Readers' Letters, December 1992, December 1992

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Scott v Scot

Sir,

Your cover story last month made the assertion that Steve Soper deliberately took off John Cleland to allow Tim Harvey to win the title and that BMW, either directly or not, approved of this tactic. Well, were I writing in my professional capacity as spokesperson for BMW (GB) Ltd I could just state that such was not the case, but why believe me?

Rather, I write as an intelligent spectator and viewer and ask you to look at the evidence of what happened as broadcast by the BBC. You can accuse me of bias, but hopefully it is a bias towards a more considered view rather than one side or the other.

Just for the sake of it let us assume that Soper could have avoided contact with Cleland at the infamous right-hander. Neither the RAC MSA nor TOCA have taken any action on this point remember, but that is the assumption many, including your reporter, have made, so let’s accept it for now.

However, we are not just talking about one corner in one lap of one race. The corner before they went off it looked to me like Cleland hit Soper. Two corners before that, through Bridge, Cleland weaved across the track to — let’s be kind here — squeeze Harvey. It didn’t work and Harvey passed the Cavalier cleanly, not for the first time in the race either.

Just over a lap earlier Soper passed Cleland by out-braking him at the left-hander out of the Vale. It was a clean move, no contact. Cleland’s sportsmanlike response was an “up yours” hand signal. This was captured for posterity by the on-board camera as have his season-long effing and blinding from inside the cockpit. Bearing this in mind, I found Cleland’s assertion in last month’s article that BMW and its drivers behaved in a “low-life” manner a little hypocritical to say the least.

I was not surprised, however.

Cleland is the man who at Knockhill, over the PA, at first claimed not to have seen the black flag, then admitted he had seen it, but deliberately ignored it because he didn’t think it was fair! The point I hope I’m making is that when you look beyond the wreckage in the sand trap there is a lot of evidence to support the view that it was Cleland who acted like a pumped-up marine. His championship lead had been whittled down all year, his car wasn’t on the pace, he had been passed cleanly three times by a BMW and was, I suggest, faced with the choice of making a desperate lunge at Soper or sitting back and waving the two BMWs and his championship hopes goodbye.

He is a tough competitor, in fact the one Soper rates most highly, so it would have been surprising had he not taken what little chance was left. He has also, like many of the other drivers, betrayed a sense of resentment for the fact that Soper is hailed as the “best touring car driver in the world” and enjoys a level of success and reward that no other BTCC driver can dream of. Soper of course uses this psychological factor to his benefit. Not for nothing do other drivers refer to Soper as the Senna of touring cars.

So, did jealousy mix with frustration and aggression as Cleland came through Brooklands?

Even so, even if Cleland did hit him, does that excuse Soper’s subsequent actions? Did he really take Cleland off to allow Harvey to win the title?

Well, given that Soper would not have even seen Cleland in the race had not another Vauxhall spun him out on the first lap (a manoeuvre that assured Vauxhall of the manufacturers’ title, incidentally), it is unlikely to have been a pre-race strategy. Also, as Soper had already passed Cleland cleanly we must wonder why, if his secondary mission was to take out Cleland, he didn’t do it at the Vale?

Could it be that he didn’t have such an objective at all? Could it be that having been taken out by one Vauxhall on the opening lap, subsequently been hit by a Peugeot and then having driven the socks off everyone else to climb back through the field, that when Cleland made contact at Brooklands he had just simply had enough and hit back?

I don’t know, but I can see that there was more to this than one manoeuvre at one corner. The only two people who actually know are Soper and Cleland. Soper said very little other than that he wasn’t happy at being hit in the opening laps and again at the end by Cleland. Cleland said a lot, most of it unsuitable for broadcast by all accounts. He was clearly angry and doubtless said a lot in the heat of the moment he might not have said later, but given the turnaround in his comments at Knockhill and his “polite” hand gestures can we accept it z unquestioned?

Saints or sinners? Soper and Cleland, and everyone else for that matter, are capable of being both. The RAC MSA and TOCA must decide. I believe they will see it as an almost inevitable incident when two of the fastest, toughest and most competitive drivers fight over the same piece of track. Unfortunately others, including Motor Sport, have already set themselves up as judge and jury and declared Soper guilty.

Of course, with no official BMW team next year we will not see Soper again. We will, however, see Cleland and with everyone predicting an even closer fought title the pressure will be on. Good, fast, aggressive driving will be needed to win and Cleland is more capable than most of that. I just hope he, the series and motorsport in general do not present us with any further evidence to judge. Juries are seldom kind to repeat offenders.

Scott Brownlee,
Bracknell, Berks.

Since this letter was written, it has become apparent that there may, after all, be official BMW representation in next year’s BTCC (see Diary) -Ed.

Slick response

Sir,

I have read JW’s report of his drive in the XJ220 at the Salzburgring (published in Motoring News and Motor Sport) with great interest.

At FF Developments we are very disappointed by his comments concerning the gearbox and gearchange. I am sorry the most flattering adverb he can find for the working of the gearbox is “stolidly”. He is, of course, absolutely entitled to his opinion. However, what mystifies me is that so many other reputable journals have praised the quality of the gearshift as being unusually good for a car of this type. Here are some quotes: “That the fastest car in the world can also be one of the easiest to drive is a remarkable achievement… the stubby gear lever slides into first with little effort. The five-speed FF gearbox has a shift so unexpectedly sweet and positive that it makes any modern Ferraris or Lamborghinis feel like an item of aerobic gymnasium hardware. Fast or slow, the clutch is always progressive and, in league with a taut driveline, well-judged flywheel effect and deftly damped down throttle action, makes slick downshifting as easy as blinking… for all its devastating performance, it is a pussycat to drive” Autocar & Motor, August 26 1992. “The gearshift falls readily to hand a little baulky finding first but the gate is wide and clear. Gearchange on the move is easy-peasy although it doesn’t encourage hurried shifts” Fast Lane, October 1992. “The clutch is not excessively fierce and the gear lever engages the first time without too much effort. The fact is that the great Jaguar is very friendly: the gearbox is unexpectedly smooth, the clutch is always progressive, at speed or otherwise, so that you can move through the gears as easily and naturally as batting an eyelid” Auto Capital (Italy), October 1992.

I haven’t seen any other articles, maybe you have. I think you will see that we have reason to be pleased with other journalists’ reactions, and this makes JW’s remarks so disappointing.

My second point is that the way the article is written infers that FF Developments was somehow responsible for the fact that the car has a heavy clutch. FF Developments is not responsible for Jaguarsport’s selection of clutch, nor for its installation or operation. Jaguarsport specified the clutch and decided that it should not be power-assisted.

My third point concerns your reference to the Ford RS200. I would have been pleased to see those historical references had you then not followed it with the remark about “many rallycross drivers opting for alternative transmissions” because of an obstructive change. I do not believe that to be the case. My understanding is that rallycross customers were regularly extracting well over 450 bhp from their engines. The road (synchromesh) transmission and the rally (non-synchromesh) transmission were not designed with the 450 bhp input capability and therefore it was only prudent for those customers who were intending to put that sort of power through the transmission to look for stronger gears. That is why alternative gears were sought (the transmission itself is a unique design and is purpose built, therefore I have difficulty believing other transmissions could have been fitted).

The industrial and economic outlook in this country has never been bleaker in my working experience. FF Developments is a British company employing approximately 60 people in an area of high unemployment. We are a successful and profitable operation and proud of the work that we do. It seems to me a pity that you should decide to use your article to knock the company in the way that you have. Such remarks as you have made would be justified if we had failed in our tasks, but I am absolutely convinced that we have not. In fact, we are very proud of our work on the XJ220 transmission.

Stuart Rolt,
FF Developments,
Coventry.

Of course I do not like to be in the position of criticising a British company, particularly in such hard times. However, I write as I find… and I disliked the gearchange of the XJ220. I do respect colleagues’ comments, but I am a little surprised Mr Rolt should want to highlight this aspect. since the man from The Guardian so very publicly damaged the engine during that week in Austria… after shifting from second to first, instead of third.

As far as I am aware. Jaguar has not specified that a super breed of driver should accompany the super wallet that is needed to purchase the XJ220. Purchasers may lack the individual tuition we journalists had from Messrs Acheson and Nielsen. Their comments on gearchange and brakes emphasised the need for considerable care.

So far as the clutch is concerned, it was not my intention to impute any failing on the part of FF. The ‘power assisted’ remark was a joke made by a former Le Mons winner. I merely repeated it to emphasise the clutch’s character: to be honest. I didn’t know who had made it.

Finally, the RS200. So far as I was aware, the leading cars in the European Rallycross series used Xtrac replacement gears. The drivers told me that this was to assist speed of shift. Xtrac has confirmed that it continues to supply five-speed ‘box gear sets, selector rods, bearings, layshafts and sundry other items to at least three of rallycross ‘s leading RS200 exponents, including Norwegian Martin Schanche, the last man to win the title in an RS200. Xtrac confirmed that it can also supply other transmission components to replace FF originals, including front and rear differentials, though gear sets are the most commonly ordered.

I was not told that the enormous power and torque generated was a supplementary reason for replacement, though common sense ought to have told me as much. Power output of ‘evolution’ RS200s is over 200 bhp more than the figure Mr Rolt quoted.

I remain a satisfied user of FF patented components in an H-registered Ford Sierra 4×4 Cosworth, even though it is the least reliable Ford I have ever run (I had to hitch two lifts home with the RAC in the first 12 months of custodianship) – JW.

EEC Power Limitsp>

Sir,

The era of European Commission engine power limits is upon us. Do car drivers realise what is happening? The European Council of Ministers has unanimously approved a directive limiting the power of motorcycles in Europe. They have carefully selected some research to argue that limiting power will reduce accidents.

They ignore research on exposure: this shows that because larger machines do higher mileages they have a lower accident rate per mile than small ‘bikes. Because motorcyclists are an insignificant minority the EC bureaucrats have no qualms about imposing their whims upon them. Once the rule is law they can go for cars.

And how do I know that cars are next? The TRRL has just issued a report which shows, surprise, surprise, that cars capable of rapid acceleration and high speeds have more accidents than family saloons. Have they taken mileage into account? Of course not; but it is very good propaganda to prepare for the engine power limits to come! If this concerns you write now to your MP and Euro MP. There is a last chance to stop the new law for motorcycles by voting it out in the Europarliament.

David Delaney,
Herefordshire.

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