Letters, May 2008

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Don’t ruin Australia’s day

Sir,
So now we know. No matter that the Australians possess some of the finest and best-loved Grand Prix circuits in the world – and beautiful daylight to illuminate them. Unless, by agreeing to stage a night race, they capitulate to Bernie Ecclestone’s insistence on maximising his profits, then after 2010 it’s no more Formula 1 in Australia.

Once again, with a stroke of his pen, Ecclestone has degraded motor racing and damaged a local economy. In 2006, because Belgium could not meet his financial demands, Ecclestone punitively deprived it of its Grand Prix – at Spa, no less. In 2007, in the nearby town of Malmedy, I was talking to local folk, not all of them race-goers, about Ecclestone and his name in those parts. Their derisive laughter illustrated the damage he had done to their community, and how Ecclestone will be remembered not only by enthusiasts but by many others – with bitter contempt.

David Goddard, Hove, Sussex

Innovation wrong for the IRL
Sir,

Having first met him in the Formula Ford paddocks of the early ’70s, I have always been a fan of the writings and thoughts of Gordon Kirby. But this time, when he wants a radical new direction for Indycars, I think he’s heading the wrong way.

In Formula Ford, where modern science can do little harm, I am still a passionate fan of different manufacturers going head-to-head in an arena where young designers and drivers can learn their trades knowing that no single concept is likely to suddenly make the rest of the field obsolete. Yes, Gordon, innovation was great for 90 years, but give designers a free rein with big budgets nowadays and there will be too many occasions when it will become a two-horse race between team-mates – remember the Penske-Mercedes of 1994?

Surely the framework of NASCAR, which is so successful and so admired, is the path to take. The new ‘Cars of Tomorrow’ – which I guess are now the ‘Cars of Today’ – are all identical apart from the stickers on their bonnets and the make of the tightly regulated V8s under them. So forget science, it’s way too clever now, leave that to the Grand Prix world and in America concentrate on real racing. Make drivers household names and the sponsors will become attached to them. No-one cares if it’s a Dallara or a Panoz or a Lola under the skin – NASCAR fans root for the drivers and buy the products they promote.

If Honda is going to walk away from the IRL because it wants to embrace new technology then let it – don’t forget Toyota walked away and headed straight for the restricted world of NASCAR. And when it comes to embracing real-world challenges like fuel consumption, well surely the IRL’s move to 100 per cent fuel-grade ethanol is a step in the right direction.

So, let the manufacturers get involved with the engines and pack a field of 30 identical single-seaters onto the grids with regulation aerodynamics that encourage overtaking and give every one of them the chance to win. You’ll still want the best engineers to give you an edge but it will only ever be a small one, and that’s what the everyday racing fan wants – a race, not a science lesson.

Tiff Needell, Salisbury, Wiltshire

Poor show by Prost on Senna

Sir,
The legacy of the great Ayrton Senna seems to still cast an uncomfortable shadow over a certain Mr A Prost, as became clear from your interview with this once-formidable driver in the March edition of Motor Sport. Despite the passing of many years since their legendary battles, Prost’s inability to reconcile himself with the fact that he was outclassed by a driver that had his and everyone else’s measure from the outset, continues unabated.

To dismiss arguably (even though I’m convinced) the greatest F1 driver of all time’s racing skills as “unimpressive” defies comprehension. Even the most vocal of Senna detractors would have to give way to the genius of his racecraft during the 1984 Monaco, ’85 Portuguese (Estoril), ’88 Japanese (Suzuka) and ’93 European (Donington) Grands Prix, to name but a few.

Since Senna’s death, I had gained a great deal of respect for Prost in the way he was seemingly able to contextualise the past. His most recent rhetoric has certainly changed that and to foolishly underplay the Prost/Senna rivalry when comparing it to that of Häkkinen/Schumacher(?!) and Alonso/Hamilton, shows a man who is still prepared to wield the hatchet when so desired. And to think that not so many years ago Alain hailed Ayrton as his greatest adversary and vowed, out of respect, to never race an F1 car again. This latest pyrrhic attack shows anything but respect and indeed serves as a sad indictment of the Prost psyche.

Jacques Wessels, by e-mail

Don’t overreact to racism

Sir,
Gordon Proctor (No room for racism, April letters) has completely overreacted to the display of racism by Spanish fans. Whether he’s a hysterical liberal or not, the reports seem to indicate that only a handful of fans were responsible. Cancelling the GP would punish a huge number of ordinary race-loving fans.

If Bernie Ecclestone is going to cancel GPs for something like this then all that’s needed to stop, say, the Italian GP is for me and a few mates to head to Monza and hurl some anti- Finnish remarks at Kimi or Heikki. Although I have a sneaky feeling this wouldn’t generate quite the same outcry…

Richard Tudor-Owen, Ixworth, Suffolk

Give Piquet a chance

Sir,
I thought Jackie Stewart’s comments about Nelson Piquet Jr in the otherwise excellent Formula 1 season preview more than a little unbecoming. So Jackie thinks that young Nelson is spoilt. Why? Because his triple World Champion father helped set up a Formula 3 team, which then moved into the major sub-F1 single-seater series?

Jackie Stewart is free to hold his views about the drivers based on performance, and I’m quite happy to read them, but not when they are just personal jibes at the driver or his family. A British F3 title and a close second to Lewis Hamilton in GP2 seems to suggest that the Brazilian has fully earned his place in F1. I was even moved to think that Max Mosley had a point, and that takes some doing.

Peter Edwards, Preston, Lancashire

Tunnel vision at Brands

Sir,
‘When Brands was Hatched’ (April issue) revived nostalgic memories as I was a marshal at almost every BRSCC Brands meeting from 1954-74. But one of the photo captions contained a slight error.

The tunnel from the paddock to the infield was not built in 1950, but 10 years later in 1960. It was part of the massive reconstruction of the circuit in 1960, when the first permanent pits were built and the circuit was extended to 2.7 miles with the Grand Prix loop.

Before the tunnel was built, cars joined the circuit by the gate at the top of Paddock Hill, after leaving the paddock assembly area which was run by the ferocious, green-jerseyed Bert Lamkin. His word was law and even World Champions quaked in his presence and obeyed imperious blasts of his whistle! In real life Bert was a GPO engineer and was responsible for the installation of the Brands circuit telephone system in 1960, helped by teams of volunteer BRSCC marshals who dug trenches for the cables.

Until the pits were built in 1960, mechanics and helpers, even for international meetings, were herded into a rough, low breeze block-lined area, surfaced with trodden-down ashes and adjoining the exit gate. Literally ‘the pits’. Only a low chequer-painted plank fence separated cars entering Paddock Bend from these ‘pits’.

David Venables, Hove, East Sussex
Confused, we did some digging (!) and confirmed the picture is from 1950. But this isn’t the current Paddock tunnel. From an aerial photo on p32 of Chas Parker’s book, we reckon it is an earlier tunnel dug on the outside of the corner that doesn’t actually pass under the track… Can anyone confirm this? – DS

Down at the farm with Art

Sir,
Richard Heseltine’s fine piece (March issue) reminded me that as a regular visitor to the Thompson Drag Raceway from around 1965, I used to see Art Arfons shaking down some of his latest, greatest and most diabolical pieces of machinery. He’d utilise the quarter-mile to blow some JP4 fuel through the jet engines he bolted onto his various creations to see how they would act under load before heading to Bonneville.

When I was around 10 years old, Art rolled some crazy iteration of the Green Monster up to the line, built up some thrust, and hit the ignition button. I can still remember the smell of burnt jet fuel, a bright, incandescent blue flame and my hair being blown back when the car left the hole. It was a hell of a run and I could barely comprehend what happened. But I do remember one thing: the jet burned the parachute off, the car raced over the run-off area as if it did not exist, blowing through a huge pasture (filled with cows), through a fence and into the side of a farmer’s house far from the end of the strip. After what seemed like an eternity, an announcer on the PA system said Art was OK. Later I remember seeing the car, totally destroyed, being carted back on a massive tow truck.

Eric Johnson, Laguna Niguel, California, USA

Halford – a pioneer

Sir,
I enjoyed the article on Major Halford’s Special (April) but would like to correct a comment about the turbocharged version of his engine. This was indeed a very interesting development and to my knowledge is the earliest example of a road-going turbocharged engine.

Turbocharging was invented and developed by Alfred Buchi in the early 20th Century, and turbocharged experimental aircraft were tested during WWI. Halford would undoubtedly have known of this work from his own aircraft engine background. His 1.5-litre engine is shown in cross section in an excellent biography of Halford entitled Boxkite to Jet, published by the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust.

The engine had a turbocharger with a radial flow compressor and an axial flow turbine, mounted on the side of the engine (not under the sump) below the exhaust manifolds. The compressor faced inwards to the side of the block and was supplied with mixture from the carburettor on the opposite side of the engine through a duct passing through the block. The front and rear exhaust manifolds, three cylinders each, fed their gases into a collector housing and nozzle guide vanes before passing though the turbine wheel. The engine was also fitted with an intercooler beneath the sump. By modern standards the turbocharger appears very large in gas flow terms and physical size. Halford probably had no means of adjusting the flow characteristics of the turbine to suit the engine speed as in the modern wastegated or variable-geometry automotive turbochargers, and he abandoned the disappointing turbocharged version for mechanical supercharging.

Turbocharger development continued mainly on large industrial and marine diesel engines until the 1930s when manufacturers became aware of the benefits for commercial vehicles. Saurer is usually credited with the first production turbocharged diesel for road use in 1938.

Henry Tennant, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Lady firsts

Sir,
In your obituary of Elly Beinhorn you are wrong in stating that she was the only woman to drive the V16 Auto Union. Kay Petre drove the AU during her visit to South Africa with her own car in 1937. I met Kay when she was unveiling the MAC frieze at the Bridgnorth Motor Museum, and referred to this fact, upon which she modestly replied: “But I drove it only very slowly.”

I believe (I think from a Beinhorn remark in a book) that Rosemeyer had a soft spot for Kay, so perhaps that’s how she came to drive an AU.

I’m still of the opinion that there’s never been an exhaustive article or book on Kay and her activities, and it’s getting to the stage that soon it will be impossible with the diminishing number of people around who knew her. When I met her at the Bridgnorth Museum I naturally took my copy of Shelsley Walsh with me for her to sign and she said, “Let’s find a proper car to rest it on while I sign it,” before choosing an adjacent early Alfa. I must admit to being rather overawed by her because of her pre-war reputation.

Howard Stockley, Alcester, Warks

You were there…

Sir,
Stop. Right there. Now! Don’t change a thing, the magazine is as near perfect as it can be. You have the greatest writer in the world on Grand Prix racing in Nigel Roebuck (I can even put up with the occasional political rant) and the finest list of contributors. I love the mix of articles with old and new together in one great magazine. I even found myself pictured! I was there that wet day at Brands Hatch when Pedro Rodriguez worked his magic in the 1970 BOAC 1000kms. When flicking through Motor Sport I was boring my wife for the hundredth time about what a wonderful experience it had been when I suddenly realised that the wet and bedraggled 19-year-old in the background was me! It’s funny – I don’t think I’ve changed a bit in the intervening 38 years, but, strangely, everyone else does…

Keep up the good work. I look forward to Motor Sport thudding through my letterbox.

Paul Tarsey, Petersfield, Hants