Long-distance races have not, in recent years, attracted very much interest in this country; and with the steady down-grading of the Tourist Trophy race into little more than a shortish blind for G.T. cars round a Sussex airfield circuit, the sole remaining long-distance event in Britain until twelve months ago became the 750 M.C.’s Six-Hour Relay Race on the Club circuit at Silverstone—and this, though fun, could hardly be described as being of any International interest.
Last year, however, the experiment of running a long-distance saloon-car event like those held regularly at the Nurburgring was tried out at Brands Hatch under the sponsorship of the Motor, and though only 8,000 paying spectators appeared to view this, it was decided that the results were sufficiently encouraging for the race to be persevered with. This year’s event, on July 6th, counted for points in the European Touring Car Challenge, and more than 15,000 people turned up to see it; so that with the rising interest being displayed in touring car events these days, there seems to be a fair chance that it may now become a permanent fixture in the British sporting calendar.
There was certainly no shortage of entries for the race, with, in fact, a number of Continental would-be entrants complaining that British cars and drivers had been allotted an undue proportion of the 36 available places at the start. The original acceptances included four of the vast 7-litre American Ford Galaxies, which had hitherto dominated the short races in which they had already taken part this season, and it seemed likely that the main interest of the race would be centred on these cars and their chief opponents as far as an overall win was concerned, the Jaguar 3.8 saloons. Jack Sears, the most successful of the Galaxie drivers in previous events, was teamed with the Swede Bo Ljungfeldt in one of these cars, but after the John Willment team had scrutineering difficulties they were transferred to another Willment entry, a British Ford Cortina GT. It turned out to be a wise move. Their Galaxie had, incidentally, had trouble with the scrutineers over the method of attachment of its disc brakes to the front hubs, but this had been cleared up by the time the deadline for confirmation of this modification had arrived. The three Galaxies which were actually to run were driven by the works Formula One Brabham pair, Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham himself, and by Sir Gawaine Baillie/Peter Jopp and John Sprinzel/Merton Lucia (a U.S.A.F. colonel).
Withdrawals had strengthened the Jaguar representation in the field, and six 3.8s appeared on the grid, driven by Salvadori/Hulme, Salmon/Sutcliffe, the very successful German pair Lindner and Nöcker, Chris McLaren/Coundley, Sparrow/Neil Dangerfield and Powell/Baker, there being no other entries in the over-3,000-c.c. class. In the 1,601-3,000-c.c. class was a lone Mercedes-Benz 220SE for Peter Sargent and Peter Lumsden, which had two Ford Zodiacs, two Squadra Corse-entered Lancia Flaminias and two Volvos, one a works 122S for the rally drivers Tom Trana and Carl-Magnus Skogh, to contend with. Two more Squadra Corse cars, Lancia Flavia coupés, appeared in the over-1,300-c.c. class against a Rapier, a VX 4/90, two Cortina GTs, a Cortina Super and a Swiss-entered Guilia TI. The remaining cars in the over-850-c.c, and over-1,000-c.c. classes were chiefly Mini-Coopers and their “S” variants, with all the well-known male and female British Mini drivers (and a few from farther afield) conducting them. The only exceptions were an Anglia 1200 Super (for Anne Hall and Anita Taylor), a Dick Jacobs M.G. 1100 (Foster and Hedges) and a Fiat-Abarth 1000.
Practice saw a Galaxie (the Gurney/Brabham car) making the best time and breaking the Brands long circuit saloon-car lap record with a time of 1 min. 57.6 sec., while the fastest Jaguar time was done by Salvadori in the Tommy Atkins car (1 min. 58.6 sec.): but as places on the grid were decided by engine capacities and not by fastest practice laps, most of the teams spent their time in testing and experimenting rather than in striving to lap as fast as possible.
The hors d’oeuvres of the day consisted of a 20-lap sports/racing-car event, with the points scored counting towards the Guards Trophy, and a parade of British sports and G.T. cars during the lunch interval. Keith Greene (Lotus 23) won the race in pouring rain, which had begun at the start and caused quite a few involuntary and rapid retirements, but he was chased most vigorously over the line by Roy Pierpoint with his 2-litre Attila Climax, which had led for half the event. Minoprio and Benson, driving Equipe Elva cars, won the up-to-1,200-c.c. class with ease.
Conditions had become desperately bad by the time the main race was due to start, with the pouring rain having already been soaking into the circuit for three hours and showing no signs at all of ceasing, and therefore, so as to avoid as far as possible any unduly drastic thinning of the field during the early minutes, the drivers were sent out on three reconnaissance laps to see just what was awaiting them. Dan Gurney, who was unfortunate enough to have his practice dry-weather Goodyear tyres still fitted to his Galaxie, found that the prospects were distinctly unattractive, and immediately dashed into the pits in search of something a little more adhesive. All that was available was a pair of Firestone rain tyres belonging to the Sprinzel/Lucia car, and so these were fitted to the front in a great hurry just before the start, which with the delay spent in reconnoitring had been put forward to 2.20 p.m.
At the fall of the flag Mike Salmon in the Atherstone Engineering Jaguar made a superb start, shooting between the Gurney and Lucia-driven Fords ahead of him and latching firmly on to the tail of Baillie’s car is it disappeared over the brow of Paddock Bend, and the field roared away in one vast cloud of spray around the 2.65-mile circuit. Dan Gurney, in his Firestone-cum-Goodyear-shod car, had only reached as far as South Bend when the rear of his monster broke loose in the most impressive manner, the car going on to the grass and demolishing a hoarding most efficiently. The American extricated it, however, and motored grimly on in last place.
Baillie’s similar car led at the end of the first lap, but he had a string of Jaguars on his tail, with Salmon heading Lindner, Powell, Salvadori, McLaren and Sparrow, and then Sears’ Cortina, and at the start of the third lap both Salmon and Lindner went past the American car on the inside at Paddock, to the delight of the crowd. Gurney provided some more spectacle when he reached this point, for the Galaxie again went out of control, spinning violently at the bottom of the hill. Again Gurney sorted things out and went on round, this time to receive the signal to come in and have two more Firestones fitted.
The wet and slippery track soon sorted the melée out, and by the half-hour mark Salmon was firmly in the lead, with Lindner (trailing long strands of grass from his car’s tail), Salvadori and Baillie (who was holding on extremely well in the only disc-braked Galaxie) following. Sears, Trana and Blumer were also well up, with the first two leading their respective classes. Three cars had already visited the pits beside Gurney’s—one of the Flavias to replace a loose plug lead, the David Haynes-driven Willment Cortina, to retire with clutch trouble, and the Fiat-Abarth with persistent misfiring which led to its eventual withdrawal—and several more were to call with assorted problems before the hour was out. The Jaguar driven by Chris McLaren came in with oil surge worries and Sparrow’s similar car with overheating, clouds of steam surrounding it when the radiator cap was removed; Cella’s Lancia stopped with a flat tyre and Lucia’s Galaxie with a loose bonnet catch, being black-flagged for this.
The second hour saw a certain amount of incident—the Powell Jaguar went off at South Bend, denting its right front wing but continuing after a good deal of prising apart and bending and a couple of calls at its pit, and the Mini-Cooper S of Mick Clare rolled as the result of suddenly acquiring a flat rear tyre; the car returned to the pits but was retired as being too heavily damaged to continue. The first regular pit-stops commenced, with Elizabeth Jones being the first to come in after an excellent drive. Two of the Galaxies came in, but Brabham, who took over from Gurney, had to return with a flat tyre after only a lap. At the head of the field positions were unchanged, with Salmon still keeping a clear lead and motoring very fast indeed.
Five minutes after the hour, though, Salmon came in to refuel and exchange with Sutcliffe. It was a short stop, but it lasted long enough for Salvadori to go into the lead and for the German car to come very close and to force its way past into second place at 4.30. Salvadori in turn came in before long, and this allowed Lindner to secure first place, but before long the British cars were first and second again, with fourth and fifth positions being occupied by the Cortinas of Sears and Blumer. Trana’s Volvo had stopped at the pits to change drivers, after a really superb display of wet-weather expertise, but even when the Swedish car left again it still led the over-1.600-c.c. class, in which it was the smallest-capacity car.
With half of the race now having been run, the elements began to relent slightly, the rain becoming thinner and then stopping half-way through the fourth hour. Lindner came in at 5.53 to make his first pit-stop and Nöcker took over, but he came in again after only ten minutes to have the front disc pads replaced, though the German team had hoped to do the race on one set in the rain, like the Atherstone car. Salvadori, too, came in and also changed the front brake pads; but one was recalcitrant, and Sutcliffe gained two laps on the Atkins car while this was being dealt with. Another car which lost time at the pits was the Blumer/Taylor Cortina Super and this stop (to cut away a loose silencer) put the other Cortina, now driven by Ljungfeldt, into an unassailable lead. Three more cars fell out, the second Volvo at Paddock, the Facetti/Frescobaldi Flaminia at Stirling’s Bend, and the Pierpoint Zodiac at the bottom of Druids, where a loosely-secured wheel finally fell off. The car trundled gently on to the grass and remained there.
Sutcliffe came in for the Atherstone Engineering Jaguar’s second and last stop at 6.32 p.m., Salmon leaving with a lap in hand over Hulme and hoping that his brakes would stay in operation until the end of the race without needing a change of front pads. There were no retirements and few pit-stops during this hour. Gurney’s Galaxie, though several laps down, was beginning to go rather more quickly on a surface which was slowly draining, and at one point he passed Nöcker’s Jaguar—though only for a very short time. The German car’s two pit-stops had cost it a lot of distance, and it was still in fourth place behind Ljungfeldt in the astonishing Cortina.
The last hour saw Hulme initially going quickly to try and make up his deficiency of a lap and catch Salmon, but 20 minutes before the end the New Zealander had to come in for a tyre change, and this ended any hopes the Atkins team might still have had left. The Lewis/Vernaeve Mini-Cooper went off after Paddock but managed to reach the pits to await the last few minutes of the race, and Nöcker finally managed to catch Ljungfeldt a quarter of an hour before the end, to make it a seeming 1-2-3 win for the Jaguars. Sears and Ljungfeldt had upheld British Ford prestige with their splendid drive in their Cortina GT, while Trana and Skogh had demonstrated that their racing abilities were no whit inferior to their rallying abilities.
After the race, though, came the blow: since the Salmon/Sutcliffe car had oversize inlet valves (47.6 mm. as against the regulation 44.45 mm.) it was disqualified, and so the official first place was awarded to the Atkins car. It was a very distressing end to a race in which the winners on the road, Salmon and Sutcliffe, had driven really well and most expertly in quite vile conditions for their first (apparently) big International win. They would probably have won anyway.—J. H.