Letters, January 2011

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Vettel shows mettle

Sir,

How enjoyable for me to have got home from work and find the newly-crowned Formula 1 World Champion to be Sebastian Vettel.

The way practice had panned out I fully expected Fernando Alonso to have taken the title and for it to have then be tainted by the antics of the Ferrari team at Hockenheim.

Vettel has proved to be the fastest in what has sometimes been a fragile package, and has shown courage and nerve for one so young.

His over-enthusiasm has led to some crashes this season, but as Steve Parrish very often points out regarding MotoGP riders, “You can teach someone not to crash but you can’t teach them to go fast.”

Philip Cracknell, Wain groves, Derbyshire

Not so Jolly Jack

Sir,

Gordon Cruickshank’s feature on the Ferguson P99 Grand Prix car in your November issue brought back some memories. As mentioned, it appeared at Aintree for a run in the British Grand Prix, where the car was down for ‘Fearless’ Jack Fairman to campaign. It was soaking wet on race day, but, dedicated as I was, I was out round the track with my camera collecting reference. A frequent companion those days was photographer Mike Cooper, and, soaked to the skin, we were commiserating over our lot on a bit of Tarmac which led off the Railway Straight when Jolly Jack approached at reduced speed towards us and pulled over to stop. He muttered something by way of disgust, and, having climbed out and had a think, got back in and asked us to give him a push-start to get the car back to the pits.

As the incident was mentioned in the article, I thought you might like to see the snaps I took in between chatting and pushing (above). This push-start was, as stated, the reason the car was later black-flagged after Moss took over, but the incident helped to enliven an otherwise very soggy day for two hardy souls.
Michael Turner, Chartridge, Bucks

Four-wheel drift

Sir,

It was a great pleasure to be reacquainted with the Ferguson P99 and Sir Stirling Moss’s mastery of it. In 1961 Mark Rigg and I were testing the rebuilt Alta-Bugatti (often called the Chorlton Special after the original builder) on a very wet day at Silverstone. As I was going down the straight in a cloud of spray, Jack Fairman came effortlessly past and continued around Woodcote without effort. I, on the other hand, had to give it some welly trying to keep up and promptly spun round as the double blowers abruptly came in. The car certainly made me a fan of four-wheel drive.

I also enjoyed the article on ‘our own’ John Fitch, who we see all the time at the VSCCA’s home track of Lime Rock. I was lucky enough to be seated next to him at dinner one night. He’s very entertaining and always maintains Eva Peron fancied him… Great driver and a great man, doing a great deal for driver safety.

Mike Virt Fairfield, Connecticut, USA

Ferguson’s Tasman calling

Sir,

I loved the story of Sir Stirling and the Ferguson at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting — wonderful to see the pleasure he continues to give to so many enthusiasts. I used to save my pocket money to send Stirling a Christmas card each year in the late 1950s, and I always got a reply then, as you still do now!

As you say in the article, the Ferguson was equipped with a 2.5-litre Climax motor and sent to New Zealand for the 1963 Tasman Series, which included Brabham, McLaren, Surtees, Maggs and all the top locals. You mentioned the Ferguson being raced in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe, where Graham Hill sadly broke down while in second place. However, although Graham then returned home, the car stayed on and Innes Ireland took the wheel for the next three NZ international races.

After a third place at Levin’s tight circuit, where he was supposedly the first person to spin the car, Innes retired at Wigram at about half distance “in a cloud of steam”, after starting from the back of the grid. But he took another third at the far southern Teretonga track, behind McLaren and Maggs.

Don’t we all wish we’d had better cameras in those days, and that our parents were less concerned about us using up all that film?

Mark Holman, Wellington, New Zealand

Thou shall not covet…

Sir,

As a youngster I eagerly awaited the weekly visits by the Harrison brothers to their mother (`GTO history’, November letters), who lived in a bungalow directly across the road from our house. The GTO you featured, 3505, was a regular sight there, the other brother sometimes appearing in another 250GT0, or one of those Testa Rossa sports cars that Nick Mason says he would like to have in his collection.

I must confess that my observance of the tenth commandment was somewhat lacking on these occasions.

Roger Stead, Sheffield

A lap with Vaccarella

Sir,

Upon our return from Sicily, we found the December issue of Motor Sport at home. And coincidentally, there was a major item on the Targa Florio. I was happy to read that Damien Smith liked the island, the track — including the numerous bumps and ditches — and the company of some Sicilians. I read the article with pleasure and thought about our visit some days before, when my friend Nino Vaccarella drove us around the long circuit. It was a pleasure being driven by the ‘maestro’ himself, doing all the corners in style.

While driving through Cerda, Vaccarella told us that we would not stop at this museum, but go straight to Collesano where Giacinto Gargano, conservator of the local museum, was waiting for us. And I fully agree — a fine exhibition they have there. Allow me a few remarks on the article: the large photo of the 512S shows Ignazio Giunti at the wheel. Also, Nino crashed his P4 in 1967 rather than ’66. On the big colour photo, the Ferrari is running in the opposite direction through the pitlane. But in all, it was great reading, as always with Motor Sport.

Ed Heuvink, De Bilt, Holland

Language, Brian!

Sir,

Damien Smith’s excellent feature on the Targa Florio reminded me of the 1971 race, when I was making a film for Firestone. Brian Redman kindly drove me around the course in one of the factory Porsche 914/6s that the works drivers were given to practice in. I was filming with a sizeable hand-held camera and Brian was miked up for sound giving his impressions as he drove at speed. Very insightful, although I had to cut out some of Brian’s salty language as practice took place without the roads being closed to everyday traffic. You’d come round a blind bend at speed and confront a herd of sheep or a truck on the wrong side of the road. Scary, although Brian always seemed to pre-empt every situation and calmly drove through with a few choice words. Mind you, driving the 914/6 must have been a doddle compared with the 908/3.

As for charging £15,000 extra for the cameldung yellow paint job on the 458 — please! Ferrari should be paying the customer £15,000 for agreeing to go with such a colour.

Tony May/am, Kensington, London

The best club in town

Sir,

What a marvellous article Nigel Roebuck gave us on his interview with Juan Manuel Fangio (November issue), and where better to meet than that charismatic institution, The Steering Wheel Club in London’s Mayfair. Unfortunately in its last year or so in the 1980s the club rather went downhill after being taken over by new management, and it is a huge shame that the priceless contents disappeared. However, I have many happy memories of that establishment. Frank the barman was the spitting image of Alan Whicker, and he and his brother Ernest who ran the restaurant were huge characters.

As a young man living in London in the late ’60s/early ’70s, the club was a sanctuary after a busy day in Autosport’s advertising department. A glass of good house wine, before and during dinner (the house pate and prawn curry were the best anywhere), with a brandy or two afterwards, relaxing in comfortable leather armchairs, was the perfect way to spend an evening with my girlfriend or friends. On a summer’s evening the windows that looked out onto Curzon Street would be open, and the goings on in the flat opposite were often a source of great amusement. Curzon Street was and is very smart, but the area was famous for the odd red glowing window!

The club was frequented by many top drivers, team managers and owners of the era, and you never knew who would be in. It was irreplaceable.

Richard Nayler, Tenbury Wells, Worcs

Tigering to the finish

Sir,

Thank you for the excellent article on Emanuele Pirro (October issue), which mentions the ACO’s unhappiness at him standing up in the cockpit to celebrate his 2002 Audi Le Mans win. Even though I was there, I didn’t notice until watching a DVD of the race that just before the final corner, Pirro reached up and attached two ‘horns’ to the front of his helmet above the visor.

I asked him about this and he said that before leaving for Le Mans, his son Goffredo (then six) wanted to give him something to bring good luck. He gave him a pair of suction-cup tiger ears and said, “stick them on your helmet during the race; they will give you the fighting spirit to win”. So Pirro stuck them on his helmet just before the chequer. He said his son was over the moon when he saw the images, and of course his whole school and friends knew about it.

And now so do Motor Sport’s readers. Please don’t tell the AGO. I agree with Rob Widdows that motor racing needs people like Pirro.

By the way, the article correctly reported that Pirro was one of the first drivers to win Le Mans in a diesel car (the Audi R10 TDI in ’06), along with Frank Biela, but the third driver was Marco Werner, not Tom Kristensen.

Don J Trantow, Buford, Georgia, USA

Looking for Clark’s cross

Sir,

I read with great interest Andrew Marriott’s story in July of his pilgrimage to the site where Jim Clark lost his life. I was a true fan of his and remember that day well. My wife and I were in Europe in October and planned to go to as many tracks as possible, including Hockenheim. I wanted to experience what you did, so we set out to find the spot.

We drove to the access road like you said. Before I could drive to the No7 tree the locals stopped me and told us we couldn’t drive up there. I told them we wanted to see the Clark tribute and they directed us to the new one. So with your map and instructions I was off, and my wife being a good sport went with me. We found the No7 tree and followed the path; when I saw the two pine trees I thought of Jimmy coming down the straight and felt a lot of emotion, but when I got there my heart sank. There was nothing. Someone had dug up and taken the cross. What a disappointment. But I saw the spot and said a prayer. I just wanted to say thank you for writing that article because I got to see the place where one of my heroes passed.

Mike Reed, Santa Fe Springs, California, USA

Andrew Marriott tells us that the wooden cross was damaged and that the Clark fan who put it there is replacing it with a stone version — Ed.

Coming through, Eric…

Sir,

I can offer coda to your coverage of Eric Carlsson’s first RAC rally win in 1960 (December issue). That year, the RAC had built in a series of special stages at various race tracks around the country, with the climax being a group of races at Brands Hatch. As a result BMC entered an extra ‘semi-works’ Mini alongside with racing driver John Whitmore at the wheel — and somehow I ended up in the navigator’s seat.

No one could keep up with Carlsson, though John did well in the circuit tests. But when it came to Brands John was determined to do his bit for the team and show off the Mini to its best advantage as it lined up on the grid with Carlsson just in front. (Alas, we navigators were turfed out in the paddock so could only watch.)

At the end of the first lap John, with enormous elan, slid the Mini sideways through Paddock, nudging Carlsson out of the way. I’m sure that Carlsson, with overall victory in the bag, was in no mood for fighting and let John sail away.

At the banquet afterwards the Saab came up onto the stage to a fanfare. It had been beautifully polished — but the tell-tale scar on one side from John’s ‘nudge’ brought us a little secret pleasure.

John Makin, Oxshott, Surrey