Letters, June 2018

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‘Right’ said Fred

I read with interest Ian Dove’s letter (May), wherein he described being asked to act as ‘co-driver’ for post-event filming after Toyota’s victory on the 1985 Safari Rally.

Juha Kankkunen and I had decided before the event that we would match Shekhar Mehta’s times throughout the event. Shekhar was always there or thereabouts on the Safari and, if it came to a final morning sprint finish, we reasoned that the Kankkunen/Celica combination could pull out the time required. Unfortunately Shekhar’s Nissan crashed out on the second leg, but by this time we were into a very comfortable rhythm. Going into the last night [Toyota motor sport chief] Ove Andersson asked us to put some pressure on the two Opels in front. We tried that for a few kilometres and soon decided it was a bad idea and went back into cruise mode.

Then Rauno Aaltonen had a mechanical problem during the night so we left breakfast in a lonely second place. A few kilometres later Erwin Weber’s leading Manta was stopped by the roadside with an engine failure. The next few hours felt interminable as we gently made our way to Nairobi with a big lead. I will never forget clerk of the course Mike Doughty’s words just before the finish ramp -“You have just won the world’s greatest rally!” And Motor Sport’s rally correspondent Gerry Phillips was happy, too. He had placed a sizeable each-way bet on us at 200/1!

The party was good and blended into breakfast, at which point we were told that there were no action shots of us because we had been driving so carefully. Hence Ian getting a ride in what by that point must have been a pretty smelly Celica.

Fred Gallagher, Runfold, Surrey

The date debate

Further to the article and letters about the best year in motor sport, all I can say is your readership must be too young. I believe 1970 was the best year for the range of cars, drivers and races.

In Formula 1 seven different drivers won a Grand Prix – Brabham, Fittipaldi, Ickx, Regazzoni, Rindt, Rodríguez and Stewart, in six very different cars – Brabham BT33, BRM P153, Ferrari 312, Lotus 72, March 701 and Tyrrell 001. Take the adverts and colours off these and you could easily tell which was which.

In sports car racing there was top competition including one of the greatest cars ever, the Porsche 917, as well as the Porsche 908/3 competing against other top manufacturers – Ferrari 512, Alfa Romeo T33/3 as well as Matra-Simca. Grand Prix drivers such as Rodríguez, Siffert, Andretti, Ickx, Brabham, Cevert, Surtees, Amon etc would quite happily race these cars along with film stars such as Steve McQueen, who came second in the Sebring 12 Hours.

Then there was the Can-Am championship, also with top manufacturer representation – McLaren, Chaparral, March, Lola and that mighty Porsche 917. These cars were again raced by the top drivers of the day.

And F1 drivers such as Rindt, Stewart, Siffert, Ickx, Peterson, Regazzoni, and Fittipaldi also competed in European F2.

In addition there were a further three non-championship Formula 1 races in the UK, not to mention the Indy 500 – a top driver could also contest that if they happened to have a free weekend.

Richard Hennessy, Woking, Surrey

Kanal plus

I enjoyed Samarth Kanal’s feature on NASCAR and race in the excellent May 2017 issue, but the Wendell Scott article missed the fact that there is a film based on his life, Greased Lightning, made in 1977.

Between Wendell Scott and Darrell Wallace, Willy T Ribbs dabbled briefly with NASCAR in 1988 and was also on the receiving end of some unpleasant treatment.

Wyn Edwards, Talley, Llandeilo, Wales

Race against time

After reading the article on Wendell Scott in the May issue, I was surprised to see that an episode of Timeless(a time travel sci-fi programme on E4) featured Wendell as a major character. The story centred around early NASCAR racing and they even got most of their facts right, and the correct car number. Somebody did their research!

Stan Verrall, Cove, Farnborough, Hants

Sequential transgression

In the January edition, Nigel Rees’s article about 4WD F1 cars stated that Jack Brabham won the 1966 title driving a BT20. This is wrong, as Jack won the championship driving the BT19. The BT20 was used by Jack twice at the end of the season (after he had secured the title) but I think you will find he suffered DNFs.

The BT20 seems to have been a bit of a stop-gap car as Denny Hulme won the title in 1967 in a BT24.

Ken Williams, Melbourne, Australia

Rose-tinted spectacular

May I thank Simon Arron for his excellent article on special saloons in the April 2018 edition. It was full of details/facts as well as anecdotes that made for an entertaining read

At the risk of sounding nostalgic, history tends to overlook series such as these (and modsports, production saloons etc). In fact, a lot of the cars were made by ‘men in sheds’ who had procured a large V8 from F5000 or an ex-F2 BDA etc and then had the ability to engineer it into a saloon shell. Spaceframe engineering came into its own as well, with beautifully fabricated chassis, well presented cars and modern designs.

The likes of Arthur Collier, Mick Hill, Tony Strawson et al had full-time jobs, but devoted their spare time to interpreting the rules and making fantastic cars that looked and sounded amazing. The racing was spectacular as well, with regional and national championships bursting with full grids.

Two abiding memories for me were both at Oulton Park – when Alec Poole narrowly defeated Gerry Marshall in a spectacular race in the Tricentrol Super Saloon championship, at a time when Gerry was considered unbeatablein Baby Bertha. Whatever happened to Poole’s Derek McMahon Skoda? The other one was seeing Chris Craft flinging Colin Hawker’s DFVW around at the last round of the championship. What a car, what a driver!

Michael Broadbent, Haslington, Cheshire

Firenza frenzy

I read Phil Clark’s letter about his racing exploits in a Vauxhall Firenza with great interest, as we both featured in a 1974 article in Vauxhall Motoristmagazine. It was about two Phils building Firenzas for motor sport, Phil focusing on racing whilst I was preparing mine for rallying.

Not wanting to go down the well-trodden Escort path, I found a virtually new Firenza shell that had suffered slight roof damage and brought it home in the back of a Transit van. 

A lot of head-scratching followed as we only knew about Escorts and Anglias. What followed were numerous journeys in my mother’s Morris Minor to collect DTV competition parts or visit Demon Tweeks. Eventually a Group 2 Firenza emerged from my father’s garage, resplendent in red. General reliability was always a problem, however, and the best result we had was a third in class on a Castrol Autosport round. 

Speculatively, I rang Gerry Marshall to see if we could do a deal – and we started talking about a possible part-ex on a Ferrari Dino! Oh for a crystal ball. I ended up selling it privately and I last saw it on a trailer being driven to Newcastle.

Phylip Evans, Bridgend, South Wales

When racing isn’t racing

For a fan of F1 and motor sport in general since the 1960s, your Formula 1 preview (April) was a highly informative and interesting background to what you describe as the “toughest, richest and technically most complex race series”. That may be so, but how come I spent an afternoon watching the replay of the first ‘race’ in Melbourne – 20 cars in a procession, constrained by engine modes controlled by engineers on the pit wall or in offices in some distant country, designed so that when they get near the car in front they struggle to overtake, urged on by the most inane comments from race engineers. The race was ‘won’ by a driver who never overtook anybody.

And therein lies the problem – it is no longer exciting because it is no longer racing! F1 has got to the stage where 10 minutes of Q3 on Saturday, in which Lewis Hamilton does his thing, is the most captivating bit of the whole weekend. It was the most boring ‘race’ I’ve ever witnessed. I have been to Singapore, Mexico, Azerbaijan and had booked to go to Sochi this year, but have now cancelled it as I can no longer justify spending my money on this farce. 

My message to Liberty Media and Ross Brawn? Ii you want F1 to survive as the so-called pinnacle of motor racing, remove the stupid restrictions and let the drivers race – it really is that simple.

John Smithson, Vendée, France

Hit the road, Jack

I really enjoyed the recent 1980s coverage in the magazine and on your website – particularly an article by Jack Phillips retracing the Birmingham Superprix. 

Although I was too young to attend the Superprix, Jack’s description captured my imagination as I now work in Birmingham city centre. In particular, Jack mentioned the pits being located at a well-known car dealership on Bristol Road and the pitlane still being just about visible. So, on a recent lunch break I found what is now left of the pit lane, which I captured in the attached photograph. I stood for a moment thinking of the great drivers who had graced that pit lane – Alesi, Moreno, Gugelmin, Donnelly and so on – while other people passed by seemingly without any knowledge of the significance of the pavement on which they were walking.

Many thanks to Jack for making me aware of this location and for providing me with a lunchtime well spent!

Darren Cox, Broadlands, Dudley 

Disappearing history

One of the joys of historic motor sport is its capacity to teach us a little more about the past. Motor club archives are a vital resource when it comes to tracking down owners or drivers, many of whom are delighted to recall their past. On May 25, however, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) imposes onerous duties and responsibilities on all data custodians (paper or electronic). In many, if not most, cases this means that club archives will contain personal information not obtained for historical reasons and thus, potentially, now held illegally. This means that many invaluable archives will soon be destroyed and, as a matter of procedure, will continue to be regularly culled.

While I understand the reasons for GDPR, I feel this is sad collateral damage.

Tony Cotton, Wergs, Wolverhampton

Revival time

Following your request in the May issue I would like to see some revival events organised at Charterhall. This could take the form of a sprint similar to that at Ingliston in 2017, perhaps alternating with it in even years. The Jim Clark memorial sprint comes to mind as a theme, as he cut his teeth here. As far as I know, the only circuit that holds a memorial meeting to him is Hockenheim in Germany, where Jim was sadly taken from us.

Having recently attended the Duns memorial weekend with thousands of others, showing our support for the new Museum, perhaps The Jim Clark Trust, having achieved the objective for the museum to which myself and many others pledged money, could consider looking at this idea.

I did attend a revival at Aintree in 2004, which sadly proved to be a one-off but could have grown. I believe a new horse racing grandstand now occupies part of one corner, but for the most part the track is intact.

This would be more than enough to host a regular commemorative event of the type you suggested.

The rebirth of Crystal Palace – albeit as a sprint venue, rather than a full race track – proves that these things can and do happen. [The 2018 event has sadly been cancelled – Ed]. Here’s hoping for more of the same.

Chris Carroll, South Shields, Tyne & Wear


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