My greatest race - Roy Salvadori

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Coppa Inter Europa, Monza, 1963

An unreliable car, poor practice and tough opposition did not bode well for Roy Salvadori’s chances in a three-hour sportscar race in Italy. But the Englishman still went out and beat the lot

Aston Martin played a very important part in my career. I drove for Astons for about eight or nine years consistently, and then they pulled out of Formula One and played around with the GT car. I drove with Jimmy Clark and Innes Ireland for John Ogier, which was really a works team, and I also drove with Jimmy in the Border Reivers car, which was always sponsored by the factory.

Then I had a lapse of about a couple of years when they weren’t racing or they were only racing at Le Mans. It wasn’t until 1963 that John Wyer said, “Look, we’re getting the GT in sensible form, will you drive at Monza? It’s our last race.”

It was the Coppa Inter Europa, a three-hour race supporting the Italian Grand Prix, and I agreed to do it. So I came back to the team for a one-off after a couple of years away. Prior to that Bruce McLaren, Phil Hill and Graham Hill had driven the car, but it was breaking an awful lot.

We had very little practice, and that was in tilt wet. We hadn’t shaped up terribly well, and the Ferrari GTOs were considerably quicker, at least three or four seconds faster. Although we knew we could go faster, that wasn’t too encouraging. It was a very rushed effort, and there was a lot of guesswork. We were very lucky with the gear ratios John Horsman had a guess at it, and he was practically right, although in truth we were over-revving.

With Astons, whatever we seemed to have, apart from the Grand Prix car, we had a maximum of 6000rpm. When I started with them on the DB3S it was 6000rpm and when I left them it was 6000 bloody rpm! John Wyer used to drum it into us that that was it. When you’ve got these long straights and you see the thing at 6000rpm virtually on the start of the straight, you don’t want to look…

The race was just before the Grand Prix, and we did have quite a few of the drivers watching with interest. The lap times were very quick, and if you have a look you’ll probably find that we would have been way up on the starting grid for the F1 race. (In fact Roy’s fastest race lap would have put him 17th out of 28 in F1 qualifying. – Ed)

At the start Mike Parkes took off in one of the GTOs. Mike was a very quick driver. I think he could have given Stirling a run – he was a fantastic driver. Meanwhile I was worrying about the revs. We were meant to keep to 6000-6100rpm, but it was useless. I was touching 6300 on the straight down to Parabolica. It was the only place where we had the advantage over the Ferrari.

I didn’t like using 6300rpm, so at first I was a little timid then I realised that if I was going to tackle Parkes, I was going to have to use all my revs. Only then I was able to close up on him. We had a few seconds help from the pit stop, and then it was maximum revs the whole time, I wouldn’t even look at the rev counter on the straight. And that just equalled out the performance.

The Ferrari was quick on acceleration, and the only way we could tip him was at the end of the back straight. We could just sneak by, and then it was a matter of braking. But with my four-speed ‘box I was clobbered, because with five speeds he would just pick me up and could overtake me just going over the finishing line. That was the three hour worry – where could I lose him?

We were braking very late, but we were being very sensible with each other. It got to be a little close, and we would make signs to each other. Nice signs. I’d tell him when he could overtake, which side of the road I was going to hold. It’s what we’d do sometimes; just let them know you’d leave it clear for them if they wanted to have a go although you were hoping that they wouldn’t make it.

The lead changed many times, and I knew that if I could get him to put a foot wrong, and stop slipstreaming me, that I’d be first past the post. I had to make my move in traffic, but for sonic reason the Italians seemed to be behaving. I’d tried on or two occasions, and I think it was pretty obvious what I was trying to do!

On the particular occasion that I caught him on the hop, I made it look like I was going to follow them through. I backed off a fraction and then got on it again, and just managed to whistle past before he could.

I don’t think it was more than about four or five laps from the end. I’d left it very late. In a three hours race there’s plenty of opportunity, and there were a reasonable amount of cars in the race. I thought I should have been able to lose him earlier, but at Monza you can pick up a tow from a quite a way back.

It was a nice, exciting win. When I crossed the line everybody got excited, and the Italian Aston Martin agent got so excited that he jumped off the pitwall and broke his ankle. Later in the season I got a trophy from the BRDC for the best performance by a British driver racing abroad, an ERA Trophy of some sort.

Another memorable person that weekend was Fangio. Jimmy won the GP, and I won the sportscar race, and he was very kind to both of us afterwards. He watched it and enjoyed himself. He was always a wonderful guy; we didn’t speak his language but you could always communicate with him.

The funny thing about these races is that you’d never talk about them afterwards. You just go away from the circuit and it’s something in the past. I would have loved to have talked to Parkes, especially after this sign business, and said, “We had a jolly good dice.” But never in those days did we have the opportunity. It was arrive, do what you have to do, and then it was completely forgotten.

Looking back on it now, I think he may well have thought that I had something up my sleeve “Roy’s got all this planned out.” In fact I was absolutely flat the whole time. I’ve got a copy of the report on the condition of the car at the end of the race. It was just about on its uppers. We only had a few laps left on the brakes, and a few laps left on the tyres.

The other thing I remember is David Brown saying before the start, “Well, if you win the race Roy, you can have the car.” I knew he wasn’t serious! Mind you in those days those cars weren’t worth that much, but it would have been nice…

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