Thruxton at 50: Home comforts

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Current page

195

Current page

196

Current page

197

Current page

198

Current page

199

Current page

200

Current page

201

Current page

202

Current page

203

Current page

204

Current page

205

One well-known driver still covets his local circuit, where he remembers halcyon days of a boyhood spent trackside. Writer: Tiff Needell

My dad was a regular spectator at Brooklands before the war and a proud member of the JCC and BARC – for which I have a wonderful collection of his enamel members’ badges. He even competed in a rally and an autotest there, but sadly never thundered round that daunting banking.

With aircraft factories built all over his beloved Brooklands, after the war he followed the BARC down to its new home at Goodwood and competed in a couple of Members’ Meeting handicap races before a wife and the responsibilities of fatherhood rather curtailed his activities.

From now on he would be restricted to sitting in the grandstands where his two young sons soon inherited his passion for motor sport. From the moment I crawled up the big bank on the exit of the Goodwood Chicane and saw these colourful, noisy, smelly machines being wrestled through the corner by the supermen behind the wheel, all I ever wanted to be was a racing driver…

I begged my parents to take me as often as possible and the Easter Monday Formula 2 meeting soon became one of my favourite events of the year. Rug over our knees, hot tomato soup, plenty of food in the hamper and one of the best views in motor sport as the field streamed down Lavant Straight, through Woodcote and then the chicane.

I saw wins for Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, John Surtees, Graham Hill and Jack Brabham plus my greatest inspiration of all, Jim Clark. And it wasn’t just Clark in the F2 race because he was in the saloon car race and the sports car race if there was one on the timetable. I’d fill in all the details in my programme, write the numbers on the grid as they were read out and try to do lap charts that my brother made look easy! But to my great dismay, the Goodwood doors closed and it was all over. Easter Monday in 1967 was a long haul to Silverstone…

BUT THEN CAME the great news that the BARC had found another new home, still in south-eastern England. They’d gone from Brooklands to Goodwood and now it would be Thruxton that would carry forward the club’s history. The popular Easter Monday meeting was back home.

With my brother now old enough to drive, our parents decided they’d done enough carting us around the race tracks of Britain, so we were left to venture forth on our own. Unable to afford grandstand seats, the Complex was picked out from the map as the place to go and we set off very early – down the A30 with the M3 yet to be built – to make sure we got a spot on the fence as close to the action as we could be.

I was a keen photographer and had a little Pal M4 35mm with a screw-on x1.5 enhancer – a sort of poor man’s telephoto lens. I’d develop and print the photos myself at school, but even with the magnification I needed to have the enlarger on its maximum setting to make the cars fill the frame…

Still, I had plenty of action to catch with a programme that featured two heats and a final for the 35 F2s entered, but great sadness surrounded the event after Clark’s death just one week earlier. Graham Hill withdrew his entry, but Jackie Oliver bravely arrived to drive his red and gold works Lotus.

There was also a European championship round for Formula Vee, in which a young Helmut Marko took third place, and a round of the British Saloon Car Championship, so there was plenty for me to photograph and the arrival of the Red Arrows was simply a bonus!

While I clung to the fence dreaming of being a racing driver, I never thought it would actually happen. With no family money, even karting was out of the question, so little did I believe that just over three years later it would be my name in a Thruxton programme entered in the Formula Ford Lotus 69F that I had won in an Autosport magazine competition.

“Rug over our knees, hot tomato soup, plenty of food and the best view in motor sport as the field streamed down Lavant”

WITH THE BRAND-NEW car sitting on its brand-new trailer and towed by a very rusty, very second-hand Morris 1000 Traveller, my first Thruxton race was on May 30 1971. It was to be only my fourth race in the prize Lotus and I had little idea of what I was doing! Unable to afford any testing my plan was to learn as many circuits as possible in my first year and, with the huge success of Formula Ford, you could find a non-championship race somewhere every weekend – it was a magical era.

To make life a little harder my practice session was in the wet. With the formula back then running on road tyres, the challenge this high-speed track offered was hard enough in the dry but learning it in the wet was a daunting prospect. Yet the difficulty it created made it all the more rewarding and that challenge remains the same today as it was all those years ago.

Well, almost the same because it was made a little easier when they reduced the big bump on the apex of Church and also when they took away the Armco barrier lining the inside of the Chicane, but we’ll come to that later. Whereas modern technology has created single-seater formulae that can run full throttle from the Complex to the Chicane, that very much wasn’t the case back in the 1970s.

For me, in the wet, nothing was flat. That starts with the awkwardness of Allard, where the exit suddenly comes up to greet you, making your turn-in point critical. Then there’s the complication of the Complex where you don’t want to use all the road out of Campbell and you don’t want to use all the road out of Cobb because you want to create the optimum line through Segrave with its tricky adverse camber exit.

The Complex is laid out as I feel all complexes or esses should be, with the first element the slowest to encourage overtaking on the way in, a decent distance to the next corner and progressively becoming faster and faster with a good exit crucial to launch you into the countryside and the fabled high-speed section, with three very quick corners, that makes Thruxton so special.

“Tucked into the slipstream, waiting for the man in front to choose inside or outside, then diving for the other…”

First up was Kimpton (now called Noble as Thruxton celebrated another British Land Speed Record holder) and it’s perhaps the easiest of the three to take flat out, but it’s crucial not to exit too far to the right or you’ll compromise your entry into Goodwood – the hardest to take flat!

Surviving Goodwood, the gentle curve of Village is no problem but all of a sudden you’re heading down hill, gathering momentum and trying to tell yourself not to lift for Church. It’s impossible not to in the wet and was extremely hard to even in the dry at a time when our road rubber gave far less grip – and the big bump at the apex invariably pitched you sideways at high speed.

Of course, every extra mile an hour you can exit Church with is crucial to your speed all the way up Woodham Hill and into the braking area for the Club Chicane – your best chance of overtaking. Tucked into the slipstream, watching the driver in front look this side and that in his mirrors, waiting for him to choose the inside or the outside and then diving for the other…

With its wide, high-speed, curved entry funnelling you into the bottleneck of the tight left in the middle, this is much more exciting than overtaking in a straight line, and back in the early days there was no kerb to bale out over – just a solid Armco barrier to clatter into. You did have the option to go straight on but then you had to do a U-turn to get back out again!

It was a barrier that gave photographers a superb vantage point and drivers a much greater challenge. It also taught us to respect our rivals. There was no point just barging up the inside like you can do now because you knew if the other car hit the barrier it would bounce back and take you with it. Apart from the race-stopping incident in the 1975 F2 event I don’t remember any horrendous accidents, but – as safety issues were given ever more importance – sadly the barrier had to go…

ON THAT FIRST momentous visit I was pretty chuffed to discover I’d been 13th fastest of the 28-car entry and went on to finish a very happy eighth in the dry race, thoroughly enjoying the fast, flowing circuit. I returned almost a year later when no fewer than 49 cars turned up for a national championship round split into two heats.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t only learning how to be a racing driver but was also a reluctant mechanic, as so many of us were in those early Formula Ford days, and I made the classic error of putting fourth gear the wrong way around so had to scream my little engine way over its safe limit in third for a couple of laps to qualify 18th for my heat in which I finished 10th. That earned me 16th on the grid for the final, in which I finished ninth!

Lesson learned, I returned for another non-championship race a month later, qualified sixth and fought through for my first ever race win – with fastest lap as a bonus! I don’t think there’s ever been a happier day in my entire racing career. Your first win will always be the one you cherish the most.

THERE’D BE 16 more Formula Ford races slipstreaming around Thruxton, before I took the next step up the ladder to Formula Ford 2000, with 10 top-three finishes including two more wins. But the story doesn’t quite end there as, having sold that Lotus 69F in 1973, I bought it back in 2012 and have since done five more races at Thruxton in the Historic Formula Ford Championship with three more podiums and, best of all, one more win!

Two wins with the same car and the same driver at the same circuit 42 years apart. Now that must be some sort of record – and where better to do it than at Thruxton, the family home of the BARC… and the Needell family.