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First Brise: John Brise The first 100cc British Champion

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[Standfirst] The Piper Aztec that crashed on Arkley Golf Course at around 10pm on November 29th 1975 sent shock waves throughout the motor racing fraternity. All of its six occupants were killed outright including Graham Hill, the double F1 world champion, and a 23 year-old driver called Tony Brise, regarded by many as motor racing’s hottest young property.

[Drop cap] In his first full season of car racing, Tony Brise had finished 2nd in the 1971 BOC Formula Ford 1600 championships before moving into F3, where he claimed both the Lombard and John Player titles. A season in Formula Atlantic brought wins in almost every race. Frank Williams gave him his first F1 break with a one-off drive in the 1975 Spanish GP. He recorded a fine 7th place ahead of John Watson. Rolf Stommelen crashed his Embassy-Hill car in this race, killing four spectators. Graham Hill snapped up Tony as Stommelen’s replacement and he rewarded his faith by taking 6th spot in the Swedish GP. A couple of 7th places at Zandvoort and Paul Ricard marked him out as a driver with great potential.

Motor racing was certainly in Tony’s DNA. He was just a few weeks old when his father John first raced a Kieft F3 car at Castle Combe. John then entered an F3 race in Orleans and finished 2nd behind the great Stuart Lewis-Evans. Unfortunately, this notable feat wasn’t widely known as his name appeared in the results as A S Boue. He’d filled in the entrants name as J Brise and then simply printed “AS ABOVE” for the driver.

There was a new addition to the family in December 1953 when Pam Brise gave birth to her second son, Tom. When stock car racing arrived in Britain John decided to get involved. He built up a Ford V8 car in one of the outbuildings on his pig farm and used it to become world champion in 1956. He finished runner-up a year later before claiming the title again on two consecutive occasions. It was through stock cars that he first came into contact with Bernie Turney and Harry Foot. He was able to run four cars and employed a full time mechanic to service them. When it became more of a business than a pleasure he looked towards other pursuits. Bernie Turney introduced him to karting and he became an instant convert. Following an approach by Harry Foot he started manufacturing Brise karts. Initially they were marketed under Harry’s Trak-kart label.

In 1960 the GPKA (Grand Prix Kart Club of America) had organised an event at Nassau hailed as the world karting championships. It was decided that a couple of European rounds should be incorporated for 1961. These took place in Milan and Shenington. At Shenington, John Brise, Alan Button and Harry Foot were amongst the fancied British contenders, with ex-motorcycle world champion Umberto Messetti alongside Guido Sala prominent for the Italians. A strong American contingent was led by Faye Pierson, Bobby Allen and Chet Hymes. In the all important final, Brise claimed a well deserved victory over Pierson after leading for most of the 50 laps. Button finished in 3rd place ahead of Hymes.

That year the RAC had decided to organise a British Championships for karts. Brands Hatch was chosen to host this event with marshals drafted in from the 4 Counties Kart Club at Rye House. The British Championship event was an opportunity to showcase karting but unfortunately it turned into something of a shambles. Instead of three heats and a Final, there were Time Trials for each class followed by three races scoring equal points.

After setting a very quick time, Brise proceeded to win a couple of races and finished 6th in the other one despite suffering from engine problems. These results were good enough to make him Britain’s first 100cc karting champion. However he lost out to Class 11 driver Tony Sisson for the overall title.

The first Montesa M100 engine was originally imported by Jim Bound around February, 1961. In partnership with Jack Coker, John bought the business which also involved importing trials bikes. Montala Motors was formed soon afterwards as the sole Montesa concessionaire. By this stage, Brise and Harry Foot had gone their separate ways. Harry was producing the Trak-kart Starfire that, unfortunately, didn’t live up to its stunning appearance. John manufactured the lightweight Brise Continental that proved to be a big hit on Britain’s circuits.

In January 1962 Rye House staged its first race for drivers under the age of 16. This followed a change in RAC regulations that now permitted junior racing. The minimum age was supposed to be 14 but somehow Tim Brise, just a few weeks past his 8th birthday, managed to get an entry! According to reports at that time more than 60 young drivers turned up for this event, with Tim and 14-year-old Brian Newton both breaking the lap record previously set in Class 1 Super.

When it was announced that a class for juniors would be incorporated in the 1966 RAC British Championships, Tim immediately emerged as one of the favourites. In an attempt to lower junior speeds, the RAC had imposed a maximum price limit of £25 for motors used in this class. The same rule applied to a new category for seniors called Class 1 Modified ‘A’. By working with the factory, John Brise was able to ensure that Montesa M100 motors met this requirement. Stihl was the only other manufacturer to do so, but their engines couldn’t quite match the Montesa’s performance.

The 1966 championships would be decided over three rounds at Fulbeck, Flookburgh and Brands Hatch. John Brise had stopped building his own chassis by then and became instead an agent for Blow-karts. Tim took the 100cc version, called a Gemini, up to Fulbeck for the British Championship opener in June. Robert Haynes, also on a Gemini, won an exciting final ahead of Terry Fullerton. Terry’s elder brother Mick finished 3rd. Tim fought back from an earlier spin to claim 6th behind Jonny May and Dave Ferris. Another spin at Flookburgh probably cost him a win and he had to settle for 5th place. Fullerton won this one ahead of Alan Turney and Ferris. Fullerton’s win at Brands ahead of Turney and May made him the first ever junior champion. Tim came home in 6th spot.

John Brise meanwhile had moved into Class 4 Special with the successful Blow/Montesa combination. At Fulbeck he finished 4th behind Ron O’Nions, Tom Purnell and Paul Brighton. Despite setting a new lap record during the heats at Flookburgh, he retired with engine problems in the Final. He revelled in the wet conditions at Brands Hatch however and finished a close 2nd to Roger Williamson who became the new champion in this class. Although he hadn’t competed in previous rounds, Tony was making an appearance in Class 1 Modified ‘A’, racing this time with a Birel/Montesa M100. He came out on top after a fierce battle with Vic Banks, but it was Ray Hawcock, some distance behind in 3rd, who clinched the title.

“Tony didn’t do very much racing as a junior” said Tim. “I know the prospect of racing gearbox karts always excited him more than 100cc models.” Despite his senior debut at Brands 12 months earlier, Tony wasn’t old enough to race a Class 4 kart in the 1967 British Championships which were held at Rissington. A punctured tyre robbed Dave Leslie of victory in the junior class, allowing Fullerton to notch up his second consecutive British title. Tim had a good steady drive to take 2nd place. His dad didn’t fare too well though as he retired on lap 1 of the Class 4 Super Final with a bent axle.

Rotary valve engines were reintroduced into the junior class for 1968, seriously damaging sales of Montesa M100s. However, the Montesa Impala engine remained relatively popular and produced good results, especially when combined with twin Tillotson carburettors for which John Brise was now the UK importer. He was also making nylon wheels at his pig farm and eventually became importer for Motoplat ignition systems. Tim earned a place on the 1968 British team along with Terry Fullerton, Alan Turney and Nigel Mansell.

In March of that year Tony was finally able to race a gearbox kart quite legally and took part in the inaugural World Cup event at Morecambe. Despite good heat results he failed to complete a lap in the Final after being hit by another kart.

Both John and Tony entered the 1968 British Championships in Class 4 Super. They both pulled well away from everyone else in the Final and it seemed to be merely a question of which one would actually win. Coming through from a lowly grid position however, John Morrell gradually closed the gap. As this race entered its final stages Morrell hit the front. John Brise tried desperately to regain his lead but then hit the banking and performed a spectacular somersault. Tony also retired from the race leaving Morrell to claim his third consecutive British title ahead of Chris Merlin. Tim had similar bad luck in the Junior Final after gradually catching race leader Terry Fullerton. Just as it seemed that he would take the lead they caught a backmarker. Fullerton squeezed through but Tim was forced off the circuit and into retirement.

After almost ten years in the sport, John decided to hang up his crash helmet in 1969 and concentrate on helping both of his sons. Tony already had his eye on a career in cars but first there was the British Championships at Flookburgh to consider. After winning all three of his heats he began the Class 4 Super Final as a clear favourite. Mike Goodwin and Derrick Brunt did their best to give him a hard time, but eventually he came through to win. This victory made John and Tony the first father and son team to win British karting titles.

Tony kept on racing karts in 1970 until, halfway through that year, he got his hands on a well used Elden FF 1600 car. The rest is history. Following Tony’s lead, Tim also took up FF 1600 racing and later went into F3 also. Tony’s tragic death affected the family badly. John fell ill with cancer and died exactly five years after his son’s accident. Tim took up rallying initially in an Opel Kadett. After switching to a Ford Escort he led the 1980 RAC Rally before being forced to quit with a blown alternator. Ironically, one of his company’s principal activities today is making alternators for performance cars.

Mention the name Brise to motor racing fans today and most will think, instinctively, of Tony, especially those who have read David Tremayne’s brilliant book ‘The Lost Generation’. Rally enthusiasts may recall a young driver who won the BTRDA championships in his first full season. Seasoned karters though will associate this name with a former stock car champion who really was the “Daddy of them All”.