CONTINENTAL NOTES, June 1965
ONE of the highlights of recent weeks was the appearance and performance of Bruce McLaren’s Oldsmobile-engined sports car fitted with the Ferguson torque-converter, built to Tera-Mala patents. Its failure in the Tourist Trophy was nothing to do with the design and operation of the transmission system, but purely a mechanical failure of an oil seal. Such torque-converters are by no means new, but they are new to racing and the little “kiddy-cars” encouraged by British-type racing have prevented their use before now. The torque-converter is a bulky and heavy unit, compared with a gearbox, and it has not been possible to produce a satisfactory small unit, and in any designer’s layout there must be a maximum permissible ratio of size and weight of transmission relative to the power unit. Now that we are getting respectable-sized engines in comparatively small cars, the torque-converter will fit into the weight/size ratio that most people will permit for optimum performance.
The Harry Ferguson Research Ltd. have been messed about by big business and high finance on numerous occasions, just as have Westinghouse-Hobbs, as described last month, so it is good to see them making a break-through with the help of motor racing. They have already established themselves with B.R.M. and Novi as far as their 4-wheel-drive patents are concerned, so let us hope that the connections With McLaren and Elva will lead to bigger and better things. Tony Rolt and Claud Hill lead a small but brilliant team in the little factory at Coventry as witness the success of the P99 4-wheel-drive racing car in its brief racing life, and groups like this could keep our industry ahead of all competitors if only some members of the industry played less golf and took a more technical interest in things around them.
While on the subject of doing away with the manually controlled gearbox, it is interesting that the Dutch firm of DAF have been experimenting with their clever belt-operated variable drive transmission fitted to a Formula Three car. Whether such a system will be applicable to larger and more powerful racing cars only DAF are likely to know, but it is all interesting progress.
* * *
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, who organise the Le Mans 24-hour race, used to run other races at places like Caen, Sable d’Olonne and La Baule, but with the dying of street racing in France, their activities have been restricted to the Circuit of the Sarthe and the classic long-distance race. Le Mans is not for beginners and in an effort to provide some racing for French Clubmen the A.C. de l’Ouest have built a small circuit inside that of the famous 24-hour race. It uses the pits and starting area of the main circuit, but just before the Esses the new circuit goes off to the right and then winds and twists across the open spaces used for car parks, crossing the paddock access road, to join the main circuit again just before the pits. In April it was officially inaugurated with a typical French luncheon, even though only the foundations of the new road were finished, and it was named the Circuit Bugatti, in memory of “le Patron,” his daughter being at the opening.
A further visit later in the month showed that most of the surfacing had been completed, with very smooth tarmacadam, and details were being attended to. The aim is to provide a permanent, easily closed circuit using all the amenities of the 24-hour race pits and timekeeping, for use as a club circuit for national races, racing driving schools, testing and training, all this activity being completely outside of the running of the famous 24-hour race, which remains unchanged on the Sarthe Circuit. Among the activities on the Circuit Bugatti will be a racing driving school, run by the Club, and they have bought an Alfa Romeo GTZ as the first school car, feeling that a 2-seater is essential for showing novice-pupils the first rudiments of high-speed driving, rather than merely letting them loose in a single-seater F.3 car, where cockpit errors in finesse of handling controls can go unnoticed, and uncorrected.
At the forthcoming 24-hour race you may find yourself on a racing circuit in the middle of the public car park; if so you will be on the Circuit Bugatti.
* * *
In the G.T. racing championships there is rather a silly situation arising in which Porsche are not getting the full credit they deserve. G.T. racing is divided into three categories, and three separate championships, for classes I, II and III, which are 1,000-1,300 c.c., 1,300-2,000 c.c. and over 2,000 c.c In the past the results were almost foregone in being Abarth„ Porsche and Ferrari, and in any race in which all three categories took part the class winners would invariably finish in order of engine size in the overall result. This year, with Ferrari falling out with the C.S.I. and giving very little support to G.T. racing or to private-owners, it has left the big category to the Alan Mann-entered Shelby-Cobra coupes and they are content to go comparatively slowly, certain of winning their class and gaining maximum points for the championship. Competition in category II is very strong between various private Porsche teams and the works-supported cars, so that it is happening quite often that a private 2-litre Porsche beats the Cobras in the overall race results, but gets no more benefit as regards championship results. If there was an overall G.T. championship then Porsche would be leading, but as it is, Porsche are merely leading their class and Cobra are leading their class, both playing according to the rules and doing all that is required of them; but it is an odd and unjust situation.
* * *
The month of May was Targa Florio time and it was run just one week after the Tourist Trophy at Oulton Park. They are two of the oldest races in the history of motor racing and while the Targa Florio has retained all its glory and character the Tourist Trophy has had numerous ups and downs, at present being at a low ebb, and uncertain of its future. The Targa Florio has also had its ups and downs, being run as a “voiturette” racing car event at one time, on a circuit in Palermo, but it recovered and returned to the mountains, later to have another set-back when it had to be run as a touring car regularity event, in deference to ministerial orders banning open road races, but once more it recovered and is now as strong as it was in the beginning.
The Tourist Trophy race had a good long period of glory on the Ards circuit near Belfast, even though the regulations fluctuated and enforced mudguards, banned superchargers and riding mechanics. Nevertheless the Tourist Trophy was a long-distance classic road-race for sporting cars as distinct from single-seater racing cars, until 1937 when it was forced off the public roads of Northern Ireland and was run at Donington Park, which was very similar to the Oulton Park circuit. It recovered from that blow and returned to the magnificent Dundrod circuit on the opposite side of Belfast to the old Ards circuit, but accidents and newspaper propaganda saw the R.A.C. leave Dundrod and endeavour to run the Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood. There were some good races, but they were merely circuit races in character, they were not the classic Tourist Trophy races, and this year it was run at Oulton Park, but again it was not the Tourist Trophy, even though it was a successful event. The meeting was sponsored by Gallahers, the manufacturers of Senior Service cigarettes, who presented their ” Senior Service Trophy ” to the winner and there had to be some diplomatic handling of publicity or the poor old Tourist Trophy, inaugurated by the R.A.C., would have been overlooked.
A lot of people, and I am among them, long to see the Tourist Trophy run over the motorcycle mountain circuit in the Isle of Man, and if it was run like the Targa Florio, for G.T. cars and Prototype cars starting at 30-second intervals, for ten laps, it could be a terrific race. The main problem to such an idea is to find the right time in a crowded calendar. The Island is reserved for the motorcycle T.T. in May and June and again in September for the motorcycle Manx Grand Prix races, while July and August are essentially holiday and tourist time for the Island. Early May would clash with the Targa Florio, and earlier than that would be risky from the weather angle, as would late in the season after the Manx Grand Prix. The end of June, after the T.T. motorcycle races would be a possibility, but then it would clash with Le Mans. However, if these problems could be overcome I feel sure that an Isle of Man Tourist Trophy for G.T. cars and Prototypes would be a great race, and I can’t wait to see the walls at Ballaeraine daubed with whitewashed slogans such as “Faster Surtees,” or “Viva Lotus” and the thought of “Dan Gurney, go man” painted across the streets in Parliament Square, Ramsey, is marvellous. I wonder what the Manx Government would make of it all.—D. S. J.
—English drivers made good use of the Belgian Records Day on the Antwerp road last month, when cars were timed officially over a two-way f.s. kilometre. T. Rose (Aston Martin DB4GT) did 163.5 m.p.h., Barraclough (C-type Jaguar) 144.7 m.p.h., John Goddard, back from Australia, 138.1 m.p.h. in his D-type Jaguar, and Crozier was timed at 136.8 m.p.h. in his Ferrari 250 Berlinetta. Fastest Bentley, the B.D.C. enthusiastically supporting this event, was Sowden’s 8-litre, at 123.9 m.p.h.