Readers' Letters

Witness to Irwin’s crash


I was interested and delighted to read that Chris Irwin had recently attended the Thruxton 40th anniversary meeting. The article quotes him saying, “How the accident happened and why it happened I don’t know”.

I have never spoken about this in the 40 years since, but I believe I was the only person, apart from spectators, to witness the accident first-hand, and was first on the scene.

I was driving an ex-works Austin Healey Le Mans Sprite with Mike Pigneguy in the Nürburgring 1000kms that fateful weekend of May 19, 1968. I was only 18 and it was only my second International race, the previous one two weeks earlier being the 1000kms at Spa-Francorchamps. Both circuits were a baptism of fire for one so green.

I remember that on my first flying lap coming down the series of corners to Hocheichen I could see this red car in the mirrors bearing down on me at great speed. As you exit that corner the Flugplatz comes into view and it was here that Irwin passed me and swooped through the dip before the right-hander at Flugplatz.

From memory, just before he went over the brow to apex the corner, the car appeared to lift at the front and then just flipped on its back and rolled several times before landing back on its wheels. I arrived only moments after the car became stationary, pulled up onto the verge and ran back to see what I could do.

Chris was still in the twisted wreck with the visor of his helmet embedded in his forehead. On seeing this it was evident how grave were his injuries. I felt absolutely helpless, and all I could do was to flag down the next competitor. It was a white Porsche and I cannot remember the name of the driver, but he was older and more capable than me of dealing with the seriousness of the situation. Soon after marshals appeared from everywhere and when matters seemed to be under control, I just got back in the car and continued my practice session.

I know it has been said he hit a hare or rabbit, but I never saw evidence of this. He was clearly on a scorcher of a lap and for whatever reason the car must have been aerodynamically unstable at the front, as it just took off.

It was tragic to witness the end of the career of such an aspiring driver, who undoubtedly would have gone on to greater glories. I recall watching him race F3 at Goodwood while still at school. He was someone I looked up to.

It all seems so long ago now and memories fade, but personally I am delighted Chris has resurfaced and wish him well for the future.

Willie Tuckett, Yelverton, Devon

Clark chose to do final race


I have to write in reply to Nick Syrett’s assertion that Colin Chapman forced Jimmy Clark to race at Hockenheim on that fateful weekend (Letters, June). In Andrew Ferguson’s superb book Team Lotus – the Indianapolis Years he records quite clearly a telephone conversation during which Jimmy said, “Mann’s lot promised to keep me in touch while I was doing the Tasman, and I haven’t heard a dickie bird. I’ll do Hockenheim instead.”

Bearing in mind that Ferguson was competition manager at the time, surely this must be the true reason why Jimmy was at Hockenheim instead of Brands, and the assertions of various pundits over the years, like Nick Syrett, that Chapman made him drive there are just plain wrong.

T Turner, Newport, Shropshire

Is Kimi in control?


After watching the Monaco Grand Prix I would humbly suggest that, contrary to Sir Jackie Stewart’s opinion in the season preview (April issue), it is the World Champion Kimi Räikkönen who is struggling with the 2008 specification Formula 1 cars.

I have noticed in a couple of this year’s events that he seems to have problems controlling his Ferrari without the driver aids.

His loss of control approaching Monaco’s harbour side chicane and consequent use of Adrian Sutil’s Force India as a brake indicated that the Ferrari’s lack of traction control had caught him out.

Bravo to the governing body for having the strength of character to force F1 to rely on the skill and daring of the drivers, instead of computers, to control the cars.

Alwyn Keepence, Goodna, Australia

Sutil slipped up too


Having looked again and again at video replays of the Räikkönen/Sutil crash, it’s clear that Sutil had a moment on the same damp patch just outside the tunnel on which Räikkönen started his ‘tank-slapper’; his car twitched slightly to the left. More tellingly, as he brakes for the chicane he loses the back end of the Force India car moments before Räikkönen collects him; the back end of Sutil’s car steps out to the right and he applies right-hand opposite lock. This brings into doubt whether Sutil would have made the corner in any case.

I mention this only because the blame for the incident has been reported thus far as having rested heavily on Räikkönen’s shoulders, which I believe is somewhat unfair.

Peter W Tudor, Whitmore, Staffs

MotoGP welcome


It was with great interest that I saw you are now giving a few pages to MotoGP. Jenks would have been pleased, even if it might upset a few of your other readers.

I came across Jenks one afternoon at Brands in the late 1970s when he was passenger again with Eric Oliver, and still had so much enthusiasm about bikes and sidecars. Eric must have been in his late seventies, I guess, but to follow them both at close quarters around Paddock on his semi–kneeler Norton with its wheels in all directions was awe-inspiring.

Mat Oxley, a good rider in his own right, is probably the man for this job, but in your contributors’ column it states that Mat was the first rider to do a TT lap at 100mph on a production bike. This of course is not correct, as this record was set by Malcolm Uphill in 1969 riding a 750cc Triumph Bonneville. His average speed was 99.99mph having twice topped the 100 for a lap.

Having raced bikes in the 1970s and ’80s before switching to cars (a GTD 40) during the past few years, I am still interested to read about the latest GP bikes and riders. Even Schuey can’t get enough: what are the chances of a wildcard ride for the German MotoGP? That would get the crowds in!

Phil Froud, Northiam, East Sussex

Mat Oxley achieved the first 100mph lap for a 250cc production bike. Our slip; apologies to Mat – Ed

Silent night


So Audi’s Ulrich Baretzky believes the future of endurance racing lies in near-silent cars. I beg to differ – if Mr Baretzky’s vision is fulfilled the grandstands will be equally silent.

Motor racing is a spectacle, and a large element of that spectacle is spine-tingling engine noise. The cars most popular with the fans at Le Mans have always been those with distinctive engine notes – the Mazda rotaries in Group C, and the Panoz and Corvettes more recently. The Audi and Peugeot are technological marvels but I’m afraid that while they continue to dominate racing at La Sarthe I’ll be staying at home to watch my favourite emulsion dry.

Mark G Healy, Ashbourne, Co Meath

Beltoise, not Attwood


Congratulations on yet another fine Parting Shot in the July issue. Although captioned as Richard Attwood, it is in fact Jean-Pierre Beltoise doing the signalling. The helmet is JPB, the car is a Matra V12 and the race number 17 is just about visible.

Oddly enough, the caption in Motor’s report in 1968 to the same photograph says, “Man in a hurry is Richard Attwood…”

So, 40 years apart, the same error.

David Clayson, Wellingborough, Northants

It seems that this negative, now in LAT’s archive, was wrongly labelled 40 years ago. We were too trusting – Ed

Guards Trophy memories


I very much enjoyed your articles on Jack Sears and Chris Amon, which brought back memories of myself as a 12-year-old schoolboy watching the 1964 Guards Trophy race at Brands Hatch. Jack in the Willment AC Cobra was locked in a monumental race-long duel in baking heat with Chris in a similar car, the race coming out in favour of Jack, showing what a very determined and talented driver he was, especially as he was being relentlessly pursued by an up-and-coming Grand Prix driver.

If the engine used by BRM at Spa in 1970 was 3.5 litres, well, shame on them; but Pedro Rodriguez is still my all-time hero!

Peter Haynes, Needingworth, Cambs

Sprinkler plan


In view of the F1 fraternity’s continued failure to agree on a formula which will avoid boring processional races, may I suggest that the circuits act to guarantee interesting racing for spectators by the simple expedient of fitting water sprinklers to ensure that every GP is run under wet conditions?

Ian Cramp, Coventry

A second opinion, doctor


Dr Ullrich of Audi stated that they invented Direct Injection diesel technology... Really?

I may be wrong, but is it more likely that DI technology formed part of the diesel specification (a collaboration between Austin-Rover and Perkins) that went into the Maestro and then Montego – the latter also having two-stage injection of the mechanical type.

All this before Audi, if I recall correctly.

James N Finlay, by e-mail

The best and worst of times


Your Jim Clark memorial issue triggered memories of my own experiences of the tragic side of the sport we all love. In the late 1960s, as an impoverished art and photography student, I saved up for a single annual trip to a foreign event with Page & Moy.

My first GP outing was to the Nürburgring in 1966 where John Taylor died. Next year I went to Monaco, where Raymond Baxter bought me a beer in Rosie’s Bar and Lorenzo Bandini was fatally injured. In 1968 I went to Rouen to witness Ickx’s wet-racing magic, but Joe Schlesser died. For 1969 I travelled to Le Mans, but the P&M coach arrived 10 minutes after the start, by which time John Wolfe was dead.

After four fatalities in four years I began to think seriously about not attending any more foreign events.

But as well as being far more dangerous, F1 racing was also far more open in terms of fan and media access. For the 1967 German GP I hitched a lift in the Girling Brakes truck, and a simple letter from my art school got me a basic media pass. Brian Redman was kind enough to give me a paddock pass and I briefly met my hero Jim Clark. The Honda-Lola team, staying in the same hotel at Adenau, ‘adopted’ me and gave me lifts each day to and from the circuit.

In the UK, simple phone calls to magazines sometimes resulted in the offer of a lift to events from journalists who only knew me as ‘a reader’ – most notably by Cyril Posthumous to the International Trophy race following Clark’s death, and by Mike Twite to the Gold Cup to see Jochen Rindt’s Lotus 72 in action. In so many ways very different times.

David Windsor, Goudhurst, Kent

Hawthorn deserved his title


I beg to differ with Nigel Roebuck about “the absurdity of Hawthorn with one victory winning the Championship from Moss”.

At the start of the season, as in the years 1950 to 1957, the drivers were well aware that winning the championship was based on points scored, not victories. Hawthorn drove with his head, scoring points on a regular basis, often in second place plus fastest lap. He won fairly under the system in place giving up points won as the system required him to drop lower points finishes, otherwise the difference would have been more than a single point.

Moss was the best driver after Fangio retired, but Moss’s 1958 season was very much win or bust. Certainly four wins to one suggests superiority, but unfortunately it did not deliver the title. In most sports it is points not wins that count.

From time to time commentators have suggested changing to wins rather than points, but in 58 years no change has been made. If only eight titles (14 per cent) have gone to drivers who won fewer races then it suggests the system does not need to change.

When looking at Moss’ career he or Collins might have been champion in 1956, the Vanwall came good too late in 1957, and in 1959-1961 Moss drove for privateer Rob Walker and had unfortunate accidents which curtailed his racing. Undoubtedly he should have been champion, but perhaps his choice of which team to race for was at fault? He is on record as saying the championship meant less to him after 1958, but as the quality of the opposition was less after 1958 perhaps he should have claimed it then.

David Baxter, Dordogne, France

All I can say is that when it comes to racing drivers I prefer ‘win or bust’ to ‘coast and collect’ – NSR