Snap, Crackle & Pop: Brands Hatch Under Attack

The UK Time Attack series has just held its third round of 2012 at the Brands Hatch track, unleashing several tens of thousands of tuned-up horsepower around the legendary British circuit. Focussed on the pure pursuit of lap-times, the cars are brutally fast: a frenzy of flaming exhausts, whooshing turbos and popping exhausts.

The sessions for the day would be short, sharp shocks: 15-20 minutes per class, where the drivers have little time to get their eye in. Chasing those tenths of seconds would be even made even worse by the unpredictable weather that had hit the UK.

A special appearance from particularly effective Time Attackers had been organised: a pair of Formula 1 cars would also be braving the conditions, putting in demonstration runs in-between sessions.

The series would be tackling the famous Brands Hatch Indy circuit: a 2km (1.2 mile) speed-bowl in Kent in the south of England. The previous Pro record of 48.663s was by Steve Gugliemi in his Lotus Elise back in June ’09 – that would be the target for the day.

However, global weather weirding would throw a spanner in the works: the British ‘Summer’ was up to its old tricks, providing showers on a regular basis, interspersed with hot sun on a rinse and repeat cycle.

At Brands there are few easy corners: everywhere needs commitment, as there’s only one truly straight piece of track – and even that’s short.

From the drop-off-the-face-of-the-earth of Paddock to the slow, ever-turning Druids hairpin at the top of the hill, the flat-out left-right kink of Surtees and then the undulating long right of Clark, there’s a lot of variation packed in for such a short track. It was going to be a difficult day.

The morning Warm-Up session for the Club Class took place on a wet and greasy track, meaning that putting in consistent times was difficult if not impossible.

Marc Kemp in the #67 Mitsubishi Evo 8 260 set out his stall early, with a 1:00.018s one of a string of tours close to the minute mark over 11 timed laps. Kemp was never fastest through the speed traps, proving that the corners are just as important as the velocity down the straights – something he amply demonstrated by setting the fastest individual times in all three sectors.

Kemp was two and half seconds clear of Bo Nielsen’s 360hp Astra VXR, which completed five laps.

There’s a huge variety of machinery out in the Club class. Cars old and new compete side by side in the four sub-categories. Modern kit like the KTM X-Bow, R35 GT-R, MINI Coopers and Impreza WRX STi…

…compete against the old school, like this Porsche 964 and a pair of Ford Sierra Cosworths.

Antonio Giovanazzo – an appropriately racy and perfectly Italian name given his car – is a stalwart of the series: his self-built Alfa Romeo 155 might usually be following than leading, but the car is a joy and his enthusiasm is unbound. His home-town is listed as Wolverhampton, Italy. There is a corner of an English field that is forever Milanese…

The 155′s two-litre Twin Spark has a turbo bolted on, making over 360bhp. Like a lot of competitors in Club, Antonio rapidly progressed from watching Time Attack to competing – he’s now been taking part for three seasons.

Over in Pro it looked like things might get a bit better, track-wise, for their Warm-Up: perhaps the tarmac would dry towards the end of the session? Marcus Webster of Midlands Performance topped the times in his Skyline R32 GT-R with a best time of 56.1s, with his team-mate Walter Morris’ R32 back in ninth.

Seven drivers posted times under a minute, with Ron Kiddell’s R32 hitting 133mph across the start-line. Ron was competing in the OHW category – One Hit Wonders, for drivers competing ad hoc in rounds through the year rather than full-season.

The mid-morning Practice session was even less fun, and more like practising for a surf competition than Time Attack.

However, Marc’s Evo was to once more to the fore – though times were far slower as the rain fell more heavily.

Again, the quickest times came towards the end of the session as the latest shower passed. Four-wheel-drive was the massive help you’d expect – the AWD Evo, Impreza and GT-R filled the top three places – whereas two-wheel-drive was most definitely not.

That said, when faced with the rollercoaster ride that is Paddock Hill, neither four- nor two-wheel drive was necessarily guaranteed to save you. Gary Searl’s Evo 8 ploughed through the Paddock’s deep gravel trap, wiping off the splitter and nose, drift-style, and adding his name to several drivers to visit the run-off there. The following Sierra was lucky not to join him there and add to the pile of smashed bodywork the marshals were collecting up.

Ben Shimmin’s #13 Impreza WRX STi was just a couple of tenths off the Evo, with Richard Marshall’s #88 GT-R a close third in the washed-out session.

Things were just as bleak during the Pro Practice that followed. The track was waterlogged in places, making things treacherous for these vastly-powerful Pro cars as they loomed out of the gloom and slithered round the track, desperately trying to boot up the power.

Gareth Lloyd’s Evo topped the times, posting a 54.431s just to spite the standing water.

In Pro, things were even more exciting in the cars with only two driven wheels: the #90 Skyline was a blur of opposite lock all round the track…

It was excellent drifting style, but adding valuable tenths to the lap-time every time the tail kicked out. Not the perfect conditions for an R33, by any means. Our award of the day for best entertainment though.

Gavin Renshaw’s ominous Evo was just two tenths behind the Evo, followed up by Chris Randall’s Lotus Europa in third – an amazing result for a Pro 2WD class car. 11 seconds covered the 21 car field.

It had been a challenging morning. A large amount of Brands Hatch gravel had been transplanted from the traps around the circuit to the pit-lane.

It’s no wonder that the two drivers due to take their Formula 1 cars out on track were hardly looking over-excited at the prospect. The slicks that had been prepared were well and truly parked in favour of full wets, toasting nicely under tyre warmers.

The two cars lined up in the first garage in the Brands pit-lane: a Benetton B190 from 1990 and this Lotus-Judd 101 from 1989.

Both drivers tackled the track with aplomb. The amount of water that Formula 1 cars clear with every rotation of rubber is astounding: huge rooster tails accompanied the cars as they howled round the track. The throttles might not have been fully open, but they were both fearsomely fast. The B190 was driven by Nelson Piquet in 1990 – he won in Suzuka and Adelaide. The car is now privately owned by John Reaks, and prepared by a team owned by Michael Jakeman, who worked for Benetton in period. The carbon-tubbed Benetton was powered by a Cosworth HB 3.5-litre V8; the Avon wets filled with nitrogen.

The Lotus, owned and driven by Steve Griffiths, is chassis number 3. The 500kg car wasn’t successful in period, but was still striking with its bright yellow Camel livery. Designed by Frank Dernie, the Lotus was raced by Satoru Nakajima alongside Nelson Piquet. With its normally-aspirated Judd 3.5-litre V8 following the end of the 1.5-litre turbo era, the 101 achieved a best result of fourth, also managing a fastest lap in Adelaide.

Back to Time Attack, and Marc’s Evo was looking unbeatable at this stage no matter what the conditions: with a dry interlude for Club Qualifying the times tumbled: his 15 laps yielded a time of 52.674s. But there was still an exciting battle going on behind him, as the drying conditions closed up the field. The top 17 Club competitors were all within five seconds of the fastest time.

Only two tenths behind the Evo were Dave Coe’s #80 Impreza and the R35 GT-R.

For Pro Qualifying there was the promise of no rain: 20 minutes of heaven. It was finally time to bolt slicks on and let things hang out.

Times-wise, Marcus Webster was back in control in the #24 Skyline R32 GT-R, dipping below the 50 second mark. Chris Randall’s Europa moved up to second with a 50.088 and Gavin Renshaw still menaced in third. Romain Levesque had entered his supercharged Eurospec Honda CRX: in the dry he’d leap up the order, but fell back down during the wet Finals later in the day.

The top 19 were all within a five second spread, and the v-max over the line was up to 142.8mph for Gareth Lloyd’s #4 Evo – though he only completed one lap. Running wide at Graham Hill…

…and intakes full of wet mud and grass, the Evo came to a halt.

After so much rain during the preceding hours, the Finals were moved forward a slot from the end of the day to try and hit a forecast dry patch in the weather.

Would it last? For the Club Final cars were back out onto semi-slicks for what would turn out to be a foreshortened session.

Richard Marshall’s #88 GT-R came out on top by just 0.074s from Dave Coe’s #80 Impreza S6; Chris Hamer’s #62 Evo 6 was a couple of seconds back in third.

Ronnie Amis’ #71 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth managed a fine fourth quickest time, only 0.008s from that final podium spot.

After dominating every other session, Marc Kemp could only manage 14th – he aborted an early run and only completed five laps. Almost everyone’s fastest lap was set on their second lap, as the rain hit Brands again just as things were getting going.

The session brought to a premature end when Umar Masood’s Mazda RX7 was caught out by the changing conditions and lost control exiting Graham Hill bend, lazily spinning and connecting with the inside Armco barrier. Game over for the Mazda, and with time pressing on the Club Finals were ended early.

The rain had mostly died out for the start of the Pro Finals, but that still left a wet track for the field to negotiate. That lap record would remain out of reach – but only just, given the possibilities demonstrated during Qualifying.

The day-long battle between Webster’s Skyline and Renshaw’s Evo was resolved in Gavin’s favour, with a 54.756s lap giving him the win by the slim margin of 0.178s. He posted a full set of second-fastest sector times, but his consistency edged out the competition. Back in the garage afterwards, the gravel coming out of the car showed that he’d had to sing for his supper…

Another two-tenths back was Chris Randall’s Europa, which was pulling the best part of 130mph over the start-line.

Mark Pollard’s 6R4 was another half a second back in fourth, followed by Duncan Graham’s Impreza in fifth.

With the rain back to full strength as the day came to an end, the 50-strong field had done well to pull such good times out of the bag and entertain the crowd in the face of the horrible weather. With the next round in early August on the coast of Wales overlooking the Irish Sea, everyone is hoping against hope to finally have a dry round and be able to stretch the legs of these beasts. But, whatever the weather, the sights and – as importantly – the sounds of Time Attack are more than enough to keep things exciting for drivers and fans alike.

Jonathan Moore


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