From the Archive – Race of Champions to Wollek


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For many thousands of fans, this week in motor sport used to be a time flock to Kent to watch contemporary Formula 1 cars brave the weather, year upon year. Plus five Le Mans winners were born, so too the father of the Targa Florio.

Brands Hatch hosted the hugely popular Race of Champions between 1965 and 1983. Bruce McLaren gave his M7A a dream debut in 1968, winning “a strange race” that Jenks labelled “interesting if not exciting”. DSJ was similarly honest about the 1969 event, when Jackie Stewart won a “climatic catastrophe”.

Peter Gethin sprung a surprise in 1973, beating a combined F1/F5000 field in his F5000 Chevron B24. One year later, Jacky Ickx beat Niki Lauda in monsoon conditions, when each day’s fastest lap was rewarded with no fewer than 100 bottles of champagne.

Tom Pryce won from pole in 1975 and James Hunt took the honours 12 months later – the only one of his 1976 Brands F1 victories that ultimately counted.

In the points-scoring Formula 1 world, Williams hounded Riccardo Patrese and Arrows out of a win and into retirement at Long Beach in 1981, Alan Jones capitalising when team-mate Reutemann ran wide.

It would have been Mark Donohue’s 79th birthday this week. As good an engineer as he was a driver, he scored Penske’s breakthrough victories and was instrumental in thrusting the team to the forefront of American racing. In 1971 he scored Penske’s first Indycar win, a year later its maiden Indy 500 success and in 1973 its first NASCAR victory: a remarkable man, and unquestionably worthy of his 2016 Hall of Fame nomination.

Donohue shared his birthday with Targa Florio creator Vincenzo Florio, who was born in 1883. His race originally took daring drivers around the whole of Sicily. Damien Smith told its story and tackled the route in a Ferrari 458 in 2010.

The island’s final conqueror, Gijs van Lennep, turned 74. He shares his birthday with another winner at La Sarthe, Hans Heyer. Vern Schuppan, 1983 Le Mans winner, turns 73 on March 19, one day before 1993 victor Geoff Brabham turns 64. Winner of the 1937 edition – and hero of World War II – Robert Benoist was born this week, too, in 1895.

Bob Wollek, one of the best sports car racers never to win at Le Mans, was killed this week in 2001. He died in a cycling accident. Ferrari man Eugenio Castellotti also died this week, in testing at Modena in 1957, and F1 driver Carlos Pace perished in an aeroplane accident 39 years ago.

Jean-Louis Lafosse, twice runner-up at Le Mans, would have been 75. Three ‘90s  F1 racers celebrated birthdays: Alex Caffi, and Nicola Larini, both 52, and Pedro Lamy, 44.

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