He’s remembered for the closest, fastest Grand Prix win ever, but the race instructor from Goodwood has even fonder memories of Pau, 1972
The race that everyone remembers and was certainly my most famous win was the 1971 Italian Grand Prix. That was the last of the Monza slipstreamers, before the chicanes, and is still the closest and fastest Grand Prix ever. There was less than a fifth of a second between the first four cars at the finish, and the average speed was more than 150mph. Can you imagine what a race like that would look like with all the in-car cameras and things they have these days? It would just be unbelievable.
I think I drove pretty well that day. I lost the tow and at one stage was around 12 seconds behind the leading pack. But I clawed it back in tenths and fifths, by driving really smoothly and not making mistakes. Once I was back in the leading group it was really a question of thinking back from the finishing line and working out where you wanted to be on the last lap. By then I thought I had already done the hard bit, so I might as well win it.
Monza was my only Grand Prix victory, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the race that gave me the most satisfaction was the Formula Two race at Pau in 1972. In those days it was a very prestigious event just about all the top guys of the time were there and the whole place had a magic atmosphere. The people were real enthusiasts, the hotels were lovely, the food was wonderful and the town seemed to be full of pretty girls. It had everything as far as I was concerned.
I’ve always liked street circuits – Monte Carlo until they put in the chicanes around the swimming pool, and Trois Rivieres in Canada but Pau was my favourite. It was very tricky, mainly first, second and third gear comers, and very narrow. In places there was room for only one car. You had to be very precise and accurate if you hit a kerb you were stuffed. And there were all kinds of other hard things to hit not just the Armco, but monuments and walls.
The fastest part was past the pits. You were pretty well flat out at 130mph, maybe 135mph, through the right-hander afterwards but then you had to get the car braked and down through the box for a right-hand hairpin. That sort of driving, keeping the car in control when it’s out of shape while braking and changing down, is what I think I used to be good at. Really tossing it into corners. You had to set the car up with a bit of oversteer so the front end would turn in easily and it was up to you to catch the tail on the way out. Any understeer and you were dead.
I was driving the Chevron B20, which was the first F2 car which they had taken seriously. It was a crude looking thing, but it worked very well on medium and slow corners. You could always set it up for this neutral-to-oversteer handling and it was a lovely little car to drive. It wasn’t so good on fast circuits though, and it was fragile. I had wheels come off and suspension breakages at other places that year.
At Pau, though, it was just terrific. I won my heat from start to finish, and in the final I went straight into the lead. It was so easy it just wasn’t true. There I was, cruising around, about 20 seconds ahead of Patrick Depailler, waving to people I knew in the crowd, when suddenly I had a problem. The fuel metering unit had gone kaput and I was getting the wrong mixture. The power was either full on or full off, there was nothing in between.
It’s hard to describe how difficult it made that car to drive. I couldn’t blip the throttle to help me change down so I just had to whack it into first and then put my foot down. At first nothing would happen and then all the power would come in with a rush. You need good throttle control to be able to feed the power in when you’ve got an oversteering car through slow and medium speed corners. But this was flat out or nothing. The car was very unstable and every lap I thought I was going to lose it. I really had to drive my balls off.
Depailler, who was a real hot-shoe at that time, caught me quickly and for the last 10 laps or so he was right up my tail. Pau isn’t the easiest circuit to overtake on, but there are places where you can grab the inside and give the other bloke nowhere to go. I had to dig deep to hold him off, and not hit anything in the process, but I clung on to win by a split second. I remember getting as much satisfaction from that as any other race I’ve driven.
It was Chevron’s first F2 win and it meant a lot to the team. We had a hell of a party and I remember meeting an extremely attractive young woman that night. We weren’t paid as much as drivers today I think I got £400 for winning at Pau but we did have a lot of fun.