Letter to readers, June 1989


I always find continuity in the racing scene of great interest: the sons of famous racing drivers taking up the sport, like those of Sir Jack Brabham, Derek Bell, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill, for example; engineers who progress from junior technician to chief designer, or head of research and development, like Nobuhiko Kawamoto of Honda; or junior mechanics who rise to the top of a world-famous organisation, like Ron Dennis of McLaren International.

When Gilles Villeneuve arrived on the scene from the French-speaking part of Canada I wondered if he was any relation to the Louis Villeneuve of France who used to race Delahayes. Unfortunately there was no family relationship at all, but it was a nice thought.

One of my interests, apart from Formula One, old racing cars, vintage cars, sportscars, motorcycles, high-performance cars and in fact anything with wheels, is aeroplanes, especially high-speed aeroplanes. Gliders and helicopters bore me to tears. Reading in Aeroplane Monthly a technical appraisal of the Schneider Trophy racing seaplanes of 1927-1931, a name caught my eye.

Famous pilots on the British teams like Orlebar, Stainforth, Atcherley, Waghorn or Boothman were all too familiar from schoolboy days, but the name that stood out was Lieutenant R Cadringher, one of the Italian pilots of the Macchi M.67 in 1929. Now the name Cadringher is an unusual one for an Italian, clearly not of Italian origin, but what sparked my interest was that in today’s Formula One scene the FISA Chief Engineer and number one man in all things technical is Gabriele Cadringher, also an Italian.

At the next Grand Prix I went to I asked Signor Cadringher if there was any family connection and he beamed at me and said proudly: “My uncle”. Naturally he was pleased that someone in the world of Formula One not only knew about other things, but was interested in high-speed flight of days gone by and knew about Macchi-Castoldi and Isotta-Fraschini and Fiat racing aero-engines.

He explained that his father had been an aeronautical engineer, and he himself was also an aeronautical engineer, his interest in Formula One cars being a typical Italian enthusiasm for motor racing. When I queried his very un-Italian name he explained that his family had originated from Hungary many years ago. The world is an interesting place if you search around.

Letters and phone-calls are the greatest source of information, and I cannot imagine living in a world without an efficient postal system or telephone service. One phone-call recently came from John Surtees to tell me about a motorcycle racing day he is helping to organise at Brands Hatch. It is a two-day meeting run by the Classic Racing Motorcycle Club and it celebrates its tenth anniversary. To make it a weekend to remember, Surtees has gathered together the most incredible collection of Grand Prix motorcycles from the years between 1957 and 1967, all of them multi-cylinder four-strokes from the factory teams of that period.

I know that many readers are just as interested in racing motorcycles as they are in racing cars, so when you see the list of MV Agusta 350/4 and 350/3, 500/4 and 500/3, and the experimental 500/6, together with Benelli 250/4 and 500/4, Gilera 500/4, Honda 250/6 and 500/4 as well as BMW twin and AJS twin, you can imagine what the sound will be like. For those who are not really into racing motorcycles, all those mentioned are twin ohc four-strokes, and the abbreviations of 350/3 or 500/4 mean 350cc three-cylinder and 500cc four-cylinder, and of course, the jewel of them all, the 250cc six-cylinder.

The idea is to have a parade of these bikes, individually if possible, ridden by many of the riders of their day, and guess what John Surtees will be riding? This should be in the morning, and in the afternoon a group of responsible present-day riders will put on a massed-start “demonstration” race — all this to take place on the Brands Hatch Club Circuit where you can see and hear them all the way round. The rest of the days will be filled in with serious old-bike racing, like a VSCC Silverstone meeting.

There is one snag to all this and that is that I shall not be able to go, as I will be at Silverstone watching the British Grand Prix. It is one of the facts of life that you cannot enjoy everything, but if anyone is having second thoughts about forking out thirty quid to go to the British Grand Prix it might be worthwhile going to Brands Hatch instead to listen to this incredible collection of Grand Prix motorcycle machinery. In addition the whole meeting is being run to raise money for the physically-handicapped charity PHAB, of which John Surtees is a great supporter. It is on July 15-16.

Another “forthcoming attraction” of an entirely different nature is the Sprint in the Isle of Man at the end of September. Details of this came from one of my regular readers and correspondents, Doug Baird, who lives on the famous TT course at Sulby. The plan is to hold “pursuit” races for various categories of vintage and historic racing cars over a road course almost identical to the one used for car racing in the early 1950s on the edge of Douglas town, starting and finishing at the famous motorcycle TT grandstands.

Such is the enthusiasm for this sort of thing in the Isle of Man that the roads were closed to traffic recently from 6.30am to 7.30am no that the proposed circuit could be tried out. Manx resident George Daniels drove his ex-Tim Birkin blower Bentley single-seater, devoid of road equipment but using a Brooklands exhaust system, and Tony Pond drove a Rover Vitesse saloon, the two of them circulating in the early morning sunshine and enjoying themselves enormously on the closed roads.

The VSCC is deeply involved and already the entry list is oversubscribed. DSJ