The Rothmans 50,000

Brands Hatch, August 28th

Early in 1971 John Webb and his band of merry helpers at the Brands Hatch racing circuit announced that they would hold a special race on August Bank Holiday 1972. It was to have two outstanding features, (1) it would be open to any type of racing vehicle, and (2) first prize would be £20,000. There were numerous other interesting details, such as the length being 118 laps of the full circuit, other prize moneys making the total up to £50,000, regulations would be FIA Group 9, which is Free-Formula, 100 entries would he accepted, 30 starters would be allowed, the selection being the 30 fastest, and the next 30 fastest would get a consolation race, the final 40 entries would have wasted their time. Promise was made of a small bag of gold for the leader on each lap, and Motor Sport offered £25 a lap for the first 10 laps, but none of the other motoring publications supported Webb in this ambitious venture. Overall everyone seemed keen on the idea and very grateful for the long period of warning, more than 18 months. The whole thing seemed a bit like a Kentish version of Indianapolis, but at least it was something different from the usual segregated races for Formulae 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and so on, and so on. Put the whole boiling lot into one big race and may the best combination of car and driver win was the general idea.

There were general mutterings about building specials for this one race, with unlimited engine power and unlimited streamlining, and so on, and some European organisers became sufficiently interested in this idea of a Free Formula race that they suggested that they might organise further events for the unregulated specials that were visualised, After that everything went quiet and everyone got on with their normal racing to the existing Formulae and to the various categories of sports cars and saloon cars, and time went by very quickly. The British Grand Prix was held at Brands Hatch in July, with a lot of high-pressure publicity before the event, and the Rothmans 50,000 seemed to get overlooked. Suddenly it was all too late, entries were scarce, no one had built specials, few of the big names were interested in taking part, and the whole thing looked like fizzling out. Everyone made excuses and blamed this or that, some saying that they could not hope to win so what was the point of entering, as most of the money was for first place, so the £20,000 prize was halved and the second £10,000 was spread down the line from second place, but that did not help much. Others found they were already committed to races elsewhere, even though the Rothmans 50,000 had its date long before the 1972 International calendar was drawn up, others said they were too busy on the existing Formula One season or the World Championship, or something.

In the end the British racing team sponsors came to the rescue of the sponsors of the event (honour among thieves?) and the three major Formula One teams from England entered to represent John Player, Yardley and Marlboro, with standard Formula One cars slightly modified in order to carry a bit more fuel and run the 118 laps non-stop. The rest of the scene was private and amateur teams, individuals, and a few hopefuls making around 65-entries.

It did not need much imagination to see the pattern of things for lap speeds are known for almost any form of racing vehicle at Brands Hatch, and it does not need much in the way of pencil-and-paper work to decide upon the optimum vehicle speed and endurance round the Kentish circuit. Emerson Fittipaldi in a Lotus 72, Stewart in a Tyrrell or Ickx in a Ferrari must be the choice and a Formula One car is quicker than anything else round the circuit, as shown by times of Porsche 917 and Ferraris in the BOAC sports car race, while no type of saloon could get near them and more powerful things like Can-Am cars are too big for the little circuit. As Stewart and Ickx did not enter, and Fittipaldi did, the result was a foregone conclusion, providing the Lotus would keep going for 118 laps. This is exactly what it did, and Fittipaldi led from start to finish, running through non-stop at a fairly leisurely pace, driving the spare works Lotus, number 72D/R5. The McLaren team entered their spare Grand Prix car, number M19A/1 and Redman drove it equally effortlessly into second place, also from start to finish and these two were the only ones to complete the 118 laps. BRM entered two of their Grand Prix cars, fitted with bulging cockpit sides to carry more fuel, but they both fell by the wayside, Beltoise having fuel-pump trouble on his car and Ganley having the rear suspension break. The Frank Williams team entered its March 711, normally raced by Pace, and Pescarolo drove it, keeping the engine revs down below 10,000 and it lasted the distance, though it had to make a stop to refuel. In consequence it was hampered throughout by the faster Formula Two cars, in particular those of Gerry Birrell, Hunt and Watson, the first-named running a beautifully regulated race knowing he could not match the performance of the Formula One cars, and he finished on the same lap as Pescarolo’s March 711. A very large contingent of Formula 5000 Chevrolet-powered cars entered the race, a good number qualifying in the fastest 30 cars, but round the twisty Brands Hatch circuit they were left behind by the more nimble Formula Two cars, who were themselves left behind by the better Formula One cars, so that the whole event was in effect three races in one, and Rollinson won the F5000 category. Only one sports car qualified for the main event, that being the Lola T280, with Cosworth V8 power, driven by Casoni, and it only just scraped in. During practice Fittipaldi lapped in 1 min. 22.5 sec., just one tenth of a second faster than his best practice lap in the British Grand Prix, and qualifiers were all well under 1 min. 30 see., so it was easy to see why a lot of people did not bother to enter.

Looking back on the event it would appear that it suffered mainly from being held at Brands Hatch as everyone knows exactly what their drivers and cars are capable of round the full circuit, and in addition, the circuit is not fast enough for sheer power to overcome sophisticated cornering power. Had it been held at Silverstone there might have been a different scene, or had it been held on a new circuit with no known facts and figures, more people might have taken a gamble. The facts and figures at Brands Hatch are too well known for the professionals to gamble, and presumably £20,000 was not enough to justify the building of a one-off special, though quite what it could have been to beat Fittipaldi in the Lotus 72 is difficult to see. Had the race been for 1,000 kilometres, or even 500 miles, there might have been a different story. As it was it did not quite come off as hoped for, but it was a brave effort and nobody can say that the Brands Hatch people and the BRSCC do not try. D. S. J.