Letters, May 2015

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Too much, too young?

“Is Max Verstappen too young to be an F1 driver?” asked Johnny Herbert in the April issue. While I acknowledge the response “If you’re quick enough, you’re old enough”, I do question how attractive increasingly young drivers are to the F1 audience. I don’t doubt Max Verstappen’s potential, but it’s not just about the performance on track. The individual out of the car has always been equally fascinating to many F1 fans.

While I love the technical side of F1, I have always been interested in the human aspect, specifically the personality, character and dare I say character flaws of individuals. What does a 17-year-old who’s been “racing professionally since he was four” have to say about life beyond what his PR manager tells him he is permitted to say?

I started to follow F1 seriously and attend Grands Prix from 1977, when I was a year younger than Mr Verstappen. What I wanted – and got – was more mature Grand Prix drivers with distinct personalities who were not afraid or restricted by then non-existent PRs to say what they thought about F1 and life in general – James Hunt, John Watson, Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti, Riccardo Patrese, John Watson, Guy Edwards, Vittorio Brambilla, Gilles Villeneuve, David Purley, Niki Lauda et al. Drivers were much more mature than I was and had something to say beyond today’s bland press interviews.

I thank Eddie Irvine, Kimi Raïkkönen, Mark Webber and Niki Lauda (God bless him) for being more outspoken in recent years.

I hope that I am wrong and that the likes of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr will attract a younger audience to Formula 1 – something the Grand Prix community, apart from Bernie of course, is concerned about. In the meantime I need to go and check out the sublime driving skills of talented 17-year-olds – so I’m off to my local supermarket car park on Saturday night.

Peter Phillipson, Bonsall, Derbyshire

Keep up at the back

I can’t be the only one who did not find the Australian Grand Prix boring. Mercedes has worked long and hard to get to this point and I love watching Lewis’s driving skills. It reminds me of Jim Clark’s style much more then Senna’s; the other teams want to stop moaning and catch up.

Andre Wells, Plumpton Green, East Sussex

Peak performance

Andrew Frankel made a serious omission in his Jaguar racing story in March. There was not a mention of arguably the greatest race win for the TWR XJ-S – the 1985 James Hardie 1000 at Mount Panorama, Bathurst, NSW.

Armin Hahne and local John Goss brought the TWR XJ-S, sponsored by Australian Jaguar importer JRA, home just 47sec ahead of a BMW 635 CSi after 163 laps of the very demanding and spectacular Mount Panorama circuit. Tom Walkinshaw and Win Percy were third in their XJ-S. The local Mount Panorama favourites, Holden and Ford who had dominated the race for years, were blown into the weeds by the pace of the Europeans. The Hahne/Goss win was even more remarkable as, for the second half of the race, the drivers had to contend with a broken driving seat, repaired after a heavy shunt at Silverstone earlier in the year. The repair came apart on the twisting Bathurst track and the drivers had no back support for more than 80 laps.

John Shingleton, Terrigal, NSW, Australia

Ducking and diving

Your recent article on Pedro Rodriguez and his great drive in the 1970 BOAC 1000 brought back some wonderful memories. I will never forget the sight of that hairy, great 917 fishtailing around Clearways and squirrelling down past the pits in the pelting rain.

Another event served to make the day truly unforgettable. I had managed to get press passes for the weekend, so my wife and I had stayed with friends living near the circuit to maximise our usage of these precious items. Come the start and we were in position, sitting in front of the press box whee we could see Barrie Smith’s Lola, on its totally inappropriate tyres, coming straight for us – fast and completely out of control!

Along with the rest of our damp fellow spectators we hit the deck, only for the huge earth bank to bring the errant vehicle to a safe halt. Picking ourselves up, rather sheepishly, thinking we had perhaps overreacted, we were met by the sight of many famous and experienced journalists also picking themselves up from behind their desks.

The only casualty was a friend who received a painful blow from a flying wooden sign that proclaimed ‘Motor racing is dangerous’.

John Millard, St Clar, France

Come and see my etching

I read with interest the story on Ralph Broad’s Jaguar XJ12 racer – especially his comments on the its rigidity.

I’d better explain that I had an electro-plating works, and apart from plating I also did acid-etching to lighten metal parts. You might be surprised if you knew some of my customers’ names, for most were regarded as ‘goody two-shoes’. It wasn’t illegal so long as you were not under the minimum weight limit, so Ralph wanted me to dip the XJ to take off weight.

I told him that no one had a tank big enough to accommodate an XJ saloon; we’d have to etch individual panels, doors, bonnet, boot and roof etc. “Right Brodie boy, I’ll see to it.”

One morning Ralph called to tell me Leyland would later be delivering the XJ panels. Two 40ft trucks arrived and, opening the tailgate, I couldn’t believe my eyes – both trucks were loaded to the roof with four complete sets of loose XJ12 chassis panels, including spares. We worked 24-hour days etching these panels, with Ralph’s van coming and going three times a day.

All this happened 40 years ago and, although Ralph must have strengthened those XJ chassis with roll-cage fixings at every conceivable point to get the rigidity, I really can’t believe those XJ chassis haven’t rusted away, given the savage, 20 per cent weight reduction we carried out. There was no possible way to get those panels clean and dry enough without rust forming prior to Leyland’s night shift assembling and priming them – as many of my race and rally clients found out within a few years when the cars were out of service.

But then, of course, the redoubtable and lovely Ralph Broad was a clever man – especially when possessed, as frankly he was throughout his life!

David Brodie, by e-mail

Prince of toys

Gordon Cruickshank’s column mentioned the episode when Bira’s wife Ceril heard Chula shouting at Bira for cheating (April issue). They had been racing toy cars and Bira had stuffed his Dinky toy with chewing gum to improve its chances. But it wasn’t chewing gum, it was Plasticine and I know that because I am looking at those very Dinky toys as I write, with the Plasticine lump still in place inside. Eight years ago I bought three pre-war Dinky racing cars that came from Prince Chula’s estate at Tredethy, through his estate manager, Colonel Potts. They came with a letter of provenance.

The three toys are Dinky 23a, based on George Eyston’s MG ‘Magic Magnette’ EX135. One definitely dates from 1935, which coincides with Chula and Bira’s purchase of their full-size K3 Magnette. They have been overpainted in yellow and green with racing numbers 1, 2 and 3, probably by Bira himself. Perhaps the paint has gone through some chemical change as the letter describes them as yellow and blue.

Bira’s passion for toys and racing games shows in his book Bits and Pieces when he talks about his frequent visits to toy shops and the suitcase of toys that travelled with him. Tania Gaubert’s memoirs, available online, describe a wartime visit to Chula and Bira in Cornwall: “On entering the hall, I found Prince Chula, his brother Prince Bira, his cousin and the two wives on all fours, playing races with miniature cars on the floor.”

Bira’s wife Ceril mentions the toy obsession several times in her book The Prince & I in terms that make it sound quite unhealthy: at Christmas in 1938, she says, Bira dragged everyone out of bed at dawn to rush to the Christmas tree where it took two hours to unwrap 120 presents. Later, filling in time during the war, Bira made excellent wooden toys that Hamleys sold for him.

James Long, Clifton, Bristol

Remembering Noel Pasteau

Many of your readers will have visited that famous motor racing institution the Hotel de France, in connection with the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The patriarch of the family that owned the Hotel for more than 100 years was Noel Pasteau, who died in March. Born in 1927, he was sent to catering college by his parents, then running the hotel, returning in 1952 as head chef. Under his direction the hotel restaurant gained a Michelin star.

His return coincided with the motor racing connection that made the hotel so well known. John Wyer billeted his troops there until he retired, after which teams and race personnel have continued to use the hotel to this day. Many of us became close friends with the family. Through his hotel, Noel Pasteau contributed significantly to four overall victories, those of Aston Martin (1959), Gulf Ford GT40 (1968, 1969) and Gulf Mirage Ford (1975).

Noel was a loyal friend with a quiet charm and sense of humour, much loved by family and friends as witnessed by the enormous turn-out for his funeral. There were flowers from many drivers and team personnel who had stayed at the hotel over the years, a fitting tribute to a man who had such a passion for the 24 Hours. Jacky Ickx visited Noel every year since 1966, Derek Bell and his family have been regulars, too.

A morning spent with Noel last year, reminiscing about the drivers, teams, and celebrities who had visited, was a history lesson. The cast included royalty, heads of state, politicians, actors and artists. I think his fondest personal feelings were for Ickx, Bell, Mike Hailwood, Jo Siffert, Peter Collins and Lucien Bianchi among the drivers, and Pierre Sallinger and Steve McQueen from all the others.

On a personal note I knew Noel for almost 50 years, during which time he gave me and my family friendship, affection, help and sound advice. To his sons Thierry and Francis I offer sincere condolences on behalf of us all.

Maitland Cook, London

Putting names to faces

I write in regard to a photograph that appeared in your Hotel de France story in the February issue. The photo is of the works TVR team and, as I was present at that 1962 Le Mans race and stayed at the hotel, I thought you might be interested in the identification of those in the photograph (see caption).

On the right is my father Henry Moulds, who was one of the earlier backers of TVR and also managing director. He worked tirelessly for TVR, alas for no financial success. His contribution to the firm has been grossly underrated in the many articles published on the early days of the company.

Back to Le Mans. Father and I travelled to France by Air Ferry in my TVR, reg number 184PTB. Contrary to some opinions, there were only two cars entered and taken to Le Mans in 1962, namely the ones shown in the photo.

Peter H Moulds, Knutsford, Cheshire