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The last of the non-championship races



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Brian Henton


Theodore-Cosworth N183


Brands Hatch


1983 Race of Champions (10 April 1983)


See that Silkolene decal on this Theodore? It wasn't there during the championship events the team competed in during 1983. It was also the reason for Brian Henton's one-off deal for the last non-championship race ever. (Not to mention Henton's last F1 appearance - what a far cry from the Williams testing opportunity he once had.)

Sadly, after the 1983 Race of Champions had run its course there has not been any F1 event that did not count towards the FIA World Championship. Thanks to Bernie yet another idiosyncrasy of the past was killed off to make way for a highly orchestrated 16-round title fight - note the level of sarcasm here - which ideally is being battled out until the very last round. It's only when a championship decision has not gone to the wire that we could enjoy the modern equivalent of a non-points event. Take last year's Malaysian GP - it saw points being awarded of course but the difference was that, thank God, no-one cared. At long last we had a race just for the race although with the ten points still being handed out to M. Schumacher it was sort of an Ersatz feeling compared to the real non-championship deal.

To be honest, the flame carried by several countries staging various non-championship events had fizzled out long before the 1983 Race of Champions. With no non-championship races held in 1982, and the 1980 Spanish GP and 1981 South African GP having become non-points events more or less by accident, this 1983 race was pretty much a stand-alone event. The 1970s were the last decade in which non-championship events were staged on a regular basis but the rot, which set in during the mid-seventies, adjacent to the breakthrough of commercialism, couldn't be stopped. Att that point most of the non-points races were largely confined to Great Britain, with one or two Italian events mixed in between. Only the strongest venues - like the International Trophy and the Race of Champions - held on to the very end, but after 1976 even these could not stage a yearly event.

Long gone were the days when the Coppa Acerbo and the Pau GP, the Marne GP or the Eifelrennen, or Syracuse and the Oulton Gold Cup were part of any top driver's programme. Many great races, fought over by great drivers, were run at Solitude, Goodwood, Mellaha, Dundrod or Vallelunga. Britain (with its endless variety of Trophy races), France and Italy (with their large collection of Mediterrenean street tracks) had their own string of national events while the remote parts of the world ran their own series. East Germany once had a national championship, while minor countries like Czechoslovakia, Denmark and Norway each took the opportunity to host a GP event at certain times. Such was the diversity of GP racing, all the way from the twenties into the sixties.

For a short period of time, the British national racing scene blossomed with the advent of the Shellsport and Aurora series, incorporating former NC events such as the Gold Cup. In fact, the entry lists for the late-seventies International Trophies and Races of Champions read like a cocktail of single-car GP team entries and the best the Aurora series had on offer. For the 1983 Race of Champions, however, only the first part of the mix was present.

Fortunately the last race non-championship event brought us a corker of a race, with two outsiders battling it out for victory: in the red corner was the reigning World Champion, his Cosworth-powered Williams now thoroughly eclipsed by the latest turbo cars, while in the blue corner stood young American Danny Sullivan in his finest hour of GP racing. In the end, Rosberg came through, taking another famous non-championship win, following on his superb giant-killing performance in the washed-out 1978 International Trophy. No better man to win the last race-just-for-the-sake-of-a-race than the last of the old-fashioned dashing raw-deal racing drivers, Keke Rosberg.

Reader's Why by Michael Ferner

After winning numerous F3 races in 1974, "Super-Hen" Brian Henton boastfully acclaimed himself as the World Champion of 1975 in waiting. Now we all know that a different type of animal ruled the roost that year, namely "Super-Rat", so maybe it's worth looking at what went wrong for the pretentious Derby motor bike dealer. After several years in Formula Vee and Super Vee he bought an F3 GRD in 1973. However, Group Racing Developments was only a short footnote in the transition from Lotus Components to Van Diemen Racing, as well as for designer guru Jo Marquardt on his way from Huron to Modus, and when the Swiss left the team that year its growing reputation in minor single seater formulae soon vanished, leaving Henton to jump ship in mid-season from the GRD phoenix to the March hare, with an interim Ensign period which yielded six wins. No less than 18 wins in the works March brought him both British Formula 3 championships of 1974 easily, and with that warm backwind his pretentious claim was made.

It didn't do him any good, since March was planning to cramp no less than six drivers into two available seats each in F1 and F2. Italians Vittorio Brambilla and Lella Lombardi brought Beta (tools) and Lavazza (coffee) money to secure the premier seats, while Elf (oil) gelt fetched an F2 ride each for Frenchmen Michel Leclère and Patrick Tambay, leaving Hans-Joachim Stuck and Henton out in the cold as F1 and F2 test drivers, respectively. This did not go down well with german F2 engine supplier BMW, and soon the Bavarian driver was racing in F2 and later F1 as well. What then for Henton? A Brian Hart tuned Ford BDA engine in a special March chassis, dubbed 752P, in which the Englishman showed well in a couple of races, netting him a podium finish if not much else. He could be forgiven for looking elsewhere, and in between a third place in Hoshino's March-BMW in Japanese F2 and another third place in the Mike Pilbeam designed Wheatcroft Formula Atlantic-turned-F2 car, he was being invited by Colin Chapman to drive the spare Lotus in three Grands Prix in the latter part of the year. Now you have to remember that in 1975, Lotus was at its all time nadir in GP racing. The design of the car was five years old, and it wouldn't work on the latest Good Year tyres, so that Chapman's regular drivers were actively engineering a divorce with the team which opened the door for Henton, but all in all it was a fruitless enterprise.

Three third place finishes in Formula 2 being not enough to warrant notification as World Drivers Champion, BH turned silent for a change and accepted a ride in Tom Wheatcroft's new Holbay tuned Abarth F2 machine, but the car was a no-show everywhere it was entered and Brian concentrated on his business for the time being. This, however, flourished, and with some money in his pockets he came back in 1977 to establish his own "British F1 Racing Team". He had March built him a "brandnew" 761 (apparently a 1974 F1 chassis, rebuilt several times), and at the team's debut at the non-championship Race of Champions he finished fourth after a strong run. This was followed two weeks later by a one-off run in a works March at Long Beach (10th) and an F2 win in Brian Lewis' Boxer_Hart on Easter Monday at Thruxton, but the season soon unfolded into an unmitigated disaster, Henton and his one-time driver Bernard de Dryver failing to qualify for any WC event throughout the year, except for the Dutch GP were Brian qualified the Ensign-built Boro_Ford, ran as high as seventh at two-thirds distance and ahead of Reutemann's Ferrari (which finished sixth in the end), but spun and was subsequently disqualified because he needed a push start to get going again - Tough luck!Due to lack of funds the Boxer moved towards the back of the grid until Henton left the team mid-season, so there he was again, with no drive and even less hope.

The F1 adventure had cost him a cool 250,000 GBP and a lot of respect in the racing fraternity, so he had to swallow his pride and move back to F2 full time. The F1 March was hung up the wall in his newly acquired vicarage at Donington, while a new March_Hart 782 was ferried across Europe following the EC trail, but at the age of 32 he was still unable to engineer his desired breakthrough into the elite of F2. After spending another 60,000 GBP in the vain pursuit of success, he finally met his fairy in the shape of trucking magnate Ted Toleman, a noted off-shore powerboat racer and sophomore F2 entrant. For the first time, Henton was paid to drive, and in the absence of any pressure to keep his own team running he suddenly delivered the results accordingly. Still, lady luck continued to elude him when, firstly, he was disqualified after winning the Mediterranean GP after being forced off track by a local opponent, and then, in the season's final, with the championship almost in his grasp he spun two laps from home, finishing runner-up in the end!

That seemed to be it, he was unceremoniously sacked by Toleman who'd attracted sponsorship from BP and intended to run Stephen South and Derek Warwick in 1980. But then South secretly tested an F1 McLaren and was fired on the spot, leaving Henton to take over the vacated seat and go on to win the EC at last, in his seventh year of trying! He was rewarded with a drive in the new Toleman F1 team (complete with ex-Tyrrell sponsor Candy) the following year, but nobody really expected Brian Hart's new turbocharged F1 engine to be ready in time and so it proved: Shelving the initial plan to start the season with a Cosworth engine, the team took the bold (?) decision to develop the mono-block 415T during race weekends, with the result that both Henton and Warwick failed to qualify for every race bar one, in Henton's case the Italian GP at Monza where he finished a creditable tenth. Still, that wasn't enough to keep his seat and he was ousted again, this time for good.

He appeared at the first race of 1982 in the hope somebody would give him a chance which proved to be a smart move. That was the infamous driver's strike race in South Africa, and in the midst of it Patrick Tambay, subbing for the injured Marc Surer at Arrows, decided he had had enough of F1 politics for the time being and quit in disgust. Henton jumped at the chance, but due to mechanical problems failed to make the cut in both the South African and the Brazilian GPs, then qualified a solid 20th at Long Beach only to crash out whilst attempting to overtake Slim Borgudd's Tyrrell, an incident that went almost unnoticed since practice sensation and earlier race leader, Andrea de Cesaris, stuffed second place into the wall at precisely the same moment! Almost, that is apart from the Arrows staff who had Surer returning to the cockpit anyway and gave Brian his walking papers.

It did, however, not take long for a new door to open when that same Slim Borgudd failed to meet a deadline for sponsorship arrangements with Ken Tyrrell, and with Candy defecting from the Toleman team to transfer their support once more to the Ockham outfit BH found a new seat without missing a race. The disappointment of retiring on the grid after a career-best 11th qualifying spot (albeit of only 14 entries) in the boycotted San Marino GP was followed by his most successful year in the well-sorted and reliable Tyrrell_Ford 011, which yielded a 7th, three 8ths, a 9th and a 10th place finish and, most surprisingly, fastest lap in the closing stages of the British GP after a pit stop for fresh rubber. Trouble was, his teammate Michele Alboreto had collected no less than 25 WC points, including a win at the season's final race, so Henton faced another axe.

In 1981 the biannual Race of Champions, scheduled for May 4, had fallen victim of the FISA/FOCA power struggle, and that weekend had then seen the first San Marino GP taking place. Bernie Ecclestone, however, had promised Brands Hatch owner John Webb a race which he was going to stage in 1983 instead. Since the last running of the event in 1979, however, non-championship F1 races had virtually disappeared from the scene, and apart from the'pirate' GPs at Járama and Kyalami, there had been no such event since the Dino Ferrari GP at Imola that same year. So enthusiasm for this particular race ran rather low amongst the teams when they convened in Kent on a chilly weekend just after the Long Beach GP. The only teams to bring along a second car were Arrows, who were giving their new signing Alan Jones a chance to improve his waning fitness, and Theodore. The latter team had taken over the Ensign team over the winter but was itself running on a shoestring budget, so when Henton offered sponsorship money they were only too glad to offer him a ride. Though Brian finished a strong fourth, it was to be the end of his F1 career.