BRANDS HATCH Indy Circuit – 2nd April 2022

FJHRA/HSCC Silverline Championships Round 1

The first round of the 2022 HSCC/FJHRA Silverline Championship campaign was held on the Brands Hatch short circuit as part of a fairly low-key HSCC event. Two races were scheduled, with Class C joining the front-engined brigade to produce a pleasingly authentic grid as one might have seen in 1960 and which balanced the grids with 17 starters in the Classes D/E race and 16 in A-C – not at all bad for the first event of the year.

After several weeks of unusually warm weather, the temperature had plummeted a couple of days before the meeting accompanied by flurries of snow (the first of the winter in the south-east) but to everyone’s relief race-day dawned better with sunshine and light cloud although the breeze was chilly and by late afternoon it had become uncomfortably cold.

The timetable was a little unusual as from 9am to 10.30 there were four untimed sessions, two each for open-wheel and closed-wheel, before qualifying either side of the lunch interval then a six race programme starting at 3 pm. With 20 mins each for qualifying and race it gave a good amount of track-time to blow out the winter cobwebs.

Class D/E went first with Geoff Underwood out in the ex-Cameron Jackson BT2 that he had driven at Goodwood last October and Justin Fleming debuting his Lynx Mk2 Ford #108 in D2, after a full lengthy restoration by Motor Racing Medics, the first of four Lynx that Matt King brought back from Australia. Tim Child joined the Lotus ranks in the ex-Simon Durling 22, recently rebuilt by Andrew Tart. The Australian-built ranks, no longer just Richard Ferris’ Donford, were further swelled by Adrian Holey’s Rennmax BN1-2, ex-Roger Ealand.

 In qualifying, which was disrupted by a 6 minute safety car period when Richard Ferris’ Donford spluttered to a halt on Bottom Straight “isolator switch kept breaking down (new as at last October for Finals at Silverstone)”, it was Clive Richards’ red Lotus 22 that set the first mark at 53.134” but almost immediately Michael O’Brien (ex-Ned Spieker BT6) went fastest with 52.274” and he remained top of the timesheet ending with a 51.592” on his eighteenth lap. Just a tad slower, Richards, Andrew Hibberd (green ex-Bob Anderson Lotus 22) and Horatio Fitz-Simon (red Speedsport run ex-Colin Nursey Lotus 22) swapped places through the session, ending with Fitz-Simon joining O’Brien on the front row with 52.211”. Behind the two “young-guns”, row two comprised Hibberd with 52.342” and Richards on 52.500”. Fifth, just over a second slower, was Tim Child on a very promising debut with the 22 especially given that he was nursing broken ribs after a recent ski accident.

Into Druids from the start of the race, O’Brien was first from Fitz-Simon, Richards and Hibberd and at the completion of the lap the order remained unchanged, with a clear gap already formed to Lee Mowle (Lotus 20/22), Richard Wilson (BT6), Adrian Russell (blue Lotus 22) and Robin Longdon (Lola 5A), then another interval to Rudolf Ernst and the rest of the field. O’Brien gradually edged away from the other three, who stayed close together until Fitz-Simon lost power at Clearways and went into the pits. By the fifteenth lap O’Brien was 4.5” clear of Richards with Andrew Hibberd 0.5” back. Sadly, this most entertaining race came to a premature halt when the red flags came out as the track was blocked at Clearways. It appeared to me that Clive Richards lapped Ferris coming into Clearways and Hibberd, who was a couple of car lengths behind, sought to follow him through on the inside of the Donford. Ferris “closed the door” and Hibberd just touched the Donford’s rear wheel which was enough to spin him broadside. Hibberd did a great job to stop and not T-bone him but the track was blocked by two stationery but virtually undamaged cars so the red came out, quite rightly. The result was declared at 16 laps and, of course, Hibberd was excluded as not running at the red flag.

Behind the leading quartet Lee Mowle had a lonely race to what, after the retirements and exclusions, became third. Next up was an epic scrap between Richard Wilson (BT6), Adrian Russell (22), Robin Longdon (Lola 5A) and Tim Child (22), who did not make the best of starts. On lap 5 Russell went for a somewhat dubious gap at Druids and tangled with Wilson, delaying them both and leading to a post-race visit to the Stewards. By the end Child had worked his way up to take fourth from Wilson, Longdon and Russell.

Sir John Chisholm had an easy win in D2 after a tussle with Geoff Underwood, Chisholm getting through at Clearways on one lap, only to be retaken by Underwood on the exit on to the straight.  Martin Aubert was second from Justin Fleming, settling in with his Lynx.

FJ has not often raced the short “Indy” circuit so it was not too surprising that lap records tumbled. O’Brien deprived Hibberd of his 2011 E1 record by  1.5” and Chisholm sliced no less than 2.735” from Lance Whitehead’s D2 time of similar vintage.

Class A-C qualifying was dominated by Chris Drake and his Terrier, which was visibly fast through Paddock and up the hill to Druids. Reigning Champion Nic Carlton-Smith (Kieft), having his first race on the Brands short circuit, was second, 1.6” down with Alex Morton (Condor) fourth by 0.54” then Michael Hibberd in the grey Lola Mk2. Jeremy Deeley was out for the first time after a 5 year rebuild in his dark blue Lotus 18-J-707 , originally the car of Eric Pantlin which had not raced since being crashed by Tom Fackrell at Brands in July 1969, enjoying the better handling compared to its period rival Cooper T52, but he came in early as the oil pressure was reading zero on right-handers and he was somewhat doubtful if it was worth risking the engine by racing, but in the end did so. “I had surge problems in qualifying. An extra litre of oil solved everything and the car ran well though the engine is a bit fluffy over 6000 revs. A new condenser will sort that out!”

The drivers had quite a long wait in the assembly area prior to the race as the preceding FF2000s kept falling off and had two red flags. Drake led the pack by 1.8” after one lap and strolled to an 18.7” victory. Carlton-Smith was second, winning C2, with Alex Morton keeping him honest, the gap which had been  fluctuating between 0.5” and an eventual 4” as the traffic played out. Simon Goodliff had a fast but solitary run to fourth with the Nike, a little in advance of the best battle of the race, between Crispian Besley (T56) and John Hutchison Jr (Envoy). Next up was dominating Class A winner Tom Waterfield in the Xavier Kingsland owned Hillwood with Roger Woodbridge’s lovely Volpini second in class, Tom improving the lap record from 60.44” to 58.572”.  Nic too claimed a record for C2 by 0.6” and Chris Drake completed the record-fest by reducing B2 by 0.698”.  Simon Hewes spun at Clearways and rolled back so that his rear wheels were stuck in the gravel. A tremendous effort by the marshals saw him pushed out under double-waved yellows just as Chris Alford in the safety car was poised to be released on track. Simon motored straight into the pits.  Trevor Griffiths retired the Emeryson with a broken u.j. Michael Hibberd retired to the pits after 12 laps.

All in all, a very good season appetiser.

Richard Page