Matters of moment, February 2017

Author

Joe Dunn

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Readers of this magazine may be familiar with the names of Paul and Barbara Karassik. The intrepid pair made something of a name for themselves by tirelessly trekking across the former Soviet Union in the hunt for the rumoured remains of two long-lost Auto Union racers. 

Many of these Silver Arrows, which had been driven by the likes of Bernd Rosemeyer, Tazio Nuvolari and Hans Stuck during the 1930s at the forefront of Grand Prix racing, had fallen into Russian hands at the end of World War Two. They had been carted off for Soviet engineers to scrutinise and for decades their whereabouts were the subject of immense speculation. 

Although one example was known to be on display in a Riga museum, the Karassiks determined to follow up rumours of another car, regarding them, rightly, as priceless historical artifacts. After several years of searching, they managed to bring back parts for one and a half cars. These were subsequently built into two cars in the 1990s with the skills of British restorer Crosthwaite & Gardiner. Their efforts in salvaging the Auto Unions are now celebrated and the fruits of their labour are proud elements of automotive history. 

Our cover story this month might not involve perilous missions behind the Iron Curtain, but it does show that the desire to save historic racing cars is not a recent thing. The Lotus 33 chassis R11, which we reveal this month for the first time in more than 40 years, is one of the most important British race cars ever built. Not only was it driven by Jim Clark on his way to the 1965 world championship – including victory in the British Grand Prix – but, in its unrestored state, it also offers a key link back to what is often seen as the golden age of racing. The fact that it has apparently been missing for so long makes its reappearance all the more mouth-watering. 

That it has survived in such a complete and original state is thanks to one man who, in true journalese, we can refer to only as a “mystery collector”. Motor Sport knows the identity of the collector and has agreed to keep it private, but that shouldn’t detract from the debt British motor sport fans owe him. As he says, remembering the time he was introduced to the car by the seller: “For anyone interested in Lotuses, I was being offered the Mona Lisa… The car in which Jim Clark had won the world championship – effectively as-original, unspoiled.

“Too many great racing cars have simply been used up, unappreciated and ignored. Once ‘R11’ is back together, I feel, for me, it will be mission accomplished.”

Reading his story and that of the Lotus, brilliantly told by Doug Nye, it is clear that our “mystery collector” has saved the car for the nation. We often read those words when applied to works of art, bought by the scion of a wealthy family in order for it not to be auctioned off abroad, but rarely when it comes to equally important works of engineering genius. Perhaps that should change, and perhaps such enthusiasts should be recognised – even if they do want to remain anonymous. 

One other thing strikes me about the Lotus. The collector says that one of the reasons he saved it was because he remembered it in period: “I had been seated in the grandstand during that 1965 British Grand Prix at Silverstone – and looking at the car I relived the tension of those moments, seeing Jim Clark coasting out of Woodcote on those late laps, with Graham Hill’s BRM screaming ever closer.” 

The same thing motivated Paul Karassik: as a small boy he had been a spectator in Belgrade at the last Grand Prix held before the Second World War, and witnessed the Auto Unions in action. A passion for motor sport clearly lasts a lifetime. It also shows that images from your childhood can have a profound effect in later years. 

* * *

Forget President Obama, when it comes to mic dropping it’s hard to beat Nico Rosberg. Much has been written about the decision of the newly crowned Formula 1 world champion’s decision to retire less than a week after claiming the title, and I won’t add too much more to it here other than to say ‘bravo’. It was a sentiment echoed by Sir Jackie Stewart when I asked him about it. Stewart famously also retired after winning the world championship – albeit in different circumstances – but had nothing but praise for Rosberg’s decision: “I was surprised when I heard the news, but I thought it was wonderful,” he said. “My first reaction was that it is not always possible to stop when at the top, but he has managed to do it.”

We both agreed that the 31-year-old German has a golden future away from the sport, but also that perhaps the sweetest part of the announcement (for Nico) would be the knowledge that Lewis Hamilton, the ultimate competitor, will be fuming at not having the chance to avenge his 2016 defeat.

* * *

The vagaries not to say magic of magazine publishing mean that the current issue is datelined February. In fact, it is published at beginning of January, which means it is an opportune time to look forward to the year ahead.

2017 promises to be a year full of change at Motor Sport. Sadly, one of those changes is that Nigel Roebuck will no longer be writing his Reflections column for us. Nigel has been a loyal servant of the magazine for the past nine years; his columns have been provocative, knowledgeable and occasionally contrarian but always written with a love of the sport at their heart. We all wish him the best in his future endeavours. 

* * *

And finally: although Christmas will by now be a distant memory for many readers, it is still worth drawing attention to our favourite festive card from 2016 (below). It comes from Team Penske, the famously fastidious US team. If only everything in life could be so ordered.

Happy New Year.