea was that Graham Hill had what was left over, although it was obvious that the Brabham team wanted their own driver in the new car. This, however, was plagued with a fault with the oil system which caused the oil to overheat very badly and, meanwhile, Watson recorded 1 min. 23.8 sec., to be eighth fastest in the older car. He lapped the newer car in 1 min. 26.6 sec. to be amongst the Formula 5000s but finally decided to race that car so he was well down the grid.
Gethin was the best Formula 5000 at 1 min. 23.9 sec. to beat even Hulme in the new McLaren M23, which started off not liking the bumps of Brands Hatch and broke a driveshaft before any improvements could be made. Then came Ganley in the Williams, ahead of the next two best 5000s, Holland’s Trojan and Lunger’s Lola, and then another F1 in the form of Hunt’s Surtees—the F2 man playing himself in sensibly. Then came Hobbs and McRae’s F5000s ahead of Hill, who got very little time in the BT37, and Watson in the troubled BT42. Trimmer was right near the bottom of the list with the older Williams cars.
In best Brands Hatch traditions there was a very full programme including fun and games from various non-motoring sports stars racing Consul GTs on the Club Circuit. Taking advantage of a front row start because his name began with B (grid by alphabetical order), Chay Blyth, the lone Atlantic yachtsman, built up an early lead and then beat off the advances of cyclist and one-time racing driver Reg Harris, Speedway World Champion Ivan Mauger and finally powerboat star Tom Percival, who finished a close second. Clement Freud, billed as champion omelette maker, also went well but spun, as did Harris and Manger. Mick McManus wrestled with the steering without much effect and Henry Cooper’s car didn’t seem to have much punch.
After this and a Formula Atlantic race won in fine style by Colin Vandervell’s Triplex March 73B after a hard drive up the field due to a poor start from pole position, the serious stuff started.
It was a straight grid start without the field moving forward from a dummy grid but, for some reason, the cars were held waiting for a very long time. Both Lotuses started to boil, Peterson’s car being almost engulfed in steam, while both McLarens almost cooked their clutches. Fittipaldi started to creep forward badly and was actually docked a minute by the stewards, and then the flag dropped. Beltoise and Lauda made excellent starts and so did Peterson, but Scheckter’s clutch refused to bite and he hardly moved, causing various avoidances until Hill got hit up the back and finished up in the bank just past the start line. The left front suspension of the car was damaged and Graham climbed out wondering what had happened.
By the end of the first lap it was a red-and-white Marlboro BRM in front with Beltoise at the wheel, while Peterson was second and Lauda third. Then came Fittipaldi, a little way back with his engine already misfiring, then Schuppan, while Gethin was up to sixth place with the Chevron ahead of the likes of Hailwood, Hulme and Ganley. Then came Edwards (going very well in the Barclays Lola) with Holland behind him, and Watson next up with the angular Brabham, Scheckter was down in 25th place after getting away last with his faulty clutch.
Overnight the two Lotus 72 cars had the older type front suspension fitted and Peterson was obviously very much happier with the handling of the car and he soon started to press Beltoise hard for the lead. But teammate Fittipaldi was already in trouble and he retired at the end of the third lap with the engine’s metering unit seized. It had given trouble in the morning warm-up session. But Peterson was really putting the pressure on Beltoise and on lap 5, the BRM very nearly lost it and, while he was sorting it out, Peterson was through.
By lap 10 Peterson had pulled out about two seconds from Beltoise, who had Lauda right with him and even threatening to pass. Hailwood had moved up to fourth place ahead of Schuppan, while Hulme had got by Gethin for sixth place but was having trouble with his clutch due to the start line hold-up. Gethin led Ganley and Hunt and then, next up, was Scheckter, who was charging through like a champion. Brabham fortunes were at a low ebb for Watson had crashed badly in the new BT42 at Stirling’s Bend and was trapped in the wreckage. He thought the throttle had stuck open. Unfortunately the steering rack had trapped and broken a leg and he couldn’t be released until the race was over, a period of over an hour. He was conscious all this time and, as it was considered the car was not in a dangerous place, the race was not stopped although a yellow flag was displayed the whole time. It was a tragedy for Watson who looked on the brink of great things with Brabham and the Gulf-Mirage team.
Howden Ganley retired soon after when a wheel started to break on the Williams, while the two BRMs continued to hound Peterson, although the challenge faded somewhat when Lauda came in with a puncture on lap 17 and he continued after losing a lap. Peterson completed the 18th lap but then suddenly slowed at Druids and pulled in to the pits from the back entrance with a terrible clunk from the transmission. Third gear had shattered and he retired. Beltoise was back in the lead from Hailwood with Schuppan third but now he was being challenged by Hulme while Scheckter was up to sixth ahead of Gethin, who was leading the Formula 5000 category by miles, and soon he also passed Schuppan.
Beltoise’s lead was short-lived, however, for after another three laps he suddenly shot into the pits with a puncture: handing the lead to Mike Hailwood’s Surtees. On the same lap Scheckter lost it at Druids and retired against the Armco and Hulme had passed Schuppan and thus found himself second, while Gethin was now fourth ahead of Hunt. Beltoise’s stop was a quick one and he rejoined in sixth place. It was all rather like the old days of scheduled pit stops and there was no doubt the crowd were loving it. Trimmer had been getting on well with the job of learning to drive his Williams and, as most of the leading 5000s except Gethin had dropped out with various problems, he found himself seventh.
But this motor race had plenty of tricks and surprises yet. On lap 27 Schuppan lost it at Clearways and slid around the Armco and retired on the spot with suspension damage, so that Gethin was now third. Hailwood seemed to have it in the bag and was cruising home to his first ever Formula One win. But with just four and a half laps to go, as he approached Hawthorn Bend, something in the left rear suspension suddenly let go and the car immediately slid out of control and smashed sideways into the Armco with a tremendous crash. The car briefly burst into flames but was extinguished immediately and Mike climbed out unhappily, throwing his crash helmet to the ground.
Now we had a new leader in Hulme who must have been very surprised to find himself in sight of victory. But there was more to come. With a lap to go Hulme’s clutch started to give real trouble (it was actually the release bearing) and he slowed and tried to nurse the car home. Meanwhile Gethin started to close up while Dean in the second of the 5000s locked up under braking and very nearly rammed Hulme. With half a lap to go Gethin flashed by into the lead and on to a surprise victory. Hulme limped home and was very nearly overtaken by James Hunt as they flashed across the line, while Trimmer found himself fourth still on the same lap as the leader. Beltoise had to make a second pit stop for another puncture but did so losing only one place, which was remarkable. So it was Dean’s Chevron F5000 fifth ahead of Beltoise. Seventh was the Danish driver Tom Belso its his Shellsport Lola T330, ahead of fellow F5000 drivers Allen, Santo, Ashley, Brown, van Lennep (who had made a pit stop) and Russell. Some of the quicker ones had dropped out, including Edwards, McRae and Lunger, all with engine trouble, and Holland when the rear wing fell off.
So the Formula One boys were made to look rather stupid by Peter Gethin and his Formula 5000 Chevron. It was all good light-hearted entertainment that kept the crowd thrilled.—A.R.M.
Race of Champions—Brands Hatch—Formula One and Formula 5000—40 laps—170.59 kilometres
1st: P. Gethin (Chevron B24-Chevrolet V8) . . . . . 57 min. 22.9 see.—178.37 k.p.h.
2nd: D. Hulme (McLaren M23-Cosworth V8) . . . . . 57 min. 26.3 sec.
3rd: J. Hunt (Surtees TS9B-Cosworth V8) . . . . 57 min. 26.3 sec.
4th: A. Trimmer (Williams FX3-Cosworth V8) . . . . 57 min. 49.4 sec.
5th: A. Dean (Chevron B24-Chevrolet V8) . . . . 39 laps
6th: J.-P. Beltoise (BRM P160 V12) . . . . 39 laps
7th: T. Belsey (Lola T330-Chevrolet V8) . . . . 39 laps
8th: R. Allen (Surtees T58-Chevrolet V8) . . . . 38 laps
9th: T. Santo (Surtees TS11-Chevrolet V8) . . . . 38 laps
10th: J. Ashley (Lola T330-Chevrolet V8) . . . . 38 laps
Fastest lap: J.-P. Beltoise (BRM P160 V120), N. Lauda (BRM P160 V12) and R. Peterson (Lotus 72D-Cosworth V8), 1 min. 23.8 sec.–184.98 k.p.h.
Fastest F5000 lap: P. Gethin (Chevron B24-Chevrolet V8), 1 min. 24.9 sec., 180.84 k.p.h.