Letters, March 2007

Letter of the month

Yachting lesons 


I read with interest your comments on the FIA’s efforts to standardise the technical specification of historic racing cars. Perhaps the FIA should follow the Comité International de la Mediterranée, which organises and regulates classic and vintage yacht races in Europe. 

In its efforts to maintain and encourage authenticity, anything not included in the original design is either banned, (such as carbon fibre) or penalised by a system of handicaps. This extends to the entire yacht, including the interior, so that even having a microwave oven will count against you. The build date is also taken into account, so that new boats built to the original design and materials can still race. 

This results in the most original yachts gaining significant advantages in the races; just being fastest is not enough, which may not be such a bad thing.

Nathan Martins, Lyme Regis

Lotto plus


The photo of the Napier-Railton in February’s Motor Sport was fascinating, and as you rightly say it was purchased with Lottery money by the Brooklands Museum.

It is worth recording, however, that the Lottery only agreed to pay about 50 per cent; the remainder was raised by the stalwart efforts of the late Victor Gauntlett, who did so much for classic motorsport.

It now rests in splendour in the Museum, and the only visual modification from the photo is, surprisingly, disc brakes on the rear axle! These were fitted when the Brooklands Outer Circuit outright record holder was brought out of retirement when the car was used as a ‘mule’ by Hawker Aviation. 

They tested the early retarding parachutes to be used on high-speed fighter aircraft to assist retardation on landing. Apparently the car pounded up and down the runway at Dunsfold aerodrome, Surrey, for this project!

Michael MacDowel, Godalming, Surrey

VPJ details


As always, a great pleasure to read about an American ace.  However, the article about Parnelli Jones had a couple of errors about the VPJ team.  

Al Unser’s incredible USAC national championship season was 1970, with wins on paved ovals, dirt ovals, and natural road courses. In the next two years, 1971 and 1972, Al’s VPJ team-mate Joe Leonard (multiple AMA bike champion) was the USAC national champion. In both of Leonard’s championship years, only paved ovals were part of the official USAC championship; the dirt ovals were a separate series, and USAC didn’t operate on road courses. 

Also, the VPJ team chassis were entered in 1970 and 1971 as ‘Colt’, not Lola.  The two-wheel-drive Colts were recognisably based on the four-wheel-drive T150. The Philippe-designed 1972 VPJ1 was entered as a Parnelli.

Patrick O’Brien, Indianapolis, USA

Unser was not alone


I do not know if Pete Lyons was misquoted or misread in his piece on Parnelli Jones in the January issue but Al Unser’s “so-far unequalled four Indy victories” corrodes the truth. 

A J Foyt won his fourth in 1977, and I saw it; Rick Mears did it and I saw all four of his wins at The Brickyard; and Al Unser did it and I saw his third and fourth wins there.

There are three four-time Indy 500 winners. And Foyt was first to the ribbon on that.

Norman Gaines, Hartsdale, USA

Le Mans applause


Thank you for the Le Mans-focused pieces in the February edition. They brought back many happy memories of hours spent spectating at the 24 Hours.

I particularly enjoyed Richard Heseltine’s Jean Rondeau feature and Simon Taylor’s lunch with Alain de Cadenet. The Rondeaus and de Cadenet’s various cars were always favourites as they took on the big boys, and to learn a little more of the background to their stories was a joy. 

Incidentally, in response to Brian Jordan’s letter proposing a club for the older racing driver, a club called Old Farts Racing already exists to cater to a very similar market, though its age range is a little more relaxed, with anyone over 50 welcome.

Robin Branson, By e-mail

Collins correction


The article on Peter Collins was fitting bearing in mind the closeness of the 50th anniversary of his death in 1958. However, the caption to the picture of him drifting the Lancia-Ferrari is incorrect.

The venue was the British GP at Silverstone in 1958, an event he won. This was his last GP victory before his accident at the Nürburgring. The car is a 246 V6 Dino Ferrari, a similar car to the one that took Mike Hawthorn to the Championship the same year.

It would be interesting to hear the views of Phil Hill, who drove these wickedly short-wheelbase cars in race events, and Dan Gurney who drove Hawthorn’s car in practice during the winter of 1958/59. Incidentally Mike died only a few short months afterwards in January 1959 and not two years later.

David Morys, via e-mail

This was one of several letters highlighting our slip. Apologies, Ed

Nina not Sally


I am surprised to see on page 91 of the February edition that you have captioned a picture as Sally Courage, when it is so obviously Nina Rindt.

Bette Hill, Cobham, Surrey

Meet your heroes 


I must disagree with Andrew Frankel, or perhaps with Jeremy Clarkson…

In the last issue, he quoted Mr Clarkson as saying that, “if you get a chance to meet your hero, turn it down – they’ll never live up to your expectations.”

As a young lad, Dan Gurney was my hero. I have had the opportunity to meet him several times, and find that he does in fact live up to my expectations!

Mark Valsi, Pasadena, CA, USA

The human factor


While reading this wonderful magazine, I was rather surprised to see in Mark Hughes’ article phrases like “irreverent atmosphere” and “mechanics always seeming to have more fun than any others” highlighted as if something out of the ordinary.

It’s disappointing to see normal human reactions almost dismissed as flippant.

I’m at a bit of a loss to understand why such reactions are treated as extraordinary. Way above all the Daimler-Benz/FIAT/Ford annual mega-euro sales-figure wranglings, motorsport – OUR sport – is a sport between human beings and their, it has to be said, ridiculous machines.

Christopher Robertshaw, Pau, France

You were there

Being unable to get close to their heroes on a grand prix weekend is a common frustration for  today’s F1 fan. Back in 1974 a 22-year old Michael Röder, who now runs his own advertising agency, faced similar difficulties. For that year’s French Grand Prix held at Dijon, however, he came up with a novel solution. 

 “I sent a letter to the organisers and announced my coming. On Friday morning at the track I queued with all the other journalists and photographers in front of a small cabin. I presented a press pass from my school days with a Motoring News logo and claimed to be the German correspondent of this motorsport newspaper. Without hesitating the guy behind the counter gave me a badge for photographers allowing me to go wherever I wanted. I walked through the pits and took a lot of photos with my not-so-professional camera.

During the race I was right behind the Armco – very important, especially when Hunt and Pryce crashed on the starting grid…”