Matters of Moment, August 1968
• Grands Prix—Triumphant/Tragic
This issue of Motor Sport is up to date with a report on the most recent Grand Prix. In the middle of a tragic season of motor racing it is desirable to look as calmly as possible at this highest, most exciting and most rewarding (not necessarily in a financial sense) form of the Sport. That is, if International motor racing can any longer be described as a sport . . . .
How ever it is regarded, there is no denying that under the prevailing 3-litre Formula some very fine racing at very appreciable speeds between cars of great technical quality and interest has been taking place. If the Brands Hatch Grand Prix, which was held a few days after these words were written, came up to standard the very large crowd which watched it, and those who, once again, saw it on I.T.V., must have been well satisfied. Conversely, there were times when all was far from well with G.P. racing. Either one make dominated the scene, or green cars were on the last row of the starting grid, if they appeared at all, or keenly-anticipated new cars failed to start and so on. Consider the position today. Already this year, to the time of writing, there have been six World Championship G.P.s and the results portray how open, and how Internationally-contested, these races have become:—
S. African G.P. 1st: Lotus-Cosworth: 2nd: Lotus-Cosworth; 3rd: Brabham-Repco.
Spanish G.P. 1st: Lotus-Cosworth; 2nd: McLaren-Cosworth: 3rd: Cooper-B.R.M.
Monaco G.P. 1st: Lotus-Cosworth; 2nd: B.R.M.; 3rd: Cooper-B.R.M.
Belgian G.P. 1st: McLaren-Cosworth; 2nd: B.R.M.; 3rd: Ferrari.
Dutch G.P. 1st: Matra-Cosworth; 2nd: Matra; 3rd: B.R.M.
French G.P. 1st: Ferrari; 2nd: Honda; 3rd: Matra-Cosworth.
No-one can complain that this is dull racing, lacking interest (as was the case when only two makes seriously contested G.P. races or when Mercedes-Benz inevitably won), with eight makes placed in six races, these cars representing Britain, France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, while their technical variety is considerable, as regular articles in this journal have emphasised. The tyre situation is interesting, too, with Dunlop resuming battle against Goodyear and Firestone, and getting a “1st” at Zandvoort and a “3rd” at Rouen.
Alas, in the last of the races listed Jo Schlesser lost his life, in a horrid accident in the virtually untested new air-cooled Honda. This has raised the inevitable doubts as to whether the car should have been allowed to start, whether this driver, in spite of his versatility and enthusiasm, should have been allowed to drive, while one writer has placed the blame on commercial cupidity, displayed by Honda France.
Certain precautions must be taken to make motor racing reasonably safe and at Brooklands the question of a driver’s competence was solved by stationing ex-racing drivers about the place during practice to observe the tactics of newcomers. However, it is very difficult for one person to assess another’s driving ability, especially when that person has not been in a racing car for a decade or more; one remembers the retort of Freddie Dixon, when called before a committee of elderly B.A.R.C. Stewards after having driven his very fast but very light and therefore “difficult” 2-litre Riley too high, in their opinion, round the bankings: “Well, she’s in the paddock and she’s still warm—which of you gentlemen is going to take her round and show me how to do it?” Today such matters are presumably the responsibility of the G.P.D.A., after a National Club has accepted the entries; that body did not stop 40-year-old Schlesser from driving the experimental Honda at Rouen. If he died as a result of “cockpit error”, he died courageously, in the best traditions of racing. One’s sympathies go out to Schlesser’s wife and children and also to John Surtees, who put on one of his brilliant driving displays in this race, to bring the older Honda home in second place. Racing in rain constitutes another problem. At Brooklands—forgive us for harping!—the faster cars went so quickly that letting them loose on a wet track wasn’t on. The customers and competitors went home, to resume the cancelled or interrupted racing on a subsequent weekday, literally! Today, with motor racing such a significant commercial pursuit, this is out of the question, although racing in rain is very dangerous. The tyre makers do their best but usually a wet G.P. is a sorry spectacle.
It must be remembered that in this unhappy season Clark died in a F.2 race, Spence at Indianapolis, Scarfiotti while practising for a hill climb. Grand Prix racing, apart from being the top form of motor racing, has a comparatively good accident record. Those who foster moans about modern lightweight racing cars being too pared down and overpowered for safety should remember that, providing spectators are adequately protected, the challenge rests with the drivers. And racing drivers worth the title have accepted such challenges, from driving almost brakeless monsters through the dust and turmoil of a Paris-Madrid, lapping banked tracks at over two-miles-a-minute on the primitive beaded-edge tyres of 1914 and the early ‘twenties, or coping with many hundreds of horses in the lightweight oversteering Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union cars of the 1935-39 era of G.P. racing (see page 690). Let us hope that top-rank F.1 drivers have not become namby-pamby in recent times! And note that no-one accused the Daimler-Benz and Auto-Union racing departments of doing anything criminal when they packed the most powerful power-units possible in their under-15 cwt. cars in an era when road-holding and suspension science and tyre technique were far from the advanced state they have now reached.
To comply with the requirements of the Farewell State, the Editorial Rover was fitted the other day with safety-belts. Never mind whether or not they will ever be used! As they had to be fitted we used the very best possible, in the form of Britax Auto-Lok reel-type belts (12 gns. a pair). They afford maximum protection to those who are too timid to travel in a motor unless they are securely attached to it. But those who tune for performance may find reel-type belts too heavy and prefer to fit a less elaborate Britax harness-have you ever weighed a pair of reel-type belts?
We still consider the ruling a ridiculous one and another step towards bidding farewell to freedom of choice and fun of one’s own making. . . .
• TV and Motor Racing
It is time that the bitter politics behind the TV ban on motor racing were exposed and expatriated. Already I.T.V. has broken away from the B.B.C. by filming the Brands Hatch Grand Prix. How can they feebly claim that the demon advertising (on the racing cars) is behind it, when not so long ago we chanced to see some tennis singles on the fool’s lantern, played in Australia we believe, for high dollar stakes per point—all very commercial, and as the players walked slowly towards the cameras, what did we read on their racket covers but—DUNLOP. . . .
• Peugeot Postscript II
In the vintage-car section of this issue there is a picture of another surviving Henry Peugeot, this one also being in running trim, like Lindley Bothwell’s 1914 4½-litre G.P. Peugeot. Looking at a photograph of this car, which is in the Briggs Cunningham Collection near Los Angeles, we took it to be one of the 1953 5.6-litre G.P. cars. However, Ronald Barker tells us it is a 1913 Coupe de l’Auto 3-litre and the actual dramatic ex-Menier Peugeot in which Arthur Duray finished second in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race—see page 585 last month. We have also received, through the courtesy of a reader, details of the Henry Peugeot in the Bonnal Collection at Bordeaux. It is said to be a 1913 3-litre Coupe de l’Auto car, but is listed as “type Grand Prix”, and claimed to be the car in which Andre Boillot won the G.P. at Dieppe, which is a contradiction of history, especially as four-wheel-brakes are referred to. The car looks to be complete but has modern-size tyres, twin magnetos, in the wrong place, and an incorrect fuel tank. The story is that a garage proprietor travelled to Paris for the Salon and bought the car, then sold it to another garage proprietor who, finding the car too lengthy to store, chopped off its pointed tail. M. Bonnal has been to great pains fitting a replacement pointed tail, which is rather droll, considering the 1913 Peugeots had bolster tanks. Unless, of course, this is one of the 1914 4½-litre G.P. cars. But the new tail looks all wrong anyway, like something off a Type 43 Bugatti.
Answers to our query “Where Have All The Peugeots Gone?” are coming in nicely!
• The London-Sydney Marathon
The entry list for the Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon is expanding well, in spite of the cost of entering and competing, a fact which, in conjunction with the prices paid for dubious old cars at auctions, suggests that there is no real shortage of lolly in the land. The ambitious “rally to Australia” should certainly enliven the dreary month of December, if some of the clauses in the regulations are anything to judge by. For instance, competitors are reminded that they must be vaccinated against smallpox and cholera and with T.A.B., should carry drinking water and anti-malaria tablets, equip their cars with powerful wind-horns, tyre levers, and a fuel range of at least 500 miles, and that the responsibility for return transportation of the cars rests entirely with them! The luxury of a third or fourth driver increases the entry fee by £125 per person. The best of British luck to our lot!
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Bentley D.C. Silverstone Meeting.—This enjoyable fixture takes place at Silverstone on August 17th, and is an excellent opportunity to see old and new cars in feverish action.