Letters, July 2015

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Spence 2, Roebuck 1

Nigel Roebuck is unfair to Mike Spence in claiming that the 1965 Race of Champions was Spence’s only F1 win – the 1966 South African Grand Prix was not a World Championship event but it was contested by many in F1 cars.

Spence won, beating Hulme, Siffert, Arundell, Ginther, Bonnier, Ireland, Hawkins, Bob Anderson, John Love and Dave Charlton among others. Apart from Brabham’s new BT19 the cars were from the 1½-litre formula, some with 2-litre engines but certainly Paul Sheldon, Duncan Rabagliati and Yves de la Gorce recognise it as an F1 race, and there were no typical Formule Libre interlopers with 289 cubic inch Ford V8s, so why wouldn’t one?

Nigel Urwin, London SE5

Stafford rangers

With regard to Nigel Roebuck’s reflections on the 1965 Race of Champions, we too faced quite a schlep to the race from Stafford to Brands Hatch. Three of us, all student apprentice engineers, ventured forth in a Mini. We were standing on the inside of Bottom Bend when Jim Clark hit the bank, right in front of us.

Hardly had the Lotus come back down to earth when Colin Chapman dived around the end of the pits. Pausing briefly to take in the scene, Chapman raced down the slope, helped Clark from his stricken Lotus and half-carried him up to the pits.

Later, after the racing had finished, we were wandering through the Flea Market behind the grandstand opposite the pits. Walking the other way were Clark and Peter Arundell, two pals just ambling along in the crowd. Both were limping! Rather reluctantly we plucked up courage and both Clark and Arundell autographed our race programme.

Treasured moments from a bygone era, and unlikely to be repeated, although the F1 race wasn’t much to write home about that day.

John Spencer, Upton Scudamore, Wiltshire

Unassuming Garlits

I was most taken with your recent article on Don Garlits, as by coincidence I had been in his museum near Ocala a few days earlier. I had stumbled across it while travelling back from a visit to Silver Springs State Park to watch manatees with my wife. The contrast between visiting one of the world’s slowest creatures and one of the fastest in the same day was unusual, to say the least. Sadly I chanced upon the Garlits emporium only 90 minutes before closing, but such was the array of exhibits on show it will be one of my first ports of call on my next trip Stateside.

While I was feasting my eyes on mechanical marvels, the guy behind the counter in the road car section spent half an hour chatting to my wife, asking about the UK and life in general. Never once did he mention that he was the great man himself. I only realised as much on seeing his photograph in your article. What a chance I missed, but what an example of true humility.

John Atkins, Chelmsford, Essex

Tied up in Notts

Nigel Roebuck mentioned (June issue) two non-championship Formula 1 races in the same country on the same day. My father and uncle were members of the Nottingham Sports Car Club, which organised the 1962 Whit Monday International 2000 Guineas at Mallory Park. As a nine-year-old I spent the day ‘helping’ them as paddock marshal.

Although I was unaware that another F1 meeting was going on at Crystal Palace, it really wasn’t any more unusual than it was to see Messrs Surtees, Parkes (Ferrari Berlinettas) and Hill (E-type) joining in the third heat of the GT race having just driven a 75-lap race in their single-seaters – and then racing again in the GT final. In the main event, Surtees won the 2000 guineas, with Brabham picking up £500 and Hill £200 (ruefully remarking that “there was a nought missing” on the cheque).

The entrance fee was £1 – “surely the highest at any circuit in Great Britain”, according to the NSCC’s own report. This led to unfavourable feedback, especially as Phil Hill (Ferrari) and Tony Marsh (BRM) didn’t show up as billed.

Sadly, the NSCC came in for even more stick from Motor Sport: having praised its overall organisation, MLT finished his piece in scathing terms.

“The organisation as far as the press was concerned was amateurish. The official results were inaccurate. Members of the daily press do not expect to have to correct official results before telephoning their offices. Perhaps by next year the club and Mallory Park will have sorted out these problems and be able to run an International event properly.”

Whether the NSCC felt it had over-reached itself I don’t know, but it ran no international meeting in 1963 and I don’t recall anything like it again while I was connected with the club.

Howard Sprenger, Southampton

Missed scoop shock

I was fascinated by Richard Heseltine’s Le Mans article (June) about Ed Hugus’s infamous night stint to relieve Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory.

The 1965 Le Mans 24 Hours was the first major international race I reported for Motoring News and I am still left wondering if I missed the big scoop that there was a third driver.

About 15 years ago I was lucky to be able to interview Ed, who was attending the Bahamas Speedweek Revival in Nassau. At the time I had not heard the story that he drove the 275LM in the race, but in the TV interview he volunteered the information. I asked why he hadn’t tried to get on the podium and he told me that, in fact, he had, but he was refused by officials because he didn’t have a driver’s credential. Rather typical of Le Mans at the time. I have to say I was convinced after the interview that he had driven in the race, so perhaps Luigi Chinetti Junior was asleep at the time.

This year I return to Le Mans for my 50th anniversary race, now working for Fox Sports. I just hope I don’t miss another big scoop!

Andrew Marriott, Horam, E Sussex
Richard Heseltine points out that, as well as the lack of any other evidence for this story, since two drivers were mandatory, an attempt by a third to join the nominated pair on the podium would have resulted in disqualification for the NART Ferrari – Ed

Singer vogue

I was delighted to read June’s Lunch with… Dr Norbert Singer, a man I consider the most humble genius I have met over the years.

I remember very well when the 917 won Le Mans outright for the first time, as well as the cars that followed. What a difference in motor sports then and now. I miss the days when cars and designers mattered, not politics or inflated egos.

I met Dr Singer several times here in America, at races and, of course, the Rennsport Reunions.
He always had the grace to answer questions – even from my 13-year-old son while preparing the GT1 for the Sebring 12 hours.
I also had the privilege of him autographing the wing of our 1/18-scale Porsche GT1.

Joe Machado, Miami, Florida

Caption correction

I really enjoyed your feature on Ferrari at Le Mans, but must correct the error in the caption on p103. The picture does not show the winning Rindt/Gregory 250LM in 1965, but is of the open-top 250P driven to victory by Scarfiotti/Bandini in 1963. Both cars carried race number 21.

Dan Drogman, Loughton, Essex

Generally Franco

I believe I can shed some light on Doug Nye’s article on the restoration of Porsche 907 no024.

As a racing car and motorcycle designer I studied at the Art Center in Vevey, Switzerland, back in 1988-89 and at one point visited Franco Sbarro’s atelier in Neuchatel.

Unannounced and shabbily dressed as I was after a hot motorcycle ride over the beautiful Lausanne hills, Sig Sbarro generously showed me his collection of mainly one-off constructs. While the 907 had long gone, I am pretty sure what he was trying to do was turn the body into a ‘pattern’ or male plug in order to take a female mould from something that would have been too flimsy in its bare state.

While in no way condoning this, particularly to what was a historically significant piece of glassfibre, the other 907s were treated to unceremonious conversions or, as with many factory prototypes, simply destroyed.

Sbarro did produce at that time a number of replica kits, including a Lola T70 and GT40 variation but I never saw a 907 replica, although many of his later show cars were clearly influenced by late ’60s race car aerodynamics.

John Keogh, Langley, Slough

Follow the WEC’s lead

Andrew Frankel is spot on in his assertion on the Motor Sport website that F1 could learn a few lessons from the World Endurance Championship.

Not only would it make the racing more entertaining, it could help lower F1 costs. With the restrictive engineering rules leading to a reliance on wind tunnels, why not ban all aerodynamic bodywork except for small wings fore and aft? Combine this with different engine configurations, and the cars wouldn’t all look and sound the same. Using the current fuel flow monitor would give the equivalence in power.

Group C sports car racing was obliged to use F1-derived engines before, but in the early ’90s they were not reliable enough for long distances. Nowadays, a swap the other way could give us open-wheelers powered by Audi and Toyota. Blink and you miss ’em pitstops have become an irrelevance. A Le Mans-style crew limit to the jackmen and just two mechanics changing the wheels might make things more exciting.

Stephen Jones, Eastbourne, Sussex

Bernie burning bridges

A recent Nigel Roebuck column made me wonder if Bernie Ecclestone has returned as Henry Ford reincarnate. Both men created immense empires, despite their ignorance of the outside world, and if you squint there’s even some physical resemblance.

More than once Henry’s stubborn streaks brought Ford Motor Company to the brink of ruin, and it now appears his reincarnation is poised to do the same for Formula 1.

Both men had a knack for admiring unsavoury characters. I, too, was sickened at the sight of Vladimir Putin on the podium at Sochi. Henry often said “history is bunk”; showcasing despots and worn-out B-actors does nothing but cheapen the legacy of a distinguished sport many of us hold dear. Then, pitching gas on the flames, Bernie announces his intent to do away with the Italian Grand Prix!

Well, here’s what I think Bernie can expect if he follows through with that repugnant threat.

Bernie, his investors and his advertisers better be prepared for droves of devoted fans staying home, switching off their televisions and taking a walk. I’ll be among them. Don’t mess with Monza!

James Hoglund, Bend, Oregon, USA

Silence is golden

Competing recently at Craigantlet Hill Climb in Belfast, a round of both the British and Northern Ireland Hill Climb Championship, I saw the future – and it’s very quiet!

There was something for every taste, from extremely fast single-seaters to historic and vintage cars, but for the first time there was also an entry in the new MSA Hybrid /electric class – a Renault Zoë.

Is this the answer to residents’ complaints about noise? It certainly had no trouble with the noise test and it was far from being the slowest car competing, holding its own against Opel Mantas and others. The chicane confused the computer in charge of the traction control but, despite the pouring rain, it stayed between the hedges.

The owner and driver Mike Hudson should be congratulated for blazing a trail and showing just what electric cars can do. Afterwards Mike got a special cheer when he collected the prize for first place in class 18 and entered the history books as the first electric car to win at Craigantlet.

Paul Robinson, Belfast

Ascari: praise and prose

Nigel Roebuck’s piece on Alberto Ascari was a good read. Of great interest was Jenks’s opinion that Ascari was better than Fangio, and Hawthorn considering him faster than Fangio. Though at first I thought that verged on heresy, Hawthorn was in the right place to pass judgement.

Roebuck laments that there has never been a definitive biography in English of one of the motor racing gods. I have a book called The Man with Two Shadows by Kevin Desmond, which I think could qualify as an Ascari father and son biography. It has one sentence likely to make some people wince: “Had he survived he would have ranked alongside Fangio, Nuvolari and Stewart.”

Always a mistake to compare different eras: short sleeves and pudding basin helmets, trees banks and buildings versus the Armco era. Totally different levels of commitment.

Chris Merlin, Isle of Harris, Scotland