Letters, July 2014

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Letter of the month

Trying to tackle the wrong problem

I read with interest of the idea to end the World Endurance Championship season at Le Mans. I fully understand the thinking, as the remainder of the season is something of an anti-climax. It didn’t used to be this way in the heyday of Group C, however. After the 24 Hours we had classic races at the Nürburgring, Spa, Brands Hatch and Fuji – and they always drew large crowds. Today we have character-sapping Tilke dromes in far-off countries with no history of sports car racing, and the closing rounds of the world championship are played out in front of empty grandstands.

The ACO and FIA need to reassess the countries and venues the WEC visits, rather than fiddle with the race dates. If there is one lesson we have learnt, it is the importance of tradition. Manufacturers should forget about car sales in these far-off markets and insist the series returns to the classic venues of the past. This will raise the status of the WEC and give them the greater media exposure they crave. The dozen or so people who populate the vast grandstands in Shanghai and Bahrain can always watch the races on TV or via the internet.

Nicholas Bird, Fareham, Hampshire

Pequignet Manufacture
The writer wins this Pequignet Gents Moorea Ranelagh model in stainless steel with an automatic movement, anthracite dial with date, worth £835.

Sipping forecast

Between 1934 and 1937, the 750kg formula led to rapid advances in the cars of the premier formula and in automotive engineering generally.

When a 3-litre capacity formula was introduced in 1938, fuel consumption jumped dramatically for about the same performance. Thereafter came the strangled scream of competition engines being overstressed, which we all came to regard as normal. Great sounds though they may have been, these were the sounds of inefficiency. The most efficient internal combustion engine is not one of very small capacity running at huge revs.

Now in 2014 we have a fuel flow limit and a big jump in efficiency. Races are run with much less fuel than last year at about the same speed. This is an important step in increasing efficiency. The next is to get rid of the capacity limit once and for all.

Patrick Irwin, Port Melbourne, Australia

Silence far from golden

As humans we have the ability to sense sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Given that the TV restricts us at best to just two-fifths of sensory perception, is it any wonder that most of us have given up on an F1 experience that delivers just one-fifth?

Chris Bone, Swaffham, Norfolk, UK

Thunder enlightening

After reading about the way real motor sport should sound, I fear my fellow enthusiasts in the UK and Europe may have become a bit too accustomed to the vacuum cleaners running at Le Mans and the high-speed chainsaws one used to hear at F1 races.

I would like to make an offer to any Motor Sport correspondent: I will personally act as a tour guide for you at a World of Outlaws or 410 Sprint race at Williams Grove Raceway near Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, so that you may hear what real motor sport sounds like. The four-abreast pre-start line-up alone has better, more sonorous tonalities than a year of F1.

Norman Gaines, Hartsdale, New York, USA

A dietician writes

Formula 1’s malady has a proxy in diabetes. In spite of warnings that such behaviour is life-threatening, the FIA persists in habitually consuming ‘treats’ that satisfy its transient cravings.

Furthermore it is constantly looking to take on board new, untried novelties. It has no care that its behaviour is widely recognised as anti-social and myopically self-centred.

We should not be surprised that F1 is unfit and grossly overweight.

John Preston, Brisbane, Australia

The best of days

Reading Simon Taylor’s excellent piece on Paul Tracy was a bitter-sweet affair for me. It brought back many good memories of Paul and his role in the long-gone Champ Car World Series.

I was a freelance journalist covering the CART series at the beginning of this millennium and, knowing what I do now, it just didn’t get any better. Paul and comrades such as Jimmy Vasser, Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti – to name but a few – were fantastic to be around, and the racing and competitive spirit led to a series that oozed personality, charisma, drama and inconsistency. It had everything that’s great about motor racing.

In Long Beach Paul once invited me over to eat dinner with his team and sponsors, plus replacement driver Memo Gidley. A kart racer made good, Gidley and I watched in awe as models served drinks, chefs carved beef off the bone and giant ice sculptures melted before our eyes. It was so over the top that it was almost laughable, but it was part of what made CART so goddamn great. It’s sad how it all played out, but while it lasted it was just majestic.

Eric Johnson, Laguna Niguel, California, USA

Rose-tinted spectacle?

I very much enjoyed Paul Fearnley’s thoughtful and considered feature on Senna vs Schumacher (May 2014).

Yes, we might have been denied a fantastic spectacle between two greats. But it’s also possible that we were denied one of the most bitter, acrimonious and nasty F1 rivalries, as two unflinching adversaries attempted to settle their differences on the same piece of track.

History will record Senna and Schumacher as drivers unafraid of resorting to violent tactics. If the Imola weekend had ended without tragedy, then perhaps – as the season wore on, against a backdrop of lingering suspicions of legality – an increasingly unhappy Senna and an overly confident Schumacher would have brought out the worst in each other.

Damon Greeney, London, England

More threads to unravel

While enjoyable, I think Paul Fearnley’s Senna vs Schumacher article failed to answer the question of how the maestro would have handled a potential nemesis.

Elsewhere in the same issue you raised what I think are the really pertinent questions around the rivalry, ie what was really going on at Benetton that year and whether or not Senna met his maker simply through wanting to be the best and taking a dog of a car beyond its limits to see off the pretender.

This is an oversimplified view, but as time lapses I wonder if some of this stuff will eventually come out. It’s a period that needs further examination, but for obvious reasons I don’t think it will happen any time soon.

For me, the real question is what Senna might have gone on to achieve outside the sport, in business, politics or whatever. Now that would have been a great ‘Lunch with…’

Mark Abbott, Zurich, Switzerland

Top of the Lister

Thank you for Andrew Frankel’s excellent article about the Lister-Jaguar raced with much success by Briggs Cunningham’s team, often with the great Walt Hansgen at the wheel.

Anyone wanting to read more about this period would be well advised to seek out Michael Argetsinger’s Hansgen biography.

I was born in 1946 and taken to my first race meeting at Goodwood in 1958. Already a big Jaguar fan, I was a great supporter of any driver doing well in a Jaguar-powered car. By that time the Lister had become the car to beat, driven by Archie Scott Brown. I knew little about his physical problems, but was aware he possessed amazing car control. He made a bad start but caught and passed Stirling in the Aston DBR2, and the two of them indulged in a fierce battle for several laps.

The sight and sound of the two cars drifting through Madgwick corner, with flames stabbing from the exhausts, held me spellbound. It was looking good for a Lister win until steering problems led Archie to retire. I was devastated when he was killed a couple of months later.

My interest in sports car racing peaked with Jaguar’s Group C involvement. The 1988 Le Mans win was one of the most emotional days of my life. I tried to rekindle some interest during the Audi/Peugeot diesel battles, but seeing them in action made one realise that immense speed is not enough. They have to look and sound exciting, neither of which they were. I fear for the future of Le Mans and other once-great sports car races. The current crop of prototypes are just about the most hideous contraptions I have ever seen. I hate to think how they must sound from trackside.

Richard Bradbury, Sutton, Surrey

A call to arms

Having recently lamented the appearance of the current crop of Le Mans sports racers, I attended the British GT meeting at Oulton Park over the Easter weekend.

What a visual and aural treat, not least the Bentley GT3s growling around the superb Cheshire circuit.

One question: when are the Jags going to join in the fun?

John Clegg, Chadderton, Lancashire

Norwegian would…

Thank you very much for Steve Bennett’s most entertaining article about how Ayrton Senna came to be driving rally cars.

I remember Russell Bulgin from my time in UK rallying in the 1970s and ’80s. I am also very familiar with Cars & Car Conversions. In the ’60s I had a subscription to this magazine at the same time as I was learning English as a teenager in Norway.

I picked up much of my English from reading CCC. When I started doing UK rallies in the ’70s, people wondered about the way I spoke… but it was just some of the peculiar slang I’d read in CCC. I thought it was English!

John Haugland, Spydeberg, Norway

English heritage

I was delighted to read Doug Nye’s piece on the Multi-Union in your May edition. I still recall the thrill I experienced on seeing the car re-emerge in Patrick Lindsay’s custodianship, having been enthused by my late father’s eye-witness accounts of its pre-war exploits. Paddock conversations assured me that the car was in safe hands.

Patrick was a man of impeccable standards and taste in things motoring and certainly understood the word ‘provenance’. To hear subsequently that this unique piece of Brooklands history had been sacrificed to give the world yet another ‘pretend’ P3 was heartbreaking – an act of unquestionable vandalism.

In the way of these things, however, I’m sure someone will in the future gather together what remaining bits survive of this once unique machine and concoct them into a modern pastiche, hopefully when I am no longer around. The world will then have a P3 that isn’t really a P3 and a Multi-Union that isn’t really the Multi-Union.

What kind of motor racing heritage are we leaving behind?

Roger Quipp, Longsdon, Leek, Staffordshire

Webbed feat

In the 1960s and ’70s, Motor Sport was my essential guide to understanding Formula 1.

I always felt a race wasn’t really over until I had read DSJ’s account. It was fun to picture him driving from circuit to circuit, first in his Porsche, then in the E-type. The only drawback was the long delay between race and publication, which sometimes diluted the impact since one or two more races might have occurred in the meantime.

I left England in 1980 and followed the sport as best I could, which was never easy. In recent years I’ve relied on David Hobbs’ valiant attempts to explain races from a studio in Atlanta, and various inadequate websites.

So I was excited to come across Motor Sport’s website. I purchased the current edition at once and was relieved to find that the standard of independent thinking and eloquent observation had not declined. Now, though, it is available almost as soon as the race is run and the engines have cooled.

Thank you! It is good to renew the relationship. I think the ghosts of Boddy and Jenks must rest easy, knowing the magazine is in competent hands.

Michael Hunt, Prescott, Arizona, USA

Partly political broadcast

Having read your April issue, I wonder what F1 has become. The racing seems to have evolved into a distraction besides all the money-grubbing and politics that goes on.

The April issue had plenty on the politics, rules and commercial shenanigans, but not one story about a modern F1 driver or team. To me, that pretty much sums up where the focus lies. I haven’t watched F1 with much interest since the mid-90s, the death of Senna rather ending its appeal.

Pieter Ryckaert, Belgium

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