A night at the Opera House

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The fourth Motor Sport Hall of Fame took place in a new venue, but the evening’s allure remained unchanged
Rob Widdows

It is not every day that visitors to the Royal Opera House in London find a Le Manswinning Audi on the pavement outside. But this was the sight that greeted guests at the Motor Sport Hall of Fame in February, the annual event moving from Chalk Farm to Covent Garden for 2013.

While the singers rehearsed Tosca in the Opera House next door, in the Paul Hamlyn Hall a new band of legendary racers was inducted into the Hall of Fame to the delight of more than 500 guests. The new members for 2013 were Colin Chapman, Tom Kristensen, Niki Lauda and Damon and Graham Hill.

Introduced by Simon Lazenby and Natalie Pinkham from the Sky Sports Fl team, Clive Chapman was first on stage to accept the award and TAG Heuer timepiece for his late father Cohn Chapman, the founder of Lotus and one of the sport’s most innovative engineers. Colin’s widow Hazel was also there to see her illustrious husband honoured.

“I went to quite a few races with my father,” Clive said, “and realised how much he had achieved and how much he was respected by people in motor sport. It’s lovely that this award shows how much he is still respected. Life with my father was a great adventure, always lived at 100mph wherever we went. My mother was a big part of his success and I was shocked to see a photo the other day — when I was three years old, it showed that she was at Indy watching Lotus win the race.”

Jackie Oliver, who joined Sir Jackie Stewart to present the award, said that Chapman was a towering presence in the sport. “It was not Team Chapman, it was Team Lotus,” he said, “and Lotus stood for lightness and innovation, and he brought both those things to his Grand Prix cars.”

Niki Lauda, one of the few who can truly be called a living legend, received his award from Ferrari vice-chairman Piero Ferrari and TAG Heuer honorary chairman Jack Heuer. The triple World Champion was greeted by a standing ovation before addressing the audience.

Asked what the Hall of Fame induction meant to him, Niki replied: “What does it mean to me? It means I am a living legend,” he smiled. Asked about his job at the Mercedes-Benz F1 team he was upbeat ahead of a new season. “Lewis Hamilton is settling in very well,” he said, “and I think he and Nico [Rosberg] are the best team of drivers. That is a step forward but it will be hard work. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

Typically, he also raised the biggest laugh of the night when he was asked about the forthcoming Hollywood movie Rush and its depiction of his rivalry with James Hunt. When asked how he first felt about being portrayed on the ‘silver screen’, Lauda said: “I thought it would be very difficult to find someone to play me because it would have to be an actor who had two ears at the start of the movie and one at the end!”

Piero Ferrari enjoyed meeting up with his old friend and recalled how his father Enzo had first seen Lauda driving in Monaco on television. “He saw him there and liked his style and wanted him to race for Ferrari. I was often in the middle between Niki and my father during the time he was at Ferrari in the 1970s and we had many good times when he brought the World Championship back to us.”

A roar of approval greeted the induction of Damon Hill and his late father Graham Hill. The 1996 World Champion was accompanied by the third generation of a British motor racing dynasty, his son Josh, who will contest the European Formula 3 series this year. His grandfather Graham, famous for his tenacity and showmanship, won the Formula 1 World Championship twice, in 1962 with BRM and in 1968 with Lotus, as well as the Indy 500 in ’66 and Le Mans in ’72 — a unique achievement.

“It was incredible to follow in my father’s footsteps,” said Damon, “and this induction into such a prestigious Hall of Fame has made me realise how much my father achieved. He was there with so many of the other great drivers. It was a process of osmosis for me. I grew up in the world of Grand Prix racing and it’s an incredible honour for me to be here to receive this award. And now I am busy helping Josh in his career. He has brought me out of retirement, so we now have a third generation.”

Another popular inductee was the man who has won Le Mans eight times and who remains an ace in Audi’s sports car pack. Tom Kristensen received his award from long-time co-drivers Allan McNish and Dindo Capello.

“It is a huge honour for me to receive this award from a magazine that is known right around the world, it means a lot to me,” said Tom. “I have been very fortunate to drive for the very best teams and to share a car with fantastic co-drivers and so this award is for them just as much as me.”

Dindo Capello said that Kristensen made a real difference every time he was in the car.

“He is outstanding at Le Mans, especially in the night. Often there have been a few hours in the dark when he has won the race for us.”

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