Traditionally the Summer Bank Holiday meeting at Brands Hatch features powerful cars, and this year, after an apparently unsuccessful attempt with Formula Two in 1967, the organisers plumped for Group 4 with a huge supporting cast of Formula Three and saloon cars.
The race carried added interest as it was the final and deciding round of the season-long R.A.C. Sports Car Championship. Prior to the race, Midland driver Bill Bradley, with a Porsche Carrera 6, had a six-point lead over Australian Paul Hawkins, with his Ford GT40. Hawkins was in the over-2-litre class and Bradley in the up to 2-litre class, so they were not in direct competition with each other, but with the point-scoring 8-6-4-2 per class, to be sure of the championship Hawkins had to win his class with Bradley unplaced in his.
Hawkins’ task was not an easy one, for many of his points were scored early in the season when the owners of Lola T70-Chevrolets were still sorting out their cars. Several of these Lolas were entered, the fastest being the car owned by the Steering Wheel Club of West Bromwich and driven by Gardner. Bradley also had stern opposition, not only from other Porsches but also from several Chevron-B.M.W.s, which seem to become more competitive with every outing.
The Lola driven by Gardner was obviously better prepared and driven than the others, for he dominated practice and the race. In practice he broke the class record of 1 min. 39.0 sec. held by Hawkins with a lap in 1 min. 36.2 sec., but even more sensational was the time put up by Craft in the 2-litre Chevron of the Tech-Speed Racing team. He was second fastest overall in 1 min. 38.6 sec. ahead of five other Lolas and a similar number of GT40s.
The race followed a similar pattern, for Gardner in the Lola roared off into an immediate lead with 50 laps of the 2.65-mile circuit ahead of him. Craft amazingly hung on to second place for a lap, but then had to fall behind Hawkins in his Ford. While Gardner proceeded to pull away from the field, the crowd were kept on their toes by the great battle between Hawkins and Craft. Craft’s team mate, Rollinson, in the second Tech-Speed Racing Chevron, made the team’s effort look even better by holding fourth place, but was let down early on by a broken dynamo bracket and retired. However, there were plenty of other Chevrons, including the works cars of Gethin and Martland, to keep the little Bolton firm in the running.
Several of the other smaller cars were putting on good shows, with Dean in a borrowed Porsche well up, as were the two Gold Leaf-Team Lotus Europa 47s, with F.3 driver Miles surprisingly leading F.1 driver Oliver. Hawkins’ second place still kept him in with a chance in the championship, for Bradley was well down the field, due to a leaking seal on the back brakes.
By half-distance Gardner seemed in an unassailable position, with Craft putting up a tremendous show by shadowing Hawkins for second place.
The Lolas of Norinder and De ‘Udy and the Ford GT40 of Nelson had all moved up impressively and were contesting fourth place, and were closing up on the second-place battle. All of a sudden there was a shake-up, for both Norinder and De ‘Udy spun their cars and the Englishman pitted to inspect the damage and, soon after, retired. Nelson came in with a tyre which was starting to go flat and had to make a pit stop which almost certainly lost this much-improved driver second place.
He was not the only one with tyre troubles, for Hawkins had started to slow and dropped first behind Craft and then behind Norinder. He finally had to rush into the pits to change a flat rear tyre, and with it went all chances of the championship. Gardner was now touring round over 30 seconds ahead of Craft, but with only six laps to go the London driver’s great race came to a sad end. The engine suddenly started to seize and he pulled in round the back of the pits. Norinder moved up to second while Gethin, who was little slower than Craft in the works Chevron, now took over third place ahead of Dean in the Porsche.
So the race ran out with Gardner taking the flag to give Sid Taylor’s Steering Wheel Club team another conclusive win. Norinder, the bearded Viking-like Swede, was well rewarded by second place, followed by Gethin, then Dean. Ferrari exponent David Piper drove a steady race to take fifth place in his 3.3-litre L.M., which is now rather outclassed by the Lolas and Fords. Oliver’s Europa took sixth place after team mate Miles had to stop with a blown oil-filter seal.
Although he was unplaced in his class, Bradley was delighted to take home the R.A.C. Sports Car Championship. This championship has certainly put a lot of interest into the Group 4 class of racing in Britain this year, although the rule which only admits cars of which officially over 50 have been constructed has rather restricted the number of makes eligible. Next year the minimum number will be halved, and quite a few more cars will be eligible. The championship has also shown just how competitive the Chevrons are, and had they been homologated at the start of the season, Bradley’s task would certainly have been more difficult. It is hard to believe that the firm has only been building racing cars for three years.
The Formula Three event attracted a full field and did, unlike most similar races in Britain, deserve the title International. The Swede Wisell, with his Team, came over fresh from victories on the three previous weekends, there were an American and a New Zealander based in Switzerland, plus several French drivers, including the works Pygmees driven by Offenstadt and Dal Bo. The field was split into two heats and a final, and the first was dominated by the Chevrons of Schenken and Rollinson, who were just a bit too closely matched, for they both tried to go round Druids side-by-side and finished up in a heap in the rough. This allowed Miles in the works Lotus “Wedge” to win from Westbury, whose Brabham sported a large wing, and the Japanese Ikuzawa, also in a Brabham.
The second 10-lap heat started with a downpour which had the track awash, and again was dominated by a Chevron, this time driven by Gethin, who normally races in F.2 but was helping out the Red Rose Motors team, as their usual driver, Williams, was indisposed. His Chevron was in fact a brand-new car with the centre section of the spaceframe strengthened by boxing in with sheet steel. Gethin won from Wisell and Nunn in a Lotus 41.
Fortunately the track had dried for the final and, after an initial skirmish with Wisell, Gethin showed both the potential of his new car and the fact that he has outgrown this 1-litre class, by pulling away to a good win. Wisell was a safe second, followed by the two works Titans driven by Lucas and the American Pike, who were ahead of a race-long battle between Craft, in his Tecno, and Nunn. Nunn, whose racing has been completed very much on a shoe-string and is using a three-year-old car, is being watched by Chapman. None of the foreign visitors fared very well, the best placed being the Frenchman, Jabouille, who finished down in 13th place with his Matra. The unlucky Miles crashed his Lotus when a tyre deflated, and Westbury lost a certain high place when his car’s wing started to fall off. There were six different makes of chassis in the first seven Places.
Chris Craft’s recent performances in both the Chevron-B.M.W. and his own Tecno F.3 must mark him as one of England’s brightest hopes for the future although, prior to this season, he spent several years in the wilderness of saloon-car racing.
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Most of the Chevrolet engines used in the Lolas, including that of the winner, are tuned by the American firm of Bartz. However, second man Norinder had a Traco-prepared motor. The best fuel-injected Bartz engines are said to give 460 b.h.p. from their five litres. Not quite as, highly stressed as the Formula Three engines which are now giving 116 b.h.p. from one litre on only one carburetter.—A. R. M.