Nigel Roebuck

Reflections
– Daytona, a track that knows how to treat its fans
– Franchitti and Montoya on NASCAR’s challenge
– Why Jimmie Johnson would love an F1 drive
– Brian Redman honoured as ‘Grand Marshal’

Chip Ganassi grinned: “I love this race, it’s like a harbinger of spring…”

‘Harbinger’ is not a word one routinely hears in a motor racing paddock, but then this particular paddock was – for me – an unusual one. Although I had many a time attended the Daytona 500, I had never previously been to the 24-hour sports car race (these days the ‘Rolex 24 at Daytona’), and, trust me, there are worse places than Florida to be at the end of January. For one thing, the weather is mainly glorious; for another, you can put on the TV news and positively know you will not encounter Hazel Blears. Or any of them.

So it’s all good, and most important of all, of course, is the fabled race track, which hosted the first Daytona 500 exactly 50 years ago. Not once in the history of the 500 has it been postponed because of rain (although this year’s race was foreshortened by it), and that tells you something. Sometimes it has intruded significantly in the sports car race, always run two or three weeks earlier, but this time around there wasn’t a hint of it.

The weather was a perfect fit for the mood in the place, and Ganassi had it right. The Rolex 24 is the first major event of every season, and racing folk are happy to see each other again after the winter break. Daytona Beach is a pleasant place to be, and the sun beats down, so what’s not to like? Everyone is glad to be back.

I’m too ashamed to reveal how many years it had been since I’d last been to a sports car race – I’m pretty sure Olivier Gendebien had retired – and certainly I’d never seen a Grand-Am race. At the Goodwood Festival of Speed last June I saw the first ‘Daytona Prototype’, and met Jim France, the executive vice-chairman of NASCAR, which now owns the Grand-Am series.

For all his stock car racing heritage, France has always been a sports car fan, and that day he told me a little of his series and its aims, one of which – a little ahead of its time in the context of today – was very firmly to keep costs under control.

I will not pretend that Daytona Prototypes, the great majority of which come from American constructor Riley, are the prettiest of race cars – indeed, with their tall ‘glass area’, they put one in mind of the ‘Car of Tomorrow’ now used in the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Variously powered by Ford, Pontiac, Lexus and Porsche engines, they have 550-600bhp and weigh about 1200kgs. Steel brakes are compulsory, and all cars run on Pirelli tyres.

Technical sophistication isn’t everything, though – as Formula 1 has convincingly demonstrated more than once. What these cars do is race – and race well.

I asked Jimmy Vasser what they were like to drive. “A little heavy, tyres a little hard,” he said, “but a lot of fun to drive, actually, because you’re sliding a lot – there’s not much downforce. The car moves around a lot under braking. It’s not a rocketship, but it’s well balanced – and it’s very good racing. Certainly the best racing for your buck this year, that’s for sure…”

And the cost of a 12-race-season? “Mmm, five million dollars is a good number…”

That, I said, puts Kimi Räikkönen’s rumoured retainer of $40m into some sort of perspective. “Yes,” laughed Vasser, rolling his eyes. “Sounds pretty good – although, from what I’ve heard, I think I’d rather get invited to one of his parties…”

If the atmosphere at Daytona was fresh and welcoming, still, as everywhere else, there lurked the spectre of the credit crunch. Robin Braig, president of the Speedway, was candid when asked about its impact on ticket sales for the 500, normally a paradise for touts and ‘scalpers’.

The 2008 race, Braig said, had been sold out by the October before, but this year he feared there were going to be quite a few empty seats – and this, he added, in spite of a reduction in admission price from $99 to $55…

I reeled at that. Can you imagine a price cut of that kind – of any kind – being applied in an F1 context? No, nor I.

As it turned out, the 500 was a virtual sell-out, and ticket sales for the Rolex 24 were actually up this year, which Braig found gratifying: “I guess,” he smiled, “the sports car guys have still got money…”

It had been a number of years since my last visit to Daytona, and it took a while to get my bearings, for in that time the infield had been extensively remodelled. My first thought was that this had been done very much with the fan in mind, my second, regrettably, that nowhere in F1 is there anything like it.

They have built something called the ‘Sprint Fanzone’, which includes a huge raised viewing area, from which the entire oval can be seen. There are shops here, and a good bar, and there is also the promise of ‘unprecedented access’.

To that end, the permanent garages have been built with windows at the back, so that fans can watch the cars being worked on, and alongside each window is a slot through which programmes and autograph books can be slid for a driver’s attention. Come to that, a couple of hours before the race a long table was set up in the paddock, and here the drivers sat, signing away, chatting to spectators. I was delighted there to run into ex-F1 driver Max Papis, whom I hadn’t seen for years.

If it all sounds a little ‘organised’, perhaps in comparison with the paddocks of times gone by it is, but my point is that it exists, that in 2009 there is a major race track in the world that has given serious thought to the wants and needs of the folk who pay to come in. At Daytona you can still buy a paddock pass, and the youthful fan of today can get Jimmie Johnson’s autograph just as I got Jimmy Clark’s at Silverstone 40-odd years ago.

In F1 there may have long been a culture that, as Gordon Gekko put it, ‘greed is good’, but there is also one that ‘access is bad’. Yes, it may be a nuisance sometimes to sign an autograph, but when you do that you buy a fan for life, and it’s no surprise to me that the merchandising sales at Daytona, and elsewhere on the NASCAR circuit, are off the clock. Dale Earnhardt Jr made $35m last year – precious close to K Räikkönen – and the great majority came not from Rick Hendrick, his team owner, but from adoring fans who bought T-shirts and caps.

So there’s a thought.

If Formula 1 ever got its merchandising act together, and the drivers became a little more accessible – a little more human – to their fans, maybe over time Luca di Montezemolo and Ron Dennis could get away with a smaller wage bill.

Dreaming, of course.

Although, as I say, I’d been to Daytona many times before, I had never actually been round the track. On race morning Hurley Haywood, the most successful driver in the history of the 24 Hours (with five victories), took me for a lap in the 1971 Porsche 914/6 GT with which he won that year’s IMSA Championship. Now 55, Haywood would later in the day start what was to be his final race, and he would finish third.

The Porsche was quick without being fast, if you know what I mean, but still I was able to get an idea of Daytona International Speedway, and of course it was the banking that made the biggest impression. When you watch a race, either on the spot or on TV, it looks immense, but in reality I was struck by how narrow it is. We went round it at something over 100mph, I suppose, and it put into fresh perspective the thought of a flock of ‘Cup cars’, sometimes three wide, stomping round 80mph faster than that, and for 200 laps.

Anyone will tell you that the abiding problem in the sports car race is the considerable speed differential between some cars and others. If you’re in a quick car you need constantly to second-guess the backmarkers: if you’re not, you need to be mighty alert.

Chris Amon, who won for Ford at Le Mans in 1966, and for Ferrari at Daytona the following year, once told me that in these circumstances it was far more scary in a slower car: “In ’73 I did Le Mans in a factory BMW CSL, and had to spend as much time looking in my mirrors as where I was going…”

‘My’ Porsche was raced at Daytona in 1972 by sometime F1 driver Hector Rebaque and Guillermo Rojas, and as we went round the banking I imagined Mario or Ronnie screaming by in a Ferrari 312P. Yep, you would need to pay attention.

On Sunday afternoon, more than 22 hours after the start of the race, the first four cars were circulating in close order, and I thought of something else Ganassi had said: “This isn’t like a 24-hour race – it’s more like 24 one-hour races…”

At the wheel of one of Chip’s cars, Juan Pablo Montoya was striving to become the first man to win the race three times running, but already, as he said later, he knew it was only a matter of time – probably as a consequence of being held up by a backmarker – before poleman David Donohue, in the Brumos Porsche, got by.

It happened just that way. Going on to the banking, a GT3 Cup car bobbled in front of him, and Montoya had to back off momentarily, leaving him powerless – literally – to hold off Donohue. JPM continued to drive out of his skin, however, and at the line the gap was precisely .367s, the closest finish to a 24-hour race in history. Donohue, fittingly, won at Daytona 40
years after his father, the lamented Mark, triumphed in a Lola T70.

All in all, a harbinger of spring indeed, and a wonderfully entertaining weekend.

In the course of it I encountered quite a few sports car stalwarts who told me of their preference for Daytona over Le Mans. I wasn’t surprised.

*****

Over the years the careers of Montoya and Dario Franchitti have frequently overlapped. As long ago as 1999 the pair finished at the top of the CART points table, with 212 apiece, Juan taking the title by virtue of more victories.

Twelve months ago they shared the winning car (with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas) at Daytona, and at that time were set to be team-mates in Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR operation. While Montoya continues in that role, however, Franchitti’s career in stock cars fizzled out at the same time as his sponsorship, and for 2009 he is back in Indycars, his Ganassi team-mate now Scott Dixon.

For this year’s Daytona race Franchitti and Montoya were in different cars (Dario’s finished fifth), but they are great mates and clearly enjoy each other’s company. One morning I went to the Ganassi truck to see Dario, but it wasn’t long before Juan Pablo bounced in, at once hijacking the conversation. As he gabbled away enthusiastically, Franchitti smilingly looked at the ceiling: he knew when he was beaten.

Juan Pablo left Grand Prix racing abruptly, of course, announcing after the 2006 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis that he had had enough of F1. And soon word began to circulate that he had contacted his old buddy Chip, for whom he had so successfully driven in CART. There was, however, no question of a return to Indycars: his future, he had decided, lay with NASCAR.
In a way that was no surprise, not least because Montoya had always preferred living in America. And I’d been at Indianapolis in June 2003 for a publicity event they called ‘Tradin’ Paint’, in which he and Jeff Gordon swapped cars on the Grand Prix circuit, the NASCAR star trying the Williams-BMW, Montoya the Hendrick Chevrolet. Gordon raved about his novel experience for weeks afterwards, and JPM admitted that he, too, had found it intriguing.

I can still recall their chat beforehand, when each was briefing the other about what to expect. “For the first turn,” Montoya said, “you brake at 50 yards…” “Come on!” responded Gordon. “You can’t be serious…

“For the first turn in my car,” Jeff went on, “you brake at 250 yards…”

From his response, Juan clearly suspected Gordon was being facetious, but he took him at his word, as I reminded him at Daytona. “Yes,” he said, “I did – and I still didn’t make the f****** corner!

“It taught me those cars didn’t have any brakes, but I tell you what did impress me: that Chevy was geared for 195mph in top gear – and I was on the limiter before I got near the braking area…”

“That’s true,” Franchitti confirmed. “I mean, those things haul – they’ve got a lot of power…”

“I was testing at Atlanta two days ago,” Montoya said, “and there you’re doing 205 or 207 into turn one – and you turn in wide open! I love driving at Atlanta, but it’s one of those places… in qualifying trim you’re thinking, ‘Please, please, don’t step out…’”

“Believe me,” Dario said, “it’s a difficult thing to drive a Cup car quickly – especially for guys coming from our background.”

I wondered if he were going to miss NASCAR. “Bits of it,” he said. “I won’t miss the way it was at the start, the struggles we had. But I’ll miss the sort of feelings I had when I was starting to ‘get it’ – when we were improving the cars, and I was starting to drive them properly.

“You know what, though? The first time I got back in the Indycar – in a test at Texas – I came in after about five laps, and my eyes were this big! I said, ‘Has this thing got more power than it had in ’07?’ They said no. I said, ‘Am I sitting further back than I was?’ They said no, exactly the same. ‘Same downforce as before?’ Yep. I said, ‘Well, I really don’t remember them being this fast…’

“OK, compared with the CART cars we were driving 10 years ago they’re not that quick – but it certainly felt quick, and I’d really missed that. I won Indy and the championship in ’07, but I had two huge shunts and thought, ‘OK, I need to do something else…’ I had to get away from Indycars at that time – I was just worn out. I thought my future was going to be NASCAR, but sometimes, when you do something a lot, you don’t realise how good it is until you step back from it. And that’s probably why I’m going to do Indycars again.”

That being so, how had Montoya coped with his switch to NASCAR? He, after all, had been driving a McLaren: surely, I suggested, he must miss the sheer pleasure of driving a car like that…

He wouldn’t have it. “No!” he said at once. “I really don’t. It’s all relative. I tell you what, the best pleasure – in driving anything – is when you have a month and a half of holidays, and then you go back to it. The first five laps of that… it was the always most exciting five laps of the whole year!

“Why? Because an F1 car brakes late, turns in amazingly, puts the power down amazingly, does everything amazingly, and for the first five laps oversteer, understeer, all that stuff, you don’t feel any of it, you’re just carried away. But after five laps you get used to it, and then it’s normal.

“One thing I really hated about F1 was the change from the V10s to the V8s – it was like going from an F3000 car to an F3 car. We lost 200 horsepower – and kept the same tyres, same chassis, same aero, everything! They even kept traction control at first!”

Well, I said, at least they eventually got rid of traction control.

Montoya looked at me quizzically. “Did they? For everyone? D’you really think so? There are so many loopholes in the rules…

“You want to know why I’m so happy in NASCAR? I’ll tell you. If you want to drive the most technically advanced car in the world, you drive an F1 car, no question. If you want to go racing, you come to NASCAR. That’s how I see it. Are the cars the most advanced? No. Are the tyres? No. Is there more power? No. But, believe me, it brings a lot more of the driver to the table.
“I tell you what, if you drove my car here at Daytona, and you were on the track on your own, you could do it, no problem. My mum could do it! After a year away from here, you go out and right away you’re flat. But as soon as there are other cars near you, as soon as you get in the draft… Jesus, it’s another world!”

Franchitti vigorously assented. “Someone comes up behind you, and gets close to the rear of your car – and it’s like your rear wing’s fallen off!”

“It’s true,” Montoya said. “When you come from open-wheel cars, you never really think that someone behind you is going to change the behaviour of your car – but that’s what happens. The things are hard to drive. They don’t turn, they don’t slow down – but the great thing is that none of them do! So it’s all a matter of tyre management, understanding how fast to be at the beginning so as to be fast at the end, all that sort of thing.”

In the course of his five years in F1, Montoya won seven Grands Prix, including Monaco. Having experienced both types of racing, was he suggesting that in NASCAR the driver counted for more?

“Yes, I think so. In F1 you can actually not talk to the engineers – they can balance the car without you talking to them. They can see how the car is understeering or oversteering, doing this and that, and ‘OK, we need to retard the ignition here because we have a traction problem’ and ‘we can manipulate it this way and that way’ and so on. It’s all about how you can bend the rules. The rules are not there to be rules…

“As for the technical debriefs, they’re very different from F1, believe me! In NASCAR it’s not a matter of, ‘Oh, from the telemetry we know that in turn five he’s a little bit faster than you, but his diff settings were so-and-so’, or whatever. When your lap times drop off by two seconds, because of the tyres, there’s so much in the driver… how you get it to turn, and so on. You’ve got to back off more – but you don’t want to back off too much… you can’t drive it too deep into a turn because then you’re going to be too late on the gas, and so on. In these cars your mind is working all the time, and you’re constantly having to adapt, because the car is always changing. Maybe it doesn’t look like it, but it takes so much finesse…”

“One thing I found in NASCAR,” said Franchitti, “was that you could be absolutely out to lunch, with the car horrible – and you could make what seemed to be one or two fairly small changes, and bang!, you were right there. That was the hard thing: with no telemetry, and having never driven these cars before, you don’t understand them and what they need…”

Montoya nodded. “And it gets to a point where you don’t know whether you’re driving them wrong or what… You can’t say, ‘OK, my team-mate’s going a second a lap quicker. What’s he doing? Oh, he’s braking here, and he’s turning in like this, and the car is doing that…’ Here it’s yourself. And that puts a lot emphasis on the driver.

“When I left F1,” he shrugged, “I was so tired that I’d got to the point that I was going to quit racing. It wasn’t about NASCAR, it wasn’t about going somewhere else… I didn’t want to race! Why was I doing it? I’d made enough money to retire. The only thing that would have kept me in F1 would have been a Ferrari drive – and there was no seat for me. So I called Chip to say, ‘Hi.’”

I always thought Montoya a great loss to F1, and wanted to know why he had become so disillusioned with it.

“Well, it’s a shame, because when you’re a kid growing up, your dream is always to do F1. And when you get there, at the beginning you’re very naïve, so you don’t really see and understand everything – but with time you do…

“For one thing, in F1 the results are too much determined by the car. If you’re in the right car in the right year, you win races – if you’re not, you don’t. And if you’re in the right team, but you’re not the chosen driver, you’re not going to win much, either. Whether they admit it or not, in every F1 team there’s an ‘A’ driver and a ‘B’ driver – that’s the way it is. And if you’re not ‘The Man’, then you’re screwed. And it gets boring…”

I could see what JPM was on about – but surely the same rules applied everywhere, NASCAR included. He and the Ganassi team have quite often been competitive, but good results have been hard to come by, and for one of his intense competitiveness that must surely have been difficult to bear.

“Well, you know,” he replied, “there are 43 cars in every race, and right at the start Chip told me that I was going to have to learn that some weeks 20th is not a bad finish – and it’s the truth. There are days when you’re running good, and you finish 15th and you’re upset with yourself, but there are days when you finish 20th and you feel satisfied.

“The thing is, there are days when Jimmie Johnson is nowhere. In F1 the mix is always the same – a bad day for McLaren is second place…

“It’s a completely different mindset – and you know what’s a cool thing? Yes, of course I want to win races – we all want to win races – but I needed to learn to drive the cars better, and to understand the sport better, and it takes time. Of course I want to start winning, but you know what? In NASCAR, whether you’re running first or 30th, you’re always in a race, and I love that.

“I’m enjoying life,” Juan Pablo smiled. “I’m enjoying racing…”

*****

If Montoya has no concerns about never driving an F1 car again, Jimmie Johnson would kill for the opportunity.

Johnson last year became only the second man (after Cale Yarborough) to win NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series three years on the trot, and many observers are beginning to bracket him with such as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt – in other words, with the very greatest the sport has known.

These days, though, NASCAR has come a long way from its ‘good ol’ boy’ roots, and this is not, it must be said, to the taste of all the fans. When I first went to the Daytona 500, in 1972, every top driver was from the South, but in this generation they come from all over. The current champion is Californian-born, and lives in Manhattan.

One of his Hendrick team-mates, Jeff Gordon, is also a close friend, and five years ago, not long after Gordon had driven the Williams F1 car, the two of them, finding a rare weekend off in the 36-race NASCAR schedule, came to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix. We shook hands that weekend, but there was no real opportunity to talk.

American colleagues who knew him well, though, always said what a personable fellow he was, and at Daytona so he proved to be. I asked him if he followed F1 closely.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “very closely. And because of the time difference, at our races it often works out real good – you wake up on Saturday morning, and catch qualifying, and then on Sunday it’s the same deal for the race. Jeff’s exactly the same – in fact, he’s in some kind of Fantasy F1 League, and he bets money all the time…

“I envied the hell out of him when he drove the Williams – you just want to drive other race cars, don’t you? I have zero experience in open-wheel cars, so it’s not realistic to think of pursuing a career in them or anything, but if I had a chance to drive one, hell, I’d do it in a beat. In the same way, I’m sure some of the F1 guys must have some curiosity about what a NASCAR car is like.”

Gordon’s brief time in the Williams at Indianapolis – about 15 laps – was extremely impressive, Jeff setting a time within a second of Montoya’s ‘reference’ lap.

“At the time,” Johnson smiled, “he couldn’t talk about anything else! Couldn’t believe the stopping power and the downforce the car created. I know he did a good job, but – not to discredit what he did – it’s one thing to get close in time, but it’s those last couple of tenths that take the finding, and I’m sure that’s the same in F1, NASCAR, anything. That’s where the years of experience come in. I mean, over here Juan’s not struggling – he’s doing well – but he’s looking for that last little bit that takes you from 15th to winning races...”

Three weeks ahead of the 500, Jimmie was in Daytona to share a Pontiac-powered Riley in the Rolex 24 with Jimmy Vasser, Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. “This is my fourth year of doing this race, and my third with this team. We’ve been second the last two years, and I enjoy it – in my mind I’m here to have a good time.

“It’s going to be an interesting year in F1, with all these aero changes, and so on, isn’t it? Actually, I think it’s quite funny, given the premise NASCAR was built on, that some of the F1 camp seem to dislike it – because now the world seems to be gravitating more and more to spec engines and spec chassis, to ensure you’re going to have a good show! I guess we have a business model that seems to work…”

I had heard, I said, that Johnson had a wish one day to drive in the Indianapolis 500, and he said yes, very much so. “Indy and Le Mans – those are two races I really want to do. My upbringing is in stock cars, and I need to stick to that, but I’d love to experience those other races.

“Oh, and Monaco’s the other thing. I’d love to do a race there – no, I don’t mean in F1…”

*****

Every year at the Rolex 24 a celebrated driver from the past is chosen as the event’s Grand Marshal. Last year, for example, it was Dan Gurney, and this time around – to my great pleasure – it was Brian Redman.

The night before the race, at a dinner in the Bill France Room, Redman was the Guest of Honour, and Dario Franchitti – that rarest of souls, a contemporary racing driver with a deep interest in the sport’s history – was among many who couldn’t wait to hear him reminisce.

Brian didn’t disappoint. As with all drivers, those of us who have known him a long time had heard many of the stories before, but he is a natural raconteur, and invariably brings something new to them. At the table next to mine sat David Hobbs, and it was no more than inevitable that he was going to play a part in the proceedings.

“I drove a lightweight E-type for Charles Bridges in 1965,” said Redman, “and we had a great year, and he said to me, ‘What would you like to drive next year?’ Well, the obvious answer was Formula 3, the only known path to higher things. But I’d just seen David Hobbs driving a Lola T70 at Croft, and I thought that car was fantastic – the noise, the power…”

“The skill, the panache…” Hobbs chipped in.

Brian refused to be deflected. “So I said to Charles, ‘Well, if I had a choice, I’d have one of those Lola T70s’. And, lo and behold, in March 1966 we go to Oulton Park, where, incidentally, I’d first seen David Hobbs drive – in his mother’s Morris Oxford…

“When we get there, there’s this beautiful Lola T70, with a second-hand engine – a Traco Chevrolet – we’d got from John Surtees. Charles says, ‘Well, it’s my bloody car, so I’m driving it first’. So he gets in, and puts the mechanic in the passenger seat – no seat belts in those days – and off they go. After the first lap he comes flying past the pits – and then I hear the sound of spinning… In those days, at Old Hall Corner, there was a massive 100-year old oak tree – and they stopped two feet from it. Charles said, ‘That’s it – I’m never driving it again’, and we had a good year after that…”

Hobbs was on his feet again. “I was with John Surtees at Mallory Park, and we were watching at the Esses – a quick right-left sweep. This lunatic comes bollocking down the straight, and he goes through the right-hander, and then off on the left-hand side of the road. Now he’s in the ditch, rubber and grass everywhere, leaps out of there back on to the road – momentarily – and into the ditch on the other side of the road, because the track is now going left! John and I look at each other, and we say, ‘Who the bloody hell’s that?’ We look at the programme and it says, ‘Brian Redman’ – and we say, ‘Who the bloody hell’s that?’”

“Anyway,” Brian went on, “that year I won a Grovewood Award, which was presented to me by Jim Clark in London. Very big day for me.

“At the end of that year, Charles Bridges – who had five children and a garage in Chester – ran away with his petrol pump attendant, at which point his brother David said he wanted to carry on with the racing. So now I’m in Formula 2 – and I’d never driven a single-seater…”

Redman, whom Mario Andretti has called ‘the most underrated racing driver in the history of the sport’, acquitted himself superbly in F2.

“In 1968 I got this summons from Maranello, and I went to test the Dino F2 car at Modena. Towards lunchtime Mauro Forghieri points across the track to a figure in a raincoat, standing under the trees. ‘That,’ said Mauro, ‘is Signor Ferrari…’

“In Ferrari-speak, what he’s really saying is, ‘Try harder’… So I did.

“Then we went off to lunch, and in this huge room there were about 40 executives and managers. Deadly quiet. Enzo Ferrari, this imposing figure, walked towards me – I was petrified. He stopped in front of me, and I didn’t know what to do. I started to put my hand out, and suddenly his right hand shot out – but not in the direction of my hand. No, it went to my cheek, which he gripped and shook. And then he spoke the only two words he ever said to me: ‘Nice boy…’”

Plainly Brian had impressed in the test, for soon it was announced that he would drive a Ferrari in the F2 Eifelrennen on the Nürburgring south circuit.

“In practice I came in with 10 minutes to go, and Forghieri asked me why. I said, ‘Because that’s as fast as I can go’. He said, ‘Go out – and try harder. At the moment you’re 10th…’ I went out again, went one tenth faster, putting me fourth – which was where I’d been all along…”

In the race Redman’s goggles were shattered by a stone, and in the pits Forghieri gave him the only ones to hand, Jacky Ickx’s tinted pair. These proved less than ideal on a dull afternoon, but Brian ‘drove like a madman’, set the fastest lap, and climbed back to fourth place.

“After the race I was sitting in my room at the Sport Hotel, head in hands, almost in tears. At dinner Forghieri said to me, ‘I’ve spoken with Signor Ferrari, Brian. For the rest of the year you will drive F2 for Ferrari, and in September – in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza – Formula Uno!’ I said, ‘No, thank you’. He said, ‘What do you mean?’

I said, ‘If I drive for Ferrari, I’ll be dead by the end of the year…’ The drive subsequently went to Derek Bell.

Everyone wanted to hear a Porsche 917 story, and Redman chose the 1970 1000kms race at the ‘old’ Spa-Francorchamps.

“At the start of practice Siffert, my team-mate, went out in the car, but didn’t come round. Rodriguez came in, and said Seppi had stopped on the Masta Straight with a flat tyre. Pedro took a jack, a wheelbrace and a tyre out to Seppi, and they changed it.

“On the Masta Straight we were doing 215mph – and this was a road circuit, remember, not some purpose-built autodrome. Anyway, Siffert continued – and the same thing happened again. In came the car, all four wheels were changed – and then they said, ‘Herr Redman, now it’s your turn…’

“Every time I went to Spa I’d lie in bed, sweat pouring off me – because I thought I was going to die the next day. I had a fairly religious upbringing, and all the time the words of the 23rd Psalm were going through my mind: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’ I used to fall asleep, repeating it…

“Anyway, Siffert had had two flat tyres in two laps, and now I was in the car. ‘Go slowly, Herr Redman…’ Yeah, yeah…

“First lap OK, then the second, third lap faster, fourth lap flat out. Down Masta no problem, through Stavelot OK… On the return leg there was a flat-out right-hander – and the car went sideways as the left rear tyre came off the rim! It went every which way, at 180mph, I suppose, but I’d read that if you let go of the wheel, the castor action would straighten everything out, so that’s what I did – and it worked!

“I got back to the pits, got out the car – and Seppi fell on the floor, laughing. ‘Brian,’ he said, ‘you’re the colour of your overalls!’

“And the next day we won the race…”