Simon’s snapshots #18


BMW M1 Procar, Silverstone, Brands Hatch… and Portimão

The sense of acute disappointment lingers. I’d caught an early morning coach from Manchester to Silverstone, for the primary purpose of watching the British Grand Prix, but arrived to discover that the other significant attraction – the fourth round of the new BMW M1 Procar Championship, which blended rising stars and established pros with a sprinkling of Grand Prix drivers – had taken place the previous day.

There was still plenty to savour, not least Williams Grand Prix Engineering’s maiden world championship victory, courtesy of Clay Regazzoni, and a first chance to watch Alain Prost in action. The young Frenchman was attracting rave reviews as he swept all before him in European F3, but here played an anonymous midfield role in a race won by Mike Thackwell, with Chico Serra and Kenny Acheson completing the podium and Nigel Mansell back in sixth. All well and good, but I felt duped that the Procar race had taken place while my school term (and career, come to that) was winding down. Niki Lauda had emerged triumphant in a car entered by Ron Dennis’s Project Four organisation, with Nelson Piquet second: next time F1 came to Silverstone, Ron would be winning the main event as head of McLaren and Procar had been culled after two glorious seasons.

My friends and I were better organised for Brands Hatch in 1980. Armed with a tent and my mum’s Ford Fiesta, we were able to absorb the whole British GP weekend – including the Procar race. I have photographs that confirm my presence, but frustratingly can find only those featuring F1 and saloon cars. Carlos Reutemann won, from Alan Jones, Didier Pironi and Jacques Laffite, while Hans Stuck spun in front of us on the opening lap at Paddock, a manoeuvre that cost him a matter of seconds. He recovered to seventh. (And yes, that was the Procar race rather than the Grand Prix.)

In the absence of any period shots, I present the only Procar material I can find, taken at Portimão in 2009 when Peter Auto’s Classic Endurance Racing championship supported the Le Mans Series. The drivers? Gilles Gibier (#70), Christian Traber (#60) and Fernando Espirito Santo/Ricardo Bravo (#67).

It’s impossible to believe that a Procar-level miracle could happen today, because petty commercial interests would prevent Lewis Hamilton driving anything without a three-pointed star on its snout. It was a bit like that back then, though, with Ferrari and Renault refusing to allow their drivers to be involved.

Even without them, it was wonderful to behold. Modern Porsche Supercup cars are technically impressive and ultra-efficient, but will never stir the soul in quite the same way. The BMWs looked absolutely gorgeous and, more than 35 years on, they still do.

I’m still cross about 1979, mind.


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