I have dreamed for years about having the opportunity to race a Vintage car in the England.  After all I have been racing British Cars for 40+ years in the States and it only seemed natural to take it all home.

Brands Hatch raceway is the quintessential track that has represented English racing since 1950 and while probably best known for the “Grand Prix” circuit, it uses a smaller portion of that famous track that has been called the INDY circuit.  This ‘short’ version while being only 1.2 miles can be lapped in less than a minute!  The result being that there is never a second to catch your breath.  Turn one at the Hatch could be almost as famous as the corkscrew at Laguna.  At the end of the front straight the road drops away from you dramatically just after you start a 90 degree right hand turn.  In fact it is so fast and dramatic that you absolutely ‘have to believe’ the track will be there each lap as there is no way to see even the apex yet alone the exit before you have to start the turn! This turn one called ‘Paddock Hill Bend’ sets the tone for the entire circuit and can for sure be the absolute delimiter between the men and the boys!  After you make this leap of faith the next attraction is that you will find that you have hit the ground just as the circuit begins to climb to the next turn. If you are too ginger entering this turn you will find cars (Minis) on both sides as you land!  This can be very unnerving as you struggle for control simply trying not to wreck yourself yet as the suspension goes into severe compression and you are at full throttle up the next hill to next highest point on the track.

The next turn after Hailwoods Hill has been named “Druids Bend” This 180 degree turn starts out uphill and exits downhill.  The downhill exit from turn two might lead you into an optimistic view of the rest of the circuit, but then the Graham Hill Bend turn can also be deceptive particularly in damp conditions.  It is at this turn that most competitors push the rules that limit how many wheels can be over the white lines on the either edge of the course. The exit leads you on the straight that is called the “Cooper Straight”.  This, the second longest straight on the course provides just enough time to get the car into 4th gear.  It is critical that you run the length of the straight on the very right edge of the track.  The following left had turn called “Surtees” would be very serious were we running the Gran Prix circuit but for the Indy version of the track this turn becomes a twitch left followed, a hart beat away, by a right twitch.  The braking point is actually the exit of this “S” twitch and has been dubbed “Clearways”.  This is also the entry into the last turn on the short circuit called “Clark Curve”.  This a very wide ‘pick any line turn  leads onto the critical front straight that also have a little uphill climb and thus exit speed is critical.

One of the great parts of the track from a first timer’s point of view is that with such a short track it is not very long to remember what is next even when you can’t see the exits, etc.  The real difficulty for me was the fact that I was driving a Classic Mini prepared to the extreme to conform to the very tight Historic Class rules.  This was basically a Vintage Race with spec cars that ended up with the entire field was within a couple seconds of each other.  Not only were the cars all prepared almost identical but the tires are also part of the spec- all run the hard Dunlop 10” version on 5” rims.  The next big surprise to me was the driving style required with these tires, etc.  Most of us think of ‘Drifting’ as barely a sport and  only as something done in the last few years by all of them there foreign Japanese cars.  I know personally think that the ‘drifters’ first got the idea from the Brits as watched the very crazy Classic Mini drivers scream around a track like Brands.  The circuit as I have previously described to vastly understated when you add into the understanding the attitude of the car as it rounds the track.  While the front straight is conventional and as is actually straight slight uphill.  At the breaking point for the first run is when you begin to understand drifting.  As mentioned earlier, your start your car into the turn long before you can see the apex or you landing spot over the crest of the hill but what is more un-nerving is that you actually have to start a 4 wheel drift before you ever hit the apex.  You better hit the apex right as the exit finds the suspension under full compression. The following uphill will be straight and easy if you land right.  The nest turn Druids is blind and does not ‘require’ drifting but when you are in traffic and looking for spots to pick up or protect your line- you will have to drift around this rather tight 180 degree turn.  The next turn is the one I tried so many times to take with a conventional line only to find that my fellow Mini racers were simply drifting around and past me on both sides.  I finally got the message- Drift of Die!  The next “S” turn that the real good guys take without even lifting is one of total faith only.  As the car slides to the right and you correct it to make the following right turn you just hope that the slight movement will insure you don’t end up with the common tank slapper!  The final turn onto the front straight is another one where you simply through the car into a drift to either protect you position or to take advantage of the straight and go for it!   One of the overall complexities of this drifting is not only being able to predict when and where it will stop sliding but also it is very difficult to know where the car behind you is at or even going as he too is drifting.

The single biggest take away I have from this great learning experience is that the sheer ‘intensity’ of racing is not something I have ever experienced!  When you have almost 30 identical Mini vintage racers all driving within 2 seconds of each other the pressure is extremely high to get it right and not take a breath from the time of the standing start until the end of the race.