Hatch made in heaven

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Look at that little pattern on the left: it’s been traced out on thousands of bedroom carpets since the 1960s, instantly recognisable as the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.

Every British motor racing fan has special memories from events at Brands. It has an atmosphere all its own, whether you’re watching the cars plunge around the amphitheatre of the Indy circuit or out into the trees beyond Surtees bend. And for whatever reason, great things seem to happen there.

Brands is going through a renaissance at the moment. It was fantastic to see the old place bursting at the seams for the recent A1GP meeting, and now new owner Jonathan Palmer is trying to get rounds of the DTM and the World Touring Car Championship for 2006. After years of neglect since the end of the John Webb era, there’s a real buzz about the place.

To celebrate, these are our 10 golden Brands moments to date, followed by an interview with Webb, the man whose vision made the venue great in the first place. We’ve also extracted Webb’s and Palmer’s five cherished Brands memories. If you disagree with our choices, we’ll see you in the Kentagon next year to argue it out!

Judges:  David Addison, Rob Aherne, Simon Arron, Matt Burt, Paul Fearnley, Peter Foubister, Lawrence Foster, Andrew Golby, Richard Heseltine, Henry Hope-Frost, Mark Hughes, Brian Jones, Bruce Jones, David Malsher, Nigel Roebuck, Jeremy Shaw, Marcus Simmons, Damien Smith, Simon Strang, Simon Taylor, David Tremayne, Gary Watkins.

***

10 — British Touring Car Championship, July 24, 1988

Titans of the Sierra Cosworth era in one of the best tin-top battles of all time

The meeting was headlined by the World Sports-Prototype series, but Andy Rouse and Steve Soper stole the show with the most exciting race of the Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 era.

Rouse was the acknowledged top dog of the BTCC, while Soper was returning to the UK from racing on the international scene for a limited programme in his home series.

Soper’s RS500, run by the Swiss Eggenberger Racing squad, had taken the honours on their only previous BTCC encounter to date, but Rouse’s self-prepared machine was armed with a tweaked engine for this encounter on the revised Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.

This was the first event to be held using the reprofiled — and faster — Westfield and the new Dingle Dell chicane. In first qualifying Rouse had the upper hand but the second session was wet, so Soper had no reply.

Rouse sprinted ahead at the start. Time and again Soper would pass him on the Indy circuit but lose out when they blasted onto the fast stuff into the woods. On the last lap Soper tried a dramatic move at Surtees, cutting inside Rouse to retake the lead, but Andy had the right line for the following Hawthorns.

“It was a good race and everyone came up and said, ‘Fantastic, fantastic’, but all I thought about was that I’d lost!” says Soper. “It seemed that Andy had another 75bhp on me, and that as soon as he got on to the straight he’d press a button, turn a knob and off he went.

“Eggenberger built bullet-proof engines for long-distance races; Andy built good sprint engines, and because it was his company he would pull them apart afterwards. As well as that you had a very good driver like Andy — he pedalled it well and you couldn’t beat him, just make a nuisance of yourself.” — MS

***

9 — British Grand Prix, July 20, 1968

Lotus couldn’t win with its works cars, so step forward Jo Siffert and Rob Walker

As British fans massed at Brands they had plenty to cheer for: Graham Hill was ahead on title points; Lotus had already taken three wins with the 49; and privateer Rob Walker had obtained the latest-spec 49B for Jo Siffert. It had been a near thing: while being repaired at Lotus, Walker’s first 49 was destroyed in a workshop fire. But there was a bond between the teams, as Lotus works mechanic Dick Scammell recalls: “We were pleased to have someone of that calibre running one of our cars.” So Colin Chapman supplied a fresh chassis. “Our cars were always evolving,” says Scammell, “so Rob’s wasn’t exactly like ours…”

Yet Siffert had put the blue-liveried machine fourth on the grid, only Chris Amon’s Ferrari splitting him from the works 49s of Hill and Jackie Oliver.

At the start Oliver jumped Hill, but only for a couple of laps, while Siffert headed Amon. The Lotus trio dominated, harried by Amon. Then on lap 27 Hill suddenly turned into the slip road behind the pits, his right rear wheel at a drunken angle. A CV joint had broken — a long-running problem, says Scammell.

So Oliver led, while Siffert and Amon fought a nailbiting battle for second. First the New Zealander, then Siffert set new lap records. ‘Seppe’ had just repassed the Ferrari when, as Oliver swept uphill through South Bank Corner, a puff of oil smoke announced that his final drive had gone. As he coasted onto the grass, Siffert flashed into the lead.

Amon wasn’t giving up: he could smell a victory at last. But Jackie Stewart, running sixth in his Matra, proved crucial. With four to go Siffert lapped him, but Amon took half a tour to pass. That clinched it; a first victory for ‘the Crazy Swiss’, and against a Ferrari too. Despite their defeat, the works Lotus boys cheered too. “We wanted to win, of course,” says Scammell, “but if we couldn’t we were delighted that Rob and Jo did.” — GC

***

8 — British Grand Prix, July 18, 1982

Rosberg’s pole, Piquet’s pace, Lauda’s win… But it’s Derek Warwick who’s the GP hero

That move. Derek Warwick bravely sitting it out into Paddock during the 1982 British Grand Prix, impudently stealing second place from Didier Pironi’s Ferrari in his Toleman TG181 tugger.

A classic of its kind, the position change shouldn’t have happened. But it did, as everyone who was there remembers. Not least the Hampshireman himself: “It felt fantastic, I can tell you. Normally you’re not aware of the crowd but I recall people jumping to their feet, cheering. I must admit I allowed myself a little cheer in the cockpit too!” Of course it couldn’t last…

The weekend began with a typically ballsy qualifying drive from Keke Rosberg, the Williams man plonking himself on pole. Come the race the FW08’s Cosworth V8 vapourised its fuel on the grid, meaning he had to chase from the back. So it was Nelson Piquet who took the lead as Brabham team-mate Riccardo Patrese stalled. Plans to use the Italian as a hare were in tatters and he trashed the car on lap seven after a grassy exit. By lap ten Piquet was out after his BMW engine died (so much for the team’s tactic to reintroduce planned pitstops to F1), leaving McLaren’s Niki Lauda in front to win at a track that hitherto seemed jinxed to him.

But it was Warwick who was the man of the day. Yet after jumping the Ferrari on lap 25, he knew his efforts flattered to deceive: “We hadn’t had a good year. We lacked decent mechanical and aerodynamic grip, and had all sort of failures during the season. Nobody in the team expected the car to last so we didn’t fuel it up. Thing is, the new Pirellis were working really well and the car felt so much better than before: I think we shot ourselves in the foot with our tactics. But it was a wonderful moment nonetheless.” — RH

***

7 — Formula Ford Festival, October 28, 1990

Dave Coyne’s rehabilitation from arch-villain of British motorsport to folk legend

Ten years after his first crack at the Formula Ford Festival, and six years after he had won the major British FF1600 titles, Dave Coyne finally triumphed in the event he’d always been desperate to win.

But what made his 1990 success pass into legend was the manner in which he did it. Coyne had driven for Swift since 1986, shortly after long-time racer Frank Bradley had — on the advice of a fortune teller! — invested his funds into setting up the European arm of what was a very successful junior single-seater constructor in the USA.

Coyne was made to start his heat from the back of the grid with a 10-second penalty. “They did me for going over the kerbs at the bottom of Paddock in the wet in qualifying,” he says. “At that time Frank was in quite a lot of trouble (financially) with Swift. He just looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Dave, what have you done? That’s it — we’re finished.’  I said, ‘Sorry mate, but come on, let’s think about it — I’m sure I can get in there and qualify.”

Coyne fought through to seventh in his heat, then his progress stalled in the quarter-final, when he could only rise from 13th on the grid to ninth. But, in a damp semi-final, he stormed through from 18th to take a sensational win by 1.15sec from 1989 victor Niko Palhares.

In the dry final, and with an under-par engine, he clung on to win thanks to a brilliant display of racecraft — his fastest lap of the race was bettered by 14 other drivers. “

To me the semi was easy; soaking up the pressure in the final was hardest. You’ve got to think, ‘If I was behind, what would I be doing to get past?’ and position yourself. It felt like it was 100 laps; like it was never going to end!” — MS

***

6 — Formula Ford Festival, October 27, 1985

Johnny Herbert was already an underdog. Then he binned it…

No wonder he was distraught. The man with what George W Bush would later call ‘Big Mo’ had surely thrown away his big chance. Johnny Herbert’s Formula Ford Festival campaign had picked up ‘big momentum’ through mid-week testing, but now his Quest lay tangled in the Paddock Hill Bend catch-fencing. Worse still, he hadn’t even set a qualifying time.

“I thought it was all over,” says Herbert, who had been caught out by the slippery track conditions on his first flying lap. “I knew you had to do three laps to qualify, so for me it was finished.”

Not quite. Herbert and the works Quest FF85 could still take up a place in the first of eight heats required for the giant field that had turned up for the end-of-season FF1600 extravaganza. But by practising out of session — “they put me in with the pre-74s” — he would have to start from the back. Worse still, he would do so 10 seconds after everyone else had charged off towards Paddock Hill Bend. So began a fightback that has entered British motorsport folklore.

A distant sixth in his heat put Herbert 12th on the grid for the first quarter-final. From there he fought his way up to fourth and then on to second in the first semi. Crucially, that gave him the favourable outside berth on the front row of the grid for the final.

Herbert converted third on the grid into the lead of the race. He never relinquished it, but nor did he eke out any breathing space over the course of 20 frenetic laps around the Indy circuit.

Jonathan Bancroft’s Racefax Van Diemen was glued to his gearbox throughout and even made a couple of feints down the inside of the leader into Paddock. But there was no stopping Herbert — it was a hugely popular win.

“It was good to come from the back,” says Herbert. “Other people went on to do it (Dave Coyne in 1990 and Jan Magnussen in ’92), but I can say I was the first.” —  GW

***

5 — British Grand Prix, July 20, 1978

Lauda loses out to Reutemann and blames it all on Giacomelli

Bruno Giacomelli claimed a pole position and led a grand prix for Alfa Romeo; he was a champion in Formula Three and broke the wins record in Formula Two. Yet for fans in Britain he’ll always be remembered as the man who influenced the outcome of the 1978 British Grand Prix. That’s not fair and nor, reckons the Italian, is the criticism he received after Niki Lauda got caught up behind his McLaren, handing an unexpected victory to Carlos Reutemann.

Read the magazine reports of the race more than a quarter of a century on and you’re left in no doubt that Giacomelli, who was driving in only his third grand prix, was firmly to blame. Yet he reckons no one from the press, nor Lauda for that matter, sought him out to get his explanation of the incident.

The facts are clear: with the dominant Lotuses out, Lauda’s Brabham-Alfa BT46 enjoyed a diminishing lead of a second and a half over Reutemann when he crossed the line for the 59th time; next time around the Ferrari 312T3 was mere inches ahead.

Less clear is exactly what happened at Clearways on that lap. And Giacomelli’s interpretation of the incident doesn’t help matters.

“I saw them coming, moved over to the inside and raised my left arm to show them where to overtake,” explains Giacomelli. “We got to the corner and I started to move back out across the track. I couldn’t help it; I had slowed down but not by enough to hug the kerb all the way around the inside.”

Lauda momentarily lifted, while Reutemann nipped down the inside and raced away into a clear lead. The Brabham driver fought back, but was a second behind at the chequered flag — and still fuming at the behaviour of the 25-year-old in the third works M26.

“Lauda wasn’t concentrating,” says Giacomelli. “He made the mistake, but I got the blame.” — GW

***

4 — British Grand Prix, July 18, 1976

Hunt beats Lauda in gripping duel; crowd gets dangerous…

‘People power’ at the British Grand Prix is not a phenomenon discovered by Nigel Mansell in the mid-80s. Far from it, for rarely has there been a display of crowd unrest to match that at Brands Hatch in 1976.

When James Hunt was the unwitting victim of a first-corner shunt, he drove his broken McLaren back into the paddock via the ‘back door’ on Bottom Straight, then waited anxiously while it was repaired.

There then followed a long delay while officials decided whether Hunt should be allowed to take the restart. The crowd responded to each negative morsel of news with slow handclaps and foot stamping, while main trackside commentator Anthony Marsh exhorted them to stay calm.

Out in the country, at Westfield Bend, was second commentator Brian Jones, along with RAC steward Keith Douglas.

“Keith came into his own at this point,” recalls Jones. “Armed with his Yellow Book (the international rules of racing), he began to feed me with reasons why Hunt should be allowed to start, all of which I fed to the public over the PA.

“As time passed it was noticeable that Anthony was getting more and more anxious. What Keith and I did not know was that the crowd were getting restless, noisy and hungry for a decision that permitted James to start. Empty beer cans were being thrown onto the circuit. It has been suggested to me that the reason he was allowed to start may well in some way have been down to anxiety over the crowd if he was denied. I hope we were not instrumental in stirring up possibly the first evidence of crowd power in motor racing!”  Hey Brian — we’re not pointing any fingers! But Hunt did restart, chased down Niki Lauda’s Ferrari and won, only for the victory to be taken away two months later. — MS

***

3 — British Grand Prix, July 13, 1986

Mansell wins gripping battle with team-mate Piquet after Laffite’s startline shunt

Brands spectators were spoiled in the early 1980s, when the Kent circuit hosted Formula One races for five consecutive years, in 1982-86. The final event of that run also turned out to be the last grand prix held at the venue, and for that reason alone it deserves a place in our list. But it was made even more memorable by an epic contest between Williams team-mates Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.

“They were certainly very different characters,” recalls Patrick Head, who had to keep things running smoothly after Frank Williams was sidelined by his road accident. “What was most tricky was that Frank had done the deal with Nelson at the Austrian GP in 1985, and at that point Nigel hadn’t won any races. I’m sure that Nelson’s understanding was that he was going to be a clear number one…”

Mansell had other ideas. After winning the last two races of 1985, he began ’86 with victories at Spa, Montreal and Paul Ricard. Piquet was fast, but prior to Brands his only win with his new team had come in the season-opener at Rio.

Their fight at the British GP was made more interesting after Nigel suffered a driveshaft failure at the start. He was handed a second chance — in the ‘difficult’ spare car — after Jacques Laffite’s accident stopped the race. Poleman Piquet held the initial advantage, but Mansell hunted him down and won in a contest that previewed an even more memorable encounter at Silverstone the following year.

“Brands was a great place to race, in that you could see so much of what was going on,” says Head. “It’s certainly a very challenging track. I remember it was a helluva race and there were only really two cars in it, and those were Nelson and Nigel. Lap by lap there were new lap records. I remember Frank and I having a discussion about whether we should be slowing the cars down, but basically Nelson considered himself the number one driver and we didn’t think that if we gave any instructions to them that they would be followed anyway!

“Generally it’s not a good principle to give an instruction that you know isn’t going to be followed. Apart from establishing with Honda that the engines were being run within a fairly safe regime in terms of boost level, and making sure that we knew that both cars were being run to the same boost, there were no instructions at all.” — AC

***

2 — European Grand Prix, October 6, 1985

First win for Mansell after Piquet and Rosberg clash and Senna is ‘nobbled’ by Keke

As a Formula One driver there is only one thing that can top winning a grand prix on home soil — and that is scoring your first grand prix win on home soil.

For Nigel Mansell that special double came in the 1985 European Grand Prix on a day that would mark the arrival of ‘Our Nige’. Before that October afternoon, Mansell was just another British driver. By that night he had become a nation’s favourite.

“To win your first grand prix on home turf is probably the most special memory that you can have,” he remembers. “In the turbo days when you were coming past the start-finish line at 192 mph, which is what we were doing there, and going into Paddock Hill, it was an awesome experience. The fans just made it for me.”

Mansell did not have an easy time en route to the win. He ran fourth in the early stages, on the back of a tight train led by poleman Ayrton Senna’s Lotus, Williams-Honda team-mate Keke Rosberg and Brabham’s Nelson Piquet.

“Wow, yeah that was tough,” recalls Mansell. “There was a lot of fighting at the front. We were all challenging and going for it.”

Everything changed on lap seven, though, when Rosberg challenged Senna for the lead at Surtees and spun, collecting Piquet in the process. That left Mansell free to challenge Senna, and when Rosberg rejoined right in front of this lead battle after a pitstop to replace a punctured tyre, a bit of uncooperative driving from the Finn gave Mansell the chance to seize the lead on lap nine.

From there Mansell had to push hard, never feeling that he was able to relax until he finally crossed the line more than 20sec clear of Senna, to the delight of the home fans who had been counting down the laps for him. “I was driving hell for leather all the way through — but in the end it was just wonderful to do it on home soil.”

Two decades on, Mansell says that the accolade of the fans was not the only cherished memory he has of that day. He remembers some kind words from his team-mate too.

“For me, to be congratulated by Keke and told what a great job I did — it meant a lot,” adds Mansell “I also remember I got pole position in the next race in South Africa and Keke saw the lap on television. Even to this day he says, ‘You were absolutely mad!” — JN

***

1 — BOAC 1000, April 12, 1970

Rodríguez: from “idiot” to superman

They were always going to win this one, weren’t they?  Pedro Rodríguez. Gulf Porsche 917. A sodden Brands Hatch 1000Km. Five-lap winning margin. It was a day on which the Mexican made everyone else look ordinary, not least his ‘nominal’ co-driver Leo Kinnunen, who understandably looks sheepish in the post-race photographs.

Once the flag dropped, Vic Elford splashed ahead in his Porsche 917K, followed by Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari 512S. On the second tour the Belgian got ahead. Then the inevitable happened: an accident, the catalyst for Rodríguez’s remarkable drive, one born of frustration at the only person at the meeting who was not impressed by his efforts — clerk of the course, Nick Syrett.

“There are things that you forget as you get older but I can remember that race like it was yesterday,” laughs Syrett. “Barrie Smith had entered this old shed of a Lola T70 and managed to destroy it down the length of the front straight. So naturally the yellow flags came out and everyone slowed down. Apart from Pedro. I saw a marshal half-heartedly waving his flag, so ran down from the control tower, grabbed it from his feeble grasp and did the job myself. Then Pedro came past: couldn’t have missed me by more than 18 inches. He just didn’t lift. So I went storming down to see John Wyer and David Yorke and said, ‘Bring him in now!’ Anyway, the black flag went out and he ignored it for two laps before eventually coming in. I opened the car door and there he was, sitting meekly like a naughty schoolboy. Read him the riot act in no uncertain terms, then punched him on the shoulder three times — with some force — yelling, ‘Don’t do it again, you could have f**king killed me!’ He nodded contritely, dialled in about 8000rpm, dumped the clutch and went out again. Yorke looked at me and said, ‘You’re right — he is an idiot!'”

A blisteringly fast idiot. During the commotion, Ickx remained in front but soon got into trouble among the backmarkers, stopping to reconfigure his wipers: it was now Elford ahead of Amon’s Ferrari. Rodríguez swiftly got past two Matras and the Attwood/Herrmann Porsche and pounced on the leading pack, Amon losing out after tangling with Trevor Twaites’s Chevron. Rodríguez then proceeded to pull away from Elford.

Staying out for another stint, Rodríguez continued to build on his lead, being concerned about handing the car over to the slower Kinnunen. He needn’t have worried as the Finn later kept perfect station over the recovering Siffert/Redman 917, until the latter was forced off the road at Westfield by Amon. By the end of the race the rain had eased, but there was nothing anyone could do to reel in the leading Porsche. It was a virtuoso performance from the Mexican, although Syrett remained unmoved: “I was still giving him a bollocking during the victory parade!” — RH