brooklands-museum

The right crowd attended Brooklands Museum for one dinner back in February, and the friendly meeting at the bar beforehand – for pints of excellent Hog’s Back local real ale – was only slightly crowded. Any dinner in the historic Brooklands Clubhouse is a special experience, but there was an extra significance because this was the annual gathering of the British Racing Mechanics Club.

Too often, the mechanics are the unsung heroes of motor sport, with very few motor racing fans being aware of the existence of such a club – even though it was formed 80 years ago this year, in 1936 and in this very same place, at Brooklands.

The invitation specified a relaxed dress code of lounge suits and an unusually early start of 5.30 for 6.00pm, presumably because mechanics are down-to-earth types who like to have their dinner on the table at a sensible hour.
The relationship between a driver and the people who bolt the cars together is always close. Three senior superstars of our sport who have never forgotten that – Tony Brooks, Sir Stirling Moss and John Surtees CBE – attended the evening in support of the mechanics who made their own spectacular competition careers possible.
No such occasion is complete without the presentation of a few formal awards and every single one put up by the BRMC reflects serious achievement. The Williams F1 team’s chief mechanic, Mark Pattinson, scooped the first two awards but, as he is already away, hard at work on the 2016 season, Williams F1 mechanic Ross Pick stood in for him on the night.

Tony Brooks presented him with the Ken Taylor Trophy for being the chief mechanic of the highest-placed British car in the F1 World Championship -and then, for holding the same position in the 2015 British GP, John Surtees presented the Automotive Products Trophy.

Success in F1 is obviously hard to achieve but it’s not one bit easier to excel in the Le Mans 24 Hours. The BRMC recognises this with the Jaguar-Coventry Climax Trophy, for the chief mechanic of the highest-placed British team in the world’s greatest endurance race. For the 2015 24 Hours this went to Jota Sport’s top spannerman, Robert Friend, thanks to the tenth place overall achieved by drivers Simon Dolan, Mitch Evans and Oliver Turvey in Jota Sport’s nattily named Gibson 015S (Zytek)-Nissan VK45DE/Nismo.

Jota Sport also won this trophy in 2014, with fifth place overall and an LMP2 class victory. Last year it was much harder work because the team had serious problems, including a gearbox failure, early in the race. Having fallen well behind, they then spent most of the race going flat-out to catch up. At the end, they were only 40 seconds behind the LMP2 winners and closing fast in second place -a mighty achievement.

With no off-season in which teams can relax these days, Robert Friend was also abroad, working towards the 2016 season. Jota Sport’s Roland Greenstreet deputised for him, receiving the trophy on his behalf from the BRMC President, Norman Dewis of Jaguar fame.

Our picture of that moment (left) was taken by celebrated photographer Maurice Rowe, for many years Motormagazine’s staff photographer. Maurice, who joined Temple Press in 1944, had several other examples of his work on display at the BRMC Dinner, including one of a 16-year-old Surtees, watched by his mother as he worked on his racing bike in a grass-covered paddock. As John was born in 1934, that picture must have been taken in 1950.
World Rally Championship teams are far too busy to collect awards at this time of year but, no surprise, the Prodrive Trophy for the highest-placed British team in the WRC went to Malcolm Wilson’s superb Ford rallying operation, M-Sport World Rally Team.

As BRMC organiser Tony Mantle of Climax Engine Services pointed out, the final award of the night is not always given out. However, the Dunlop Mac Trophy, for the team or person who has furthered the cause of British motor sport, was awarded this time – and it went most deservedly to one of their own, the great Bob Dance. Now in his 80s and famous for his days with Team Lotus, the very sprightly Bob is still working for Classic Team Lotus. What’s more, he was actually there on the night, and modestly surprised to be collecting an award.

It’s great to be able to shed a bit of light on a side of motor sport that usually goes unmentioned. As the evening drew to a close, an image flashed through my mind, picturing an 80-year-old Lewis Hamilton attending the British Racing Mechanics Annual Dinner in this same room half a century from now. It was a good thought and I’m quite sure that he and numerous other young stars of today will be up for it in just the same way as Messrs Brooks, Moss and Surtees.
TONY DRON