Speed!

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Dear AH,

We have always agreed that speed is relative, though deciding exactly what it is relative to is another matter. I think we can accept that it is relative to the time and place. 100 mph down Hanger Straight at Silverstone is one thing, but 100 mph down the High Street is something else.

Recently I have been doing some research for the Brooklands Museum, in preparation for their opening in 1988. Living in the past, in the days of the Brooklands Track, 100 mph seems very exciting. In those days my Uncle’s Morris Cowley would do about 47 mph, and I once went in a Rugby tourer that reached 60 mph. Relative to this, the things I read about cars doing 100 mph at Brooklands were terribly exciting. I remember going to Bournemouth on holiday with my family one year when we passed the Brooklands Track, running parallel to the Railway Straight, and there was a racing car out practising. It was going faster than we were, and we were on the Bournemouth Belle, a crack express train of the time. I was very impressed.

Almost anyone could drive a car that lapped that old banked track at 100 mph, quite a few achieved laps at 120 mph, the elite did laps at 130 mph and only three drivers passed the 140 mph average for a lap. Relative to my uncle’s Morris Cowley they really were Speed Kings. Today every company rep in his Cavalier cruises up the M3 at 100 mph. Lucky chaps like you and me get the chance to drive a modern Formula One car and reach 160 mph, but the Speed Kings of today in the top echelon are well over 200 mph. No surprise really, for after all, it is 1987. 100 mph in a vintage car is exciting; in a family hatch-back it is the normal thing and not very exciting; while in a Formula One car it is absolutely nothing at all.

Some keen technocratic journalists keep timing things from 0 to 60 mph or 0 to 100 mph, and even do this for Formula One cars. What they should be doing with the latter is timing it from 100 to 200 mph, except that we have nothing for comparison, for the top Formula One cars are in a world of their own for sheer performance, just as the drivers are a race apart.

Two decades back, Aston Martin timed a DB4GT from 0-100-0 mph in 20.8 seconds, an impressive feat 25 years ago. What would be interesting now would be to time 0-200-0mph by a Brabham-BMW or a Williams-Honda. Actually, Patrick Head could probably work out the time for us, if we asked him nicely, as the Williams team have so much information filed away from their testing sessions, that I am sure it would not take him long to compute the figure from known G-forces on acceleration and braking.

Now, if we could get them to programme a Williams-Honda to do it on its own, with an on-board computer controlling the acceleration and retardation to stay at 100% and for the car to follow a sunken guide wire . . . That would be enthralling and most interesting to watch. After all, if a Boeing 757 can land “hands off’ it should be a simple matter to programme a Formula One car.

You will no doubt remember when I went into the test-house with Brian Hart, to stand alongside one of his engines pushing out 700 bhp; if I recall, you watched through the glass observation panel. Brian said he had tried to get his drivers to stand by the engine while it was on full song on the test-bed, but they didn’t want to know. I wonder if it would be the same with Williams? Would Mansell and Piquet enjoy standing by the finish line at Monza, while a Williams-Honda did its run up to 200 mph and back to a standstill in the length of the main straight? Of course, this is all leading up to my proposed Marlboro Speed Week at the end of the season.

I am pleased to see that the CART/Indy world in America is still very record conscious, with the accent on the fastest lap for a closed circuit, by which they mean a Speedway as distinct from the Bonneville Salt Flats. For a long time this record stood to a Penske-team Porsche 917/30 turbo Can-Am car at around 224 mph. Now it is held by Rick Mears in a suitably prepared Indy-car at 233.934 mph and plans are afoot for A J Foyt to have a go at beating it with a car built by Oldsmobile called the Aerotech Research Car, which is a mixture of an Indy-car and a Group C all-enveloping sports car.

There is no official category for this sort of thing; it is merely a bit of technical fun and a case of “there is the challenge, let’s have a go.” The Americans are only really interested in lap speeds on their Super Speedways, otherwise they would be looldng at the highest lap speed ever recorded, which is the 251.02 mph achieved by the Daimler-Benz AG Mercedes-Benz Wankel-powered record car at the Fiat test track at Nardo in Italy.

But enough of this day-dreaming about speed. Our friend and colleague in Switzerland, Adriano Cimarosti, who reports Formula One racing for the Swiss Automobile Revue as we do for Motoring News and MOTORSPORT, has just produced a monument of a book called Autorennen published by Halwag, which costs 89 Swiss Francs. It covers the scene of the absolute peak of motor racing from the beginning in 1894 (1895 if you are pedantic like me) to 1986.

“Cima” is one of those enthusiasts like us, who knows that Grand Prix racing started in 1906, unlike some of our Powder Puff Press who think it all started in 1950 when the World Championship was invented. Naturally this large book is in German, coming as it does from Bern, but you can sense it is a serious work for it is not full of lurid crash pictures, deeds of apparent heroism or dolly-birds like some coffee-table books.

The text is fully supported by photographs, circuit maps, section-engine drawings, car plans and tabulated statistics, while an interesting touch is the addition of the signatures (as distinct from autographs) of drivers, designers, team managers, engineers and organisers, from Marcel Renault and Ferencz Szisz right through to Gerhard Berger and Gerard Ducarouge, the early ones having been culled from archive letters and documents.

Cimarosti is one of the new boys to Grand Prix racing, like me, having seen his first Grand Prix in 1947! One of our Italian colleagues saw the Tripoli Grand Prix in 1937, beating me by one year. I saw the 1938 Donington Grand Prix, though Eoin Young often looks at me seriously and asks: “What was the Paris-Madrid race really like?” Cheeky . . .

Talking of books, I enjoyed the 1986 Autocourse and your piece on Keke Rosberg, while the portrait of him was an incredible piece of photography and colour reproduction; I feel that if you looked at it long enough he would turn to you and make a typical Rosberg wise-crack. I was interested that you will remember him by three of his Grand Prix victories. I shall always remember him for the way he drove the Williams-Cosworth V8 in its last season, as he strove to hang on to the much more powerful turbocharged cars. It was real hero stuff, when a lot of other drivers had simply given up.

The opening laps of the 1983 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps were how l shall always remember Rosberg, and the sight of that Williams-Cosworth V8 coming down the hill and through the Eau Rouge bends, keeping the tail end of the leaders in sight and leaving the rest of the entry far behind, is something that will live with me forever.

It was like Jean Behra keeping his little Gordini in the draught of the Mercedes-Benz team at the Avusrennen in 1954. The perfect example of “tiger”, an attribute not many drivers are blessed with. Yours, DSJ