Letters, May 2012

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Don’t blame the bean counters

Sir,

As both a motor sport enthusiast and a chartered accountant I must object to the comments made by editor Damien Smith regarding Peugeot’s withdrawal from the WEC and the cutting back of the MINI rally programme.

In the case of Peugeot this is an organisation that currently has the twin problems of falling sales and a desperate need to invest in new product, both of which are a drain on financial resources. Clearly something has to give, and a motor sport programme must seem an expensive luxury at a time when the organisation is fighting for its survival. Rather than being “shortsighted” and “selfish” as Mr Smith suggests, the decision is just plain common sense.

Our editor goes on to ask if BMW’s decision regarding the MINI rally programme makes sense. How many of us have felt cheated when a builder or mechanic identifies a problem that means the job is going to cost a lot more than the agreed expenditure? This is effectively what Prodrive has done with the MINI project in going back to BMW to ask for more money because they have failed to raise sufficient sponsorship. Furthermore, given the choice between the stable DTM series or the shambles that is currently the WRC I think most people would know which choice makes most sense.

As motor sports enthusiasts we all appreciate that large manufacturers bring a lot of credibility to our sport. We must, however, acknowledge that they will only invest in motor sport programmes that make sense; to believe otherwise is romantic naivety. In taking cheap shots at the “corporate bean counters” Mr Smith is descending into hackneyed journalistic stereotyping. The readers of Motor Sport deserve better.

Gareth Tarr, Chertsey, Surrey

***

Sold on Ireland

Sir,

Nigel Roebuck’s ‘Reflections’ on Innes Ireland in the February issue motivates this letter to share my fondness for Innes.

In the early Sixties I was working in Stuttgart and trying to race a TR3. In 1961 I went to Solitude with the Stuttgart Sports Car Club to watch the masters of the day, Innes, Moss, Gurney, McLaren and others, dicing in Lotuses, Porsches, Coopers, etc. After a hard fight Innes won with a Lotus to the delight of Chapman, and in the evening our little club threw a party for him. This is where I met him first [see pictures below]. A ferocious party animal but he also impressed us with his down to earth attitude, his gentlemanly behaviour and his simplicity. I became sold on this character.

In the Eighties, being involved with the French Ferrari Club, I concocted a series of Ferrari 20th anniversaries, including that of the 250GTO. Innes had shown quite a bit of gusto with the UDT Laystall GTO, and, remembering our encounter back in 1961, I thought that he would be a perfect guest for our one-week drive across Burgundy. He was indeed: a gentleman during the day drive and the heart of the party at night, to put it mildly… But also great fun, a great raconteur, elegant with the ladies, impeccably behaved. On top of this the Harrison brothers had come from the UK with Innes’s old winning GTO, and the reunion delighted Innes.

For the GTO’s 25th anniversary in 1987, along with Pierre Noblet, I thought that Innes would again be appropriate for our week’s road trip to the Bordeaux area as he wouldn’t mind comparing his own national refreshment with the local Grands Crus… He came back for another hilarious week, so genuinely friendly and happy to be there. As a token of thanks he wrote a very nice and lengthy piece in Road & Track on the subject. Having been ‘married’ to 3607GT for 20 happy years I was always in awe of these GTO pilots’ exploits on the track, and admire a person like Innes Ireland not only for his career but also for his persona.

You made my day with your Ireland recollection. Thank you, and let’s have a drink to Innes.

Jess Pourret, Chiang Mai, Thailand

***

Technical focus

Sir,

I enjoyed reading about active suspension on the Williams cars in the March issue and had to re-read the passage and do some serious mental exercise to understand how it works. This is refreshing, because for me too many magazines focus on aesthetics and history, and not enough about what makes cars tick. Technical without mathematical formulae would be perfect. Yours is the magazine I’d keep if I had to rationalise my many subscriptions down to one. Andrew Frankel’s articles are worth the cover price alone.

Nick Ashby, London W1

***

Seven Lords leaping

Sir,

What has an F1 grand prix in Bahrain to do with seven Lords and a Green Party MP showing their “concern” over the running of the race? Surely the only acceptable reason for not going ahead with the race would be if it was clearly unsafe for the drivers and teams. If Bernie Ecclestone and the team managers are satisfied with the security arrangements provided by the Bahrain government, then the race should go ahead. Motor sport should not be allowed to become a political football for interfering Westminster politicians. Teams taking part in the race in no way should be construed to imply either their support for or opposition to the Bahrain government. Modern F1, whether we like it or not, has become a huge commercial enterprise providing mass entertainment, and the F1 circus travels to wherever it offers a worthwhile commercial return.

Jeremy Willings, Liphook, Hants

***

Antipodean antidote

Sir,

I invariably turn to the Parting Shot page immediately on receiving the magazine each month and enjoy trying to identify as much as I can about the picture featured before looking at the caption. This month, having identified the location as Pukekohe and the race as the 1969 New Zealand GP, I was somewhat surprised to see the picture captioned as being taken at the 1969 Australian GP at Lakeside. While the modern Tilkedrome looks the same regardless of location and is thus easily mis-identifiable, I don’t think the same could be said of these two circuits!

That quibble aside, congratulations on April’s interview with Mike Thackwell, a man who should’ve graced an Fl grid for many years but who chose to walk away, seemingly without regret, well before the age of 30 and who seems to have a very well-balanced view on life and how he wants to live it. In my view Rob Widdows’ piece ought to be compulsory reading for all young (and not so young) drivers. You never know, it might cause them to question their self-importance knowing that a man with more talent in his little finger than most of them put together was prepared to give it up because he recognised that there are other things in life than driving round in circles generating as much cash as possible in the belief that they are the centre of the universe!

Chris Halt Hemel Hempstead, Herts

***

Vans for the memory

Sir,

A message for your Art Editor Mr Damon Cogman and Associate Editor Mr Ed Foster about the Fiat 900 ex-Ferrari service van which they coveted in the Bonhams auction.

Sorry guys, the van has gone to Austria, to join my Alfa Romeo Maserati service van…

Heinz Swoboda, Vienna, Austria

***

Thackwell takes his queue

Sir,

I just had to send you this story because they don’t come much stranger than this. I recently had to pop into a local post office. Waiting in the mile-long queue my thoughts lingered over your excellent article on Mike Thackwell, which was for me the highlight of this month’s read. As the queue shuffled forward I spotted a man chatting with an older lady. Then I recognised the symbol on his dark woolly hat and looked again; you couldn’t mistake those piercing blue eyes, the stubble and the Jaguar jacket. Yes, it must be Mike Thackwell! Smilingly he shook my hand and confirmed it was him, to my great delight. I muttered something about seeing him at Silverstone in the early Eighties. “Ah, those were the days,” he said with another smile.

Then as I walked outside, to my delighted surprise there he was again with pipe in hand. We had a very relaxed chat for 15 minutes or so on life and racing. I told him about Rob Widdows’ article and how much I and other motor sport fans appreciated him meeting you to talk about his life. He said he owed it to Rob as he was one of the first to give him a radio interview when he came over to the UK, and that all he wanted was a bottle of whisky. How refreshing in these days of agents looking out for every deal! He had kind words for Rob, James Weaver and his mechanics. A real true gentleman and a great racer, much missed.

We got on to the subject of Goodwood; he was spectating there and rather to his embarrassment Jochen Mass recognised him!

Thanks for bringing Mike out to talk. Had I not seen those fantastic photos in Motor Sport I would never have recognised him.

Martyn HuIland, Maidenhead, Berks

***

Dealing with tragedy

Sir,

I am writing to congratulate Nigel Roebuck and other Motor Sport writers for their sensitive and informative articles on the deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli in the January 2012 issue. It’s never easy to be a spectator and commentator reporting these tragedies, and it’s difficult to report in a way that respects the deceased, their loved ones and friends.

The IndyCar accident at Las Vegas certainly was made worse by the flight of impacted cars once downforce ceased to keep these cars on the bitumen. I certainly think that cars with less downforce would be safer in an accident, but would this open another can of worms? We see incidents as recent as 2011 where 2000kg NASCAR stock cars take flight at 190mph and the catch fences did their job of keeping the wreckage on the track and not amongst spectators. Racing light open-wheelers on banked ovals is a recipe for further disaster under current IndyCar design rules.

Stephen Asprey, Lane Cove, NSW, Australia

***

Rendezvous with Rondeau

Sir,

I was fascinated to see Nigel Roebuck’s remarks about losing interest in a race that could be won by a Rondeau. 1980 was my first trip to Le Mans and the start of a love affair — the tickets are already bought for number 31 this June. Perhaps the 1980 entry was not the best ever, but this was an epic — we had no idea who would win and the guy did it in a fantastic-looking car he made himself just down the road. Surely that puts it up there on the list of most romantic racing happenings?

Apparently, going to Daytona is now a highlight of Nigel’s year — so he wasn’t put off a race that could be won by a Porsche 911? Maybe he should give Le Mans another try…

Ian Mann, Divonne les Bains, France

***

Fitch’s record

Sir,

I’m prompted to write regarding your article on John Fitch in the April edition. I have had the privilege of meeting John on a few occasions at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, USA. To add to your list of his accomplishments, this track was heavily influenced in design and engineering by John Fitch. It dates to the early 1950s and is very ‘old school’ — no stands, just beautiful sloping tree-lined hills to sit on and enjoy the race action.

John Fitch also designed and engineered his own road car, the Phoenix, and a fuel line catalyst that in my experience actually works. In addition he is involved with Mercedes in speed record attempts involving restored 300SL Gullwings. John is frequently seen at vintage race events, particularly Lime Rock, and is always very approachable. To top all this off he is a decorated WWII combat pilot. I look forward to seeing him during the 2012 racing season.

Michael O’Connor, Bronx, New York, USA

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