Watching this year’s running of the Indianapolis 500, I was struck by the sheer joy of the event compared to the atmosphere in Formula 1. Cynics may wince at some of the pre-race formalities at The Brickyard but from the songs to the flypasts, from the presentations to the ‘most famous words in racing’, the whole show is designed to engage both the fans at the track and those watching at home. Whether it be old heroes in attendance or drivers accompanied by their wives, partners and children the impression was one of a great occasion. The fact that the race itself was not marred by huge accidents (Graham Rahal aside) and that we saw the fairytale fourth win for Hélio Castroneves made the whole event so, so watchable. Contrast F1 with its ludicrous and unnecessary expense, its tyre blankets, huge pitcrews, extravagant aero and ghostly paddock. How often have we seen F1 drivers barely talking to each other after a race? Contrast the reaction of drivers, team owners, mechanics and even The Captain himself, all eager to congratulate Hélio – and this for a driver without a regular seat!
F1 has a great deal to learn from IndyCar; the cars may be more advanced, the leading half-dozen drivers may be a cut above their contemporaries in North America but come on, this is supposed to be not only a sport but also entertainment. IndyCar wins hands down.
Tony Boullemier, Hanging Houghton, Northamptonshire
I had some first-hand experience of the fragility of Chapman cars [The speed of light, July]! At 10pm one day Ronnie [Peterson] rings: “Brode, the 76 is ready for a shakedown. I’ll pick you up at 6am.” I’d learnt early that when Ron, Frank [Williams], Hollywood [Mike Hailwood], Barry [Sheene] and indeed George [Harrison] said, “Brode, what you doing tomorrow?” there would be an escapade not to be missed, as what was normal for any of them was an adventure that they couldn’t help. Extraordinary things just seemed to cluster around famous guys!
So at 6am we jump into an experimental V8 BMW CSL, rear end out all the way up to Hethel, with Ron already in his driver’s suit – no motorhomes then. I’ve tried that, but you do look a plonker if stopped by the police.
The stunning 76 was sitting there all warmed up, and in jumped Ron, doing three or four laps at a time, with the lovely and very proud Ralph Bellamy (its designer) looking on as if he’d just given it birth.
Then a blue Elan 2+2 pulls up and out gets Chapman, who doesn’t even say “Howdy doody” to anyone – he was always plain rude. He just talks to Ralph, and then says to Ron, “Go up to the start of the straight and do a quick start,” and pointing at a rusty barrel, “When you’re alongside that, brake as hard as you can to a standstill but don’t lock the wheels.”
So Ron does a standing start, whacks it up the gears and precisely opposite the rusty barrel hits the brakes, whacking down the gears, when maybe 100ft from us his left-front wheel folds up and wraps itself over the nose, immediately followed by the offside wheel with bits of attached suspension. So no brakes, steering or vision as Ron slithers head-down in a straight line by us to a standstill. If you hear it, you’ll remember the sound of ally scraping on concrete from 140mph forever!
We all wandered up to the crumpled Lotus 76 as Ron jumped out, wrenching his helmet off, looking slightly bemused. Ralph was beside himself with apologies to Ron; Chapman said nothing, just stood at the front of the wreck looking closely for a few seconds at both sides, then said to Ralph, “Build another set of front suspension one gauge up,” walked over to his Elan and drove off.
We jumped into the V8 CSL, and Ron drove like a damp cloth to the A11, at which point I asked, “Are you intending to drive all the way home like this? If so, I’ll drive.” Well, he wasn’t risking that; he looked at me, went from fourth down to second, and rear-ended the CSL all the way back to Maidenhead.
By the time I’d finished processing plating work needed for the next morning, I got home at midnight. Yes, an interesting day!
I was thinking, “Hey, Chapman ain’t daft – don’t build expensive test rigs, just stick in a driver.” Later that year, after Ron had 11 semi and total brake failures, culminating in 150mph into the fence posts at Zandvoort, I wrote a letter to Chapman for Ronnie to sign. It explained that those failures were way above what might be expected, so in the event that Ron was hurt, he at least had a letter into Chapman venting his opinion, which might help any subsequent action.
I don’t know if Ron had a reply.
Dave Brodie, Whitchurch-on-Thames, Oxon
The June magazine was a particular delight. First, the article on John Gentry [The changing man]. John, along with the team manager Gary Taylor, organised a superb day at Donington Park where I assessed [Suzuki works bike rider] Kevin Magee after his neurosurgery to see if he was fit to ride again. There weren’t many neurosurgeons who rode motorbikes in those days and I was asked by the FIA and Suzuki to take a look. After medical examination we went out on the track together, him on a 500, me on a 250 waiting until he lapped me. Kevin said with a smile just before we went out that if I was faster than him I could have the ride, but he didn’t think he could handle the brain surgery. He passed with flying colours.
Secondly, the brilliant article by Mat Oxley on TE Lawrence [Every journey is a race]. I was fortunate that when Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary closed I was able to view the handwritten notes by Oxford’s neurosurgical founder, Hugh Cairns, detailing his consultation with Lawrence. Sadly there was nothing that could be done, but as Mat’s article pointed out the event started off Cairns’ crusade to have all soldiers riding bikes to wear helmets, which eventually became modern practice. Like them or loathe them many lives have been saved by them.
Peter Richards, Consultant Neurosurgeon (retired), Oxford
I have been researching the history of EAD Eldridge’s Land Speed Record Fiat Mephistopheles and I am seeking any information about his friend and mechanic Jim Ames, who worked with him approximately between 1919 and 1927 when Eldridge moved to France. Jim Ames was involved in the rebuilding of Mephistopheles, including the fitting of the six-cylinder Fiat Aviation engine. I have not been able to find out any information about him other than his name so anything would be gratefully appreciated. My email is: [email protected]
Clive Roberts, Fetcham, Surrey
Rob Widdows’ interview with Jan Magnussen [Racing Lives, June] was great. However, I was disappointed it didn’t make more of the time Jan spent with Corvette Racing. Incidentally the picture of the C7R is actually the No4 which Jan didn’t drive in 2018; he drove the No3 car, which had the white banner at the top of the windshield.
Jan was originally the third driver for the No4/64 Corvette C5-R/C6-R from 2004-2006 but switched to the No3/63 car at Corvette Racing from 2007 until he left the team at the end of the 2019 season.
How do I know all this? I’ve written two books about Corvette Racing, the latest being Corvette Racing – The First 20 Years, which covers up to the end of the 2019 season.
Nigel Dobbie, Échauffour, France
Thank you for the excellent coverage of Sharknose [Lost Ferrari rides again] and the article on Giancarlo Baghetti [The debut king] in June’s issue. I would like to make a small correction: the picture on page 79 was taken before the German Grand Prix on August 2, 1964 in front of the Nürburgring start and finish building, not in 1963 at Silverstone as stated.
Giancarlo Baghetti, Edgar Barth and Phil Hill, in the picture, were not at the start of the 1963 British GP. However, all the pilots pictured started at the German Grand Prix in 1964. No offence: Motor Sport is and remains the number one motor sport magazine, and that’s why I’ve been a reader and subscriber for decades.
Jörg-Thomas Födisch, Germany
May I congratulate Doug Nye for his wonderful article (The Archives) in the April issue (just arrived in this far-off land) on what constitutes a truly ‘original’ car. His reference to Jenks’ help back in the late ’70s or early ’80s on compiling a quality assessment scale for what could constitute ‘originality’ set me on the search for my favourite DSJ article on this subject.
Voila, after hours searching through my Motor Sport volumes from 50 years past, there it was, Rebuild – Jenks’ Letter to readers in the November 1989 issue of our Original Racing Magazine. Hopefully Motor Sport will reprint it for all collectors to read this brilliant story on the restoration of a 1928 Type 35B Bugatti, which when finished, resulted in two Type 35B Bugattis!
Other articles on this subject by Jenks that I uncovered that interested readers might like to search the archives for are Historic racing cars, January 1980, Historics are hysterical, May 1980, A prolific industry, January 1989 and How many more?, December 1989.
Bill Atherton, Melbourne, Victoria
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