Vauxhall grabs top-three class finish at Brands

| 22 Jun 2016

Photos: Jeff Bloxham

My first race of 2016 was at Brands Hatch on the Indy Circuit with Julius Thurgood’s Touring Greats Series. I prefer the full Grand Prix layout but, with its low axle ratio now installed, the VX4/90 was well-suited to the shorter version. 

There were 14 different models of car competing, which is typical of these grids. Qualifying was uneventful, with my best time of 1 min 7 secs putting me 18th on the grid and fourth in class. Not too shabby, but I felt I could go quicker.

The 45-minute race started with me on row nine. I passed two cars at the start but was overtaken by three others as we went into Paddock Hill Bend. Plenty of close stuff but no touching – very gentlemanly. 

I completed the first lap in a frustrating 23rd place. In fourth gear and pulling about 6500rpm, I left my braking very late for Paddock. It’s uphill so you can do that, but then it drops steeply away and it’s important you hit the apex or you could be in the sand. It’s quite daunting but speed there is essential. 

Druids is next, a slow-ish second-gear hairpin. Into third and hold it down the hill, pulling maximum revs before Graham Hill Bend, a sweeping left hander that pushes you wide and tightens at the exit. Grab fourth for Cooper Straight at the back of the pits, through the left/right of Surtees and McLaren with a quick dab on the brakes in between.

Then it’s Clearways, a long third-gear right-hander in which the Vauxhall initially understeers - scrubbing the front nearside tyre – and back past the pits. 

Paddock was my preferred overtaking place, and after 38 more laps I finished 15th. By that time, the track was getting oily so everyone backed off. Never mind, my placing was good enough for third in class and the car was in one piece.

At the Donington Historic Festival, I was entered in the pre-1963 class of the HRDC Touring Greats race. During any journey to a race meeting, I start thinking about the track. Each circuit usually has a particularly testing part to it. At Spa, it’s Blanchimont and Eau Rouge. At Brands Hatch, it’s Paddock, and at Donington it’s the Craner Curves.  

The track rises to a sweeping right-hander and then drops away with a fast left. The car wants to push wide but you have to stay left with Old Hairpin looming. It’s not a hairpin – more of a 90-degree right – but it’s very cambered and narrow at the exit. Carrying speed through there is everything.

I qualified 28th on the capacity grid, but our race was the last of the day and didn’t start until 6.13pm. We got about six laps on dry track, then a shower arrived. It was like ice and speeds dropped – gently does it.

Then, going into the Craners, two cars went straight off onto the grass in front of me. I tip-toed round, but on the next lap there was an Abarth stationary in the middle of the track with a wheel missing. 

We all carefully avoided it, but the safety car was deployed. Next time around, I decided to do my mandatory pit stop. Very few others did, so I got back out on track and caught the train of cars – all of which had to stop. In went the safety car, as well as most of the cars ahead of me, and after a while I was up to eighth! 

They all came past me again, of course, and at the end I was in 21st. The other VX4/90 was 27th, but this time there was no class award. Three very quick Alfas took those places. Still, I was happy enough and, apart from a rather noisy final drive, the car was fine.

C&SC and Vauxhall are supporting Paul as he campaigns his ex-Bill Blydenstein VX4/90 in historic racing through 2016