Brands Hatch GP – 15th July 2023

FJHRA/HSCC SILVERLINE Championship Round 5

The fifth round of the UK Championship was on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit at the HSCC Legends of Brands Hatch Superprix – but it was to turn out to be anything but Super – perhaps the Brands Hatch Safety-Car-Prix?

FJ had an excellent entry of 31 cars, after Dave Wall had withdrawn due to injury, with 30 taking to qualifying after James Hicks was a non-starter following an impact with the tyre wall in pre-event testing in his Caravelle. Very rapid pilot Chris Astley made his second FJ appearance in his dad’s “Indy” Elva 100, looking very American in its number 13 paint-job, whilst Andrea Guarino joined son Edoardo in the Elva ranks at the helm of Niall McFadden’s car. Kim Shearn guested in the Penny F3 and James Buckton drove Adrian Holey’s Ausper T3, Adrian being absent from the entry as the Rennmax’s engine was not yet repaired.

The weather forecast had not been very promising, but, aside from a strong gusty wind, the day was pleasant with sunshine and the occasional very brief shower scudding through on the wind. Qualifying was a 12.05 and there was a dark cloud over the GP loop so a quick early time looked like a good plan and Clive Richards was quickest on the first flying lap with 1’44.645”. Simon Jones then spun at Bottom Bend and was unable to restart, his car broadside across the track, which meant out came the safety car and six minutes were lost whilst it was decided to send a tow-car from the pit lane, round Paddock and Druids to tow him the 100 yards to the back of the pits – no doubt there is some rule preventing the obvious move of the tow-car coming from the back of the pits…..

Once the green flag appeared Horatio Fitz-Simon put in a 1’41.349” to pip Clive’s 1’41.790”. It then started to spit with rain. Although it was not enough to wet the track, it perhaps had a psychological effect and the times did not fall until the very last lap when Clive crossed the line with 1’41.199”, but Horatio followed him across with 1’40.817” to nab pole. There was over 1.5” to Nick Fennell (Lotus 27) in third, with Stuart Roach (Alexis Mk4) making up the second row.  Nic Carlton-Smith, visibly quick through Paddock, was a most commendable eighth and, naturally, fastest in C2. Alex Morton (Condor SII) was ninth and first B2 with Michael Hibberd (Lotus 20) eleventh and best in D2. Chris Astley, also looking very fast, was best of the flotilla of five Elva 100s by over six seconds!

The race was scheduled to be the penultimate of the day, which is usually bad news with Brands’ strict curfew and the HSCC’s very ambitious timetable. Only 12 minutes down-time between races leaves no chance of recovering from delays and, as previous years have shown, HSCC Brand GP events are notorious for red-flags, safety cars and the need to recover stranded cars after races. So it was no great surprise that the timetable was running 25 minutes late (mostly due to a red-flag in the F.Ford race and the bizarre decision to restart it over the full distance despite them having already run three laps and effectively costing the timetable some 20 minutes), and so the Junior’s race was cut to 18 minutes from the bought & paid for 25.

But this was only the start of the woes. Into Paddock on lap 1 Horatio led Clive, Nick and Stuart and it was the same at the end of the lap, with the pair of red Lotus 22s already clear of the next couple, then a clear gap to Rudolf Ernst, flying in his Lotus 22, Tim Child (also Lotus 22), Carlton-Smith and Adrian Russell (blue Lotus 22). Clive got ahead of Horatio on the second lap but the order changed back at Surtees so next time through the order was unchanged except for Adrian passing Nic. Then the safety-car came out as Peter Fenichel (Stanguellini) visited the Paddock gravel. Peter Said “ I … slid sideways so actually didn’t spin around but ended up, luckily, only a few feet into the gravel but the car flooded so look it a few minutes to get restarted. Very good work by the marshals as they waited until I got the car restarted and then pushed me just hard enough to get rolling and not dig deeper in the gravel. Had to then wait quite some time on the rumble strip for an opening to rejoin”. As a result the safety-car was, perhaps, unnecessary and it came in after one tour.

But, the oft quoted saying “safety cars breed safety cars” proved only too true. Horatio approached the green fairly slowly so the field was in a very tight bunch and it came undone at Druids where Richard Ferris (Donford) tangled with Alan Schmidt (Lotus 22) and out came the safety car again. Unfortunately, the safety car train was just coming to Clearways as the second car was towed back to the pits so another lap of the safety car was required, meaning that in all some 10 minutes were lost and there was just one green flag lap to the chequer. Fitz-Simon led and although Richards swept out of his slipstream it was Horatio’s win by 0.147”. Class winners were Carlton-Smith, Hibberd and Morton with Shearn and Edbrooke who were unopposed in theirs.

One could only feel sorry for the drivers, many of whom had made long trips, only to get a total of 19 minutes green flag running compared to the expected 20 + 25 minutes.

by Richard Page