Racing beats rain

Beautiful cars and good racing shone through at Brands as dreadful weather failed to spoil an exciting new fixture on the historic racing calendar. Paul Lawrence reports

The British Bank Holiday weather did its best to wreck the Masters weekend on the Brands Hatch GP circuit, but some great cars and an encouraging crowd proved that the concept is most definitely right.

On track, Richard Meins scored his most significant single-seater victory to date, winning the sole Grand Prix Masters race in his ex-Emerson Fittipaldi McLaren M23. Sadly, the meeting’s second race was lost to some truly shocking weather.

The weekend showcased the Masters Series, with the opening Group C/GTP races as welcome additions to the mix. Predictably, the clash with the Pau weekend and an already very crowded spell in the calendar didn’t help grids, and the 16-strong F1 grid was not the best in Masters’ history. But for the fans, the chance to see some famous cars from the heritage of Brands back in action on the grand prix circuit was a rare treat. As a debut event for Masters and Brands Hatch, there were many positives to build on.

Defying his limited single-seater experience, Meins showed that he has quickly adapted to F1 cars by fending off the similar car of Joaquin Folch in testing conditions. A mid-race safety car intervention gave Meins a real headache, as his lead over Folch was wiped out, but he kept his cool and rebuilt his lead over the Spanish nobleman, finishing a couple of seconds clear at the flag.

On Monday, in even worse weather, the pack went out behind the safety car for a green flag lap, but event director Dave Scott elected to take the field into the pits and see if conditions improved. They didn’t, and the race was later scrubbed, a decision readily accepted by the drivers.

Things weren’t a lot better for the pair of Group C/GTP races that opened the season for the rejuvenated category. It proved a winning weekend for local drivers as Kentish men David Mercer and Andy Purdie took a win each. Mercer won well on Sunday in his Spice SE90C, but a mix-up over the pit stop times on Monday catapulted Purdie’s Richard Lloyd Racing-built Porsche 962C into a big lead. 

Justin Law (Jaguar XJR12) and Mark Sumpter (Porsche 962) ran well in contention on both days and Sumpter summed up the conditions on Monday: “The heavens really opened and we ran behind the safety car for a while. Then we had another five minutes of racing in torrential rain and eventually they red-flagged the race.”

Graeme Dodd was the star of the 40-minute Top Hat Touring Car race, after a late call for him to race his Ford Mustang solo rather than hand over to son James. “I decided it was best to keep him in it,” explained James, who had done very few laps in the wet. However, a mid-race safety car period closed things up and Dodd had to work hard to fend off Leo Voyazides (Ford Falcon) at the restart.

Behind the Falcon, which Voyazides shared with Jason Minshaw, Simon Garrad flew his Lotus Cortina to third, while a fine fourth was the Wolseley Hornet of Norman Grimshaw/Nick Swift. Freshly prepared in homage to the period Hornet of Alec Poole, the car is the latest giant-killer to emerge from Grimshaw’s Cheshire workshop.

Another starring performance came from Simon Hadfield and Hamish Somerville in the Sports Racing Masters race. Hadfield missed qualifying as he was busy at Pau, but he flew back overnight to start Monday’s race from the back of the grid in the David Clark-owned Elva Mk8.

Hadfield worked through to take the lead just as Julian Bronson pitted his McLaren M1B and China-based Canadian Somerville did the rest. “Hamish took it over and just flew,” said Hadfield. Danny Wright briefly squeezed Philip Walker’s Cooper Monaco ahead after a safety car period, but Somerville quickly re-asserted himself.

Having left his country’s drought behind, Australian Wayne Park wasn’t fazed by the rain as he scored a hugely impressive World Sportscar Masters double in his Lola T70 Mk3B. Donington WSM winner Leo Voyazides retired his Lola T280 with clutch problems, and Sean Walker chased Park home in the opening race in his Chevron B16.

On Monday, Park was coming under pressure from the T70 Mk3B of Stefano Rosina until the Italian spoilt his chances with a time-consuming trip through the gravel trap at Druids. He still recovered to take second place before Chris Chiles Junior arrived in his Chevron B8.

While Chiles Junior was shining in the Chevron, his father – Chris Senior – partnered Paul Ingram to a commanding Gentleman Drivers’ victory in their AC Cobra. Freshly prepared for the 2007 season from a road car, the Chiles/Ingram Cobra out-paced the similar car of Bill Wykeham/John Bendall, while a stirring performance from the Chris Clarkson/Ted Williams Austin Healey 3000 prevented a Cobra lock-out of the podium at the end of 90 minutes.

After a catalogue of car problems, it all came right for Richard Shaw and Jackie Oliver in the U2TC touring car race. Their BMW 1800TiSA saw off the challenge of the Minis, which revelled in the slippery track conditions. After 24 laps, the Cooper S of Graham Churchill/Peter Baldwin just beat the similar car of Ian Cox/Allen Tice to second.

A disappointing field of 1950s cars wrapped up the weekend: Nigel Webb’s Jaguar XK120 shook off a determined challenge from Rod Adlington’s Austin A35.