Matters of moment, August 1966

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TIMES CHANGE!

The heading does not refer to the disappearance of advertisements from the front page of The Times, although that is certainly a break with tradition, like the serious articles alongside the humorous in Punch and the fact that Donington Park, which we associate with G.P. Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union, is now devoted to the filming of “Alice in Wonderland.” . . .

The point it is time to make is that big-time motor racing is changing, and not necessarily for the better. Some of the uncertainty as to who has won, which threatens to make a nonsense of International rallies, is beginning to affect motor racing, pace Indianapolis and Le Mans.

Far more unfortunate is the incursion of film companies at Grand Prix practice periods, with a camera-car actually leaving the starting-grid in a race, driven by a professional racing driver— and not so long ago the G.P.D.A. said so emphatically, no more cameras on racing cars when a real race is occupying a circuit!

We may be old-fashioned in outlook. But it seems astonishing that something like £4¼-million should be spent jointly by M.G.M. and Warner Brothers to make a couple of motor-racing films when, as Derek Jewell emphasised in his masterly article on the subject in The Sunday Times Magazine of July 10th, in the 1964 Mexican G.P. the World Championship changed hands three times on the last lap. Even M.G.M. Director John Frankenheimer admits that to put that sort of drama on the screen would get him laughed out of the cinema.

Think what a magnificent G.P. team you could prepare for half the money these film producers are spending! Real motor racing is so dramatic and full of interest and sensation that it seems so futile to over-sensationalise the Sport on celluloid. And when doing so interferes with the real thing it makes us very angry indeed. . . .

Lest a parallel be drawn with “Genevieve,” that comedy of the Veteran Car Brighton Run, which is said to have been good for the old-car movement because it won the public over in favour of the ancients using modern roads on such occasions, it must be remarked that this happy film didn’t in any way interfere with the real Brighton Run, was not in fact “shot” at the same time of year, didn’t involve V.C.C. or V.S.C.C. personalities, and wasn’t obsessed with gruesome crashes. If motor-racing films are such good box-office that it is profitable to spend millions of money on them, shooting racing cars from guns like puffed wheat to get truly blood-curdling accident sequences, buying £100,000-worth of faked F.3 cars, and investing up to £20,000 in a single camera car, we suppose nothing will suppress it — but filming should he confined to non-race days, not intermingled with the real thing, as it has been at major G.P. races this season.

However, when drivers of the calibre of the Hills, McLaren, Rindt, Ginther and Bonnier accept a signing-on fee said to be £,750 each, as film stars, with Clark, Surtees, Stewart and Ireland facing them in the opposite camp, it is hard to define where acting ends and professional race driving takes over. The racing driver of 1966 seems in some danger, too, of being out-classed by actor racing motorists in public esteem —and some day of losing races to them.

This distressing distortion of motor racing is not confined to the cinema. Jazz bands, pop-stars, acrobatic teams and parachutists are nowadays deemed necessary to maintain interest in the Sport.

A certain god-like photographer, whose gaze no-one except himself escapes, having paid us the compliment of saying we behave as if Victoria were still on the throne, we admit that we preferred the days when one great Motor race was sufficient to draw the spectators in their tens of thousands, when supporting events were quite unnecessary, and when the French G.P. even survived being held on weekdays and being started in the early hours of the morning. Do you recall the excitement of the last two Donington G.P.s, when the presence of the German teams and Dick Seaman drew record crowds?

If we regret the passing of an age when people supported motor racing because they liked motor cars, not on account of sensationalism and sideshows, and when drivers were knighted for their skill, prowess, bravery and service to their country instead of earning a supplementary income from the film industry, we also have hope that the present blight is but a passing phase. Anything which undermines the prestige of G.P. motor racing is to be regretted, especially as it is one of the few such pursuits in which Britain leads the World. With the high speeds and powerful performance of present 3-litre G.P. cars, the formidable spectacle of 7-litre Le Mans cars hammering home the might of the dollar and dragsters they say can reach 100 m.p.h. from a standstill in three seconds, modern motor racing surely shouldn’t need artificial stimulation ?

In any case there is plenty of evidence of genuine enthusiasm for motoring sport among the ranks of those who drive veteran and vintage vehicles, almost entirely without financial gain and often at considerable personal expense. Motor Sport is proud to have played its part in furthering their cause and intends to continue to do so. . . .

 

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