Although the main CMMC southern season had ended at Lydden Hill last month, the opportunity to have another run out at Brands Hatch proved too tempting for a number of our drivers.
With a mixed grid of super and production saloons, it would be interesting to see how the 20 contenders dealt with the variety of weather conditions. Qualifying took place on a damp track, which was taking its time to dry out. A few drivers ventured out on slicks, but this proved to be a costly error. Although it had less effect on the production runners, who only use treaded tyres any way.
The battle for pole position was between Rod Birley and Paul Eve in their similar Ford Escort Cosworths. It looked like Birley had done enough, until Eve made a late surge to pip him by 0.067 of a second. Row two saw the familiar BMW of Niall Bradley, with the immaculate Fina liveried version of Gavin Dunn alongside. Row three saw the best two production runners in the shape of the Honda Civic of Kamran Tunio and the Honda Integra of Jonathan Bevan. Next up was Adrian Bradley, doing the first race in his brother Damien’s BMW, with Terry Stephens (Renault Clio) alongside. Lawrence Squires (BMW E36) and Nick Lunn (Honda Integra) occupied row 5.
The second half of the grid featured Chris Murphy (BMW Z4), Ian Seale (Ford Fiesta), Mark Cripps (BMW E30), Steve Rothery (Peugeot 308, on the wrong tyres), Gideon September (back in his Mitsubishi Mirage), James Baldwin (Citroen C1), Mark De’Ath (Subaru, also on the wrong rubber), Dimitri Palquet (BMW E30). We should have had Steve Dann (VW Polo) and Ken Angell (BMW), but both suffered engine maladies and withdrew after qualifying.
Race one took place on a perfectly dry track, which saw Eve and Birley run side by side through Paddock Bend. At Druids hairpin the yellow Escort slewed sideways and was then collected by an unsighted Tunio. As Paul went on the still wet grass he lost several places. Meanwhile Birley led with Niall Bradley hot on his tail. For ten laps these two put on a magnificent show as the BMW often sneaked past at Clearways, only for the Escort to power back in front on the Brabham straight.
Going either side of Cripps on Cooper Straight certainly had the crowd gasping, but unfortunately it did not last the whole distance. Niall managed to put a couple of back markers in between himself and Birley as they exited Clearways on lap 11, which stopped Rod from re-passing. At Druids the rear brakes on the Escort looked up, as it was later discovered that retardation to the front had ceased. This allowed the BMW to escape and take a hard earned win. Birley held onto second, as Dunn was a fair way back in third.
De’Ath made good progress from the rear of the grid to take fourth, with Adrian Bradley a delighted fifth from the recovering Eve. Rothery had a spin en route to 7th, getting past the rapid Tunio, who took the production saloon honours from a closing Bevan. Cripps rounded out the top ten pursued by Stephens and Murphy. Squires got the measure of Lunn, whilst September managed to hold off Plaquet and Seale. Baldwin completed the finishers.
The second race took place on a damp track, with the rain gradually getting heavier. Missing were Murphy and Palquet in their BMWs, but the rest had two rolling laps to assess the conditions. Birley powered away to lead at Paddock Bend, but Niall Bradley shot to the outside in an effort to stay alongside. As the two slithered through the corner (no contact was made) the BMW slide wide over the slippery painted kerb. In a flash the No.7 car half spun and as Niall fought to keep control he veered towards the barrier and a rather sudden stop. The black Escort escaped, but only as far as the safety car which emerged on Copper Straight. Also failing to complete the first lap was Damien Bradley, so we were minus two more BMWs.
Once the track was clear Birley established a small lead over Eve, who had climbed into second spot. Dunn had an uncharacteristic spin on the re-start, which sadly dropped him out of the race. Eve pegged Birley’s lead to just over a second, and it appeared that the two 4 wheel drive cars had it under control. Meanwhile Rothery was making good progress, as he made it up to third and then rapidly closed on the leaders. With 2 laps to go he passed Eve, just as Seale had an unfortunate roll at Paddock Bend. As Birley was forced to slow behind a couple of back markers in the yellow flag zone, so the lead gap diminished. The expected red flag did not appear, so the last lap saw a closing Rothery almost catch the No.44 car.
Eve was safe in third, clear of Stephens who drove well in the Renault Clio formerly owned by Rothery. Tunio was again top production saloon, whilst Bevan had a good dice with Cripps. De’Ath dropped back to 8th, followed by Squires and Lunn. September and Baldwin completed the finishers just as darkness descended.
So two thrilling races capped a good inaugural season for the new club. Hopefully all the drivers have enjoyed themselves and will be back again next year. On Saturday January 18th there will be an awards evening at the Mercure hotel Brands Hatch, details of which will follow very soon.