Race of Champions

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An enjoyable event
Brands Hatch, April 10th 

It would have been difficult to find a weekend more unsuitable for staging a non-championship Formula One race than April 9th/10th, for in the International calendar were the 1,000 kilometre race at Monza for Group C cars, the European Touring Car Championship round at Vallelunga, the Formula 2 round at Hockenheimring, a big meeting at Donington Park, and a Michelin and Pirelli tyre-testing weekend at the Paul Ricard circuit, to say nothing of the French Grand Prix meeting due to start four days later. In spite of all this the BRSCC went ahead with their revival of the Race of Champions meeting and provided a very entertaining weekend. Many years ago the British season used to open with a big meeting on Easter Monday at Goodwood, which gave the opportunity of trying out Grand Prix cars before the serious business began. Then later on when Goodwood had disappeared from the racing scene Brands Hatch staged a Formula One event as a season-opener and called it the Race of Champions, for want of a better title, but as the Formula One Grand Prix season spread to sixteen or seventeen events the Race of Champions died a death by saturation. It was a brave attempt to revive the fixture for such races are badly needed in the Formula One scene, as practice grounds or stepping stones into the big league. The way things are organised at present a new driver or new team has to plunge straight into the deep end of Grand Prix racing, often well over their heads. A few simple non-championship events scattered through the season would be a good thing, but with seventeen World Championship races and nearly as many tyre-testing sessions there simply isn’t time or space for small light-hearted events like the Race of Champions, which is a pity.

The entry for the Formula One event was not overwhelming, but it was interesting, especially for the spectators seeing 1983 Formula One cars for the first time other than in magazines or on the magic-box. Reigning World Champion Rosberg was there with Williams FW08C/06, which is normally the team spare or test-car, René Arnoux had the turbocharged Ferrari number 063 which is also normally a spare car, Watson had the spare McLaren MP4/1C number 2 and Bernie Ecclestone entered his spare Brabham BT52 with BMW turbocharged power, not for Nelson Piquet as expected, but for Hector Rebaque in a one-off drive. With Patrese in the Monza sports car race and Piquet tyre-testing in France there was little else he could do. Tyrrell entered his number two driver Danny Sullivan as Alboreto was at Monza, and Lotus entered Nigel Mansell as their number one driver was tyre-testing in France. However, the Englishman had a brand new Lotus 93T with turbocharged Renault power, which is destined to be a spare car for team-leader de Angelis and the car was carrying an experimental rear aerofoil with four vanes. Both Arrows and Theodore entered a pair of cars, the former with Alan Jones in one car and Serra in the other and the latter with their number one driver Guerrero, supported by Brian Henton in the second car. A single Ligier JS21 was entered for Raul Boesel, and John Macdonald hired his RAM-March to Jean-Louis Schlesser to make his debut in Formula One. Another driver making his debut in Formula One was the Swede Stefan Johansson but more important he was driving a Honda powered car also making its Formula One debut. This was the Spirit test-car with the turbocharged V6 Honda engine installed. It was one of last year’s Formula 2 Spirit-Hondas suitably modified to comply with Formula One rules and nothing more than an experimental prototype built up by Gordon Coppuck and his small team to test the Honda Formula One engine before it is put into something more serious.

During practice Ferrari experimented with a new suspension on their car, Lotus were having trouble with the compliance of their Pirelli radial tyres fighting against the car’s suspension, Rosberg was in his usual hard-charging form with the Williams, with team-mate Jacques Laffite watching from the side-lines, Brian Henton was thoroughly enjoying himself in the Theodore (née Ensign) and Rebaque was trying to get to grips with the sleek Brabham-BMW. After a winter of test-running during which the Honda turbocharged 1½-litre engine had proved remarkably reliable, the moment it was given a racing number and put into open competition it blew up! Not just one engine, but two, and in only five laps into the race a third engine blew up.

After a morning of torrential rain which turned most of the Kentish stadium into a quagmire, the weather held fine for the 40-lap race and Rosberg won it in fine style. Arnoux led for the first six laps, but he took the edge off his tyres in so doing and Rosberg stormed by to lead the rest of the way. Sullivan had made a superb start and got his green and black Tyrrell into third place from his sixth position on the grid and as Rosberg slowed slightly with tyre wear the American closed up to look as though he might challenge for the lead, but being close behind and actually getting by at Brands Hatch is another matter altogether. He obviously did not have the experience to make any do-or-die attempts at Paddock Bend or on South Bank, so could only follow Rosberg home to a well-deserved second place. In the opening lap Guerrero was squeezed between the two cars and had his car’s front aerofoil damaged which made him stop at the pits for replacement, after which he drove a fast and neat race, but could only hope to finish last. Mansell gave up with the Renault powered Lotus when it felt as if something had broken in the suspension, though his team could find nothing obviously wrong and Watson gave up when he felt a bad vibration in his McLaren, which also could not be traced to anything specific. Arnoux’s short-lived moment of glory at the front disappeared when he stopped to change tyres and convinced that the Ferrari was wearing them out at an absurd rate he stopped twice more for tyres and then gave up, but not before he had set fastest lap on lap 18. Rebaque was another driver who gave up when a change of tyres made no difference to the feel of the car. It was significant that the few drivers who gave up were running on radial-ply tyres, whereas those on Goodyear cross-ply tyres were reasonably happy. Alan Jones ran a steady race into a comfortable third place and Brian Henton was fourth, progressing all the time and making his fastest lap on the one before the finish. 

There was a good supporting programme of races for Formula Ford, Saloon Cars, Formula Sports 2000 and Historic Grand Prix cars, the last-named organised at short notice when a lack of entries for a proposed Formula 3 race caused it to be abandoned. — D.S.J.