The late Brands Hatch boss, John Webb was a real motorsport showman, innovator and pioneer. His career was peppered with a variety of well-known events, championships and a variety of stunts. STEVE HOLE tells the story of the Rothmans 50,000.

The late John Webb was a master of motorsport marketing and publicity. He also knew how to put on a show, even if sometimes they sounded too wacky to be true. One such event that took place at Brands Hatch on August 28, 1972 (August Bank Holiday) was a race with a £50,000 prize fund (approximately £461,260, allowing for inflation, today), which tobacco giant Rothmans put up. The winner would pick up a cool £20,000 with 10K for third.

The race suffered from an 18-month lead-in time and despite a huge buzz when it was announced, the realisation quickly dawned that unless there was a miracle it would be a Formula One procession, with the overwhelming favourite being Emerson Fittipaldi in his works Lotus 72. It didn’t take a genius to work out that everyone knew the target lap time that each Formula could achieve around Brands Hatch.

It did attract lots of interest and publicity (John Webb, remember!), though. It was to be run to FIA Group 9 ‘free-formula’ regulations. A non-championship Formula Libre race meant all sorts of single-seaters were entered from Formula One, F5000 and Formula Two.

When it came down to it, the organisers were a bit disappointed by ‘just’ 77 entrants as they’d expected 100 cars split over two heats. As it happens, they still ran the two races – race one for the first thirty qualifiers for the ‘main event’ and the second for cars that qualified in the next thirty places.

The seventeen non-qualifiers had basically wasted their time!

With interest dwindling Webb managed to shore things up by getting the three top F1 teams of the day to appear, although the third-placed car was raced by the sportscar guru Henri Pescarolo depping for the team’s regular drivers. Sponsorship was obviously good too and so Webb had the backing of big-hitting sponsors like Yardley, John Player and Marlboro.

Other critics reckoned that if the race had been run to accepted world endurance rules like 1000km or 500 miles, rather than 118 laps of the tight Brands Hatch GP circuit then Webb may have achieved his wish for 100 entries.

The big talk of people building ‘specials’ for the race never materialised. As it was, the Formula One cars required a bit of modification, to enable them to carry enough fuel to last them a 118-lap non-stop race.

As it turned out the event was effectively three races in one with the F1 cars being far too quick for all but the very best F2 cars, which in turn were too sharp, so drove away from the F5000 entrants. There were several sportscars in the race too The other thing that some of the professional drivers moaned about was that the amateurs and casuals were getting in their way on track.

There were a couple of other interesting little factoids about the race. Motor Sport magazine offered £25 for the leader of each lap for the first ten laps while an unknown sponsor offered a ‘little bag of gold’ for the race leader on each lap. Therefore, Fittipaldi, who led all 118 laps so must have gone home with a King’s Ransom!

The first three cars home were unsurprisingly F1 contestants with 25-year-old F1 World Champion of 1972 (he was the youngest F1 champion at the time and he held that record for 33 years) Emerson Fittipaldi scorching home first in his Lotus 72. He was nearly 48 seconds ahead of second-placed Brian Redman in a McLaren M19A and two laps ahead of Henri Pescarolo in a March 711.

With twenty finishers, Emerson was 25 laps ahead of 20th-placed Alan Jones in a GRD F2 car.

As expected, the F1 cars outgunned the others although there were some notable performances. Gerry Birrell was the first F2 driver across the line in fourth place in his March 722, with the first F5000 big banger coming home in 7th (Alan Rollinson in a Lola-Chevrolet), plus a brilliant drive by Mario Casoni in a Lola T280 V8 sportscar in 12th place.

The only other non-F1 finisher was Ronnie Mackay in a Formula Atlantic (another Webb-created series)-Brabham BT30 in nineteenth …  Meanwhile, the second race was won by Dave Morgan in a Brabham BT38, with Ian Ashley (Lola T192) in second and Tony Dean (Brabham BT30 in third.

An amazing event that unsurprisingly only took place once.