Letters, April 2017

Never too Lehto

I really enjoyed Andrew Frankel’s Lunch with JJ Lehto. I was at Le Mans in 1995, sitting in the Dunlop grandstand throughout the night watching this wonderful race unfold. Drivers were having serious moments all the time in the rain and JJ outdrove them all in the sinister-looking dark grey McLaren. Even Mario Andretti lost an almost certain win in the Courage-Porsche when he went off in the Porsche Curves. We probably all wanted the Bells to win in the bright yellow Harrods McLaren, but it was not to be. I have been to many Le Mans races, before and since, but 1995 remains one of my stand-out favourites. 

What wasn’t mentioned in the article was JJ’s unfortunate involvement in the 1994 San Marino GP at Imola. His Benetton stalled on the grid and was hit by Pedro Lamy’s Lotus. Though neither was hurt, there were debris everywhere. They didn’t red flag the race and a safety car led the field round for several laps. When the safety car was brought in, as we all know, the cars were released and Ayrton Senna crashed fatally soon afterwards. I have always wondered whether that debris played its part in the Senna crash. If not, it still seems possible that if there had been a restart after a red flag, Senna might not have crashed at Tamburello.

James Trigwell, Guildford, Surrey

Tommy Byrne’s bridges

A really absorbing Lunch With… in February’s issue. Joe Dunn’s interview with Tommy Byrne revealed many interesting aspects of this fascinating story of career promise only partially fulfilled. I have the feeling that if we’d ever had a real equivalent of NASCAR in the UK, Tommy would have
been its king!

But what a contrast is evident in the aftermath of the 2016 Grand Prix season in regard to what is said by drivers off-circuit. There was Tommy, clearly with all the necessary raw talent and proven speed, blotting his copybook in close conversation with Ron, and apparently thereby losing his chance to compete in F1 with a top team. On the other hand, repeatedly in 2016 we heard Ron’s protégé, one Lewis Hamilton, saying all sorts of ill-advised things – in front of a worldwide audience at that – yet sailing on now into yet another season and continued multi-million pound earnings. All the more strange considering Hamilton’s many years of schooling in the PR/media aspects of the job. Though I don’t think Tommy would have been bothered to suggest this in mitigation, he had experienced no such context to guide him when he made that fateful enquiry as to the meaning of R&D.

Thanks for maintaining the high standard of research and writing in the Lunch With series – it remains a highlight of Motor Sport despite the ending of Simon’s exclusive authorship. 

David Buckden, Walmer, Kent

Two-wheeled Tyrrell

I do quite a bit of research into aviation, and the attached photo came to me via a Canadian Air gunner. It shows a very young Ken Tyrrell (left, easily discernible) as a Halifax flight engineer in the RAF at RAF Pocklington in Yorkshire during WWII. They were P/O Hare’s crew.

Some crew members were averse to posing for pre-mission photos – believing it to be tempting the fates.

Pocklington is a couple of miles down the road from me, but little remains apart from a memorial.

Dave Taylor, Dunnington, York

Missing gears

I totally agree with the sentiments of the Doug Nye article about the historic Formula I gearboxes.

The FIA has to be very careful not to have so many rules that it puts off competitors in historic motor sport. We have had enough new rules recently from the MSA. Most of us compete for the enjoyment and we do not want unnecessary problems at the racetrack.

Doug mentioned Formula Junior, which has had similar problems: Coopers have mainly been involved and have been retrospectively penalised – cars that have had HTP papers with Hewland gearboxes can no longer obtain them. In period many new Coopers were built by their owners from a kit of parts supplied by Cooper and some owners fitted them with Hewland gearboxes for reliability and not with the Jack Knight Ersa gearbox, which was at that time the gearbox mainly used by Coopers. Now, with Ersa gearboxes getting old and parts not easy to obtain, the best solution
was the Hewland that can no longer
be used. New Ersa gearboxes are in the pipeline, we are told, but will surely be very expensive.

Some Lotuses have had problems, too, having to revert to Renault gearboxes instead of Hewland – but you can put Hewland gears in the Renault box!

I maintain that you should be able to use any period items that were available at that time. What we want is historic racing with no draconian rules.

Jeremy Bouckley Walmley, Sutton Coldfield

Single-marque Monaco 

In your March letters Jock Hiddleston suggests scrapping the Monaco Grand Prix as the circuit couldn’t be upgraded to accommodate the faster 2017
Grand Prix cars.

How about for this one race all the drivers are entered to race in Kent-engined Formula Ford cars of the 1980s and early 1990s? Think back to the Formula Ford Festivals of that era, and the mind goes into overdrive to imagine today’s drivers scrapping for the lead around the streets of Monaco.

As at the Festival they could invite any international licence holders and hold heats and quarter- and semi-finals to decide the grid for Sunday.

Top drivers from all disciplines, sports, saloons, rallying, and other formula, all competing together – who wouldn’t want to witness that?

Maybe some lateral thinking from Chase Carey and Liberty Media could make it happen. The only downside: the owners of the cars would need
some good insurance!

Guy Raines, Norton, Malton, North Yorkshire

More of the same

Contrary to removing Monaco, I would keep all tracks the same. As a certain commentator says, “the throttle works both ways”. I thought the idea of the changes was to improve the show, not sanitise it further by altering tracks.

Bob Bull, Portishead, North Somerset

Getting the hammer down

Whilst in no way decrying the massive achievements of Dan Gurney, as written about in March, I must correct you on one issue. The winner of the 1959 Tourist Trophy was Stirling Moss, who took over the No2 car of Fairman and Shelby after the car he shared with Roy Salvadori was incinerated in a pit fire.

Moss drove the majority of the race from about 1½ hours in, pursued by Dan Gurney and Tony Brooks in the works Ferrari. Even now, nearly 59 years after the event, I can still in my mind see Brooks hammering down Lavant Straight in the final minutes of the race in a desperate bid to catch Stirling.

One of my all-time great memories in a lifetime of following motor sport.

David Robinson, Milton Keynes, Bucks

Roll back the years

In a world of droning F1 cars with PR-protected drivers, snub-nosed WEC barges and cartoonish WRC hatchbacks, how revealing it was to see the Can-Am Private View feature in your March edition. Liberty Media, the WEC and the FIA should stop, look and consider the image of Jo Siffert in his (privately entered!) Porsche 917/10 at Road America on p126.

It shrieks looks, power, excitement, accessibility and charisma, in ways that no current mega-costly global formula can match.

Tragically, both drivers on that feature page were killed driving in
their F1 ‘day jobs’.

Steve Singleton, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

A new world of racing

Reading March’s Private View Can-Am feature brought back some very happy memories of visits to Laguna Seca and Riverside in 1972 and ’73, when I went with friends to cheer on David Hobbs in his Lola T310 and McLaren M20. Wonderful weather, friendly people, stunning cars with explosive noise, great racing dominated by Mark Donohue in the Penske Sunoco Porsche 917/10.

Having been weaned at Silverstone, Oulton Park, Snetterton etc, this racing was something else, while also at the same meetings were the IROC races, with Indy and NASCAR drivers battling with WSC drivers in Porsches. We won’t see the likes of that again.

Coming back from LA on the Jumbo, Denny Hulme was stretched out across four seats next to me, fast asleep the whole way back to London. Happy days!

Tony Barrett, Wellesbourne, Warwick

Automatic weight loss

When I co-authored Chaparral 1961-1970 with Doug Nye in 1991, he sent me off to interview Phil Hill in Los Angeles. Phil was everything l had been led to expect, welcoming, erudite and admiring of Jim Hall both as a driver and an engineer. He was also given to somewhat maudlin introspection. He didn’t approve of the GM-sourced transaxle: “The 2E would go off the start line like a ’41 Dodge Fluid Drive…”, which I dutifully recorded. But there is a simple fact we all missed and I only discovered myself when l bought an ex-Chaparral transaxle: complete with torque converter: it weighs only 75lb, about half the weight of its contemporaries. This was significant on a car with a dry weight of 1520lb, especially when the extra weight would have been hanging off the back. 

Richard Falconer, Painswick, Gloucestershire

Bleeding good idea

I agree with Doug Nye that the Chaparral 2F is among the greatest racing cars of all time, and one of the most beautiful. I said this to Jim Hall some years ago and he was surprised, saying “But it’s only an old race car!”

I have always been a fan of Hall’s designs. I once stood alongside the 2J when the fan engine was run on a wet day and was staggered by the size and length of the air pattern on the wet tarmac. That car passed a lot of gas!

Another time I asked him if he had considered the use of boundary layer control as used on carrier-borne aircraft. Surprisingly he was nonplussed.

In these aircraft bleed air from the compressor blows across the wing to increase lift at low speeds – ideal for the rear wings of racing cars. I am surprised neither Hall nor Chapman thought of it. 

A similar principle was used over the years from 1983 with variations of the exhaust-blown diffuser. Perhaps someone did think of it and used it,
but is keeping schtum…

Dr Peter O’Donnell, Epsom, Surrey