Race of Champions

Hollow victory for Hunt

Brands Hatch, March 20th.
Due to the magnanimous and benevolent attitude of the Formula One Constructors Association the annual Race of Champions at Brands Hatch was able to take place as a Formula One event. The Formula One “eminence” has decreed that the hard-worked and busy members of the Association cannot spare the time to take part in more than one non-World Championship event in the course of a year, so from the goodness of their hearts and a love of the sport, certain members were allowed to enter for the Brands Hatch race. The much more important and long-standing race at Silverstone, the BRDC International Trophy, quite simply got the chop, and had to become a Formula Two event. In 1978 the tables will be turned and the Association will not be supporting the Race of Champions, but will be supporting the BRDC International ‘Trophy. If they don’t watch out, one of these days someone is going to tell “Finkelstein and Moses” what they can do with their “circus.”

Each member team of the Association was allowed to send one entry in for the Race of Champions, which they all did with the exception of Ligier, Fittipaldi and Ferrari, and a race without Ferrari isn’t much of a race. After the rough dealings that Ferrari has had at the Brands Hatch Circuit in the past, his abstention was no great surprise. McLaren fielded World Champion Hunt, with M23/8 that he drove so successfully in 1976, with M23/6 as a stand-by. Tyrrell entered Peterson with the latest six-wheeler, P34/5 freshly back from Africa where it had hardly run long enough in the race to warm the oil thoroughly, and Lotus entered Andretti in 78/2, with Nilsson’s car as a stand-by. John Watson was in the Brabham BT45/1B, which was supposed to have been an experimental test-car, but it has proved to be very race-worthy from the outset, and March Engineering had their rich young Brazilian Alex Ribiero in his usual March 761B/2. The Shadow team, having recovered slightly from the devastating blow they received in South Africa, with the death of Tom Pryce, courageously entered DN8/1A with Jack Oliver at the wheel. Team Surtees had picked Brambilla out of the catch-fences during a private test-session with TS19/02, dusted him down and put him in a car hastily built up around the bones of TS19/01. The Wolf team are really forging ahead and had Scheckter in a brand new car, WR3 (not as we have been misled to write WR1/03), Morris Nunn had the Brands Hatch favourite Regazzoni, in MN06, and there was Larry Perkins with the P207 BRM.

This limited entry by the “big wheels of Formula One” meant that a lot more people could have a dabble at this exotic and fascinating game. The Hesketh team, which faded away last year, but did not disappear completely, returned with a flourish, a new car and a new driver, all wrapped up in “wads of wedge,” numerous deals and arrangements, and rich dads and keen lads. The result was a nice looking car, with rocker-arm front suspension to inboard coil-spring units, a surprisingly spacious monocoque, though small overall, ingenious rear uprights allowing the radius rods to lie parallel with the centre-line of the car, a rear anti-roll bar position directly above the rear-wheel centre-line, and an open top to the engine compartment. With this new car Rupert Keegan was making his Formula One debut. Another brand new car was the Lec of David Purley, designed for him by Mike Pilbeam, which used double wishbone and rising-rate geometry to the front suspension, operating on coil-spring/damper units and orthodox rear end. Side-mounted radiators allowed a full-width nose completely devoid of apertures, with an adjustable lip at the bottom. The car was absolutely brand new, with only a few laps of bedding-in at Goodwood on a wet track and it was somewhat with fingers crossed that Purley was setting off at the deep end of the Formula One pool. Rather than call the car a Purley Special or a Pilbeam, it was named after the family firrn, Lec Refrigeration, without whom David Purley would not be racing.

The Hexagon of Highgate Penske PC3/02 was being driven by Bob Evans, while there were two private March 761 cars, that of Dutchman Boy Hayje and Midlander Brian Henton. Two privately owned Surtees TS19 cars were being driven by Tony Trimmer and the lady racing driver Divina Galica. This total of seventeen dutifully practised on Saturday, in two sessions, and though the RAC Scrutineers got up to their tricks of measuring things with bits of wood on a rough concrete surface, and had some of the practice times for Scheckter and Perkins declared null and void, it did not affect the outcome of the grid. John Watson was in great form with the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, making the fastest lap in both sessions and claiming pole position on the grid. If we can no longer hear the song of a Ferrari flat-12 on full noise at Brands Hatch, there is some consolation in the harsh growl of the Alfa Romeo flat-12, for since last year the Autodelta engineers have made vast improvements to their engine, turning it from a long-distance sports car unit into something more like a Grand Prix engine. Andretti was hard after Watson, in the Lotus 78 and Hunt was not far behind, these three being the only ones to get into a select group who lapped at under 1 min. 20 sec., not far off 120 m.p.h. average.

When practice finished all the joy in the Brabham team evaporated when they heard that Carlos Pace, their number one driver, had been killed in a private-plane accident in Brazil, and their great loss was felt by everyone else for Pace was a driver greatly admired.

Sunday proved to be quite a fair spring day and after various entertainments to keep the very large crowd in a good mood, the serious business of the day began when the Formula One cars roared out of the pits and went round the circuit to line up on the grid. The more eagle-eyed among the spectators noticed that there were only sixteen cars, and that the all-conquering, all-British BRM from the Stanley Stables was missing. The ever hopeful Larry Perkins was in the pits, but the hastily designed and built P207 had shown signs of falling apart at the end of practice, so was withdrawn. If there are any BRM enthusiasts still existing they must be having a difficult time keeping the faith. To those close to Formula One the saga of the BRM since the Stanley family took control is no longer funny, nor is it even sad any more.

John Watson chose the right-hand side of the front row, gambling on being able to avoid slipping down the steeply cambered road, and benefiting from the better line into the fast corner. After a formation warm-up lap the sixteen cars were ready to go albeit some 30 minutes late due to various delays and with a healthy roar they were off. The Brabham-Alfa crabbed down the camber and Watson had to ease off, while Andretti took off like a rocket in a straight line for the apex of Paddock Bend and into the lead. Hunt followed him through and so did Scheckter, relegating Watson from pole position to fourth place before the first corner. Andretti was not waiting for anyone and with a clear road ahead he gave it all he’d got and pulled out a visible lead in the opening lap of the 40-lap race. Almost immediately the professionals pulled away from the amateurs, with Hunt, Scheckter, Watson and Peterson chasing after Andretti, and Oliver leading the rest, with Regazzoni just behind the white Shadow feeling he ought to be up with the pros. Fighting his way through the amateurs at the back was Brambilla, making up ground from his back-of-the-grid starting position due to practice troubles that were never really solved.

On lap 4 Watson passed Scheckter for third place and further down the field young Keegan was going well in the new Hesketh, in eighth place, but he had the irrepressible Henton right on his tail and looking for a way by. Ribiero and Divina Galica were bringing up the rear, already a fair way behind. On lap 8 Henton found his way by into eighth place, relegating Keegan to ninth, but Brambilla had them both in his sights. By quarter distance there were two very distinct races taking place, with a very confident-looking Andretti leading the first one in the black Lotus and Oliver bravely leading the second one in the white Shadow. After a mere ten laps of the circuit a crucial pattern appeared, for the left front tyre of the Brabham started to overheat and lose chunks of rubber. Watson dived into the pits for a new tyre, which immediately dropped him to last place. Brands Hatch is a circuit where the left front tyre, or tyres on the Tyrrell P34, does most of the work with six right-hand bends and only three left-hand bends, and it is all too easy to overload the left front tyre in your quest for cornering power and good lap times. It is much more difficult to achieve good lap times and keep the loading of the critical left-front tyre low and in consequence keep its temperature down. There were those teams who achieved this desirable state of affairs during practice and had the car adjusted correctly and those that did not. Lotus and McLaren obviously had the magic touch, for Andretti and Hunt were untroubled, but Peterson was not too happy in the Tyrrell for the rearmost of the two front tyres was showing signs of blisters, and even some of the lesser lights who were not running at a competitive pace were heading for trouble.

With things settled down and conditions good, Hunt really got stuck into the driving business and whittled away Andretti’s lead inch by inch, until he was within striking distance, but that was when the really hard work began, for Andretti was not going to give up just because he had a McLaren large in his mirrors. By half-distance Hunt was showing signs of looking for ways by the Lotus, but Andretti had the situation well in hand. This went on for ten more laps, until they caught up the mid-field runners to lap them, and Andretti took every opportunity offered in some very pretty traffic-driving and when they were clear he had pulled out a comfortable lead and with only seven laps to go the McLaren pressure was off and it looked as though the Lotus was home and dry. Then on lap 34, as the Lotus rounded South Bank to leave the stadium bowl and head off into the country section, everything died away when there was a complete electrical failure and the car coasted to a stop, giving Hunt a very hollow victory.

Behind this drama for the lead Scheckter was keeping the new Wolf nicely in position, but Peterson was dropping back as the six-wheeler overheated its other left front tyre. Then on lap 36 the engine note changed slightly as the Tyrrell went along the top straight and a lap and a half later there was a bang and Peterson came to rest not far from Andretti, but he had covered enough laps to be considered a finisher by the time-keepers. Also on this leg of the circuit Brambilla’s Surtees was parked, as the untraced fault that had made it cut-out in practice, was now affecting it on the straights. In the race for the amateurs and others, Jack Oliver hung on to his position valiantly until nearly half-distance, when Regazzoni finally wore him down, but a few laps later the Ensign had to stop for a tyre change, as large blisters were coming up. Both front tyres and a rear were changed, which put the Swiss right to the back of the race. This did not make much difference to Oliver for Keegan was getting the feel of things in his first Formula One race, and passed the Shadow by the application of a bit of daring and bravado. while John Watson was storming up on them in the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, A slight moment somewhere had set Henton back a bit, but he was still driving as hard as ever, taking the opportunity to pass Oliver in the melee as the leaders lapped them. Watson was now in trouble with tyres once more, so he eased off and settled down behind Keegan, rather than risk having to make another pit-stop, and then luck came on his side for the new Hesketh got an old-fashioned puncture in a rear tyre and Keegan headed for the pits. This let the Brabham-Alfa into the lead of the second race, and ultimately into third place overall when the leaders had trouble, while poor Keegan dropped to a final eighth place which bore no relation to the way he had driven, with more luck he would have been third, but with that same tuck a lot of other drivers would have been better placed. Bob Evans was delayed by a tyre change on the Penske, but after that ran well, and Trimmer also suffered the same handicap. The lady driver drove discreetly round at the back of the race, and David Purley was overjoyed with a trouble-free run in his new car into sixth place.

In the overall scene of the Race of Champions it was a nice race which everyone seemed to enjoy; a pity that the Formula One Contractors have decided that we can’t enjoy it again next year. -D.S.J.

Race of Champions—Formula One-40 Laps—Brands Hatch 4.207 kilometres per lap-168.28 Kilometres—Warm and Dry.
1st. J. Hunt (McLaren M23/8) … … 53 min. 54.35 sec. 187.263 k.p.h.
2nd. J. Scheckter (Wolf WR3) … .. 54 min. 17.87 sec.
3rd. J. Watson (Brabham BT45/1). 55 min. 12.95 sec.
4th. B. Henton (March 761/7) … … 1 lap behind.
5th. J. Oliver (Shadow DN8/1A) … 1 lap behind
6th, D. Purley (Lec CRP/1) … … … 1 lap behind
7th. B. Hayie (March 761/3) … … .. 1 lap behind
8th. R. Keegan (Hesketh 308E/1)… 1 lap behind.
9th. T. Trimmer (Surtees TS19.05) 2 laps behind
10th. R. Peterson (Tyrrell P34/5).
11th. R. Evans (Penske PC3/02)
12th. Miss D. Galica (Surtees TS19/04)
13th. G. Regazzoni (Ensign MN06) 51 min. 54.35 sec.-117.20

Fastest lap: J. Hunt in 1 min. 10.45 sec.—190.51 k.p.h.
V. Brambilla (Surtees TS19(01) electrical fault. on lap 12:
A. Ribiero (March 761B2) Ignition. on lap 18.
M. Andretti (Lotus 78/2) electrical failure, on lap 34.