Letters: February 2018
Blasts from the past
Dickie Meaden’s piece in the January issue, about time-travelling to the past, evoked a few fond memories for an old man. He’s right about the Targa Florio. I was determined to witness it before it got stopped and made it in 1970 with a year or two to spare.
I arrived a few days early, hired a Fiat 850 and set off around the course. I was bumbling along minding my own business when suddenly a works Alfa Romeo TT33 came screaming past at three times my speed. It was such a shock I nearly went off the road! I had barely recovered when it shot past in the opposite direction on its way back to the pits (too far to go all the way round).
1970s Italy certainly was another country, where they did things differently. Track limits were defined not by kerbs or walls but by spectators’ legs, all under the nose of the police. Other memories are the adoration by the spectators of the local hero Nino Vaccarella when he walked down the pit lane to cries of ‘Nino, Nino’, and also a very nervous Brian Redman before the start.
My other memories include seeing Ferrari win its first Formula 1 race (British GP, Silverstone 1951) when the team’s 4½-litre V12 beat the 1½-litre supercharged straight-eight Alfa Romeo 159 for the first time. Of course, at eight years old I was too young to appreciate what I was witnessing, but in my mind’s eye I can still see a fat bloke in a T-shirt (Froilán González), all arms and elbows, sawing away at the wheel as he drifted around Club.
George W R Smith, Long Marston, York
Cut and paste
I’d like to add a couple of points to Dickie Meaden’s recent CUT7 article. The bonnet bulge is the usual shape; originally it had extra bulges to accommodate the D-type engine, which finally gave up while Paul Vestey was driving. Most annoying, as he was leading at the time. Vestey then damaged the bonnet at the Goodwood chicane. I severely damaged the car at Silverstone during practice, not a test, twisting the tub.
Of the 30-odd races we both did, there were only three DNFs. It was a fantastic car to drive, especially on the road with trade plates…
Richard Ward, London SW1
I read with interest Gordon Cruickshank’s article on Mike Salmon, as I had the honour to work as a mechanic for the Honourable John Dawnay, later Viscount Downe, during the 1965 and 1966 seasons, looking after the various cars being campaigned at the time, including two of the three ex-Tour de France Ford Mustangs and then the Ford GT40 that was mentioned briefly in the context of the burning GT40.
As always, there is a separate story related to that incident, which occurred at the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours and explains how Mike suffered the burns Gordon mentioned. In those far-off days there was an assigned official to each car (a plombier), whose sole responsibility was to cut the lead seal locking the fuel filler cap when the car came in for refuelling, and then re-apply a new seal when refuelling was completed.
‘Our’ car was a 1964 version (ex-Essex Wire Corporation) with a fuel filler cap atop each of the front wings, and during the first stop yours truly was overseeing the activities from the track side. I saw the plombier cut the seal and the refuelling being completed, whereupon the official tried to be helpful and snapped shut the cap before fitting the requisite seal. The rest of the stop continued, and off the car went, never to return.
The car got through the Esses, all the way down the Mulsanne Straight and, under braking for Mulsanne Corner, the fuel in the tank washed up the filler neck (angled up toward the front of the car), gushed out over the white-hot brake disc and burst into flames. At the same time, fuel was bleeding down the side of the car, and with no door seals the fire reached poor Mike, who had the presence of mind to put the car into the sand banks on the outside of the corner and roll out, but not before he sustained nasty burns.
When we were allowed access to the car on Monday morning, it became clear what had happened. The filler cap had jammed before resealing correctly, though the plombier would not have known this, hence the terrible consequences.
Brian Evans, Warwick, England.
Waving the flag…
I very much enjoyed reading Gordon Cruickshank’s piece on Mike Salmon in the December issue, and I hope that he may revisit it with some further stories regarding his long racing career in a future issue.
I remember attending Le Mans in the early 1980s, when patriotic British fans didn’t have much to cheer owing to the dominance of the new works Porsche 956, but the thundering, privately entered Viscount Downe Nimrod Aston Martin was the exception.
Things don’t get more patriotic or romantic than that, especially with the financial backing of the ebullient and dapper Victor Gauntlett of Pace Petroleum and Aston Martin.
The Nimrod Aston couldn’t hope to compete with the turbocharged Porsche on qualifying (or indeed race) pace, but Mike brought it home to a respectable seventh overall in 1982.
Neil Kirby, Shenfield, Essex.
…the wrong way up
In the latest issue you featured a great photo of Lewis Hamilton deservedly celebrating his fourth F1 world championship. However, he is holding the Union Flag upside down, which historically is a coded distress signal. Perhaps Mark Hughes could shed light on whatever stress Lewis was suffering.
It is not just motor racing – it’s happened at Downing Street, the Ministry of Defence and in a multitude of sports stadia. Perhaps you could run a little article on the protocol of flying the flag, so motor sport can take a lead in getting it right.
Nick Harman, Chardonnay, France
Right man, wrong vowel
I have just received the November issue in the US, and have a small item to mention. In the Scarab article, “Lee Goossens” is credited with the engine design. He is more commonly known by his real name, Leo Goossens.
Otherwise a great issue, especially the Alan Mann Mustang article.
Andrew Watry, Berkeley, California, USA
Regarding Mat Oxley’s excellent article about Spain’s supremacy in motorbike racing, I would like to point out that Italian riders have almost the same level of dominance. Of all the championship points awarded in all three categories in 2017, Spanish riders took 34 per cent, while Italian riders gathered 32. Between them, Spanish and Italian riders scored more than two-thirds of all points. All other nations combined took only 34 per cent.
Italy is the other ‘grand nation’ of motorbike racing, almost on the same level as Spain. Plus, they have Ducati, the Ferrari of motorcycling.
Each month I look forward to the moment when I open a new edition of Motor Sport. Thank you for providing this enjoyment!
Raimund Fein, by e-mail
That’s true. But perhaps I didn’t make the point well enough – Italy has been winning GPs since 1949. Spain won its first in 1968. MO
Distinction of Mark
My compliments to Mark Hughes on his outstanding journalism. Continuing in the footsteps of the late, great DSJ and Alan Henry, we are now able to enjoy his race reports almost as quickly as he can write one via Motor Sport online – and then comment.
And we are still able to get them in print, which reminds me of how I was ‘educated’ into F1 through my late father. He loved F1 and received monthly copies of Motor Sport via the post in Rhodesia, probably several weeks after publication in the UK.
I’m drawn to ask a question that arises from Mark’s December report comparing the two top cars – the Mercedes W08 and Ferrari SF70H. Clearly, the engineering is on another level to get these cars to do what they do, and MH has gone to some length to explain this aspect and the dark art of aerodynamics to us laymen.
The Merc has been tricky all season and is 7-8kg overweight compared to the Ferrari, a better overall car. Based on the numbers one sees written, 1kg equates to 0.04sec/lap and 50bhp equates to 0.8sec. That means the Merc is producing about 18bhp to overcome the weight disadvantage, and the engine is working harder all the time just to overcome that disadvantage, which in turn means higher temperatures and more fuel used. Then we read the Mercs have a Q3 mode worth 0.15sec. That’s an extra 9hp – in total 27bhp to keep its nose at the front, excluding the driver factor.
The laws of physics say you can’t get anything for nothing, so how is it that the Merc can overcome the weight disadvantage and still dial in a special qualifying mode? Is this down to the dark secret of oil burning?
Nick Meikle, by e-mail
Your piece in December on the Lotus Mark X, comparing it to the D-Type, was hugely informative. Modern analytic tools give us insights on chassis effectiveness and performance potential that designers could only guess at 60 years ago. I’d love to see more like it. Maybe you can tell me why the Bugatti T35, with so much positive front camber, or the Alfa 2.9, with its rear swing axles, were made to handle so well.
Paul Wilson, Fairfield, Virginia, USA
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