Letters, April 2015

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Uphill struggle

Nigel Roebuck’s article on the original V16 BRM was fascinating. I first heard this car as a schoolboy, when Ken Wharton drove it up Shelsley Walsh. That noise is never to be forgotten. No wonder Nick Mason, I think, called it the “moon rocket of the Fifties”.

It was, of course, very difficult to drive with the extreme power coming in suddenly. I know a little about this from my brief experiences years ago with the double-supercharged Alta-Bugatti and a Lotus 24 with a Maserati Birdcage engine in the boot. Large dollops of power when you least need them are embarrassing to say the least.

Your account of the 1953 Albi GP is of great interest, too. When I was 14, I went with my father John Virr, an active racer and official at Prescott, to visit Ken Wharton at his home in Stourbridge when he was recovering from the Albi incident, which fortunately did little more than bruise him severely.

It was a great pity that Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon’s team, so successful with ERA pre-war, was unable to repeat that with the V16.

Mike Virr, Fairfield, Connecticut, USA

Wet practice

Having just read your great article on the BRM V16, I wanted to bring your attention to a fantastic bit of footage by ‘Follyfilms’ on YouTube. It shows the V16 being driven on a public road in “appalling conditions”. The noise and power of this fantastic car really take your breath away. Could it have been Raymond Mays driving it? Thank you Nigel for a fantastic column, which I’ve enjoyed so much for many years.

George Gibson, Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex

Race for the presidency

Having lived close to the Milwaukee Mile for the past 62 years, I have seen the great AJ Foyt race many times. He was always a fan favourite, no matter who the competition was. He seemed to race with something extra in Milwaukee, even when his career was winding down.

When I was younger most of my attention went to Mario Andretti, especially after he took pole at The Glen in 1968, and my friends and I had visions of a future world champion in our heads. But AJ was always there, whether it be up the road at Road America or several hours away at Indy.

It must have been at a race weekend in 1979 that I purchased the ‘AJ Foyt for president’ poster, the last one that the vendor had. It was hanging in the back of his stall and still had the $2 price written on it. Who knows if he would have made a good president, but he gets my vote for one of the greatest racers ever.

Glenn Schaefer, Brookfield, WI, USA

Remembering Rodriguez

Thank you for the piece on Gonzalo Rodriguez in your January issue. My sister and I were serious racing fans and followed Champ Car closely, so we were looking forward to seeing Rodriguez race at Fontana, California, when we returned from the Formula 1 race at Monza in 1999.

We were on a Page & Moy bus heading back from Monza, and I was reading Gazzetta dello Sport when I spotted the small piece detailing his death at Laguna Seca. I was the only one who could read Italian, so I spread the news on the bus. Everyone was shocked and sorry.

At Fontana, of course, Greg Moore was killed, too. I spoke to him the day before, as I lived in Canada and he was Canadian. That was a hard year. Both men are remembered fondly.

Motor racing, as we are all too aware, remains dangerous.

Elizabeth K Shaw, Syracuse, NY, USA

Big Daddy

All of us who enjoy drag racing will have been delighted to read Rob Widdows’ interview with Don Garlits (March). Great racers measure their careers in victories and championships; the greatest may be said to inhabit the very landscapes of their sports. Garlits is different: he didn’t merely inhabit drag racing’s landscape, he shaped it.

Mr Widdows conflates two accidents from opposite ends of Garlits’ racing career. The Chester, South Carolina fire that almost cost Garlits his hands occurred in 1959. The 1987 ‘blowover’ happened at Spokane, Washington, and followed a more widely publicised 180-degree pirouette in New Jersey the year before, pictured on your Contents page. Broken bones sustained at Spokane precipitated another of Don’s retirements, although his current tilt at the electric-powered 200mph barrier, at age 83, suggests that ‘retirement’ is an abstract concept in the Garlits mind.

Robin Jackson, Wellingborough, Northants

Swamp monster

In 1964 my dad took me to a sprint meeting at a small airfield near Chelveston in Northamptonshire. There was Don Garlits complete with ‘Swamp Rat’. I’d never seen anything like it before, quite an experience for a 12-year-old and one I’ve never forgotten. As a Jim Clark fan I always felt how unfair it was that Parnelli Jones was not black-flagged from the 1963 Indy 500 for his oil leak, thus depriving Jim of his first Indy win; thanks, Don, for speaking out on the Scot’s behalf.

Peter Haynes, Needingworth, Cambridgeshire

Tom’s treasure trove

Your March front cover thrust a few memories my way as it showed four cars I am familiar with. In 1991 I worked for TWR on the XJR-15 intercontinental challenge as a race mechanic at Tom Walkinshaw’s Broadstone Manor in Oxfordshire. Tom had three large workshops built, one of which housed his own private collection, some of which would make your mouth water, including the Group 44 cars you featured.

There were some very special vehicles in the collection, which featured more than 30 cars. I’m not only talking about the obvious ETC cars from Rover and Jaguar but two Lotus Cortinas, one raced by a certain J Clark.

The other reason my memory was jogged was Rob Widdows’ online article about Paul Haigh, ‘The mechanic’s tale’. Paul was a great part of my first motor racing job in 1986, with Madgwick Motorsport. Paul was a real character.

I am immensely pleased to see him still working. A few of the guys are still in the Buckingham area where I live, including Andy Wallace (a big part of that 1986 British F3 team). If any of the guys from that 1986-1990 period at Madgwick would like to give me a call, I would love to buy them a pint.

Mark Boughton, Buckingham, Bucks [Messages can be forwarded]

French correction

One day in 1956/57 and aged about 12, I was standing in the paddock at Snetterton with my father. At the end of a touring car race, Tommy Sopwith returned to where the car and mechanics were parked with a wodge of notes that I understood to be the prize money – and promptly handed it all to the mechanics. I was amazed. Of course, in my youthful innocence, I was not aware that he didn’t really need the money!

What also made a big impression on me then was the name of his team: Equipe Endeavour. Reading Richard Heseltine’s article (‘Moody Blue’, February) it therefore jarred to read in several places the phrase ‘Ecurie Endeavour. Both words may be French and have a similar meaning but the Sopwith team was ‘Equipe’.

Mike Dodman, Bromsgrove, Worcs

Slot right

Regarding Simon Arron’s difficulty in achieving adequate turn-in with his MRRC Lotus Cortina slot racer, I have an answer. Having found these excellent slot cars, schoolboy racers among us discovered that reducing the rolling diameter using a drill, along with introducing some rudimentary negative camber against a flat file (done correctly, the job of a moment) revolutionised the performance!

Sadly, nowadays my historic racing MGC GTS isn’t fettled quite so cost-effectively…

Julian Jolliffe-Hepburn, Barrow, Lincs

Caught by Spider

Flicking though the March edition, I was pleased to spot on p84 the photograph of ‘the Bod’, complete with beloved flying helmet, at the wheel of ‘Spider’. WB looked as he did in the 1960s but the setting looked too recent.

I searched in vain for the caption, then spotted the by-line and re-examined the picture.

Well done, Simon Taylor. You had me fooled!

John Clegg, Chadderton, Greater Manchester

Recalling Basil

Simon Taylor’s article about Basil Davenport in March prompted me to rummage around in my stock of memorabilia. In my first scrap book-cum-photo album, I found pages devoted to the Barbon Manor Speed Hill Climb of May 1967, fourth round of the RAC Championship, and one of my first visits to a competitive event.

Wandering around the paddock, I came across a very strange-looking single-seater, a GN Spider driven by one B H Davenport. I took a number of photos of Basil sitting either in the car or on the rear wheel, sporting the pudding-basin helmet mentioned by Simon Taylor, as he happily spoke to anyone who passed by.

Plucking up courage, I asked him a few schoolboy-type questions that he happily answered. His times are recorded as 34.984sec and 34.928sec. How about that for consistency?

Those Barbon meetings fired an enthusiasm for hillclimbing that I have to this day. I feel that over the last few seasons, with the rise in competitiveness of the smaller capacity single-seaters, hillclimbing is enjoying a golden period. I think Basil would be in his element today.

Don Craig, Abbeydale, Gloucester

Engine swap

I wish to correct a small error in Doug Nye’s piece on Pace Notes in Formula 1. When Niki Lauda was driving chassis 5 in Rio, the car at the time was equipped with the Ford-Cosworth DFV. Only later in the season was this chassis adapted for the Porsche TAG turbo engine, along with chassis 6 and 7 to become the MP4/1E. These were used by Lauda, chassis 6, for Zandvoort, Monza, Brands Hatch and Kyalami.

Watson drove chassis 5 at Monza, Brands Hatch and Kyalami, but raced chassis 7 in the South African GP.

Andrew Scoley, Bracebridge Heath, Lincoln

Gentleman Jan

Having read Lunch with Jan Lammers, I felt I had to get in touch. I was working as an engine builder for Judd when I was asked to hand over an engine for Lammer’s Dome Le Mans entry. As it was Sunday morning, I took my six-year-old son with me as he was keen to see what his dad did.

Jan arrived bang on time and was happy to ask about my role there.

I informed him that I had built the engine for his car ready for Le Mans. He was looking forward to the race and joked with my son, asking if I had done a good job.

I got the paperwork signed and loaded the engine into the truck with my little helper. All done, Jan patted my son on the head and shook my hand, and as he was leaving he mentioned he would look after my handiwork.

He did just that because he finished eighth overall, and sent me a team book with a message in the front cover: “Thanks a million Alan for making us go the distance. We’ll go for gold next time!” It now takes pride of place on my bookshelf.

There are lots of great guys in motor sport, but he is up there with the best.

Alan McGee, Bilton, Rugby, Warks

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