Brabham at Brno

A far-distant finale for the FIA Cup; Steve Lydon reports

The final round of the FIA Cup for Thoroughbred Grand Prix Cars, supported by MOTOR SPORT, was held at the majestic Brno circuit in the Czech Republic over the weekend of September 28/29. Superbly promoted by well-known historic racer Peter Hannen and his partner John Pickworth, the event attracted a huge crowd and drew universal praise from competitors.

The main event was of course the final round of the FIA Cup. A very strong entry of 25 cars turned up, and once again Bob Berridge (Ram 01) stamped his authority on practice. However, Simon Hadfield, racing the Erreuno Brabham BT49 of Bernie Eccleston for the first time in place of regular pilot Ermanno Ronchi, was just 0.29sec adrift. John Fenning (Willans Harness Williams FW07) lined up third, 0.19sec slower than Hadfield, with Donington winner Steve Hitchins (Lotus 78) fourth. Wido Roessler (Williams FW08) was a very competitive fifth, while Richard Eyre, having a second outing in his TyreII 011, was pleased with sixth on the grid.

There was major drama for Michael Schryver who needed to secure two points to tie up the championship — a gearbox input shaft failure in practice saw much midnight oil being burnt by the Simon Hadfield-led team. Lacking the necessary spare part, the team cobbled together a gearbox with a single-plate clutch from parts loaned by other competitors. Schryver was concerned that the makeshift repair might not withstand a fullthrottle start, and sportingly elected to start from the back of the grid to avoid the possibility of a shunt should the car fail.

When the lights flashed green Berridge tore off into the lead, his injured hand, broken in a practice accident at Donington, not seeming to hamper him at all. Fenning got the drop on Hadfield to snatch second place, and a second bunch of five or six cars began a fierce scrap for the remaining top six slots. Berridge’s season has been dogged by some appalling luck, and this meeting was no exception. Going into the fourth lap the Ram jumped out of gear and pitched into a spin. Bob restarted once most of the field had passed, but with second and third gear absent he called it a day and toured into the pits. The impressive Hadfield very soon started to pile the pressure onto the new leader, Fenning, and one could be forgiven for recalling some of the classic duels these two cars had fought out in their heyday, driven by Alan Jones and Nelson Piquet.

Ultimately the superior grip of the Brabham proved too much for Fenning, and Hadfield slipped past and pulled out a six-second gap in the space of four laps. Meanwhile Wido Roessler was having his strongest showing to date, and ran to the finish in a comfortable third, some 10sec clear of Joaquin Folch in the Classic Team Lotus T87B. A surprisingly lack-lustre Hitchins came fifth, and Ian Giles was delighted to finish sixth on his debut in the Brabham BT49 recently purchased from its designer Gordon Murray.

Gearbox maladies notwithstanding, Schryver drove steadily and smoothly, picking off all his class-rivals to finish 11th overall and first in class, thus securing a deserved Championship win. An impressive drive from Graham North (Lotus 91) netted him eighth place and the Chrysler Driver of the Day award, presented by Guest of Honour Jackie Oliver. A first-corner melee saw North spin onto the grass, whereon he was overtaken by the course cars! His drive through the field was spirited as he picked off car after car. A race-long battle for the lead of Class B finally went the way of Andrew Wareing, although his margin over Dave Abbott was only 0.3sec as the flag fell, which reflected how hard they had both been trying.

A total of 23 cars out of 25 finished the race, underlining just how professional the level of preparation has become. Sadly, the only driver who failed to make the race was promoter Peter Hannen, whose BRM P201 stripped its diff on the third lap of practice — a cruel blow to someone who had put so much into making the event happen.

The International Super Sports Cup headed the supporting cast, and both races were hotly contested. Chris Chiles was victorious in Race One on Saturday in his lurid 8-litre March 717, shadowed throughout by Richard Eyre’s McLaren M8F, the two thundered across the line just 0.32sec apart. Chiles` luck didn’t hold on Sunday, however, and a massive engine failure saw the March dump all 12 litres of lubricant onto the circuit while he was leading. This gave the organisers an enormous clean-up job to contend with and delayed the programme by almost an hour. Eyre cruised home to a dominant victory, followed by American visitors Bud and Craig Bennett in Lola T163 and Lola T222 respectively.

Paul Alexander was a delighted victor of a combined Pre-65 F1/Formula Junior race in his gorgeous Lotus 24 BRM, while Tony Thompson put his circuit knowledge to good use and came home second in his Lotus 27FJ. Belgian Serge van Havre had an untroubled victory in the FIA Cup for Historic GT Cars piloting his TVR Griffith, and scored a second victory in the One-Hour race for Historic GT and Saloon Cars.

All in all a terrific weekend, and one sure to grow in stature and popularity tithe reaction of competitors and spectators alike is anything to go by.