ON THE other side of the Long Beach bay from where the circuit is lies that famous old luxury liner, the Queen Mary. After some years in service on the Atlantic crossing before the war, it was turned into a troop ship in 1939 and after the war it went back into service again on the Southampton — New York run, until it was eventually pensioned off. Normally a ship then goes to the knackers yard and is broken up, but the mighty Queen Mary was too good for that. The City of Long Beach purchased her and she was moored alongside the quay on the far side of the bay, near the freight terminal. Principally she was meant as a showpiece, with conducted tours and so on, but she had to pay for her keep so the living accommodation was used as an hotel and surprisingly little was changed inside. The carpeting looks pure 1948, the cabin and bathroom fittings are all 1935 and when you stay on it, as many people do for the Grand Prix, you’d have no surprise if you woke up one morning and looked out of the port-hole to find you were at sea; except that only one engine has been left in her and she is not totally seaworthy.
Many of the racing people don’t like staying on her as it is too bizarre for their conservative tastes and they like the clinical sameness of a Hyatt Hotel or a Holiday Inn, which are the same the world over. Personally I like things that are different, so I enjoy staying on the Queen Mary, even if the bathtaps could do with re-chroming and some of the woodwork is peeling.
A lot of people try to compare Long Beach and its circuit with Monte Carlo and its circuit, but it is silly to try really, for Long Beach is a rather tatty town, mingling with the lower edges of Los Angeles and is more like Brighton than Monte Carlo. Most of the people living there seem to be retired and not too well off, if the standards of shops and traffic are anything to go by. You feel people live in Long Beach because they cannot afford to live anywhere else, in direct contrast to Monte Carlo where people seem to live merely to show the rest of the world how rich they are. As regards the circuits both are pure street racing and both are first class for “hairy scratchers” who are brave and fearless, with skill and determination thrown in. Of the two I think Long Beach is the better, though it doesn’t have the intriguing tunnel of Monaco, or the hard climbs from Ste. Devote up to the Casino, nor the fantastic drive down out of the Casino square, but it does have its 170 m.p.h. blind along Shoreline Drive, with the flat-out right-hand bend in the middle, and it does have the heroic braking for the hairpin at the end, taken in bottom gear. The short rush up the steep Pine Avenue on to the dual carriageway of Ocean Boulevard is exciting and aiming between the concrete walls to take the blind right-hander must be very daunting from the low seating position of a Formula One car. Equally the righthander at the end of Ocean Boulevard where the course drives down Linden Avenue must be exhilarating for drivers, as it is for spectators. Both circuits have a lot going for them, lets hope they go on for a long time.
We now have three races in towns, Monte Carlo, Long Beach and Montreal, for the Canadian GP is due again on September 30th on the island of Notre Dame in the middle of Montreal. There are more and more rumours about a race being held through the streets of Las Vegas, which would be very popular with the gambling members of FOCA, and it only wants Frank Williams to persuade the Saudi Arabians to have a Grand Prix round the streets of Riyadh and for the Birmingham GP to get off the ground and we’d have a very busy and interesting season of street racing. If it happened I think Autodromes might quietly die and their massive concrete “pit-facilities” crumble to dust. If Grovewood were to sell Brands Hatch for a housing estate, with the proviso that a GP could be held through the streets once a year, a lot of excitement and fun might return to racing.
Nobody will argue that the Lotus 79 had a lot of advantages over its rivals last year, nor that one of the advantages was the “ground-effects” of the air passing .under the car, but a lot of people thought that was the only advantage, which was quite wrong. Aerodynamics can have quite an effect on a racing car, especially through a 150 m.p.h. corner, but whether they have much effect through 60 or 70 m.p.h. corners is debatable. Last year at Long Beach we had the classic example of Alan Jones in the Williams not knowing his front nose-fin had collapsed until after the race and not noticing any change in the handling, in spite of what the television commentator was telling the mis-informed world. This year Scheckter had the front “wing” on his Ferrari bent out of shape during the race, and knew nothing about it until after the race. When you see drivers having these nose-fins or full-width “wings” adjusted by half a degree during practice, and then going out and evaluating the change in handling you begin to wonder whether it is not a case of hot-air-dynamics.
Two things that were very real at Long Beach were brakes and driveshafls. Everyone was trying to get air to their brakes, though there was some difference of opinion as to how to do it. There were air scoops facing forward, air scoops at 45-degrees and air scoops at 90-degrees to the direction of travel. There were scoops that were optimistically trying to bleed off from the turbulence round the front tyres, and others that were probing forwards to get out of the tyre turbulence. There were big ones and there were small ones. No doubt about it brakes took a hammering at Long Beach. After maximum braking from 165 — 175 m.p.h. down to 45 m.p.h. for the Queen’s hairpin it was a case of on-off-on-off in second and third gears through the wiggly bit and up onto Ocean Boulevard, with no time to cool down, and not much in the way of cool air being scooped in by the ducts. They probably cooled a bit along past the pits but they then had to work again before dropping downhill. The stop for the top hairpin was pretty hard, and then they could cool off ready to start all over again at the end of the straight. It was no wonder that Ferodo had their technical men out there and that they were painting discs with their special multi-coloured paints, which indicate temperature maximums when they burn off. There was also a lot of probing into discs with a remote operating thermometer when cars stopped during practice. Ferodo don’t make a song and dance about it, but they obviously had the situation well in hand for nobody was running out of brakes due to burnt-up brake pads.
Drive-shafts were another matter, for Lotus, Renault, Fittipaldi, and Wolf all suffered breakages. Either the shaft itself broke or the universal joint broke, and the cause was clearly the reversal loads put on them by the bumps and undulations of the street circuit. When a car lifts its back wheels of the ground while accelerating hard in third or fourth gear the load on the transmission when the tyres bite the ground again is enormous. This has to be taken by the hub-shafts in the uprights, the drive-shafts, the crown-wheel and pinion and the gears in the gearbox. If the car lands heavily and the suspension compresses, the universal joints may be at maximum angularity under full load, and if the car is being flung into a corner at that moment there are added strains. Through the wiggly bit of the circuit it is full power in second and third gears, with on-off-on-off loads going through the drive-shafts. They really suffer, but they should not break. Many years ago I watched a well-known manufacturer testing some new shafts on his Grand Prix car. They had undergone many hours of reversal loads on a testrig in the Research and Development department and were now being tested on a circuit. For hour after hour the test car was driven round in second and third gears in a rhythmic series of bursts of throttle and complete shut-off; it was a case of hard on the accelerator, lift off, hard on, lift off, the car accelerating from about 30 m.p.h. to 80 m.p.h. each time. The shafts did not break, and they knew the maximum-load life of them. They never broke one while racing.
At the end of the pits on race day, while everyone was preparing for the start there was activity in one corner that was a joy to anyone like myself who loves racing engines. The three spare cars from Lotus, Ferrari and Brabham were huddled together under the shadow of the footbridge and just in case they were needed the team’s mechanics were warming up the engines. Nobody was interested, for the cars for the race, the drivers, the team-managers, the celebrities, the sponsors, the razz-me-tazz was all down the pit lane. In this corner just three reserve Grand Prix cars, each with its attendant mechanics, untroubled by blah and ballyhoo. It was sheer music to listen to Cosworth DFV8, Ferrari flat-12 and Alfa-Romeo V12 being started up and warmed up, and to watch the mechanics as they crooned over the engines going brrrmp, brrmp, brrmp in a gentle rhythm, the tachometer just lifting off the bottom stop at 4,000 on the Ferrari, the Cosworth and Alfa-Romeo blipping between 3,000 and 4,500 r.p.m. It was beautiful music.
The hoo-hah over the false start and the general air of chaos was really brought about by the day and age in which we live. At one time all starts were chaotic, especially in the days before self-starters, when cars were push-started and wheeled backwards in grid position, or started by portable trolley-starters trailing yards of cable. As Grand Prix changed to Formula One and became run by businessmen rather than engineers, a staff grew up that would be well-placed in the Civil Service. Everything had to be cut-and-dried and spelt out in simple words in the form of rules, and rule-breaking was marked down as a heinous crime for which a forfeit had to be paid. With 23 cars on the grid and Reutemann’s Lotus in the pits being frantically worked upon the “Civil Service of FOCA rules” said it was too late for him to take his place on the front row where he belonged. The pit lane exit was closed according to the rule book. When the Lotus fired up the 23 cars were still silent, waiting the starting signal. Now if one strong man had been in charge of the operation, someone like “Toto” Roche who used to run Reims or John Morgan who used to run Goodwood, he would have held up the start while Reutemann left the pits and reversed onto the grid. Then all 24 cars could have gone off in order and possibly Reutemann’s extra experience would have guided Villeneuve to the start-line; but races are run by a group of “Civil Servants” who can only think by the rule book these days. Bemoaning the force of too many rules a colleague remembered an occasion when there was a last minute panic on the start-line with the V16 BRM. It’s chief rival was Mike Hawthorn in the 4½ litre Thinwall Ferrari, and Hawthorn got out and went over to the BRM, saying “Don’t panic, lads, they can’t start the race until I’m back in the Thinwall.” On another occasion Hawthorn with the same car was in the paddock with trouble when everyone else was on the grid ready to go. He made it just in time, driving up the outside of the grid, and reversed into his place on the front row just as the flag went up. I’m told it was sport in those days, now it is a serious business of rules and regulations.
When Villeneuve arrived on the starting grid he was alone, with Reutemann held back by the rules, and with no marshals on the track, only number boards poked over the concrete wall, he missed the point at which to stop, going some distance on. Depailler pulled up alongside him and indicated to go round again. This carelessness caused him to be fined £3,000 after the race, and Reutemann was fined £3,000 for forcing his way out of the pit lane to join the back of the field before the rule book allowed him to. With Watson’s fine of £3,000 for allegedly having caused the first lap accident in Argentina, race organising should show a profit this year and the “over-paid” prima-donnas, as some spectators call them, are £9,000 short already. It was strange that no fine was imposed on Patrick Tambay for causing the fracas at the first hairpin which eliminated the ex-World Champion Niki Lauda. If the actual start-line was indistinct to Villeneuve, sitting low down in the Ferrari, perhaps the Ferrari team-manager should have taken steps to ensure that his new and relatively inexperienced young driver knew exactly what he was supposed to do and where he was supposed to stop.
A bare to minutes from Long Beach is the Ascot Speedway, a loose-surfaced ½ mile flat oval, which is promoted by J. C. Agajanian, a longtime entrant at Indianapolis. Ascot promotes evening racing for motor-cycles, midget cars, NASCAR saloons, Banger-saloon and Sprint cars, and it was the last category on the Saturday night before the Grand Prix. Short and wide with front-mounted methanol-burning Chevrolet V8 engines, Sprint cars are spectacular, having at least 600 b.h.p. and revving almost like a Cosworth. Known as the “roundy-round” boys the oval-track racers know only one place for the right-foot, which is hard down, and one position for the steering, which is on full opposite lock. The “hot-shoes” lap Ascot in 20 seconds, which is near enough 90 m.p.h. average speed, with 105 m.p.h. down the straights. Even allowing for the track actually being less than ½ mile on the racing line, they are still averaging 80 +. After a series of eliminating heats and a semi-final we came to the 40 lap final for the 20 fastest cars, and after some accidents and spins, which put the yellow lights on and kept everyone nose-to-tail at reduced speed, we finally got under way and ran 36 laps non-stop. As the drivers got into the swing of things they were throwing the cars broadside further and further before the continuous radius curves at each end, and reaching unbelievable angles on full-lock and full-power and no-one lost control. It was spectacular to say the least.
Discussing it with the Editor of Road and Track (the Motor Sport of the USA!), we agreed that being able to hold a 600-b.h.p. Sprint car in an almost permanent full-lock power-slide for to or 15 laps of Ascot Speedway must be the ultimate “maximum of enjoyment for effort”. Lapping Indianapolis or Ontario Super Speedways at nearly 200 m.p.h. must be satisfying but scary, and lapping a Grand Prix circuit at record speed must be satisfying but mentally taxing. For sheer joie-de-vivre that is constant and continuous a dozen laps flat-out sideways in a Sprint car must take some beating. A 6-second run in a big dragster must get the adrenalin flowing, but it is almost instantaneous, and on most types of circuit racing there are straights where the joy factor eases off, if only for a fraction of a second. At 90 m.p.h. on the dirt there can be no easing-off of the joy-factor.
There is always plenty happening in California and while we were there we heard that a 2,900 mile high-speed event on the open road had been won by an XJS Jaguar 5.3 litre V12, at an average speed of over 87 m.p.h., with a 6.9 litre V8 Mercedes-Benz saloon in second place a mere 8 minutes behind after more than 32 hours motoring. All the hot Ferraris and American cars in the event were well and truly blown-off. It was with some British pride that we spoke of the event to the American sporting fraternity. At the other end of the scale there is Briggs Cunningham’s splendid motor museum, containing mostly cars that he owned himself and never got rid of, but there are all manner of exciting things from vintage GP cars to modern ones, Indianapolis cars and midget racers. In the beautiful machine shop behind the museum some new connecting rods were being machined from forged billets for a pre-1914 racing Peugeot engine, to as near original design as can be ascertained. This was being done because at some time in its life the Peugeot had been fitted with rods from an American commercial engine. Briggs Cunningham likes to have things right.
Out on the Long Beach bay there was a tiny speedboat powered by a highly tuned V8 engine, with long up-and-over open exhaust pipes. It was impressive to watch, as were the multitude of rocking-beam pumps lifting oil from as much as 2,000 feet below the Californian surface. They were nodding gently up and down last year, and were still going at the same relentless pace this year, and will probably still be going next year; and there are hundreds of them all over the Long Beach area alone.
There is a lot going on in Southern California and never a dull moment, provided you enjoy the motor car in all its forms and can stand a town that seems to stretch for over 100 miles. The sheer density of traffic on the motorways and on the normal roads prevents any high-speed motoring, and everything seems to move at 50-60 m.p.h., even big lorries with double trailers. It is easy to see why central and east-coast Americans refer to California as an off-shore island in the West.