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ON TRACK WITH HENRY SURTEES
2007 UK Formula BMW Championship

Brands Hatch: The Season Opener

by John Surtees

The first race took place at Brands Hatch over the weekend of 30 March-1 April. We had previously carried out two tests, one of which had been official, on this circuit and so had a good idea of the settings that were required for both wet and dry.

Therefore on Friday 30 March when the conditions were extremely wet, it was decided to purely do enough driving to check and bed in various sets of rain tyres so that we could be prepared should the weekend also bring wet conditions. The cars within the Carlin team were driven by Henry, Oliver Webb and the sister team of Victory Engineering had Anthony Comas. All three cars appeared to be working well and it was a question of looking forward to the first qualifying to take place on the 31 March.

There had been some drama over circuit conditions. When we had been at the PR event on Thursday, there was much activity on the circuit with the painting of kerbs and other areas in order, no doubt, to make it attractive for the television coverage. I was a little concerned that this may be a little late but Brands Hatch after all is a rather busy circuit and it a question of when the time is available. However, when we arrived on Friiday morning there was much activity on trying to clean up the circuit and remove the paint as it had run all across the track. I believe that this probably had some effect over the weekend’s racing because Henry said that there certainly wasn’t as much grip as there had been at the previous test. It is interesting to note that times overall were slightly slower. So it may have been the paint effect.

Moment of tension

Obviously it would have been a moment of some tension for Henry and the other competitors who were all taking part in their first qualifying session. Of course there were those who were very experienced and had done it all before. Certainly it was in amongst those that the main competition would come, from what we had seen in previous practices. Josef Kral who had carried out a full season in the German Series and had also taken part in the Valencia World Championships gaining a second place, was certainly someone who could not be overlooked. Valle Makela of Finland has vast experience and was the oldest person within the Series, having previous experience in Formula Ford and won the championship, saloon car racing and also Formula Renault. You couldn’t overlook last year’s rookie winner, the by now very experienced Henry Arundel. There were a host of others who had all shown their ability within other feeder formulas and karting.

The day started with a wet track and still some clean up operations taking place. Luckily by the time first qualifying session for BMW came about there was a completely dry line available. The teams are allowed a total of 6 new tyres; 1 complete set and 1 front and 1 rear to be used for all qualifying and for the 2 races, so all the competitors were starting on new tyres. Henry went out, carried out 3 bedding in laps to get the feel of the car and speeded up and went straight to the top end of the qualifying times finishing in 2nd place with a time which he did on his 8th lap of 46.950. Valle Makela also on the 8th lap just piped him by registering 46.904.

The closeness of the grid can be seen from the fact that Henry’s team mate, Oliver Webb, ended up in 7th place having set a time of 47.227. But the important thing was that the first qualifying ended with no mishaps and Henry had shown that he had speed to be able to compete. It was therefore a question of waiting and seeing how the various other activities on the circuit affected the conditions and if the weather held good for the second qualifying session which was to be held in the afternoon.

Henry had pronounced himself happy with the set up of the car and only a minor change to accommodate the fact that we would be using only 2 new tyres took place. The plan was to send Henry out on the tyres he had finished on and do 4 laps, come in, fit the new tyres and go out and set a time. He went to the top of the time sheet with a time of 47.106, slightly slower than the morning session partly possibly due to the fact that only 2 new tyres were fitted, but also due to the fact that the circuit had not really improved. In fact perhaps it was slightly slower. Certainly a wind had started to develop from the south-east which gave a head wind down the main straight. This looked to be good enough for pole but Marcus Ericsson, another rookie who we had seen perform very well in the official BMW tests, just piped him with a 47.098. So, for his two first qualifying sessions he obtained two 2nd places. We had reason to be happy, particularly because Henry was quite content with the car and felt he had more to come.

First single seater start

Race day conditions, 1 April, looked good. Henry was of course facing his first single seater start. The Brands Hatch grid is not particularly easy because of the various angles of the track so it is quite important how you position your car. We had walked the circuit, talked about it and it was now all down to Henry. But he seemed cool, calm and relatively collected, although I could well imagine the butterflies which were nibbling away at him. The signs were there. There wasn’t much conversation.

However, to the start line and there seemed to be a calmness which augured well. So it was a good start, not good enough to beat Valle Makela into the first corner, but good enough to slot into 2nd place. Henry immediately closed up on Makela who obviously showed from the very start the experience he had had over the years that he had been racing. But this was good, it was a learning time for Henry taking part in his first single seater open wheel race. There was no doubt that he was being a little held up as I suppose the lap times would show. They were joined by Josef Kral who was also showing his experience and aggression. But Henry was certainly matching him on that and they traded places whilst at the same time being held up by Valle Makela. Henry came down the straight and tried one side and Mekela moved and blocked. So Henry tried the other side, but it seemed to be that Makela was there as well. It certainly was going to be difficult. Followed and being somewhat controlled by Makela into Druids, Kral managed to re-take Henry. They then came round in group and Kral managed to get his nose up the inside close to the pit wall and get the prime position to go into Paddock Hill. At least it meant that anyone on the outside would be somewhat blocked. Makela was having none of this and turned in with his front wing cutting Kral’s rear tyre sending Kral off into the gravel trap, with Henry just there in the bunch. But this time, because of the defending which had been going on, they had been joined by Marcus Ericsson and Henry Arundel. Henry wasn’t able to catch and take Makela in the few laps remaining but he was able to confirm his 2nd position. He ended up with fastest rookie time at 47.161 and second fastest time overall. So a good morning’s work for the first race of the Series and it augured well because it showed he had pace, aggression and the ability to win. It is interesting to note that Makela’s fastest lap was in fact 47.412, slower than either Kral or Henry. Ericsson had done a 47.263 and Arundel at 47.389.

The Carlin camp was over the moon. Oliver Webb had come in in 7th place and Anthony Comas had followed him closely in the Victory car in 8th. So it was all looking forward to race two.

No complaints

The weather had remained stable and there had been no complaints about settings of the car. So basically everything had remained unchanged. The best of the tyres that remained from the 6 allocated were fitted and Henry went to the line feeling very confident. I didn’t go out on the grid but took the opportunity of going up on the tower where I had the possibility of watching what happened into the first corner at Paddock and around virtually all the circuit. Brands Hatch is such a wonderful circuit for viewing and of course I have many many memories going back to my father’s time when he raced on the grass track.

Well this time it was not to be. Henry momentarily went forward at the start, his foot having just slipped off of holding the brake, he put the brake back on but despite the fact that he gained no advantage, in fact he had made a bad start and was 3rd into Paddock Hill, he was still given a drive through penalty. For the first few laps he had sat up close behind Marcus Ericsson who in turn was behind Henry Arundel who had made a flying start from the 2nd row as he had qualified in 3rd position for this race. Henry said that he thought he had it all under control and that he could have coped with Marcus, but that was not to be because of the drive through. The race was unfortunately spoilt not only for Henry but also for the spectators, and whereas they had witnessed an exciting race which in fact was deemed to have been the best that had ever been seen in Formula BMW in the first round, the second one became slightly a procession with Marcus Ericsson driving a superb race, but unchallenged because of Henry and Henry Arundel’s drive through. In view of the fact that Henry had gained no advantage, and in fact had made a bad start, I would have thought that perhaps, purely because he had moved, a time penalty would have served the purpose better in order to present a better race.

Fully competitive

All in all from the Surtees point of view a satisfactory event because Henry had shown he was fully competitive with the field. No so good from the end results and where it left Henry in the championship table because of that second race problem. However, the Carlin team are very confident and so is Henry. Therefore we look forward to the next round which will take place at Rockingham and where Henry again had a very satisfactory official test.

Josef Kral perhaps had more reasons to feel somewhat aggrieved in that after being put out of the first race and showing extremely good speed he wasn’t able to compete in the second race because of problems which were encountered with the car. They tried to rectify these and sent him out to no doubt make fastest lap. He wasn’t able to do this so we have to look to the next event to see how he rebounds from the misfortunes that he encountered.

Well we could also gain some satisfaction from the fact that Henry had finished the weekend with a fastest lap time by a rookie and a second fastest time overall relative to the meeting. So that was some consolation.

02 April 2007