End of the Road for Le Mans Star

Driver threatens to quit after chaos at the Goodwood Revival meeting

One of motor sport’s biggest names has threatened to hang up his helmet after a spat with officials at this year’s Goodwood Revival.

Jackie Oliver, who won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1969 and drove for teams like McLaren, BRM and Lotus in Formula 1, has said that he is unlikely to renew his racing licence after the incident, which led to a fellow racer leaving the track and hitting the tyre wall during the St Mary’s Trophy.

Oliver’s Lotus Cortina made contact with Motor Sport’s resident track tester and noted historic racer Dickie Meaden’s Mini during the first instalment of the St Mary’s race on Saturday, September 8.

The contact sent Meaden’s car into the bank head-on at a speed estimated to be over 60mph, causing heavy frontal damage to the Mini. Meaden was fortunate to avoid serious injury and walked away from the crash.

In the aftermath of the incident Oliver was summoned to the race officials where he was found to be at fault for the accident.

He appealed the decision, which was subsequently referred to the MSA stewards, who then upheld it. It is believed that Oliver has received three points on his licence for his part in the accident.

The 76-year-old still disputes the findings, describing it as a racing incident, something regarded as fanciful by other competitors and those who witnessed the build-up to the crash.

Nevertheless, Oliver says the incident and his punishment has caused him to reassess whether he wants to continue racing: “Classic car racing for me is a hobby, which costs me hundreds of thousands of pounds a year with the Ferrari, the E-type and the BMW, and my career started in club racing back in the 1960s.

“Am I going to do it anymore? Probably not, because [after] an incident like that and some others... I’m told by my wife: ‘it’s not appropriate for you to do this anymore, Jackie’. And I’m probably not going to renew my licence.”

The row comes against a backdrop of increasing concern over driving standards at the Revival – an event that regularly attracts some of the greatest racing cars and richest owners in the world.

According to ex-F1 driver Martin Donnelly, who works as the Revival’s driving standards officer, 2018’s instalment was one of the worst in terms of damage.

“Driving standards in the St Mary’s Trophy were absolutely diabolical,” he said. “There’s supposed to be no contact and you think of the tens of thousands of pounds of damage done during that race and it’s crazy! We say that it was supposed to be absolutely zero contact as it was an invitational race – not for championship points or anything like that – and there was contact between Jackie and Mr Meaden. I made a decision which [Oliver] appealed, so it went to an MSA stewards’ hearing and there was my verdict, and Jackie didn’t like it. So he got a time penalty and points on his competition licence.”

The second St Mary’s Trophy race was also marred by a number of accidents, including one that caused Peter Chambers’ Ford-Lotus Cortina Mk1 to barrel roll spectacularly. Nobody was hurt, but Chambers’ Jordan Racing Team-tended car was destroyed. Donnelly spoke in exasperated tones about the situation.

“The second St Mary’s Trophy race, on the Sunday, was particularly bad and I don’t know how you get [the point] across to these guys. You speak to Jackie Oliver, Steve Soper, successful businessmen, or whoever, and they drive like 60-year-old stock car drivers.

“We, motor sport, the MSA and I need to clamp down and have a zero tolerance on contact and it doesn’t matter if you’re Jackie Oliver, Gordon Shedden, or whoever; you have to act accordingly,” he reiterated.

Donnelly added that he hoped that Oliver would not take the stewards’ verdict personally. “Jackie and I go way back. He was the guy who gave me my first drive back in 1989 at the French Grand Prix [in place of the injured Derek Warwick]. I said [to him]: ‘I don’t enjoy doing this’. He produced onboard footage hoping to exonerate himself and reverse that decision; that wasn’t the case.”

Oliver sympathised with Donnelly and said: “Fair enough, that’s the way it goes. And I felt for Martin. The poor guy was put in a position to make an uncomfortable decision; it’s unfortunate. I emailed him and said, ‘Martin, life goes on.”

RACING'S AGE ISSUE

As Grahame White prepares to step down as Historic Sports Car Club CEO at the end of the year his replacement, Andy Dee-Crowne, has said that changing demographics is the biggest cause of dwindling grids in historic racing.

“There is no doubt that there are some age issues affecting everybody,” he said. “A lot of the club racers are getting older. We’re seeing, generally, that people will decide not to race anymore because as they get older they have a lot of [physical] issues with driving. You have to remember that historic racing has lots of drivers who started in the 1960s and, naturally, you would expect a decline in the number of drivers as we all get older.”

In the November issue of Motor Sport, CEO White said that a glut of historic racing events was spreading drivers and their cars thin across the calendar, causing lower grid numbers at many events – he used the Oulton Park Gold Cup as an example.

However, Dee-Crowne said that historic racing associations must do more to attract competitors: “Obviously, drivers and competitors have a lot of choice now and you have to look at your budget at the start of the year and manage that appropriately.

“I think we see the competitor now becoming nomadic in their approach to racing, and clubs have to continually improve on their offerings to attract competitors.”

HRDC founder Julius Thurgood said that Brexit was creating a situation of economic uncertainty in last month’s issue in a “false situation”, but Dee-Crowne said: “I think there are other factors and I don’t know if I subscribe to Brexit or any of the financial pressures that are currently around.”

Formula Ford continues to provide a healthy grid of young drivers, while the VSCC offers races for those under the age of 30.

“If you look at the championship this year for Formula Ford you will see that the front-running racers are a lot younger than one would imagine when it comes to historic racing. But we have to look at other ways of encouraging people to enter our sport at whatever age,” concluded the HSCC’s soon-to-be CEO.

ISLE OF MAN CANNED

The Rally Isle of Man has been dropped from the MSA’s 2019 British Historic Rally Championship schedule after this year’s event was cancelled at the last minute.

The Isle of Man Government blamed the organisers for the cancellation of the event, which was due to take place on September 13-15, in a statement issued 10 days before the event was due to take place.

“Rally Isle of Man’s decision to cancel so close to the event will be a big disappointment and frustration to fans on and off the Island and for the competitors,” read the statement.

“The Department of Infrastructure, together with other departments, has tried hard to get Rally Isle of Man to start planning its rally event earlier.

“Despite repeated opportunities, Rally Isle of Man missed all of the original deadlines for its paperwork and indeed the extended deadlines. As a result of Rally Isle of Man’s longstanding poor organisation, Government officers were not confident that the rally would be run safely and competently.”

Next year, the event – which had run since 1963 – will not take place. BHRC championship manager Colin Heppenstall said: “It’s very disappointing for us as a championship that the event was cancelled and I hope the motor club will be able to work with the government to bring the event back in the future.

“At the end of the day, I need to be guaranteed that the event would run in 2019. Competitors spent a lot of money and lost a lot of money [with this year’s cancellation] and I didn’t have the confidence that it would run in 2019.

“It’s a big loss for the calendar and it was two rounds of the [historic] championship and the British Rally Championship, so both major championships are very heavily affected by the cancellation. I think I don’t want to apportion any particular blame to any party; it’s six and two-threes. I can’t comment any more than that,” added Heppenstall.

BOSS RACER BANNED

“Why should I quit?” replied banned BOSS (Big Open Single Seaters) GP competitor Karl-Heinz Becker when asked if he would retire. At the age of 74, he’s competed in the Deutsche Rennsport-Meisterschaft and European Touring Car Championship, among other series, in a career spanning 56 years. Becker has been banned because he was involved in a crash in a Formula 1 support race at Hockenheim back in July.

“It was a pity and I am sorry for that. However, the accident was clearly a racing incident and the race stewards took no further action, claiming it hadn’t been my fault.”

However, BOSS GP banned him for three meetings and took matters much further.

“I received a letter from BOSS GP that they had approached the DMSB (Deutscher Motor Sport Bund) and I was due for a health check to have my racing licence renewed.”

Becker said that he passed the check-up but the series hasn’t allowed him to return.

“This season, the car was amazing and I am sure that BOSS GP didn’t want an old geezer earning podium finishes. Now that the doctors had cleared me, BOSS GP was looking for a different argument, claiming my behaviour on and off the track was damaging their business and dangerous, and nobody wanted me in the series anymore.

“Nearly all drivers have confirmed in writing or orally that this is simply untrue.”

Becker is currently taking legal action against BOSS GP seeking compensation and an overturn of the ban. He also wants it to retract statements about his sporting readiness and medical condition, according to a spokesperson.

BOSS GP didn’t respond to calls from Motor Sport for comment.

“I am still faster than many drivers in the series, even those with stronger cars. I will wait and see what the next couple of months will bring. But quitting is not an option!”