I was delighted to see the fine and timely articles on Jo Siffert by Nigel Roebuck and Andrew Frankel (November issue).
The first motor race I watched was the British GP in 1968, aged 13.1 was hooked, and Siffert’s win made enough impact on me for him to become my boyhood hero. The walls of my bedroom were covered with posters of him in the wide variety of cars in which he was so successful.
Though I saw him race on numerous occasions, I didn’t get to meet him until the Victory Race at Brands Hatch in 1971.
It was indeed a beautiful day, more like Monza in early September than rural Kent in late October. In those days it was easy to wander around the paddock getting the top drivers’ autographs and photographing the cars close up. In awe, I duly got Seppi’s signature and he posed for several photos. These may well be the last portraits of him.
Thrilled with my achievement, I set off for a good vantage point. I chose the approach to Hawthorn’s Bend (a fast right-hander).
On the 16th lap, I watched Siffert come down the hill to my right. His car suddenly darted left and hit the bank, it was launched into the air and flew over our heads, landing just to my left in a ball of flame. It landed upside down and he was trapped in the inferno. I can still recall the heat on my face.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the marshals’ lamentably inadequate extinguishers failed to work. They made heroic efforts to get close, but to no avail.
From the initial screaming and panic, a strange stillness set in, interrupted a couple of times by an almighty bang: the tyres exploding. We watched that horrible plume of black smoke deface the clear blue sky.
The photos I took of this disaster were on the same roll of film as Seppi’s smiling optimistic face.
All very traumatic, to say the least.
But as heroes go, I still don’t think I could have done better.
I am, Yours etc, David Whittaker, Charlbury, Oxon