Simon's snapshots #4


A series in which Motor Sport’s features editor raids the loft to salvage grainy fragments from his racing past

Race of Champions, Brands Hatch, April 15 1979

“Did someone forget to unpack the telemetry data?”

It doesn’t feel like so many years since all forms of motor racing shared a common backdrop – a garage frequented by two or three mechanics, uncluttered to the naked eye but infused with both purpose and atmosphere.

This was taken about a month before I made my debut as a cub writer for The Altrincham Guardian, but in 1979 paying punters could still beat a path to F1’s inner enclave.

The day had commenced just after midnight, on a coach bound from Manchester to Brands Hatch, and we arrived (via a Scratchwood breakfast) in time for the early morning pit walk. There might have been a supplementary charge, but I don’t recall paying one. If there was, it can’t have been much or it would have been beyond my sixth-form means.

This was an opportunity to get a little closer to the F1 cars competing in the Race of Champions, a cocktail of Grand Prix regulars and drivers chasing points in the Aurora British F1 Championship. There were but seven of the former – Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari 312 T3), Mario Andretti (Lotus 79, although he also practised in an 80), John Watson (McLaren M28), Jochen Mass (Arrows A1), Elio de Angelis (Shadow DN9B) and a brace of Brabham BT48s (one of them pictured here) for Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet – but 12 Aurora cars added an air of respectability. There would have been a 13th, but Austrian Gerd Biechteler failed to qualify his March 781.

Lauda led initially, but the race settled down into a straight fight between Villeneuve and Andretti. The French-Canadian eventually gained the upper hand, with Piquet splitting the pair before the end to take a distant second. Guy Edwards (Fittipaldi F5A) finished seventh, one lap down, as best of the Aurora runners. Pre-race Aurora favourite David Kennedy (Wolf WR4) failed to start because of a gearbox problem.

Back in the pits, meanwhile, privacy screens and security guards had yet to be invented, so there was nothing to prevent cameras recording whatever was going on.

Not a great deal, apparently.

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