Running up that hill

Porsche 962 & Hailwood Honda lead maiden Hall of Fame demos

The one thing you can’t plan? The weather. A prolonged May downpour set in doubt some of the Hall of Fame demonstration runs, but the drizzle thankfully abated just in time. Having been temporarily stood down, Derek Bell was summoned from his afternoon tea: his dessert was now ready, a Porsche 962C.

The silence of the perfect greens was shattered by an eclectic collection of cars and ’bikes, all braving the damp, gripless Captain’s Drive that bisects the lush Woodcote Park golf course. The final-hole putts would have to wait. 

Assembled in the queue behind the 962 was a pair of classic sports racers, ’bikes from the careers of three of Britain’s best, one of the WRC’s most famous machines and an Abarth 695 Biposto. 

It was fitting that head of the line was a man hours away from joining the Hall of Fame. “This only raced once but I loved it,” Bell said, fresh from the hill and having posed for photos with just about everyone. That one race was dramatic and should have given him his sixth Le Mans win. Instead he, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Klaus Ludwig finished second in 1988 after Ludwig ran out of fuel by trying to go a lap longer than he should have. “He came up and apologised again at an event recently,” said Bell.

Time has done nothing to dull his enthusiasm for Porsches: “The power we had was incredible; they were just made to win races. We had hundreds and hundreds of horsepower, even back then.”

That same horsepower’s only contact with the greasy asphalt at Woodcote Park was through its four 28-year-old slicks. “I was never going to go fast…” 

Fast or not, the sensation was by no means dampened for the assembled crowd, edging as close as it could as Bell led off and trying not to trample on soil beds in a bid to see the 962’s wide tail vanishing up the hill. The thought of seeing them in period is almost inconceivable for younger generations, and a reminder of great days for older ones. 

The 962’s noise had nothing on the assembled bikes, though. They rattled the fine windows of Woodcote Park simply edging to the start. Among them was David Hailwood, son of Mike ‘The Bike’, astride his father’s Honda RC181. 

Tearing up the hill, hunched in a pose once familiar, it proved an evocative sight. The Honda is as original as possible, although “they all got smashed to pieces so many times, not just by my dad,” as Hailwood pointed out. 

The likeness is uncanny, the bike spectacular.

“She still handles the same as she did,” Hailwood added with a knowing smile. “She still doesn’t stop, doesn’t go round corners and still twists in the middle when you go above 9000 revs!

“You feel absolutely everything, the suspension is hard, the only damper is on the top yoke. Any little bump rattles your teeth. I remember doing 110mph on the Isle of Man’s Sulby Straight thinking I was going quickly, then I realised Dad would maybe have been going 60mph quicker!”

The most impatient in the queue was Colin McRae’s 1997 RAC Rally-winning Subaru. Eventually unleashed, it set off in spectacularly squirrelly fashion, grabbing a chunk of the fine greenery and popping and banging like every schoolchild knows rally cars should. Driving was Steve Rockingham, a man not averse to getting the hammer down.

More serene, or comparatively so, was the rumbling Jaguar C-type that was the first to win with disc brakes, raced by Sir Stirling Moss. It was followed in similarly elegant fashion by a beautiful Ferrari 750 Monza before an ex-Brian Redman Lola made a wheel-spinning start in pursuit. They are decades adrift from Bell’s 962, but wonderfully preserved and no less stunning. Hollywood star Eric Bana was drawn by each during the day, when not sitting on the Hailwood Honda.

Mat Oxley jumped on a Barry Sheene Suzuki, blue tail smoke and all, and later onto John Surtees’s championship-winning and throaty MV Agusta. Our writer was honoured to make the run, 56 years after Surtees’ final title on two wheels. 

Lights fully ablaze, the gaggle crested the hill together on the return leg. While it might not have had the drama of the full-tilt descent in the middle of Hunaudières, it didn’t take much to imagine. Jack Phillips