BRANDS HATCH, 06 MAY 2006

A LUCKY BREAK?

Somewhat strangely I had never been to Brands Hatch before 2006 – not even as a spectator – and therefore the change of date for this two day meeting was a great chance to tick that box. These days opportunities to drive on the full Grand Prix Circuit are few and far between so off we went armed with the Crossle 19F (Classic Racing Cars) and the Chevron B28 (Derek Bell Trophy). The event takes place over two days and has guest series running from the Grand Prix Masters organisation run so professionally by Ron Maydon, Christopher Tate and team. This meant that the paddock saw the arrival of a wonderful array of sports cars including Lola T70s and a gaggle of Chevron B8s as well as the usual collection of ‘70’s F1 cars including makes such as McLaren, Hesketh, Tyrell and Lotus. Also making its long awaited race debut was the unique Amon F1 car lovingly restored by Ron Maydon and to be driven by hot shoe James Hanson.

Friday was available for testing and so off we went although traffic problems travelling down meant I missed the first session! Simon Hadfield was ready with the Chevron B28 and off I went for my first experience of Brands. I know it is a cliché but the full circuit is a wonderful layout with that vital ingredient of huge elevation changes. “Out the back” there are several fast sweeping corners with lots of time to be gained or lost and then of course there is the legendary Paddock Hill Bend as turn 1. This corner deserves its reputation and certainly grabs the attention as it is blind, fast, downhill and off camber – need I say more.

The Chevron performed well in the first session and I gradually learnt the lines. I changed the seat position for the second session and took more time off and was gradually getting into the swing of things and ready for the Sunday sessions. The clutch is a bit mushy and the engine isn’t exactly a killer unit but for a first time out I was pretty pleased. It certainly has terrific brakes.

For the final session I took out the Crossle now fitted with an exchange tyre on the front courtesy of the kind folk at Dunlop. Would it make any difference to the darting around under power? Well the answer seems to be “a bit”. The car is fine under cornering and excellent under braking once it takes a set. Under power on the straight though it still darts sideways rather unpredictably and I remain rather mystified by the whole thing.

Saturday

The first day dawned with gloomy and threatening skies and as the day wore on things got worse. The Crossle was out for qualifying and with a bit of effort I managed to post a time fourth fastest. Series genius Matthew Watts was on pole with a stunning time and I was immediately behind Ian Gray and his green ex-Watson Brabham. Come the race however the rain had been falling lightly for a bit. The F1 guys were out immediately before us (on wets) and the track was now pretty dry despite the spitting rain.

Off we went and I managed to hold fourth spot off the line. The first three guys disappeared into the distance and I simply could not match their pace. Things got very much worse though when the rain set in about half way through. The car became more and more evil and eventually I slipped down two slots and finished a rather frustrated sixth – although a class winner. I have finally admitted defeat with this car – it is just not right – and will be sending it back to Simon Hadfield to see if we can make a real difference. It is the only car we have that has a mind of its own travelling in a straight line and frankly that cannot be right!

Sunday

Sunday morning was sunny and warm – indeed the day got warmer as we went along and by the afternoon was pretty hot. The Derek Bell field went out for practice headed by Tony Trimmer driving the same Lola 330 he raced in period – now owned by Frank Lyons. He immediately put it on pole with a time in the 1.26’s – very impressive indeed. The Chevron ran well and I went faster again before misjudging the entry to Westfield. This is a corner everyone finds tricky because of the deceptive entry and my mistake ran me briefly over the exit kerb and onto the grass. Having recovered the track in realised the nose cone was damaged and there was down force missing. By now the track was covered in an oil slick from Mike Scott’s Lola 300 so I pulled into the pits. It maybe that my run wide was on the start of the oil trail but it might just have been the simpler problem of lack of driving talent!

Inspection revealed a trashed nose cone and damaged nose frame but nothing else wrong. This is the basic problem with driving a car with a front splitter – grassy moments are bad news. The Hadfield team set about the job and the spare nose – actually better that the original – was fitted to the welded frame and we were ready for the race.

It was late afternoon at the end of a long weekend when we set off for the warm up lap due to a rolling start. Quite unexpectedly, as I turned down Paddock Hill for the first time the nearside front suspension collapsed and a slid into the side. Dragged to safety I watched a great race from the inside of Druids hairpin. Tony Trimmer romped to an easy win with Frank Lyons following him home in the beautiful Eagle. When the car was returned to the pits we discovered that the front hub had sheared. It was a fresh break and one I am happy happened at 50mph rather than 150mph. What might be called “A Lucky Break”? I guess that’s motor racing for you.

So now the Chevron is back on the stands and all the uprights are being crack tested along with the spare ones in the box. The two junior engines are being sorted and the FF Elden engine is being rebuilt. There is not much left standing right now! The good news however is that the Huffaker and Elva have both received invitations to race at the Goodwood Revival in September.

 

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