Matters of Moment, April 1990

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Anomalies

This Editorial was nearly a calamity! About to attack the lamentable ban on the 24-Hour Le Mans race and question how one individual could, with this ban, accomplish what only war and widespread industrial strikes had accomplished since this famous event began in 1923, we heard that it was likely to be reinstated, to full WS-PC status. So instead we thought to congratulate that great motor racing enthusiast Tom Wheatcroft, on at last getting a Formula 1 race at Donington Park, only to learn that the Easter Monday Gold Cup has been abandoned, due to lack of support. . . .

The “on-off-on” Le Mans situation is bad for everyone, not least for the travel agents and those who plan their holidays around this unique spectacle. We sincerely hope it is now definitely on, which would still leave MLC with the thankless task of telling you whether the proposed ban arose from political, personal or genuine safety first concerns. The two chicanes deemed to make the Mulsanne Straight safe will have cost the organising club much money and in this speed differential race there is the anomaly that they could present a greater hazard than overtaking along the straight. But if motor racing is ever made 100% safe it will be no more exciting than snooker. . .

Motoring sport and motoring abound in anomalies. We sometimes wonder whether the special qualifying periods with very special tyres used to establish F1 starting grid pole positions are really needed and how the public, glued to the TV screens, reacts on discovering that wet and dry tyres are required on the circuits, having been told that racing improves road cars — “the racing car of today is the touring car of tomorrow” — and that today’s racing cars are almost uncontrollable in the wet on slicks? Then there is the anomaly of cars that have retired, or that are running many laps behind the winner, being given placings in the results in modern Grands Prix. What was wrong with flagging off stragglers, and retiring any car that failed to cover the full distance, even if it stopped within sight of the finishing line, as was done before the war? (The writer saw his first motor race 63 years ago, so may be biased; which will save you the trouble of writing in to tell him so!).

To these anomalies can be added that of how World Championships are decided. Apart from possible loopholes in the points system, is it right to have annual champions or should motor racing, as in boxing, require the prestigious titles to go to the driver or car bettering the performances of the existing holder, say on victories won (Alain Prost!) or by exceeding previous points’ totals? Last season there were serious anomalies over one driver being fined, another banned (but reinstated!) for similar breaches of race rules. The big anomaly, of course, is how one man, Jean-Marie Balestre, can wield so much power, even to threatening to kill off Le Mans . . .

Road driving produces that long-lived anomaly that speed is the root cause of accidents, whereas you are just as likely to be snuffed out, along with your passengers, by a drunken driver, an under-age youth joy riding in a stolen car, or a police car out of control in a chase, as someone exceeding an antiquated speed limit. But then road safety is one endless anomaly. . .

It is, however, encouraging that the Association of Chief Police Officers has been advocating an 80 mph motorway speed limit, and recommending that police patrols do not normally stop drivers on motorways for speeding unless they are doing more than 80/85 mph because, it says, roads and cars have improved since the Motorway speed limit was introduced experimentally nearly 25 years ago.

Mrs Thatcher promises billions of pounds for new roads. Let us hope the intended improved traffic flow will not be impeded by out-dated speed restrictions or parked cars. City streets are now clogged-up as much by stationary vehicles as by moving ones. Roads should be for driving along, not parking on. It is now too late to refuse car licences to those who do not possess garages or off-street parking lots, although it might have been possible in the 1920s. So street parkers, like caravan towers, get off with substantial tax-free benefits . . . Some anomalies are merely controversial; others we could well do without. WB

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