A night to remember

Our inaugural Hall of Fame event attracted an array of stars to the Roundhouse in London for an evening that none of us will forget

It never crossed my mind, watching Jim Morrison and The Doors play at the Roundhouse back in 1968, that one day I would be back there drinking champagne, celebrating the first ever Motor Sport Hall of Fame.

The Victorian engine shed in Camden Town is now a smart and slickly-run venue for the arts and corporate functions. But the place retains an atmosphere, its huge round open space and vast domed roof giving any occasion that special feel. And the Motor Sport Hall of Fame 2010 was no exception.

So, champagne, more champagne, some exquisite canapés, and then the moment we’d all been waiting for. Onto the stage came Jake Humphrey, the BBC’s face of Formula 1, who proceeded to preside over the evening with the ease and skill that saw him through his first season in the limelight. First it was time to introduce the founding members of our Hall of Fame with a sequence of stunning films capturing the careers of Tazio Nuvolari, Enzo Ferrari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.

The knights, Moss and Stewart, came forward and spoke warmly of their peers, their boyhood heroes, their own achievements and their passion for the sport to which they have given so much and from which they have become household names across the world.

Next it was the turn of the four new members, the first men to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Jacky Ickx came all the way from Africa and, in an emotional speech, gave thanks not only for his career but also for the legions of mechanics, engineers, team managers and fans who have supported him along the way. Tony Brooks, arguably the most underrated of Grand Prix drivers, spoke of his early days with Connaught, his triumphs with Vanwall, and the ever-present dangers of racing in the 1950s and ’60s. Next came Ron Dennis, honoured for his outstanding contribution to the team founded by Bruce McLaren and which he has built up into one of the most successful companies in motor racing history. He paid tribute to his staff, their commitment to excellence, and repeated his assurance that he has absolutely no intention of stepping down any time soon. Finally, from America, came Mario Andretti, to thunderous applause and whoops of delight from the 400 guests who had crowded round the stage. Always the consummate professional, Andretti spoke amusingly and interestingly about his quite extraordinary career, which saw him compete at the sharp end for nigh on 40 years. His easy style, and the undoubted charisma of the little man, provided the perfect end to the business of the evening. The flashbulbs popped, the cheers went up to the roof and Mario grinned from ear to ear.

Motor racing people know how to have fun. And they did, jigging to the mellifluous music of Kyle Eastwood and his band, toasting triumphs past, present and to come, telling ever more hair-raising tales, gossiping and letting it all out before the start of another tough season. Motor racing never stays still, always demanding that extra edge. But the

Hall of Fame is here to stay and, by common consent, it will become an established date on the winter social calendar. Rob Widdows

Tony Brooks
Six-time Grand Prix winner and World Championship runner-up

Tony Brooks would never have made it today. Not because he lacked skill – he won six Grands Prix. Or because he wasn’t flexible – he won in sports cars too, notably at Spa. Or because he lacked race-craft – his 1958 Nürburgring victory was a lesson in strategy. No, the one thing Tony Brooks lacks is bragadoccio. A naturally retiring man who would rather be out of the spotlight, it’s impossible to imagine him wearing sponsor caps and fronting bank adverts. On the telephone the day after his induction into the Motor Sport Hall of Fame, he asked if it was possible to have a copy of the short film of his achievements – “I’ll pay, of course… It’s just that the family have never seen their old man in action. In fact they grew up not knowing that their boring old dad had won a few races”.

‘A few races’ hardly does justice to a man who brought the first post-war GP win for a British driver in a British car, matched team-mate Stirling Moss for wins in the year Vanwall became the first champion constructor, and was one of the charmed band invited by Enzo Ferrari to drive for the Scuderia.

On stage at the Roundhouse Sir Stirling, at different times both team-mate and rival to Brooks, compliments his fellow Hall of Fame member. “If I was putting together my ideal team I’d have Jim Clark and Tony Brooks alongside me.” Both Moss and Brooks, of course, were runners-up in the World Championship, and no one doubts that Brooks would also have been a worthy champion. Smooth and mechanically sensitive but with an innate grit hidden by his mild exterior, his natural skill was obvious early on when he made a habit of being the first F2 driver behind the F1 cars. But he also drove with his head: after a couple of mechanical breakages he decided his life was more precious than prizes and while continuing to be supremely rapid, he avoided taking the extra risks which just might have made him World Champion. Pragmatic as well as modest.

“It came as a complete surprise,” he says of the invitation to be one of our first Hall of Fame members. “In fact it took me a while to comprehend what it was all about, and I was astonished to realise that I was to be one of the first inductees.” Anyone who knows racing history won’t be. Gordon Cruickshank

Mario Andretti
F1 World Champion, Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 winner

If one driver was to epitomise what the Motor Sport Hall of Fame is all about, it is Mario Andretti.

Even though he has previously been voted driver of the year, the decade and the century, he described being inducted into our Hall of Fame as “delicious”.

Welcoming Andretti on stage, host Jake Humphrey joked that the American “couldn’t come to the UK after the winter we’ve had with a suntan like that”. He then asked what the accolade meant to him. “It’s a real privilege,” said the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion. “As a matter of fact, on the way up here I was thinking ‘how am I going to describe this?’ and the only way I think I can is that this is… delicious.”

Andretti paid tribute to Lotus and Lola lynchpins Colin Chapman and Eric Broadley for the role they both played in his long and varied career, but said he also felt thankful for having being able to realise so many of his ambitions. “In moments like this you start reflecting and thinking that everyone who’s been celebrated here this evening started with a dream,” he explained. “Some people were not able to completely fulfil the dream, and that’s why I consider myself the luckiest man in the world being able to stand here and say that I really was able to fulfil them all. I don’t take anything for granted and I count my blessings every day.”

Brian Redman (left), who was on stage to help induct Andretti, competed against him in Formula 5000 and sports cars. When asked if he could tell that the Indycar and F1 driver would be a winner in his field, he said: “Unfortunately, you could! At the end of 1973 the Sports Car Club of America joined USAC so we suddenly had an influx of ‘roundy-roundy’ guys in F5000, including Mario. But he was the only one who was really, really good at road racing.”

In typically understated fashion, Humphrey paid his own tribute to the final inductee of the night, saying: “As I’m sure you’ll agree, for a ‘roundy-roundy’ guy he went on to do quite well.” That he did, and it’s a pleasure to have Mario Andretti in the Hall of Fame. Ed Foster

Jacky Ickx
Le Mans 24 Hours legend and winner of eight GPs

“He recorded six Le Mans victories, including three in succession between 1975 and ’77,” host Jake Humphrey began. “It’s an achievement that’s only been bettered in recent years by Tom Kristensen and the guys at Audi. Many people will try and claim they are the real king of Le Mans, but they’ll have to go some way to better this guy…”

They certainly will, as this inductee is quite simply one of the best sports car drivers of all time. Although a flight cancellation on the day of the Hall of Fame left Jacky Ickx racing to catch the Eurostar, he still made it to our start-studded event at the Roundhouse. But it was clear as he took the mic from Humphrey just why he had made such an effort.

“To be an inductee of the Motor Sport Hall of Fame is so important to me, as not only was it unexpected, but also because it makes me think – seeing all these drivers here like Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart – that racing in the past was great fun, but also very dangerous,” said Ickx. “Today, accepting this, makes you realise how lucky we are to be alive and it’s a pure joy to be here, a pure joy.”

One of the Belgian’s great contemporaries, Vic Elford (left), was on hand to describe what it was like to race against such a “formidable opponent”, as Humphrey put it. “In 1969 Jacky was one of the first guys in sports car racing to start really pushing for safety and security,” said Elford. “At the start of the ’69 Le Mans 24 Hours I was driving an original, horrible 917 and Jacky Ickx was driving a GT40. To emphasise what he thought about safety, while the rest of us ran across the road like a bunch of maniacs, jumped in our cars and set off, Jacky just walked across very slowly, got into his car, put his belts on, turned on the engine, drove away and he won. That just about sums up the guy.”

It also neatly sums up why Jacky Ickx is one of the first four motor sport heroes to be inducted into our Hall of Fame. Ed Foster

Ron Dennis
McLaren Group chairman, CEO and former F1 team principal

How did Ron Dennis feel, as he waited in the wings? How was it to be one of the first inductees into the Motor Sport Hall of Fame?

“I feel like I’m part of an ignition system,” he said with a big, mischievous grin. He’s enjoying himself, having a night out on the town. “You know, it’s a funny word, inductee, isn’t it?” And I have to agree. It’s going to be that kind of night. “No seriously, I feel proud, not just for myself but for McLaren. If people want to recognise my achievements, they’re really recognising McLaren’s achievements, and I’m very proud of what the company has done.”

He’s been a Motor Sport reader for a long while – when he has time. “I think the magazine is the equivalent of what The Times used to be, because even The Times has succumbed to a bit of tabloid behaviour. But Motor Sport has been true to its values while withstanding the trial of competition against the weeklies. So it’s nice to see it refreshed and rejuvenated, and now it’s celebrating the kind of motor racing people who make it possible for the magazine to survive. I mean, you can’t have Motor Sport magazine without motor sport.”

He has, he said, always been a big fan of fellow inductee Mario Andretti. “Mario was a phenomenally accomplished and talented driver, a man who could change his style to accommodate all the different disciplines of the sport, and he won consistently in both America and Europe. He was a great competitor.”

What about this year’s line-up at McLaren, where there are two British World Champions to manage? It’s something Dennis knows a bit about from the great days of Senna and Prost.

“Well, every challenge is different, and for Martin [Whitmarsh, team principal] the challenge of working with these two drivers is something he relishes. They have the same approach to racing, and they share a strong dedication to their physical and mental condition as well as a phenomenal talent. So I don’t foresee any problems because they both have a balanced perception of being in F1 and being part of the team. The least of our problems will be managing them if we’re so competitive they are racing each other – if that’s Martin’s biggest problem, I’m sure he’ll relish it.”

Time will tell. But Hamilton and Button have very different styles, doesn’t he agree? “Actually, I don’t,” he grinned. “They have different strengths and weaknesses, which is inevitable in competitive people, but I think they have the ability to vary their styles according to the characteristics of the car. Ultimately, the sum of the total will always be something very equal, they will just get there in their different ways.”

Having received his TAG Heuer watch from the firm’s Antoine Pin (left, opposite Nick Mason), he walks away, champagne in hand, to enjoy his induction into the Hall of Fame. I’ve not seen him so relaxed for many a month. Rob Widdows