Brands Hatch in June can often have a splash of rain in the air, but on 11th June 1995, it was more of a deluge. After a rare season in 1994 with zero rain at all, it seemed Brands Hatch was getting enough rain to cover all two seasons!
Coming into the weekend, the BTCC was in the midst of a huge title fight. Renault and Williams had found their feet & were coming into the weekend on the back of a win for Alain Menu at Oulton Park, which thrust them straight into the middle of the title fight with Volvo and Vauxhall. Tim Harvey had won both previous wet rounds at Brands Hatch for Volvo, but this time, the series was racing on the Grand Prix layout.
Renault’s Alain Menu took both pole positions in qualifying, despite deciding not to run any qualifying tyres. “Quallies might work on the Ford, but they don’t work on our car,” he said after the sessions.
Vauxhall’s young gun, James Thompson started alongside the Swiss for Race 1 & it would be slight contact between the two that would cause Race 1’s first red flag stoppage. The two banged wheels on the exit of Druids & gave Thompson a puncture. “It was only slight, but it punctured my tyre, so I went straight on at the bottom of the hill.” Running wide caught Rydell out, who was alongside Thompson going into Graham Hill Bend – this caused Radisich to be sandwiched between the 2 Volvos & chaos ensued. Matt Neal, Paul Radisich and David Brabham were all out on the spot, whilst Thompson pulled into the pits not long after.
Due to the long nature of the lap and most of the damaged cars moving themselves out of the way, this surprisingly didn’t warrant a red flag and the race continued. Red flags had become a bone of contention during the 1995 BTCC season – in the previous 5 race meetings prior to Brands Hatch, 4 of them had been disrupted by red flag periods.
As the race went on, it didn’t look like it was going to add to the tally, but with the conditions getting worse on track, Tim Sugden suffered a major problem with misting on his Toyota windscreen and ran wide at Clearways, striking the tyre barrier hard, which flipped him over.
Unsurprisingly, the red flags came out. Sugden had managed to extricate himself from his battered Toyota, but quite a bit of work would be needed to repair the barrier and get the car moved. Half an hour later, the race resumed, a five lap sprint, which was won by Renault’s Alain Menu. John Cleland and Tim Harvey took up the rest of the podium.
An unhurt Sugden said, “The car was going really well, I was really pleased with the way the Toyota was going, but my windscreen was misting up very badly. It got to the point where I could only see through about 8 inches at the bottom of the screen. It was getting harder and harder to judge things & I just missed my braking point ever so slightly & that was it, I’m afraid.”
Race 2 started without incident on the first few corners, drivers seemingly taking care in the worsenening conditions out on track. Then, at the end of the lap Nigel Smith’s Team HMSO Vauxhall Cavalier was stuck in the gravel at Stirings after being tagged by James Kaye in the Honda.
The red flags were flying again, as Smith’s car was deemed to be in a dangerous position by the race officials. The car was soon recovered and it wasn’t long before the green lights signalled another race start. Everyone was well behaved on the race restart, but the red flags came out again half way around, as Rickard Rydell was involved in a frightening accident after his throttle stuck open going into Westfields. Rydell tried in vain to flick the car around and slow it down, but like Sugden, he hit the tyres with such force, his car rolled over.
With Rydell unhurt, there was a lengthy delay to get the car recovered to the pitlane and repair any damage to barriers. It was during this delay that Clerk of the Course, Pierre Aumonier, summoned the remaining drivers on the grid and gave them a stern talking to, in front of all the paying spectators on the pit straight! In his very public bollocking of the drivers, he said “One more stoppage and that will be it! I will cancel the round. There are far too many red flags in this series already and certainly there are too many today! I am not suggesting that incidents today are just being caused by pushing, but until now the (support) races have been clean! I can assure you that the board of ToCA is not amused at all with all this!”
Funnily enough, the Ford Fiesta support race after the 2nd BTCC race, was red flagged on the warm up… Awkward.
When the race was finally restarted, it passed without any further incidents and was won by Cleland, who led home a Vauxhall 1-2 finish. After the race, however, several leading drivers voiced their criticiscm over the nature of Pierre Aumonier’s public dressing down of the drivers & suggested that the races shouldn’t have been held if he felt the conditions were so bad.
Volvo’s Tim Harvey led the arguements, “Look at the incidents, Sugden’s screen misted up and Rydell’s throttle stuck open. They were just unfortunate. The argument isn’t about our behaviour, but whether we should have been racing in those conditions at all. It was really bad. Pierre has to realise what’s really going on out there!”
Alfa Romeo’s Derek Warwick added, “I think Pierre was a little hard on us all. Two of the accidents that caused the red flags didn’t involve any other driver at all.”
Patrick Watts pulled no punches in the post-race interviews either, “Pierre’s warning was WAY over the top. They are too enthusiastic with these red flags these days. Nigel Smith’s car wasn’t in a dangerous position and we are in steel boxes going slowly when it is wet anyway.”
Race winner John Cleland was perhaps one of the most voiciferous in the post race press conference, stating “Pierre sometimes goes over the top & unless you are a driver, it is difficult to appreciate the problems of keeping 1000 kilos of car, with only 9 inch wide tyres, on the track in these conditions. Everybody was out for survival and Pierre should keep that in mind. We have a competitive championship here, with at least 10 cars covered by no time at all. That’s something to bear in mind when we get red flags & I think sometimes the organises over-react.”
Whilst remembering the events of that day 20 years later, in an article with 1990sBTCC.com, John Cleland told us that he had accused Aumonier of being on drugs that day. “That was some meeting! I went on to win the race after the very public school-boy bollocking we all got – in plain sight of the main grandstand! I accused the Clerk of the course of being on drugs that day, he didn’t realise how hard it was to stay on track – the conditions were that bad! We were not all jumping off track deliberately. Obviously, that got me in the shit, since it hit the press the following day! Whoops!”
Aumonier never publicly reprimanded the drivers in the same way again.