Letters, June 2008

Rough justice?


Like so many I could not help but laugh when the news about Max Mosley surfaced. I felt it represented a form of rough justice in view of the draconian fine levied on McLaren and the remark attributed to him concerning Jackie Stewart. Upon reflection, however, I am indeed sorry for his troubles and hope he can still serve our sport in a meaningful capacity if he is ultimately forced from office.

He has been involved in auto racing for many years on all levels of participation and his appreciation of what is involved is still valuable. I think that racing is best served by enthusiasts rather than people who are strictly business folk. His legal skills and his forward thinking (the promotion of KERS, for example) only strengthen my contention that he is too qualified to be gotten rid of because of silly personal behaviour that has nothing to do with his professional ethics. I would not be so forgiving of his private antics made public if he were an elected official of state, but he is not and therefore should be given more latitude.

I have often disagreed with him, but overall I think he has governed this complex sport with energy and intelligence. 

Andy Evans, USA

Remembering Richard Lloyd


One of the joys of the Goodwood Revival Meeting is that those of us down towards the lower end of the motor sport food chain can, on occasion, mix with those at the top. 

At the 2001 Revival the organisers ran the saloon car race as a ’60s event (as it always had been), but with a sprinkling of ’50s cars at the back. And so it was that I and my Riley 1.5 were invited to race. My co-driver for this event was Richard Lloyd. I had not met him before and had no idea what to expect. In the event this affable and charming man was fun to be with, relaxed about our prospects (nil) and generally put me at or as near to my ease as was possible given the dream that was being realised. In the race he treated the fragile transmission with respect, and put us at the finish, from memory, 10th, ahead of all the MkVII Jaguars. 

After the race he asked if I had noticed that the car went considerably quicker round the left-hander at St Mary’s than any of the right-hand corners (I had not), and that in his view a damper had gone soft. Investigation afterwards revealed that he was absolutely correct. At the next meeting the difference was obvious, even to me.

I ran into him two or three times in the next year or so, and he was the same relaxed, faintly amused figure I had first met. So while his driving Bleaney’s Riley will not have figured very high on his motor racing CV, it’s right at the top of mine.

I am therefore shocked and saddened at the news that he was involved in the dreadful accident near Biggin Hill, and feel desperately sorry for those who have much greater cause to mourn him than I. A top, top man.

Nick Bleaney, London

Frank set the standard


I certainly enjoyed Simon Taylor’s ‘Lunch with Frank Gardner’ article in the March issue. 

I would like to add a little story which reinforces Frank’s self-effacing manner. In a conversation I had with Jeff Uren, team manager of Raced Proved by Willment at his Devon home in 1986, he related to me how Frank acquired the nickname ‘Pink Eyes’. At the Austrian Grand Prix sports car race at Zeltweg, as mentioned in Simon’s article, Frank’s Lotus 30 broke the backbone chassis. Jeff said, “The vibration from this failure caused bloodshot eyes that were so severe they lasted for weeks. Frank found it difficult to look anyone straight in the eye for a week.” Frank apparently said he felt like Eddie Cantor, a singer with the Ziegfeld Follies who was known for his ‘banjo eyes’.

Jeff also informed me that Frank, after pitting early in the race to check for possible tyre pressure deflation, went on to set Zeltweg’s absolute track record of 1min 10.49sec at 101.53mph during his climb back to second position, before the chassis broke at the top of the fork where it splays out around the engine.

Earlier in 1965 Frank, driving this Lotus 30, also set the absolute track record at the Mallory Park BRSCC Guards Trophy Whitsun Races with 49.4sec at 98.38mph, tying with Graham Hill in his McLaren-Olds.

Frank’s engineering and mechanical acumen at setting up and testing the Willment Lotus 30 contributed to other drivers’ success in achieving absolute track records in this car. Bob Bondurant, driving to a second-place finish at the Silverstone BRDC Daily Express GP, set such a record (later he was disqualified for having had a push start). In 1966, Brian ‘Yogi’ Muir set the absolute track record at the Norisring of 1min 26.2sec at 102.24mph, 4.5sec under the old record. Unrelated to my conversation with Jeff, John Markey, driving this same Lotus 30, matched the absolute track record for the Brands Hatch Club Track of 51.8sec at 86.16mph in 1970. 

Being the present custodian of this Lotus 30, it gives me joy to share more of Frank’s story. I think you can see his input throughout this car.

Richard Keyes, Portland, Oregon, USA

Say no to spec cars


This ‘everyday racing fan’ disagrees passionately with Tiff Needell (Innovation wrong for the IRL, May letters) – I’m with Gordon Kirby, and Mario Andretti for that matter. We should absolutely be encouraging innovation and variety, and 250mph down the straightaways…

That Tiff makes a reference to the 1994 Penskes tells its own story: we do remember it because it was noteworthy – someone did something clever (ditto the Mazda win at Le Mans which you covered in the same edition). In 15 years time will we be reading about the Renault World Series? I saw these guys racing at Monza and, apart from when they were flying off the road, it was dreadful stuff – they look great but go at the same speed all round the circuit, creating a procession. And NASCAR may be popular, but so is the WWF – it isn’t wrestling, though.

The lesson of the Australian Grand Prix is that surely standard parts can work – engines, monocoques, wings, electronics, whatever. But spec cars are a disaster. 

Tiff reckons that using ethanol is a good thing. Mexicans who can’t afford to eat might disagree, and where is the incentive to cut consumption if the cars all have to be standard? Back to the future, please.

While we’re at it, can we ban success ballast as well? Is Andy Priaulx a great touring car champion, or just a bloke who is good at doing consistently okay with a heavy car?

Ian Mann, Divonne les Bains, France

Jim Clark – my hero, too


Thank you so much for the Jim Clark features (May issue) – he remains my one true sporting hero to this day.

I was at Brands Hatch that fateful day when it was announced Clark had been killed – it had to be true but I don’t think anyone wanted to believe it could happen to someone of his abilities. I recall the place fell silent, if that’s possible at a racing circuit, and personally I just had to get away from there as soon as I could.

I went to my first Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1965 on July 10, having followed the sport from a distance until I made a friend at school who was also a fan, and whose dad belonged to the BRSCC. He happily paid for my ticket and took us there in his rather sporty white and red Vauxhall VX4/90!

Due to a mix-up over our grandstand seats we were given alternatives in the seating over the old pits on the inside of the circuit, and free access to the paddock as well! How different things were back then. I quickly filled up the one roll of film I had for my very basic camera – I just didn’t know where to look, there was so much of interest all around me.

Martin Baldock, via e-mail

What Jenks said about Jimmy


My wife and I were standing with Jenks when the news of Jim Clark’s death was announced. Jenks was obviously very upset, and his immediate reaction was to lay the blame on Colin Chapman. He said, “I suppose that something has broken – with Lotus everything is made too light and things break and people get hurt. This continues until things stop breaking. On the other hand, Ferrari make things heavy and gradually make them lighter until they break, much safer.”

We were among Jenks’ many ordinary friends, having the common bond of owning BMW 328s, and we look back on his friendship with much pleasure.

Michael Warrior, via e-mail

No issue over BOAC entry


I must correct a passage in David Tremayne’s otherwise excellent article on the late Jim Clark (The Shock of the News, May issue).

As clerk of the course and secretary of the meeting I can confirm that there was no “misunderstanding with Alan Mann Racing” concerning the entry of the Ford F3L to be driven in the 1968 BOAC 500 by Clark and Graham Hill.

On the contrary the entry form had been filed in good time by the ever-efficient Alan Mann team manager, Keith Greene, and it was only some few days prior to the event that he rang to tell me that Colin Chapman had withdrawn Clark to race at Hockenheim.

In reply to my suggestion that Hugh Dibley might be a suitable replacement, Keith came out with the wonderful response, “Yes, he’s reasonably current and helms a big steamer quite well”. Words which only Keith could have used.

Nick Syrett, London 

The skill of Senna


Once again the 1993 Donington Grand Prix is held up as a demonstration of ‘racecraft’ (Poor show by Prost on Senna, May letters). Now I was fortunate enough to have attended this event and watched the opening laps from the Old Hairpin, but I remember seeing precious little racing. What I saw was a near-unbelievable demonstration of how to drive a racing car. 

Senna’s advantage did not come from cunning exploitation of an opponent’s weakness, but from his skill in handling his vehicle. During the relatively dry practice on the Saturday Prost and Hill in the Williams were one or two seconds per lap faster than anyone else. Even during the wetter practice sessions on the Friday they seemed to have a decisive advantage, but on Sunday afternoon they suddenly seemed to be driving very ordinary cars. Prost’s dislike of wet conditions was common knowledge, and it certainly showed during a race where the track never really dried properly. He never looked to have any confidence in his car or his own abilities. I’ve always thought Damon Hill’s performance in the race was affected by Prost’s lack of commitment, as he had only been a Grand Prix driver for a couple of races and just didn’t believe he could beat ‘The Professor’ on equal terms. 

Senna drove off into the distance and would surely have lapped the field if he hadn’t cut his revs and settled down to a nice, quiet drive. The really telling thing was that even when he had backed off he still pulled away from the rest of the pack. It was also interesting to see that he wasn’t immune to a bit of showboating, as on several laps after reducing his revs he came through Hollywood sideways in spite of the traction control system.

I would, however, agree with Mr Wessels’ assessment of Prost. He does seem unable, even now, to accept that Senna had his measure.

If you want an example of racecraft, and considering what I think of him as a driver it pains me to say it, then Nigel Mansell’s pass of Piquet at the 1987 British Grand Prix takes an awful lot of beating. I was also lucky enough to be at this race and found it impossible not to get caught up in the moment and join the crowds on the track when he came to a halt.

Mark Bowley, Whitwick, Coalville, Leics

Frère was an inspiration…


I was extremely sorry to read that Paul Frère, that very talented racing driver and brilliant motor racing journalist, has passed away. I was in my early teens when I read his book From Starting Grid To Chequered Flag and although I was already interested in motor sport, it inspired me and gave me so much more understanding, as well as my ongoing love and passion especially for Le Mans and sports cars. Thank you, Paul.

Paul Frère was a racing driver from that era when men really were men, and many did not survive accidents that today would probably just result in a few bruises. 

It’s ironic that one of the only proper GP circuits left in the world, Spa-Francorchamps, is where Frère scored his best GP finish – second in his home race in a Ferrari. And that was in the days when Spa was even more ‘awesome’, as the Americans say.

It used to be a lot more important to win at Le Mans than it seems to be today, and to think that a man like Frère could achieve that honour driving a factory Ferrari 250TR is quite outstanding.

Monsieur Frère, you will be missed.

Duncan Harland, Dereham, Norfolk

…As well as a true gent


It was with great sadness that I read of Paul Frère’s passing in the May issue of Motor Sport.I had the privilege of meeting him last July while visiting Monaco. A much underrated gentleman of motor sport, although frail he was very happy to have been recognised, and was charming and witty. He was more than happy to pose for a photograph with me. He will be greatly missed.

Justin Ellis-Yorke, Leicestershire