In the hot seat -- Gerry Marshall

Britain’s club racing hero Gerry Marshall on 623 wins, beating Roger Clark at his own game and why the Goodwood marshals bowed down to Baby Bertha

Was Big Bertha really as evil to drive as people make out? — Mike Trotter, Aberdeen

Well, I didn’t know any better at the time — I was delighted with it. The biggest problem was its weight — it was beautifully built, having started out as a show car. But the best thing we ever did was to write it off— it wasn’t badly damaged, but the proposed fast Ventora road car was cancelled so we didn’t need it. We built all the bits into Baby Bertha which was 5001b lighter. But Big Bertha didn’t handle too badly…

What was your most successful season, and is it your favourite year? — J Shaw. Edinburgh

I can’t remember that… but I’m excited about next season. I’m in better form than I have been for a few years. I can’t wait.

Which driver have you felt most at home racing with wheel to wheel? — David Jarvis, Little Leighs, Essex

Graham ‘Skid’ Scarborough — we matured side by side in Capris and other saloons and raced together for years. He was always very, very safe. And more recently, Justin Law; I had a great dice with him at Goodwood and didn’t have a moment’s worry.

Is it true that you turned down the works Rover SD1 drive in the BTCC back in the early 1980s? — Vincent Riley, Shrewsbury

It didn’t happen that way. When Vauxhall pulled out of racing I won both saloon titles in a Triumph Dolomite Sprint, so Triplex backed me to form a team of Dolomites, and Leyland said that I’d get SDls the next year. But Tom Walkinshaw punted me off at Silverstone — my only serious accident — and while I was in hospital he did a deal to take over my team. Leyland claimed it thought I’d never race again. But I expect I would have gone bankrupt anyway…

Were you angry at Dealer Team Vauxhall for switching from racing to rallying? — Chris Bucknell, Glasgow

Yes — and no. I was a bit hurt but realised it had to happen. I’d had 10 great years, but after so much success we could only go downhill. Bill Blydenstein was an absolute gent — he kept on paying me and gave me a car to use.

You were pretty handy in rallying. Did you consider switching disciplines? — Rashed Chowdhury, Telford

l used to joke that when I got old and slow I would go rallying. In the 1974 Tour of Britain I was meant to show Roger Clark the way on the circuits and vice versa on the stages. But I beat him over Epynt and might have won overall but for one spin — I came second by 11 sec. I would like to have done the RAC — but you can’t race and rally and run a business.

As a Tour of Britain runner-up are you tempted by the new Tour Britannia? — David Taberner, Cheshire

Love to do it, absolutely love to.

Did your very strong Vauxhall connections work against you with rival manufacturers? — Eric Silver, Leatherhead, Surrey

Yes, although proper people like Ford’s Peter Ashcroft and Stuart Turner would listen. I asked Stuart for that Tour of Britain drive, and it did me a power of good. It showed that I could drive other makes, and when Vauxhall grumbled, Bill Blydenstein told them, “He’s not on a retainer, he can do as he likes.” So they put me straight onto a retainer.

How come we never saw you out in a Sierra Cosworth? You seemed made for each other. — N Burton, Harpenden

I was out of the professional frame, not a Ford man, in the middle of a divorce, no sponsor…

Is it true that you were once offered a drive at Le Mans by J-P Beltoise? — Colin Tucker, London

It was unofficial. I was racing the Magnum at Dijon and kept finding myself level with Beltoise’s BMW. Then we had a great dust-up on the road, so we got talking and he proposed this BMW drive at Le Mans. But Vauxhall said no. Pity.

I recall you driving a Formula Ford — is my memory correct? And was the car a special wide-bodied one, or is that just a scurrilous rumour? — Rae Webster, Northants

That was one of Graham Arnold’s schemes. They called it the Lotus 61L — for Large — but it was only the cockpit bodywork cut away a bit. I did half a dozen races, but something always went wrong.

Are all your 600 victories outright wins or have some class wins snuck in? And which was the greatest? — Mike Myskow, Nelson, New Zealand

It’s 623 now, and yes, that includes class wins. I was on a high at this year’s Goodwood after I came third ahead of five C-type Jags and four DB3Ss in a Healey 100S, beaten only by a HWM and a Ferrari Monza. And the press didn’t even notice.

…and which was your most disappointing result? — Clinton Bourke, Queniborough, Leics

Also this year’s Goodwood. I’m still upset about it now. The car of my dreams — sharing Peter Hardman’s Ferrari 330LMB — in the event of my dreams, the TT Celebration. I loved that car, it was made for me, the team were great. But the car oversteers, and through Lavant Richard Attwood was next to me and left me no room. We touched, I got a slow puncture, and at the driver change I couldn’t open my door — the team had to drag me out through the passenger side. I am still annoyed that I was blamed, even though Attwood and the stewards agreed it wasn’t my fault. I don’t hit other people deliberately.

What do you think of the state of national-level racing today? — P Merriman, Warminster

Too many one-make series. The only way to win those is to spend more money, or barge people out of the way. A mixed series is healthier and much more interesting.

If you were racing In moderns today which would you choose: the BTCC, the WTCC or the DTM? — Barry Smith, Horsham. Sussex

DTM. There’s not enough power in BTCC; I’ve driven one, and the engineering involved is wonderful, but they’re too easy to drive. To win you have to nerf people and drive over all the kerbs. I want rear-wheel drive and a challenge.

Were you surprised to receive a BARC Gold Medal for an outstanding contribution to motorsport? — Lee Kennedy, Preston

That was a real surprise, a nice one, which came out of the blue. That and my BRDC membership are two of my greatest honours.

How come the TVR Tina show cars were named after your daughter? — James Croser, Clapham

Did none of your readers ask about my TVR racing? I was very successful in those. Er… I was a TVR dealer and friends with Martin Lilley, who bought TVR when it went bust. My daughter Tina had just been born when the show coupe was built (there was also a spider), hence the name. And I still have that car.

Have you ever marshalled? — Michael Cox, Pershore, Worcs

No, but I have always appreciated what they do — we couldn’t race without them. We all used to drink together in the bar after meetings — you were closer to them then. The first time I drove Baby Bertha at the Goodwood Festival every marshal bowed down to us! Our reception was absolutely brilliant. It brought a tear to the eye.