Letters, February 2007

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Letter of the month

Spice added variety to Group C 

Sir,

Thank you for the article on Gordon Spice’s sports cars in the December issue. As someone who came to love motorsport through watching Group C racing, I was always impressed with how Spice managed to juggle building and flogging race cars with royally upstaging his customers at Le Mans and elsewhere as a driver. Everyone always remembers the Porsche, Jaguar and Sauber contests but it was what was going on in C2 that captivated me.  Spices battling with Ecosse, Tiga and Gebhardt chassis made for great racing and provided a stepping stone for useful drivers looking to step up from Sports 2000 and Thundersports to international competition.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon a few years back. He was hugely entertaining company, regaling me with stories of  ‘getting one over on the French’ during scrutineering at Le Mans, and the talents or otherwise of his many co-drivers. A top bloke and a hugely underrated driver/constructor.

Mark Wheeler , Wimbledon

Commanche Christmas

Sir,

I was fascinated to read Bill Boddy’s article in December’s Motor Sport as the Piper Commanche mentioned in the article used to belong to my father, who raced it in the London-to-Sydney air-race, thus the numbers on her flanks. Her registration was G-AXRW, hence we nicknamed her Romeo Whisky. Dad finished third overall and first in his class, and spoke to us that Christmas from Bondi Beach: you can imagine how odd that felt, huddled against the British winter.

It brought back wonderful memories of Sundays out from school, when we might fly to Le Touquet for tea while the other boys would go to visit grandma.

Toby Holland, Taunton, Somerset 

Schumacher the great?

Sir,

I read Nigel Roebuck’s article (Motor Sport, December) on the character and ability of Michael Schumacher and agree with his sober assessment. There is no denying that Schumacher is a fine driver of the first rank, capable of winning world championships in the best-engineered car on the grid. But a great champion? When you consider his ‘incidents’ involving fellow-drivers over the years, could you even begin to imagine similar unsporting behaviour from, say, Fangio, Hill, Brabham, Clark or fellow German von Trips? No? Well, it was a rhetorical question anyway. There’s more to being a great champion than just winning championships. Stirling Moss showed that you don’t even have to win one to be one.

W L Pender, Salisbury

Lawnmower man

Sir,

The Busman’s Holiday article in the December 2006 issue moved me to write to you on two counts. 

Back in 1997 I was lucky enough to take part in the British Lawnmower Racing Club’s 25th anniversary 12-hour race.  Except that year it was 25 hours long – one hour for every year the club had existed. Our ‘race car’ had a racing seat, spare engine, tyre sponsor, full pit-crew and motor home: serious stuff. It was a very dry and dusty year so every few hours the yellow flags came out and we all had to get in line behind the ‘pace car’ (in fact a tractor spraying water on to the track, turning it into a lethally wet and muddy slick). No wet tyre changes here and, as a result, our team was not without incident. In the early hours of Sunday morning I hit a straw bale flat out and rolled our tractor (lack of seat-belts being a blessing as I was thrown clear), while one of my co-drivers broke his ankle in a crash. Yet our team made it to the finish at 3pm on Sunday.  It was great fun, especially following in the tracks of Bell, Moss et al, and highlighted that any form of racing, when undertaken in the right spirit, is all that matters. In the 1960s my parents met and became friends with Derek Bell and his great mate John Penfold while skiing. Although John remained very close to my parents, Derek’s career meant they eventually lost touch. At Friday qualifying at this year’s Goodwood Revival I was standing outside the paddock and spotted them both in deep discussion about the Jaguar E-Type Derek had just been out in. John spotted me, came over to say hello, and gestured Derek over. Derek had not seen me for more than 20 years yet he happily chatted, asking how my mother was getting on and allowing a complete amateur (me!) to contribute to their technical discussion. It was a real privilege and reinforced what a great racing driver Derek Bell is.

Francis Sirl, Richmond, Surrey.

Rapier wit 

Sir,

Your piece on the diversity of cars driven by Jim Clark in the December issue was illuminating and brought to mind two incidents which remain crystal-clear even at a distance of 40 years. In 1966 a friend and I motored over to Oulton Park one fine Sunday morning to view the service halt on the RAC Rally. 

A couple of miles from Oulton we saw a rally-numbered Lotus Cortina proceeding at a respectable pace. This, of course, produced the inevitable urge to overtake, which we did, and my chum said, “Bloody hell, you’ve just passed Jim Clark”. At this moment Jim and co-driver Brian Melia pulled off the road and stopped. Somewhat awe-struck, we also pulled over. Obviously with time in hand, Jim carefully combed his hair and had a leisurely drink before they carried on into the circuit with us in close formation. What he made of two insanely grinning, long-haired youths in a Sunbeam Rapier will forever remain a mystery.

Earlier that year I attended the Oulton Park Gold Cup. Jim took third in the main event in a Lotus 33. He then took part in the saloon car race in a Lotus Cortina. In the closing stages, Brian Muir’s 7-litre Ford Galaxie had a lurid spin at Old Hall corner, having the misfortune to connect with the large boulder that then lay in the grass. The car self-destructed in a big way. A collective intake of breath heralded the rapid approach of  Jim, who, despite the accident still happening, never even lifted and powered through, somehow missing all the debris. This was once again a superb example of car control and sheer skill by Clark. Happy days…

Mike Hill, Daventry, Northants.

Holding back the years

Sir,

The passing of Tom Delaney at 95 made me wonder if there might be interest in a club for over-retirement-age racing drivers, those still competing although eligible for a pension.

It could become a gentle pressure group, a reminder that the quick are not always only the young, have its own hospitality stand at Goodwood, act as a source of after-dinner speakers and so on. Who knows – we might even aspire to a handicap Formula Libre race exclusively for members. And, suitably, award the Delaney Trophy…

Anyone interested can contact me on that new-fangled e-thingy at [email protected] 

Brian Jordan, Shepton Mallet

You were there

Ferrari suffered a blow when high-profile team members, including Carlo Chiti and Romolo Tavoni, left at the end of 1961 to form Automobili Turismo e Sport. Little was seen of the defectors until the 1963 Belgian GP where the ATS made its debut. Its drivers were Giancarlo Baghetti and Phil Hill, who had also left Ferrari after a dismal title defence in 1962. Both cars qualified near the back of the grid and retired early on. The ATS made further uncompetitive showings before disappearing at the end of the season. Stuart Rigall, who drove a Morris 1000 to Spa, remembers the ATS well: “At the start of the first practise session there were a number of ATS personnel in the paddock, two drivers but few mechanics and no cars.

It seems that the transporter trucks had arrived far too late and were stranded in Stavelot after the roads had been closed for the start of practice. The mechanics unloaded the cars and drove them to the circuit via minor roads from Stavelot to Francorchamps to arrive at the circuit some time after the first session had started.”