Brands Hatch Memories
A recent e-mail from Dave Messenger after he had come across some old copies of “Autosport”, one of which gave details of the extension of the circuit to 2.65 miles in 1960, started us thinking about doing a “Friday Fix” Brands Hatch “special”. For me, that was the start of a look back to the early days of the circuit and my own visits there over the years. The first was as long ago as 5th September 1954 for a meeting organised by the Half-Litre Car Club, the predecessor to the BRSCC, and was run using the recently completed first extension to the track which ran from the bottom of Paddock Hill, up to Druids and then down to what became Graham Hill Bend. The original circuit had actually run anti-clockwise, the cars – mainly 500cc Formula 3 machinery – turning left just past the end of what is now the Cooper Straight and going up (!) Paddock Hill.
I was a regular visitor to the circuit from then on, taking a train to Swanley Junction followed by a London Country bus before I had my own car There were many standout meetings and images that stick in the mind. Druids was somewhere that you could always get close to the action and with no debris fencing – or even too much in the way of spectator protection – it was a photographer’s heaven. Today, you do have the inside of the corner for photography, but then it was all overgrown with no access bridge. I particularly recall the driving of the severely handicapped Archie Scott-Brown around 1957 with his Lister-Jaguar. He would come out of the corner on full opposite lock, floor the throttle, let go of the steering wheel and then wait until the car had straightened itself out before grabbing the wheel again with his one good hand! In those days, you really could see the drivers in action and Druids was a perfect spot. All the top British drivers competed at Brands in those days and many from abroad could be found there also, with Formula 2 races being especially popular.
There had always been a dream to further extend the circuit with a view to running bigger International races and even, perhaps, the British Grand Prix which at that time was being shared between Silverstone and Aintree. The future of both was hanging in the balance (what’s new?) and Brands might be a good alternative if the necessary planning permissions could be granted and the go-ahead given. Thus it was that on July 6th 1960, the great and the good of British motor sport gathered at the Kent circuit for the official opening and inspection of the new facility, the first race meeting for which had been scheduled for the following August Bank Holiday Monday which might have been the first event to which I had driven myself in my new Fiat 600.
In those days it was quite normal for drivers to compete on the Continent on a Sunday and then fly back to the UK for another meeting on a Bank Holiday Monday. The German G.P, for Formula 2 cars, took place the day before but that didn’t stop a top class Formula 1 entry from appearing at Brands, including two works Ferraris for Phil Hill and Richie Ginther, factory Coopers for Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren and a full Lotus team with Innes Ireland, Jim Clark and John Surtees at the wheel – mouth watering! Some 60,000 spectators attended that meeting, the main race being won by Brabham, 4.4” clear of Graham Hill’s BRM. I was amused to read in the next edition of “Motor Sport” editor Bill Boddy’s “Brands By-Lines” – “The commentary was good and free from stupid humour for once” and “The Brands Hatch authorities and the BRSCC must have been highly delighted with the huge gate – far more delighted than those who were stationary for over an hour after racing in the inadequate exit lanes”. He had obviously forgotten about Silverstone after a Grand Prix!
Saloon Car racing has always been a major part of Brands’ history and this remains so today with much of the club racing that takes place there and also the BTCC. One of my own favourites was an international Six Hour race that took place in July 1963 and I recall sitting in the old grandstand with Diana on a very wet day watching a battle between the Ford Galaxies (with the likes of Dan Gurney, Jack Brabham and Jack Sears at the wheel) and 3.8 Jaguars led by Roy Salvadori and Denny Hulme. There was also a very strong works Lancia presence with two Flaminias and two Fulvias but sadly only one Alfa. As I had just become the owner of a Sunbeam Rapier – an entry for Chris Amon and Peter Harper had my support in the 1600 class. One Brands tradition that Diana did not share was the Boxing Day meeting. From 1954 until 1972 it was a regular pilgrimage for me, whatever the weather. The entry lists always seemed quite full but as time went on attendances dropped and the event disappeared from the calendar.
With the demise of Aintree, the Grand Prix moved to Brands as the alternative venue to Silverstone in 1964. However, the race from that period I remember best was in 1968. I had by then established my regular vantage point on the circuit – under a tree overlooking the exit of Surtees as the cars powered onto the full circuit – and had a perfect view of the race long battle between Jo Siffert’s Rob Walker Lotus 49 and Chris Amon’s works Ferrari. Try as he might, Chris could not get by and Jo took his first Grand Prix win. Sad to hear that Chris Amon has just died at home in New Zealand, aged 73. I attended many later Grand Prix, including, of course, the Hunt/Lauda fracas in 1974 when “crowd power” came to Hunt’s aid. Then there was Nigel Mansell’s first big win in the European GP in 1985 and in 1978 Niki Lauda and John Watson finished 2nd and 3rd in their Alfa engine Brabhams. Later, works Alfas appeared in the entry, even if not especially successful, ending with the Benetton liveried cars for Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever in 1985. In those days you could sit on the bank below the access road from the paddock tunnel and a enjoy a splendid view.
For Alfa enthuasiasts who were around at that time, there is a Sports Car World Championship race at Brands that keeps popping up in the memory. Not because Alfa won, but because of the conditions. In the relevant issue of the AROC Magazine, I wrote “If you missed this race, you lost the opportunity of seeing about the only real motor race in this country, and perhaps not coincidentally, the only occasion a works Tipo 33/3 will be run in the country this year. And if you did go perhaps, like me, are still drying out”. Porsche 917s and Ferrari P4s dominated the result, Andrea de Adamich and Piers Courage retiring after Andrea had hit the pit wall and damaged the 33’s rear suspension. A year later, Alfa did win with De Adamich and Henri Pescarolo at the wheel.
Alfa Romeo Dealer Team, which competed between 1976 and 1988, didn’t always have the best of luck at Brands but at the GP meeting we usually managed to conjure up a class win from somewhere, a notable example being Jon Dooley’s victory with the Napolina GTV6 in 1984. This was popular with our sponsors as they always had a big party at the Grand Prix.
By then, of course, the BRSCC Alfa Romeo Championship was into its third year, but our first visit had been in November 1982. This was the occasion when the handicapper (me!) was completely hoodwinked by the qualifying efforts of Pietro Cacciaviello who proceeded to run away with the 10 lap race in his 2000GTV ahead of Paul O’Hanlon’s GTA and the Alfetta GTS of Harry White senior, father of Bianco’s popular and hard working partner of the same name. Things had really got going by the end of 1983 and we had a fantastic final round at Brands – still on 10 minutes worth of racing! – in which our current trophy supplier, Micky Bolton, won with his 1.8 Alfetta GT and Rob Kirby and Peter Cabrol crossed the line together in their Sud Ti’s and could not initially be split by the timekeepers. Rob was finally given the nod. Looking through results sheets from that point on, there were plenty of championship “stars” who graced the top step of the old Class F podium including prolific winner Martin Parsons, Mark Ticehurst, Nick Baughn and Mark James.
And also some that were less well known like Tim Daniells and Agi Eugeniou. A highlight was always the sight of the Class F grid going through Paddock and hopefully all coming out the other side!
Amongst the races for Modified and larger Production cars everyone will probably have their Brands favourites but names that cropped up regularly in the early days of ARCA included Tim Lewis (Alfasud Sprint), Nick Sismey (33 16v), Andy Page (Giulietta) and Graham Presley (75 3 litre) who finished in that order in July 2004.
1994 was important for Alfa in UK motorsport in the UK as this was the year that Gabriele Tarquini won the British Touring Car Championship in his factory 155. The three meetings held at Brands Hatch were well supported by Alfisti and I recall a picture of a flag waving group of competitors from the Alfa Championship at Paddock and also the large hospitality village that Alfa GB erected on South Bank.
Graham Heels avoiding trouble into Paddock
Startline Incident – 2000
If I was to choose my favourite Alfa events at Brands, it would probably be the three mini=endurance races we ran there between 2001 and 2003. The first two offered two 30 minute races with a driver change in each. Of these, the best was probably the first in 2001 when we ran with a short break between the races when tyre changes and refuelling could take place behind the pits near the assembly area.
A certain amount of chaos ensued but it was all good fun! The winners on that occasion were the Diffey brothers, James and Simon, in their GTV. A year later Julian Birley and Ian Flux shared Julian’s 75 to win the first running of the Kevin Griffiths Trophy. In 2003, Nick Sismey took the win, driving single handed in the Lahoma 33 in a single 45 minute race, narrowly defeating the GTV of Tony Soper and Rob West in the pouring rain.
Dave Messenger – Brands GP 2011
That we are still able to enjoy competitive Alfa racing at Brands today is a tribute to the resilience of the Championship after 35 years. As we have had over 700 drivers who have competed with us, there will be a large number that raced at Brands who I have not been able to mention. My apologies to them but they are no less important in the championship’s story.
Tom Eastwood – 2012
Finally – no memory of Brands Hatch could be left without a reminder of two particularly dark days. The pall of smoke above the trees when Jo Siffert lost his life in his BRM at Hawthorn bend in 1972 will always stick with me when I walk around the circuit. And I am sure that Keith and Tom Waite will feel the same about the Henry Surtees accident which they witnessed in 2009.
Sunday, August 14th, will see us back at Brands for a very busy day as part of Festival Italia. I hope that I have been able to paint some of the background to the circuit and its history and that we shall all have a most enjoyable day.