Unfair to McLaren

I quote: “over Paddock, with Bruce McLaren, in the new Ford missing a gear and dropping back” Autocar; “and Bruce McLaren hung badly just after the line as if he had missed a gear” Motor; “with McLaren in the centre nosing ahead—until he changed into second, when he missed the gear” Autosport; “Bruce McLaren belted the Ford into the lead for about 50 yards, then missed second gear and was engulfed by the pack” Motoring News.

From those quotes it would seem to be an indisputable fact that McLaren made a nonsense of his start in the B.O.A.C. 500 race at Brands Hatch, as four qualified reporters agreed on what happened. That something did happen was quite definite, and Autocar published a fine photograph of the leaders going into Paddock Bend, with the two Porsches driven by Siffert and Mitter side-by-side and the Ford driven by McLaren some way back, having started on the front row between the Porsches. It is too far back to be easily recognised as the Ford, but you could set the roof-top rear-view mirror quite clearly, and as the field sorted itself out on the opening lap the Ford was in sixth position. So, McLaren fumbled his gear-change from first to second and lost all chance of leading on the opening lap, having started off well, except that McLaren is not the sort of driver to fumble gear-changes, and he was driving the second of the Prototype Fords, which has a Hewland gearbox, and Hewland gear-changes are pretty foolproof. It was just possible that he had changed from first to fourth by mistake, but unlikely for such a cool-headed driver as McLaren, so I was a hit puzzled by it all. Talking to Eoin Young after the race, he being the chap who does a lot of “ghost-writing” for McLaren, he mentioned in conversation that the Cosworth V8 engine in the Ford had died as it shot off the line on initial acceleration, and that McLaren being a knowledgeable type had switched on another fuel pump or something, which got the engine going again. A somewhat different story from the generally accepted one bandied around among the “gentlemen of the Press,” and a more likely one.

A chat with McLaren cleared up the whole affair. The Lucas fuel injection system on the Cosworth V8 engine operates at 100-110 lb. p.s.i., and this is supplied by an engine-driven mechanical pump. When starting the engine this fuel pressure is supplied by an independent electric pump controlled by a spring-loaded switch which the driver holds down while pressing the starter button. Once the engine has fired the mechanical pump gets up pressure and he lets go of the electric switch and as long as the engine is running at over 6,000 to 6,500 r.p.m. the injection pressure is maintained at 100-110 lb. p.s.i., the engine peaking at over 9,000 r.p.m.

What happened at the start at Brands Hatch was that the Ford shot off the line with the wheels spinning and the engine r.p.m. well up, with the mechanical pump doing its job, but as the wheelspin dissipated and the tyres gripped, the engine r.p.m. dropped momentarily to about 5,000 r.p.m. and at this speed the pressure from the mechanical pump was only about 70-75 lb. p.s.i., and with the throttles wide open calling for full-power from the engine this was not enough pressure and the engine power “hung” and the car stopped accelerating. McLaren had experienced this situation on his B.R.M.-engined Grand Prix car last year and knew the symptoms, so he quickly reached over and held down the electric switch which brought the separate pump into action and boosted the pressure up to over 100 lb. p.s.i. and the Cosworth engine came in on full song again and the Ford was away, but already some way down the field from its front row grid position. All this took place while the car was still in first gear and McLaren did not change up into second gear until all the drama was over.

So why make a big issue out of such a small detail in reporting a race, you may ask. Because I think it is totally unfair to McLaren, for among the racing drivers of today he is one of the most open-minded, amiable and friendly, and unlike some he will give you a straight-forward and honest answer to a query, and not fob you off with a load of rubbish just to get his name in print. I dare not mention drivers who do this sort of thing or I shall get solicitors’ letters by return post, professional racing being what it is today. In the Tour de France bicycle race there is a prize given on each day by the Outspan Orange Company, known as the Prix Outspan, and it is for the rider who, in the opinion of the race reporters, is the most amiable, helpful, honest, straight-forward and genuine in his dealings with the Press. If there was a Prix Outspan in motor racing I would have awarded it to McLaren on numerous occasions over the past six or eight years, so that I find the injustice done to him over the starting bother at the B.O.A.C. 500 particularly irksome. McLaren just grins and says “Oh well, they can’t get everything right, can they.” However, one wonders who started the idea of the “missed gear-change” and who copied who?

The final question was why this problem of dropping fuel-pressure, and the simple answer is that the second Prototype was only completed the day before practice and there had been no time to do a practice start. When accelerating from a standstill on part throttle, as when leaving the pits, the momentary low fuel-pressure was inadequate for the needs of the engine. The answer to the problem? To fit an “on-off” switch in place of the spring-loaded one, as McLaren has done on his Grand Prix cars, and leave it switched on until the end of the opening lap, but Alan Mann, who is running the Prototype Fords this season, said “Wait a moment, that is all right if McLaren is driving the car, but what happens if another driver forgets to switch it off? The electric booster pump consumes a lot of amps and if the alternator is not up to scratch your battery would go flat in a two-hour stint, and then you would not be able to restart after your pit stop.” The original layout on the Ford had an “on-off” switch, but due to the fact that Fords were lining up a miscellaneous collection of drivers for these Prototypes Alan Mann had the simple switch changed for the spring-loaded one, as from his experience of drivers he was certain that one of them at some time would leave the booster pump switched on. One of his strong points on race-preparation is making things as “idiot-proof” as possible. Since building the first Prototype he has had Hawkins, Hill, Gardner, Spence, Brabham, McLaren, Hulme and Rindt driving for him, and they cannot all be perfect all the time, someone would “forget” so it is better to be safe than sorry, even if it brings in another problem. The Fords are not due to make another racing start until May 19th at Nurburgring, by which time a solution to the problem will have been found.—D. S. J.