Continental notes, July 1960

One of the interesting features of long-distance sports-car racing is the fact that pit work is necessary, for changing tyres, refuelling, changing drivers, and so on, and it means that a good car and good drivers are not the only requirements for success; there must be good team work on the part of the mechanics. At races such as the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Targa Florio and the A.D.A.C. 1,000 km. there is frequent pit work, and a fast and unflurried pit stop is a splendid thing to watch. At one time such stops were essential in Grand Prix racing, and in the not-so-long-ago of Alfa-Romeo one used to see some really efficient pit stops. Nowadays Grand Prix racing has declined into a series of short, sharp dashes towards the, World Championship crown, so that team work no longer exists, and such is the design of the successful cars these days that any pit stop that occurs deteriorates into the farce that was witnessed at Zandvoort when Moss had a deflated tyre on his Lotus.

When making a refuelling stop there are numerous methods’ employed, from open so-gall, churns being slopped into a funnel, to high-pressure hoses pumping fuel at 5 gall. per second. Whatever method is used the risk of fire is inevitable, for you cannot have petrol flowing close to a hot object, such as a racing car, without this risk. Over the years there have been a number of serious fires during pit stops, the most recent being the blaze at Nurburgring during the ‘,goo-km., when the Ferrari team set light to one of their cars. In 1938, in the same pits, MercedesBenz did the same thing, and in Sweden during a sports-car race Maserati got everything well alight. At Goodwood Aston Martin have had two attempts to raze the pits to the ground with spectacular fires during pit stops. Having been very close to some of these fires, and seen them start, as well as being close to another one at Monza when Alfa-Romeo were practising pit stops in the days of the Tipo 159, I can tell you that I have become very fireconscious when there is petrol about, and yet people still smoke cigarettes in the pits. Without question these fires start due to too much haste on the part of the mechanic with the fuel hose, or lack of appreciation Of the heat contained in an exhaust pipe, or even in a rear-axle casing of a racing car, while burning exhaust gases still in the tail-pipe after the driver has switched off are another danger. The Ferrari fire was almost certainly due to the tap on the fuel hose being opened perhaps half a second too soon, before the nozzle was in the tank, and the Motor Sport photographer took a classic picture of the Goodwood fire by Aston Martin showing this to be the reason (see Motor Sport, October 1959). In Sweden Maserati were rushing about with churns and funnels and simply overfilled the tank in their excitement, one mechanic whipping the funnel out of the tank while another mechanic was still pouring front a churn. In the Alfa-Romeo team they used to slip a sheet steel sleeve over the exhaust pipe, which ran alongside the tail, while refuelling, and their fire was caused by the fuel hose operator turning on too soon, before the shroud was over the exhaust.

Naturally, the most important thing in a pit stop is speed, for every second counts, and nothing is worse for a driver’s morale than to have been saving seconds all round the circuit, only to have them wasted by his mechanics at a pit stop. However, speed alone is not enough, it must be accompanied by efficiency, and as with most activities in life the movement that looks fast is not necessarily the quickest. Unhurried speed is invariably faster than panic speed. A few years ago I was watching the Team Lotus pit stops at Le Mans and I was intrigued by the man who was doing the refuelling. As the car arrived most of the mechanics and team personnel were on their toes and alive with an air of preparedness, and as soon as it stopped they were running around, dashing to and fro, and obviously working against time. The character with the fuel hose, however, was apparently taking little interest in proceedings as the car arrived, and then leisurely lifted the hose off its hook when the car stopped, and I can remember thinking to myself that he was a pretty dozy mechanic and obviously did not realise that seconds were vital. At other pit stops in that race, at Ecurie Ecosse, Jaguar, Ferrari and so on, the fuel man would be standing ” at the ready ” with the hose poised and one hand ready to open the filler and plunge the nozzle in—in other words. a picture of preparedness. I watched a number of Lotus pit stops and each time this dozy character would seem to wander lazily across to the car, open the filler cap, lift the hose down and care fully put the nozzle into the tank. In the general excitement of the stop I paid no further attention to this chap, but after about three pit stops I suddenly realised that he had finished his refuelling job long before the other mechanics had attended to oil and water, etc. This intrigued me, so the next time a Lotus arrived I watched this man with the hose carefully, and once again he leisurely, or so it appeared, lifted the hose down, carefully put it in the tank, fuelled the car, closed the filler, hung the hose up again and stood back while the other mechanics finished their jobs. I then realised that this was not Casual luck, but intelligent planning, and afterwards he explained that there was no need to flap about during a pit stop, because he knew exactly how many seconds it took to fill the tanks, and it was perhaps five or ten seconds shorter than it took to open the bonnet, check the oil and water, close the bonnet, clean the Screen, and refix the bonnet. Having five seconds in which to lift the hose off its hook was more than enough, and there was no risk of spilling any fuel. Similarly, when the tank was filled, he knew there was ample time to finish the job properly and still be ahead of the other mechanics, ” SO why panic ? ” he said.

There are a number of morals to be learnt from this story, hut I think the most significant thing about it is the fact that this seemingly dozy character is now a B.R.M. works driver—his name ?—Graham Hill.

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I see there has recently been suggestions that we should pay to use our network of Motor Roads (when they are built) and I am all in favour of this. Motoring about on the Continent I often have occasion to pay money for the use of a road or a bridge, and at first this used to annoy me, but on reflection I realised that the benefit was well worth the cost. In addition it has meant that the road or bridge has been used by people seriously intent on motoring and not for parking. I like very much the remark by the French Minister of Transport when he said that the roads of Paris are for motoring about on, not for parking on, for as one who enjoys motoring more than parking I could not agree more. Italian Motor Roads have always been operated on the pay-as-youuse principle, and the new Autostrada del Sole that already runs front Milan to beyond Bologna, and in a year or two will reach right down Italy to the Straits of Messina, is a perfect example of the justification of paying to use it. In a fast car, driving at eighttenths all the time, it is possible to get from Milan to Modena (the home of Italian racing cars) in three hours, using the via Emilia, in and out of the Vespas, round the lorries, neck-and-neck with the Giuliettas, and it is one nightmare dice that leaves you sweating slightly when you arrive at Modena. On the Autostradcz, for the cost of is., you can cover the same distance in si hours with ease, sitting back and listening to the radio, and arriving at Modena without the slightest strain.

If you have to do this journey in the course of business, or when time is short, you do not mind paying the toll and it is worth every penny to be free of bicycles and scooters in Northern Italy, though I must admit that, for the sheer hell-of-it, I occasionally still use the old via Emilia, for that journey at speed is a challenge to one’s driving ability. The system Of paying on the Italian Autostrada is a first-class one that might well be copied when we bring in ” payments ” on our Motor Roads (when they are built). When you join the Motor Road, no matter where, you are handed a standard card listing all the ” stations ” on the whole length of road, and it is punched at the point you join the road, and also the category of your car is marked. You then drive as far as you want to and pay as you leave the Autostrada; on the back of the card there being printed a list of tariffs and distances, so that the man at the exit merely checks on where you joined the road and reads off the price, which you pay as you return the card. At one time on the earlier Autostrada you paid as you went onto the road, but so much fiddling went on, whereby you bought a ticket for the next” station ” and then motored 50 miles or so and rushed out of the gate without waiting for the man to check your ticket, that this new foolproof system was evolved, and it is much easier for everyone, except the dishonest.

Another toll road, that anyone who has visited Austria must know, is the mountain pass over the Grossillockner, and here you pay a rather large sum of Austrian schillings before you start the climb. The first time I used it I was incensed because there had been no prior warning that it cost money to cross the mountains at this point and having arrived at the toll gate it was too late to go back, for any alternative route would have taken a whole day’s extra motoring. In ti rather sour mood I roared off up the mountain at 5,000 in second, oversteered violently round the hairpins, and called the Austrians all sorts of names. However, it did not last long, for the road and the Scenery were truly wonderful and by the time I got to the glacier at the top I was prepared to have paid twice as much, for it. is one of the most spectacular mountain crossings I know, and well worth paying (or. Near the top there were vast road works going on to improve the way, •sci that one could see one’s schillings being put to good use, and the initial road construction lob through these mighty mountains must have cost a fortune. If all motor races were held on the same circuit, or one had to go to them all by aeroplane, my job would be dull in the extreme. It is the fact that one can cross the ClrossCtiocknerstrasse ” on the way to work ” that helps me to retain my sense of proportion—or do I mean dis-proportion! – D.S.J.