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Birmingham Superprix - Britain's most controversial circuit?
1988 - Chaos all around at the Birmingham Superprix

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Sunday 28th August 1988

After two years of organising the Birmingham Superprix, the organisers decided to up the ante and invite more spectators to the streets of Birmingham, as Birmingham is an important city for the British motor industry and they wanted to attract more spectators especially after the successful Formula Shell Modified Saloon race in 1987. They wanted to bring in an established racing saloon series and decided to have a British Touring Car Championship race at the Birmingham Superprix. There would be a little bit of history made, as the series had never raced around a street circuit.

Before the BTCC cars were raced in anger, it was in disarray due to sponsor problems. There was some confusion over the sponsorship of the event. The Dunlop British Touring Car Championship became a Shell Touring Car race, much to the annoyance of the championship sponsor. The problem arose because of the individual sponsorships of each event sold off by the promoters, CSS, much as a sponsor bought each corner of the street circuit.

Eventually the crisis was solved as it was ensured that Shell was merely sponsoring a round of the Dunlop British Touring Car Championship and not the championship. As the problems settled down, sponsors of various BTCC cars such as BMW, Ford, Mobil, Texaco, Kaliber, Shell and numerous sponsors sank in a lot of time and money into the event.

The Loctite Porsche Production Porsche Class C and D qualifying session

There wasn’t very much going on, only that Barry Robinson was very dominant with his EWP Auto Parts Porsche 911E as he took pole with his Class C rival, Mick Philips sharing the front row with his similar Porsche 911. Mick Pickup took pole for the Class D category.

The Ferodo Metro 6R4 qualifying session

It was a very strong performance from many time rally champion, Tony Pond as he made his maiden street race. He qualified on pole with a time of 1m 40.70s. Not only had Tony Pond established himself as firm favourite for the race in his new London Rally Centre-prepared four-wheel drive machine, his nearest rival, Pete Slights was three seconds behind him. It was an impressive lap indeed but it was not all. Had he also entered the British Touring Car race, a similar time would have seen him start eighth on the grid behind Robb Gravett’s Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth!

Former BTCC driver, Tim Harvey was 12th but blew his engine before the end of the session and was unable to join the race.

The Loctite Porsche Production Porsche Class C and D qualifying session

Representing the Class C runners, Mike Jordan in his strong Porsche Carrera took pole with Nick Wenham taking second place in his Porsche 911T. His Grafton Software team-mate Christ Millard slotted himself in the third place amongst the grid.

The FIA International Formula 3000 Championship qualifying session

The Birmingham Superprix organisers seemed to have forgotten their troubles with Martin Hone as he was invited to give out the command, very similar to the famous Indianapolis 500, “Ladies and gentlemen, let racing begin” and he drove around in a D-Type Jaguar worth £500,000. It was a fitting moment for Martin Hone as he was the Birmingham Superprix visionary.

There was some rain but then it soon disappeared after Chief Shiloh did a rain dance on the Bristol Street straight and left to join the carnival bands and sideshows involving names such as Circo Berserko and Sally Dog Arnold!

In an effort to curb poor and excessive driving standards, two days before the Birmingham Superprix returned to the streets of Birmingham, the FISA appointed a permanent F3000 delegate lead by Marcel Martin, the Clerk of the Course for the Le Mans 24 Hours race as the FISA supervisor for F3000.


They came out with guns blazing as they fined Volker Weidler and Fermin Velez £1300 for overtaking under yellow flags during qualifying. Jean Alesi was fined £650 for driving off the weighting equipment in the pitlane too quickly. All is well and good but there was an absurd decision of fining David Hunt, brother of 1976 Formula One champion, James Hunt, £650 for not attending to an important drivers’ briefing which the aforementioned Marcel Martin hadn’t previously told him about.

Qualifying was a cagey and incident-filled affair with the Group A runners going out to qualify first. A lot of teams spent a lot of midnight oil fixing, repairing and sending out people to fetch some spare parts for the cars after the disastrous weekend at Brands Hatch.

After experiencing non-qualification for Pierluigi Martini at the current Belgian Grand Prix at the fabled Spa-Francochamps circuit, he jumped in the FIRST March-Judd and immediately the Italian clocked up a second clear from impressive Brum first-timer, Andrea Chiesa, Mark Blundell, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and Eric Bernard.

Phil Andrews, one of the few British drivers to put in a good drive at their home circuit slipped up as he crashed at the Pye chicane 15 minutes into the qualifying session and as a result, he damaged his rear of his March. His team had some spare suspension equipment but a dash to the Bicester March factory was needed as they needed to replace a diffuser.

Fermin Velez damaged his left front wheel at Zenith Bend and Marco Greco crashed his works Ralt at the Ferodo Corner and he came out with a damaged nose and floor. He crawled back to the pits to get into his spare car but then he spun his car later on.

Russell Spence went off at Ferodo as well but this time, with some broken engine mounted ears. Eric Bernard was stranded somewhere on the circuit with a broken wire from his fuel pump.

There were lovely clear skies for the Group B runners and the circuit was drying up quickly. There was plenty of rubber laid out around the track; it would help to push up the Group B runners up along the timesheets.

Olivier Grouillard, Roberto Moreno, Marco Apicella and Jari Nurminen got into their strides quickly and laptimes were getting faster compared with the Group A runners. A changeover to slicks was needed as the circuit was bone-dry.

Michel Ferté was pushing hard and it was too much for him. He banged into a kerb and ripped a hole into his Sport Auto Racing Lola. Alfonso Garcia de Vinuesa stopped early on into the session with a broken fuel collector pot.

Towards the end debutant Danny Campeau ploughed his Lola T87/50 through the kitty litter at the Loctite Turn. There was an incident involving two British drivers Martin Donnelly and Gary Evans as at the Shell Turn, the last corner of the bumpy circuit, there was a communication breakdown between the two drivers and as a result they collided into each other and both cars were winched away immediately.

Credits to Arthur Burrows.


Donnelly’s team Eddie Jordan Racing was able to fix the snagged right-side corners of the Reynard and Gary Evans managed to damage the onboard camera system that was housed in the right-handed sidepod.

Although the conditions were good and the track got grippier, somehow Giovanna Amati got sucked into the Armco at Zenith because of oil that had been split in the Porsche practice session earlier on.


While the Lola was hoisted by the crane nearby, Fabio Mancini just barely made it under Amati’s Lola and then on the next lap, he crashed at the same corner!

As the session wore on, there was a small battle between Raphanel and Martini as they set out the pace for everybody else to aim for. As Gachot exited the Halfords Corner, he tried to pass a slower car and clipped the barrier. His car shot across the road, wiping the left corners of his Reynard askew and leaving a lengthy repair job.

 


Shortly later, Chiesa just brushed the wall and Eric Bernard spun at Zenith Bend. After the break, Raphanel and Martini continued with their small battle. The Frenchman found a small spot and Martini struggled with oversteer. Eventually the latter settled for second.

Andy Wallace had only managed four laps in the opening period after an oil pressure problem. The GEM team changed the unit and left him with only four minutes left to push him up in the timesheets. In only two flying laps, he kept his ninth place bearing in mind that Wallace was still suffering with a sore leg sustained from the Brands Hatch pile-up.

David Hunt ran out of fuel after his last-lap charge. Six others went out to do a last-lap charge; eventually Russell Spence equalled Hunt’s time. Fermin Velez forged his way in and bumped out Greco.

Phil Andrews pushed very hard, but a little too hard as he smote the barriers opposite the mosque at Belgrave Middleway.

Credits to Arthur Burrows.


“My confidence was my downfall” confessed the honest local man.

Marco Apicella, Roberto Moreno and Olivier Grouillard engaged in an exciting battle as they were separated by a 0.04 of a second. As Moreno experienced a few problems earlier in the day but then he was very happy with the balance of his brand-new Reynard chassis.

Meanwhile, Apicella was stuck at 1m 22.3, Grouillard and Moreno were able to gain a few tenths and the Brazilian had it sealed by 0.02sec! Then Grouillard put together a real street fighter’s lap (head down, jabs of power, superb reflex control over the notorious bumps) to break 1m 22secs. He got pole position in a spectacular way and then it rained...

Donnelly clung on with an excellent mid-22s blast and gained 4th place. Jean Alesi, Cor Euser, Jari Nurminen improved and settled down behind Martin Donnelly. Amongst the midfield runners, Paul Belmondo and Gary Evans qualified respectively well with Swiss driver, Mario Hytten, one of the few drivers who were around at the beginning of the F3000 series, assured the Ralt marque of an interest in the race. Steve Kempton started off with an 8th place but then he fell all the way down to the back after changes made his Reynard slower.

There was a tussle between Danny Campeau and Perry McCarthy. Both drivers each drove a 1987 Lola and they drove like they were in a race. The F3 graduate’s last-minute bid to get into the race was thwarted by a light rain shower, the greasy conditions catching McCarthy out at the Pye chicane. Unfortunately, for McCarthy, his Lola sustained a cracked tub, bruising its occupant.

“It was getting damp and I still needed two tenths. I understeered in, clipped the left hand and shot across the track into the other one” explained ‘Pel.’

There were no rewards for Campeau, Enrico Bertaggia who suffered from a misfire, Massimo Monti out of the hunt after chassis repairs and James Weaver who struggled an awfully a lot and failed to make the cut.

The Loctite Porsche race (Class C and D)

The first race of the 1988 Birmingham Superprix event was a round of the Pirelli Porsche Club Great Britain Championship. As the two different classes had completed their qualifying session first thing in the day, they only had four laps in which to qualify following delays due to the F3000 sessions. The race started off wet and the track was very greasy and slippery although there was some sun shining down into Birmingham.

Barry Robinson in his Porsche 991E led into Molyslip Corner with front-row starter Mick Phillips bogging down as he went into the corner in fourth place. Peter Tyson in his Pirelli sponsored Porsche 911E almost took off Phillips at Halfords Corner. However, his bid was thwarted when he ran wide at Loctite and dropped down from second to fourth.

Barry Robinson leads from Mick Philips into Molyslip Corner. Credits to Arthur Burrows.


Mike Walker helped the front runners to get away from the rest of the field when he spun at Zenith Bend causing the rest of the field to lift off to avoid the stationary Porsche 911E.

Credits to Rob Trebble.


Eventually Mick Phillips retired from the race on the fifth lap and things became more easier for Barry Robinson as he romped to victory with Peter Tyson driving a lonely race. Earlier on, Tyson had a great scrap with Robin Gray as the pair kept banging doors with Mike Walker hovering behind to avoid the pieces littered on the track ahead of him!

The expected accident never happened and Tyson simply drove away. Bob Watson smote the barriers at Loctite but continued on. Class D was fought out between Peter Bowden’s Team Pirelli 924 and Dave Lentall’s Porsche 911T with poleman Mick Pickup not have the best of times. James Maserati gave chase but had to settle for third.

Peter Bowden spun his Porsche 924 at the Halfords Hairpin but he resumed to win the Class D by 0.30s ahead of Dave Lentall.

Credits to Stuart Knibbs.


Class C final positions after 10 laps

1. Barry Robinson 20m 55.19s
2. Bob Watson 21m 07.86s
3. Peter Tyson 21m 09.47s
4. Robin Gray 21m 20.96s
5. Mike Walker 21m 56.45s
6. Jon Chappell 21m 59.12s
Fastest lap: Peter Tyson 2m 02.41s (72.64mph)

Class D final positions after 10 laps

1. Peter Bowden 22m 10.67s
2. Dave Lentall 22m 10.97s
3. James Maserati 22m 23.91s
4. Geoff O’Connor 22m 50.62s
5.
6.
Fastest lap Dave Lentall 2m 10.11s (68.34mph)



Monday 29th August 1988

Dunlop British Touring Car Championship qualifying

At 9am, it was an event that everyone has been waiting for. A 45-minute session was all that was available to the runners to acclimatise themselves to the track – and try to set purposeful times.

There was only one man that felt really happy with the track and Steve Soper clocked up a superb pole position with a lap of 1m 36.48. His lap was 1.5 seconds quicker than his nearest rival Andy Rouse!

Rüdi Eggenberger was able to provide Steve Soper’s Ford RS500 Cosworth a sprint-spec engine. It provided him better traction coming out of corners and suited Soper’s committed style. Andy Rouse struggled to match Soper’s pace and had to be content with a 1m 37.97 as his best. In the lead up to the race though, he would soften his Kaliber RS500’s suspension, convinced he would find the difference there.

If you remove Soper and Rouse from the qualifying equation, there was a fine race behind starting with Guy Edwards. He attacked the streets with aplomb in the second Kaliber car and was rewarded with a lap of 1m 39.96. He would have improved his lap if it wasn’t for a fuel pump failure in the last five minutes of qualifying.

Lawrence Bristow was pleased with his CAM Shipping RS500 as he had done enough with a lap of 1m 40.07 to stake his claim on the second row of the grid. Variety was the order of the day and there was a welcome sight in the shape of Tom Walkinshaw’s Holden Commodore. The new Commodore brought in plenty of excitement around the narrow turns of the street circuit especially with Walkinshaw behind the wheel.


He did really well considering he took a year out earlier on and his Holden was missing fourth gear. Also he never used his Yokohama qualifiers so his fifth place on the grid was very impressive. Karl Jones had a spectacular qualifying session as at one point, his car almost tipped itself over at the Halfords Hairpin! He was hopeful of a good race with a lap of 1m 40.35.

Robb Gravett and Tim Harvey clocked in for the 7th and 8th places on the grid. Frank Sytner positioned his BMW M3 for 10th place as he left it late in the session to pull himself up the field.

For most of the period, either Godfrey Hall or Will Hoy had reigned fastest in class but the championship leader, Frank Sytner slapped on some Pirelli D7s and put in his 1m 41.94 with gusto. Team-mates Will Hoy and Mike Smith didn’t have such straightforward times of it. Although Hoy ran the whole session experimenting his fuel and tyres and he ran of juice near the end. At least he reported that the tyres were good. Hoy ended up with 14th and Mike Smith in 17th after losing sixth gear and having his flywheel parting company with the rest of his engine.

With only 26 grid slots available, 13 for the Class A runners, Mark Hales in his beastly Toyota Supra narrowly missed the cut and Mike O’Brien suffered camshaft failure on his second lap which caused the Autoglass Holden to grind to a halt.

For the Class C and D runners, there was plenty of excitement as Phil Dowsett in his Class D TOM’S Toyota Corolla qualifying ahead of Class C runner, John Shead in his VW Golf GTi.

John Llewellyn’s best lap was over three seconds off Dowsett so the neat little Toyota looked set for anther success in class. With Vic Lee no longer running with Toyota MOL Motorsport, Nick May in his Maserati Turbo C and Lionel Wiffen with his Ford Escort RS Turbo were not taking part during the qualifying session.

The Dunlop British Touring Car Championship came to Birmingham full of hope. This was the big one, the race which would mean so much in publicity value thanks to its unique atmosphere, and through its TV coverage, the race which many of the spectators knew that much more about.

FIA International Formula 3000 Championship warm-up

Later on at 10am, there was the 20-minute warm-up session for the Formula 3000 drivers to go out. Everyone hoped that it would go smoothly with no problems and a chance to learn the track with full tanks like what Gachot did after his shunt during qualifying. Raphanel and Moreno, full of confidence around the bumpy circuit and they topped the timesheets. Grouillard was running fourth during the warm-up. Suddenly a broken distributor finger in his Cosworth ignition system left him stranded at Pershore Street.

Credits to Stuart Knibbs.

Thankfully, his compatriot Raphanel offered him a lift back to the pits.

Credits to Stuart Knibbs.


Furthermore, Marcel Martin refused to allow John Nicol, the Clerk of the Course to red flag the Monday warm-up session after David Hunt’s Lola was left in a dangerous position at the Zenith Bend. The previous day, Massimo Monti’s Ralt clouted the barriers at the same spot and brought out the red flags after spinning earlier on.

You can see Monti’s Ralt sitting beside the Armco while Pierluigi Martini and Pierre Henri Raphanel going through Zenith Bend at speed during qualifying.

Screenshot taken from Central TV’s coverage of the 1988 Birmingham Superprix F3000 race.


A broken tie rod bolt sent David Hunt gyrating at the exit of Zenith Bend and the Lola reminded neatly parked by the barriers facing the wrong way of the traffic outside Mr Chan’s restaurant. People were starting to feel if he was the man to curb the drivers’ behaviour and provide sound judgement to the race organisers.

It was amazing that Olivier Grouillard took pole despite the traces of the Brands Hatch pile-up still showing. Trollé was in hospital and Grouillard still limping. Since Monza the Lola had been really competitive and this time it was the driver’s courage which forced the admiration of GDBA and others. He flew over bumps, glanced the Armco, handled superbly around the difficult Birmingham Superprix street circuit to get a pole of 1m 21.81

It was to give the injection of motivation and life the GDBA team needed...

The Molyslip Vauxhall/Lotus Challenge race qualifying session

One of the main support races, the British Vauxhall Lotus Challenge drivers was let out for their 25-minute qualifying session. There was a lot of sponsorship and European interest for this race as MLA/Hardanger Racing driver; Brent Gikes brought in 300 guests, some from abroad! The European runners wanted to perform at the front of the F3000 crowd included Eduar Neto, Antonio Albacete, Miguel Vilar, Paul Mather and Harry van de Berg.

Straightaway, a lot of drivers struggled with the opposite camber of the Halfords Corner and there was a lot of drifting as the drivers fought for control in their Vauxhall Lotus cars.

 

Peter Hardman and Andy Sim battling for control at the Halfords Corner.


For a long time, Justin Bell, son of Derek Bell was putting in some rapid lappery with a clear track ahead of him.

In the early stages of the session, one of the fastest drivers on the track, Gordon Wilson, driving on of the Linpride Windows sponsored Cirrus cars, powered out of Ferodo Corner and drove along Sherlock Street into Loctite Corner, only to discover that the throttle had stuck open. Gordon and the car passed beneath four of the five rows of tyres, luckily stopping there. The front end of the Reynard-built car sustained heavy damage but the Reynard chassis kept Wilson in one piece. He was shaken but otherwise alright. He ended up 21st at the end of the qualifying session.

Later on in the session, Gary Ayles went wide at Zenith Bend and damaged his front wing and his front right wheel.

Credits to Stuart Knibbs.


The hard-working AMCO team tried to repair Ayles’ car and they needed divine intervention but it was all in vain

At the end of the qualifying session, there was an all-Dragon Motorsport front row with Mika Häkkinen at 1m 34.68, the wheel-locking Finn was clear of Allan McNish by almost 0.5s.

Credits to Arthur Burrows.


Peter Hardman was in form as he put together some late-session flyers to record a time good for the inside of the second row. Visiting European runner Eduar Neto lined up fourth despite having brake-bias issues which gave him full rear and virtually no front braking at the unforgiving street circuit!

Justin Bell had a shout for pole when the Camel Team managed to get Bell and Quentin Smith on the track ahead of everyone else. During his last lap, he encountered a spinning Ian Jacobs and a following car taking evasive action. Thus Bell lined up fifth just 0.06s ahead of his improving team-mate Quentin Smith who for a time lay second only to Bell.

The Ferodo Metro 6R4 Trophy Race

After his impressive qualifying session, Tony Pond utilised his pole position to lead the field into Molyslip Corner closely followed by the determined Pete Slights in his Direct Windows 6R4. Many people expected Pond to drive away but Slights kept up with him.

A number of cars were very hesitant when the green lights came on and Alistair Sutherland took advantage of that and stormed past five cars to place himself behind Andy Sharam, Trevor Lewis and Ian Donaldson. Unfortunately a broken rotor arm saw Kenny Dorans pull up his Elf Oils car up on the outside of the first corner where the Scotsman stayed there for the remainder of the race.

The first tangle of the race happened at the Halfords Corner where John Price in his Zenith Motorsport sponsored 6R4 was tapped into a spin from behind.

Credits to Stuart Knibbs.


All the following cars ducked and drove around the stranded car except for the unfortunate Steve Harris who joined noses with Price in a violent Eskimo kiss. Harris was able to continue with a damaged spoiler in sixth place while Price had to sit and wait for everyone to pass before taking position at the rear.

Pete Slights wasn’t allowing Tony Pond to get away and he showed a display of sideways driving. He wasn’t the only one as Gary Midwater did that at Molyslip Corner.


Slights was beginning to inch away from the chasing pack of Sharam and Donaldson as they were involved in a combat after the latter had passed Trevor Lewis on the second lap.

Ian Donaldson tried a desperate move with a brave late-braking manoeuvre on the inside of Halfords Corner on the fifth lap. As Donaldson held his breath and hoped for his best when he went inside. Sharam kept to his own line and the front of Ian’s car clouted into his rear wheel, instantly snapping a wishbone.

Meanwhile a battle royal was developing between Pond and Slights, who by the seventh lap already lapped Mike Oates and was able to lap Will Corry and John Price (who after a comeback was forced to ease off after a misfire).

Eventually Slights had to settle for second as his sideways driving style was killing his tyres and Tony Pond drove away to the chequered flag, 14.09 seconds ahead of him.

Final results after 10 laps

1. Tony Pond 16m 57.80s
2. Pete Slights 17m 11.89s
3. Alistair Sutherland 17m 40.29s
4. Trevor Lewis 17m 46.16s
5. Gary Midwater 17m 49.22s
6. Richard Holmes 17m 50.51
Fastest lap: Tony Pond 1m 40.88s (88.14mph)

After the race, he was quoted:

“For rallydrivers, it is like a motorway. They should have painted trees on the Armco to make us feel more at home.”

Delighted with the success of his street-race debut, he donated £750 to charity and Rob Lawrence was awarded the prestigious best prepared 6R4 for his Wednesbury Motors Services Ltd. car.

The Loctite Porsche race (Class A and B)

Mike Jordan started from pole for the Class A and B Porsches, he made the best getaway. Nick Wenham followed closely. Christ Millard didn’t make it to the start and had to start his race from the pitlane halfway through the race! On the first lap, there was chaos at the Pye Chicane as Iain Exeter and Keith Russell collided.


But other Porsches managed to avoid the melee. Tony Dron was celebrating his 42nd birthday at the time and was gaining on the leading duo at the halfway point of the race but then fell back. Keith Russell caught up and chased hard with Dron.

However, all of the eyes were on the Mike Jordan Porsche Carrera and Nick Wenham Porsche 911T. They were in fantastic form as they showed some excellent driving around the narrow and bumpy circuit. Jordan’s Carrera was tidier through the corners, particularly at the important Halfords Corner. But Wenham’s turbo power showed down the straights. The Grafton Software car was taking out huge chunks out of Jordan’s lead every time they went down towards Ferodo Corner.

Over the last few laps, Wenham was all over Jordan and he tried every manoeuvre possible, on the inside, on the outside, everywhere. But it had to come to nothing and he had to settle for second.

Further down back in the grid, Chris Millard had nothing to lose and went for it. He established the fastest lap of the race but then he went too hot into Molyslip Corner and buried his car into the tyres.

The Class D race was settled with Brian Robinson overtaking local driver John Morrison on the last lap.

Credits to Arthur Burrows.


Class A final positions after 10 laps

1. Mike Jordan 18m 21.36s
2. Nick Wenham 18m 21.90s
3. Tony Dron 18m 33.90s
4. Keith Russell 18m 37.14s
5. Richard Attwood 18m 41.70s
6. Bill Taylor 18m 58.08s
Fastest lap: Chris Millard 1m 47.48s (82.73mph)

Class B final position after 10 laps

1. Brian Robinson 19m 19.40s
2. John Morrison 19m 19.87s
3. Jon Fletcher 19m 37.46s
4. Kevin Morlett 19m 37.96s
5.
6.
Fastest lap: Brian Robinson 1m 52.74 (78.87mph)

The Halfords Birmingham Superprix

After a very traumatic weekend at Brands Hatch with four drivers injured, two of them seriously, the Birmingham Superprix missed two familiar faces. Michel Trollé broke several limbs at the fast Dingle Dell corner during a needless free practice session while Johnny Herbert joined Trollé in hospital after dislocating both of his ankles and breaking several bones in his feet, his career hanging in the balance after tangling with Gregor Foitek and causing a pile-up that wiped out thirteen cars. Gregor Foitek escaped after being knocked out, a chipped bone in his wrist and a black eye. Olivier Grouillard escaped the pile-up with suspected broken legs but it was discovered that he had extremely bruised ankles.

From out of the carnage what would be learned, and what would emerge at Birmingham the weekend following Brands Hatch?

The F3000 teams were aware of the balance sheets so far into the season and were not looking too good, especially after the Brands Hatch pile-up. People were expecting that the teams and the drivers would take a careful approach at the Birmingham Superprix with the notorious bumps, Armco surrounding the entire circuit, lack of run-off areas, tempting high speeds around the unique street circuit. So would they?

When the F3000 circus had finished fiddling and preparing their cars, the twenty-six cars were launched for their warm-up lap at 2pm sharp. But only twenty-five cars made it to the grid. It was the vivid green GDBA Lola that went mising: Olivier Grouillard, the polesitter. It was a cruel fate especially for the GDBA team after losing Michel Trollé after his Brands Hatch accident and their racing budget being stretched to its coffers. They needed a miracle and Grouillard provided it. Now it was out of their hands.

The Lola’s engine died and experienced electrical problems as well. Grouillard stepped out of the car and started to run back to the pits despite having sore ankles, a reminder of his 120 mph accident in the nine-car pile-up at Brands Hatch.


He managed to make it to the pits and the cars that started from the pits were leaving for their warm-ups at the time. There was some hope he would be able to drive in the race after all. But it was all in vain…

Screenshot taken from Central TV’s coverage of the 1988 Birmingham Superprix F3000 race.


GDBA brought out their spare car as Olivier Grouillard’s team frantically tried to restart the spare car. There was a lot of commotion at the polesitter’s garage. There were a lot of Gallic oaths muttered darkly, shoving and kicking to revive the spare car. It was such a tragedy for the stretched French team. They couldn’t coax it to life and it was another engine problem for them. Already, at that point, the GDBA mechanics were resigned to the fact that Grouillard hadn’t made it to the race. Eventually the pitlane was closed, Grouillard’s only hope now was to get out after pack just exactly like Roberto Moreno after he stalled his car before the start of the 1987 race.

So Pierre-Henri Raphanel took Grouillard’s mantle to start the 1988 Birmingham Superprix. He was alone on the front row. The cars lined up carefully although some of the frontrunners strategically positioned their cars to a slight right-hand angle to get the best entry into the slight bend of the Bristol Street straight.

The F3000 grid started off smoothly, only the 11th placed car of Cor Euser stalled for a very brief time and yellow flags was waved but eventually all of the cars avoided him and then he pulled up to speed. So there were no more minor problems along Bristol Street straight. Roberto Moreno suffered a lack of traction in his grid position and Pierluigi Martini went past Moreno for 2nd shortly after the start/finish line.

The cars funnelled into Molyslip Turn carefully although with some of the midfield cars braking hard. They all weaved through the difficult Pye chicane and into the uphill Peter Barwell Hill; some drivers had a good run up the hill but eventually backed off before the opposite-camber Halfords Corner.

The fabled Halfords Corner bump was supposedly flattened but all of the cars flew over it and it was an amazing view for all of the spectators in the grandstands that surrounded the Halfords Corner.

Andy Wallace started from 18th and he scythed his way through the field as he had a good run along the Belgrave Middleway and dived past Claudio Langes at the Ferodo Corner. Before the weekend, at one stage, he threatened not to do the race, as he was unhappy with the whole situation with his GEM Motorsport team. But he was already putting in a good start. His car was the only one to have an onboard camera on a F3000 car that was being broadcasted across the ITV channel around the United Kingdom and the world. It was the start of a fantastic spectacle with engine revs reverberating off the surrounding buildings in Birmingham.

Roberto Moreno got himself into the slipstream behind Pierluigi Martini and moved to the outside before the fast and bumpy Loctite Turn and made the overtaking stick. It was a ballsy move, especially on the first lap of the race. He certainly knew how to drive to the maximum at the unique circuit because of his stunning comeback drive in 1987 at the same circuit.

That particular corner was very notorious on the sensitive F3000 cars. They tended to squirm and wobble when they entered into the difficult corner but all of the front runners entered into the corner with no major problems. But somewhere in the midfield runners, Bertrand Gachot smelled blood on the first lap and went aside Claudio Langes before the Zenith Bend while Andy Wallace was concentrating on making amends after his error at the closing stages of the 1987 race at the Birmingham Superprix circuit. He turned into Turn 9 harmlessly and suddenly, out of nowhere, Bertrand Gachot braked late and collided into Wallace.

Wallace’s car spun backwards into the Armco and Bertrand Gachot’s front nose went under the GEM Ralt. Wallace immediately raised his arms to protect himself from the possibility that Gachot’s front nose might enter into his low cockpit. The rest of the midfield and the backmarkers slowed immediately to avoid the melee.

Credits to Stuart Knibbs.


While the worldwide audience were watching the first eleven cars came through the Shell Turn, the last corner of the Birmingham Superprix street circuit, there was a big gap between the frontrunning cars and the midfield cars. They must have wondered what the cause of the gap was, and then the evitable happened…

There would be chaos to occur further down the rest of the field. David Hunt experienced a difficult qualifying session but he made a smooth start and held to his position at the back end of the F3000 grid. What happened next is not clear as there are various stories that would reveal what happened next.

When David Hunt in his Roger Cowan Lola was driving along Sherlock Street straight at speeds of 120mph, he qualified for the second race in succession. A particular source from a French F3000 website reveals that David Hunt was unaware of the Wallace/Gachot melee ahead of him, and in front of him Claudio Langes slowed down while suddenly David Hunt clipped Langes’ right rear wheel and his Lola spun off at a high speed. Another unknown source revealed that David Hunt’s Lola reacted so badly on the bumpy surface of the braking zone at Turn 8 that Hunt lost control of the car at a high speed and spun sideways.

There was a high painted kerb at the outside of the eighth turn of the circuit and there was a small gravel trap. At the other end of the gravel trap, there was a tyre wall, protecting a wholesaler’s shop wall. The spinning Lola slid backwards and its rear jumped up in the air with aid from the high kerb.

The gravel trap failed its purpose to stop the spinning Lola and the rear end of the car hurtled above the tyre wall. The ferocity and the high speed of the spinning Lola managed to punch a big hole of the wholesaler’s shop wall.


The wall didn’t absorb the deceleration of the Lola after the impact and the car rode alongside the wall very briefly and was thrown back onto the track. His car disintegrated as the impact managed to rip the underfloor and tore the engine from the tub.

For a few seconds, the Lola came to a rest upside down and immediately about 20 marshals and fire crew came to the scene of chaos. There was fuel spilt over the circuit and debris surrounded the mangled and unrecognisable Lola T88/50.

The marshals carefully righted the car to enable access for the medical crew to help David Hunt. An ambulance arrived from nearby and the paramedics came to aid. Hunt slumped in his cockpit although from television footage, he was visually moving about, still strapped in the car.

Bertrand Gachot limped from his collision with Andy Wallace into the pits, minus his entire front nose assembly. It was reported that according to Gachot that it was Wallace who turned into him at Zenith Bend. He was trying to move behind Wallace but then he hit him and Wallace was pushed into a spin.

Finally the race organisers threw the red flag to stop the race due to David Hunt’s Lola blocking the track with various people working on the track. Andy Wallace’s Ralt was quickly winched away from the circuit. The car wasn’t too damaged, only both of his wings were damaged. Two medical cars exited from the pits and they had to drive around the whole circuit to get to the accident scene.

It was not all over during the red flag period, as Pierre Henri Raphanel pulled a gap from Roberto Moreno. While he was leading up the hill, he experienced rear suspension failure, his Stimorol-sponsored Reynard was thrown into the thick tyre wall at the Halfords Corner. A suspension joint let down the Frenchman as it did to him at the very same circuit 12 months earlier.

Credits to Arthur Burrows.



Now Roberto Moreno had only one rival to deal with, Pierluigi Martini, as Grouillard and Raphanel had all disappeared in a matter of minutes.

Finally the doctor’s car arrived at Loctite Turn and two doctors came up to assess David Hunt for any possibility of injuries. Eventually David Hunt stepped out of his wrecked Lola and walked into a waiting ambulance with concussion and later it was reported that he couldn’t remember anything of the previous day after his accident.

Mario Hytten, who was following David Hunt into Loctite Turn before the accident, had a grandstand view of the whole thing.

“I was following David into Loctite corner, and when I got on the brakes I thought I must have been miles too early, he just sailed away from me. Then I realised he was never going to make it. There is a big bump just before the braking area there. Perhaps his foot slipped or something. It happened to me a couple of times in qualifying.

“He was launched over a kerb, mounted the tyres and did a wall of death act. It was as though the car had been mounted there on purpose, really frightening. I thought for a moment he might land on top of me. When I found out that he was unhurt, I was amazed. I tell you, it was a big shunt.”


John Nicol, the Clerk of the Course who attracted controversy at the end of the 1986 washed-out race was on his walkie-talkie telling people to clear up the track quickly as possible to prevent delay as ITV were losing television time and money as they were responsible for broadcasting the race. But he was aware of David Hunt’s health and the safety of the track. The rest of the F3000 grid lined up at the main straight and waited patiently for the track to be cleared away.

The Fire Brigade mopped up the spilt fuel and oil with cement dust and the wrecked Lola was removed on two separate vehicles! The paying crowd was flocking towards the Loctite Turn to have a gander at the scene.

The aftermath scene was broadcasted into the television screens to a worldwide audience. It was full of medical and fire crew with accident investigators wandering around the Lola.

They seemed to be pointing at a certain position. The commentators pointed out that David Hunt crashed into a wall but the television viewers couldn’t see the damage caused by Hunt. Then the camera positioned at the outside of Loctite Turn, very near the gravel trap, turned to its right and the damage was finally revealed. It was indeed a “monster shunt” by David Hunt’s own words.

Screenshot taken from Central TV’s coverage of the 1988 Birmingham Superprix F3000 race.


There was a massive hole in the wholesaler’s shop wall, with stonemasonry debris all over the gravel trap and the tyre wall. There were large white scratch marks caused by the white Roger Cowan Racing Lola when its gearbox hammered into it. Some marshals fixed the tyre wall and reorganised the tyres. Bertrand Gachot’s Spirit-TOM'S mechanics changed the front suspension and punctured rear tyres, caused by a scrape with Claudio Langes.

After a considerable delay of 90 minutes, at the start of the race, there were 26 cars filed out on the grid and now there were just 22! Olivier Grouillard retired from the race with an engine problems in both of his race and spare cars, Pierre-Henri Raphanel spun out with a rear-suspension failure, Andy Wallace retired from the race with an alteration with Bertrand Gachot and of course David Hunt with his massive accident.

[Author’s note: I am awaiting an email from David Hunt and hopefully he will shed more light on his monster shunt.]

There was some controversy, as the F3000 race would be restarted for the second time, Both Frenchmen, Olivier Grouillard and Pierre-Henri Raphanel should have been allowed to have their cars recuperated and repaired, then eventually allowed back onto the front row. This was not allowed but then Bertrand Gachot was granted a privilege to take part in the race after the second interruption of the race.

There were a lot of inconsistencies amongst FISA’s F3000 delegation and they didn’t need this to happen to them. The organisers declared that the race would now be run over 47 laps and the drivers were about to take part of the restarted Halfords Birmingham Superprix…