1979 Aurora AFX Championship, Zolder
Romanticising about a second place, especially in a backwater national series, may be over the top, but Tiff Needell’s runner-up spot in the Belgian Cup was the closest Derek Bennett’s Chevron marque ever got to F1 glory. With a proper F1 car, that is, even if the B41 was just a test hack.
“Basically it was Derek’s project,” recalls Bennett’s right-hand man Paul Owens. “He locked himself in his little development shop and got on with it. After he died (in March 1978) I finished the car off with a couple of the lads. Derek was serious about F1, and we had spoken to VDS about funding a proper GP squad prior to his death.”
“The B41 was based on the B37 Formula 5000 car. Of course, we’d run against F1 cars before with our F5000 machines and done very well (witness Peter Gethin’s ’73 Race of Champions win) but the B41 was effectively a test bed. Ground effects had just come in so the car was already obsolete — but it was only built to test Derek’s ideas about suspension; we would have moved on with the aerodynamic side afterwards. But to be honest, after Derek died, it was all we could do to keep Chevron afloat: racing the B41 wasn’t a priority. We sold the car (to Graham Eden) and it did race but I don’t think it showed its true worth, though Tiff Needell made it go well.”
Indeed, Eden gained sponsorship from Durex and ran the car for young British drivers in the 1979 Aurora AFX Championship. Needell was first up at Zolder on April 1, qualifying the B41 12th in a 23-car field. In wet conditions the F3 man moved up through the field and, as the track dried later in the race, found himself engaged in a tussle with Desiré Wilson in the Melchester Tyrrell 008, before having a battle with the Wolf of David Kennedy and Philip Bullman in a Surtees TS20. The win went to Kennedy by 0.2sec.
Throughout the year Tiff would swap with David Leslie, Ray Mallock and Kim Mather, but there were no more podiums. Owens: “Chevron usually won its first race every time it moved up a category, but with drivers hopping in and out, the B41 was never going to get developed.” After a one-off for Mike Wilds in 1980, it was sold to Sweden. — RH