Readers letters, August 2009

A flight to remember


Norma Henderson’s letter about Webbair brought back memories of a journey to the 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix. The Dan-Air Elizabethan was not large enough to take all those booked, and an unpressurised converted WWII bomber was chartered to take the rest of us. Webbair’s hostess was Cliff Allison’s sister, Pat, who presented us all with the ubiquitous Airfix kits to build. The plane did not have the range to reach Oporto and we were landed at Biarritz and treated to a good luncheon while the plane was refuelled, before it took off to fly along the north coast of Spain.

About an hour into the flight the pilot warned us of likely turbulence ahead and we were all instructed to fasten our seat belts. The plane was flying at its maximum ceiling of 8000ft and all of a sudden it dropped half that height like a stone, Airfix kits, bottles and cans flying in all directions. Everyone including the cabin crew used their sick bags, while the pilot struggled to regain control at 4000ft. The plane was heaving around in all directions and there were hailstones the size of golf balls coming through the ventilation system. Then there was an almighty bang and all of us on board thought the end had come. When things quietened down the pilot came on air to tell us laconically that the hailstones had smashed his windscreen but we were now through the thunderstorm, which was so wide he had been unable to fly around it and so high he could not fly over it. He deservedly got a standing ovation when we landed!

Among the passengers were Dan Gurney, journalist Chris Nixon and photographer David Phipps. We heard on Sunday night that the pilot of the Elizabethan (which had flown back to the UK and picked up a spare windscreen for our plane) had said that he must be able to take off by 10am as there would be inadequate lift after that. Judging by the state of the passengers after the race-night party, Dan, Chris, David and I thought that if we got to the airport well before 10am we would stand a chance of a flight home in the Elizabethan. It was not to be, and the four of us watched the Dan-Air plane – half an hour late – taxi to the end of the runway, across the grass, the pilot swinging the tail of the plane over the perimeter fence before releasing the brakes and trundling across the grass, the length of the runway and almost all the grass at the opposite end before it had lift-off. With our hearts in our mouths we watched it rise painfully slowly into the air and only just clear a wood several miles from the airfield! We had all been convinced that the entire Grand Prix circus was about to meet its maker. As a complete contrast, our trusty old ex-RAF bomber with new windscreen took us home serenely, via a splendid dinner at Biarritz airport.

Two years ago Dan Gurney paid a visit to the Jim Clark Room in Duns, and I reminded him about the occasion. He became very serious and told me that never in his racing career had he felt so sure his life was about to end.

Webbscare? Not after the way that pilot got us to Oporto!

Ian Scott-Watson, Greenlaw, Duns

I had to chuckle…


Re Simon Taylor’s Lunch With… interview with Jack Oliver (June issue) in which he describes me as “dour” – intense maybe, but dour never. Here I am (left) actually laughing at one of his jokes for a change!

Happy days.

John Miles, Hingham, Norfolk

Dump the dictatorship


Quite recently the Edmonton Journal, our local excuse for a newspaper, ran an editorial on the machinations of one Mr Ecclestone with a further reference to the dubious Mr Mosley, he of the hookers, parties and lawsuits.

What is amazing is that this is ice hockey territory, and not even when Jacques Villeneuve won his World Championship did the Journal bother to write an editorial. Things must be bad for it to weigh into Formula 1 affairs.

The crux of the piece was that the Ecclestone and Mosley dictatorship had not been good for F1 and particularly not for Montréal with respect to the loss of the GP.

As one old enough to remember Black Jack when I was a kid growing up in Australia, and being so proud of Alan Jones’ F1 title, along with cheering for JYS, Damon Hill and assorted others, I am appalled at the way F1 has been raped and pillaged for no good. Was it Martin Brundle who said “there are some people in F1 who are ill with money”? Great quote.

Can’t someone bring some common sense to this? If Jackie Stewart wants me to, I will become his director in the ‘Dump Mosley’ campaign.

Everyone else should get together and get rid of Ecclestone – his interview in your May issue was an embarrassment, both to him and F1. Be gone!

Al Gill, Edmonton, Canada

You couldn’t make it up


During extraordinary times, both in the world at large and in F1 in particular, your letters page provides a useful insight into how motor sport aficionados in general view the current state of our sport’s flagship series.

One has to stop and pinch oneself: a new and young World Champion embroiled in controversy both inside and outside his team; claims of cheating, spying, lying and worse; an FIA supremo embroiled in controversies around rules and his personal extra-curricular predilections; upstarts from the back of the grid dominating current proceedings; circuits under threat; a veritable bevy of new beauties gracing the pits on race weekends; teams and organisers divided over next season before we’re a quarter way through the current one. If it wasn’t real you couldn’t invent it all.

Ever was it thus and ever should it be: it’s called entertainment and it’s marvellous.

John Dennehy, Auckland, New Zealand

The Ferrari effect?


Simon Taylor’s Lunch With… Jackie Oliver was up to the usual high standard and interest.

Oliver says his two most “difficult” team-mates were John Surtees and Jacky Ickx. It’s worth remembering that both had long spells driving for Ferrari prior to being team-mates with Oliver. This may explain why they became difficult!

Roy Campbell, Bridge of Don, Aberdeen

Memories and a model


I was interested to read Mike Dodman’s letter (July) concerning the impression that the Murkett Brothers D-type had made on him at the age of 12, while being raced by Henry Taylor.

I was extremely fortunate to be the custodian of TKF 9 for over 25 years, during which time I vigorously raced the car all over Europe as well as driving it on long tours.

For his interest I refer him to the excellent article by your Deputy Editor Gordon Cruickshank, published in Motor Sport in December 1994, in which a full description and history of the car is recorded following a reunion of Tony Murkett and Henry Taylor with the D-type at Silverstone.

I have to admit that I bought the car more because it had been raced by Jim Clark than because it was a D-type. However, it didn’t take me long to discover what a magnificent car it was. Once you are seated the car envelops you, and it is really very small and easy to place on the road. It’s also unusually comfortable, so much so that I once drove from Devon to the south of France without getting out, except for fuel.

My times with TKF 9 were undoubtedly the most enjoyable and happiest of a long and varied motoring life. Just to make Mr Dodman happy, all I have now is also a model of a white D-type with the registration number TKF 9, apart of course from all the incredible memories she gave me. Should I win the lottery next week, I will call Adrian Hamilton – and Mr Dodman, if I do you will be the first person to get a ride!

Willie Tuckett, Buckland Monachorum, Devon

Time to reassess Schumacher


Given your position as the most neutral and most able historians of motor sport, I trust that – given the success of Brawn GP so far this year – you will now re-open previous comparisons of Michael Schumacher with other racing champions, for the majority of his 91 Grand Prix wins had Ross Brawn in command. Being fair, Schumacher was one of the first to acknowledge that he was only the tip of the arrow in a considerable team effort: it’s the ratio of the mix of Schumacher and Brawn that now needs to be re-calibrated.

While clearly Schumacher was/is ‘quite good’, perhaps now some might realise that he is not in the top five with the likes of Fangio, Stewart, Clark et al who had the demonstrable skill and versatility of altering their driving style to overcome a less-than-perfect set-up. And continuing the theme of fairness, which ones needed to win their World Championships by crashing into their title contender – or would even think of doing so?

Martin Hasker, Newbury, Berks

Do you have Bette’s books?


When my husband Graham Hill died in 1975, quite a lot of the contents of our home were auctioned. Sadly, my timing book and lap charts somehow disappeared too. I would like to know if anyone bought them, or if anyone knows where they are. I would adore to have them back.

Bette Hill, Cobham, Surrey
[Letters can be forwarded – ed]

Puzzled by Prodrive snub


David Richards must have crossed swords with Mad Max and Burnt Ecclescake in the past for Prodrive not to gain entry at the first time of asking to next year’s F1 championship. Surely with his vast experience and backing from the Middle East for Aston Martin he deserved to get one of the slots?

Mike Allaston, Tadley, Hants

A salute to Silverstone


Heartfelt thanks for rekindling old Silverstone memories (July issue). In 1965 I was at Woodcote to watch the ‘silent Lotus’ win. In 1969 I was at Maggotts for one of the classic duels. I was a BRM supporter but had drawn ‘Wee Jackie’ in the fun betting event our group of 12 avid fans ran each year, so I had an incentive to support the Matra driver and pocket a welcome £11.

In 1973 I was at Stowe and waited in vain for the bulk of the field to come round for the second lap (the PA system really was not very good in those faraway days).

In 1979 I was at Club and cheered Regga to the rafters – what a great day for Frank and his team. Great days, fantastic races. Silverstone is not my favourite circuit but I would hate to see it perish at Bernie’s hands.

My favourite circuit? Bathurst – thankfully too distant and not an F1 track, so it should escape the ‘Bernie cull’.

Arnold Eglington, Winchester, Hants

Another Behra, not Gordini


Congratulations for the high quality of your June issue. However, I would like to correct a caption on p20. The man standing beside Jean Behra is not Aldo Gordini but Jean’s brother José. During the Gordini racing period José used to drive the team truck. Then he became an endurance and rally driver.

Andre Pibarot, Culey, France

Transparent history


With reference to your article ‘Debut for last GT40’ (June issue), I have had a great deal of involvement with 1085 recently and want to make some corrections. The spare chassis 1085 was purchased new by Sir Malcolm Guthrie as a spare for his then Le Mans entry, chassis number 1009 which in reality was XGT 2. Gill Jackson bought the whole ensemble from Guthrie in 1971. Far from being ‘crated’ the car was always on display with 1009/XGT 2, and was always “just about to be completed”. The original 1009 resided in California from 1971 until 2007.

Tom Edwardes, Fiskens, London

Photos to tell a story


I am writing a complete guide to all the Grand Prix circuits since 1950 and wonder if any of your readers have taken pictures over the years which could be considered for inclusion. The pictures (black and white or colour) can be of any subject but must show an aspect of the circuit – in other words, they could not have been taken anywhere else. Professional standards of photography are not a necessity!

Interested readers should e-mail me on [email protected] or write c/o Editorial, Haynes Publishing, Sparkford, near Yeovil, Somerset BA22 7JJ.

Christopher Hilton, by e-mail

The Brough connection


I am looking for original material relating to George Brough, the Brough Superior marque and the connection between Brough and T E Lawrence. If you can help please contact me at: [email protected] or write to me at 474 Coniscliffe Road, Darlington DL3 8AL.

David Mason, Darlington