Reviews, June 2017

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A Big Ask: The Story of Ford’s Triumphant Return to Le Mans

David Phillips

Ford split fans’ opinion in 2016 by turning up in GT racing with a car that, on the road at least, existed only on paper. Against the spirit of cricket, so to speak. So winning at Le Mans was always going to be contentious, even without the fraught circumstances that developed on that June afternoon. 

David Phillips was granted total access by Chip Ganassi to document the 18 months from the Ford GT’s (PowerPoint!) proposal to its
Le Mans victory, but A Big Ask isn’t officially a Ford product. It reads like one, though,
with blue-tinted oval-shaped glasses. But if that’s kept in mind, it stands alone and is full of interest.

That Ford turned the GT from idea – a changed idea, in fact, as Ford was initially returning to Le Mans with a sort of super Mustang – to Le Mans winner in such a short time is astounding, no matter which side of the fence you’re on. Phillips allows the major players to tell the story, going behind the scenes throughout, so it reads almost like a 200-page feature. He’s meticulous in naming everyone involved, and you feel if he missed someone he feels awful about it.

If there’s one disappointment it’s the underplayed juicy end to Le Mans. Ford and Risi Competizione were on for a grandstand finish until politics added further needle – the Ferrari was missing a position-indicating LED and rules state that had to be fixed. Risi rolled the dice by staying out and things turned sour. That’s all underplayed a touch by Phillips, and reads defensively. Understandable? Maybe. 

This is certainly a decent read, regardless  – and worthy of a publisher getting on board to turn the self-published effort into the product the story and writer deserve. JP

Published by BookBaby: 

ISBN: 978-1-48358-568-0, $34.95

Steve McQueen Le Mans in the Rear-View Mirror

Don Nunley with Marshall Terrill

Whatever you might think of it as a cinematic product, Le Mans certainly stands up on its own visually. Realistic race scenes have rarely been better produced, helped by some of sports cars finest-looking silhouettes. 

This goes behind the scenes with the personal perspective of Don Nunley, property master on the film – though starting a book with the words “I look back and start spotting some of the parallels between Steve McQueen’s life and mine” is some claim. The tone of the book appears to paint the overbearing McQueen with a rather disgruntled brush, for better or worse.

Maybe for that it should be applauded, being honest rather than playing up to the myth of the legend.

Little anecdotes – like going to dinner with Jo Siffert and being scared witless on the way – are highlights as the book tries to toe a fine line to cater for all audiences. That’s a tough task, but the book succeeds and brings a new angle to Le Mans.

As for the photos, there are plenty to pore over. With behind-the-scenes shots, film stills, press handouts and personal mementos, this is Nunley’s scrapbook above all else – and an entertaining one at that. JP

 Published by Dalton Watson

ISBN: 978-1-85443-289-6, £59

Stephen South: The Way It Was

Darren Banks

The subject will resonate with all who watched UK motor racing in the 1970s.

Emerging as a potential future star with his front-running Formula Ford performances in 1973 and 1974, Stephen South overcame subsequent budgetary hiccoughs to become a British F3 champion and – with Ron Dennis’s Project 4 – a race winner in European F2.

Snapped up by BP to spearhead new manufacturer Toleman’s F2 assault in 1980, alongside Derek Warwick, South subsequently lost the drive after testing for the pre-Dennis McLaren F1 team without first informing his new employer. McLaren then hired South to replace the injured Alain Prost in the Long Beach GP, but he failed to qualify – in his defence, the M29 chassis was fairly hopeless – and that signalled the end of his single-seater career. While Brian Henton took over the Toleman drive and romped to the Euro F2 title, a place in Paul Newman’s crack Can-Am team offered South hope. At Trois-Rivières that summer, however, he sustained serious injuries in a practice accident and subsequently lost the lower part of his left leg.

That is a very slender outline of a tale that has long deserved to be told – and first-time author Darren Banks has done a fabulous job stitching together the detail. Obtaining South’s full collaboration wasn’t the work of a moment. In Stephen’s own words, “When you first said you wanted to write this book I was pretty appalled, being someone who shuns the limelight and has had big problems coming to terms with the effects of the events surrounding the end of my career. But if someone is prepared to spend a great deal of time to put together such a thing, it would have been churlish to say no.”

That part accomplished, Banks successfully tracked down many of the driver’s bygone allies and acquaintances to build a fuller picture of one of British racing’s more poignant tales. His manuscript was rejected by a few mainstream publishers, but happily found a home with a smaller independent – a triumph, then, for both content and endeavour. SA

Published by Performance

ISBN: 978-0-9576450-2-8, £25

Built for Speed: My Autobiography

John McGuinness

When asked about his new book a few months prior to publication, John McGuinness noted wryly that he doubted it would do as well as Guy Martin’s latest tome, but that he enjoyed writing it anyway. 

That matter-of-fact tone is a hallmark of Built for Speed – the TT hero’s autobiography. Growing up in Morecambe (he still lives nearby), he spent his early years in and around his dad’s motorbike repair garage. His dad insisted the teenage John learn a trade, so he worked as a bricklayer and sometime cockle fisherman. His passion, of course, was motorbikes and he writes brilliantly about his early days on the road, “racing my shadow”.

“I liked being at the front. I’d spend most of my time on the AP50 on my own, racing the road and myself. On the TZR 125 it was all about being quicker than the lads. By the time I got on the 250 KR1S I felt I could nail anything on the road. I could smoke everybody on that thing. Genesis Yamahas, Honda VFRs, anything I came across was getting overtaken.”  

He charts his first taste of racing and his passion in particular for road racing that ultimately led him to 23 TT titles. He says jibes that he never succeeded in circuit racing still rankle – and points out he has had some success on the track – but you can’t help feeling he is happiest on his own, rather than battling on a track, out on the open road racing his shadow around the Isle of Man. 

Guy Martin may be a more mainstream draw, but this book – by one of the most likeable and brilliant racers of his generation – deserves all the readers it can get. JD

Published by Ebury Press

ISBN: 978-1785034800, £20

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