Letters, December 2007

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Jo is the genuine article

Sir,
I was pleased to read the ‘Lunch with…’ article on Jo Ramirez in the October issue, and thought I would share some details of my only meeting with him, which happened purely by chance, because I found him to be ‘one of the nice guys’.

My wife and I were in Verona in 2005 for the opera and stepped into the hotel lift on the way to the performance. We were joined by another couple and we instigated the usual polite conversation, discovering we were on the way to the same event. Having been involved in vintage and historic racing for many years, mainly as a mechanic, I found that something about the man triggered my memory. After a few polite questions I recognised him – vaguely – and so had to ask his name. Of course, when he gave it to me I was proved correct and we chatted about racing cars and our various experiences for the rest of the journey. Our two wives shared the same thoughts: “Why do these men always talk motor racing?” and “While they were off racing we stayed at home with the children.”

At breakfast the next morning I said to Jo that he should write his memoirs because there were enough old mechanics like me who would be interested enough to buy them. He told me that he was about halfway through this already and that he was looking for a publisher. When the book appeared later that year I of course, bought my copy and discovered a great read about a very successful, varied and sometimes tough life at the workplace.

I was very sad to learn from your article that his wife Bea has passed on; it must have been shortly after our meeting. At our stage in life, to share time with one’s partner is the greatest of rewards. Should Jo read this he has my greatest sympathy. I enjoyed our short meeting very much and am clearly not alone in finding him ‘one of the nice guys’.

I have my copies of Motor Sport since 1955 stored in my garage with the old cars that I still have as my hobby.

Mike Head, Otford, Kent

Rally greats show the way

Sir,
I was at the small turning area for the start of the Festival of Speed a few years back when Richard Burns drove down and ‘doughnut-ed’ his Subaru with extreme flair and precision, got out and leaned against the fence with arms folded. Colin McRae was next in line with his Ford Focus and carried out a slightly more ragged doughnut but stopped a bare half-inch from the Subaru’s rear bumper. As he got out, Burns gave an appreciative nod and they both stood chatting and laughing.

At a time when Grand Prix drivers seem like fragile ego-led prima donnas it was heart-warming to see two gentlemen at ease with themselves and each other, and who had risen to the pinnacle of their sport without shedding their enthusiasm or humour. Now both have been taken from us before their time and a little joie de vivre has left this world forever.

Stephen Mosley, Bognor Regis

A fine example

Sir,
Many questions remain unanswered about McLarengate, but mine is this: what happens to the $100m fine? Who gets the money and for what will it be used?

Is there a chance, for example, that it might be distributed among national motor sport organisations to subsidise grass-roots motor sport? It would be nice to think that some of it could be used to reduce the extortionate cost of club-level MSA competition licences.

Is that a flying pig I see passing my window?

John Simister, Berkhamsted, Herts

Pain in Spain

Sir,
Thanks for your extremely enlightening article, ‘The Enmity Within’, in the October issue. It helped me put a lot of relevant matters into historical perspective.

There was, however, one material error in the article. James Hunt’s McLaren M23 was not disqualified from winning the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama because his rear aerofoil was 1cm too high. The car was actually disqualified for being 1.8cm too wide when measured at the widest point across the rear wheels. The brand-new regulations had come into effect on May 1, just one day before the Spanish Grand Prix took place. The new maximum width allowed was 215cm and the McLaren was measured during practice at Jarama and found to be legal. It appeared that some element of ‘tyre bulge’ had occurred during the race and the car was illegal by the end.

It was Jacques Laffite’s Ligier-Matra that was disqualified for its rear aerofoil being 1cm too high. The new limit was 80cm, measured from the floor to the chassis, and the top of the Matra’s aerofoil endplate was found to be 81cm. This disqualification was much less controversial because Laffite had only finished the race in 12th place after losing two laps in the pits resolving gearbox problems.

I have always felt that the best drive that day was by Niki Lauda. He had just broken two ribs in an accident when he rolled a tractor in his garden at home in Austria. This caused him a lot of pain and he even commented that when driving his Ferrari at Jarama that he could “feel his broken ribs grinding against each other”. Despite this he qualified second on the grid and then led the first 31 laps of the 75-lap race. He finished second, totally shattered, and was too exhausted to take his place on the podium to receive a laurel wreath from King Juan Carlos.

Aidan Haile, Ninebanks, Northumberland

All power to Hawthorn

Sir,
I don’t think the Italians were being at all ‘theatrical’ in claiming “nearly 180bhp at 9000rpm” from the Ferrari 1.5-litre V6 (Doug Nye, ‘Front to Back’). If you read Mike Hawthorn’s book Challenge me the Race, he states that in early 1957 he called in at Maranello and saw the Formula 2 version of that engine producing 186bhp at 9300rpm on the test bed. It’s unlikely that Ferrari would have been deluding themselves, and even ace tuner Vittorio Stanguellini, who said it was impossible to go over 160bhp, had to believe it in the end and, as a result of a bet with Enzo Ferrari, had to treat him to a dinner for five people for every horsepower over 160.

Looking again at Hawthorn’s career, it comes across as just as remarkable as Lewis Hamilton’s. In his first year of racing he was driving a pre-war Riley in British national and club events. Barely a year after that he was driving in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa against Ascari and Co. And the following year he beat Fangio in the French Grand Prix at Reims! On top of that, he was also very successful in long-distance sports car races and saloon car races; he even fitted in motorcycle trials.

It is sad that our first world champion doesn’t seem to get much in the way of accolades these days, witnessed by the recent all-time Top 50 list in a Formula 1 magazine, where he didn’t even get a mention.

Geoff Thomas, Farnham, Surrey

A matter of money

Sir,
In your most recent issue, ‘The Money in F1’ was a great article, but the new Concorde Agreement still shows no provision for the circuits getting a proper return on their investment.

There is no realistic way in which the British Government can be seen to give the large amounts of cash required to what is perceived as an already cash-rich sport.

The European and Australian circuits, in particular, require a return on their investment which the money taken on the gate alone will not provide, especially with all the continual improvements to the tracks and infrastructure that Bernie Ecclestone and Co require.

The developing nations are willing to sponsor the races in order to buy recognition, but they have no long-term allegiance to Grand Prix racing and may well drop it when they feel it has served its purpose. Meanwhile, Ecclestone and Co risk alienating its European fan base by cutting back its ‘home’ races.

If we lose the British Grand Prix, it will not be the fault of the BRDC or the British Government, but wholly down to Bernie Ecclestone and Co!

Peter Clothier, Swindon

The man behind the machine

Sir,
Once again the latest issue of Motor Sport has given me the chance to wander happily down memory lane. Doug Nye’s column in the last month has a photograph of Sir Jack Brabham driving a BT8 at Goodwood in 1964. The car was owned by a wealthy Texan oilman (is there any other kind) of my casual acquaintance, one Tom O’Connor of Victoria, Texas. O’Connor’s stable at the time included a Cooper Monaco with the odd choice of a Ferrari 3-litre engine and a somewhat more glamorous Series 1 250 GTO. All were painted a pale light blue (baby blue) with a white map of Texas, incorporating a red rose stem and a black star to indicate Victoria’s location, on the sides.

As well as Sir Jack, O’Connor employed the estimable Innes Ireland, thought hereabouts to have been retained for his ability to stay with the boss as an imbiber of spirits as well as for his driving talent. Wonderful stories abound about Mr O’Connor including his quixotic attempts to purchase the New York Yankees baseball team on a whim (for cash), his flying Luciano Pavarotti down to his ranch to sing at his birthday party and his odd manner of disposing of his GTO.

At the conclusion of the 1963 (or was it 1964?) racing season he donated the GTO to the Victoria High School’s auto shop class so that the students might have a vehicle from which to learn their craft!

I saw the BT8 at the Monterey Historics two years ago in all its pale-blue Rosebud Racing glory. I respectfully pointed out to the current owner, Tony Podell of Rolling Hills, California, that his painter incorrectly located the star representing the location of Victoria – an error he said he would correct. Thank you for a lovely magazine and your tolerance of my musings.

Jeff Jackson, Houston, Texas

It’s a gas

Sir,
Regarding the current problems in Formula 1, I could not resist sending you this photo.

My son, Luke, took it recently at the Calder Park Drift (drifting competition), just outside Melbourne. Life is a lot simpler in Australia, don’t you think?

Peter Ray, Solihull, West Midlands

Brookland’s fastest woman

Sir,
In the November issue it was good to see mention of Beatrice Shilling in Bill Boddy’s evocative article in October about the Royal Aircraft Establishment, where he and Beatrice were wartime contemporaries, though in different departments.

I suspect though, that Beatrice would have had something robust to say about the suggestion that her husband-to-be, George Naylor, was actually the owner of the International Norton that she bought in 1934 and transformed into the racing machine on which she became the fastest woman to race at Brooklands. George did also race the Norton at Brooklands, and at one stage he even supercharged it with a homemade blower.

The Norton served as her transport through the war while her husband piloted Lancasters. After the war, Captain Eric Brown, the famous naval test pilot based on the RAE, recalls racing with Beatrice to their neighbouring homes after work, she on her International Norton, he on a ‘tweaked’ jeep. Those were the days!

Matthew Freudenberg, Taunton, Somerset

Reims ain’t what it used to be

Sir,
A word of warning for anyone contemplating a visit to the recently restored Reims (‘Motor Sport Month’, November), thinking that the circuit appears just as it did in the 1950s and ’60s. It doesn’t.

Last week I went to Reims for the snappily titled ‘1st Weekend of Automobile Excellence’, and although it was very enjoyable, sadly the character has changed a great deal. There are roundabouts at the Gueux and Thillois corners, making them visually disappointing, the N31 Reims/Soissons road has become a ghastly dual-carriageway, and Muizon has disappeared altogether. All very sad.

The pit straight is untouched, although during the ‘demonstration’ it featured innumerable straw bale chicanes. So the only bit that is pretty much untouched is the exit from Gueux and the run to the flat-out right-hander at La Hovette and on to the following left-hander, after which the track vanishes.

Some of its character still exists, however, and my visit was worth it just to see Jean Alesi demonstrating the Mercedes W196 with great verve. A vivid reminder of days gone by.

Julian Nowell, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Pressing issue

Sir,
I am surprised and a little amazed that you allowed so much space to Alex Michaelides (‘Letters’, November) and his anti-press approach to Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton is a phenomenon – the new kid on the grid who’s just stolen the show. If you want to hear Massa’s dad, go to Brazil. If you want speak to Alonso’s mum, go to Spain. If you want to see Räikkönen’s gran, go to Finland.

Hamilton is British. Ron Dennis is British. McLaren is British. The team is British. What more do you want?

We have so much bad news these days that when something good comes along and it’s British, then shout it and print it everywhere.

Andrew Forsyth, Capel, Surrey

Danny boy

Sir,
I wonder if you would contact Mr Dan Gurney on my behalf to ask him the secret of his eternal youth. Is it his diet? Or his lifestyle, perhaps?

Maybe we’ll see a Dan Gurney fitness video in the shops before Christmas?

Bryan Shaw, Allestree, Derbyshire

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