Comment on the Racing and Club Scene
John Player, The British Grand Prix and Lotus
The tobacco firm of John Player & Sons of Nottingham have been one of the, if not the, best sponsor Formula One racing has ever known. They were the first of the major sponsors to start subsidising Grand Prix racing when the fuel companies clipped their wings, and their colourful Gold Leaf colours were to he seen on various racing Lotuses. The liaison between Lotus and Gold Leaf has been a tremendously fruitful one, not only in terms of success on the track, but also in the market place. Everyone seemed to be happy.
For 1972 the contract was re-negotiated and Mr. Geoffrey Kent, of John Player and his advisers, wanted to swing the emphasis away from the Gold Leaf brand to the new and upmarket John Player Special cigarette. What better than to call the existing cars, which Lotus intended to race for another year, John Player Specials? It seemed a natural step and for years Indianapolis cars have had such names as the Sunripe Prune Special and the Dean Van Lines Special.
Quite how keen Colin Chapman was to drop the famous name of Lotus from his racing cars altogether we cannot be sure. Some sources suggest that he was genuinely keen to lose the name for he no longer wants his road cars to be associated with racing cars. Anyway, this is what the John Player Public Relations man tells us. Personally we take this with a considerable pinch of salt but, in any event, the amount of noughts on the cheque was sufficient to convince him he should, Team Lotus Ltd. is a Chapman-owned company, outside the Lotus Group of companies, and it is obviously up to Chapman to keep that Company viable in the face of the ever rising and astronomical costs of running a World-beating Grand Prix team.
Hence this year the equipe was re-named John Player-Team Lotus and was to run two Lotus 72s for Emerson Fittipaldi and David Walker (the same cars as last year) but, like a chameleon, they had changed colour and, for that matter, their name to John Player Special.
This is where the problems commence. They start first with the group of people known a “the purists”. These so-called purists love racing and have been in and around it for years because they like the excitement, the speed, the skill and the mechanical and technical ingenuity. Such people are called purists not by themselves but by others who like motor racing because of the glamour, the fact that it is the in-thing, or simply because they think they can make money out of it.
These purists remember Lotus racing cars when they had a little badge on the front and it said “Lotus” and a chap called Jim Clark kept winning races with them. Old habits die hard with these people and when a car, that was called a Lotus 72 last year, flashes past the chequered flag they find it rather hard to say “Hooray for the JPS”. After all it looks like a Lotus and Colin Chapman designed it. The problem for John Player is that some of these people write for magazines and papers.
Then there is another group or people who provide material for what is loosely called “the media”. By this I mean the television commentators, national newspaper reporters and the like. Now some of these people are more susceptible to the Public Relations push or “hype” as it is called in America. They file their stories with a headline like “Emerson’s John Player Special wins” and the black and gold PR man smiles happily. The only trouble is that back in Fleet Street a little chap called a sub-editor reads this steaming hot copy. The black and gold PR man hasn’t spoken to him and, when he sees “John Player Special”, he thinks what kind of car is that ? Then, he remembers reading somewhere that Lotus’s Grand Prix team is sponsored by John Player. If the fag firm is lucky he puts his blue pencil through the word Special and adds in Lotus or, if they are not, he crosses it all out and just puts Lotus. The problem really lies in whether the general public can associate with a racing car called a John Player Special. I personally think not. When they read of a Lotus victory they think of the firm that makes those fast little Elan Sprints, just as when Porsche wins a Can-Am race they think of those smart Porsche 911s like the one the daughter’s wealthy boyfriend used to have. If John Player had called the cars the John Player Special Lotus, or plain John Player Lotus, they probably would have got away with it, without upsetting anyone, which is more than can be said at the moment.
In fact, they have taken this business even further by sponsoring this year’s British Grand Prix, it will be remembered that last year the Wool Secretariat sponsored the race and called it the Woolmark British Grand Prix. No one minded that too much, the only problem was that rather a lot of people forgot the new prefix. This year the race was sold to John Player for the reputed sum of £25,000. The tobacco company managed to persuade the RAC, who organise the event, to agree that they could change the name of the race to the John Player Grand Prix. As I said earlier, old habits die hard and it is going to take some very astute Public Relations work to stop the great majority of people still referring to the race as the British Grand Prix, although the official regulations for the race call it the John Player Grand Prix. Perhaps one day the Formula One calendar will read the Fray Bentos GP, Buenos Aires; the Rand Daily Mail GP, Kyalami; the Tio Pepe Grand Prix, Jarama; right through to the Pepsi Cola GP, Watkins Glen. Personally, being something of a traditionalist, I perish the thought. But the John Player Public Relations man tells me that if his tobacco firm had not put their money into this year’s Grand Prix then there simply would not have been a race. If that is true I feel sorry for motor racing, if not I feel sorry for the PR man.
Real Road Racing
A decision taken last month by the Birmingham Corporation seems to indicate that road racing in Britain, around the streets of Birmingham at least, is a distinct possibility. While we wait with bated breath for Monaco and Pau style racing to come to the Midlands, over in Ireland, in Dublin to be exact, the closing of roads for motor raceing is still allowed and enjoyed. Unfortunately the unforgettable Dunboyne circuit claimed rather too many lives to be sensible to continue but, each year, the Irish Motor Racing Club organises an International meeting at Phoenix Park.
Motor racing has been going on in this huge park since before the war and very little has been changed. Over the years the circuit has been altered to some extent and shortened but, even so, the present circuit is still a very exciting and extremely dangerous 2.77 miles. Various aspects of the circuit would make the GPDA blanch and some years ago Max Mosley, now March’s Joint Managing Director and then a Formula Two Brabham driver who stood an excellent chance of winning, decided that he personally would not risk his neck at Phoenix Park unless the safety facilities were improved. They were not and Mosley didn’t race but he did not rush around with petitions urging others to follow suit, unlike some Grand Prix drivers might do. He made his own decision and that was that. The circuit is little different now and still, some say remarkably, retains an excellent safety record despite the hazards.
This year’s International meeting will take place on September 2nd and 3rd and should provide plenty of entertainment. As usual the main race will be for Formule Libre (All-corners) and will be called the Players No. 6 Grand Prix. Well we seem to have been over that before but we welcome this Players Grand Prix, as it has never had an established title. The first prize is £1,000 which should attract the odd Formula Two car, several Formula 5000s and some Formula Atlantic machinery from Britain as well as all the top Irish Formule Libre cars, of which there are several decent ones. The race is to be run in two parts (one on Saturday and the other on Sunday) for total distance of 250 kilometres. There is also a full programme of sports, saloon and Formula Ford races, to keep the crowds happy.
The most staggering thing of all is that admission is completely free for the spectators. Because of the local laws no charge can be made and the racing only runs because of the generosity of the sponsors. If you live in Ireland, or happen to be over there, remember the Phoenix Park and if possible buy a programme or a grandstand seat which is the only other income the organisers have. Further details from the Irish Motor Racing Club, 15 South Williams Street, Dublin, 2.
March, BMW and STP
An important announcement was made in the middle of last month whereby March Engineering and the German BMW firm will have an exclusive tie-up in both Formula Two and 2-litre sports car racing next year. March Engineering will run teams of cars in both categories with power from BMW engines, which will be homologated for F2 from January 1st, and already in use in sports car racing.
The new engine is a development of the 1,600 c.c. unit which gave the Cosworth FVA powered machines a fright in 1970. Although, after several victories, BMW pulled out of Formula Two at the end of the year, Dieter Quester continued to run such an engine in a March chassis with success until the end of the 1,600 c.c. Formula last year.
This year the new 2-litre version has been seen in the back of a Chevron, again with Quester at the wheel. But now BMW have stepped up their competition programme again, having recently won the services of Jochen Neerpasch from Ford. Neerpasch is now head of the newly formed BMW Motorsport GmbH and it is with him that the March directors have made this deal.
As well as running March-BMWs in the STP colours, March will also offer similar cars to customers and BMW will not be making their engine available to any other constructors. March also intend to set up a BMW engine re-building facility at their Bicester works. The BMW engines look like being very serious contenders to Ford based units, in both Formula Two and sports car racing, so this exclusive tie-up is obviously important.
Record for Johncock
Elsewhere in this issue there is mention of recent records set up by diesel-powered vehicles but, early in July, a much faster record was established, during testing by a McLaren Indianapolis car.
Gordon Johncock, driving a works Gulf McLaren Offy, lapped Michegan International Speedway on July 2nd at an officially recorded 201.399 m.p.h., which is an unofficial record for a closed course. He lapped the two-mile banked oval in 35.75 seconds. According to the Guinness Book of Records the previous best was the 201.105 m.p.h. set at the Alabama International Speedway by Bobby Isaac in one of those mammoth NASCAR stockers.
More Mexico fun
Last year the Castrol Ford Mexico season was tremendously closely fought by the rising South African driver Jody Scheckter and experienced saloon car hand Gerry Marshall. The success of this series led to more general Group 1 racing, which has been such a success so far this season.
However, Castrol have again sponsored a Mexico series and, as anyone who was at Brands Hatch on Grand Prix day will know, the racing is still phenomenally close. With the half-way mark now passed the three leading contenders are Barrie Williams, who did well last year, Andy Rouse (a former Formula Ford driver who works for Broadspeed) and F3 man Colin Vandervell.
As we go to press Rouse and Vandervell tie for the lead with points while Vandervell in the Potterton central heating sponsored car is now third following a recent win in the rain at Oulton Park.
Now it’s standard sports car racing
Following the success of standard saloon car racing this season the BRSCC, under the guidance of its Executive Director Peter Browning, is intending to run a category next year for standard sports cars along similar lines.
Basically the rules only allow modifications which will add to the safety and comfort of the driver but no doubt some of the crafty tweaks used by the standard saloon car people will be employed.
The racing will be in four categories according to the pre-taxed value of the cars, as in Group 1 saloon racing, and a list of approved models has already been drawn up although it may be added to before next year.
In the over £2,000 category Porsche 911s, Lotus Elans, Ferrari Dinos are included as well as Chevrolet Camaro, Aston Martin DB6 but not, as yet, the Jaguar E-type V12.
The £1,300-£2,000 category looks a good one for the Datsun 240Z although opposition can be expected from Lotus Europas and Lancia Fulvias but hardly a Range Rover which is included in the list.
The £1,001-£1,300 category will probably be the preserve of various Triumphs and M.G.-Bs while, in the up to £1,000 category, it will he interesting to see how the MG Midgets and Austin-Healey Sprites fare against the Triumph Spitfires.
• Racetape is the name of a new method of finding out the information on the latest Grand Prix. Well known journalist Alan Phillips has recently formed a firm to produce hour-long reports on tape of each World Championship Grand Prix with a commentary and interviews with drivers and other personnel, by Peter Scott-Russell. The tapes are available very quickly after each race but the main snag is that they cost £2.50 each and one needs a cassette recorder to listen to them. Further details from Racetapes at 10 Theberton Street, London N1. (Tel.: 01-226 0626). The idea started with Monaco and all the subsequent races have been covered.
• Two more motor racing sponsorship deals have been announced recently. Scottish Formula Three driver Neil Ginn is now racing his GRD in the colours of Y-front underwear, of all things, for the manufacturing company Lyle & Scott. A mock-up F3 car will be used in store promotions.
• Hudsons, the International freight forwarding, road transport and removals firm are backing a Group One Chevrolet Camaro to be driven by PR man Richard Lloyd. Hudson’s rival SCA Freight have been sponsoring a Group 2 Chevrolet Camaro very successfully for two years now but as the two Camaros are in different categories of saloon car racing they will not come into contact.
• A recent fatality at Snetterton has prompted a ban on wet weather racing at the circuit. Apparently the different changes of surface, particularly just in front of the pits, make the circuit extremely treacherous and the recent accident is one of many over recent years. Now the RAC have ruled that racing has to be stopped if the track is wet.
• We seem to have a never-ending flow of enquiries about the recently formed and already thriving Triumph TR Register. The Secretary is Alan Robinson, 71 Perham Road, London W14, while social secretary Darryl Uprichard has recently moved to The Corner House, Burnaston, Derbyshire.
• A new name to watch in Formula Three in the near future will he that of 18-year-old Tim Brise. Tim started racing towards the end of last year and this year was leading the important British Oxygen Formula Ford competition until his decision to switch to F3 with a new GRD. Tim is the son of Johnny Brise, a former World Champion stock car driver and younger brother of Tony Brise, now an established F3 driver with a works backed Brabham. — A. R. M.