Around and about, January 1971

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Comment on the racing and club scene

Motor racing in Britain goes on virtually around the calendar but, at least, in December and January the majority of racing cars are either in the process of being sold, bought, built or at least refurbished. This gives everyone a little more time for socialising while the motor racing journalist has a busy time taking in all the various functions and announcements being made. Leaving aside the purely social affairs we thought it might be an idea to review some of the happenings of the last month likely to influence the course of racing.

The end of November was highlighted by a kind of Mini Racing Car Show held for a day only at Walthamstow Stadium. There seems to be a proliferation of racing car shows just lately but at least this one had a slant. The idea was not only to show the exhibits statically but also to show them in action on the Stadium’s quarter-mile paved oval where stock car events are regularly held. Behind the plan was Tom Barnard, well known to the doting fathers amongst you, as the manufacturer of mini racing cars.

Barnard worked hard to make his one-day project a success and was rewarded by the fact that some 50 companies took space around the track on what turned out to be a rather bleak day. Setting up an interesting stand in the morning and taking it down that evening is a somewhat tall order, hence one could hardly expect the displays to be of the professional nature seen at some shows, particularly as the Walthamstow stands were out in the open.

Barnard’s biggest coup was to have Trojan unveil their new McLaren Formula 5000 car during the day’s activities. There was no doubt that the thing was all screwed together properly for Howden Ganley lapped it impressively. The rarely seen McLaren M6GT road car also created quite a stir. For the hard-core enthusiast there was also quite a lot of interest amongst the stands of the smaller companies as well.

If one got a little bored with the stands there was usually some action on the track. Despite the short length of the straight the various machines from the National Drag Racing Club and the British Drag Racing and Hot Rod Association put up a very impressive display. Both the genuine “rails” and the funny cars provided plenty of action and their appearance had quite a few people vowing to go to Santa Pod dragstrip in Bedford for the first time.

There were also demonstration-cum-races for rallycross cars, machines from the Midget Auto Racing Club (the drivers are over 4 ft. tall) and of Tom Barnard’s Formula Sixes. The proceedings came to a close with a parade by any of the exhibitors who wanted to join in. There were cars everywhere with Ronnie Peterson in a March 701 rubbing wheels with Lotus team manager Peter Warr, who was driving one of the Gold Leaf Lotus 59s. A rather wildly-driven Formula F100 machine was overtaking everything in sight and Formula Ford, midgets, Clubman’s cars, Rallycross Escorts all circulated together.

Naturally, as this was a first attempt, everything did not go to plan and it seems the number of paying customers was a little on the disappointing side, but there is no doubt that in general the Speed Show at Walthamstow was a success. One hopes that Torn Barnard will be encouraged to continue his bright idea.

Still on the subject of Shows, there was, a few days later, a Press conference for another extravaganza also to be entitled a Speed Show. This, however, was the Jackie Stewart version for the former World Champion had been impressed with the work of a chap called Peter Anslow, who had organised the Auto Expo exhibition held in Nice last year to correspond with the Monaco GP.

The pair had got together and decided to run a show up in Scotland at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall from March 27th to April 4th, and with help from a National newspaper the whole thing seems to be progressing well. Stewart in his usual eloquent manner told of his childhood delight of visiting Schoolboy Exhibitions and said he hoped his offering would capture some of the same spirit. The accent will be on speed rather than simply motor racing and Stewart hopes to have various sporting personalities in attendance each day. He will not be present for the opening ceremony as he is committed to race in America that day, but will immediately fly back to be present for the remaining part of the show.

Hardly a motor racing season goes by these days without someone dreaming up another new formula. John Webb of Motor Circuit Developments Ltd. has been directly or indirectly responsible for the majority of the recent ones ranging from the incredibly successful and well-conceived Formula Ford, through that somewhat shaky Formula One substitute called Formula 5000 to the downright unnecessary Formula F100.

The past month has seen the official announcement of two new formulae for 1971. One comes from John Webb and is called Formula Atlantic and the other has been initiated by the Volkswagen motor company and is to be known as Formula Super Vee. Both have their merits and both seem likely to succeed to some degree.

Not surprisingly Webb chose Brands Hatch to announce details of his new baby and even laid on a demonstration of the new cars. Sad to say not all the manufacturers who promised to attend did so, but with March and Lotus fielding cars as well as some of the smaller manufacturers the day was definitely a success. Formula Atlantic is based broadly on the American 1,600 c.c. Formula B regulations for single-seaters and is thus mid-way between Formula Three and Two on power outputs. In America all the successful cars use British chassis (Brabham and Chevron particularly) and Ford twin-cam engines tuned by British engine builders like Vegantune and Brian Hart. It seemed common sense to introduce the Formula over here As an alternative to the new Formula Three regulations which have just come into force and are far from popular.

Generally, news of the new Formula received a good reception, the only point of controversy was regarding Webb’s extra clause allowing in the new four-valve BDA engines as used in the RS1600 Escort. Some critics see this as bringing the Formula too close to the present F2 and hint that Webb is just trying to get F2 on the cheap.

The facts are that the cost of an F2 chassis and gearbox are effectively the same as a car for the new Formula Atlantic. The main difference lies in the engine. A brand new F2 FVA engine costs £2,500 (and has done since 1967), while a race-tuned BDA will retail at just over half that and will give about 40 b.h.p. less. A fully-tuned racing twin-cam would cost around £1,000 and be another 10 b.h.p. down. With twin-cam parts becoming scarce these days and BDA bits easily available, the inclusion of the BDA appears to be a forward thinking move that really doesn’t warrant any criticism.

Formula Atlantic has received backing from Arco petroleum, who actually used to market under the name Atlantic amongst others until January 1st, and Thompson’s Yellow Pages, the classified telephone directory people. They are particularly keen on motor racing as a promotional medium and, after a successful sortie with an F3 meeting at Thruxton last year, will be running the Formula Atlantic Championship as well as sponsoring the Easter Monday Formula Two race at Thruxton.

At present Atlantic is seen as a purely British formula to be run at race meetings somewhere between the ordinary club and full international level, but Webb will be putting a lot of effort in selling it abroad as well and making it a fully International formula. Rewards for those taking to the formula in its early days are not very high compared with the expenditure a competitor will find necessary. No doubt if the formula catches on early this will soon be remedied and a bright future for Formula Atlantic can then be predicted. The first race for the new cars will be at Brands Hatch on March 7th.

No doubt Mr. Webb wishes he had the money that Volkswagen are pouring into their new Formula called Super Vee. Whereas the winner of the Yellow Pages Formula Atlantic Championship will pocket a cheque for £250, the lucky man who takes the European Super Vee honours will have improved his bank balance to the tune of over £2,000 and the manufacturer of his car, provided it wins the Manufacturers’ award, will be in for over £1,000. This is big money in motor racing language and, as well as the European Championship, there is also a British Championship with excellent rewards, too.

Rather than demonstrate their cars, although several are already built, Volkswagen laid on an elaborate Press conference aboard a swinging night spot on the River Thames called the Sloop John d. The surroundings apart, there is no doubt that the German company is throwing everything into this new formula. They have reasoned that the very successful Formula Vee is perhaps getting rather long in the tooth and the need for something slightly more sophisticated was called for.

Super Vee is undoubtedly the answer for, although a large number of Volkswagen parts, including the engine and gearbox, must still be utilised, the car manufacturers will be allowed much more leniency on the construction of the chassis. The British firm Royale have already announced a very purposeful Monocoque design, pictured elsewhere in this issue, and one hopes other manufacturers will come up to this standard. Wisely a maximum wheel rim width has been imposed which should make the cars exciting to watch and drive as the 1,600-c.c. Volkswagen engines can be tuned to give up to 140 b.h.p.

Not surprisingly the major success of the old Formula Vee has been in America and on the Continent, particularly Germany, Austria and Finland for that matter. In Britain Formula Vee came about the same time as Formula Ford and has jogged along happily ever since without ever being considered as a major challenger to Ford as a breeding ground for young aces. Scottish driver Gerry Birrell has been the exception to the rule, but he, too, moved into FF before going on to better things. Will Super Vee follow a similar path?

Naturally it does not have the backing of the Motor Circuit Development venues, but the BARC will be running races for these cars at their meetings and British drivers will be able to compete in the ten-round European Championship as well, with the added incentive of a scale of travelling expenses and so on. Further, a fully raceworthy and competitive Super Vee can be bought for £1,950 compared with £3,000 for an F3 and £3,800 for a Formula Atlantic. At first hearing Super Vee sounds a super idea and no doubt will go down big in both the USA and in Europe. It deserves to succeed here, too, and I have a feeling that it could turn out to be much more successful in Britain than a lot of people expect.

Those of you who follow Formula Ford may have noticed that over the past year or so there has been something of a tyre war going on. When the Formula started back in 1967 everyone used Firestone F100 radials, as the regulations only permit road tyres, and these radials seemed to do the job very well. Then at the start of 1969 the earlier Mentioned Birrell took to FF but not liking radials decided to use a set of cross-ply Avon Wide Safety GTs. Birrell won the European FF Championship on the tyres and as the season wore on more and more competitors swapped over to them.

For 1970 both Firestone and Avon had bonus schemes for drivers running on their equipment and the FF tyre war was really on. However, the relatively small Wiltshire firm, who gave up a full-time racing programme some years back, were winning hand over fist from the giant Isleworth-based combine so used to having their equipment win Formula One races. This just would not do and for the last few FF races of the season Firestone came out with a tyre called the Torino Wide Oval, which is undoubtedly an advance on anything previously used in FF. Some people have gone as far as to say that it was nothing more than a racing tyre, but official protests to this effect were rejected by the RAC when Firestone proved that the ordinary motorist could buy the tyres for his Cortina. Just how long they would last on such a car are somewhat debatable as their life on a Formula Ford seems little better than four or five races. Further, there seemed to be little doubt in most people’s minds that members of the racing staff had a definite hand in the design of the Torino.

However, the rather sad ending to all this came when Avon held a function to present the bonus awards won by the various drivers throughout the year. It was announced that, much as they had enjoyed the sponsorship and would like to have continued, they felt that this was the time to put an end to it. The reasons didn’t really need elaborating and one feels sorry for Avon but safe in the knowledge that at least, for a while, they took on the giants and beat them fair and square.

The occasion was a happy one, however, for Colin Vandervell, who was presented with the Avon Driver of the Year Award. During 1970 Vandervell won the British Formula Ford Championship by a ridiculously wide margin, was runner-up in the European Championship, despite a couple of unusual setbacks, and received the premier Grovewood Award. Towards the end of the year he also showed his skill in a works March F3 car and will be continuing in this category in 1971, although with a Brabham. He is, of course, the son of the late Tony Vandervell of Vanwall fame. Being the son of a millionaire probably conjures up the image of 26-year-old Colin as something of a rich playboy. Far from it; he runs a successful building business with a seriousness that belies his age. His father forbade him to motor race but allowed kart racing, which Vandervell took by storm and finished up as a member of the British team. When his father died he then took to cars and his first race was only in June of 1969. He has hardly stopped winning since then, and in 1970 had something like 29 victories to his credit. His attitude to the sport is not the one of dedication that most of the up-and-coming drivers have and he says he will stop racing if he stops winning. With the new F3 season approaching Vandervell is already being rated as one of the most likely winners so he is unlikely to retire in the near future.— A. R. M.