Reflections on Brands Hatch

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I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Brands Hatch on July 11th, but it was more in keeping with a Bank Holiday meeting than a serious Grande Epreuve, and as for being the Grand Prix of Europe, it seemed even less likely. It appears I was not alone in holding these views, for a number of people have since said that during the Grand Prix they had to keep pinching themselves and remembering that it was not just a day’s good fun, but an important and serious event. The R.A.C., with the help of about 400 enthusiastic members from various clubs, certainly ran the whole programme very smoothly and efficiently, and after the race Bandini, as one of the few visitors, said how much he had enjoyed the racing, mainly because of the obvious effort everyone in the organisation was putting into the whole affair. He reckoned that a driver will make a much better showing when the track is efficiently and enthusiastically marshalled, and by the way he fought off Jack Brabham’s attack to the bitter end tended to prove this. For those motor-racing enthusiasts who appreciate good jazz music, and there are a great many, including myself, the concert put on by Chris Barber and his band, with Humphrey Lyttelton joining in., rounded off the day in a splendid fashion, and a more orderly and appreciative audience would have been hard to find. To racing enthusiasts, Chris Barber needs no introduction, for he has raced a Lotus Elite in the past, and earlier in the day Beckwith was driving, and spinning, Barber’s latest Lotus Elan. Lyttelton’s connection with motor racing goes back a long way, to the early years of jazz revival in this country shortly after the war. In those days, when he was in the early beginnings of English jazz, his transport was often provided by the late John Cooper, who was then Sports Editor of The Autocar, and many a road-test car was used for transporting the drums and double-bass of the original Lyttelton band. This interest in jazz, and I am not talking about the Acker Bilk pop-type music, by racing enthusiasts is something that has been in existence for as long as I can remember, long before the revivalist era of the nineteen-forties, and I feel that the experiment of the concert to round off the day at Brands Hatch was so successful that Nick Syrett, Dean Delamont and all those involved in organising it will be encouraged to continue the idea.

Earlier this season, Graham Hill was leading Clark in a race and, when he lapped some slower cars, the moment he was past he “went like the devil” through the next few corners, leaving Clark to find his way through the slower cars and then catch up. There was no question of Hill waiting for Clark to get by the moving chicane, and this is fair game, for lapping slower cars is all part of Grand Prix driving; if you should see the leading driver holding back and waiting for the second man, as I have often seen, then you know it is not a serious motor race and they are all being “nice young men.” Talking to Hill about this well-known tactic of “pressing off hard” and leaving your rival in a tricky situation, he likened it to rowing-races where, as soon as you see the other team fumble a stroke, your team puts in a strong burst at maximum effort for ten strokes, and it is known as “taking ten.” The top drivers can usually judge exactly when and where they are going to lap the slower cars and if the leader has someone right on his tail that he cannot shake off on a clear track, then he starts looking for other opportunities, and lapping slower cars is the best time. If he comes up behind two or three cars just before a series of bends then he will try really hard and get by as they go into the first bend, and then go through the series of bends at maximum effort, leaving his rival all muddled up with the slower cars and the corners at the same time. On a short and twisty circuit this can often be judged to a nicety, and at Brands Hatch there were two occasions when Clark “took ten” on Graham Hill, for though Clark has not done any rowing-races he does not need to be told about such tactics, they come naturally to a natural racer. The interesting thing at Brands Hatch was that, even after this, Clark’s lead was only 4 sec., and he said later that he could hardly believe that so much effort was preducing so little result, but Graham Hill was really working away behind him.

Brands Hatch is a strange circuit for it is full of unorthodox corners and situations, where unorthodox approaches pay off, so that a fast driver needs to learn a definite “Brands Hatch technique” if he is going to produce the maximum on the circuit. There are as many “vertical corners,” as Taruffi calls them, as horizontal ones, and most of the corners are a combination of the two and call for some acrobatic techniques and tactics. There are no classical high-speed corners, where the real Grand Prix driver can set the car into an attitude angle and hold it at 150 m.p.h. or more, which is where the top driver will leave behind a less skilful driver. A typical Brands Hatch corner is Druids, at the top of the rise opposite the paddock, for it is in fact two right angles, which make a hairpin, and an orthodox line would be to enter fairly late and make your apex on the second bend. If this corner stood alone this would probably be all right, but, as it is, if you did this you would leave the hairpin too far over to the left of the road, and too far down the following descent, to ever get back to the right-hand side of the road in order to take the left hand bend leading on to the bottom straight. In consequence it pays to make an early apex on Druids and hug the inside all the way round. However, more important than the question of the correct line through the corner is the typical Brands Hatch situation whereby if you take a classical line into Druids a rival can cut through on the inside, hug the kerb all the way round, and you find yourself pushed out onto the grass and in second place. On the opening lap Clark was in a position to dive into Druids early, on the “Brands Hatch line,” thus shutting the door on Graham Hill, who would have liked to have gone round on the inside, and putting Gurney out on the classical line, through no fault of his own other than that he hadn’t got to the corner first. Other Brands Hatch corners come in the category of “clambering swerves,” that go round more than at first sight seems possible and keep climbing up all the time, or they are of the type that fall away out of sight and give you a feeling of being left in mid-air, Paddock Hill bend being the best example of the latter. Another peculiar corner is at Dingle Dell, where you plunge down a dip at over 100 m.p.h., hit the bottom so that your eye-balls are pressed down into your cheeks, and rush steeply up the other side, all on a slight right turn, and then arrive at a sharp right-hand turn that requires heavy braking at the entry. Just as you are braking you have reached the top of the climb and the back wheels are nearly off the ground, and you are trying to stop and turn right, so that when the fast boys are really trying there are some interesting acrobatics to watch at this point. Brands Hatch may be unorthodox and acrobatic but it is a lot more fun to watch, and I am sure more fun to drive on than the open wastes of disused airfield circuits.

Thanks to the Editor lending me his “Moulton Stowaway folding bicycle and a Sunbeam Alpine in which to transport it to Brands Hatch, I was able to get round the whole circuit during the Friday morning practice when everyone was getting really worked up. Those people who say that they do not like the modern Grand Prix car because you cannot see the driver at work, or that modern cars are so scientific that the driver does not have to work, should have been round the circuit on that practice morning. Spectator facilities are superb, there being great earth banks alongside the track, from the top of which you can look down into the cockpits at many points, and there was a lot of crossed-hands and lock-to-lock stuff to be seen. At Westfields Bend, which is bumpy, you could see drivers trying to turn sharp right with their front wheels off the ground, and that is always interesting to watch. For those who are interested in bicycles, the collapsible Moulton machine, with its tiny wheels, is very practical and will stow away in a surprisingly small space. While it is very light and effortless to ride on the ordinary roads it taxes all one’s skill when negotiating steep and bumpy descents across country, for the pivoting point of the small wheels is so much lower than one’s own centre of gravity that it is all too easy to take “a header” over the bars, as I have found to my cost. However, its usefulness outweighs any disadvantages and it saved the B.R.M. mechanics a lot of time in travelling between the pits and the paddock for things they had forgotten, for one of the snags about the Brands Hatch circuit is that you cannot get your transporter behind the pits. The original reason for taking this folding bicycle to Brands Hatch was to defeat the fantastic traffic jams that everyone expected for there is nothing like a two-wheeled machine for getting past stationary cars, but as it turned out there were no jams and getting to the circuit on the morning of the race was one of the easiest and most comfortable journeys I have made to a Grand Prix Meeting.

One of the greatest disappointments of the British Grand Prix was the fact that Gurney had to stop on the third lap, for there is nothing like success to breed success, and after the moral victory at Spa, the victory at Rouen and the challenge in practice at Brands Hatch, Gurney and the Brahham team were in good spirits. Some while ago I complained of the electrical complexity of the modern Grand Prix car, and said that each team should have a skilled electrician on its staff. It was electrical trouble that delayed Gurney and took a lot of the interest out of the race, especially for Gurney/Brabham enthusiasts, but for me there was an added disappointment. When Gurney rejoined the race with his car running properly once more he was something like five laps behind Clark and Hill, and by the end of the 80 laps he was even further behind them, having driven a regular and steady race at slightly slower lap speeds than the leaders. Now a lot of drivers would have found an excuse for giving up and retiring under the circumstances, rather than remain at the end of the field, but Gurney did a good honest job and stuck it out to the finish. Watching this, I could not help thinking of one of the greatest drivers of our times, namely Stirling Moss, for in similar circumstances he would have outshone the leaders and would have reeled off record lap after record lap, not with any thoughts or hopes of winning the race, starting with a 5-lap handicap, but just that it was a challenge and he would have got immense satisfaction in reducing the five laps to four or even three by the end of the race. He did this at Syracuse with a Vanwall and at Zandvoort with a Lotus, as well as on other occasions, and there was no point in telling him to take it easy as he couldn’t hope to win, for winning was not the objective when he was so far behind; it was the satisfaction of high-speed driving, whether he was first or last. It is a question of responding to this sort of stimulus instinctively, and there is another driver today who will do the same thing; in fact, he did it at Solitude last year and set a staggering series of lap records in the process. He did not get anywhere as far as the race was concerned, but what a magnificent display of Grand Prix driving it was, and at the time I referred to it as “doing a Stirling Moss.” I hardly dare mention the driver’s name in fear of getting another shoal of letters from people who disagree with me, but Jim Clark fans will know who I am talking about. If questioned about the way they react to the situation of being hopelessly far behind the leader, due to an unforeseen pitstop, they would probably tell you that they were there to go motor-racing, not to sit in the pits and watch the others, and when the car was repaired they would say, “Come on, let’s have a bit of a go.” You cannot deliberately reproduce this sort of situation, but when it does arise it is worth while watching.

In the GT race at Brands Hatch there was another interesting driver situation, for, due to a muddle by the organisers, Jack Sears started from the front row of the grid instead of the second row. Jackie Stewart led off in Coomb’s Jaguar E-type and just when Sears was getting the Willment AC.-Cobra all set to make an attack for the lead he was given the black flag by the R.A.C. officials. This means that there is something wrong with the car or the driver has transgressed a racing rule and he must stop at the pits next time round, Sears did this, and as he stormed into the pit area an official told him there had been a mistake and he could rejoin the race. He was now well down the field and Stewart had an enormous lead, but Sears rejoined the race in a really big way. He used all the power of the Ford V8 engine, flung the car through the bends in a fantastic manner, and charged after the leader. The reason for the black-flag incident was that the officials felt that Sears should be penalised for starting from the wrong grid-position and that it was, in effect, a question of jumping the start, even though it was not his fault. Now normally he would be penalised by having one minute added to his race time, but this did not seem fair as he would not know about the penalisation and might have been content to beat Stewart by only 30 sec., to find out he had lost the race after it was all over. This would have dissatisfied everyone, so instead it was decided to black-flag him into the pits, the time lost being a form of handicap, but leaving him a sporting chance of making up for it. He certainly did make up for it, and the sight of that great thundering Cobra charging round Brands Hatch and gobbling up the Jaguar’s lead was electrifying. Well before the end of the 20 laps Sears was in the lead and he went on to win comfortably, so that the decision by the R.A.C. officials, although an unusual one, actually made the race ten times more exciting than it would have been. When he got to the pits after the race, Sears said: “I was very cross; in fact, I was so cross that I forgot how badly the Cobra had been handling.” It was a terrific drive, indeed an inspired drive, but had he been told before the start that he was going to be given a handicap he would not have gone anything like so fast. These are the situations in motor racing that make or mar drivers, and for me they are the most interesting side of motor-racing. The driver who amasses points in a Championship for this or that is not necessarily the best or the greatest driver: there are many more important aspects of motor-racing. High-speed driving is a challenge, winning races is the result. – D. S. J.

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