Letters, March 2008

Doing doughnuts


First I would like to say, as a cyclist, how impressed I am with Alex Zanardi’s hand-bike efforts (February). Even in my prime I’d have been pushed to average 17mph on my bike for over 90 minutes, although a few years ago I did manage one 18mph lap of Goodwood! At the 1977 Brazilian GP, I did a lap of Interlagos on the bike that Larry Perkins won for winning the drivers’ bike-race, albeit ‘out of the saddle’ most of the time. I think it possible that Larry was faster on the bike than he was in the BRM he drove that year!

The business with Ferrari/McLaren and McLaren/Renault would, I’m sure, have poor Bruce “doing doughnuts” in his grave. Designers have always used other people’s ideas as well as their own. In any case, how many people would be able to tell one F1 car from another if they were all painted in the same livery? Being colour-blind I have the problem anyway. My own Eagle design borrowed heavily from the various Lotus models with which I was involved, although I do agree with Adrian Newey’s sentiments, which is why I’ve never had any drawings or documents in my possession that I was not entitled to. But I do have a very retentive memory for details and always have had. And surely it’s possible for two or more people to come up with similar thoughts, ideas and solutions when confronted by the same problems – and how can it be proved who was first?

Peter Ross is quite right about the JVT Special that I drove without distinction in the late ’50s, but only partly correct about the Terrier Mk1 that grew from it. That was never successful, probably because I was its driver; rather it was the Mk2 which utilised a good few Lotus Seven components in its make-up and was driven by that excellent driver/tuner/engine-builder Brian Hart, gaining 18 first places from 21 starts in its maiden 1959 season. The only time I drove a Mk2 I came a very poor second to an Oulton Park tree which put me in plaster for five months and off work for eight.

Len Terry, Lincoln, Lincs.

Family matters


I found the Jack Lewis interview (December) very interesting, but was surprised that the impression it gave was of a bachelor who lived mainly with his parents. As I was in turn girlfriend, fiancée and wife for the whole of Jack’s racing career and the time spent sheep farming in Wales I feel I can add a few details.

Jack did indeed ride in many Gloucestershire trials and scrambles before he started motor racing. I still have a large photograph of his early hero, road racer Geoff Duke. The racing years were busy, exciting and not without friction, but mainly a lot of fun with Pop, Momma and myself backing Jack in every way. I still have a diary of events and lap times from those days and they clearly indicate that Jack had what it took to be a top-class driver in Formula 1, especially as he won the F2 Championship in 1960.

I also still have my Doghouse Club scarf, which the racing wives used to wear. On it, along with Jack’s, are the signatures of Graham Hill, Jimmy Clark, Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren, Jack Fairman, Roy Salvadori, Ian Burgess, Innes Ireland and Trevor Taylor.

We didn’t set out to move to Wales, we just needed some land to keep our four calves which had been temporarily housed in the racing car workshop during the off season. We hoped that Jack could race from there and although it was not to be we were still often visited by friends from the motor racing world including Innes Ireland, and also John Frankenheimer, who directed the film Grand Prix. He actually wanted to look at our Arabian horses, seeking one for his next film. We were also asked to show Arabians for Mrs E M Thomas of the Metcombe stud in Devon. There was immediate rapport with her, for as Mrs W B Scott, her first married name, she was awarded a BARC 120mph badge at Brooklands.

Jack has since returned to Gloucestershire where he is happily remarried. I too am happily remarried, and remain on the farm in Wales. Unfortunately, we had a burglary at the farm and one of the items stolen was the gold medal Jack won for fourth place at Monza in the 1961 Italian GP. Should any memorabilia collector be offered this medal it would be good to think it could be returned to its rightful owner and join Jack’s old racing helmet and silver cups in Gloucestershire.

Fan mail still arrives here, addressed to “Jack Lewis, Racing Driver, Somewhere in Wales”!

Andrea Peel , Llandovery, Carmarthenshire

Deserving cause


Congratulations to Sir Jackie Stewart for highlighting the importance and value of those unsung heroes – the F1 mechanics (January).

It is only on the rare occasion of a pitlane accident that their real presence and importance is brought home to us.

The Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust deserves the support of everyone involved in F1 – team owners, drivers and spectators.

Frank Loughlin, Rathfarnham, Dublin

Unfair comparisons


Your February issue covered the ongoing saga about the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. First of all Silverstone was a wartime airfield in 1942 and therefore is buried in the countryside. For this reason it is unfair to compare it to the new circuits like Turkey and China that are near major cities and have a modern-day infrastructure.

As a regular spectator at the track for the past 30 years, I cannot understand what is wrong with the facilities. The circuit itself ranks as one of the best, up there with Spa and Monza. The new bypass, perimeter roads and parking areas are first class, as are the rest of the facilities.

There is talk of selling pockets of land outside the circuit from which funds can be used to redevelop the facilities. Are prospective buyers going to want to live next to the busy A43 and near a full-time race circuit? In addition there is the noise issue and decibel levels for local residents, which in the past has caused problems for both the circuit management and promoters.

Why should the BRDC sell off its land to secure a new deal after 2009? When that contract expires they could be back in the same position as they are now. Remember that they do not make a profit. The very ‘helpful’ Mr Ecclestone may decide that he is still not happy with the circuit’s facilities and could increase the fee to put the event beyond Silverstone’s capabilities.

What Silverstone and other UK circuits need is more spectators through the gates at all levels of racing to increase revenue. If the Grand Prix is lost in Britain it will be a shame. However, you cannot expect a circuit to invest millions of pounds and make all these improvements and continue losing money to keep Mr Ecclestone and his corporate clients content, when for 90 per cent of the rest of the season these facilities will hardly be used.

Robert Blake, Banstead, Surrey

Accidental memories


Roy Salvadori’s account of his dreadful 1951 Silverstone accident (February) brought back memories of that awful day nearly 57 years ago because I was right behind him when it happened. I thought there was no way he would survive and for a few laps I slowed right down, only recovering on the last lap to pass Bob Gerard at Abbey to win. I did not wait for prize-giving; my wife and I rushed to Northampton hospital where Roy had been given the last rites.

However, Roy was never one to be beaten on or off the track, and when I visited him again only six days later he was sitting up and asking how long it would take me to build up the Frazer Nash. He made a miraculous recovery and while waiting for the ’Nash to be repaired, bought and raced an XK120.

He and I must be the only two left who drove at the first post-war English race (Gransden Lodge 1946) but it was not until 1951 when he acquired the ’Nash that I really got to know him and became a firm friend. His tremendous speed became apparent when a few days before that fateful race at Silverstone we tested our cars at RAF Kenley.

He pestered me almost daily re the progress on the badly damaged car. Somehow when Silverstone medics were attending to him they had taken off his blue ‘skull cap’ (he had not started wearing a crash helmet) and the blood-stained cap was in the remains of the car. I had it for ages but when he was better I didn’t think he would want to be upset so eventually I burnt it.

When the Frazer Nash was ready Roy said it went quicker than before the accident. Not entirely true – it was Roy who was driving even quicker! In 1952, a year after the crash, he won the same race ahead of Peter Walker in the much bigger-engined Jaguar C-type. On the same day he drove one of my Bristol saloons in the Production saloon car race. Coming down to Stowe I came across Roy standing beside the Bristol holding up a fan belt to show why he had stopped. I opened my Bristol’s window and shouted, “get going, you don’t need that!”. Thus we won the Daily Express Production Car team prize ahead of the lightweight Jaguar Mark VIIs. Every weekend we drove the Frazer Nashes with enormous success as a team. In 1954, however, after he had been driving for Bobbie Baird, he was entered in an AG6 Maserati and a 250F Maserati by Syd Green and I had gone from Frazer Nash to Cooper-Bristol. There were wonderful battles and things got quite hairy.

Tony Crook, Coombe, Surrey

Imperfect spy


It is with regret I add my own opinion to the frustrating business of ‘spying’ in Formula 1, as I’d rather hoped by now everyone would be quiet and look to 2008. However, I have some evidence of how silly this whole affair is.

Recently I found myself in the machining workshop of a local engineering firm who were making some components for the new McLaren. Unsurprisingly, hanging on the walls were several large-scale engineering drawings for the components in question. I would be lying to say that I didn’t look at them. Does this mean I am in possession of intellectual property? Am I to be fined $100 million?

Perhaps I should have photographed them on my mobile phone and emailed them to Ross Brawn to help him out at Honda.

Gary Skipp, Solihull

Daytona first


It was great to read about Daytona and Bill France in February’s issue. I guess I was the first person to have a race car at Daytona on the banking. Why? Well, I decided when bringing the Aston Martin DBR2 back from the 1958 Nassau Speed Week that I would see how the new track was coming on. I was soon met by Bill, a larger than life figure of a man, who persuaded me to take the Aston on its trailer, towed by our panel truck, onto the banking even before it had been surfaced, for a picture shoot. The result was seen in their publicity and in the newspapers.

I am sure we ran the car there twice in 1959, driven by George Constantine, once holing a piston while lying second. The second time George finished second being pipped to the post by a Texan called Connell driving a Ferrari.

I had two good seasons in 1958/9 running the car, generally mixing it with Walt Hangsen who was driving for the Briggs Cunningham/Alfred Momo team. We beat Walt more often than he beat us but he ran a couple of extra races than us so got more points and therefore the 1959 Championship. However, Frank Blunk awarded the New York Times Driver of the Year to George and Mechanic of the Year to me, the first time it had gone to a sports car mechanic rather than an Indy mechanic.

They were two very good seasons and we made many good friends.

Rex J Woodgate, Hythe, Hants.

Alpine peaks


In the otherwise excellent piece about the Porsche 936 (January), Gary Watkins writes that “Renault would be returning to La Sarthe for a second year with its Alpine-built prototypes in 1976”. It was not a case of a second year if you consider the turbo-powered cars, or Alpine prototypes in general. Alpine raced several prototypes, with capacities of up to 3 litres, back in the ’60s, while the turbo cars, first run in the 1975 World Championship, skipped Le Mans in ’75, racing there for the first time in ’76.

Faustino Mattei, Vedano al Lambro, Italy

Self-inflicted wounds


What a delight to welcome Nigel Roebuck’s informed and entertaining prose to your magazine. His dissection of the Ferrari/McLaren/Renault affair (February) will hopefully be writ large in the eyes of the FIA.

As a long time motor sport and F1 ‘anorak’ my abiding memories of the 2007 season will unfortunately be the frustration of watching the sport, and in particular the FIA, shoot itself in the foot and wallet rather than in seeing the return of a Mercedes W125 to Donington or a Renault F1 engine playing our national anthem.

Peter Dring, Codnor, Ripley, Derbyshire

Orders? What orders?


Like so many F1 followers, I feel 2007 is, for legal reasons, probably best forgotten.

Your article in the February issue says it all, and the sooner the whole operation of the governing body is looked into the better. A level playing field for all teams would be a start.

One thing that has puzzled me is the lack of interest in the apparent ‘team orders’ worked by Ferrari in France. No one seems to have thought it strange that Massa needed a pitstop so late in the race. Has anyone asked for details of the telemetry, presumably available to the FIA but no one else, to prove that said stop was really necessary and that it was not just a way of getting Räikkönen up one place?

I seem to remember that when Ron Dennis stopped his drivers fighting for the win in Monaco he was initially accused of race fixing. From the outside it looks like another ‘don’t upset Ferrari scenario’.

Gordon N Palmer, Maidenhead