Noise

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Dear reader,

In April’s Motor Sport I gave a warning that the rule makers and FISA were contemplating “a degree of silencing on Formula One exhaust noise”. I made it clear that I personally was not interested in such an idea, suggesting that if it was made a rule for 1995 I would be doing something else when the season began.

The immediate future of Grand Prix racing still interests me and recent high-level discussions between FISA and representatives of the teams on the subject of engine and chassis technology, to decide on limiting certain aspects, found me agreeing with the views of Renault, Williams, McLaren and Lotus among others. They feel that to limit technical innovation would destroy the whole point of Grand Prix racing. The head man of Renault put it quite simply, when he was reported as saying: “Formula One (Grand Prix racing) must remain a technological sport. It should be technology before spectacle. If we lose technology, we lose everything and (at the moment) the real worry is there seems to be no firm decision on how rules will develop for the future.”

Renault does not put all its technical resources into winning races in order to entertain the public, it is doing so to learn and to advance its technical knowledge, as are the rest of the engineering firms who expend effort in Formula One, whether it be tyres, brakes, clutches, engine management, composite materials, aerodynamics, vehicle telemetry, computers, radios or whatever. When all this expertise comes together and someone wins a race, we should feel grateful that we are allowed to see all this happening. It should be free to anyone interested enough to watch, and it certainly should not be manipulated by the race organisers to provide entertainment for the spectators.

It is no surprise that big manufacturers like Peugeot, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Toyota and Fiat are reluctant to join wholeheartedly with Renault in a glorious free-for-all while there is technical unrest in Formula One. It is the old, old story of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. You never hear the ‘haves’ complaining and wanting changes. The ‘have-nots’, who cannot keep pace, want to drag everything down to the lowest common denominator, and in Formula One at the moment the lowest is pretty low, when judged by the standards of the highest. Frankly, in 50 years of following Grand Prix racing closely, I have never really known it to be any different.

But to get back to the noise problem; the subject has reared its ugly head very close to home. When the RAC Motor Sports Association began to curb the exhaust noise at hillclimbs and sprint events, as a sop to local anti-motor racing residents, it was the thin edge of a rather long wedge. Before we knew where we were silencers were enforced on other forms of racing and noise figure limitations were imposed on all modern racing vehicles in British national race meetings. Amidst the world of club racing there is a relatively small collection of enthusiasts racing old cars, loosely described as ‘historic’, which are really demonstrations of interesting old racing cars at characteristic speeds. I must admit that some of these races look fearsomely competitive and highly exciting, until you realise their lap times are no faster than something like a Renault Clio, but that is immaterial. Historic racing is an enjoyable activity that is very friendly and a lot of fun for everyone, and some of the cars are incredibly original. It is nice for the spectators and enthusiasts to see cars ‘the way they were’, in national colours, without vulgar multi-coloured advertising all over them.

In a club meeting of 200-plus competitors, the 20 or so historic cars are not all that significant and they usually have but one short event in the day’s proceedings. The RAC MSA, in a kindly wisdom, granted a waiver to these nice old cars on the question of noise limitations, for a number of practical reasons which suited everyone. There was little prospect of the activity of ‘old car racing’ proliferating to unmanageable proportions, and the field never stayed in a tight bunch once it left the grid, so what noise there was at the massed start was soon spread around the circuit. With most of the engines running at around 6000 rpm, what noise there was did not have an earpiercing, high-pitched sound like a bunch of highly-tuned saloon cars.

At a recent club meeting at Brands Hatch this noise waiver was unexpectedly over-ruled by the circuit owners, and as a result half the historic entry pulled out of the meeting in protest. This amounted to a handful of cars, which was insignificant in the total race-meeting entry. The circuit owners were quite in order, according to the rule book, but the feeling is that it was a last-minute decision. Had sufficient notice been given the chances are that those drivers who boycotted the historic race would not have entered in the first place.

The worrying thing is the feeling that the long, thin wedge has been driven in a bit further. I have never liked strikes, boycotts, protests and so on, because they seldom do any good. Had those who did not take part in the historic event actually started it and then driven slowly round the circuit at tick-over speeds, keeping their exhaust noise level below the specified limit, which l am sure a 250F Maserati could have done, a lot of people would have wanted to know what was going on. Boycotts get pushed into the category of “a troublesome minority”.

This month’s Memorable Moments come from an enthusiast and long-time reader Dick O’Brien in County Cork, in Eire. He recalls:

1 . In 1957 I was actually at the Nürburgring for the German GP, the day of Fangio’s greatest race with the ‘lightweight’ 250F Maserati, when he beat Collins and Hawthorn in the Ferraris. I had stationed myself out in the countryside on the hills before the descent to Adenau Bridge. It wasn’t one of the more popular spots, and I seemed to be all alone on the grass bank overlooking this particular corner, with my brand new camera. This turned out to be the very corner on which Fangio overtook Hawthorn, to take the lead of the race. I had taken a photo of the two Ferraris a couple of laps before, with no sign of the Maserati in the distance, so imagine my surprise when I saw the Maserati overtaking the leading Ferrari before my very eyes. I was so excited I did not take a photo of the incident. (What a memory to savour. Afterwards Hawthorn said he moved over because he was quite sure that if he hadn’t Fangio would have driven over the top of him. Many years later when I put this to Fangio, he smiled and said quietly, “Yes, I probably would have done. That day I was driving like I had never done before, and never did again.” – DSJ)

2. Nearer home, in County Kerry, watching Ari Vatanen hurl a works rally Ford Escort through the 100 mph downhill S-bend on the closed public road special stage into Waterville during 1980’s Circuit of Ireland. I’ll swear we didn’t dare breathe for at least a minute afterwards.

3. August 18 1991, a very personal ‘Moment’. I had always wanted to take part in motor racing, at however humble a level. I had done trials, autocrosses, sprints, hillclimbs and rally navigation, but could never afford to aspire to a circuit race. After rebuilding my old 1172 Ford Special I entered for a historic/classic event at Mondello Park. As I drove onto the grid for my first race, it was a Memorable Moment for me.

That’s all for this month.

Yours, DSJ.