Rothmans World Championships Victory Race

Brands Hatch, October 24th.

When the Mexican Grand Prix was cancelled Brands Hatch’s idea of holding a Formula One race on the same date to bolster up the already heavy Motor Show 200 meeting programme seemed an excellent idea. The race was hurriedly given the title of the Rothmans World Championships Victory race and further light-hearted fun was added by the plan to have an Escort Mexico race for team managers. With these ingredients and beautiful weather on the day the meeting looked as if it would bring an ideal end to the 1971 season. But in motor racing the unexpected is ever present and death always lurks around the corner. As is now history, on lap 15 of the main race Jo Siffert’s BRM P160, which had served him so well during the year, careered into a bank at an unlikely point and burst into an inferno from which the Swiss driver had little chance of surviving. That Brands Hatch day is now one we would rather forget.

The entry list of combined Formula One and 5000 cars included a brand new Formula One car, the Tecno flat-12 built in Bologna, but there was no sign of it and the firm’s British representative explained that the bag tanks had been manufactured incorrectly but otherwise the car was ready to run. Nanni Galli was to have been the driver. Another new car which failed to appear was the latest Surtees Formula 5000, designated the TS11, which was lacking the appropriate Chevrolet engine. Mike Hailwood had been nominated as driver but he took over the second TS9 Formula One, leaving Italian Andrea de Adamich without a drive. Hailwood thus drove TS9/004 and Surtees himself was racing the usual Eifelland car TS9/002, the later side-radiator model having been despatched to Kyalami for testing.

A new Formula One face was that of the Argentinian Carlos Reutemann, who has had such an excellent Formula Two season. He drove a works Brabham BT33/1 (as used by Schenken at the start of the year) as a prelude to joining the team full time for 1972. In fact it wasn’t his Formula One début for he had driven a Bonnier McLaren M7C in the Argentinian GP in January. Interestingly it was the first time since 1966 that Ron Tauranac’s Motor Racing Developments’ team were running three cars for they also fielded Tim Schenken in his regular BT33 and Graham Hill in the BT34. Former Gilbey F1 driver and Broadspeed and Ecurie Evergreen Team Manager Keith Greene had joined MRD in a similar capacity, thus relieving Tauranac of some of his worries.

There were some face changes in the McLaren camp as well, for Denny Hulme had decided to stay in California between Can-Am races and thus the team brought in their regular reserve Jack Oliver who was actually driving the Hulme car. Also at the wheel of a Gulf orange McLaren, but this one a Formula 5000, was former Gold Leaf-Team Lotus driver Reine Wisell. The Swede was invited to drive the semi-works McLaren M18 which has been seen all season in Castrol colours, run by Sid Taylor and driven by Brian Redman. That association now seems to have ended and thus McLaren Racing ran the car themselves for WiseII who, before signing for Lotus in the middle of the 1970 season, was the works McLaren F5000 driver. Derek Bell was waiting in the wings in case Wisell did not get a release from Lotus but was not needed.

Apart from the above everyone else was more or less as seen before. As this was a tribute to Elf-Team Tyrrell the Surrey equipe were in full force with their usual squad of two race cars and a spare for Stewart and Cevert plus a brand-new car 004 not too far away on display at Earls Court. The STP March team had just brought along one March 711 for Ronnie Peterson and brought the car to the circuit with a Transit and trailer rather than their usual transporter.

In contrast Yardley-BRM were present in considerable force with all four of their BRM P160s for Jo Siffert, Peter Gethin and Howden Ganley. Siffert and Ganley remained faithful to their usual cars which had Mk. 2-headed engines, while Gethin tried both 03 and 01 during practice and finally plumped for the later car and not his Monza winner.

Almost certainly racing in the Gold Leaf colours for the last time (a change of brand is anticipated) was Team Lotus who brought along just a single Lotus 72 for Fittipaldi, this being his regular car. Unlike some previous Brands Hatch races of this nature there were no make-weight F1s and the only private car was the March 711 of the Frank Williams Racing team driven as usual by Henri Pescarolo. There were however several Formula 5000 to make up a decent-sized field, most of them reasonably competitive like Frank Gardner in the Lola T300, Alan Rollinson in his Surtees TS8 and Mike Walker in the Hardwick Lola T192.

There was plenty of practice with three separate sessions, although this left some of the other supporting races a bit short of time. However, the bumps of the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch always present car setting-up problems and some of the teams. including Elf-Team Tyrrell, were having considerable problems along these lines. The outright circuit record stood to Jack Brabham at 1 min. 25.8 sec. but this was obviously going to be broken as Peterson had equalled that time in practice with his March Formula Two car at the August meeting.

In fact practice was not very old on Friday when first Siffert and then Gethin, Fittipaldi, and Hailwood all made the record look old-fashioned. Hailwood again was looking particularly impressive in the Surtees. Stewart was only fifth fastest in the first session and had been left standing by the BRMs, particularly Siffert, whose progress was only halted by a major engine disaster.

In the first Saturday session he improved to 1 min. 22.8 sec. a time which was to stand as pole position. However Peterson made a significant advance up the lists after a troubled Friday session but neither of the Tyrrells looked like being a threat at all. In the Saturday afternoon session it was Peter Gethin who was to show splendid form and he equalled Siffert’s pole position time to make it a BRM one-two on the grid. Since his surprise Monza victory Gethin has been somewhat eclipsed by Ganley but at Brands Hatch everything was going right for him again and he always looked confident. Fittipaldi’s Friday time was quite good enough for the final spot on the front row. On rank two was Peterson who, like Fittipaldi, had lapped in 1 min. 23.6 sec., with Mike Hailwood alongside having recorded 1 min. 23.8 sec. On row three were Stewart and Schenken (also on 1 min. 23.8 sec.) and Ganley at 1 min. 24.2 sec.

Jack Oliver, who is acknowledged as being something of a Brands Hatch expert, was not getting along too well with the complicated McLaren M19 and shared row four with John Surtees, both having lapped at 1 min. 24.6 sec. Row five comprised Reutemann (whose practice had been considerably restricted due to a gearbox failure) on 1 min. 24.6 sec., Hill who was 0.2sec. slower than his new team mate and Cevert who was a further fifth of a second down. The first of the Formula 5000s was on row six and that was Frank Gardner with the new Lola at 1 min. 25.8 sec. sharing it with the slowest of the Formula Ones, Henri Pescarolo with the Williams March. Behind came Mike Walker, Alan Rollinson and Reine Wisell who all lapped their Chevrolet V8 powered machines at 1 min. 27.0 sec., with the rest ranged out behind. All together there was a field of twenty-seven cars which gave the paying public good value.

Looking down the list and listening to the various comments in the pits it definitely looked as if, at this particular circuit, the Goodyear-tyred cars like the Tyrrells and Brabhams were at a disadvantage to Firestone, although on reflection it is amazing how the two rival companies are so very nearly level peggings on most occasions.

After the fun of the entrants’ Mexico race on the short circuit, which was won by a briefly out-of-retirement Jack Brabham after a huge scrap with Colin Chapman (whose car let him down with transmission failure in the final run to the line when he was in the lead), came a nice parade. This featured all the various support vehicles from the many firms who have been involved in the Tyrrell success this season.

This over, the cars formed up on the grid with everyone present and correct, although Jackie Stewart must have been wondering what he could pull out of the bag to win the race that was being held in his honour. Then engines re-started, a minute ticked away and they were off crowding into Paddock bend with quite a bit of rushing and shoving going on. Siffert made a poor start and found Peterson coming round him, while Gethin got the jump on them all and was first out of the dip from Paddock up towards Druids. Fittipaldi was close behind, then came Hailwood and Peterson. As the field streamed out of the view of the short-circuit spectators, Ganley was fourth ahead of Stewart, Schenken, Surtees, Cevert, Siffert, Wisell, Hill, Pescarolo, Oliver, Reutemann then accessory shop man Gordon Spice who had put his McLaren ahead of Rollinson, Gardner, Walker, and the rest. At the back Guy Edwards in a McLaren and Fred Saunders in the Crossle-Rover collided at Druids but got going again. Saunders made a pit stop and then had his car catch fire although the automatic extinguisher immediately put it out, and Edwards soon had the engine blow up.

However, at the front where the real motor racing was going on it was Gethin setting a hard pace while things started to get really hectic on lap two a few places behind. Up at Druids Pescarolo, who had just passed Hill, seemed to mis-judge his braking and went flying over the top of Wisell and both cars finished up in the banking. Both drivers were unhurt; although the normally calm Swede was exceptionally cross. But as the dust was still settling, at the next corner, Bottom Bend, Ronnie Peterson attempted to pass Hailwood for the third place. On this occasion it seemed that Peterson’s bravery got the better of him and the move resulted in the two cars interlocking wheels, twitching madly and then spinning. Quite how the pack avoided Peterson’s stranded car, it is difficult to ascertain but they did, although Ganley lost several placings after taking to the grass. Both spinners had damaged tyres, Hailwood’s being particularly flat and it took him several minutes to stagger back to the pits and have another rim fitted, but by that time the suspension was damaged too and he soon retired. Peterson got to the pits much quicker and was soon on his way, although well down the field.

This put a slightly different complexion on the race for it had allowed Gethin, with a hotly pursuing Fittipaldi, to pull out a three second lead on third man who was now Stewart. Then came Schenken followed by Siffert and Surtees, these three almost nose-to-tail, Cevert and Ganley were next ahead off Hill, with Rollinson leading the Formula 5000 boys and heading Oliver and Reutemann.

This was not to be Ganley’s meeting for on lap six he retired to the pits with the water temperature off the clock. To the surprise of some, Gethin continued to lead although his car seemed to be blowing out a vapour from what looked like the fuel breather pipe. Fittipaldi, at this stage, was reasonably happy to follow for the race was 40 laps and obviously his chances would come. Oliver and Reutemann had pulled away from Rollinson, leaving him to fend off F5000 confederates Gardner and Walker with Spice still hanging on well too.

Siffert was perhaps not making as quick progress up the field as expected but on lap 11 he passed Schenken and started to pull away from him for a couple of laps, then the gap remained static. Oliver pulled into the pits on lap 14 to report his brakes had completely disappeared and a master cylinder was found to be at fault.

At the end of lap 15 Gethin came through with Fittipaldi still worrying at his heels with Stewart third. Siffert was missing and Schenken came by in fourth place ahead of Cevert, Hill and Reutemann, with an ashen-faced Surtees pulling into the pits with damaged bodywork and a flat tyre. Then there was silenceno doubt something dreadful had happenedand a huge pall of dense black smoke rose over the trees form the direction of Hawthornes.

What had happened was soon flashing across the World’s news media. Siffert’s BRM had gone out of control before the braking point for Hawthornes, crashing into the bank and before the next impact had exploded in a burst of flame. The car came to rest near the apex of the corner and the fire-fighting facilities at that point had little chance of competing against some twenty ignited gallons of high-octane fuel with the wreckage completely blocking the track. The remaining cars stopped on the straight before the accident and had the sobering experience of watching for many minutes as vain efforts were made to extinguish the blaze. Siffert had no doubt perished almost immediately the fire took hold.

Obviously none of the drivers had any stomach for a re-run and the results of the race were made at the order as it stood at 14 laps. Once the horrible mess had been cleared up efficiently by the BARC officials the rest of the meeting continued with the final rounds of the Johnson Euro Trophy for Formula Ford, the Motor Sport/Shell F3 Championship and the RAC Saloon Car Championship. [I am surprised any more racing took place. They behaved better at Brooklands, unless an International event was in question.Ed]. After this was over Siffert’s death was announced to the 40,000-strong crowd, who largely knew it anyway, and we all went home quietly knowing that motor racing will continue just as before but wanting to forget all about it for the time being.A.R.M.