Continental Notes, May 1969

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After a lot of discussion and some “passing the buck” the Belgian Grand Prix has been cancelled. The reasons are numerous and varied and involve the organisers, the Belgian Government, the major factory teams, and the works drivers. It is unlikely that any one individual or group will accept responsibility, or even admit to starting the anti-Spa circuit antagonism, but does it matter? Individually, or collectively, the world of Grand Prix racing has brought about the cancellation of the race on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. It is pointless to ask for opinions for most of them will try to pass the responsibility on to another party. The sad fact is that our premier Grand Prix racing teams will not be competing on the magnificent Belgian circuit this year. From choice they will all be out of work on June 8th, and if they go on like this some of them will be out of work for the rest of the year. It would seem that some of our Grand Prix car constructors do not want to race their cars on the 150 m.p.h. Spa-Francorchamps circuit, and some of our so-called Grand Prix drivers do not want to drive them there anyway. I do not believe the decisions were unanimous, in spite of the Drivers’ Union and the Manufacturers’ Union being involved. The blurb that followed the announcement in the daily papers was splendid stuff. On the same day two of our leading newspapers quoted different lengths for the Spa circuit and the general trend was to trot out a list of accidents and drivers who had been killed on the Belgian circuit, just to prove it was dangerous, and show that the people who were demanding “Safety, safety, safety” were justified. If they had published a similar list of deaths and accidents for Brands Hatch or Silverstone it would have been very difficult to have gone on racing at either circuit, on the same grounds of objection. Does it really make any difference if a dead racing driver is a star or an unknown club driver, if we are going to be impartial and unbiased, and is there any difference between dying in a crash at 100 m.p.h. or 180 m.p.h.?

I have always thought that one of the endearing features of a Grand Prix driver was that he had GUTS and would accept a challenge that normal people like you and I would not be brave enough to face; now I am not so sure. If any members of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association feel that their spokesman was not voicing their opinion, and that they would dearly like to drive a Grand Prix car at Spa in June, without any ifs or buts, then I would be delighted to receive a postcard from them saying so and I am sure the Editor will be only too pleased to publish them next month. Non-G.P.D.A. members need not bother to write to me, for I know personally a great number who would give anything to drive a Grand Prix car at Spa, without any reservations or conditions, but they are not considered to be Aces, in the opinion of the Aces.

If any of our so-called Grand Prix drivers would like to take up knitting, using special needles without sharp points, I am sure I could arrange some private tuition for them, or if any of our Grand Prix “special builders” would like to get down to some serious construction I will send them the current rules for Kart-racing.

If the Spa-Francorchamp circuit is so distasteful to constructors and drivers alike why make all this fuss, why not simply refrain from entering the race, and leave things to those people who might like to have entered, probably for half the starting money anyway. Maybe the 1969 Belgian G.P. would not have been a classic event, but it could have happened, and you can run a race without the top drivers, as the Italians showed some years ago when similar milk-and-water thinking boycotted the Italian G.P. at Monza. The big names stayed away and though it seemed to make a big difference at the time, it is now insignificant, and the only noticeable thing in the history of the Italian G.P. is that for one year the household names were missing.

People have been saying recently that “motor racing is sick” and complaining that the atmosphere at all levels is bad, with arguing and fighting in Formula Ford, bitching and binding in saloon car racing, protests and disputes in rallies, cheating and lying in sports-car racing, bad odours in Autocross, and so on. Is it any wonder, when the accepted pinnacle of racing, which is Formula One, is sick? The World Champions and their cohorts should set an example of what motor racing is all about. It would seem that the Grand Prix world has no idea what it is all about. Their “social security” mentality cannot see over the guard rails, but that is their worry. How long will it be before they talk themselves out of existence or up their own exhaust pipes?

Bitching and binding and grumbling and complaining seems to be fashionable at the moment, so I will continue and add to the overall “sickness”. In 1966 Hollywood, in the shape of John Frankenheimer, came to Europe to film “genuine” Grand Prix races, but because factual events did not fit in with the script of “Grand Prix” the fakes and effects men got to work. Fair enough, that is part of film-making, but when they started interfering in genuine Grand Prix race practice, altering car colours, drivers’ helmets, car shapes and so on, I complained bitterly and told Frankenheimer he was fouling up the history pattern of Grand Prix racing. Many were the voices raised against me, especially by those who were being well paid to appear in the film or assist with the advising. “It can only do good for the sport,” they said. “It’s very good publicity and will bring bigger crowds to Grand Prix races,” they said. The higher paid the louder the shouting, but that was natural. Whether the resultant film did what it set out to do is a matter of opinion and beside the point just here.

Earlier this year in Italy I bought a collection of 12 coloured postcards of racing cars, principally because the top one on the pack was a very good photo of a P4 Ferrari prototype. The set cost about 10s. and were neatly packed in a cardboard frame, but as I looked through them I became a bit disturbed. Eagle, Honda and Brabham Grand Prix cars were fine, and the colours were good, but there were three in the set, of a Ferrari, a B.R.M. and a McLaren, that appeared to be driven by the same driver, at least as far as the helmet colours were concerned. The captions on the back said Amon, Stewart and McLaren, and while the first one clearly was Amon, the second one was not Stewart and the third one was obviously Rindt. “Now wait a minute,” I thought, “when did Rindt ever drive a McLaren?” The photo was taken at Monza, passing an empty grandstand, which was puzzling. The B.R.M. pertaining to be Stewart in an H-16 car was very obviously the wrong colour green, whereas the other photos were very good colour reproductions. While scanning the H-16 B.R.M. photo the penny dropped, for in the background was a lot of camera equipment. Rindt was not in a McLaren, he was in an old Formula Three car faked to look like a McLaren, and the H-16 B.R.M. was another film-phoney, with a “stand-in” in the cockpit. Amon in the genuine Ferrari V12 was wearing the James Garner red, white and blue film sequence crash hat, which somehow was being worn by Rindt in the phoney McLaren at a later date, and the unknown “extra” in the B.R.M. somewhere else.

So thanks to Hollywood coming to Europe and “doing good for the sport”, a very nice and well-balanced selection of colour postcards has been upset by the introduction, unwittingly I am sure, of two fake cars. However, perhaps I am wrong, for this set could become very valuable, like a series of stamps with the wrong perforations, or those classic Italian 500-lire coins on which the engraver had the sails of it boat blowing in one direction and the flag in the opposite direction! Perhaps in 20 years time my 10s. collection of picture postcards will become a collector’s item and Sotheby’s Auctions will raise £100 for them. Perhaps! If they do I’ll buy Frankenheimer the dinner he always promised me but never got around to buying, at which he was going to ask me why I did not like his film.

I am sure Hollywood’s invasion of the Grand Prix paddock did someone some good somewhere, but so far it has not been very obvious.

* * *

On a more serious note the F.I.A. are altering things again. They cannot seem to leave well alone. Most people have now got the International competition car classifications firmly in their minds, from Group 1 to Group 8. We know that a limited-production racing-sports car is Group 4 and can have an engine size of up to 5-litres and a one-off “prototype” with a 3-litre engine limit is Group 6, and a 7-litre or 8-litre two-seater racer like a Can-Am McLaren or Lola is Group 7. At the end of this year it is all going to be changed, and as from 1970 it will be put into a more logical sequence, though why it was not made logical in the first place is not clear.

Appendix J as from 1970

Group 1—Series Production Touring Cars (5,000 built per 12 months).
Group 2—Special Touring Cars (1,000 off).
Group 3—Series Production GT cars (500 off in 1970, afterwards 1,000 off).
Group 4—Special GT Cars (500 off).
Group 5—Sports Cars (25 off).
Group 6—Prototype—Sports Cars (one off).

For some strange reason there was a proposal that Group 6 cars should be allowed an increase of engine capacity to 3,500 c.c. from the present 3,000 c.c., but this has now been abandoned as none of the manufacturers were interested. Having been forced to a 3-litre limit by the hurried decision of the F.I.A. Ferrari, Ford, and Matra have unified their Prototype programmes and quite rightly say let well alone. So Group 6 is to continue at 3-lites until the end of 1971. The fact that the F.I.A. can suddenly alter detail rules, like the dropping of windscreens, luggage space and spare wheels from Group 6, making cars like the Ford 3L coupé and the Mirage-B.R.M. obsolete overnight, does not seem to worry officialdom.

On the subject of the existing Group 4 category (next year it will be Group 5), the Homologation Committee accepted the T70 Lola coupé, with 5-litre Chevrolet engine, long before the requisite number had been made, and everyone knew this. The reason was that the hurried decision to put limits of 3-litres on prototypes stopped Lola production instantly, just when a series of T70 coupés was being built, as 5.9-litre Group 6 cars. At the time 50 cars had to be made and sold to constitute a Group 4 sports car, and even when Lola acquired 5-litre Chevrolet engines they could not comply with the requirements straight away. The F.I.A. hurried and careless thinking nearly put Lola out of business, but pressure by various people got the F.I.A. to accept the Can-Am Group 7 Lola cars as being part of the required 50 and in that way the T70 coupé became a competitive Group 4 sports car overnight. Nobody argued with this decision at the time, feeling that the F.I.A. had played fair and in some small way had made amends for a hurried decision. Now McLaren wants to develop his successful Group 7 Can-Am car into a Group 4 coupé sports car, which is an excellent idea, and the result would be very competitive, but the F.I.A. have turned down the homologation because 25 examples of the proposed car have not been built and sold. McLaren claim, quite rightly, that they have built many more than 25 Group 7 chassis, which are the basis of the proposed Group 4 cars, but the F.I.A. will not agree to this, demanding to see 25 Group 4 coupés built. McLaren point out that Lola were allowed to get away with Group 7 cars counting in their required number, but the F.I.A. shuffle their feet and say: “Well, yes, special circumstances.” The result is that McLaren has now said “Forget it” and the Group 4 McLaren coupé has been shelved.

There are times when I wonder why anyone ever bothers to play at motor racing or tries to build saleable racings cars.

* * *

There is a lighter side to motor racing, and this little scene was unconsciously enacted recently. A works driver stopped at his pit during practice, amid team manager, mechanics, trade people, Press, photographers and camp-followers. He was looking all serious and dedicated, working away at being the real professional and the engineer, test-driver-cum-racing-driver. He lay back in his seat looking thoroughly miserable and unhappy, but dedicated to his profession and calling. His chief mechanic knelt down beside the car looking equally worries and everyone gathered around, for this was a star driver in a brand new factory car. Lifting his goggles and lowering his face mask, the diver said to the mechanic: “mumble, mumble, mutter, mumble, grunt, mutter, mumble, ” his mouth hardly moving and his face showing no expression at all. Everyone standing around thought “what did he say, what does he think of the car, ” but there was such an air of secrecy that no one dared to ask.

Further along the pits were some non-professional racing and ex-works cars they bought. The driver was comparatively new to the game, was not dedicated and serious and was merely enjoying himself. He had not discovered about special ear-plugs or fire-proof face masks and when he stopped after some practice laps his face was a bit grubby and wind-swept and he was a bit deaf from the noise of the 12-cylinder engine behind his head, and when you are deaf you tend to shout! His friends gathered around, happy that the car was still in one piece, and he said, in a voice that could be hard the length of the pits: ” IT’S GREAT FUN, BUT IT WILL ONLY PULL 8,200 AND THE OIL PRESSURE IS A BIT LOW OUT OF THE CORNERS.”

Motor racing can absorb all types of people, some enjoy is, some do not, to some it is a job of work, to others it is a pastime, but they are all part of the scene and there never seems to be a shortage of all types.—D. S. J.

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