Around and about, March 1971
Comment on the racing and club scene
This winter a large number of our readers have probably put their feet up for a Saturday afternoon of television and tuned into Rallycross. They have seen a variety of hotted-up and well-modified saloons tearing about racing circuits, sometimes on the track, sometimes on the infield, in some diabolical weather conditions. There have been Capris with four-wheel-drive, some very fast Minis, a quick Imp and even a DAF performing amazing feats of daring in the short three-lap races. Some of the names have been familiar ones, like Roger Clark, John Rhodes and Peter Harper, but doing equally well have been others, like Hugh Wheldon, John Taylor and Rod Chapman, whose history is a mystery to even the ardent club racing and rallying fraternity.
With the racing season more or less closed, bar the occasional folly at Brands Hatch, your Assistant Editor became a regular Saturday afternoon TV follower of this new branch of motoring sport. However, overcome with curiosity, I finally ventured to Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire to view the racing at first hand. I was surprised to find that, in general, the competition was even keener and fiercer than had been portrayed on the screen and that the professionalism far exceeded my expectations.
Not only did I find the full force of Ford’s Boreham Competition Department in attendance with a four-car team lorded over by Competition chief Stuart Turner, but representatives from the Dunlop and Goodyear tyre firms who, like me, would have been more at home at a Grand Prix circuit. There was also plenty of support, both physical and moral, from Castrol in evidence and even a racing plug expert from Champion. Further, there seemed to be several representatives from the foreign Press, as well as a public relations man from Standard Triumph and a development engineer from Rover taking a very close interest. One can only put it down to the might of the great god television.
But this is fair enough as the sport is a direct by-product of television. It is a sport specially laid on for the cameras but one that is increasingly gathering a large audience on the spot. It all started in the mid-sixties as a demonstration, conceived by Raymond Baxter, of rally cars for television, after the RAC Rally. The idea seemed to die after a couple of tries, but then at the end of 1966 ITV, encouraged by coverage of Rally special stages that year, re-jigged the idea and ran an event down at Lydden. Half the racing circuit was used while the rest of the track utilised the muddy infield in an attempt to simulate special stages conditions. At this time most of the competitors were using their regular rally cars. To give the event some excitement four cars were run off together, although they were actually racing against the clock as much as each other. So really the basis was that of autocross, where cars are usually run in pairs, with the additional factor that the course had tarmacadamed as well as loose surfaces.
Since then Rallycross has grown enormously in status and now both channels televise events, although fortunately no longer simultaneously which they did a couple of years back. Thanks to the enthusiasm of ITV’s Robert Reed this channel has screened the sport every year since 1966, first from Lydden, later from Croft up in Yorkshire and now very successfully at Cadwell Park. Meanwhile, the BBC came back into the fray using Lydden, where the racing is organised very slickly by the Thames Estuary Car Club, and receives sponsorship from W.D. & H.O. Wills.
So the present situation is that during the past season, which opened in October and has just drawn to a close, there have been two separate televised championships, plus a non-televised championship with backing from Guards cigarettes up at Croft. The Wills Championship at Lydden has been a six-round affair with events on Saturday for television with Sunday events for the clubmen. Up at Cadwell there has been a four-round contest backed by Castro!.
The rules seem to have been made up as the sport, which comes under full RAC jurisdiction, has grown. Autocross specials have not been allowed, although apart from that there are very few restrictions and basically a good rally car will make a good rallycross car, hence the large number of Escorts and Minis. The various car manufacturers soon became aware of the publicity that could be accrued in front of the large captive audience. This reached its peak during the 1968-9 season, during which Ford and British Leyland were fielding strong works teams, Rootes ran a works Imp very effectively, and even Vauxhall dabbled unofficially without too much success. Ford came up with a four-wheel-drive Capri, while British Leyland countered with a variety of machines, including a four-wheel-drive Triumph 1300. Costs were soaring and the two main protagonists called a truce for the 1969-70 season and stuck to two-wheel-drive only to be beaten regularly by a little Hillman Imp driven by Peter Harper. The summer of 1970 saw the closing of the Abingdon Competitions Department leaving the way clear for a big Ford onslaught during the past season.
In fact, this has only been successful on results in part for, though Ford took the first three positions in the Cadwell Championship, a Mini privateer beat them at Lydden. Nevertheless, the progress and development of the Ford works entries—reintroduced special Capri 3-litres with four-wheel-drive—has been the talking point of the season and their spectacular performances at the hands of works driver Roger Clark, his brother Stan and Rod Chapman have thrilled viewers. Most of you know that the 3-litre Capri in your local Ford showroom doesn’t bear much in common with the 250 b.h.p. aluminium-headed, fuel-injected monster that won the Cadwell championship, but you do know that the same engineering know-how and facilities make sure your Ford road car does a good job.
Meanwhile, British Leyland and Chrysler both turn up at the meetings to give private owners help and assistance and, in fact, ex-works BL Minis are still used by their former drivers John Rhodes, Jeff Williamson and Hugh Wheldon, while the Harper Imp is still going strong with unofficial works assistance. The Dutch DAF firm have entered a car regularly at Cadwell, while the British Moskvich agents even made a brief appearance.
Preparation of the cars is along the same lines as for autocross. The spectacular bucking and jumping on the rough infield circuit can take quite a toll so the lightweight racing shells cannot be used and finely set suspensions are hardly at a premium. In fact, in general rather rough bodies seem the order of the day, but a lot of time is devoted to making sure the driver can see ahead of him. Various combinations of slotted, slatted, or holed windscreens, some with giant deflector plates, are in use while other competitors rely on bilge pumps to keep a constant flow of water washing the screen clean.
The results are computed differently under the two television regimes. Both use the same basis of each competitor having three separate races of three laps against different opposition with the most interesting combinations arranged to coincide with the live TV coverage. Both rely entirely on time to equate the results, although the cars also race against each other. At Cadwell Park the results are based on the combined time of a competitor’s three runs, each lasting about three minutes. Thus a competitor must complete each of the three runs. At Lydden the system is different for only the fastest of the three runs counts, thus a driver can go very fast on his first run, strain the car and have it blow up on the second and still win. Personally I see the first method as by far the most satisfactory.
The television viewer will find that he is rather at the mercy of the sports programme director, as well as hoping for a well-informed commentator, and often will find that he does not know the final result until the Monday morning papers, particularly the Daily Express which sponsors one of the Capris, and covers the sport quite thoroughly. The spectator actually at the circuit needs to be within earshot of the public address system to be aware of the progress of the event otherwise it can become rather confusing unless he is forever clicking a stopwatch.
Rallycross is now firmly established on both the motor sporting calendar and the television screens and next season can be expected to provide plenty more interest. So when the motor racing season comes to a close why not don a thick rally jacket, a pair of wellington boots and have a look for yourself?
March is traditionally the start of the racing season and as we enter the month we find the fixture list already bulging. Perhaps one of the most attractive meetings is at Mallory Park on March 14th, when Grovewood Securities bring back Formula Two. Of course F2 has never been far away but, after running several F2 races in 1967, the management of the Grovewood circuits decided not to run any more events for this category and left British representation to Thruxton and Crystal Palace. Now they have decided to try again and thus have laid on the opening F2 race of the season which, though it is not in the European Championship, has attracted a huge entry.
Only 20 cars will be allowed to start on the tiny 1.3-mile Leicestershire circuit so there will be qualifying amongst the 30-odd prospective racers all day Saturday and on Sunday morning. Expect to see the new March 712s well up for several are entered. Siffert hopes to come with his Chevron, which has already won in Colombia, and Fittipaldi may debut a new Lotus. It will also be the first chance in Britain to see many of the up-and-coming former F3 lads handle F2s for the first lime. They include Beuttler, Williams, Dubler, Birrell, Wollek, Hunt and Walkinshaw, but they will have to pit themselves against experienced hands like Peterson, Bell and Pescarolo in Marches, Graham Hill in a Lotus and also possibly Schenken and Regazzoni in Brabhams. It should make for good racing, while the meeting will also contain the first race in Britain for the new 1,600cc. Formula Three cars as well as club races for other categories.
A week later, at Brands Hatch, British spectators will have their first chance to see the new Formula One cars in action at the Daily Mail Race of Champions. This is nearly always an exciting race, although the result quite often doesn’t have that much bearing on the rest of the season. The cars will already have raced in South Africa and not all the teams will be present at Brands. March, for instance, are giving the race a miss, although they will be represented by Frank Williams Racing, while some drivers will be committed to the Sebring sports-car race, so expect to see some not so familiar faces in one or two of the cars. Nevertheless, the race should be worth a visit and support will come again from Formula Three while the British Saloon Car Championship also gets under way.
Five years ago the racing driver who wanted to take his car to race on the Continent used to complete all the negotiations himself, if he was a private entrant, or this was done for him by his team manager if he was the member of a semi- or professional team. Naturally some of the smaller-time drivers used to rely on friends to complete the actual correspondence, particularly if that friend had better access to a typewriter or could speak French or something.
One such friend was a then public relations man called Paul Watson. He did the task rather well and his driver recommended him to another and then another and so his reputation started to spread. More and more drivers wanted to race abroad and Watson found himself inundated with so much work that he finally decided to give up public relations altogether. He was also a freelance journalist writing for the specialist motor racing weeklies which put him in a strong position from several points of view.
Last year he had so many clients to handle that he was joined by racing driver Peter Gaydon and the pair have further expanded so that they have now just opened a full-time London office in Pall Mall complete with Telex, a couple of secretaries, plus an assistant to handle the publicity aspect of their clients. The firm is now known as Motor Racing Consultants and its reputation is such that even racing concerns with full-time team managers turn to them when they wish to enter cars abroad. Such is the changing face of motor racing.—A. R. M.