Race of Champions

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Brands Hatch, March 21st

I don’t think anyone will argue when I say that Stewart is easily the best driver in Formula One racing today, and that the flat-12-cylinder Ferrari is by far the most powerful Formula One car at present. The fact that a Ferrari won the Race of Champions and Stewart was second would appear to confirm this, but it was not as simple as that. Graham Hill recorded the fastest lap with the new Brabham BT34, which should make any future historian stop to think and review the result more closely.

Brands Hatch in mid-March was its usual impossible self, raining all day Friday before the race, being cold and damp on Saturday and cold and grey on Sunday. Most of the small entry were out on Friday in spite of the rain, and Stewart was head and shoulders above everyone else as he threw the number one Tyrrell car about with a calculated abandon that does not fit in with his “safety songs” and political clap-trap. To watch his skill and reflexes at work on the wet track was to watch an artist at work and it was a joy to behold. On the other hand Hulme took one look at the weather and told the McLaren team they could forget practice, even though the new M19 McLaren was ready to go.

The Saturday practice was under better conditions, and the last half-hour saw a dry track so that everyone was on an equal footing and the lap times recorded settled the grid positions and bore as close a resemblance to reality as we were to see throughout the whole weekend. A study of the grid will show that the right cars and the right drivers were in the right places, with Stewart on pole position nearly a whole second faster than the next man who was Hulme, who appeared when the rain stopped.

Reading down through the rows on the grid there were not great surprises, but much of interest. Hill was in the latest Brabham, described elsewhere, Miles was having his first race in a BRM V12 and in row three was Emerson Fittipaldi in the Lotus turbine car, the first time such a power unit had appeared in a Formula One race, but not the first time a turbine had been in a race, nor the first turbine car to appear at Brands Hatch, for the Howmet sports car holds that distinction. The new boys to Formula One were all neatly grouped at the back, led by Schenken in a 1970 Brabham team car, making his first Formula One appearance. Other first-timers were Ray Allen, in the Williams March 701, Mike Beuttler in a brand-new March 701, the car also making its debut, and Tony Trimmer in the works Lotus 72 which Fittipaldi would have been driving had he not been in the turbine. A little out of place among the debutantes was Gethin, whose Formula One experience with the second works McLaren should have seen him higher up the grid. In last position was Peterson in a brand-new March 711 belonging to the Frank Williams team. The car was only completed on the Saturday, missed official practice, and joined the happy throng on Sunday after a few laps in the morning. Starting in last position Peterson was also given a ten-second handicap for missing practice.

On paper the grid looked all neat and tidy, ready for a typical Formula One procession, the real excitement of high-speed driving having ended on Saturday afternoon. However, some rain in the morning, ominous skies and misleading weather reports had everyone in a flap as the starting time of 2 p.m. approached. The Tyrrell team fitted Stewart’s car with “intermediate” Goodyears, banking on rain, Hulme did likewise on the McLaren M19, but Ferrari took a chance on “dry-weather” Firestones for Regazzoni, and Ron Tauranac took a similar gamble with “dry” Goodyears for Hill with the new Brabham. BRM were banking on wet weather for Miles, and in this tyre flap the Lotus turbine car was sitting on some fairly old-fashioned Firestones, for it was using 15 in. wheels against the later cars that were down to 13 in. wheels.

As the flag fell, the neatly laid-out grid was still neat but full of imponderables. To start with the track was still damp in places, especially on either side of the racing-line through the corners, and Stewart and Hulme began to run away from the others, Regazzoni and Hill being unable to match the pace on their “dry weather” tyres. There was no hope of anyone passing anyone else, apart from Peterson at the back, who picked off the “new boys” one by one, but did not last long, for the shaft to one of the inboard front brakes broke, and this on a brand-new car.

As a race there was nothing to see, the only interest coming from those who were stopping racing, such as Trimmer, who did only one lap before stopping at the pits with fuel pressure trouble, Miles who thought he had a flat tyre on the latest P153 BRM and came into the pits, where he had a pair of “dry weather” tyres put on the back, and Beuttler whose brand-new March 701 had the injection system on the Cosworth V8 fail.

Just before 20 laps of processional motoring had passed, the ominous clouds had held their water and the track was drying rapidly, so that Regazzoni closed-up on Hulme and took second place on lap 20, while Hill also speeded up. On lap 25 which was half-distance, Regazzoni swept past Stewart and Hill swept past Hulme, the “dry weathers” paying off, so now the handicap system had been reversed. Stewart had no hope of holding the Ferrari, even though he still drove the Tyrrell as hard as he could, while Hulme had the added handicap of a bad misfire in his Cosworth engine so that he dropped back quite a long way. Behind these four, but a long way behind, came Surtees, Wisell and Gethin, while Ganley, Schenken and Allen had been lapped already. Hulme struggled on until lap 30, when he pulled into the pits to have the ignition unit changed, but after three more laps he gave up as the misfire was still there. Meanwhile Hill had been going splendidly in the new Brabham, and had caught the unhappy Tyrrell, but Stewart was not going to move over, and for a number of laps we saw a fine display of how to prevent a rival from coming by. Normal “lines” into corners went by the board, and you realised that Stewart was not going all that fast or he would never have got round the corners on such peculiar “lines”. Hill tried every trick he knew, but there was no way by, and on the little straight bits of the Brand Hatch circuit the Tyrrell pulled away slightly, having a 1971 Cosworth engine against the Brabham’s 1970 engine.

On lap 35 the Brabham engine lost power and Hill stopped at the pits before there was a big bang, the trouble probably emanating from the valve springs. This left Stewart to return to a more orthodox route round the circuit, and to cruise along in the hope of some more rain or trouble appearing on the Ferrari. The Italian car was blowing out quite a lot of blue smoke, but nothing serious was developing so Regazzoni reeled off the laps to win yet another race for the Maranello team, with Stewart following him home into second place. Surtees arrived a miserable third, lucky to be motoring, for his latest car had lost its cooling water from a pipe damaged in contact with the ground, and the oil pressure was sagging badly.

At the end of practice, Schenken in the 1970 works Brabham was nine-tenths of a second faster than Ganley in a 1970 works BRM; Ganley made the better start in the race, so led Schenken for 47 of 48 laps they covered in close company, but made a slight error on the last lap and Schenken nipped through to snatch fourth place. Allen had shown great determination and courage in practice, and ran 48 of the 50 laps of the race, keeping out of trouble, and finished a steady sixth, while Miles brought up the rear unable to make up the time lost in changing rear wheels.

The Lotus turbine was as unimpressive as its exhaust note, and quietly expired when continual bottoming on the Brands Hatch bumps first of all ground away the rear anti-roll bar link on the left side, and then ground away the bottom of the spring unit, until the left rear corner collapsed. The third Team Lotus car, driven by Wisell, was never in the picture and ran for a long while with a consistent misfire, until it finally died altogether and Wisell pulled off onto the grass instead of coasting round South Bank Bend.—D. S. J.

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