Pause for thought

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The poor fellows who have to write race reports for the weekly motoring comics that we used to call the technical press, have a hard enough time falling over themselves, and each other, in order to gather up information and get their story written by Sunday night or Monday morning, without having deliberate confusion thrown in their path by the PR world or well-meaning team managers. Immediately after a race, especially if a favourite has had trouble; they dash around saying “What happened, what happened?” They note down the official statement from the team spokesman and dash on to the next one. Few of them seem to pause and say to themselves “Wait a minute, that doesn’t ring true.” There is such an artificial urgency to beat the rival paper that they don’t seem to have time to be inquisitive, they take people’s word as gospel and never do any simple cross-checking, either by thinking or looking.

At the GKN-Daily Express meeting at Silverstone everybody’s favourite goofed and was left on the starting line in pole position. The Team Lotus 72 of Fittipaldi was pulling a particularly high first gear, which he wasn’t used to, so on his warming-up lap he did some practice starts, which were spectacular to watch, but gave the clutch a bit of a caning. When the flag dropped Fittipaldi crept away with a burnt-out clutch, going slowly through the first corner with the revs, rising and falling ineffectually as he blipped the throttles. He came to rest on the far side of the circuit. After the race the Lotus team manager said “Oh dear, don’t blame the poor old clutch, Borg and Beck will get all the blame. Say, the flywheel came loose or something.” This story spread and the results that appeared in print the following week were a riot of fun and imagination, ranging from the flywheel coming off to the flywheel breaking, through bolts breaking and coming loose. The important thing was that to anyone who saw the start none of the stories would hold water.

When you do a racing start with a Cosworth V8 you have 8,000 or 9,000 r.p.m. on the engine, with the flywheel and clutch assembly whirling round at this speed on the end of the crankshaft. If, as one writer said, the flywheel fell off it would surely have sailed over the top of the grandstand, taking the clutch housing, most of the gearbox and some of the suspension with it! If the flywheel had broken, as another writer suggested, there would have been a terrific mess of broken clutch housing, clutch and its mechanism all over the track. If the flywheel bolts had sheared, and there are eight of them, the crankshaft would have revolved in the spigot, there would have been no drive to the gearbox and the engine would have run in a very peculiar fashion. If one flywheel bolt had broken there would still have been drive through the clutch, the probable symptom being a terrible roughness that would have got worse as the over-loaded remaining bolts broke, but there would always have been sufficient drive through the clutch to get away with the rest of the competitors. The classic statement among the comics was that the Lotus failed at the start and then coasted as far as Club Corner. Including the uphill bit from Copse Corner to Maggots, one is tempted to ask?

It is all too easy to rush round the paddock after a race, like a blue-bottle, saying “what happened, what happened?” and writing down everthing you are told. To pause for thought would appear to be difficult, even for 30 seconds, and what has happened to the inquisitive mind? With the influx of commercialism with motor racing and the army of PR men, whose job is to protect their customers, the inquisitive mind is not very popular; you are supposed to believe what you are told.

At a sports car meeting a Matra stopped out on the circuit and the man from Matra-Simca said it was an old engine and now had a big hole in the side, suggesting a connecting rod broke. This would have resulted in a lot of mess around the engine and probably a lot of oil as well. When the car was towed back to the paddock the engine was completely dry! It had been an electrical fault. Few people in motor racing have ever told the truth, and as Stuart Turner of Ford once said, “It’s not that they are dishonest, but they just don’t know how to be straight.” For the race reporter the only antidote to this is to Pause for Thought, and he inquisitive. – D. S. J.

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