FROM THE PITLANE - BRANDS part 2
Monday dawns, and a peculiar thing. Yesterday’s results stand. Comer is judged to be innocent, the sudden mechanical failure is not his doing, the stoppage not his fault, so he keeps the class win. We’ve never heard of this before, but so it is. Racing is never simple.
But we’re down to just one car now, Vanessa is heading out to play, Jay ready to try and gain a few places back, because he fell down the order fast yesterday. The sun is out, the car is good, it’s fuelled and ready, we can pack up the tools. We often bang on about logistics, but it is a lot of gear to pack. When you do so much work on a car you do seem to unpack everything. Bear considers loading Katy, but we reason that she’s full of gravel so best not put her on the top deck of the truck, we don’t want to shower Vanessa with stones for 200 miles and chip paint, screen etc. Remembering this now makes us a bit sick really.
As we head to lunch, an errant thought occurs. There are about 250 or so racing cars here over the 3 days. Each one probably brought a jack. It was probably a light, aluminium jack, that probably cost about £200. That’s £50000 spent just on jacks for this meeting. There might be ten such meetings across the country this weekend? Half a million quid of jacks, give or take? Wild guess, but that’s a lot of money. I don’t even want to consider the fuel. And that's just for circuit racing!
Race time. Hard to be objective about this one. As Vanessa rolls off to assembly, mere moments later we are joined by the real Vanessa, the lady we named the car after. She’s rocked up to Brands for the first time since 2011, when we first unveiled the just-built Vanessa to her shock and delight, and she’s come to see her namesake race for the first time. You can’t make this stuff up.
Off to watch from Paddock, and as they green flag past us this is the first time our guest of honour has ever seen “her” car in full warpaint. There is cheering, and a small degree of dancing. I swear, all of this is true.
Lights out, Howard into the lead and just cleared off. He was short-shifting, to our ears, by lap 3, he just went. Elsewhere in the field though it was pandemonium. Minor contact in a lot of places. It’s not for us to comment on most of it, because we didn’t see much of it, but there was a fair bit of it going on. Webster would lose a front bumper on the rear end of Palmer’s car – Chris’ misfire still plaguing him, but Palmer would make steady progress throughout the race, because he always does.
We understand there was contact between Olson and BCB, though how we don’t know, because Bruce was last-ish, and Jay wasn’t. There was the dark green of Nicholls on the nose of Vanessa too after the wreckage was inspected, but again the where, when and how we don’t know. Somewhere in there was contact between Olson and Sewell too. There was mid-race contact between Lewis and Olson, which was a little bit rude, Lewis helping Olson off the road at Graham Hill, but that’s the push and shove of Brands.
Philpott was driving very aggressively, from our vantage point he was pushing the boundaries a bit, but that’s the desperation of the quest for your first podium. Not sure where his headlight went missing though, but there was a pretty fierce challenge on Barclay that cost the latter all the panels on one side of the car.
Barclay disappeared, initially it looks like he fell off from 3rd place, but it would turn out to be the second XK engine of the weekend. The case for the AJ6 /16s couldn’t be much clearer. There is an odd, tense feeling to this race, and our nerves are not being helped by the sight of Vanessa constantly off the road or wildly sideways at Graham Hill, it’s such an easy place to fall off and take damage, and both we and our guest are most fond of that car. It was getting some pretty wild angles on coming off that corner, but the driver can’t hear you shouting advice to unwind the lock before you apply the power.
Derek drops it suddenly at Paddock, slews sideways, and we all see it coming, Lewis and Connew in close combat with him, this one is going to be a huge impact, two cars right in the weak side pillar of that MkII. Derek is going to be hurt here, which is a bit of a shame because he's one of the very few people I've ever met and not disliked. There is enough time to shout a warning that can’t help. And miraculously, in the best piece of evasive driving I have ever seen, or the most luck anyone has ever had, they split and drive either side of the sideways but-rolling car and both miss him by inches. How they managed that I do not know, but it was the most astonishing thing I’ve seen from the sidelines of a racetrack. Until about three minutes later.
Olson appears at Paddock, and it is clear that Vanessa is travelling at least 10mph too fast. There is enough time to say “that’s too hot mate” before she oversteers towards the gravel. Another Hollywood dust cloud goes up, but Nessie is going forwards under power, and we’ve seen this one before. Just keep it straight and the power on, she will drive slowly out of the far end of the gravel trap, shake herself like a wet cat, and drive away. Don’t try and steer, just hold it straight and you’ll come out, the Bear does a bit of this in qualifying every time he comes here.
Seath’s lapped car enters Paddock, and it’s one of those moments that slows down because you know what’s coming, you’re involved in it, albeit remotely, and there is nothing to be done. Vanessa turns right, apparently under power, and regains the circuit, now travelling across the track as Seath’s line takes him through that same piece of tarmac. The cars meet, meld, and separate in a sickening thump of noise that silenced the crowd as if throwing a switch.
The impact is a big one, I’ve seen none worse. Seath’s passenger side hits Vanessa more or less square in the driver’s side front at near right angles, probably travelling at over 80mph. The impact spins both to meet rear end to rear end for a secondary impact, before they spin haplessly to rest on the infield, Seath with enough momentum to mount the tyre wall briefly..
Marshalls swarm the site, instant red flags and running orange bodies. Jay is out and walking, as is Seath, both intact. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see that. When every last weld in a car is yours, and you see that sort of accident, the time that it takes to see the driver get out intact is about twenty years longer than it need be. I’m not one for feeling the pressure, but I really don’t need this grief. Every word I ever wrote here about safety and the extra bits we put in to make Vanessa stronger, well I say it again, and thank the Lords of Kobol* that we did.
We know that Vanessa is dead, it was obvious even before the impact had finished that it would be terminal. The live Vanessa reacts as you’d expect. Not every day you see that. There is a tear for the fallen car.
Race over. The Jags manage one race distance over the two days, give or take. The two cars we brought were the cause of both red flags. But that is hardly the story of the day. Two written off cars at Brands Hatch has not been seen in some years.
Spring into action. Vanessa looks to us as if she’s going to be missing two operable wheels, and that means we will have to drag her aboard the lorry with the winch. We’re just putting Katy on the top deck when Nessie arrives. Front end bent way over, exhaust manifolds expensively smashed, subframes broken, rear end stoved in. The driver’s cell, the cockpit, is undamaged, the door still works, the floors are intact, but the car is ruined. You can’t bend chassis legs by a foot and hope to save it.
Many willing hands emerge from the crowd of gawpers who gather to take photos, the West Riding crew descend to help out, and with sheer muscle power a car with what turns out to be three useless wheels is dragged into place for the Bear to snare with his winch. A dozen bodies push, pull and cajole the rudderless, collapsed car into her tomb. You know who your mates are when it all goes wrong.
Seath’s car passes, if anything looking even worse. In a front to side-on impact you’d expect the head on to come away with less damage, but angles and the level of preparation all play a part.
Our pilot, apparently undamaged, is summoned to the Clerk of the Course, though why we may never know. Drivers are keen to tell us that he was shown the driving standards flag for some six laps, and eventually the black. Our pilot, however, tells us only that it is unrelated to this incident. Not my business to ask, all I care about is that he’s not hurt, that our fettling has done its job and that Vanessa’s last act was to save her pilot.
The smaller, talking Vanessa is distraught. Officer David is instructed to make us fix the car. He’s good, but I’m not sure he, or anyone, is that good.
So ends a godforsaken shit-storm of a meeting. Comer’s car broken, Vanessa destroyed. I was fond of Vanessa, that shell was my first ever Jaguar, the reason we got into this game at all. It's on the ride home that it hits me, that some bastard just wrote off my first Jag. That’s gloomy.
With Jeffery burning through most of his budget at the last round, and Vanessa dead, we’re down to one car for this series, and the Kutuka machine only works on an economy of scale, you need a couple of cars to pay for the truck full of parts and men, so quite how many more rounds we will now see this season is unclear. Crashes like this have far-reaching repercussions. When you want to borrow that spanner at Castle Combe and we aren’t there, this was why.
What would have been a morose and occasionally ranting drive home was cheered by a 100-mile race with Dean Sewell’s camper and crew along the A1. A camper van displaying a pair of bare arses at the windows is not something you expect to see near Peterborough. Bear eventually won that race, but I’m not sure it was worth the years of therapy I now need. Could be worse though, because think about what Deano saw...
See y’all at Mallory.
Aw, Dean, come on mate, there's a toilet only thirty feet that way...
The controversial AJ16 motorcycle-powered XJ6 coupe that has divided the paddock.
Chris Boon is completely unimpressed by Gail's "I'm a little teapot" rendition.
This was the start of lap 2, and that gap just kept getting bigger.
I really don't know how Lewis missed him. I mean just look at it. He's got five yards, at 90mph.
It looked good for Vanessa to begin with. That's a lot of C class cars in the mirror.
Please come off the power. Please.
The fastest way to get attention at a race circuit is to smash a couple of cars up.
Whereas the saddest man in the paddock is the poor sod who has to sweep up the mess.
Ave atque vale.
*there is always one obscure reference each week. I defy you to know this one without using the internet.