crankandpiston hits the Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch with Tim Brown to eyeball 1970s Formula 1 cars, classic Mustangs, Corvettes and De Tomasos, and of course, the occasional Mini.[Not a valid template]
Bank holiday weekends at Brands Hatch are as much an English tradition as Morris Dancing, Cheese Rolling or Sunday afternoon cricket. The circuit has hosted race meetings over these long weekends for as long as anyone can remember, and this year was no exception. In recent times, the Masters Historic Festival has filled this popular slot, and this year the lineup included FIA Historic Formula 1 and the Historic Grand Prix Cars Association. The presence of these top-level open-wheelers was no coincidence though: 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Grand Prix to be held at Brands Hatch, a race was won by Jim Clark in his Lotus 25.
Brands Hatch is located in the county of Kent, known as ‘the Garden of England’, so you’d expect it to be a quaint, lush green meadow of a place. And you’d be right. Squirrels, rabbits, songbirds and various other creatures call it home, and it’s the kind of spot you might happily go for a walk through the woods, sit down for a picnic on the soft grass or just relax and watch the clouds pass by. As it happens, that’s exactly what thousands of visitors did, the only difference from a usual day in the countryside being the full grids of historic metal blasting by at high speed.
This breach of the peace far from spoiled the ambience though, since it was fantastic to hear the noises of yesteryear crescendo as the cars raced through the woods. Most notable were the 1970s F1 cars and the Can-Am racers in the ‘Masters Historic Sports Cars’ race. Special mention though has to go to the soundtrack of Bobby Verdon-Roe’s 1960 Ferrari 246S, its distinctive note announcing its presence long before the beautiful red bodywork hoved into view.
Another highlight was the Lola T70mk3 of Tarek Mahmoud. I was quite familiar with the T70mk3B – a popular sight in historic paddocks – but the rarer mk3 has a softer, more rounded front end with just two headlights (as opposed to the quad setup of the mk3B) and an extra round opening each side of the main grille. This one has a wonderfully retro orange and cream livery too. In a different class of the same race was a yellow Porsche 911 RSR, a Corvette and a De Tomaso Pantera, all superb examples of headturners, despite being the only road-car based racers on a grid of prototypes.
I also enjoyed watching no less than ten Mini Coopers take on the ‘Goliath’ Mustangs and Falcons in the Masters Pre-66 Touring Cars series. The wet conditions on Saturday’s qualifying suited the Minis and Nick Swift (owner of Swiftune and legendary Mini pilot) put his Morris Cooper S on pole. In the dry conditions on race-day though, the Ford Falcon of Leo Voyazides (another familiar name in historic circles) took both wins with co-driver Simon Hadfield.
Admittedly, no British event can escape the weather. Saturday’s forecast of rain had some drivers looking nervous, and after a couple of light showers during the morning sessions the track was quite slippery. Early in the afternoon the heavens opened, making the surface yet more treacherous. The drivers really had to tip-toe around (especially on cold tyres) making the opening laps of each session quite a handful: one car managed to spin twice in consecutive corners, immediately upon leaving the pitlane. Fortunately the rain clouds passed quickly, blue skies returned and the track started to dry out.
By contrast Sunday was glorious from start to finish, and the crowd was in great spirits; in any direction you looked there were people lounging in the sun enjoying picnics, barbeques and ice-creams. A pair of bridges allow cars to park around the edges of the track, so quite a few spectators arrived in camper-vans (including a 1976 model Volkswagen on Fuchs wheels) and set up their vehicles (and tea stoves) with a good view of the action. Families with kids of all ages happily milled around the paddocks and got a close look at Formula 1 cars on the pit-walk.
This perfect blend of weather, location and the kind of blissful mood that only a bank holiday weekend can deliver made sure the Masters event really lived up to its proclaimed status as a Festival. The atmosphere was more reminiscent of a garden party or perhaps a traditional village fete than a run-of-the-mill race meeting – albeit a high-octane fête, held in one of motorsports greenest gardens.