Race of Champions
Hunt the Hero
Brands Hatch, March 4th
For those of the estimated 35,000 who were fortunate enough to penetrate through the gates and barriers and past the Securicor guards on duty at Brands Hatch, the Formula One paddock held much of interest for the Race of Champions, the first European race for Grand Prix type cars in 1976. World Champion Niki Lauda had a 1976 Ferrari flat-12, designated 312T2, with the new bodywork which enclosed everything between the wheels and had the air intakes for the 12-cylinder engine sunk into the cockpit sides and a low head fairing behind the driver’s head. This was number 025 in the current 312 series and had normal independent rear suspension, not the experimental de Dion layout. Scheckter had his usual Tyrrell 007/6, straight back from the South African OP like many of the other competitors. While most members of the Formula One club were only allowed one entry, Team Lotus were permitted two for some obscure commercial reason and they had the two Lotus 77 models making their first appearance In their home country. The Swede Nilsson was driving 77/1 and Bob Evans 77/2, both carrying the soon-to-be-outlawed tall airboxes over the engine, the airbox, engine cover and cockpit surround all being in one large glassfibre moulding; somewhat inconvenient if you wanted to have a quick look down the inlet trumpets. Another brand new sight for British eyes and ears was the lone Brabham BT45/I with flat-I2 Alfa Romeo power, driven by Carlos Pace, the Italian engine no longer having two enormous megaphone exhausts out the back, but instead two small-diameter tail pipes. It was running on Italian SPICA fuel injection and gave a lot of trouble throughout the meeting. Brambilla was driving his orange March as usual, while his new team-mate Ronnie Peterson stood around idly, but James Hunt was anything but idle, having two McLarens at his. disposal, M23/8 and M23/6, and continual engine trouble kept the blond Englishman on his toes, walking or running back to the pits to change cars. Australian Formula Three driver Larry Perkins was to have had a chance to try Formula One, with a BRM, but it never materialised. The Shadow team were naturally using their “local lad” and last year’s Race of Champions winner, Tom Pryce, with two cars at his disposal, DN5/5B and DN5/4A, and he needed them badly as he suffered like Hunt during practice with Cosworth engines disintegrating behind him.
The rejuvenated Surtees team were tired but very content at completing the second of the new TS19 series on the morning of practice after much all-night work and the stocky little Australian Alan Jones was full of enthusiasm for the new car. The rather sombre Hesketh 308C in dark blue Williams colour had reverted to its rubber suspension after a brief flirtation with coil springs in South Africa, merely “to find out in a practical way”, and Jacky Ickx was the driver, while another sombre-looking car amid the garishness of some of the cars was the Ensign driven by Chris Amon. All white and carrying number 24 like Hunt did last year was the Hesketh 308/3 run by part of the defunct Hesketh racing team for the new owner Harald Ertl, he keeping the car he had last year as a reserve. In the lone Penske PC3 was John Watson and in a pair of ex-works Brabham BT44B cars (numbers B1 and B2), painted white with blue lining, were newcomers Patrick Neve and Loris Kessel. Last, and actually least, was another Ferrari flat-12! This was 312B2/021 just as the factory raced it in 1974 and it was on loan to the Scuderia Minardi, who were running the car under the Scuderia Everest banner on a scheme to get Italian “hopefuls” into Formula One, supported by Fiat and Ferrari. It is fortunate that clubs like the BRSCC are prepared to organise non-championship Formula One races, otherwise such well-meaning exercises would never get off the ground. The list of cars should have been completed by David Purley with a Suttees TS16 and an unknown driver in the Lyncar, entered by Bob Howlings, but neither appeared.
Practice was restricted to Saturday March 13th and while Hunt and Pryce had engine trouble, Watson spun off on the McLaren’s oil, and Brambilla got caught out by a light shower of rain, and crashed the orange March, Scheckter pulled his finger out and hurled the Tyrrell round with all his old enthusiams recording a time of 1 min. 20.42 sec., unbelievably faster than Lauda in the new Ferrari, who was next with 1 min. 22.77 sec. During the winter the Brands Hatch circuit has had not so much a “face-lift” as a “transplant” all brought about by a combination of circumstances sparked off by a new Motorway being started through the valley behind the paddock. This has freed “planning permission” and money to implement a new paddock layout (not yet finished) and the Club Circuit part of the track has been modified ready for new pits and paddock to be built in the centre of the track. The Bottom Straight, which was actually a long curve, has been moved back into the South Bank so that it is straight, and it ends in a much tighter climbing left-hand turn round South Bank Corner than before. Seemingly in the interests of encouraging sloppy driving, the tricky Paddock Bend has been remade, making a tighter turn but allowing the old road to be used as a run-off area for those who boob. All this has shortened the Grand Prix circuit from 2.65 miles to 2.61 miles and the old lap record stands for ever more to Lauda at 1 min. 21.1 sec. During this reconstruction some of the corner and straight names have been changed; the most popular one is the descent from Druids Hairpin to the Bottom Straight, which is now called “Graham Hill”.
Apart from Scheckter’s remarkable time, everyone else seemed to find the revised circuit a bit slower than before, but during the day weather conditions were never truly ideal, the atmosphere having a dampness about it, and with many of the fast runners having trouble some of the “likely-lads” were able to shine, notably Nilsson and Alan Jones. Consequently the line-up on the starting grid, though real enough, was not a true reflection of the situation. In addition a lot of normally fast drivers who usually fill the front rows of a Grand Prix grid, such as Depailler, Janet, Fittipaldi, Mass, Regazzoni, were not taking part, so we mustn’t get too excited with the scene at this non-championship event.
The untimed “test-session” on Sunday morning saw Nilsson side-lined with a broken Cosworth engine in his Lotus 77 and poor Carlos Pace once more stationary by the track side with the fuel-injection unit on the blink on the Alfa Romeo engine. Tyrrell was so confident that he did not let Scheckter run in this session, but Kessel tried his team’s Brabham BT42 having pranged BT44B/2 at the end of practice. The Surtees team were radiating happiness as the new car had given no trouble and the new driver was full of enthusiasm. All the vital parts of the new chassis had been minutely inspected overnight and found perfect and it looked as though John Surtees had made the right decision last year, when he withdrew before the team collapsed completely, in order to start all over again with time to be ready for 1976.
Lauda on the front row with his Ferrari, alongside pole-position seems to be a habit this year, as does winning from the front row, but this time he was not exuding as much confidence as usual, Brands Hatch not being his, or the Ferrari team’s, favourite circuit. With Hunt in row three and absolutely bursting with confidence and eagerness, and Pryce in row five knowing he should have been at the front, to say nothing, of Brambilla on the back row ready to charge past, through or over anyone in front of him who hesitated, all was set for an interesting opening sprint in this 40-lap race, or half-Grand Prix. After some “warm-up” laps and then a “warm-up” massed-start and another full lap, the field of fifteen cars were ready to go. Missing was the “PriVat” Ferrari, for during all the “warming-up” a brake had snatched and put the car into the bank, ending Giancarlo Martini’s Formula One debut before it began.
Nilsson led briefly, after jumping the start (penalised one minute) but then it was Jones who sliced through with the Surtees and the white car led at the end of lap 1, but then Scheekter barged his Way through and promptly under-Steered himself off the road and into the bank (the real Jody Scheckter of old coming to the fore!), leaving Alan Jones once more in the lead. As expected Hunt wasted no time crying over his miserable practice and poor grid position, and was in second place by the end of lap 2, followed by Nilsson, Lauda, Watson, Evans and Brambilla. The swarthy Italian wasted less time than Hunt in recovering his tomposure and some of the newcomers must have seen Grand Prix racing in the raw and at close-quarters as Brambilla moved from fifteenth to seventh place in the space of less than five miles. He had -started his rush from the grid with a bit too much enthusiasm and someone had seen him and reported him for being a “naughty-boy” 😯 that he was penalised one minute, though he knew or cared less about such trivia. Seeing only the. white Surtees in front of him Hunt thought it was all over, he would merely have to wait for it to break down or for Jones to make a mistake and then the Race of Champions would be his. However, lap _after lap went by, the Surtees never faltered and young Tones never put a foot wrong, and after ten laps Hunt realised he was going to have to do something about the situation. All this while he had had Lauda and Watson pounding along behind him, for Nilsson’s fresh engine, fitted during the lunch hour, was misfiring badly and he was forced to drop back. While Hunt was making .a few passes at Jones to see if the Australian would give way, and finding he wouldn’t, John Watson made “a simple driver-error” and ended up against: the barriers and out of the race. While Hunt was still looking for a way by and not finding one, Lauda came dejectedly into the pits to retire with a broken brake pipe on the new Ferrari, so that the McLaren And the Surtees were out on their own. All this time Ickx had been quietly getting on with the job and had the Hesketh-Williams in third place, but it wasn’t a rejuvenated Ickx, though he was trying harder than he has done for quite a while. Brambilla had tangled with Bob Evans and in perfect unison they had executed a “pas de ‘deux” at the sharp left-hand bend leading onto the back of the circuit, but had continued unabated and unabashed, with the Lotus in fourth place and the March in fifth place.
On the twentieth lap, or half distance, Hunt felt he had been in second place long enough, but more to the point, he realised that not only was Alan Jones. not going to make a mistake, but the Surtees was not going to break, nor was it going to slow down. Along the new Bottom Straight he got the McLaren alongside the white Surtees, but still Jones was not impressed, and side-by-side they headed for the tight left-hand bend, both on the wrong line, and both braking hopelessly too late. It was great stuff to watch. As they scrabbled into the corner on a wide line, Hunt on the inside, the McLaren driver regained control of the situation a fraction of a second, and mille-seconds really were involved, before the Surtees driver and swung up the hill in the lead. Afterwards Hunt admitted frankly that they ‘seemed to he committed to both going off the road, but by chance he managed “to gather it all together again” a fraction sooner then Jones did. It was no dishonour to the young Australian that he was now second, far from it in fact and, conscious that James Hunt had out-driven him, he was more than happy to hold .a certain second place right through to the finish. There was no more excitement or drama, apart from Bob Evans losing a certain fourth place when his Lotus failed to feed petrol to the engine with only three laps to go. Tom Pryce never got into the race, as such, his engine misfiring and cutting out from the start. He called at his pit for help, hut they could do little except pat him on the head and send him on his way. Over the IMartini-Brabhant Learn there was a small dark cloud as the Alfa Romeo-engined-car had expired from a miserable tenth place almost unnoticed.
Although this race was not part of the professional World Championship circus it was significant and the McLaren team went away more confident than ever that the only thing to do about Lauda and the Ferrari is to beat them fair and square. Tyrrell was looking gloomily at the smashed-up front of Scheckter’s car and wondering how it was possible to throw away what seemed a certain and easy victory, if practice was to be believed. Ferrari were worried. Lotus were greatly enthused. Shadow could ill-afford such an expensive weekend with two major engine failures. Frank Williams was counting the money from a good third place and the Surtees team were like the proverbial pigs in the fertiliser, as well they might be.
The Group 1 saloon car race was first-class, with Rouse putting the works Leyland Triumph 2-litre Dolninite Sprint on pole position ahead of a galaxy of 3-litre Ford Capris driven by Gordon Spice, Walkinshow, Craft, Muir, Blackburn and Woodman. Spice was making a return to racing after his bad crash at Mallory last year, and made a scaring start from the middle of the front row to lead the 20-lap race. However, it was not as simple as that for Rouse hounded him unmercifully for seventeen laps, trying all he knew to outwit the Capri driver, but to no avail. It was -saloon car racing at its best, with more-or-less, “same-as-you-can-buy” cars, but unforturnitely it ended when the throttle jammed open and Rouse got on the grass out at the back of the circuit during a do-or-die attempt to get by Spice, leaving Spice to cruise home to victory, for their dice had out-paced all the other competitors.
There was another saloon car race, for standard Ford Escorts on the Club circuit, which looked a bit like Wimbledon Stock Car, racing, but not so exciting and of little interest as no-one seemed to know who the drivers were. It was all part of a charity demonstration and as someone remarked “A few years ago we had a similar affair with Colin Chapman and Jack Brabham in the leading pair of cars, and that really meant something”.
Ford single-seater racing was satisfied by a 1,600-c.c, race on Saturday, won by Derek Daly and a 2,000-c.c. race on Sunday won by Tiff Needell. The big Ford single-seater race, as described already, was won by James Hunt. Without Ford, or Ford-inspired engines, there wouldn’t be much racing; or would we all settle for BMC power-units! You can’t stop racing, thank goodness.
Our photograph of a Bugatti Type 59 in the French GP of 1935, depicted in From the Archives-6, has produced some very interesting correspondence from Martin Dean, the owner of a supercharged 2.3-litre Grand Prix Bugatti. He points out that a closer look at the engine in the works car, driven by Robert Benoist, shows that it is not a Type 59 engine, as the drive to the camshaft is at the front and not at the back, as depicted in the cut-away drawing in the centre pages of the March issue. Also the engine is visibly longer and the cambox covers are held by a single row of nuts as against the double row on the Type 59.
He suggests that the engine is basically a Type 50B unit and goes on to say that it was also used, in 4.7-litre form, in the factory single-seater Bugatti that visited Prescott hillclimbs in 1939, and won the first post-war race in France in the Bois-du-Boulogne in Paris. There is very little information available on this Type 50B power unit, and it is thought that it might have been a Government subsidised project for military purposes for use in a fighter aircraft. In some recently published information on a proposed Bugatti aeroplane of the nineteen-thirties there is mention of a 470-b.h.p, engine, and it seems possible that this was the Type 50B and that Bugatti tested the engine in a racing car. In similar vein it has always been thought that the money to produce the fabulous Porsche 917 engine, the 4 1/2 -litre flat-12-cylinder air-cooled unit, came from a German Government military contract given to Porsche to investigate a lightweight, high-powered engine for use in tanks, carriers, and other military vehicles. After all, the British Army have military vehicles powered by Jaguar XK engines, so why shouldn’t the German Army use Porsche 917 engines and the French Air Force in the nineteen-thirties use Bugatti engines? As we all know and appreciate, the field of motor racing is the finest possible test-bed for engines.—D.S.J.
British Racing Motors seem to have quietly died without even a trumpet voluntary. Since BRM broke away from Sir Alfred Owen’s industrial empire, the team has dwindled and faded as a force in Grand Prix racing, until its absence at the South African GP was hardly noticed. In the motoring magazines of the early nineteen-fifties there were frequent letters from readers saying that BRM should be folded up before even more money was wasted. This was as a result of the debacle of the incredible V16-cylinder supercharged 1 1/2-litre cars which were interesting and fascinating racing cars in design, but quite beyond the capabilities of the BRM organisation from the point of view of racing them. Finally, in 1976, it seems that the BRM story, a remarkable one for its ratio of lack of success to effort, has finally closed.—D.S.J.