Boxing Day at Brands Hatch
On December 27th the British Racing and Sports Car Club took a chance on the winter weather and held a mixed race meeting on the popular Kentish circuit. An excellent entry, ranging from 500-c.c. cars, through assorted sports cars to out-and-out racing cars, gathered in the paddock for the first Christmas meeting in the British Isles. The weather mercifully being anything but wintry, with a pale sun and intermittent blue skies above, in fact, as good as most of the summer meetings had been during 1954. As a “cadet-drivers” circuit, Brands Hatch fills an excellent position, providing just the right sort of meeting for those who eventually aspire to stardom at Goodwood, Oulton Park and, later, the Continental circuits, and while the Boxing Day entry was almost wholly of an amateur status, some close and hard-fought racing resulted, the efficiency of the running of the meeting being of a very high standard.
Two heats and a Final formed an event reserved for 500-c.c. drivers who had not finished first or second in any previous scratch race, and Heat 1 was a convincing win for the motor-cycle scramble rider C.M.Lund, driving his Cooper J.A.P. The second Heat began with a scrap between Iszatt and Heyward, but the former soon got into his stride and drew away to win, driving a very polished race in a very polished dark blue Cooper J.A.P. In the Final Iszatt made a bad start and was left behind on the opening lap, so that Lund was left to battle with Creamer, who was driving a car of his own make, powered by a Norton engine. Just when Lund looked to have the situation in his grasp his J.A.P. engine died on him and Creamer was left to win, followed by Elliott and Iszatt, the latter having driven hard throughout the 10 laps and made up for his bad start.
The sports cars were divided into two races, the first for those up to 1,500 c.c., and in this Lotus cars dominated the scene, they being 1-2-3 at one point in the race. Coombs showed greatly improved driving skill and kept his Connaught-engined streamlined Lotus in front to the end, though he was hard pressed by Naylor driving a similar car powered by an M.G. engine, the third car of this type being driven by Allen. Among the cars that followed was Blakeley’s new one, called Emperor, using his twin-cam Singer/H.R.G. engine in a tubular chassis with trailing link VW i.f.s. and a de Dion rearaxle layout, the whole enshrouded by a bulbous body that looked rather like a Mondial Ferrari that had been pressurised. On this, its maiden voyage, it ran extremely well and eventually beat Allen’s Lotus-M.G. and finished second after Naylor’s Abingdon motor went sick. Hard on the tails of these cars came the pretty little R.W.G.Ford, driven by Lund, who was showing as much skill and polish as he had in the 500-c.c. event. Though he could not pass the bigger cars he lost no ground to them at all, and his consistency of line on some of the bends was very good. At the back of the field there was a pleasant standard-car battle going on between Aley (H.R.G.) and Shove (M.G. TF), their roadholding showing just how outstanding that of the leading cars was. At the end of this 15 laps event one felt that either the Coombs/Lotus combination had been going extremely well or else the others had been going very slowly, but in the unlimited sports-car event Coombs ran again, being an addition to the programme, and he proved that C./L. had been going very well indeed.
For the whole of the 15 laps of the big sports-car race he clung on to the tail of Crook’s Cooper-Bristol, and their free-for-all battle was the highlight of the meeting. Crook was out to win and his Bristol engine was sounding superb as he howled his way along the top straight, his gear ratio for the circuit being as perfect as one could wish for, and he never gave Coombs the slightest chance to nip by, for the Lotus-Connaught was almost touching his tail at times and the two drivers gave a fine display of concentrated driving skill in a battle where one missed gear-change, or a mistake of only a yard on cut-off or braking point would have spelt disaster. Crook was the rousing winner, with the worthy Coombs right behind him. This duel rather overshadowed some of the other efforts, notably a three-cornered dice between Margulies driving his newly acquired ex-Duncan Hamilton C-type Jaguar, the burly Rogers with his Cooper-Bristol and Rudd with his very hot A.C. Ace. These three ran in very close company, duelling for third place, and had Rudd not run out of fuel it would have lasted until the end. As it was, it was left to Rogers to tail the Jaguar until the end, there just not being enough room to squeeze past on the tiny Kentish circuit. At the back of the field an Austin-Healey and a Porsche were having an over-steer waltz in close company, until the English car got out of step and they both spun off into the infield.
The Formule Libre race produced an assorted collection of cars that only the British can accept as racing cars in 1954. While a passionate interest in new Formula I cars makes English Formule Libre cars seem bizarre in the extreme, it must be admitted that the short sprints organised by such circuits as Brands Hatch and Goodwood do give people the opportunity to have a dice in a single-seater no matter how old and worn out it may be. The entry ranged from Sir Jeremy Boles’ sleek Connaught, driven by Beauman, through Cooper-J.A.P. 1,100s to Maseratis of the distant past and cars that competed in the sports-car event. With the cold winter air. by normal summer standards, the two Cooper-J.A.P.s of Marsh and Leston were at an advantage, and they shot off into the lead while the proper racing cars were still getting warm. Marsh was driving a very hard race, pushing Leston for some time and then getting past, while behind them Beauman was being kept at bay by Gould (Cooper-Bristol). Once he got past, the Connaught driver showed the sort of form that we have been used to during 1954 and streaked off after the two lethal weapons in front of him. So hard did he try to make up ground that the car got into a slide as he braked for the downhill paddock bend and spun through 360 degrees without leaving the road. The combination of Connaught stability and Beauman sangfroid made the whole pirouette look extremely safe. and finding himself pointing down the hill at a convenient moment the driver let in the clutch and motored on as though nothing had happened. He caught the two Coopers well before the end of the 15 laps and, though Leston dropped back, Marsh refused to give up and chased the Connaught to the finish.
The last race of the day was for the “Brands Hatch Boys”, or the 500-c.c. drivers in the expert category, and the standard of speed was certainly much higher than the previous 500-c.c. races. Leston was driving a new Mk.IX Cooper-Norton, but he was vanquished by Bueb driving a Mk.VIII model with extreme precision and, just before the end of the race, by Lewis-Evans in a similar car. Parker would also have eventually beaten Leston had he not spun round in his Kieft-Norton. Star of the race was undoubtedly young Lewis’ Evans, for he arrived at the back of the starting grid with a stalled engine, and everyone was so busy watching Stirling Moss dressed up as Father Christmas that he was not restarted until the field were out of sight. So furiously did he drive that he swept through the slower experts and gained yards every lap on the leaders. He set up a new lap record for 500-c.c. cars and eventually finished a brilliant second.
It being Christmas time rockets were sent up between races. while the public address system gave forth Christmas carols played on hand-bells that were pleasant for the first time of hearing, but not by the forty-first time. Under a corrugated iron and steel-tube air-raid shelter, that only English workmen could have constructed, an ox was being roasted throughout the racing, the smell of roasting flesh being mingled with that of roasting oil and rubber. The day was a pleasant diversion, but it is to be hoped that winter racing will not become a full-time thing, or no one will ever have time to prepare their cars properly or build new ones; the time for developing and testing new Grand Prix cars is already much too short. By way of a free advertisement for Daimler-Benz Ltd., Moss did a few laps in a borrowed 300SL Mercedes-Benz, showing what a smooth and silent sports-coupe Stuttgart has made. D. S. J.