Letters, February 2019

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Caring, sharing Ayrton

I very much enjoyed the article on Ayrton Senna’s early years (December 2018) and would like to share the following anecdote.

In 1982 I had the privilege of racing for Snetterton-based Rushen Green Racing in Formula Ford 1600 – and the team was simultaneously responsible for looking after Ayrton’s works Van Diemen in FF2000.

At the beginning of that season, my first in racing, I had a new Van Diemen but wasn’t able to set it up properly due my lack of experience. During a testing day at Snetterton, Ayrton was watching, could see I was struggling and asked whether I’d like him to try the car, to see whether he could improve it. Naturally, I said ‘yes’.

He went out and returned to the pits after a couple of laps to inform the team that the car was ‘shiiiit’. He then had the mechanic change a number of settings before going back out for a few laps. He then came back in, made a few more changes, went back out and equalled the circuit record.

I thanked him and told the team to leave the car exactly as it was for my next two races, at Oulton Park and Snetterton. Having previously been a midfield runner, I won both. This meant everything at the time. I was incredibly grateful and have always thought him to be ‘simply the best’.

Gary Evans, Hockliffe, Beds. 

Young and dedicated

Back in 1982 I became friends with a Brazilian driver by the name of Ricardo Menezes. He had come to England to compete in the British Formula Ford Championship, but financial restraints limited him to six races all season with a win at Snetterton his only victory.

Ricardo raced a Van Diemen RF82 prepared by Rushen Green Racing, who also ran Ayrton Senna in FF2000 that year.

Often when I visited the Rushen Green workshop – still situated on the Snetterton infield – Senna would be there. Even when he wasn’t racing, he always seemed focused and ‘in the zone’. 

I’d like to say that I knew him, but that would be stretching his acknowledgment of my presence by a nod or smile.

Looking back now, some 36 years later, Senna was the latest in a long line of Brazilian drivers to come to these shores, but I wonder whether we’ll see the likes of a driver with his undoubted ability again.

John Landamore, by email

The boy Dunn good

Once again the issue of motor sport and politics raises its head. I remember well Bahrain in 2012 and a barrage of head-in-sand “leave the sport alone” objections from those within Formula 1’s seemingly impenetrable bubble. I was not one of them and Bernie Ecclestone’s ghastly “What human rights?” comment still makes me suck my teeth…

So I heartily applaud Joe Dunn’s “reality check” editorial in the January 2019 issue. Quite brave, I thought, and absolutely timely. I find it inspiring that he so eloquently encourages the reader to ‘zoom out’ and see the bigger picture. Good also that this article is the first thing most are likely to read.

I would question only one point. He wrote: “Some will argue that Trump’s America has its faults and Austin should have been cancelled.” I would argue that one can at least still criticise and even mock in America with relative impunity. Not the case in Baku, Bahrain or Abu Dhabi…

If F1 can ban grid girls to appease the politically correct, it can surely relocate races that legitimise the politically corrupt. 

Tim Hain, Lower Kingswood, Surrey

History lessen

I write in response to Doug Nye’s column on historic racing in the January 2019 edition.

His article, about the modernisation of old competition cars, was quite correct in the points it makes, but I take a rather different view of things. You might say he was looking down from the top and I am looking up from the bottom.

I do not see Goodwood as representative of historic racing. It is a show devised to create maximum income for its promoter and is very successful in its aims. It has now allowed greed to devour its heart, in its search to keep the show from going stale, and has become a parody of itself. 

Forget Goodwood. Historic racing is alive and well at the events organised by clubs like HSCC, Masters, CSCC, HRDC, MRL and a dozen or so others. These events are run first and foremost for the drivers and owners, largely unprofessional, almost always true enthusiasts. 

Spectators are kindly invited to watch at giveaway prices, racing is clean and competitive, the cars look and sound wonderful, there is huge variety in big grids, paddocks are open, massive trailers rare. No one cares about the show, you never feel ripped off, security is minimal, smiles and friendship the norm. I love it all and it has given me real joy in my later life.

All this is under threat, too, but not for the reasons Doug describes. There are two evils standing in the shadows, waiting to pounce. One is the ridiculous expansion of events and championships, which can only result in smaller grids. The other is the horror of a spread of one-make racing (recently described as the way forward by Richard Meaden), which removes the variety that is historic racing’s greatest characteristic. These twin trends have completely destroyed modern club racing. If left unchecked they will surely destroy the fragile delight of real historic motor sport, too.

Mike Crow, via email

Rapier thrust

In 1983 I acquired my first car, a glacially slow 850cc Mini. Thus equipped with transport I became, and remain, a student of, and occasional participant in, historic racing.

Doug Nye’s article in January’s magazine absolutely chimed with me, and not just on the matter of driving standards. Everything has changed.

The racing demographic back then was largely wealthy enthusiasts. Aside from the odd converted coach, the transport of choice was an open trailer towed by a Ford Granada estate or a Rover SD1. By the early noughties, when I was having a go, we were in a minority of almost one in using an open trailer towed by a Vauxhall Senator.

The driving standards were high. There were hired guns – or, rather, a hired gun – but Willie Green knew better than most that diving into a closing gap in an ERA with no roll-bar or belts was a likely prelude to a spell in hospital. Ironically, I recall at that time Willie writing an article that criticised the excess of historic racing on offer!

I yield to no man in my admiration for, in particular, the Goodwood Revival, and I have yet to miss one. In 2001 I was invited to race my Riley 1.5 and had no difficulty blowing off one particular Sunbeam Rapier, but it cruised past me the following year having had an engine ‘refresh’. 

The pace of development is way faster now. And I do wonder whether staging the 2019 event on a weekend that clashes with the BTCC was entirely accidental.

Increasingly, those owning and racing old cars have done well in business and, having sold up, can finally indulge their Jim Clark obsession.

This frequently leads to the amusing sight of a corpulent businessman sprouting out of the top of a Lotus looking more like a burst mattress than a driver. 

Fair play: if £4-5 million came my way I would be straight into an Alfa Romeo 159. But having the cash does not mean one can actually handle a car proficiently, so driving standards have gone markedly down.

What to do? No idea.

Nick Bleaney, Norfolk

Matter of stats

The view put forward by David Buckden (January 2019), about whether Lewis Hamilton is as great as Juan Manuel Fangio, is based upon a flawed argument. More opportunities to win does not mean more victories, as you still have to win whether the opportunity is there or not. 

It is an old chestnut and it is time it was laid to rest.

Trevor Mann, Crowborough, East Sussex