Letters, March 2011



A Targa lap with quick Vic
Reading Vic Elford’s account of his Targa Florio history (December issue) took me back to 1968 when he asked if I would like to “do a lap” with him. I was Motor Sport’s / photographer then, and some of the pictures you have used are very familiar. Official practice was, as usual, on Friday, and on Saturday the roads were open again to the public. Right-minded Sicilians tended at least to travel in the same direction as the race as drivers used that day for unofficial practice. The Carabinieri turned a blind eye.
Vic had an ex-Monte works Porsche 2.2. From the start area at Bivio Cerda, he began a running commentary describing every corner, every change of road surface, before we got to them. We were running very quickly, and the bends arrived in rapid succession. How on earth was he able to read them without recourse to notes? He was navigator and driver at the same time, and had a photographic memory.
On a winding downhill section between Collesano and Campofelice, Vic was using most of the road when we met a local in a Lancia saloon coming the other way, face to face on his side of the road. I remember seeing the whites of his knuckles as Vic flicked the Porsche sideways to avoid him. That put us onto the loose unsurfaced roadside, with a steep drop on my side. We were now fairly sideways and I watched, fascinated, as Vic went from lock to lock to get us back onto the asphalt, wondering if he was going to be able to do so, but knowing he would and enjoying watching. We spent quite a long time out on the dirt.
Back on the road, eventually, nothing was said as we went on at undiminished speed until we reached Campofelice where we pulled off for a break. That cigarette was so good. I have a vague recollection that we did the lap in around 47 minutes, even including the pause.
It’s such a pity the glorious Targa Florio is no more. It was a unique challenge for drivers, a great spectacle for fans and a joy to photograph. Laurie Morton, Fordham, Combs

My wacky racer
I hugely enjoyed your Formula 1 innovation special and coverage of the Tyrrell P34 (February issue). Back in the early ’70s I was a design student at the Royal College of Art and a huge fan of all things motor sport. One of the tutors was the (now) world-famous car designer Peter Stevens who, in his free time, did beautiful illustrations of hot rods for Custom Car magazine. I used to enjoy drawing all kinds of quite wacky race cars and Peter suggested I take one extreme F1 car along to the Custom Car people to see if they would publish it. They did, and commissioned three more!
The drawing was published around nine months before the P34 was unveiled, which embedded in me an unshakeable belief that some F1 designers were probably Custom Car readers (I know for a fact that one was)! CC did a follow-up piece the month after the P34’s launch, crowing about their prescience! The fact that mine had a rule-breaking 32-cylinder turbocharged engine and tracked ‘tyres’ should not distract from the general point that, well… great minds and all that!
Dick Powell, SeymourPowell Design, London

F1’s quality quintets
I believe that history will record 2010 as one of the great Grand Prix seasons. Five drivers, all of whom won more than one race, led the championship at some stage, and four were still in contention at the last round. Any of them would’ve been a worthy champion, but Sebastian Vettel is the youngest ever, and his 10 pole positions suggest he was the driver of the year.
This means the first grid of 2011 will have five champions (Vettel, Button, Hamilton, Alonso and Schumacher). This has happened just once before in 1968 when Clark, G Hill, Surtees, Brabham and Hulme started in South Africa. It was the only GP they raced in, with Clark killed before the next round.
The last two races of 1985 (South Africa and Australia) also saw five champions taking part as Prost had won the title with two rounds to go. Lauda, Rosberg, Jones and Piquet were the others. These I believe are the only GPs with five current or past World Champions competing.
The debate is which quintet is the greatest. Personally I’d say the class of ’68 had the best driver (Clark), but 2011 is the best quintet. Not only is Schumacher an all-time great, but I believe Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel will win several more titles between them.
So roll on 2011 when I think we’ll see the same five drivers pushing hard again. If Mercedes or Renault can improve relative to the rest that would add Schumacher, Rosberg and Kubica to the brew. It’s going to be a great season.
Gareth Tare Chertsey, Surrey

A fond farewell to Bobby
I was saddened to read that we have had the pleasure of Bobby Rahal’s last column. I enjoyed being educated about motor sport from the perspective of someone so knowledgeable, hands-on and from the other side of the pond.
When Bobby was replaced at Jaguar F1 I wrote to him to express my disappointment. Imagine my surprise when I received a handwritten note on a card depicting the end of his last Champ Car race. He expressed concern, not for himself but for the talented people he’d left behind. I feel privileged to have been able to correspond with such a gent and offer him my best wishes in his future motoring endeavours.
Peter Dring, Codnot Derbyshire

Silly races in sandy places
Reading Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections in the January issue and his comments regarding the pushing of Grands Prix towards the Far East, I think it’s time that we F1 enthusiasts had our say as to where the races are held, rather than Bernie Ecclestone and CVC.
The start times of such GPs are organised for the benefit of European TV audiences, so why do we put up with silly races in sandy places? If we didn’t turn on our TVs to watch would there be any point in organising them? Apart from filling the pockets of CVC, where is the logic of running a Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi or any other country where there is no interest in motor sport? What we need is a Grand Prix Enthusiasts’ Association — it is our sport (for the want of a better term) not a PR exercise for countries with more money than sense. We are being led by the nose and it’s high time we dug our heels in.
Brian Palfrey, Ranelagh, Dublin, Ireland

Glory days of The Glen
I would like to thank Nigel Roebuck for his great piece on Watkins Glen being the true home of the US Grand Prix (December issue). Nigel captured all that we Yanks loved about the atmosphere, both on and off the track. The first Grand Prix lever went to was at ‘The Glen’ in 1972. I went back for almost every race until the last one in 1980. Back then you could rub shoulders with the drivers in the Kendall Garage, camp next to them in the paddock and collect all their autographs with ease. Yes Nigel, the colours of the trees, the smell of campfires, burnt rubber and F1 car exhausts — now that was intoxicating indeed.
I did go to the races at Las Vegas and Detroit (I live there) in the following years. There was no comparison, no character and no lifelong memories. I still make a pilgrimage each year to The Glen to watch the vintage car races in the fall and have a drink at the Glen Motor Inn. They still have a life-sized picture of Regga in his BRM in the bar downstairs. I tell the friends that I bring along about the fearless drivers, the screaming engines, how close you could stand to the track and how I bought one of Ronnie Peterson’s driving suits in the mechanics’ annual year-end sale. They love it!
That was an experience, that was a race track, and those were the days.
Mark Hall, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Hobbs’ victory salute
I was delighted to read the long-overdue profile of David Hobbs in the January issue (Lunch with…). My smile grew even wider when he mentioned, in passing, his 1970 Formula A victory at Donnybrooke in the United States. That event was the first ‘big-time’ race I ever attended in person. My experience that day — capped off by Hobbs’ convincing victory in a high-winged Surtees — ignited in me a passion for racing that has continued for 40-plus years.
That day at Donnybrooke, my cousins and I waved to Hobbs during his victory lap. We were sure he waved back, just at us. We left the circuit thinking that Hobbs was one of the coolest guys in the world. It’s good to see he still is.
Robert C Phelps, Piedmont, California, USA

Innovation hobbled
A reference to the Hobbs automatic gearbox in Lunch with… David Hobbs reminded me of Michael Tee’s article in the November 1962 issue of Motor Sport entitled ‘Car Tests at Goodwood’, about a Lotus Elite equipped with a Hobbs Mech-a-matic gearbox.
He wrote, “Our three laps in the Hobbs Elite were fascinating to say the least, and unless there is some hidden snag which we are too dim to see, it is quite inconceivable to us why this gearbox has not been adopted by manufacturers.”
In the December ’62 issue there was a longer article about the car and its Hobbs 1015 gearbox, which praised the part highly and referred to Stirling Moss as having a Hobbs ‘box fitted to his Elite.
As it turned out, manufacturers did not take up the gearbox, and sadly David Hobbs’ father’s company went out of business.
MJCrawford, Wotton-under-Edge, Glos

Not-so-plain sailing
I enjoyed Bill Boddy’s model boat stories in the January issue. Unfortunately Master Boddy was perhaps a victim of a slight of hand by the shop assistant. A ‘screw’ propeller is either left or right hand whichever way round it is fitted and reversal of rotation is the only cure. Still, the assistant got away with it for a good few years!
My father ran boats at Brockwell Park before the war and is still active in the hobby. A small number of us run Tethered Hydroplanes “round the pole” and of course Mr Boddy used to report on Tethered Cars in The Model Engineer during their heyday in the late 1940s.
Rick Benson, Sawston, Cambridge

Podcast predecessor
I was interested to read the background and explanation behind the podcast development in the January issue. I think the origins may go back further? In the late ’70s I was fortunate to be invited onto Rob Widdow’s Track Torque radio programme in Portsmouth. It was a groundbreaking programme locally, with Rob pushing his motor racing passion.
I first appeared as the winner of an Autosport competition, and later to promote the then promising career of Neil Bettridge. I remember John Watson being there and a certain Richard Noble, who at the time was generating interest in his first attempt at the Land Speed Record. Pre-broadcast the routine was to have a rundown with the evening’s guests at the pub next door.
It’s good to see Rob’s involvement now in many areas of our sport. Good memories.
Graham H-Jones, Whitboume, Worcestershire

Inside line on Interlagos
I enjoy your magazine, and reading the Letters section I couldn’t help but notice how much knowledge your readers have. I am writing a book about the history of Interlagos and, as Brazil is not a country that is good at remembering its own history, it’s a challenge to find sources of information about races in the ’70s, especially as most of the ‘players’ (drivers, team owners, mechanics, journalists) were European. I include my contact details in the hope that anyone willing to tell me their stories can get in touch.
Marc Zimmermann, R Colonial, 92-72947-233, Atibaia, Brazil ([email protected])