British Grand Prix Preview -- Goodyear

DSJ has celebrated many an anniversary, the latest has been Goodyear’s 250th win in Grand Prix racing…..

Keeping a statistical score is a full time job for some enthusiasts, whether it be the number of pole positions gained by Ayrton Senna, the number of race wins by Alain Prost or the number of times a team has failed to finish, and the excitement usually begins at the figure 50, it being a nice round figure and half way to the century (100) so beloved by cricket enthusiasts. Whether it is your 50th win, or 50 years since your first win, the world of statistics gets excited and the nostalgia-group are quick to hang it on something purely for publicity purposes. Recently someone began to show excitement for the 36th anniversary of one of my more spectacular personal happenings, but I looked at him blankly and asked why? What is so important about the 36th anniversary?

Recently, the Goodyear Tyre Company held a fairly exclusive little luncheon party at the Royal Automobile Club in London in celebration of their 250th win in Formula One Grand Prix racing, a figure unsurpassed by any other tyre manufacture, and covering a period of 26 years of endeavour in Formula One. The list of drivers and makes of car that have carried Goodyear tyres to victory reads like a who-is-who of international motor racing: Brabham, Gurney, Ickx, Stewart, Fittipaldi, Peterson, Reutemann, Lauda, Regazzoni, Hunt, Andretti, Jones, Piquet, Prost, Mansell and Senna have all won races on Goodyear tyres, as have many more drivers, and Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus, Tyrrell, Williams and Brabham are among the more prominent teams to use Goodyear tyres.

At the aforementioned luncheon Lea Mehl, Goodyear’s Director of International Racing, presided and on his right sat Sir Jack Brabham, who did so much for Goodyear in their early days in Formula One, while on his left sat Ron Dennis, who is doing so much for Goodyear today, with Ayrton Senna and the McLaren-Honda. The interesting point was that Leo Mehl was European Racing Manager for Goodyear when Brabham was winning races with his Brabham Repco car, and Ron Dennis was Brabham’s mechanic, and Ron Tauranac, a little further along the table, was engineering the Brabham cars. Today Leo is Goodyear’s Director of International Racing, Jack Brabham has retired from the racing scene and returned to Australia with a Knighthood, Ron Dennis heads McLaren International, and Ron Tauranac is still doing what he always enjoyed the most, designing racing cars. Sadly, the one man who should have been with us died last year. That was little Richie Ginther who drove a 1-1/2-litre V12 Honda Formula One car to victory on Goodyear racing tyres in Mexico in 1965 to score the first of the Goodyear Formula One victories. Ayrton Senna scored the 250th victory for Goodyear when he won this year’s Brazilian GP, and by the time of the luncheon he had made it 252 victories, and they still have not finished.

In a book written by Alan Henry and published by Hazelton (price £14.99) to commemorate this remarkable landmark in motor racing history, the Goodyear racing people look back on what got them started in racing. It was a survey done in the USA to see where the firm and its tyres stood in the buying public’s eyes. The result was that the average Goodyear customer was pretty old, very conservative, and had Goodyear tyres on his old Chevrolet because they were dependable and lasted a long time. This was in the mid-Fifties and a very forward looking Goodyear management realized that the exciting new world that was emerging once the purges of the 1939-45 war had been repaired, called for a new image. They took the enormous step to decide to get into racing, to grow with the expansion of motor racing that was spreading worldwide, starting on a fairly low-key operation in their own domestic racing, from everything from drag-racing through sports car racing to Indianapolis. By the early 1960s Goodyear racing tyres had appeared in Europe at Le Mans and other sports car events and by 1964 they were ready to tackle Formula One, appreciating that worldwide it was Formula One, or Grand Prix racing, that was the pinnacle of racing in technology, and publicity and public awareness. They were well aware that the opposition had many years of racing and success behind them but the technical people at Goodyear were confident of their tyre designs’ abilities while the production technicians at the Akron, Ohio, plant were ready for anything.

At this point there was a cheerful young American spending much of his time in Europe racing sports cars with “Lucky Casner’s” Camoradi Racing team, and often to be found in the Palace Hotel in Modena, as Camoradi was closely involved with Maserati sports/racing cars. This was Fred Gamble, known locally to the Modenese as “Gambarini”. He knew his way about Europe, knew the European racing scene and was one of those happy characters who could settle anywhere in the world and make himself at home. Goodyear had a tyre production plant in Wolverhampton, so they talked Fred Gamble into becoming their European manager and setting up a Racing Division at their UK base to start a serious attack on Formula One. With him went Walt de Vinney, a Chief Engineer, and by October 1964 the Goodyear Grand Prix Tyre Division was underway. As history records, just one year later Richie Ginther won the first Formula One Grand Prix for a car running on Goodyear tyres, and now 26 years later Ayrton Senna has notched up their 250th win, both men using Honda power, and even more interesting, both Honda-engines being of V12 configuration. The 1965 Honda V12 was a 1-1/2-litre and was mounted transversely behind the driver, the 1991 engine of 3-1/2-litres being outwardly a more orthodox in-line unit; I say outwardly because the 1965 engine gave something in the order of 154 bhp/litre while the 1991 engine gives an estimated 212 bhp/litre, such is engine progress.

At the time of their first victory Goodyear tyres did the job in transmitting 230 horsepower, with speeds of 150 mph and today they are still up to the job transmitting 750 horsepower and dealing with speeds of over 200 mph. Tyre technology has progressed with racing car technology, and much of the time car technology on suspension and aerodynamics and chassis design have been led by the Goodyear tyre designers. Grand Prix racing is all about cornering force and cornering forces comes down to tyre design, commensurate with acceleration and braking properties and wear rates. Having tyres that will make one fast lap doesn’t help much in a 70 lap race.

Basically a racing car can be divided with three major components as far as design and technicalities are concerned, (1) Engine, (2) Chassis, and (3) Tyres. In the days of the standard 400 bhp Cosworth engine, tyres were ahead, with chassis design second, in the turbocharged era engines were definitely ahead, with tyre engineering sweating a bit to keep up, and chassis design getting left behind. In today’s situation I would put tyres at the forefront with engines and chassis about equal and not too far behind, so that in the current Formula One car we have a very efficient package.

In 1967 Fred Gamble said goodbye to the racing world and went to New Zealand to manage Goodyear interests “down under” and before he left we had dinner in a little restaurant near Monza during the Italian Grand Prix weekend. He brought with him his replacement at the Goodyear Racing Division, and introduced me to Leo Mehl, who did not have a great deal to say but was obviously happy to soak up the Formula One atmosphere. Leo stayed for 12 years and suffered quite a few dramas during the truly formative years of Goodyear’s rise to almost complete monopoly, but even when in the depths of despair he was always cheerful and, most important as far as the Press was concerned, he was at all times open and honest, just like Fred had been. While some racing firms’ representatives are only friendly when things are going right, Goodyear’s men have remained friendly at all times, good and bad. Some firms will never admit to mistakes or troubles, but Goodyear have the confidence and courage to say: “We are in real trouble, and it’s our own fault — no excuses,” and that sort of attitude endears them to the serious minded journalist. They don’t have to say: “please don’t print this,” for their openess comes with a genuine degree of mutual self-respect. If a race report says “a bad day for Goodyear,” that is enough on both sides. The firm that puts the blame for trouble on someone else, and later you find it is not true, is the firm that collects all the rubbish. Another firm that followed Goodyear mentality was Renault-Sport when they were running their turbocharged team and it generated understanding and friendship all round. Probably the worst offenders on the matter of this little racing aside is the Ferrari team.

When Leo Mehl moved on within the Goodyear management he was succeeded by Ed Alexander, then Denny Chrobak, Paul Lauritzen and today Leo Gaug, but Leo Mehl always appeared on the scene if there was something interesting happening. It would be an impending technical crises, some political maneouvrings within FISA/FOCA or the appearance of a new brand of tyre in the Formula One scene. In the Formula One paddock Leo Mehl is Mr Racing Goodyear, but in his Foreword to Alan Henry’s book 250 Grand Prix Wins he goes at some length to point out that a win by Goodyear tyres is not down to one man, but more like 2000 people within the Goodyear organisation, from tyre designers and compound chemists to fitters and truck drivers, but above all the Goodyear management that made the decision there many years ago to get the name Goodyear into motor racing, and the present management who continue to support racing and who appreciate the technical benefits that are desired from racing knowledge, both directly and indirectly, to say nothing of the world-wide publicity that accrues from winning. The management also have to take the risk of the negative publicity that comes from not winning. Looking through the list of 250 Grand Prix Wins that features in Alan Henry’s book it makes you realise how long Goodyear have been in the forefront of Grand Prix racing, and how much the world of Formula One owes to the Akron, Ohio firm. While this is meant to be a tribute to Goodyear success at 250 victories it is not the end of the story, nor can the whole story be told, for that you will need to get hold of a copy of the book. In it you will find a gripping story of a behind-the-scenes drama at Imola a year or two ago, when Goodyear had to change their whole stock of racing tyres overnight. For an exciting story of team-work, enterprise and endeavour that asked for no praise, other than another race victory, it is a heart-warming story in these hard and commercial days of racing. To put into perspective just what 250 Grand prix victories represent the following is a list of accepted landmarks or milestones along the way. — DSJ


First victory: Richie Ginther (Honda) 1965 Mexican GP

50th Victory: Ronnie Peterson (Lotus) 1974 Monaco GP

100th Victory: Niki Lauda (Ferrari) 1977 German GP

150th Victory: René Arnoux (Ferrari) 1983 Canadian GP

200th Victory: Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) 1987 Australian GP

250th Victory: Ayrton Senna (McLaren) 1991 Brazilian GP