Letters from readers, January 2009

A moving tribute to Jenks


I thought you all deserved the highest possible praise for a wonderful 1000th edition of Motor Sport. It’s absolutely superb – well done indeed!

I was greatly moved by the article on our old friend ‘Jenks’. The words were so right, and reminded me very much of the great man. Being more of a bike hillclimb friend, I have attached a picture taken at Shelsley Walsh on a warm summer’s day in 1994 (below). As I’m sure you are aware, he was very fond of Shelsley and enjoyed riding there, right up to late in his life.

As I’m organiser of the bike National Hill Climb Association as well as a rider, he always asked me if he could carry the No 1 plate on his bike. He would say, “If I go up first, everyone will have forgotten that I was so slow by the time the quick boys come up.”

We looked on it somewhat differently. He was our father figure, so should go up first anyway!

Much as Nigel Roebuck found, when Jenks stayed at my home in the West Country he would polish off the brandy while you kept very quiet and just listened to the wonderful stories – truly enthralling. It was a great privilege.

As Nigel said, no one like him.

Please keep up the good work. Motor Sport is one of the last bastions of the world as we would wish it to be.

Peter Isaac, National Hill Climb Association chairman, Wiscombe Park Hill Climb director

Anything but standard fare


I am not in the habit of writing such letters, but on this occasion I think some congratulations are in order.

I would just like to record my profound pleasure and send some heartfelt congratulations on your simply excellent 1000th issue, and the 999 before it as well. I started reading Motor Sport as a young child and have been a regular reader ever since. It has brought the joy of motor racing to my armchair on many occasions.

I have read with some laughter of the exploits of Mr Tee and WB in past issues, but the most recent account of Mr Tee and the Standard House days really did cause a chuckle.

I’m sure the staff must have a resounding sense of a “job well done” in seeing this issue. A huge shame that DSJ isn’t here to share it.

After the ‘Red Banner’ days, you can be sure you are heading in the right direction. Eighty-five years and still going strong – long may you continue. A huge thank you to you all. Don’t try to fix it now, as it ain’t broke any more.

Steve Plant, Witney, Oxon

Fond memories of Phil Hill


I want to thank you for Nigel Roebuck’s wonderfully moving and insightful tribute to Phil Hill in the November issue of Motor Sport. Like you, I have been a long-time fan of racing, and in particular of Ferrari (just look at my last name for all the justification you need).

In 1961, at the time of my introduction to what was then in the US called ‘European road racing’, Phil was driving the striking shark-nose Ferrari GP and sports-racing cars. I was raised near Sebring, where prior to taking the 1961 world title in the 156 F1, he won the 12-hour race with Olivier Gendebien in the shark-nose Ferrari 250 TRI. In the 1962 race, Hill and Gendebien drove the original GTO to first in GT and second overall. To see Phil drifting that lovely piece of rolling sculpture under the MG bridge and through Big Bend was to appreciate the deft touch of a consummate driver. And then to hear him articulate the experience in such vivid and considered terms was to recognise that here was a rare man of intelligence and sensitivity who seemed to be in racing, but not of racing.

Along with Stirling Moss, Phil Hill was the face of racing to me in that era.

Denny Gioia, University Park, PA, USA

Lewis still has much to prove


Now that Lewis Hamilton is champion, is it possible to examine how good he really is? He won the title in his second season in the best car on the grid, something that Jacques Villeneuve and Emerson Fittipaldi did – both good, but not usually included in a list of the all-time greats.

Part of Hamilton’s reputation is his so-called mastery in the wet, but closer examination reveals this is down to a combination of luck and mistakes by rival teams:

Japan 2007 – the Ferraris forgot the rule about starting on full wets behind the safety car, were forced to pit and rejoined at the back of the field, giving Hamilton a clear run from pole position.

Monaco 2008 – an early mistake by Hamilton forced him to pit after he hit the barrier, which then worked to his advantage as he was fuelled long enough to reach a dry tyre window.

Silverstone 2008 – by lap 18 Räikkönen was catching Hamilton hand over fist when they both pitted. McLaren gambled on more rain and fitted intermediates, while Ferrari gambled on it staying dry and did not change tyres. When more rain came, Räikkönen was in trouble.

Brazil 2008 – with the title at stake Hamilton was passed by Vettel, McLaren allegedly allowing him to do so because its computer had predicted that he would overtake Glock by the finish.

Maybe Lewis will continue to win races and titles if he has his wish and stays with McLaren. Unfortunately this means we will never find out how good he really is and whether he has the ability to win in cars which are not the most competitive, as Senna and Schumacher did.

John Fyfe, Edinburgh

Putting the brakes on a myth


In his excellent article on Casablanca 1958 (November issue), Nigel Roebuck seems to have perpetuated the myth that the source of the disc brakes on Mike Hawthorn’s F1 Ferrari Dino was Peter Collins’ Ferrari 250GT road car.

It is true that Mike suggested transferring the discs to his F1 car and, as far as he knew, this was what happened as he repeated it to the press and included it in his autobiography Champion Year. Chris Nixon dispelled the myth, however, in his excellent book Mon Ami Mate. He relates how Hawthorn insisted to Enzo Ferrari that the F1 Dino should be fitted with disc brakes and that Dunlop was only too keen to gain a foothold within Maranello. Dunlop despatched technician Harold Hodkinson and development fitter Maurice Rowe to Italy, where they installed a specially made set of discs and adaptor plates on the car with standard calipers and racing pads. Nothing was used from Collins’ car.

Dunlop apparently never objected to the ‘myth’ as it provided them with good publicity.

Mark Whitelock, Flimwell, East Sussex

New F2 rules are the pits


I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read of the compulsory 10-second pitstop to be foisted on to Formula 2 in its latest incarnation. A grid full of cars that are evenly matched and “able to follow each other closely” are presumably intended to provide some close racing. So picture the scene, then, when two or three cars are locked into some heroic Rossi-esque struggle for the lead and one of them has to pull out of the fight for his compulsory 10-second stop. And to do what precisely? Have a cup of tea? A rub down with the Sports Mail? A spot of cutting-edge knitting, maybe?

Isn’t it time that Mr Mosley was locked away in a darkened room with some MotoGP videos to understand precisely what makes the bike races so utterly compelling: a standing start, no pitstops, no safety car on alternate laps, no messing – just a good old-fashioned scrap from flag to flag (as it were). In contrast, the nascent F2 looks like being something out of a 1960s It’s A Knockout – maybe we should complete the set by getting Stuart Hall into the commentary box for his legendary non-stop laughter.

Come on fellers – isn’t it time we ditched the gimmicks and got back to some good old-fashioned bare-knuckle motor racing?

Dick Miller, Tenterden, Kent

Skill before nationality


As a born and bred Scot, I feel I must respond to the letter by Gordon Mann from Perth about his non-support of English racing drivers (November issue).

In all my years as a motor sport fan, nationality has never been my reason for supporting a driver. My heroes were Ayrton Senna, Keke Rosberg, Gilles Villeneuve, Ronnie Peterson etc, and since the death of Senna there has not been a real replacement. I support all drivers whom I like as people and if they are British, such as Hill, Herbert, Button and Coulthard, all the better.

I am a McLaren fan, which seems to be rare in Britain, but Lewis Hamilton is a special talent and a likable person who deserves British support whether you come from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Anyway, with a Scottish name such as Hamilton, is that not reason enough for Mr Mann to support him?

Kenne MacKenzie, Wester Muckernich, Ross-shire

My races with Gunnar


I appreciated Chris Witty’s tribute to Gunnar Nilsson in the November issue of Motor Sport. By 1978 I was out of racing when I heard of his sad passing. Chris brought back a few memories of my 1975 Formula 3 season with the Ratcliffe Springs March 743 Toyota.

In practice for the Monza Lottery race, Gunnar rolled his car after hitting the kerb at the chicane after the pit straight and did not start. In the final I made the same mistake as Gunnar in rather less dramatic fashion, getting launched off the same kerb, knocking off the wing, smashing the sump and retiring on the spot. Afterwards we had a big night out and the next day a new sump was collected from the Novamotor works on the way home to England.

At the Silverstone British Grand Prix meeting, Gunnar won from Patrick Neve. I retrieved third place after qualifying well, messing up my start, and coming around in tenth on lap one.

In the next round at Oulton I was on pole but handed a win to Sullivan who made the better start, while my 743 started to understeer – my fault for trying to eke practice and the race out of one set of G53s. Gunnar did not start after his fire extinguisher went off before the race!

Gunnar showed the F3 and Formula Atlantic classes of 1975 how it should be done, and went on to a deserved Lotus F1 ride. I will remember him in the paddock in his grey overalls with his tousled hair, always a good talker with a ready smile, and a committed competitor on track.

Chris, thank you for shedding light on Gunnar’s magnificent legacy.

Richard Hawkins, Hong Kong

Racing’s humble heroes


I discovered Grand Prix racing as a schoolboy in 1956 and it has absorbed me ever since, even though today’s F1 bears little resemblance to the heroic sport with which, as Rob Widdows put it in his Goodwood Revival report, “we all fell so hopelessly in love with”.

Two constants do remain, though. The first is that from time to time we see a virtuoso performance from a driver which simply takes your breath away. Fangio at the ’Ring in 1957, Senna at Donington in ’93 and Hamilton at Silverstone last July are examples that spring to mind, but there are of course others.

Secondly, the sport is sometimes graced with the presence of a driver who has a sense of proportion – someone who realises that motor racing is not the ‘be all and end all’ and who has what some would call a ‘hinterland’. October’s Motor Sport featured the two best examples of this – Phil Hill and Tony Brooks.

From the beginning I have been a Vanwall fan, so Tony Brooks has always been high on my list of heroes. Imagine my excitement when he came to a members’ meeting at Goodwood in September 1960 and offered to take any BARC junior members present for a lap of the circuit. There were only about a dozen of us, and he took us round in a Ford saloon two or three at a time. It was a wonderful experience which I have never forgotten and, although at that age I did not have the words to express it, I realised then that he was not just a great driver but a great man, free of any affectation or ego.

Roger Keyworth, Huntingdon

A car chase with McRae


Your article on Jimmy McRae (November issue) reminds me of Cyprus 1984 when I was covering the rally for Motoring News. In the days leading up to it Brian Patterson and I took our hire car to have a look at one of the notoriously rocky stages. We crawl through the test and emerge to find a welcome tar road, a village and a taverna. Observing the ancient Irish custom of never passing a pub, we stop for a beer. Before long we hear the bangs and clatters of an approaching rally car, and around the corner comes the 240RS of McRae and Grindrod. Of course the custom extends to our friends, so they stop and are soon joined by the crew of the chase car.

A few bottles of Keo later and Patterson, who is facing the road, leaps up and shouts “Jimmy, the car!”, and there it is running down the hill on its own, its brake fluid having boiled, thus rendering the handbrake ineffective. We all give chase and manage to apprehend the errant Nissan before it comes to grief. When it is safely parked with gear engaged and a large rock placed under a wheel we decide that considering the shock we’ve just had, a drink is called for.

A year later and back in Cyprus I drove to the airport to collect Keith Oswin of Autosport who had been attending the Manx Rally. This was before the days of e-mail etc, and the result had not reached us, so Keith bore the news of how Brookes had won the championship. While nobody begrudged Russell his win we were all desperately sad that ‘our man’ had lost.

Richard O’Rourke, Cobh, Co Cork