On the road: the fading embers of the 2019 campaign and a famous old name returns

by Simon Arron on 3rd December 2019

While motor racing might be wrapping up for 2019, there are a few more dates on the calendar and paddock breakfasts to be had for Simon Arron

The Brabham BT62 debut at the Britcar 2019 race at Brands Hatch

Photo: Simon Arron

It’s a custom almost as old as the sport that the UK circuit racing season winds towards its conclusion in October… at everywhere bar Brands Hatch, which has always dismissed reduced daylight hours and dipping temperatures as insignificant trifles.

It is not the only venue to persist beyond the traditional cut-off point, but it does so with more vim than most and thus features extensively in the last of these columns until spring kicks in afresh.

 

BRANDS HATCH, October 26-27

The 2019 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch

Photo: Simon Arron

There is precious little light, the prevailing wind is nudging gale force, heavy rain is forecast and spectators turn up in far fewer numbers than once they did, but still the Formula Ford Festival retains a certain resonance.

As a club reporter in the early 1980s, it was probably my favourite event. It helped that there were about 200 entries, so the knock-out format commenced with eight fiercely contested heats, but instead of having to run around finding drivers you could sit in the main Paddock Hill Bend grandstand in the certain knowledge that they would come to you. Once their 10 laps were up, they’d want to watch, too.

There are only three heats nowadays, but the support programme contained a few gems (the BRSCC Fiesta Junior series wasn’t among them, since it attracted only four entries and one of those failed to last the weekend). In the Classic FF1600 seasonal finale, Rick Morris (a regular Festival challenger front-runner 40-odd years ago) clinched the title at the age of 70 and Tim Harvey won one of the races at the wheel of a Van Diemen RF81, similar to the car in which he’d made his name at the same event 36 years beforehand.

Zachary Lucas took pole for one of the senior Fiesta races, ran wide through the gravel at Paddock on each of the first two laps before launching an impressive recovery to sixth… and then slid off the road at Clearways on the final lap.

He was excluded from the results for ‘causing a collision’ and ‘repetition of serious mistakes’, but the bits in between had been engaging to behold.

The Festival is ever thus – close racing spiced with a little nostalgia and a sprinkling of chaos.

The main event itself was a little tamer than usual, Jonathan Browne edging away from Niall Murray at the front to maintain his unbeaten record through the weekend, but peep behind its faded façade and the Formula Ford Festival remains a worthwhile institution, one that deserves more widespread support.

 

BRANDS HATCH, November 2

British Truck Racing Association Championship racing from Brands Hatch

Photo: Simon Arron

Certain events will always draw a decent crowd – the British Grand Prix, for instance, or any British Touring Car/British Superbike event – and the final round of the British Truck Racing Association Championship is another (especially on day two, which concludes with a fireworks spectacular).

Some dismiss this form of racing as frivolous, but the trucks slide around and melt their tyres – they’d be spectacular circulating alone, never mind in packs of 12 or more.

Conditions in the morning were absolutely foul, with persistent rain and driving winds. By noon, the viewfinders of both my cameras had fogged up internally, so afternoon photography required a fair bit of guesswork in terms of what I was actually shooting, but the trucks continued to slither around with unbridled gusto – and the supporting cast (Legends, Pickups, Super Silhouettes, Junior Saloons) provided similar entertainment in a smaller scale.

The only real downside was a shortage of rescue vehicles, which led to substantial periods of dead time whenever stray vehicles were retrieved. The event was well planned, but not always terribly well managed.

That apart, truck racing might be an acquired taste – but you should at least allow your palate to give it a try. Sixties rock star Kenney Jones (drummer with The Small Faces) did just that, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his previous visit to the track. Strange, but true…


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SILVERSTONE, November 3

The 2019 Walter Hayes Trophy race at Silverstone

Photo: Simon Arron

For all that evolution has diluted some of its soul, Silverstone retains its ability to captivate at this time of the year. There is no major security in place for the Walter Hayes Trophy and the venue feels much like it used to during the 1970s and ’80s – stripped-back, straightforward and with little other than racing to hold your attention.

At daybreak, the paddock was almost silent but for the sound of garage doors being unpeeled and marshals bidding each other a cheery good morning above the accelerating tempo of the cutlery philharmonic in the paddock café – the manner in which race meetings are supposed to commence.

The final day of the event had a little added spice, in that former winners Michael Moyers (2017-18) and Joey Foster (2003-05) had to work their way through from the back of the grid in various last-chance races, after colliding at Copse during their heat, but that proved not to be a serious impediment to progress.

Both fought through to the main final, in which Moyers went on to finish second, beaten only by Kevin Mills Racing team-mate Jordan Dempsey.

Confirmation, not that it was needed, that Formula Ford remains unrivalled in the art of permitting drivers to race in the manner of old.

 

BRANDS HATCH, November 9

Photo: Simon Arron

Minis, Ginetta Juniors, Britcar into the Night, a full grid of Hyundai Coupés… on the surface, it’s as good a cocktail as any for skimming away a little hibernal chill.

In reality, the Mini and Ginetta fields were poor by customary standards, but most eyes were in any case focused on a singular entity in the Britcar race (Dunlop Endurance Championship, to be more formal), in which David Brabham and Will Powell gave the Brabham BT62 hypercar its race debut.

Historic events might have kept the marque on track  since its dissolution in the slipstream of the 1992 Hungarian GP, but this was the first new Brabham since that season’s BT60B (BT61 was set aside for a car that was to have been produced for the 1993 season by a fresh management team, only for the project to collapse when promised financial support proved to be fictitious).

James Mills has previously covered the full story of the car’s competitive baptism for Motor Sport, and it is hard to draw firm conclusions when it was sharing the track with such as a VW Golf TCR and a Smart ForFour rather than cars of the type it is in future likely to race, but suffice to say that its body language was a paragon of eloquence (leastways until electrical gremlins triggered its retirement in race two, following a winning start the previous evening).

Such details mattered not, for the moment still felt significant.

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