Memories of Brands Hatch
Steven Griffin takes us back to a time before the last Royal Wedding to reminisce about Brands Hatch, and novel ways of paying for fuel to get there.
As a young man I was a total petrolhead. An impecunious medical student, I had use of a 602 cc Citroen Ami estate. Interior space was wonderful as was economy but performance and braking were problematic to say the least. Petrol then as now was a major cost, my grant (for our younger readers, that was money the state gave you to go to University) (shome mishtake shurely? asst ed) didn’t really cover the cost of running even my little motor so extreme measures were required. My medical school was in the West End of London and hence very close to Harley Street. At that time there were a host of totally unregulated fertility clinics, all of whom seemed to have a need for sperm donors. The fuel situation was sorted. A few millilitres of one paid for a tank of the other. There must be a bunch of tall, short sighted 35 year olds roaming the streets somewhere.
One of the neurosurgeons at the hospital was a keen biker. Perhaps a strange hobby for one who spent a great deal of his time dealing with head injuries. The brain surgeon (now a Classic Formula Ford 2000 racer) was one of the doctors at Brands Hatch and he was always keen to find volunteers to help out for the bike meetings. The club events were crazy, some very mentally challenged young men on badly prepared machines with far more bravery than talent. We saw it all. One sad but memorable occasion saw us bundle a half dead rider into the ambulance and send him off to Sidcup hospital. We later found his five year old daughter roaming the paddock. He had come racing alone…with a small child and he had left her while he raced.
The highlights of the year were the Transatlantic meetings. The cream of American riders would take on the best of the Europeans. Freddie Spencer, Ron Haslam, people called Wayne and of course the biggest star of them all Barry Sheene.
One year Barry arrived late, landed his helicopter on the medical centre helipad and disappeared off to the paddock, leaving no more than a packet of Gitanes on the cockpit seat. The fact that it was the medical ambulance pad didn’t seem to worry Mr Sheene. He rode like a maniac and always gave a great show for the appreciative crowd. I remember talking to him in the tower after a race. I was very pleased to meet his ‘glamour’ model wife Stephanie. She was every bit as gorgeous as she looked in the lads mags and very friendly too. I don’t think I mentioned how helpful she had been in running my car.
At the end of the meeting Barry and his wife and entertained the paying public by doing some trick flying in his helicopter along the pit straight at an altitude of about ten feet. The Health and Safety guys hadn’t been born. A much missed man., they just don’t make them like him any more..
A few years later I used my pass to get into the Shell Oils 1,000 km race of 1982. By then I had qualified and a day spent getting cold and wet as a medical marshal seemed a bit of a busmans’ holiday. I just wanted to see the race. I arrived on my Honda 750 motorbike with a blonde intensive care nurse on the back. I guess she is an old lady by now. She blagged us in with some story or other and lo and behold, we had paddock passes. I find that it is always best to let the girls do the negotiating with circuit officials.
Group C racing in 1982 was at its best, big scary cars, Grand Prix drivers in attendance, good grids, it was a fantastic series and I loved it. That October afternoon the World Sportscar Drivers Championship was to be decided. The two protagonists were Derek Bell and Riccardo Patrese. Bell in a Rothmans sponsored Porsche 956, Patrese in a little Martini sponsored Lancia barchetta. It rained hard at the start. There was chaos with crashes everywhere. I seem to recall our MSVL boss Jonathan Palmer sharing a Ford C100 with Desire Wilson featuring somewhere. One thing led to another and the event was stopped. It was then restarted to be run as two races with the winner to be decided on aggregate times.
The blonde and I sat on the pit wall as darkness fell. Bell had lights, Patrese did not. The tension mounted. Who would win? The Lancia sped around in the murky conditions, while the Porsche’s lights shone full beam. We all crowded onto the track as the race ended. Derek and Riccardo stopped on the line. The camera lights glared as they got out of the cars. Nobody seemed to have a clue what was happening. This may have been down to the fact that a bunch of irresponsible idiots like me had managed to get in on the action. Eventually Bell was crowned champion. The crowd went mental and Patrese took it like a man. Two great sportsmen and a day to treasure.
I have never got round to racing at Brands, perhaps I should.
Citroen Ami Estate. Style et lux.
Barry Sheene, Stephanie McLean/Sheene and James Hunt
The official programme
All pictures supplied by Steven Griffin, who probably enjoyed his googling