Letters, January 2013

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Racing’s balance of power

Sir,

Rob Widdows’ story on the Bentley GT3 (December issue) succinctly makes the case for the Balance of Performance in this class of racing. Without it, there is no way a physically large, 1.6-tonne, front-engined Bentley could ever be competitive with the tiny, 1.2-tonne, mid-engined GTs such as the Ferrari 458.

It was therefore a surprise to read the editorial comment that Balance of Performance is not real racing. In truth BoP, to various degrees, is the basis of all forms of racing today: Formula 1, LMP, Indycar, NASCAR, WTCC, GT2, karting. In most cases, the job is not too difficult, in that the car configurations within a formula are pretty similar. LMP, with two fuel types and now hybrid power trains permitted, and WTCC with FWD and RWD are two of the hardest to balance. However, GT is in a class of its own in terms of difficulty: front, mid and rear engines, and big differences in mass and frontal area make it extremely hard to balance the performance of the cars, particularly as the weight and weight distribution differences significantly affect tyre performance. The success of balancing a wide variety of GT cars’ performances is the basis of such a successful class. It provides a variety of competitive cars for mainly amateur drivers to race competitively, and it provides manufacturers with profit centres, by enabling them to sell and support large numbers of relatively low-cost racing cars, rather than establish large and expensive development programmes for just a few cars to achieve competitiveness in GT racing.

Historically, GT racing was a rules-based formula. Exciting cars emerged, blossomed and then caused GT racing to collapse because of the cost of being competitive. Watch a GT3 race or ask the competitors — it is real racing, it’s spectacular due to the wide variety of cars, and it’s very popular!

Peter Wright, Presteigne, Powys

*

Mystery guest

Sir,

I attended every Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, and Gordon Kirby’s story about Glen Motor Court, as I recall it (November issue), reminds me of my most memorable GP.

In 1966 I went to Europe to attend some races. After Monaco I went to Cheshunt where I picked up my first Lotus Elan. From there I drove to Ian Walker Racing to improve the Twin Cam’s performance, for £135. Near the end of my two-week vacation I ran out of money and called my boss asking for a few bucks to put the car on a ship for home. He sent me a big cheque and told me to keep going to races until the money ran out! My vacation stretched to five weeks!

That year at Watkins Glen I naively decided to have dinner at the packed Motor Court the night before the race. Two well-dressed men came in and one asked if I had a reservation. When I said ‘no’ he said I would not be eating there that night. Then he paused and said that their two friends wouldn’t be coming and would I like to join them.

We had a great dinner as they knew of my boss, who had been the official Ferrari interpreter when Alberto Ascari came to run in the Indianapolis 500. My new friends were also interested in my trip as James Garner was filming Grand Prix at the races I attended.

As we finished, one by one Grand Prix drivers came over to say hello to my friends, who then introduced me to them. I was in heaven but managed to keep my cool. It turned out one of my new friends was the accountant for Luigi Chinetti, sports car driver, Ferrari importer and owner of the NART racing team.

When my new friends left, a young lady newspaper reporter rushed across, asking ‘Who are you? Are you famous?’ It took me a while to convince her that I was just a race fan who had some dumb luck.

Richard Yagami, Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA

*

Gentleman Dan

Sir,

Following Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections on Dan Gurney (November), here’s a little story about this great man, that says more about him as a person than a racing driver.

In 1964 I was a 20-year-old ‘gofer’ for the Carroll Shelby Racing Team. At Le Mans two Cobra ‘Coops’ were entered, to be driven by Chris Amon and Jochen Neerpasch, and Bob Bondurant with Gurney. The Amon/Neerpasch car went out in the night, but the two American boys just kept going and were leading the GT class. At the last ‘splash and dash’ pitstop Bob came in as planned to hand over to the more experienced team leader Gurney to finish the race. But Dan just leant to his car, and said ‘You carry on and enjoy it’. You should have seen the smile on Bob’s face. He could not believe it. Here was the ‘new boy’ about to cross the line and in effect win the first race in Europe for the Shelby Racing Team. What a gesture, what a gentleman. I don’t suppose many people saw it, or even paid attention to it, but I did.

Bruce Dowell, Somerton, Somerset

*

Guerney sacking shock

Sir,

Your November issue shows a Ferrari 250 Tour de France — this is the car that my dad got his California driver’s licence in! It was Tony Parravano’s at the time, and is also the car Dan Gurney went off the road in at Willow Springs. My dad, Dickie Green, had met this kid called Dan in a leather jacket riding a Triumph who came to Parravano’s to hang and chat to him. Dad got him the test, and Dan blew the gas tank out of it on a rock! Dan told me at Willow Springs in the mid-90s, when I was racing a Ducati and he came to watch, “That was the only job I got fired from!”. My mum (Doreen Sherwood, who was John Wyer’s secretary) told me that Tony went off the deep end and was cussing up a storm as always.

“Get the goddam kid out of my sight!”

Michael Green, Livermore, California, USA

*

The puzzle of de Cesaris

Sir,

I much enjoyed ‘The bigger picture’ about Andrea de Cesaris in the October issue. Rob Widdows sums the man up as an enigma — a too-frequently used word these days. On checking the meaning of this word in my dictionary I see that Rob is spot on as it refers to a puzzling person (or thing).

After meeting him at Brands Hatch back in the 1980s I could not agree more. I used to go to all the British Grands Prix at Silverstone and Brands to collect autographs of the drivers and other personalities. For the meetings at Brands I would make my way to the car park reserved for the drivers. Here I was able to speak to many of them and most readily signed the book. But on one occasion Andrea de Cesaris pushed past with head bowed and refused to acknowledge us at all. I tried again on the Saturday morning, but he pushed past and made it very clear that he would not sign an autograph for anyone.

At the 1000Kms Group C race the following weekend I was sitting on a row of tyres in the pitlane when he sat down next to me, asked if I was collecting autographs, and then asked if I had his in my collection! After signing the book I told him about the previous weekend. He was genuinely very upset about this and apologised profusely, but explained that during the Grand Prix weekend he was at the beck and call of the sponsors and he had no time for pleasantries. He seemed very upset when our conversation had to come to an end.

An enigma? Certainly. Despite his reasoning, I could not believe how a man could be so rude one weekend and the most friendly fellow the next. I like to think that the man at the GpC race was the true Andrea de Cesaris! Thanks, Andrea, for the autograph and the memories.

David Keen, Seville, Spain

*

Loosening F1’s grip

Sir,

Bravo to Motor Sport and Gordon Murray on his piece on Fl design (September issue). His points are things I’ve thought for years — but so eloquently voiced by Gordon. If you take some of the aero ‘fiddly bits’ out of the equation and simultaneously allow more mechanical/engine freedom, speed could be more dependent upon mechanical grip, and thus driver skill. Lower cost and more excitement would result, improving both the show and the business. Bravo again!

Chet Kolley, San Diego, California, USA

*

It brought a tear to the eye

Sir,

I well recall the Brooks, Collins, Mercedes demonstration at Oulton Park (Doug Nye, November). That thunderous exhaust note, the stabbing of the throttle as both drivers explored the power of these legendary GP cars, and of course the boot polish aroma that everyone had heard or read about; all of this within the authentic surroundings of the magnificent Oulton Park circuit. The enthusiasm and awe of both drivers for the power at their command was clear from their interviews afterwards. Sadly, all of the above are received memories gleaned from my father, a long-serving steward at VSCC meetings, and from Motor Sport and the Sound Stories LP of the event, as I was 250 miles away at school in Hampshire. No amount of pleading had worked!

Some years later I experienced racing at close quarters with a W125 when Colin Crabbe raced his car. Exiting Woodcote on one occasion in my Cooper-Bristol just behind the Mercedes I followed the black marks on the road through the cloud of tyre smoke and was left wondering how drivers in the Thirties raced for three hours with the eye-watering effects of the fuel.

John Roberts, Prevessin-Moens, France

*

Snap decision

Sir,

Just back from Fontana Speedway. Fantastic Indycar race under the lights, 500 miles, over three hours, real motor racing. Can’t wait for 2013, tickets already ordered. Fl — no thanks.

B Palmer Burton-on-Trent, Staffs

*

Hold it, please…

Sir,

I was impressed with both the modesty and quality of Roger Hoyle’s photo of Sears’ Cobra and David Piper’s 250GT0 (Letters, November) from the 1964 Brands Grand Prix meeting — it is positively professional compared to my own Kodak Instamatic shot.

John Day, Ferring, W Sussex

*

Signs of disagreement

Sir,

The Jaguar pit signage at the far right of the image in Parting Shot (November) indicates that the photo was from the 1985 race, not 1983 as you stated. The number 1 factory Porsche in shot is actually strolling to a 10th place finish piloted by Ickx and Mass. `Dinger’, paired with Hans Stuck, was in number 2 and finished third, several laps down.

Simon Cartwright, Northwich, Cheshire

*

Anything but Alex…

Sir,

Loved your piece on Alex Zanardi (November). I remember fondly the day I attended a public relations event in California early in Alex’s tenure with Ganassi. He was seated next to Jimmy Vasser and seemed almost shy. I received a cap with the signatures of both drivers and treasure it still. The story goes that when Alessandro Zanardi arrived at Ganassi he was asked how he wanted to be addressed. He reportedly replied, “Call me anything except Alex”. Of course, we know the result. His joy in competing is palpable, never more realised than in executing ‘the pass’ at Laguna Seca [in ‘961. Now he confirms his competitive spirit yet again with his victories in Paralympic competition. I wait to hear the deal to bring him to Indy is done. Forza Zanardi!

Erik Karlsson, Florida, USA

*

Quiet please!

Sir,

I’ve been keenly interested in racing for many years, and was at the very first race at Silverstone on the ‘figure of 8’ circuit, which gives some indication of my age. With the passing years I now resort to watching Fl on TV, and although I’m aware that Fl commentators are nice blokes with first-hand racing experience, why do they believe not a millisecond must pass without them talking? Immediately one stops, the other jumps in!

Honestly chaps, viewers don’t need to have everything pointed out, e g ‘he’s trying to overtake’, ‘he’s on the grass’, ‘he’s got past at last’, ‘the safety car will be ready if called!’ and other ‘fillers’ such as forecasting the outcome and reminiscing about the past. The incessant talk can become a sort of ‘audio wall-paper’ to which one no longer listens. I’m not alone in switching off the sound to enable me to concentrate on watching. Come on chaps, give us a break and let’s hear the engines every now and again!

Alec Forty, St Andrew’s, Guernsey

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