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A star of stage and screen

I have just read the excellent Lunch With… Tiff Needell. Unfortunately there wasn’t space to mention his rally exploits, so I thought I would share with you my memories of when I co-drove him in the 1996 RAC Rally, when it was still a proper RAC spread throughout the UK. Anyone on that year’s event will never forget the atrocious conditions, with heavy snow and ice the whole route.

We were team-mates to Stig Blomqvist driving for Skoda GB and were left in no doubt we must finish because it was all being filmed for Top Gear — which believe me in those conditions was a tall order. Tiff was just brilliant to work with, totally professional in his approach, and listened to all my pace note calls. Not many racing drivers can do that (ask Martin Brundle, who crashed out of the same event).

The after-rally party was some affair, too. With Stig finishing third overall in the little Skoda we were still in the bar celebrating at 6am when Tiff appeared, bright as a button, having gone to bed at sensible o’clock. He was off to do more filming at Mallory Park that Monday morning for Top Gear.

As I say, what a pro.
Brian Hardie, Karaman, North Cyprus

Spanish armada defeated

Gilles Villeneuve brilliantly held off a swarm of five faster cars to win the 1981 Spanish GP. Ferrari designer Harvey Postlethwaite said of his driver, “In terms of sheer ability I think Gilles was on a different plane to the other drivers. To win those races, the 1981 GPs at Monaco and Jarama — on tight circuits — was quite out of this world.”

In today’s DRS world, the other drivers would have simply pulled out to pass. DRS is bad for racing. It must go!
Alan Bushell, Victoria, BC, Canada

Actions speak louder…

Thanks to Nigel Roebuck for his expert comments on the Vettel/Webber overtaking saga in Sepang (Motor Sport, June). But really, should anyone be surprised at Vettel’s actions? Any doubts that Christian Horner had about who was really in charge at Red Bull have been well and truly settled. As Nigel says, one can argue about team orders until the cows come home, but if two supposedly professional drivers agree something before a race, then there really is no excuse for going back on their word. In this case, apparently Webber had been told to turn down his engine until the finish, which then had Vettel complaining he was being held up. Vettel, I am afraid, is carrying on in the footsteps of Senna and Schumacher, two other prima donnas in whom I have little interest.

In fact, given the state of modern Formula 1, this is par for the course. The whole thing is totally artificial, from useless tyres, to KERS, DRS overtaking zones and drivers being able to learn circuits on computer simulators.

In fact, I don’t really know why Motor Sport concerns itself with the likes of modern F1 when there is far more interesting historic racing to be covered. Here, the participants take part because they love doing it and have more respect for their fellow competitors. I’m afraid I parted company with F1 a few years ago, at about the time I read Martin Brundle describe the Nordschleife as “a ridiculous place to go motor racing”.
Denis Jolly, by e-mail

Rushin’ roulette

Last year I complained that recent rule changes had made F1 lively, but only in the way that the roulette wheel excites. Things sank even lower during the Spanish Grand Prix — it was like watching a poker game without being able to see the cards. Among the racers, Paul di Resta voiced the view that drivers were utterly confused. I imagine they’re thinking, “I passed that guy three times, but after all these pitstops am I behind him or still ahead?”

Drivers are going at six tenths while dozens of ‘analysts’ bunkered at the team HQ watch screens and issue directions to the team about how to drive, which corner to take gently for fear of hurting the front left and when to pit. That’s not racing. As for missing the final qualification session to save tyres for Sunday, words fail me.

It’s decision time for F1. Get back to the kind of competition in which the prizes go to the drivers and teams that race, or else lose your audience.

Pirelli has my sympathy.
Phil Collins, Alstone, Tewkesbury, Glos

Game, set and Matich

I would like to compliment you on the article about Frank Matich, a really unheralded Australian champion. It was wonderful to read about his exploits in earlier Tasman series. I was impressed by his driving ability, but also by his engineering innovations. The attached picture I took in 1972 at my local track, Adelaide International Raceway. He might not have been able to develop the concept fully, as the lower rear wing did not stay on subsequent models, but he was clearly trying to exploit the air passing under the car. This was five years before Lotus came up with ground effects and decades before blown diffusers. With this car Frank set a lap record that stood for five years. It took Alan Jones in a Lola T332 to beat it, by just 0.5sec, in the year he went on to become a GP winner. To have read about the regard in which Frank was held by such as Jim Clark completes the picture I have held of this great Australian driver.
Eric Irvine, Neerim South, Victoria, Australia

Enzo’s view of Villeneuve

I read with interest Nigel Roebuck’s feature on Bernd Rosemeyer and appreciated the notion of comparisons with Gilles Villeneuve. Enzo Ferrari might have said to Villeneuve that he reminded him of Nuvolari, but it is perhaps worth recalling that Mr Ferrari is on record in one of his books as saying: “To rank drivers from different eras is impossible. At most only some comparison can be attempted, driven more by impressions than by reason. The conditions are totally different. With his total dedication and imperative disquiet to win, Villeneuve reminded me of Guy Moll.”

In relation to the cause of the fatal accident on the autobahn, the theory of the flimsy aerodynamic bodywork should be taken with quite a pinch of salt. In no previous attempt were there problems with the bodywork. The pictures taken before his last attempt — brought as proof that there were problems with the bodywork — only show the reflections of light on the glossy silver body, as already countered by other authors. Instability caused by a transverse wind gust at a speed close to 280mph is the most probable cause.
Lucio Chiodi, Woking, Surrey

Not saying it with flowers

Nigel Roebuck ends June’s Rosemeyer story thus: “His body was found at the edge of the forest, where the memorial now stands, always with freshly cut flowers around it…” Just for the record: there are two competing memorials in situ and it must be the ugliest place south of Frankfurt. Freshly cut flowers? Hardly. This year, on my way to the Geneva Motor Show, there were two faded wreaths no doubt placed there in memory of the 75 years that had passed since the accident. But no one had thought about removing the faded remains one of them from Audi Tradition. It’s the first time I’ve seen any interest in the place at all.

You will find the memorial on the southbound part of the FrankfurtDarmstadt motorway, the second parking space after Zeppelinheim ‘passenger cars only’. Opposite, on the northbound motorway, you will find a parking space named `Rosemeyer’… but there are no other clues to the hero.
Jon Winding-Sorensen, Oslo, Norway

A few of my favourite things

I was happy to see the Lunch With Tony Brooks my favourite driver from my favourite Fl era. It brought back memories about that final round of 1959 the first United States Grand Prix. As an 18-year-old motor racing nut, I went to that first US GP in my friend Jack Leete’s MG TD, surviving the cacophony of the rattling and leaky side curtains. Moving around the infield we sometimes thought we were the only ones at the race, because Fl wasn’t then a big draw in the US. I didn’t realise the title implications of the race for Tony Brooks until later, but I was able to talk to him at the Tribute to Aston Martin at Laguna Seca in 1989. I showed him a photo that he said was as close to the moment he lost the 1959 title as any. It shows him calling at the pits at the end of lap one to have the damage inflicted by team-mate Wolfgang von Trips checked by the somewhat aloof Ferrari crew. In fairness, this was in the days before radios and Tony had come into the pits without warning.
Jeff Allison, Ken-Caryl Valley, Colorado

Into the valley

Den Green’s letter in May reminded me of a similar experience with BMC Competitions Department, in Grenoble.

Rene Trautmann was a works Citroen driver on the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally and his team was worried about Ford’s Falcons. One stage near Grenoble ran down one side of a long valley, crossed a bridge and ran back up the other side. Supposedly there was no way to shorten the route, but Rene and I found a farm track that cut the route significantly, although it was very muddy and rough.

We agreed that I would test the short cut and, if passable, signal him to use it. He did, but I never heard whether his time was thrown out.

I then drove to Chamonix to watch and found BMC in a panic because it had run out of Mini spares. A mechanic asked if he could strip my Mini, which would have stranded me, but I had access to the BMC dealer in Grenoble. We subsequently roared down the mountain in a recce Healey 3000 on a thrilling ride to raid the parts bin.

I too was invited to Abingdon for a tour (no lunch!), but I was allowed to rifle the stores for bits for my Gp2 Downton Cooper. Rene so liked my Cooper that he ordered one as a fun car.
Stephen C Goss OBE, Delray Beach, Florida

Making a point

In your May 2013 edition, Simon Arron wrote, “It’s a bizarre statistic that McLaren has not been champion constructor since 1998.”

The universally accepted criterion of champion constructor is the total number of points scored by its drivers. In 2007, McLaren’s drivers scored 218 points and their Ferrari counterparts merely 204.

McLaren’s indisputable superiority in 2007 should not be obscured by the FIA’s attempt to rewrite history [the team was excluded from that year’s championship after `Spygate]. In 2007 I considered McLaren to be the champion constructor, while its rival Ferrari earned the Mosley Trophy.
Gary W Williams, London SW1

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