Over £10,000 toward the Gunnar Nilsson fund was raised by the enterprise of Henley-on-Thames exotic car dealers Maltins. As the key to their fund-raising activities they chose to run a Porsche 924 round the clock at Silverstone and a series of night public road runs.
After auctioning the car at the end – it performed perfectly so far as we are aware, 7,575 miles covered in that seven days and nights – there were some very relieved faces. The run had gone on in the face of both petrol crisis conditions and heavy snow.
We attended the first day of the run and drove the car a moderate part of the distance mid-week.
In cold conditions Barry Sheene, Britain’s former World Champion motorcyclist, set off at 12.15 and was soon lapping with great gusto on a circuit that did not include the chicane, but the full-blooded Woodcote of old (well, almost, the kerbing does make it slightly tighter).
Maltins very capably arranged that we should drive a number of cars, including the very impressive Gordon Ramsay 924 in which Tony Dron won the Porsche 924 Championship last season, and a 3-litre turbo Porsche.
However the high spot of the afternoon was half an hour or so with Sheene conducting our reporter around the full GP circuit, tackling Woodcote with the ease that fellow motorcyclist Steve Parrish also displayed: the bike boys still race on the “proper” circuit, including Woodcote, you see. In fact they like to overtake opponents around the outside at this point!
The writer has also been conducted around this circuit by a number of interesting Personalities – Jackie Stewart (Capri 3.0) and Andy Rouse (Broadspeed Dolomite Sprint) amongst them – so it was with extra interest that he settled alongside Sheene.
Quite simply the young bike rider showed more natural talent than anyone except Stewart, who was a lot more experienced. The braking was late and smooth – very difficult to achieve in a touring car – and the corners themselves were all covered in a perfect arc on, and slightly over, the natural tyre grip.
As we consistently lapped, Sheene explained that it was by no means certain that he would tackle the Aurora F1 British championship as the sponsorship money had not then been paid. He emphasised that he had covered only 250 miles in single-seaters and that, “I’m going to learn smoothly. No silly accidents, I’ll build up gradually.”
He has had fairly rough introductions to formula cars (a rumoured comprehensive accident at Donington Park in private practice amongst them) but I wonder whether his advisers are taking the wrong track? Sheene is young enough to learn from driving something like a F3 car a few times and then progressing upward, rather than plunging straight in at the top. Who knows, treated carefully perhaps he could be Britain’s second car and bike champion? – J. W.