Round 3 - Brands Hatch - Sunday 3rd April
August 2002 was the last occasion that we were able to race on the 2.62 mile Brands Hatch GP circuit, the day bringing wins for Ray Mears’ fearsome 33 Turbo (A to D) and Chris Forrest (E & F) although the latter’s win came about after the premature end to the race with a well documented multi-car accident on the exit of Druids. At the beginning of this year, the barrier at this point was moved back and showed its good sense when Alan Hudd was able to avoid a car crunching accident in the April 3 qualifying session.
Timetable issues meant that we were always only going to be able to run one grid at Brands but it came as a surprise that despite the attractions of this great circuit we were not able to provide a full 38 car field. In the end, on a lovely spring day, there were 28 cars that went out to qualify, very quickly reduced to 27 when a front doughnut exploded on Jeff Kite’s 75 Twin Spark, shattering the bellhousing. With no spare available, Jeff would be a disappointed non starter.
A welcome first appearance of the year was that of Tim Lewis, Adie Hawkins having worked some very late nights to get the Alfasud Sprint ready, Tim only putting in his entry on the previous Thursday. However, none of that stopped him being straight back into the groove, doing three very quick laps mid session to annexe pole. Alongside him on the grid would be Tony Soper (GTV) who had put in one really rapid lap while Andy Page (Giulietta Turbo) and Nick Sismey (33 1.9 16v) completed row 2. There was then a considerable gap before the leading Class C car, the 33 16v of Anthony George, winner both times out so far. He had a 2.3” advantage over the fastest of the Class F cars, Paul Lund’s 33 16v. This was much more representative than the gap we had seen up at Oulton. Graham Seager was the only Class D representative again and would line up on the 6th row.
It was clear that much of the excitement in the race would be amongst the E & F cars that made up two thirds of the field. With Paul Lund securely on class pole, the next few cars were very evenly matched, led by James Burland, Nikolaos Mantikas and Alastair Iles. Chris Finch headed Class E but his session would come to a premature end when the engine just stopped with what appeared to be an electrical problem His closest rival, Nick Suiter’s 146 would start several rows further back. So Chris remained confident for the race if the Bianco team could trace the fault. Phil Astell was disappointed with his qualifying performance and hoped that he could outdrag Graham Seager’s 155 off the line and tack onto the tail of the other Class F cars ahead. Next in line were Simon Hampton, having his first race of the year, Martin Jones and Mel Healey , very evenly matched with their 16v 33s, Nick Suiter’s 146 and the 33 8v of the returning Alan Collett.
Some delays in the first race of the afternoon meant that the programme was running late throughout and so it was 5.45 rather than 5.15 when the 27 Alfa starters were unleashed for their 20 minute (12 lap) race. As the red lights were switched off Tim Lewis was slow away and found himself boxed in as Nick Sismey sprinted through into the lead. Tony Soper soon took over at the front briefly but by the end of the first lap Tim had reasserted himself, Sprint leading GTV across the line by under a second with Andy Page 3rd and Nick Sismey back to fourth. Anthony George lay 5th with Class F leader Paul Lund just behind him and being menaced by Nik Mantikas. James Burland was running 3rd in F with a fast starting Phil Astell already chasing hard having passed three cars on the first lap. Class E had Chris Finch’s 156 seemingly in control but he never completed lap 2, the electronic glitch having returned, ending his day and overall championship lead. Tony Soper was holding on well to Tim Lewis but his efforts came to nought on lap 3 as smoke started to show as the GTV passed behind the pits. He would retire shortly after, as would Nick Sismey.
All this left Tim Lewis with a 4 second lead over Andy Page at the end of lap 4 with Anthony George already half a minute behind, such was the pace of the first two. Paul Lund had set some very quick laps to draw away from Nik Mantikas, the gap being 4.2 seconds by the end of lap 5 but Nik was now under pressure from James Burland who was lapping slightly quicker, as was Phil Astell.
Alastair Iles was having a lonely run (5th in F) while Alan Collett was going well again and challenging Graham Seager’s Class D 155 for 9th overall. There were other excellent battles going on to keep everyone entertained – Martin Jones and Simon Hampton, Nick Suiter and Mel Healey, Shaun Hazlewood versus Ray Foley and Richard Wilkins and Andy Inman!
Alan Collett blotted his copybook on lap 6 by going off at Dingle Dell while the gap between Nik Mantikas and James Burland seesawed to and fro. Phil Astell was finding it hard going to make progress but then he seemed to move up a gear, the lap times came down and he closed right in on James and Nik , as James himself was trying to get into second spot. Lap 9 it was all change as Phil Astell went past James and set his sights on Nik Mantikas. In the process, he set a sub 1’51” lap, the only class F driver to do so other than Paul Lund. Into the final lap the opportunity was there. Down into Graham Hill Bend Phil tried an ambitious move down the inside of Nik, perhaps not aware that they were about to be lapped by the leader Tim Lewis. Phil and Nik touched and in the ensuing confusion as Phil spun, Tim almost had to stop and then drive round Nik on the grass! Fortunately everyone could carry on although Phil Astell had lost his chance of a deserved 2nd place in F. Tim Lewis eventually crossed the line (to Adie’s relief no doubt!) 22 seconds clear of Andy Page with Anthony George 3rd, as at Oulton. Paul Lund took his first Class F win of the year, followed home by Nik Mantikas, James Burland (less than a second adrift), Phil Astell and Alastair Iles. 9th overall and winner of Class D was Graham Seager.
While all this was going on, the battles further down the field continued unabated, although we lost Simon Hampton on lap 8. The jousting over the final 4 laps between Martin Jones, Nick Suiter and Mel Healey was superb, this trio being separated by just 0.7” as they crossed the line, Nick being a surprised winner of Class E as he didn’t know of Chris Finch’s retirement. Ray Foley delighted himself by coming home ahead of Shaun Hazlewood while Andy Inman went ahead of Richard Wilkins at the halfway stage and stayed there. Tony Matthews had been hoping to move through the field after gearbox problems earlier in the day had left him way down the grid, and his time on lap 2 was encouraging but he then got bogged down and it was only towards the end that he got going quicker again, chasing home the remarkable Simon Scott in his Alfasud Sprint 1.5. Tony would be classified 2nd in class C.
Two lap records were broken during the race – Tim Lewis setting a new record Overall and for Class B while Graham Seager set a new best lap for a Class D car.
The Brands result left Anthony George as new Championship leader with 70 points, 14 clear of Andy Page and Nik Mantikas who shared 2nd place while Chris Finch had dropped to 4th.
“Indochine” Driver of the Day Awards went to Tim Lewis (A to D) and Martin Jones (E & F).
The Trofeo Biscione – a new award which replaces the Alfasud and Arese Trophies for an outstanding performance by a car built representing a model which entered production up to and including 1986 – went to Simon Scott with his Alfasud Sprint 1.5
Rounds 4 & 5 will take place at Ty-Croes, Anglesey over the weekend May 7 / 8.