The Race of Champions

And other events

Brands Hatch, March 16th

The season "opener" saw a small but varied entry for the combined F1 and F5000 race over 40 laps of the full circuit at Brands Hatch. It gave the opportunity for some of the stars to appear before the British public, and some newcomers the opportunity to try their hand at Formula One. In appalling conditions of cold and damp, practice saw only one non-starter in the form of Schuppan's projected March 741, but two cars had accidents which made the entry begin to look a bit thin. Those were Nicholson's Lyncar-Cosworth V8 and Flammini in Frank Williams' second car. While the Lyncar was repairable the Williams was not, and FW/02 (or IR/02 as it used to be called) had to return home for a complete rebuild around a new monocoque chassis.The F5000 cars practiced on their own, then had a 35-lap race of their own,and the four fastest were allowed to join the select band of Formula One cars for Sunday's big event.

The F1 entry comprised Scheckter in a lone Tyrrell with a new nose without the vertical guide vanes, Peterson and Ickx in Lotus 72s, Fittipaldi and Mass in McLarens, Watson in a lone Surtees, Jarier and Pryce with two Shadow DN5s, Merzario in a Williams, Stommelen in a Lola, Donahue in the Penske, Wunderink in the Ensign, Trimmer in what used to be the Token and is now called the Safir, and Evans in a BRM. While mixing it with the men was the Italian girl Lella Lombardi in a March 751 built around parts from the new car that Brambilla had damaged in South Africa, it now being 751/1-2.

The Brands Hatch track had been resurfaced during the winter but greasy wet conditions gave little chance for the surface to bed-in and practice was cross between power-boating and trials driving, but through it all Tom Pryce shone and got pole-position on the grid with Scheckter alongside. World Champion Fittipaldi, apart from "bleating" about the dangers of letting Formula 5000 cars and drivers run in the same race as the "professionals", got nowhere at all, the multitude of variables on his McLaren M23/9 being less-right than most other teams, and his slowness was attributed to "handling problems", as if he was the only one to be suffering from such things. A little enthusiasm in the cockpit can make up for a lot of maladjustments or wrong choices!

A Formula Atlantic race opened the proceedings and Tony Brise ran away from everyone in the works Modus, winning with ease over the 25-laps. Behind him Jim Crawford (Chevron with a Hart-prepared engine) and Richard Morgan (Chevron with a Nicholson-prepared engine) had a good scrap until until the latter tried to drive through on the inside at Druids and knocked the nose cowling on his rival's back wheel. Both continued, but Morgan had to slow, with reduced adhesion on the front tyres, and gradually dropped back to sixth place, while Crawford stayed in second place.

A Group One Touring Car race then took place over 20-laps, the large entry ranging from brutal Chevrolet Camaros to effeminate looking Mazdas an Hillman Avengers. Once Stuart Graham had got past Woodman, in a decisive and forceful manoeuvre at Druids Hairpin the race was over, but the high-spot was the driving of Andy Rouse in the Broadspeed Triumph Dolomite, who hung on to the leading trio of Camaros driven by Graham, Woodman and Lloyd, and snatched third place from Lloyd when the "Simoniz" Camaro suffered from fading brakes and the gearbox playing tricks. John Hine in another Dolomite Sprint was going well until he had a spin on the greasy track, but made amends by some forceful driving afterwards to climb back to second in his class, behind Rouse.

A flurry of snow greeted the Race of Championsand there was some delay while decisions, both right and wrong, were made on the question of "wet" and "dry" tyres. The twenty runners were lined up in pairs, Pryce and Scheckter in front, followed by Ickx and Jarier, Peterson and Stommelen, Merzario and Donahue, Watson and Belso (F5000), Purley (F5000) and Lombardi, Trimmer and Schuppan (F5000), Ashley (F5000) and Mass, Wunderink and Fittipaldi, Nicholson and Evans.

From the start Ickx stormed into the lead, while Belso and Mass collided at the first corner and the McLaren finished up on top of the Lola-Chevrolet. Scheckter, Pryce and Peterson followed Ickx on the opening lap, but Scheckter was soon through into the lead and showed the frozen spectators the driving form that had won him the South African Grand Prix. The leaders were on "dry weather" tyres and Jarier was forced to stop and change tyres, having started on "wet weather". While Scheckter was running away in the Tyrrell 007/2 Pryce was having difficulty in finding a way past Ickx, but when he finally succeeded he drove in a really determined fashion and began to close on the South African. Fittipaldi was beginning to pick off some of the slower cars, but he was not really getting away from Evans in the BRM, who was driving with great enthusiasm. Another whose enthusiastic driving was good to watch was John Watson, the bearded Ulsterrman, hounding the two works Lotus drivers in his works Surtees, and by ten laps he was up to third place.

At half distance Pryce had got Scheckter in view, but it was no guarantee that he would get any closer or get by if given the chance. They both lapped the World Champion, who was not trying very hard, and almost immediately afterwards Pryce closed right up on the Tyrrell as it began to lose power. Almost before he had realised it, Pryce was in the lead as the Cosworth engine in the Tyrrell broke in a pretty comprehensive way and Schecker coasted into the pits. With 14 laps to go it was all over and Pryce received a warm welcome for a very deserved win, the first in Formula One for the UOP Shadow team. A very happy Watson was an equally deserved second, there being a smile on the face of John Surtees, which was change after all the gloo of the past year, and the "Lotus Lads" were third and fourth. David Purley won the Formula 5000 class with his neat Chevron powered by a 4-cam Cosworth-built Ford V6 engine in spite of spending a lot of time on the grass trying to keep out of the way of the Formula One cars. As the other three F5000 cars retired he had to win!

The day ended with a short race for a sort of Formula Super Ford or Brands Hatch Formula, for cars powered by Ford Pinto engines. In spite of winter arriving in mid-March just as summer-time officially arrived, it was a fair day's racing, but whether it was worth the cost to the spectators at £7.50 for a Grand Stand seat is debatable.----D.S.J.

Results;

Race of Champions--Formula One and Formula 5000 40-laps--170.6 kms--Slippery

1st; T. Pryce (Shadow DN5/2A) ... ... .. 55 min. 53.5 sec. ... 183.13 k.p.h.
2nd; J. Watson (Surtees TS16/04-4) ... 56 min. 24.0 sec.
3rd; R. Peterson (Lotus 72/R9) ... ... ... 56 min. 25.5 sec.
4th; J.Ickx (Lotus 72/R5) ... ... ... ... ... 1 lap behind
5th; E. Fittipaldi (McLaren M23/9) ... .. 1 lap behind
6th; R. Evans (BRM P201/02) ... ... ... 2 laps behind
Fastest lap; T. Pryce on laps 28 and 38 in 1 min. 21.1 sec. 181.31 k.p.h.