Verhofstadt takes Brexit break

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EU negotiator finds time to indulge his Formula Junior passon at Brands Hatch

Amid a turbulent British political situation, the European Union’s chief Brexit representative and the former prime minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, treated himself to a weekend of historic racing at the Legends of Brands Hatch Superprix on June 30-July 1.

Cutting a relaxed figure in the paddock, Verhofstadt reclined next to his canary yellow (its original colour) Elva 100, formerly driven by late Dutch racer Rob Slotemaker.

“I’m an Elva fan,” said Verhofstadt. “The marque has a fantastic story, with [founder] Frank Nichols doing battle with Colin Chapman both in court and on the track.

“I became an Elva aficionado a little bit by accident. My Elva MkIII sports-racer is exactly like a Lotus 11, and I love that. I bought the Elva for its beautiful looks and the story behind the car, which I read about in [János] Wimpffen’s fantastic book [Elva: The Cars, the People, the History].

“I wanted a car from the 1950s – I love the period look with beautiful curves – and the Elva was much cheaper than a Lotus. So I bought a blue MkIII, which was raced solely in the US on tracks such as Watkins Glen, and then I also purchased Slotemaker’s car [the 100] after the 2017 Silverstone Classic. Coincidentally, both cars share the same chassis number, 66, which I couldn’t believe.”

This was only the second outing for Verhofstadt in the Elva 100, as he raced it at Zolder in May after buying it. As yet, he is still deciding on this year’s race schedule.

“I find that Brands Hatch is a fantastic circuit,” he said. “I think I will do Zandvoort next in the Formula Junior, and in the other Elva I will compete for the Stirling Moss Trophy at Spa-Francorchamps [at the Six Hours on September 14-16].”

Verhofstadt first started racing around six years ago, in the Mille Miglia.

“But it’s such a boring event!” he added. “After one or two times racing in the Mille Miglia you say, ‘I’ve had enough of this.’ It’s not only too long, but it’s monotonous. I did it three times, and then realised I wanted to race on a circuit. I enjoy it a lot, but still have a lot to learn.”

Of course, both Verhofstadt and those sitting on the opposite side of the political negotiating table have a lot on their plates at the moment, and so time for historic racing is sparse when you’re at the inner core of the Brexit debate. Even so, he plans this winter to do more work on a Swiftune engine that was refurbished more than a decade ago. As for the future of the United Kingdom in the EU, Verhofstadt was understandably reluctant to talk about it, referring to it just once, as “the maths”.

Instead, he focused on his race – in which he finished 30th overall and 12th in class – after having had to do a little unforeseen negotiating earlier in the day when his car failed the morning noise test. He was permitted to compete once a new silencer had been fitted.

Tiff Needell also appeared at the event in his Lotus 69, taking Over Fifties class victories in both Formula Ford races. The broadcaster will compete in the Goodwood Revival on September 7-9 and is also working on a new series of motoring television show Fifth Gear, due to return the same month.

KANKKUNEN TRIBUTE

This year’s Wales Rally GB will feature a special Sunday morning parade to mark the 25th anniversary of Juha Kankkunen’s gruelling victory with co-driver Nicky Grist.

The rally legends will be honoured during the event, which takes place on October 4-7, and will be signing autographs and talking about their experience with fans.

During the parade, the Flying Finn and Grist will take to the latter’s Toyota Celica GT-Four, similar to the 1993 RAC Rally-winning car, through a closed-road stage in Llandudno. The event will serve as the curtain-raiser to the Rally GB finale, which takes advantage of new legislation making it easier to attain permission to use closed roads for motor sport events.

“They were the toughest conditions I have ever driven in the UK,” said Kankkunen as he recalled the 1993 route, which began in Birmingham and took competitors through Lancaster, Gateshead, central England, Wales, the Lake District, the Borders and also the Yorkshire Moors. “Driving on frozen, icy roads without the [tyre] spikes we used in rallies such as Sweden made it very, very difficult. But we had a great event.

Grist described the 1993 event as “Absolutely treacherous. There was a reasonable amount of grip on the snow, but without studded tyres those frozen forest tracks were as hazardous as they came. Juha was a laid-back character, brimming with natural talent. He took everything in his stride, and aside from getting away with one slight indiscretion in Yorkshire, it was plain sailing.”

Kankkunen had already taken his fourth WRC crown before landing in the UK, but Grist wasn’t eligible for the championship having joined the Finn halfway through the season; regular co-driver Juha Piironen suffered a brain haemorrhage before the Argentina Rally.

“Juha really wanted to give me a first win on home soil: ‘Boyo, we will win this for you,’ he promised before the start,” said Grist, who also won the rally with Colin McRae in 1997.

“To win at home is always very special but it was all the sweeter in 1993 as it was my first and the conditions had been so treacherous.”

The Celica GT-Four is the same car in which the pair won their final rally together, in Portugal in 1994. Admission is free for all, but grandstand tickets in Great Orme Llandudno need to be purchased.

PENSKE BACK AT CLASSIC

The Penske PC-22 Indycar raced by Stefan Johansson to 11th place at the 1993 Indianapolis 500 will again be displayed at Prescott’s American-themed Autumn Classic event on October 6-7.

One of eight Penske Indycars, fitted with an Ilmor engine, chassis no1 was a test car, used by Paul Tracy and eventual 1993 Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi for Team Penske.

This car finished second at the 2017 Goodwood Festival of Speed shootout to Justin Law, 0.09sec behind the Jaguar XJR12D, and its story was featured in the December 2017 issue of Motor Sport.

Also at the event will be displays of American muscle cars and motorcycles, all of which will take to the hill during a lunchtime parade.

There will be competitive classes for 500cc F3 cars, the Aldon Classic Championship, the resident Bugatti Owners’ Club and American hot rods and muscle cars.

McLAREN MIA RETURNS

A McLaren M1A raced in the 1965 and ’66 Can-Am series took to the track in anger for the first time in decades during the Brands Hatch Superprix.

Andrew Wareing raced the car – the sole McLaren in a field of Tigas, Marches, Lolas and Chevrons – in the HSCC’s Pre-80s Endurance Challenge after an extensive restoration spanning two and a half years.

“We found an old M1A chassis, and with the aid of [restorer] Autotune refabricated the chassis, bought a brand-new gearbox – which was like inheriting the national debt – and put an old Chevrolet engine in it. We did take it to the Goodwood Members’ Meeting, but it didn’t cover itself in glory so this is its first serious run.”

In period it was raced by Can-Am privateer Charlie Hayes. Wareing added: “This car is in period purple and white livery, painstakingly recreated from period photos, and it includes the transparent rear wing that Hayes fitted.”

Wareing finds the Pre-80s Endurance Series “not terribly competitive” as some opponents are using slicks while he remains on “vintage Dunlops”. In future, he hopes to use it in other races at Goodwood.

SILVERSTONE TRIBUTE

The Goodwood Revival will pay homage to Silverstone on September 7-9, with a themed 1950-style pit display featuring period advertising and cars of a type that raced at the Northants track during its earliest days.

In 2017, the Revival paid tribute to Juan Manuel Fangio with a recreation of the Nürburgring’s 1957 paddock.