Brands Hatch 750 MC 020406

Brands Hatch 2nd April 2006

With such an early start to the season, and the relative inaccessibility of Brands Hatch to our Northern racers, it was unlikely to be the most popular event of the season, and seven 500 entries was a reasonable turnout all things considered. These were to face off against eleven 750 Trophy cars, dominated by eight of the fastest Class C cars. Sadly, word spread that Equipe Culver had withdrawn due to other commitments which brought us down to just five cars and no-one to challenge for outright victory. What we could claim though was a convert from the Trophy ranks. Mike Gilbert will be a familiar face to our Trophy regulars, and and a period 500 driver, having raced a Cooper Mk V in 1959.

The weekend was cold and blustery, with the threat of rain at any time. As qualifying was called some twenty minutes early (the 750 Motor Club’s efficient management catching everyone unawares) Nigel Challis’ car refused to start. Various helpers appeared to assist, but wary of the need to make the long trek up to pit lane, there was little chance of finding the fault in time. It was later identified as a crushed fuel line, which was soon replaced and Nigel would start from the back of the grid. The track was damp in places, so times were a couple of seconds off. Pole went to Linden Brand, taking over the JB from his father David. Nigel Ashman was the fastest 500 in fifth, but just 0.2 seconds separated him from Neil Hodges and Gordon Russell, the latter completing just the three laps before returning to the Paddock. Mike was getting his first proper taste of the Mk IX, and finished in 12th, about eight seconds off these three.

Back in the Paddock, the Mackson’s JAP had lunched itself heroically. Gordon & son set about installing ‘Old Faithful” which has comfortably outlasted and outperformed his trick motors.

Equipe Russell give the Mackson a new JAP before the race.

Chairman Challis wonders how much to put in.

A heavy shower before the race obliged the organisers to provide two sighting laps. Two Trophy cars failed to appear and Nicola Harness’ Rapide failed on these laps, reducing the field to thirteen. From the lights, Linden Brad made a poor start allowing Pete Birch to seize the lead. On the second lap Linden was through at Surtees and would motor away to win by thirty seconds. Neil Hodges made an uncharacteristically good start and was running a strong third, leapfrogging Nic Grele’s Jeffrey first time around. Gordon and Nigel Ashman followed a second behind whilst Nigel Challis had jumped to ninth place and looked capable of catching the other 500s. Mike had made a cautious start and was running 13th and last, but was holding on to John Church’s Rivet Special.

Nic Grele was back into his stride and was soon past the 500s into third place and with Pete Birch in his sights. Neil, accepting that he could not stay with him, eased off slightly, only to be mugged by Gordon. Winter testing had allowed Gordon to sort the front suspension, and the car looked to have gained a good second per lap as a result. Coming onto the top straight Gordon pulled alongside Neil and only a brave line into a still greasy Paddock Hill Bend kept Neil in front. Nigel Ashman was equally close with the three of them covered by just two car lengths as they crossed the line. But Nigel was pushing just a bit too hard for the conditions and exiting Druids for the third time he spun through 180 degrees and lost the engine. Facing uphill, he had no chance to try a bump start and retired.

So at the end of lap 3, Linden Brand led by five seconds from Pete Birch, with Nic Grele catching. Two seconds back were Neil and Gordon, separated by inches in fourth and fifth. Several seconds back was Paul Mason’s lurid pink Hague, unable to make an impression on the battling 500s. Then a gap of ten seconds to Cliff Ringrose, closely followed by Nigel Challis, then Paul Grele (Marsh Grayford Special), and John Marshall (Lotus VI). Mike Gilbert was beginning to settle in and had taken John Church for eleventh.

And so it remained for the next five laps. Nic Grele had caught Pete Birch, but could not find a way through. Neil and Gordon battled mightily, but with a drier line forming, Neil had only to stick to the light grey and avoid making a mistake.

Nigel Ashman's Cooper.

How big? Simon Frost advises Mike Gilbert.

Nigel Challis’ progress had been halted (by his own admission he was still clearing away the cobwebs and Goodwood memories), and he was now fending off Paul Grele.

It should be remembered that Paul runs a road-legal 7 Special that is normally ensconced at the back, with his ‘twin’ Mike Whitby (who had withdrawn after practice with axle problems). This was an impressive drive, several seconds faster than we would expect, and he may surprise a few of the slower 500s at future rounds.

Nigel soon hit trouble. Having set his fastest lap eighth time around, he began to suffer fuel starvation. The tank was nearly empty (oops!) and the many left handed corners were forcing the methanol dregs away from the those. Exiting Clark Curve for the ninth time the engine nearly died and he coated over the line into retirement.

Further up the road, Neil finally broke Gordon and eased out a small gap. He looked set for a well-deserved class victory. But things are never so simple for the Hodges team, and on the eleventh lap the car began to misfire – like Nigel he was short-fuelled! Gordon lined up an attack on the run to the line, only for the JAP to fire again. Past the pits there were some curious “After you, Claude” hand gestures between the two, before Gordon motored through to a comfortable fourth overall and class victory. Neil stuttered on but as he reached the crest of McLaren his JAP breathed the final vapours and died. Another hundred yards and he could have coasted over the line. Fastest lap and a personal best, despite less than ideal conditions, were scant consolation.

Which left a surprised and delighted Mike Gilbert to pick up second in class on his debut. Complete with a nice 750 Motor Club plaque, which was presented in an impromptu prize giving. Though two laps down on the leader, Mike was down to a respectable 71” and should soon be mixing it with the rest of the boys, a welcome addition to the family.

Classified Finishers

Pos Name Car Time Laps Best Fastest lap: Neil Hodges 1:03.93

Gentleman Drivers winner; Gordon Russell

Our thanks to the 750 Motor Club for their hospitality.

Championship Standings

Report by Richard Hodges

1 Gordon Russell Mackson 15:32 14 1:04.21
2 Mike Gilbert Cooper Mk IX 14:59 12 1:11.86
DNF Neil Hodges Cooper Mk VIII 13:39 12 1:03.93
DNF Nigel Challis Cooper Mk IX 11:02 9 1:09.54
DNF Nigel Ashman Cooper Mk VI 2:24 2 1:06.62