Reflections on This and That

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It was my intention to write articles after each major Grand Prix race, reflecting on my thoughts and views which had no direct bearing on the actual race report, but printing schedules and Editorial space allocations made a nonsense of this last month, so that Reflections on the Grand Prix at Spa were omitted. This was a pity, for much of the excitement of the end of the Belgian Grand Prix was explained, so for the record some of the important points are included now, along with Reflections on the French Grand Prix at Rouen-les Essarts and the 24-Hour race at Le Mans as this year the classic long-distance event had a new significance. The following notes on Dan Gurney were written after his disappointment in the Belgian G.P. and before his victory in the French G.P., and you can now add to this his challenge during Practice for the British G.P. at Brands Hatch.

Make no mistake, Dan Gurney has been one of the “greats” of motor racing for a long time and for the past two years he has been in my “four at the top.” When his car is right Gurney is a difficult man to beat, but he seldom does the impossible, he does what I expect of a “racer and a charger” for he is not art artist or a natural, he’s an honest and very fast racing driver who will race anything, anywhere, anytime. Racing is his livelihood and if he doesn’t win he goes hungry, so that he stands alongside the true American professional racing drivers and not among the “sporty boys of the S.C.C.A.,” and for this reason he is respected wherever he races, whether it be Grand Prix, sports cars, stock saloon cars or Indianapolis. A convincing Grand Prix victory has been long overdue to him and at the Belgian race it was there, right in the palm of his hand for 29 of the 32 laps, at a speed of over 135 m.p.h., and then it was thrown away by a technical fault. on paper Clark was the winner, but to anyone who was at Francorchamps on June 14th Gurney was the undisputed moral victor. I will not deny that it was a case of “Lucky Jim” but there were a whole lot of “ifs” and “buts” as to why he should or should not have won. When he came in for water after 211 laps his pit had nearly exhausted all their supplies in keeping Arundell’s Lotus cool, but fortunately the Cooper pit was next door and they lent Clark’s mechanic their water can, as it also had a longer and more convenient spout. After the race they realised that had they not done this, Clark’s pit-stop might have taken five seconds longer and that would have allowed McLaren to coast to victory„ The Cooper mechanics did not regret this action, for inter-team rivalry is not bitter, though it is keen. However, Clark’s arrival at the pits had been at very high speed with true “crash stop” braking, which scattered the hangers-on in front of the pits, and his restart would have done credit to a Mickey Thompson dragster. Had Clark not arrived and departed like this he would have lost those valuable seconds that allowed him to pass McLaren with the finishing flag in sight. Equally, had he not “driven on his car” for the last four laps he would not have caught McLaren, and when he had rejoined the race he had no idea that McLaren was suffering from his battery going flat, and that all the electrics and pumps were dying on the last lap. A true racer goes on racing until he gets the chequered flag, and some of them even go on racing after that. One of these was Ginther who received the chequered flag by mistake, the official thinking it was Graham Hill, as it should have been, but the B.R.M. number two saw his mechanic giving him the signal that he had one more lap to do, as he went past the pits, so he kept up the pace. He said later that it was very nerve-racking, for had the race really been over he could have found people round some of the corners, on their way home.

After Gurney’s domination of the practice periods it was interesting to contemplate the thoughts of other drivers, but pointless to ask them about it, as some journalists do, for if they are in a bad mood they are not very communicative. Among the top drivers there is an obvious rivalry which is keen but not mean, and if they can all turn in lap times within a fraction of a second of each other then they are all fairly happy, but if one of them is outstanding then the others tend to sidle up to each other and commiserate slightly or try to find out why they are all slow, and perhaps find a reason why the other chap is so much faster. After the first practice, with Gurney nearly five seconds ahead, no one seemed keen to talk to him, but, rather it was a case of ”What’s wrong with your car, mine just will not pull maximum revs,” or “My handling is terrible, how is your car ? “Meanwhile Gurney must have been wondering what all the other drivers were up to were they really in trouble, or were they “foxing,” and if they were not really trying very hard, why weren’t they?; or, if the other cars were giving trouble, how fast would they go when they got them sorted out? And there was always the thought that if they could lap at that speed with all the things wrong that they said were wrong, then they were going to go very fast indeed when things were right. When practice finished, with both Brabhams on the front row of the starting grid, someone asked Jack Brabham how this came about and, with a sly grin, he said: Must be our monocoque chassis construction and our inboard springs that are paying off on this fast circuit!”

Although on the face of it all the leaders ran out of petrol in the closing stages, it was not as simple as that, and it would be more precise to say that they ran out of fuel systems rather than fuel. On Hill’s B.R.M. the fuel system worked perfectly at Monaco, but the same layout let him down in Belgium. On the B.R.M. there are two side tanks, which are the main supply, and under the driver’s legs is an additional tank which feeds into the main ones by way of an electric pump. If there is any doubt about the fuel capacity being enough for a race then there is another smaller tank above the driver’s legs, which feeds into the one below his legs. The drill is that after some fuel has been used from the main side tanks, Hill is given a pit signal which says “F-on,” at which he switches on the pump to transfer Some of the fuel from the tank under his legs into the main tanks, gravity then taking fuel from the top tank down into the lower one. This is done as soon as is reasonable in order to carry the weight low as much as possible, and when the B.R.M. pit calculate that sufficient fuel has been pumped into the main tanks they give Hill a signal which reads “F-off,” which he does. This drill had been gone through at Francorchamps and at the end of the race he was fondly imagining that the contents of his overload tank had been pumped into the main tank, so that he had ample for the race. The pump had been “ticking” but not working and when his engine cut out after Stavelot the pump would still tick but not pump, so his main tanks were dry, but there was plenty its the overload tank.

On the Brabham the system is different, but nearly as complicated, for with the modern small racing car it is rather like an aircraft and you have to pack equipment into all available space. In years gone by you could mount a 50-gallon fuel tank on the back of the chassis and make it form the tail and, with roadholding being pretty poor anyway, this great load at one end did not matter, or at least no one really knew any better. Today, the distribution of the thirty or so gallons that are carried is very important and the placing can seriously affect the road-holding. When everything is fitted tightly around the driver the mounting of an extra object often presents a problem, and one such is the large high-pressure pump of the Lucas fuel-injection system. This black cylindrical olject is often referred to as “the bomb” and its mounting is critical for it must not get too hot. On the Branham it is mounted on the left-hand side of the gearbox, out at the back of the car, and is shrouded by aluminium deflectors to keep the heat of the gearbox away. While this is a convenient place for the pump it does mean that the fuel is doing a lot of travelling up and down the car before it gets to the injector nozzles. On a twisty circuit continual accelerating and braking will help the petrol to to-and-fro in the pipes, but on a flat-out circuit it gets no encouragement from these forces and has to rely solely on the pump. If temperature conditions or quantity of fuel should approach critical conditions it is quite likely that the system would fail and the problem is to test it under these conditions. A fuel system that will pump the last drop of petrol out of the tanks when the car is stationary might well leave a few gallons untouched when subjected to the centrifugal force of a 150-m.p.h. corner, or the lack of any braking forces to swill it about. An added factor in Gurney’s case was that his Climax engine was running a bit rich, so it was using more fuel than Brahham’s car. With a smaller total fuel load on board at the start, Brabham’s own car’s fuel system worked perfectly, whereas Gurney’s let him down. Complicated things, these modern racing cars.

t Le Mans the great interest was the fact that, for the first time for many years, there was some serious opposition to Ferrari on sheer performance, this coming from the rear-engined Ford V8 Coupés developed from the Lola GT that competed last year. While many people are “brain-washed” into calling them Ford GT cars, I prefer to give credit where it is due and retain the name Lola-Ford V8, for at the moment they are still the brain-child of Eric Broadley. They are built in Slough, near London, by a team of mechanics, the majority of whom are English and come from the disbanded Lola team and Aston Martin team, and John Wyer of Aston Martin fame is in charge. The materials for the major part of the chassis undoubtedly come from England, the tyres and brakes are British, and the fibreglass bodies are made in London by a firm having no connections with Detroit. As is too well known, the gearbox/axle unit is made in Italy, opposite the Ferrari factory at Maranello, and the only truly American part of the car is the vee-eight Ford engine, and this uses Italian Weber carburetters. With such a cosmopolitan collection of pieces it is impossible to attribute it to any one country, so I prefer to give credit to the original conception, which we saw at the B.R.S.C.C. Racing Car Show in January 1963, and that was the Lola GT. I am not decrying the car, far from it, for it was my dream vehicle when I first saw it and it still is superb creation, and thanks to the Ford Motor Company’s money and power we are able to see a team of three of them really making the Ferraris sweat, and they sound terrific while they are doing it, but I must say that so far the outcome has been redolent of Wyer’s old team, the David Brown Aston Martin.

During practice at Le Mans these Lola-Fords were very fast down the Mulsanne straight but still had a disconcerting tendency to lift their front wheels at speed. The air that passes through the front-mounted radiator is exuded through openings in the top of the sloping nose and it is more than likely that this creates quite an appreciable “lift” on the smooth flat surface in front of the windscreen. Add to this a build-up of air under the nose of the car and it is easy to see why the front wheels get a bit light. It was this sort of thinking that Richie Ginther was doing as he tried to keep control of his car at 190 m.p.h., and after a lot of opposition had been overcome he persuaded those in charge to arrange “spoilers” in front of the front wheels to deflect some of the air away from the underside of the car. Although the fundamental fault of “lift” on the top-side was still there, at least it was not being added to by pressure build-up under the car. He was only able to try the car in the last practice session but he convinced himself that the car would steer “hands off” at 190 m.p.h. with ease, and for the race the other two cars were fitted with these deflectors. Much pre-race publicity was given to these Lola-Fords being capable of 200 m.p.h., though there were many sceptics, but in the opening laps of the race Ginther saw 7,200 r.p.m. on the tachometer, and, at 28.9 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., that represents 209 m.p.h., forgetting tyre growth, errors of instrument reading, inaccuracy of instruments and so on. Now, at the time, speeds were being recorded by a radar beam on the Mulsanne straight and these were being recorded on a strip-type k.p.h. scale superimposed on a television screen filming the passage of the cars. On the third lap the three leading Ferraris were running in line-ahead formation in the order, Rodriguez. Surtees and Graham Hill, with about 100 yards between each car, and in fourth place was Ginther in the Lola-Ford. The Ferraris were travelling at 185-190 m.p.h. and collectively creating quite a draught behind them. At this moment Ginther decided to see if he could pass them by using this slip-stream to gain speed. He went past Graham Hill with ease, nipped in behind Surtees, out again, in behind Rodriguez and out again and into the lead at a speed that he felt was “getting into the unknown.” He felt that the car was distinctly in a situation he had not experienced before and a quick look at the tachometer showed 7,200 r.p.m. in top, and another quick look in the mirror showed Rodriguez” so far behind that it was ridiculous.” While all this was happening those of us watching the radar speed indicator on the screen saw the needle flick up to 307 k.p.h., then 308 k.p.h,, followed by 310 k.p.h., and suddenly it gave a jump and indicated a fleeting 340 k.p.h. “Absurd,” we all cried, and even the organisers refused to believe it (340 k.p.h. is 215 m.p.h.). This spot reading by radar can be as much as 10% in error, but even allowing for that, the jump that the indicator made was obviously Ginther leap-frogging the three Ferraris, and, no matter how pessimistic you care to be, it is pretty obvious that by reason of the slip-streaming Ginther’s car had passed 200 m.p.h. On its own it was about the equal of the Ferraris at 185 m.p.h., give or take a little.

On the subject of the nationality or naming of cars, the Shelby A.C. Cobra-Ford V8 coupés are nearly wholly American, the twin-tube frame coming from Thames Ditton but the converting into GT coupés is essentially a Shelby project and they even run on American wheels and Goodyear tyres. It will not be long before the Shelby team build their own chassis, and then the cars can be considered 100% American, and with a large number of American mechanics in the team and an American chief mechanic and development man, they can truly be said to represent the United States of America in GT racing.

At Spa the Brabhams turned out with very sketchy bodywork over the engine, consisting merely of two small panels, one over each cylinder bank, leaving the intake pipes and throttle slides out in the open air. This was in the interests of preventing vaporising, but it meant that more of the mechanism was exposed than was covered, for the rear-mounted gearboxes have always been exposed. At Rouen Coopers followed Brabham’s lead and Lotus cut their engine hatches to the minimum, so that only B.R.M. were “decently clothed,” for Ferrari gearboxes have been exposed since the “Surtees influence.” This reduction of bodywork is all very well in the interests of cooling but it is reaching the state when some sort of ruling is likely to be thought up by the F.I.A. Aerodynamically there is little loss from a “naked” rear end, so constructors might just as well leave off all the bodywork aft of the cockpit, but somehow this would give an unfinished appearance to the cars rather than one of technical advancement, and I would like to see constructors evolving bodywork that covers all the mechanism efficiently and with a purpose; B.R.M. have shown that it can be done and their 1964 stressed-skin car is one of the sleekest yet seen. At Brands Hatch Coopers turned farce into absurdity by fitting a nicely made gauze cover over the intake trumpets, which was held by Dzuz-fasteners to a frame tube behind the driver and to the rear of the chassis. This was brought about after Clark’s Coventry-Climax engine had collected a small piece of gravel down one of the intakes at Rouen. The Cooper bodywork at the rear of the car was about as effective in covering the mechanism as a bikini is of covering the female body. While bikinis cannot be left off completely by reasons of law and decorum, some of the sketchy bodywork on today’s G.P. cars might just as well be left off completely. Also at the British G.P. the B.R.M. team joined the undressed brigade for Graham Hill’s car had abbreviated engine hatch sides, exposing the injection intake trumpets. This year the Grand Prix of the A.C.F. was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of something or other, and the Rouen meeting was a veritable British-type fiesta of motoring, with two supporting Formula Three races and a Vintage and Historic Racing Car event, so that the French Grand Prix was just another race in a full programme of events. Now I like fiestas at any time and I like motor racing, and a British Bank Holiday seems the appropriate time to have such a meeting and not the occasion of the classic of all Grand Prix events. The Belgian G.P. seems to be able to stand on its own feet, and I would have thought that the French Grand Prix could have done the same. People have often asked why there is never a Grand Prix race on the Le Mans circuit, but because there isn’t and the circuit of the Sarthe is retained solely for the 24-hour race is why that event has become a classic in its own right. For the same reason the Targa Florio stands out as a classic, as does Indianapolis, for they are not used every weekend or over-used. There are plans afoot to construct a short circuit at Le Mans, using the pit area, the Esses and Tertre-Rouge corner, and some new roads, for use as a test-track and for Grand Prix and club-type races, the full Le Mans circuit being retained for the 24-hour race.

For those who enjoy vintage-type racing the fiesta at Rouen was a great occasion, for 14 members of the V.S.C.C. crossed over the Channel to join in with some French owners and have a 10-lap race on the Grand Prix circuit. In practice the Hon. Patrick Lindsey made fastest lap with his E.R.A., and he offered it to Jim Clark to have a go. Much to the surprise of many V.S.C.C. members Clark went faster than anyone has ever driven an E.R.A., in only four laps, but, after all, Clark is not World Champion for nothing, and though an E.R.A. may seem a powerful car to. V.S.C.C. members, with its supercharged 1,500-c.c. engine, he has driven 425-b.h.p. Indianapolis cars, and the modern G.P. car has 200 b.h.p. and a bare 10 cwt. of avoirdupois. Clark really enjoyed the experience, never having driven anything like an E.R.A. before, but felt that it could go a lot faster round circuits if this and that were altered. He began to suggest various things, but I had to stop him for he was converting the 1936 E.R.A. into a modern G.P. car and the whole point of Vintage and Historic Car racing is that the owners and drivers enjoy living in the past, with comparatively powerful cars having little in the way of brakes or road-holding, which makes for exciting driving. There is a tendency to think that the present-day Grand Prix driver knows little or nothing about cars of the past, but it should be remembered that Graham Hill’s first car was a vintage Austin Seven Chummy, lnnes Ireland was a vintage Bentley owner, and Phil Hill owns and drives a supercharged 1,750-c.c. Alfa Romeo.

D. S. J.

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