Letters from readers, April 2009

Hamilton’s bedside manner


I would strongly agree with Simon Houghton (Letters, February issue) in his surprise that Lewis Hamilton is considered to be arrogant.

I have been a medical officer at national and international motor sport meetings for 35 years and during that time I have met many drivers, some of whom are undoubtedly arrogant.

I was greatly impressed by Lewis in an incident that occurred during last year’s British Grand Prix. I was one of the doctors working in the Medical Centre. On Saturday afternoon after F1 practice all drivers have to attend the centre for routine drug testing. On his way out one of the nursing sisters mentioned to Lewis that there was a female spectator in one of the wards who was recovering from surgery for a shoulder dislocation after a fall at the circuit. Although the operation was satisfactory she was fed up and making a slow recovery. The sister asked Lewis if he would mind going to see if he could cheer her up. He immediately agreed and spent several minutes chatting to her and then signed a McLaren cap. The patient was delighted and thereafter made a very rapid recovery, fit enough for discharge half an hour later.

I have followed Hamilton’s career since I first saw him in Formula Renault and would totally agree with Mr Houghton that he is not arrogant. He is confident, as well as having a charming personality.

Gordon Falconer, Bramhall, Cheshire

Access denied


Some of the statements in Donington chief executive Simon Gillett’s interview left me astonished (March issue). One in particular is breathtakingly arrogant: “I want it to be quite awkward to come to us in a car. I’ll make it expensive and I’ll make it awkward.”

Does he not realise that large numbers of motor racing fans are unable to use public transport? These fans are termed disabled. Are we to be denied the opportunity to attend our own GP? Both Silverstone and Brands Hatch were extremely helpful to disabled fans in previous years. Could this be phase one of Bernie’s masterplan to exclude the general public from his entertainment? I have attended in excess of 50 GPs worldwide, but the current attitude towards the paying public does pose the question: is it worth it anymore?

A Eglington, Winchester, Hants

I worked on Marr’s A5


What a pleasure it was to read about Leslie Marr and his exploits in the Connaught (February).

I know from working with Derrick Edwards at Morntane Engineering and subsequently at Ecurie Bertelli that they had a lot of fun together, and many stories Derrick told me about their exploits could not possibly be published in such a respected magazine as Motor Sport!

A5 came back into Derrick’s hands at Morntane when he ran the company for Nick Mason, who owned the car. It was in the workshop for some months before one morning, Derrick emerged from underneath it having found an old repair, and said something like, ‘Golly, Andy, this is Leslie’s old car… I remember driving into Durban to weld up the chassis’. The Connaught was one of the first cars I worked on. It was always my job to adjust the first gear band because I was bendy enough to get under the scuttle. When I wasn’t doing that, I was standing on the quick lift jack while it warmed up, getting a face full of highly toxic exhaust fumes!

Derrick was indeed tough. Nothing scared him. He always kept a bottle of whisky in his tow car when taking a car abroad, to ease his way with customs officials who almost always wanted to see a carnet. On one occasion this didn’t work and they arrested him and impounded his faithful old Hillman and trailer. However, the customs officials were foolish enough to put the keys on the table and leave the room, so Derrick quickly took them back and simply drove to the next port along the coast!

He was an extraordinary character, a lot of fun to be with and was the archetype enthusiast – racing his beloved Aston Martin Ulster, CMC 614, right up to the day before he had his terrible stroke. He is still greatly missed by everyone who knew him.

Andy Bell, Ecurie Bertelli Ltd

The Watson horsebox


Having witnessed John Watson’s debut race at Kirkistown, Northern Ireland, I really enjoyed the interview in the January edition. My uncle, Tommy Allen, was a Belfast car dealer contemporary of Marshall Watson, John’s colourful father. Uncle Tommy raced an Elva, so I had paddock access. I recall Marshall (dressed in checked suit and bow tie) turning up driving a horsebox which contained the race car of his contrastingly shy son. I don’t recall the result, but I do remember wishing my father would develop an interest in cars instead of horses.

John’s expression “a face as long as a Lurgan spade” requires some explanation. Turf was and is harvested from peat bogs throughout Ireland for fuel. It is dug with a special long, slightly curved spade. The factory which made these was located in the town of Lurgan, just 20 miles west of Belfast. Hence the expression. As I used to coo sympathetically to my horse, “Why the long face?”

John J Allen, Lugrin, Lake Geneva

Greatest enduro drives


Anyone who knows anything about 917s knows about the big splash Pedro Rodriguez made at Brands Hatch in 1970. John Horsman thought this was the ultimate performance by car and driver. But I believe John Wyer, among others, thought Rodriguez’s greatest drive in a 917 was at Zeltweg in 1971. Richard Attwood has said he understood the Zeltweg car (013) was the fastest 917K around. He was the co-driver there. Aren’t we talking about perhaps the greatest endurance driver ever in two of the greatest racing cars ever – the Brands car and the Zeltweg car? Honours even?

But owning 013 I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Mark Finburgh, Edgware, London

Pitstop proposal


I agree entirely with Jim Hall that tyre changing should be banned again in F1 (March issue). However, allowance must be made for punctures or where the condition of the tyres creates a dangerous situation. Such provision can lead to abuse. My suggestion would be that tyre changing be allowed but with only two mechanics involved. The team would then have to carefully consider whether a tyre stop was worthwhile. Even better would be to insist that one of the two should be the team principal, but I imagine that such a proposal would be resisted!

Roger Gullen, Walkern, Herts

Ramponi’s Mille Miglia tears


Patrick O’Brien’s article on Ramponi (March issue) brought the memories flooding back!

I first met Giulio in the 1960s when I was working with Des Scannell at Borg-Warner; Giulio used to do occasional liaison work for Alfa with UK companies. The story of his that I remember most vividly is of a run that Alfa organised over the Mille Miglia route, long before the MM retrospective, to commemorate their first victory in 1928, in which of course he co-drove with Campari.

He said that as they drove through villages old ladies would come out and thrust flowers on them. In his words, “Peter, dere were tears streaming down my face!”

What a charming and clever man.

Peter Whybrow, Bancroft, Hitchin, Herts

Royal spectators


Fascinating item on the Jack Sears Galaxie in the March issue. As a schoolboy I was at Silverstone’s Becketts corner at the May 1963 meeting and well recall someone standing at the apex making steering wheel gestures each time the Galaxie lumbered round. Being of a nostalgic frame of mind even then, I couldn’t help rueing the obvious demotion of the racing Mk2 Jaguar. Great to read, though, that car and driver are both still together.

Other memories of the same meeting are Christabel Carlisle’s Mini (the car, I mean!) ending up on top of Peter Harper’s Sunbeam Rapier, and Innes Ireland’s storming drive in the two-year-old BRP-BRM, breaking the F1 lap record five times on the trot. This after a lurid spin under the eyes of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. They don’t write ’em like that anymore!

Keith Martin, Milton Keynes, Bucks

Mapping history


I feel that I must correct the story that Moss and Jenkinson invented the roller note guidance system as used on the Mille Miglia. This has been stated by yourself and others, most recently in the new (2007) Anthony Pritchard book.

The earliest reference that I can find to such a device was published in Motor Trend Magazine in January 1955 while reporting on the 1954 Carrera Panamericana (by Pete Molson). The article states, “Bill Stroppe and Gordon Smith were off to Mexico weeks before the actual caravan set out on its way. Aided by complete films of the 1953 race taken from the co-pilot’s side of the front seat (they have the movie Rear Window beat a mile for tense watching), these two charted every foot of the course from Tuxtla to Juarez. No curve would take a Lincoln driver unaware, no bridge would be narrower than he thought. It’s all in every car on compact charts mounted on rollers in a neat case. Every co-pilot can call off what’s coming up, safe speed at every bump, things to watch out for. Forewarned is forearmed.”

John Fitch of course took part in the Carrera Panamericana and may have seen this system and passed the idea on to Jenkinson.

Richard Boyle, Westward Ho!, Devon
[We published an article about Fitch’s possible influence on DSJ’s notes in May 2005 – Ed]

A lightweight victory


In 1962 I attended my first motor race – the Aintree 200 – to see Stirling Moss in action. Unfortunately Moss crashed at Goodwood the previous week, so my first winner was a young Jim Clark.

I probably stood behind Nigel Roebuck at Oulton Park collecting autographs in the 1960s and I branched out into Europe during the ’70s to visit all the classic GP circuits (occasionally watching the action at the same corner as DSJ, who was often seen in the public enclosures).

Since then I have continued to spend my spare time and money watching motor racing and reading all about it. I reckon I know what’s right and what’s wrong and despair at some of the F1 judgements and penalties which massage the World Championship results.

In January I visited the Daytona Speedway for the Rolex 24-hour race, where I bumped into Nigel Roebuck and Gordon Kirby comparing notes in the paddock.

What a super event and a riveting race, though I couldn’t understand why Juan Pablo Montoya was unable to hold off the winning car during the last hour of the race. While the Ganassi car lost by only 0.167 seconds after 24 hours, it was still second and the first of the losers.

It was later reported that the winning car was a massive 12lbs (5.5kg) underweight at the end of the race! In a formula like Grand-Am this must be equal to at least 0.1sec a lap advantage. Over the 735 race laps that equates to over a minute, which would have placed the car fourth in the final standings had it run to the regulations. What did Grand-Am do? Impose a fine of $5000 and dock a few championship points.

How much more daft can things get? Over to you, Mr Mosley.

Andrew Hodgson, Bury, Lancashire

Brabham update


An update to your January story regarding Neil Trundle may be of interest in regards to the Brabham team cars from that year (1971), as two of them are together again and the third is being restored. So there is a chance of a reunion, even though two of the cars are in Australia and the third is in the UK!

Schenken’s car, BT36-1, spent most of its life in England with a brief spell in Belgium and France. It returned to the UK to race in historics in the mid-80s with John Harper. BT36-2 went to Hong Kong and John MacDonald won the ’72 Macau GP with it before selling the car to Eddie Marcello of the Philippines. It remained there until 1988, being returned to the UK for restoration, complete with the original gearbox and body panels, and then domiciled in Sweden with Leif Norberg. The third car of Wollek’s passed to John Kendall, was leased to Richard Scott and then sold to José Araujo. José crashed it at Snetterton and the car was left in Norfolk, lost to the world for 30 years. But it is now with Peter Denty. It took a mighty stroke of luck to uncover that! I had been helping Richard Vignoles (GRD) and mentioned that I was looking for fellow Argentinian José, only to discover that Richard had José to stay after he came out of Norwich Hospital following the Snetterton accident. I didn’t know if he had heard of him, let alone knew him!

I am looking forward to the day when perhaps all three cars can be reunited, but it might be some time as all the bits from BT36-9 were sold off. The suspension went with Graham Hepburn (the ‘Wagga Wagga Kid’) back to Australia. I set about trying to find it for Peter, only to discover that it was already in my garage as part of a lot of spares that I had bought from dedicated Brabham expert Denis Luton!

This letter belies the seven years it has taken to find out all of the above. The twists and turns and incredible luck along the way could fill a page, and I am still looking for key player Arthur Moore to fill in a bit more history.

Andrew Fellowes, Queensland, Australia