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The fan car raced twice!



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Nelson Piquet


Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46B


Donington Park


Gunnar Nilsson Memorial Trophy (3 June 1979)


The fan car raced twice! About a year after it was outlawed from Grand Prix racing it made a final competitive outing at the Gunnar Nilsson Trophy, a fundraiser held at Donington Park with the proceeds going to the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Foundation. Also, this was the true finale to James Hunt's impressive Grand Prix career, James holding back the announcement of his retirement until after the event. As a matter of fact, the 1976 World Champion didn't really want to do the thing at all but he'd been one of the instigators of the Gunnar Nilsson Fund and thus felt a moral obligation.

In MotorSport's July 1979 issue one J.R.N. described the event as "Donington's first Grand Prix for over 40 years", which was a bit rich since the trophy itself was in fact a speed trial around the track. The cars went out for timed practice in the morning, their times reflecting their starting order for the main event, the slowest drivers starting first so as to build the tension.

Present were F1 has-been Rupert Keegan driving the Arrows A1/06 chassis officially entered by the works team, but adorned with his usual low-key Penthouse livery. Hunt was there in his Wolf WR8, Alan Jones in FW07/03 and Andretti in 79/5. Andretti had planned to race Lotus 80/1 but the suspension broke that morning. So most of the top drivers were there in an attempt by Donington Park to recreate the non-championship Race of Champions atmosphere but many British teams did not live up to their promise to run a couple of cars, while many of the supporting Aurora runners also failed to appear.

However, there was a surprise face in the surprise car of the event: Brabham's outlawed BT46B fan car. As Niki Lauda didn't even bother to show up, Brabham were fortunate that Nelson Piquet had agreed to drive in the BMW Procar support race, which he'd won from Jones and Andretti. The fest was enlivened by a BMW saloon race won by a young Martin Brundle, with various great names demonstrating their famous mounts around the track. Dan Gurney drove the BRM P25 he raced back in 1960, Denny Hulme climbed on board a Cooper-Climax, Jackie Stewart took a Tyrrell 006 for a trip while the undoubted star of the show, Juan Manuel Fangio, accepted the invitation to drive a Mercedes W125.

Then the main event got its first green light, with Keegan recording a best time of 1'05.09" from his alotted five laps. Incidentally, the existing lap record was 1'04.91", set by Brian Henton in a works March F2 the year before... Hunt was out next, and he made 1'02.54". Piquet was next in the fan car, getting a 1'03.61" before Andretti took the best time down to 1'02.67". Victory went to Alan Jones who went out and took 1'01.37" at 144.82mph.

Reader's Why by Michael Ferner

Some day late November fellow TNF member Rob Ryder mailed me offering data on chassis numbers from a source I wasn't able to exploit before. In exchange, I was going to check his data on non-championship F1 races to see if I was able to add something. To my astonishment his list included the "Gunnar Nilsson Trophy", a 'race' of which I wasn't even aware! Somehow the German magazines of the time seemed to have ignored that event by and large, and with no reference in books that I was aware of, its existence had simply eluded me. I answered Rob with an inquiry about it, and he came up with the following reply (I could've said it in my own words, but as I am so indebted to Rob's report here I might just as well quote him):

Gunnar Nilsson Trophy at Donington in 1979. This was supposed to be a 'full' Non-Championship race for the benefit of the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Fund. The FIA would not sanction the event and because of this there could not be a proper race. Most of the teams withdrew leaving only 5 F1 cars that actually turned up at the event.

It was decided that the Trophy would be awarded to the driver with the fastest lap time around Donington Park with each driver getting 5 laps, with the circuit to himself. The refusal of the FIA to sanction the event meant that FIA F1 rules did not apply, so Nelson Piquet actually raced in the Brabham BT46B 'Fan Car' that Watson had used in the 1978 Swedish GP. This was the last time this car took part in competition meeting. Another notable 'last' for the meeting was that it was James Hunt's last competitive outing, in the Wolf WR8. After the meeting he hung up his helmet and never raced an F1 car again. I don't think the 20,000 crowd that day realised the significance of Hunt's appearance!

Results for the meeting....

1. Alan Jones, Williams FW07, 1'01.37
2. James Hunt, Wolf WR8, 1'02.54
3. Mario Andretti, Lotus 79, 1'02.67
4. Nelson Piquet, Brabham BT46B, 1'03.61
5. Rupert Keegan, Arrows A1B, 1'05.09

Other races that day were a Celebrity race with everyone in BMW M1 sportscars which was won by Nelson Piquet. A round of the F3 Championship, won by Michael Roe in a Chevron. A BMW saloon car race eon by Martin Brundle. There were also demonstration runs by past Champions/drivers - Denny Hulme on a Cooper-Climax, Dan Gurney in a BRM P25, and Jackie Stewart in a Tyrrell 006/2. The highlight however must have been Juan Manuel Fangio lapping Donington in the Mercedes Benz W125. So that was the Donington Gunnar Nilsson day!!

Well, the bit on the 'fan car' Brabham aroused my curiosity. I was pretty sure I remembered both cars, BT46-04 and BT46-06, being rebuilt to original spec after the Swedish GP of 1978, and more specifically seemed to remember Watson taking pole position at the very next race in France in exactly the same car he drove in Anderstorp, with the fan removed, of course! Checking my books and magazines confirmed that, and I began wondering if MRD had really completed a third rebuild of the car just after that race. Felt odd to me!

I was about mailing Rob questioning his info, when it dawned upon me that there had been a recent thread on TNF about the 'fan car', so I started an investigation. Alas, my appetite for clarification couldn't be satisfied with what was posted there so I was about posting an inquiry, when my attention drifted to a link in the thread, to an 8W arcticle on said car. Reading through this, that vital evidence was still not beckoning on the horizon, and I went back to TNF and hovering over the 'Reply' button, when I had a thought. It was Sunday, December 3, and I remembered the starting point of the new 8W game would be the very next day, so curiosity won me over even though I knew it was somehow unlikely the game would be already up. But to my surprise it was! I browsed through the pictures and suddenly... there was the Piquet helmet in a #1 fan car Brabham with Donington surroundings! "Boy" me thought, "that was close..."

Now, knowing the date of the event, I was able to find some more info to supplement Rob's. The F3 race was actually not a championship round and it proved to be Roe's only win all year, and one of only two for Derek Bennett's cars following an Irish 1-2 the previous weekend (Bernard Devaney from Roe) at a wet Silverstone. The Procar BMW M1 race was also non-championship and saw Bruno Giacomelli and Manfred Winkelhock follow Piquet home. Watson, Jones, Hunt and Andretti did not feature in the top 6.