Matters of Moment, January 1999


First things first. A happy Christmas and best wishes for the new season from the staff of Motor Sport. In every magazine you read at this time of year, you will hear promises from editors that 1999 is going to be the best year of all. Unlike most, however, we have some reason to back this up. While I’ve been busy taking the praise, others have been working ceaselessly to make sure the tentative steps we made when relaunching the title in 1997 were turned into rather more significant strides. The result has been the best year we have had in decades. This may sound a little ungracious but I will not resist the temptation to offer a two-fingered salute to the tiny but significant body of people, writers mainly, who took such evident pleasure in predicting our downfall without bothering to check the facts. We look forward to making you look even more idiotic in 1999.

Rather higher up the agenda, however, is MOTOR SPORT’S 75th birthday which we celebrate this year. Plans are already well advanced and, for now, under wraps. All I will say is it is not an event we feel inclined to let pass without proper celebration. That said, even our birthday must fit in with our plans for the magazine itself. We seem to have stumbled across a formula that works, and our every effort will be directed into refining it further.

You might have raised an eyebrow at the line on the cover about the magazine featuring the best races ever. What? No ’57 German Grand Prix, no Monaco ’61 or Donington ’93? No. We do not wish to remove a shred of the stature such races have acquired, we simply didn’t think you’d thank us for telling their stories yet again. We wanted a selection of tales as great as any which came complete with denouements not already familiar to the vast majority of those who read them. This, at least, I hope to have achieved.

As you will read on these pages, these are turbulent times for the British Racing Drivers Club and Silverstone which it owns. At its annual dinner, Lord Hesketh made a speech which made it clear the current offer was neither solicited nor welcomed by the Board and that anyone who sought to take over the circuit was going to have wait more than a wee while for the Club to make up its mind. Ken Tyrrell, receiving a rare BRDC Gold Medal, was less equivocal. I think “Silverstone is not for sale” is a direct quote. If more than one in every four members feels the same way, our greatest racing circuit will remain in the hands of our greatest racing institution. If you can think of a better custodian, please let me know. I’ve drawn a blank.

My apologies to all of you who wrote in response to John Aston’s letter last month suggesting the Goodwood Revival was not all it was cracked up to be. The majority of you will find your letters unpublished, as to have used them all would have required the abandonment of most of the rest of the magazine. My thanks to you all and, in particular, to John Aston. I’m not sure I agree with a word you wrote, but I’m sure glad you did.

For sale – Northamptonshire racing circuit

It looks like John Lewis, front man for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank’s £41 million bid for Silverstone will be waiting a while before he discovers whether it has found favour among the members of the British Racing Drivers Club which owns the circuit. Lord Hesketh has already made clear the matter was for the club to decide and in its own time’ and it seems sure that he will not attempt to force a decision upon the members.

At the moment full members of the BRDC stand to gain over £50,000 each if they accept the tabled bid, but the Club rules stipulate that a 75 per cent majority must be in favour before such a move could be made. In contrast to the situation among RAC club members, who are all for their own sell-off, opinion at the BRDC’s dinner appeared undivided, an informal and entirely unrepresentative sample of members failing to find a single voice in favour of accepting the bid.

Tour of Britain to return in classic format

Another great event from the past is about to return. During the 1970s the Tour of Britain saw top race and rally drivers like James Hunt, Roger Clark and Graham Hill tackling a series of races and rally stages around the country. Now the Tour is to be revived for the year 2000, this time for classic cars, offering entrants the option of parallel against-the-clock or regularity versions. Unlike the original, where Group 1 saloons were compulsory, entry is now open to GTs, sportscars and saloons of all eras, while the Autumn date and southern-leaning geography are intended to tempt teams to make a double of this and the Tour de France Auto. Advance details are available from Tour of Britain, Freepost SWC2391, Stroud GL6 9ZZ.

Porsche withdraws from Le Mans and GT Series

Porsche has announced that it is withdrawing its global GT programme for 1999. This means there will be no Porsches in the FIA GT Series nor in the new American ‘Le Mans’ series. Most significantly, there will be no works Porsches at Le Mans this year though the usual clutch of private entrants can be relied on to keep the name flying high above the Sarthe. The official explanation for this is that Porsche wishes `to ensure a future-oriented, long-term motor-sport policy’ though it admits that escalating costs have played a part.

Unofficially, the fact that Porsche was completely unable to compete with Mercedes-Benz all through the 1998 FIA series suggests a pause for thought is needed, while even their 16th Le Mans victory came courtesy of a Toyota retirement with less than 75 minutes of the 24-hours to run. Moreover, the smart money is on suggestions that the new regulations governing the 1999 Le Mans favour a sports-prototype rather than a GT win. Porsche has no such car, and with BMW and Audi fielding such cars combined with the known superiority of the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR over the Porsche 911 GT1, it is perhaps to be understood why Porsche feels it has much to lose and little to gain from this year’s race.

The marque, however, is unlikely to be away for long and has admitted already to plans to compete at Le Mans in 2000 and also in the new American Le Mans series. Its opponents, while doubtless relieved by their withdrawal this year, would do well to remain on their guard and be aware that the Porsche giant is only sleeping.

Jaguar to star on Motor Sport stand at autosport show

Five of the most famous racing Jaguars in the world will form the centrepiece of a huge Motor Sport presence at the Autosport International Show from Jan 7-10. On a unique stand designed by English Heritage Buildings and crafted from English oak there will be Jaguars spanning 40 years of competition success. The oldest is the XK120 which won the Alpine rally and put Jaguar on the racing map, the most recent the XJR-9LM which won the thrilling 1988 Le Mans. Between these sit a C-type which contested the Mille Miglia, a D-type which was driven at Le Mans by Mike Hawthorn and the stillborn XJ13, perhaps the most beautiful racing car ever created.

The cars are being supplied by the Jaguar-Daimler Heritage Trust and will be on stand 1281 in Hall Six of the Birmingham NEC.

Tickets to the show cost £12 for adults, £9 for children and OAPs and can be bought in advance from the Ticket Hotline. Call 0121 767 4747 now and book your place at the best show of the year.

Aston Martin heritage safeguarded by trust

The ever-growing collection of Aston Martin material amassed by the Aston Martin Owners Club over the years has now become the core of a new Aston Martin Heritage Trust, established in November. Aimed at providing a study and research facility for enthusiasts and historians of the marque, the new Trust will free the Club to concentrate on dealing with members’ needs, while safeguarding and documenting historic material about one of the most significant British sportscar makers. Walter Hayes, who is Life President of Aston Martin Lagonda, is the first Chairman of the Trust, which by the year 2000 will have “a magnificent home” when it and the Club move to larger premises in Oxfordshire.