The Gunnar Nilsson Trophy

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Donington Park, June 3rd

The machinations of big business, circuit rivalry, power politics and all the things in today’s world of motor racing that are distasteful combined to prevent a proper Formula One race being held at Tom Wheatcroft’s resurrected Donington Park circuit. The original idea was to hold a Formula One race for all the big teams with all the big names and thus raise money for the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Fund, in memory of the popular young Swedish driver. As this was not possible a sort of high-speed garden party was organised, with the help of the BRDC, and it turned out to be a huge success and a memorable day for the 20,000 and more enthusiasts who turned up to watch and support the Fund.

Highlight of the day was something akin to Indianapolis qualifying in which five current Formula One teams took part for the Gunnar Nilsson Formula One Challenge. Cars ran one at a time and fastest lap counted. There was a practice in the morning and in the event in the afternoon the five challengers went out in reverse order of their best practice time, starting with the slowest and ending with the fastest. There was one lap for warming-up, then three flying laps, of which the best scored, and then a slowing down lap, so that the spectators saw each car five times. During the morning Team Lotus had a suspension failure on the Lotus 80/1 so Andretti transferred to his spare car which was Lotus 79/5.

Rupert Keegan made the first run, in the works Arrows A1/06 normally raced by Patrese. His best lap was 65.09 sec., which did not approach the existing circuit lap record of 64.91 sec. set up by Brian Henton last year in a Formula Two March. James Hunt was the next to try, driving the Wolf WR8 which had been unused at Monaco. He improved on his practice times and got down to 62.54 sec. When he stepped out of the car no-one realised that it was to be his last competitive drive in a Formula One car, for a day or two later he announced he was giving up racing, just like that. Unless he does a Jackie Stewart and goes back on his word, the Donington Park spectators saw Hunt in a racing car for the last time.

Next out was Nelson Piquet in a Brabham-Alfa Romeo, and this was particularly interesting for the spectators as it was the BT46 “fan” car that Watson raced in Sweden last year. This was the first public appearance in this country of this intriguing device designed by David Cox and Gordon Murray, in which the large suction fan driven off the back of the gearbox drew the air from under the car, causing a considerable down-force. Unfortunately rules and power politics outlawed the car after its one race appearance last year. Piquet was at a big disadvantage in being asked to drive it, for not only was the driving technique new to him, but also the engine characteristic, for it uses the old flat-12 Alfa Romeo and he has become accustomed to the new V12 engine from Alfa Romeo. In spite of this and limited practice he clocked 63.61 sec.

Then came Andretti, unfortunately in a Lotus 79 and not in the Lotus 80, but even so he was good to watch, with a time of 62.67 sec., not quite as quick as Hunt, even though he had been quicker in practice. Finally came Alan Jones in the Williams FW07/003, the car he bent during the Monaco Grand Prix, he had been fastest in practice and it was now up to him to repeat the performance. This he did to perfection with 62.24 sec., already fastest on his first lap, then 61.88 sec. and finally 61.37 sec. which won him the Challenge without discussion. The Williams had looked really good and the driver was really enthusiastic about it. The final tally was:

1st: A. Jones (Williams FW07/003)………………………………………..61.37 sec. (144.82 m.p.h.)

2nd: J. Hunt (Wolf WR8)…………………………………………………………62.54 sec.

3rd: M. Andretti (Lotus 79/5)…………………………………………………62.67 sec.

4th: N. Piquet (Brabham BT46/4B) ………………………………………..63.61sec.

5th: R. Keegan (Arrows A1/06) ………………………………………………65.09 sec.

The rest of the entertaining day was taken up with a Formula Three race, won by Michael Roe (Chevron-Toyota), a BMW-M1 race won by Nelson Piquet, a BMW County Championship saloon car race won by Martin Brundle, and a Sports 2000 race won by Frank Sytner in a Lola. There were also air displays and parades by famous old drivers, including Denny Hulme in a Cooper-Climax, Dan Gurney in a P25 BRM, and Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell 006/2. For many people the highlight of the day was the appearance of Juan Manuel Fangio at the wheel of Neil Corner’s W125 Mercedes-Benz. Not only did the car go extremely well but 68-year-old Fangio drove it with a relish that was memorable, and had young men like Gurney and Hulme open-mouthed in admiration.

Some people noticed that Niki Lauda was not present, even though he was expected, but the reasons for his non-appearance are too sordid to enlarge upon. Suffice to say he is not his own master, which is sad, because it would have been most interesting to have seen him in the Brabham “fan” car.

It would be nice to think that Tom Wheatcroft will have another high-speed garden party next year, for everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely. – J.R.N.