A polished performance

Rondel Racing was a team to be reckoned with from the beginning, as Neil Trundle tells Rob Widdows

Neil Trundle, the ‘del’ of Rondel Racing (the Ron half was a certain Mr Dennis), is into his fifth decade in motor racing. One of the great mechanics, a man who can make or mend anything, Trundle wielded the spanners while Dennis poured on the polish. And it worked.

We’re going back to 1971 and the first season for Rondel Racing. With support from fuel company Motul, and a lot of hard work, Neil and Ron Dennis – they’d become friends at Brabham – had built a couple of Formula 2 Brabham BT36s. Then they signed up no less than Graham Hill as lead driver, with Tim Schenken as team-mate. From these little acorns very big trees would grow. Their first race was at Hockenheim.

“To get it together was a mammoth task,” smiles Neil. “We were living with Ron’s parents, no rent, free food, and we just worked 24 hours a day. Ron did a deal with Ron Tauranac and we built the cars, just the two of us, then we bought an old truck on the HP and Alain Fenn spent all night signwriting it.

“We got two engines from Bernie Ecclestone, who’d been running Jochen Rindt in F2, without putting any money down. Four weeks later the phone was red-hot and if we’d known what we know now, we’d have paid up sooner. Anyway, Ron and Tim had met a Greek shipbroker called Tony Vlassopulos and persuaded him to come in as a backer. Then it was just relentless work, all day and all night, to get ready for Hockenheim in April. It was incredible how hard we worked, but the cars looked a million dollars, with a new paint job by our mate Alain. The team just looked the business.”

The journey, then, had just begun. But it was not without its problems.

“The truck broke down on the way to Dover,” laughs Neil, “but once we fixed it we got to Hockenheim, the cars looked wonderful and we had the image, that was what Ron wanted. OK, we were working under an awning at the side of the truck, but it all looked great.”

Neil looked after Schenken while Dennis prepared Hill’s car, and practice went well.

“I remember after first practice Graham told Ron the car was good but not quite right,” says Neil, “and so they spent two hours doing the tracking, the cambers and the corner weights – Graham was a good mechanic and they worked together. I was just putting the wheels on Tim’s car when Ron called me over to help tighten up an oil pipe on Graham’s car. I got it tight with a few minutes to go before the first heat, and we just had time for a quick breather as we waited with the cars on the grid. We’d had no sleep for days, remember. Then I looked down at Tim’s car and I saw that two wheel nuts were loose – I’d put them on in a big rush to go and help Ron with the oil pipe, and hadn’t tightened them all up. Makes me go cold just thinking about it now. So I ran to the pits, grabbed my brace, and ran back to the grid. Ron was standing there looking very smug, with that smirk, you know – ‘what’s up with you?’ he says – and I realised he’d already done up the nuts for me…”

The races went very well indeed, Hill winning his heat and coming second to François Cevert overall, while Schenken scored more points for the team with fifth.

“Our very first race, and our first win,” smiles Neil. “It set the benchmark. Our standard, our image, was always way above the rest of the teams. It was all about presentation – we had to have reliability of course – but Ron was always working on the image, re-painting the cars, always polishing them. When he worked for Jack Brabham he polished the front rockers until he was nearly through the zinc, and that’s what he brought to Rondel – immaculate presentation.”

But it wasn’t all about image. Just a week later, at Thruxton, Hill won outright, beating Ronnie Peterson by less than a second with Schenken again in fifth place.

The rest is history.

Neil Trundle is still at McLaren, still loving his motor racing. If ever the team is short of a mechanic, they know where to find him.

Neil started his career in 1968 with Alan Mann and the Ford F3L. After Rondel he ran the Token F1 car and built the six-wheel Tyrrell before rejoining Ron Dennis at Project 4 in ’77. After the merger with McLaren he built MP4/1, the first carbon-fibre F1 car. In 1981 he started his own F3 team, returning to McLaren in ’85 and eventually becoming chief mechanic to Senna and Prost.