Letters, July 2011

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A brave rescue bid

Sir,
I regret to have to record that my tribute to Elio de Angelis, which was published in Motor Sport last month (June issue), omitted to mention an act of heroism at the scene of the crash which cost the Italian his life at the Paul Ricard circuit in May 1986.

Following the loss of its rear wing, Elio’s Brabham-BMW had overturned and caught fire in a fast corner. According to a colleague who was filming at the circuit that day, and to whom I have recently spoken, firemen were fairly quickly on the scene with their firedamping powder extinguishers, but none of them attempted to extract the victim.

My colleague’s memory suggests that the firemen, contrary to my account, were indeed appropriately dressed. However, two drivers (both of them Grand Prix winners) stood by, despite being in their fireproof driving suits, and it was left to that well-respected team coordinator Tyler Alexander, in cotton shirt and trousers, to attempt a rescue at considerable risk to himself.

Although it was to be in vain, Tyler’s gallantry was remarked upon at the time, and I apologise for having failed to acknowledge it in my story.
Mike Doodson, Forest Row, East Sussex

*

Sound judgement?

Sir,
I last wrote to Motor Sport in 1968 but feel compelled to once again set my hand to paper — or, more accurately, my fingers to keyboard — to refute the comment from Dr Ulrich Baretzky of Audi that the day of the noisy racing engine is past (June issue).

My first outing to Le Mans was in 1970 and it is still the aural imprint that brings the memories most to life; from the crackling cacophony of a 512LM Ferrari on the overrun as it decelerated on the run down from the Dunlop bridge into the Esses, to the glorious sound of the V12 Matras which one could hear the entire way round the eight-mile circuit for the whole 24 hours.

We heard exactly the same ‘noise is wasted power’ argument from Porsche circa 1974 when they first sallied forth with their turbocharged 911 and it whooshed its way round with about as much excitement as a vacuum cleaner. Later, Porsche seemed to forget about it and went back to making racing cars that sounded fast as well as going fast — and the racing was all the better for it.

I was a young man then and I was as disappointed with the quiet racers as I’m sure the young of today or 20 years time will be.
John Atkins, Chelmsford, Essex

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Music to our ears

Sir,
I am a 34-year-old man who attends Le Mans every year. In response to Audi’s Dr Ulrich Baretzky, who basically said that only old people care about how dramatic an engine sounds, I would like to say to him that the main reason some of us ‘old folks’ return to La Sarthe every June is to experience those beautiful-sounding atmospheric engines which remind us of the reasons why we first fell in love with this sport.

Last year I took my 18-year-old nephew to the track and what will forever stand out in my mind, as we sat next to each other on the Dunlop grandstand, was his reaction every time a roaring Corvette C6R thundered by: the hair on his arms visibly stood up! He didn’t seem to care for any of the diesel cars in spite of the fact they were leading the race, since they sounded like most ordinary road cars.

Now, I don’t know if I’ll be dead in 20 years time, Mr Baretzky, but reducing the greatest race on earth to a deaf parade will eventually force even Mulsanne’s birds to emigrate to the neighbouring forest to avoid utter boredom! Demetris Yiokkas, Nicosia, Cyprus

*

There are limits…

Sir,
What is it with some motorists and speed cameras (Road Cars, June issue)?

It’s simple. You exceed the speed limit, you’re caught and punished. You keep within the speed limit — no problem. Easy, isn’t it?

When I read Andrew Frankel’s piece I felt very much like he did watching that TV programme. But I thought his ranting against Brake was unnecessary and insulting. Some of those campaigners have probably had relatives killed by a speeding motorist. I know that if I, God forbid, had a relative killed by a motorist speeding in a restricted area I would be campaigning for more speed cameras too.

Making driving tests harder would probably make some drivers even more over-confident than they already are.
Colin Strudwick, Haslemere, Surrey

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Put a cap on top speeds

Sir,
I read with interest Andrew Frankel’s piece on speed cameras and particularly teenage drivers. When I look back to my early days of driving I am eternally grateful that it was in the era of the Morris Minor 1000, top speed 72mph. If I had started driving in this era, I might not have been here to write this letter.

Perhaps we should look at optional speed limiters on cars that could have a maximum setting for new drivers for a certain period.
Derek Greenwood, Crieff, Scotland

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Drivers should make the grade

Sir,
I agree with Andrew Frankel that ‘speed never killed anyone, only its inappropriate use’. As in the aviation industry, I believe the answer lies in training. I have an idea: since 1986 I have been grading my clientele who have taken the High Performance Course, and this could be expanded. A novice passing the basic driving test we could make grade six, progressing through to grade one.

I believe there are two elements that make for a fast and safe driver: skill and discipline. We all think we have the skill, but discipline? As HPC has proved, driver grading has produced both fast and safe drivers, and grading provides an incentive to improve. National speed limits for cars and bikes are more appropriate on unlit roads at night, so for 12 hours, in my view, the authorities have got it right.

My suggestion is to give grade one drivers and riders an exemption from national [i.e. not urban] speed limits for cars and bikes in daylight hours, between dawn and dusk. Imagine if after years of training you reach grade one, then are reported for exceeding a posted speed limit and in court your grading returns to six. That would inspire a disciplined sense of speed. We produce the best racing drivers in the world, and we are also quite capable of producing the best fast and safe road drivers and riders.
John Lyon, ADI (Fleet), Stamford

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Frank the prankster

Sir,
Nigel Roebuck’s reminiscences of that wonderful character Frank Gardner (Reflections, June issue) brought back some happy memories. Frank was also a humorous prankster, as I discovered after the 1963 French Grand Prix. Jim Clark had won the race and Colin Chapman threw a party for the Lotus team. But Jim’s team-mate Trevor Taylor, who had retired with mechanical failure, decided to boycott the party. Borrowing my ex-Chequered Flag Elan, he drove off to a pub where many of the other Formula 1 drivers and mechanics were trying to forget their disappointments. The party got quite boisterous and eventually a bevy of gendarmes arrived on the scene — not to arrest the partying clientele, but to have a quiet drink themselves.

Unfortunately, some of the party got rather (but good-humouredly) rude and the motor racing fraternity were given the boot. Outside the door stood les corrugated-iron Citroen van. Frank got everyone organised to undo the ugly duckling’s wheel-nuts and then yelled “lift!”, at which point one of the gendarmes poked his head out of the pub just in time to see their chariot dropping wheel-less onto the pavement. Everyone ran, but poor Trevor couldn’t get the Elan started quickly enough, although he did eventually escape to the accompaniment of loud whistle-blowing from the gun-toting gendarmerie.

Next morning, the journalist Jabby Crombac hot-footed it to the Lotus hotel to tell me to make myself and the Elan scarce very quickly, and try to get to Le Touquet in time to catch the Air Bridge plane home before they caught up with me — there was apparently a police call out for the yellow Elan. I did make it, I am glad to say, or my friendship with the irrepressible Frank might not have survived my languishing in a French jail!

Such a pity that Frank, Trevor, Jim, Colin and Jabby are no longer with us; they were all such good friends. I miss them.
Ian Scott-Watson, Harelaw Moor Greenlaw, Duns

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Bud’s great escapade

Sir,
Regarding Frank Gardner’s claim to have done the famous motor cycle jump in The Great Escape, it was actually achieved by stuntman Bud Ekins, a close friend of Steve McQueen and a biking mentor of the star.

McQueen was an ace rider, but insurance issues precluded him from doing the jump, although he did the other riding scenes in the film. The jump that Ekins did was 65ft long and 12ft high on a British Triumph TR6 Trophy 650. Both McQueen and Ekins represented America in the International Six Days Trial during the ’60s, with Ekins winning four gold medals and a silver.
Andrew Edwards, Northants

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Poetic licence

Sir,
I did an interview with Juan Manuel Fangio when he was in Britain for his 80th birthday celebrations. He proudly told me that he was “British” and produced his Falklands driving licence as evidence (right). He said the Governor of the islands had given it to him and told him that his was a special case. He would not be ordered to pass a driving test!
Martin Holmes, Woking, Surrey

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Rondel’s bumpy road

Sir,
Alan Henry’s excellent 40th anniversary feature on Rondel Racing (May issue) made it sound as though Ron Dennis and Neil Trundle had it easy on their way to success. Let me mention one or two problems along the way. I was at work one morning when the telephone rang. It was Ron. Did I know anyone who could take an engine down to Jarama next week? I promptly commandeered my mother’s Hillman Minx and duly loaded an FVA into the boot.

A little later that season, at Crystal Palace, a water main burst causing Graham Hill’s car to slide off into the barrier during qualifying. The same day, on his way home from the circuit, Ron had a serious road accident and was hospitalised (he still bears the scars today). Although I was by then working for a rival team — that of Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Reusch — Ron’s friends, including me, worked through the night at Rondel’s workshop to rebuild Graham’s car before the race.

Alan mentions Project 4 Racing, but did not mention that Eddie Cheever was one of its drivers. Eddie of course went on to win the Indy 500 after a less-thansuccessful Formula 1 career. Alan also fails to remind us that all current McLarens bear the MP4 prefix, which is of course McLaren-Project 4.

Ron and Neil deserved their success, but it certainly did not come easy.
Jeff Hesel wood, Exchange Square, Hong Kong

*

Riled by the new rules

Sir,
Thanks to the new Formula 1 rules, last weekend I watched some pitstops in Turkey while other drivers circulated on track waiting for their turn.

The sport tries to be ‘green’ by having Pirelli create completely useless tyres that fall apart in 10 laps in an attempt to enliven the show, as well as a gimmick rear wing. A lot of people are defending DRS, but would these people be so keen if the situation was reversed and the magic button, for example, killed two cylinders on the engine in front? Either situation is hardly sporting…

Rather than fix the problem of aerodynamics, as anyone who knows anything about the technical side is well aware of, they come up with ridiculous gimmicks. It’s like placing a plaster on a severed artery rather than fixing the wound.

As a fan of the sport above all else, it saddens me to see notable names like Martin Brundle saying how brilliant the new rules are. One wonders if he is worried he may upset certain parties if he calls a spade a spade. Surely a true racer like Brundle cannot see any good in this?

After 25 years I find my interest is more and more headed toward sports cars, where at least we have a variety of engines, noises and cars, and not this homogenised Mario Kart that is F1.
Steve Coe, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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