I spent a late summer Sunday afternoon lying on the grass in a clearing by Westfield Bend at Brands Hatch last month, scoffing blackberries picked from the brambles behind me, waiting for the coming deluge.
It started as a low rumble from Paddock, grew louder through Surtees and increased an octave through Hawthorns until suddenly it was upon me – a chaotic wall of noise as 18 DTM cars flooded past so close you could smell the tyres. DTM is one of the few races that Brands can be allowed to stage without noise restrictions, and it is immediately apparent. As the race two leader, and eventual winner René Rast, in his number 33 Audi RS5, passed I tapped the stopwatch on my phone and settled back for 1min 22.59sec of peace and quiet, until the Teutonic onslaught returned.
Such, as my colleague Simon Arron would say, are the charms of Brands. The Sunday DTM race was thrilling, ran in front of a proper crowd, confirming the wisdom of the move to bring the championship back to the circuit last year for the first time since 2013. It was also a first chance to see the R Motorsport Aston Martins in action on home soil – a ragged sounding rocket if ever there was one. In the event, Audi claimed honours with all three podium spots – and two more in Saturday’s opener, however Marco Wittmann’s BMW snatched glory in that one.
It was good to see a genuine headline act at one of my favourite UK circuits. But it wasn’t the only reason I travelled from north London to Kent.
The weekend also played host to the finale of the W Series. This is the women-only racing championship that was launched to much fanfare last year and immediately divided the opinions of fans and drivers in equal measure. On the one hand there were those – many women racers among them – who argued that by segregating along the lines of gender the series was doing a disservice not only to women but also to motor racing, which, almost uniquely among top sports, has always allowed both sexes to compete against one another on the same platform.
On the other side of the argument, were those (this magazine among them) who pointed out that the current system, although theoretically sound, clearly wasn’t working in practice when the last time a woman started a top-flight F1 grand prix was Lella Lombardi back in 1975.
What was unarguable was that, with the W Series swinging a deal with Channel 4 to broadcast its six races, it was good to see another motor sport on terrestrial TV. And much of the racing was thrilled, too. Not only that but the organisers showed other series how to think on their feet and mix things up for no other reason than that they could. A prime example being the penultimate round of the year at Assen when, on a whim, they decided to stage a non-championship reverse-grid race. It was smart, agile thinking that resulted in great entertainment.
But back to Brands Hatch. Certainly, the stops had been pulled out in the paddock with a rather garish display of purple and yellow balloons, around the ‘W Village’ area. A saxophonist was jamming over the noise of DTM qualifying, and bean bags littered the floor. Truck racing this was not. But that wasn’t the only thing that was unusual.
The demographic was one of the most diverse I have seen at a race meeting: young and old, male and female. This magazine does not pander to political correctness and likes to think that virtue signalling is activating a car’s indicators in good time for the benefit of the driver behind, but there was no denying the sense of energy and optimism around the W Series enclosure.
And, as the father of two girls and stepfather to a third, it was doubly encouraging to see people of all three’s age groups (7-14) milling around, playing racing games on the simulators, talking to the engineers and posing for selfies with the drivers.
Ah, the drivers… will any of them – newly crowned champion Jamie Chadwick included – make it to the F1 grid as the organisers of the W Series have stated their aim to be? It seems unlikely. It is surely too late for them even now. But, I couldn’t help thinking as I watched the crowd of young girls surrounding Chadwick et al and peering over the ropes of the garage, that perhaps one of these young fans just might be able to in the future.
Before I left Brands, I managed to grab a celebrating Catherine Bond Muir, the brains behind the series, in order to congratulate her on the season. “It’s a great day for British motor sport,” she said. “It’s been the perfect day, it couldn’t have gone any better.”
Perhaps she was premature: three days later it was announced that Alice Powell, the winner of the Brands Hatch race, would make her IMSA SportsCar Championship debut at the Virginia Raceway with Heinricher Racing later in the month.