Letters, May 2017

The truly great John Surtees

I first saw John Surtees at Brands Hatch in 1954 on the REG and his pair of Nortons. That year he competed in 66 races, winning 54 of them. On two wheels he was equal to Geoff Duke and Mike Hailwood – the very best. On four wheels he was second only to Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart.

In 1956 he helped to develop the MV4 into a world title winner and seven years later did the same at Ferrari. He then went on to give Cooper and Honda their first 3-litre F1 wins. My only regret is that he did not persevere with BRM; with the P153 he would have won races in 1970 and could easily have been champion again in 1971.

Richard Bee, Bedford

Second helping

On this sad day I have just finished reading (for the second time) Simon Taylor’s Lunch with… John Surtees and it is the best thing by him I’ve read. Taylor was thorough in his research and respectful of the story and the man. I applaud Motor Sport for presenting this quality of work.

Neal Weingart, Ohio, USA

Flying halt

I read Doug Nye’s article about carbon brakes with interest – and like all stories it has a prequel. During 1972 Dunlop approached John Surtees to test carbon brake materials for Concorde. In the end the programme produced a raceable set-up but, in John’s words, “Someone who worked for us told Gordon Murray and Bernie bought the project.” As my photo proves, John was never one to throw anything away so these parts were in a box in the rack. 

Ian Skinner, John Surtees Ltd, Edenbridge, Kent

Radio silence is golden

Richard Williams had some excellent points in his April article on radio communication to F1 drivers. Obviously, a half-hearted attempt was made not too long ago to limit communications, but it quickly turned into one more poorly thought-out patch.

I believe that the issue could be resolved very simply by banning all radio communications between teams and drivers while a car is on the track. Clearly the team needs to be able to warn the driver about a serious problem and the driver needs to be able to warn the team about an upcoming pit stop. The team should be allowed to illuminate one of two warning lights in the cockpit: ‘Stop the car’ or ‘Pit immediately’. And the driver could have buttons allowing him to signal a planned pit stop and to indicate his choice of new tyres.

It is clearly vital for the teams to be able to collect as much data as they can while the car is on track. Anything learned from this data should be available for use as soon as possible. If the team wants to make any adjustments between practice or qualifying sessions, that’s fine, but they should be unable to pass on any info once the car is moving.Let engineers engineer and drivers drive.

John Tuleibitz, South Carolina, USA

Calamity Crutchlow

Mat Oxley’s article on Cal Crutchlow reminded me of when Cal rode for us in the British Superbike Championship in 2007, having won the Supersport 600 Championship in 2006.

This photo (below) was taken at Croft where Cal had put our Suzuki GSX 1000 on pole. He unfortunately lost the bike on the right-hander just before the start/finish straight, and a photographer caught him and bike in this unusual pose. Luckily only his pride was hurt.

I had been asked to look after the new Japanese boss of Suzuki GB, attending his first BSB race. Both he and myself, in the background in blue, bear rather strained expressions as we watch events unfold. As does Ron Haslam, there supporting his son Leon.

I really enjoyed having a young Cal in our team and very much noted his raw talent, although I must admit he did ‘jump off’ quite a lot. Though I’m now running the official Yamaha R1 World Superbike project, I’ve kept in touch and followed his progress. He is the only ex-rider from Crescent Racing to have won Moto GP races. He deserved it and I hope he continues in 2017.

We tried to retain him for 2008, but Honda tempted him with a better package and he went on to win the 2009 World Supersport Championship.

John Denning, Verwood, Dorset

Rue awakening

Michel Mathieu’s great pictures of his days at the Reims-Gueux circuit reminded me of one of my own favourite memories from the days of real road-racing. 

I was in Paris during the summer of 1965 and thought the Reims weekend was not to be missed. I duly set off by train from Paris on Saturday morning. My French was appalling, but on arrival at Reims I managed to convey to a taxi driver that I wanted to be taken to the circuit. He meandered through the Champagne countryside for about 45 minutes, eventually dropping me off at a T-junction of what seemed like normal country roads in the middle of nowhere. 

The tranquil peace of a hot French morning was silently still, not a soul in sight, and as I wondered which direction to take I saw a gendarme strolling along the road. I struggled to convey my need to know which direction to walk so as to find the circuit; all that he could do was to point at a wood on the other side of the road. 

As this ‘conversation’ was struggling painfully I could hear the unmistakable wail of a 12-cylinder Ferrari being given the beans, so I reckoned that at least the circuit was not too far off. Then, suddenly, over a crest to my right came a 25 0GTO absolutely flat out, passing me and my ‘friend’ without let up although we were standing by the side of the road.

More nonchalant pointing towards the wood and the centime dropped: I was standing on the back straight of the circuit, the main Soissons to Reims road, the N31, and practice was now under way with a vengeance!

I swiftly (very!) crossed just as a P2 Ferrari breasted that crest, turned to wave thanks to the gendarme and struggled through the wood. Emerging from the other side there was the magical scene of the paddock and grandstands. For the price of a programme I was in by the back door and for the following 36 hours saw real road racing.

Gavin Ross, Alford, Grampian

Exile on Maine street

Further to Gordon Cruickshank’s article (March 2017), the photo below shows my late father Ledyard Pfund’s Vanderbilt Renault in 1951. It lived in a barn, protected from rodents by a stuffed owl. It is now in semi-restored condition at the Transportation Museum, Owls Head, Maine, USA. A fund-raising effort aims to get it running once more.

The midships radiator is innovative but troublesome. There is no water pump – cooling is by thermo-syphon effect, with a huge fan built into the aluminium flywheel to pull air through the radiator. Based on my father’s experience, the car wanted to be run, not idled.

Unmentioned in Mr Cruickshank’s article were the are the exhaust bypass valve and the wonderful oil pump and reservoir tank that sits in the middle of the dashboard, topped by a row of brass needle valves that discharge oil to various engine systems through glass sight tubes. The oil that did not get consumed apparently drained out onto the road.

Bruce Pfund, Westerley, Rhode Island, USA

One more for the road

Your mention of both Giuseppe ‘Campari’ and André ‘Dubonnet’ in your March issue made me think that maybe an article on Pierluigi ‘Martini’ might be appropriate.

Oliver Venning, Chippenham, Wilts

Champagne reception 

That was a great Private View feature on the Reims-Gueux circuit in your April edition. Our club, Les Amis du Circuit de Gueux, is working hard to restore the paddock buildings. If you would like to support us, more information and membership details can be found at http://www.amis-du-circuit-de-gueux.fr.

Neil Webster, Chelles, France

Shouldn’t happen to a ’vette 

In your V8 roadster track test (April 2017) you mention Corvettes being introduced in 1952. I believe their first year in production was 1954. I relish reading your magazine – thanks.

Bill Shepherd, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

Straight and narrow

I recently acquired a collection of Nürburgring Nordschleife material and amongst it was a programme for a motorcycle race meeting held in the picture postcard-pretty German town of Monschau, near the Belgian border. It is dated June 1, 1951. I had no idea they ever held races there.

Further research turned up a report (September 1966) from none other than Jenks, who raced there in a sidecar alongside Eric Oliver with whom he won the world championship in 1949.

He says: “For old times’ sake I detoured to pass through the picturesque village of Monschau, where I raced through the streets on motorcycle and sidecar in 1950/51. I well recall the organisers telling us before practice began that there was a ‘no passing zone’ down the High Street, and we thought it ridiculous until we arrived at the main street through the village: it was only just wide enough for one racing sidecar outfit and was surfaced with polished cobblestones! The rest of the circuit was in the surrounding hills and was great fun, so we accepted the ‘no passing zone’ in the right spirit.”

Strolling the main street it would be hard to imagine them racing solos yet alone sidecars through the tight confines. For Jenks to think the ‘no passing zone’ made sense gives you an idea of how dangerous it must have been!

Neil Leigh, Spa, Belgium