Some Cogent Comments on British Racing
as delivered by Peter Browning
SINCE 1972 the Executive Director of the British Racing and Sports Car Club has been Peter Browning. With the BRDC’s former chief scrutineer as a father, and experience that has covered RAC Timekeeping, the Austin Healey Club, MG’s Safety Fast periodical, Competition Management at BMC (where he succeeded Stuart Turner), journalism with Autocar, and the authorship of some authoritative books, including both Healey and Mini histories, Browning has impeccable qualifications for directing one of Britain’s big three motor clubs. We asked him for his personal feelings about the British sporting scone, rather than the official BRSCC position, and the results were some pretty accurate observations. These thoughts add up to the increasing need for all motor sporting factions to co-operate with each other, if Britain is to retain its role as the place to race and rally.
This problem of co-operation is illustrated when Browning talks about the bi-annual Olympia Racing Car Show. “The BRSCC and the SMM&T get together to make the Show a possibility. We used to plan on accepting a slight loss before the public came in, relying on attendances to make up the financial balance. Now, with the incredible demands of the top Fl teams, wacking in bills for hire and transport for that central display feature (which is also their sponsorship showpiece), it becomes difficult to recoup our losses. Add the attitude of many club racing competitors who ask for £100 to borrow the car for display, and then they bung in bills for transport too, and it becomes difficult to stage the show at all. Last year the club made a loss, and I must be sure in my own mind, before we open the doors to the public, that this doesn’t happen again.
“This leads me into the use of star Formula One drivers in the UK. We simply have nobody we can readily call on who is .a big name, doesn’t live in Spain, and who can string enough words together for a six-minute talk, that doesn’t cost the club a bomb. I feel that the top line professionals do owe the sport a bit more than demanding extra money, but with almost no exception, we find the professionals much more difficult to deal with than the average FF competitor. At least the latter is now trained to get his entries in on time!
“I think the most valuable thing about the Avon Tour is that it gets all elements of the sport together under one roof for the final night’s party. In fact, I think that is sufficient reason for staging the event, for at no other time do racing and rally competitors and officials get the chance to understand each other’s problems. It is important that we do all know as much about different aspects of the sport as possible, when there are so many pressures that could stop our pleasure: the sport needs to be united to resist such attempts.” Since he was brought up in the atmosphere
of a family where father also raced MGs and Amilcars, it’s hardly surprising that Browning has strong views about safety regulations that disfigure many models from the past, when they come to race on British tracks in 1975. “When the resolution to adopt things like crutch straps, or roll-over hoops, on historic cars is put forward in an RAC Race Committee meeting, one automatically puts a hand up in support, reasoning that if we’ve made the Formula Ford men do it, why not all the others . . ? Then I look at MG Tas and so on, carrying such ghastly great hoops, and I begin to wonder if we over-react to the safety thing. In the same way I think it would be very good for racing if the circuits could get 10-year safety certificates. At present the circuit owner never knows when Jean-Pierre Beltoise is going to drop out of the sky and demand the installation of some great new safety aid. If only the CSI could bring itself to plan out the way the sport is run, instead of these sudden panics over this or that. “Then the circuit owners, just as one example, could budget exactly what they would need to spend, and having done that some money could be devoted to improving the standards of parking, feeding and spectating facilities, to ensure the poor spectators,
I competitors and marshals get a better deal. Under the present system an owner might expend £100,000 on a new paddock, while the volunteer marshals shiver on the patch of mud that they’ve been trying to get exchanged for a proper concrete base during the past five years!”
As we went to press the CSI had decreed that the minimum rewards for a Formula Three race should amount to half that of an F2 field: in practice this could be £9,000 in Britain. The prompt reaction of the UK organisers was to return unanimous telexes to the effect: “no way”. For the 1976 season it is expected that the F2 package, without star Fl names, could cost an organiser up to £30,000 and Fl would total at £150,000 for the FICA members. To us, journalists or spectators, all the figures except the F3 demand seem like the proverbial telephone numbers. Then you hear about an F2 competitor talking about £30,000 as a cut price. Inflation obviously makes a substantial contribution to the woes of competitor and organiser alike, but Browning’s personal view, and one which it is easy to sympathise with, unless you are actually paying the bills of an international formula team, is that the public are only interested in paying high admission charges for names that they know. Only a few 1 seasons ago, F2 attracted the likes of Mike Hailwood, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Jody’ Scheckter, but now, as Peter Browning so aptly puts it “from a British organiser’s viewpoint, the fields are full of Jean-Pierre No bodies”. The painful truth is that British crowds are interested in seeing international stars at work—remember the support the
BARG received when Jochen Rindt was appearing in the same field as Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon—but that the stars of today can receive far higher rewards abroad, and so driver demands have sharply escalated. For example, a good F2 name would demand up to £1,000 minimum appearance/start money, while a real ace can command £2,000 fairly easily for a European F2 race. Unfortunately, most organisers can’t afford these sums, and for the majority of GP drivers it’s not an attractive proposition to put their reputations at stake.
So far as racing is concerned, the European audience may well be prepared to pay a little more, and turn up in greater numbers, simply because French, Italian and German stars are far more involved in both F3 and F2. The reason that they are more involved is that Elf, VW and Renault set themselves the objective of launching the big names of tomorrow, With the kind of solid rewards that are fragmented in Britain for many other formulae. Overall race attendances are increased within the UK by the myriad formulae, but at what cost to our international hopes of success?
At present we have the situation where Tom Pryce, James Hunt,Tony Brise, Bob Evans and Brian Henton are largely the British offspring of the extra formulae that have been part of British racing in recent years: James Hunt is the only one to follow the F3, F2 natural line of progressionBrowning feels that we can attract a lot more people into racing, simply by making things less formal than they are now.
“We have all the rigmarole of 20-minute practice sessions, safety equipment and serutineering checks before someone can venture out onto the circuit. I think that there should be a level, below the top three Formula One and top 15 national events, that allows people to get on with the task Of learning to be a racing driver far away from the paying spectator. Each year we run a Formula Ford Festival at Snetterton. There are no timekeepers and grids are based on a driver’s recent “form”. From the club’s point of view we can run everything on a knockout 5-lap basis, getting more competitors and entry fees in. From the competitor’s viewpoint we save about £350 of timekeepers’ fees, which can be put into the prize fund. On an average weekend I think there must be £25,000 worth of FFs that are lying in the garage with no circuit at which they can get an entry, so if we can cater for more competitors, it benefits both them and club funds. The only way I can see in which we may follow this path is by holding one non-spectator, non-press, event Per month, meeting a competitor demand that exists, not only in Formula Ford, but als.e’ in production saloons, sports cars, and In some areas, modified sports cars.” Turning to the vexed question of circu,it safety once more, Browning feels that it is important to rethember that both Ou1ton Par Continued on page 1251 1 Continued from page 1254
and Snetterton, which have short circuits for car use this season, by-passing some famous but sparsely populated spectator areas, are used in their original forms for motorcycles. It is somewhat wearing to hear what fantastic crowds motorbikes attract and how Promoters find perfection in two wheels. However, it remains a fact that, as Browning says, “the motorcyclists are allowed to use the full circuits, because their safety demands are not the same as those of the driver groups We find in car racing”.
With an objective eye one could say that the twoand three-wheel brigade do seem to accept rather more rugged racing conditions than the car brigade, witness the survival of Spa as a motorcycle GP and the gruesome effect of Armco in a motorbike crash. For the future, Browning believes that there must be increased discipline of competitors guilty of dangerous acts on the circuit. He feels that a system of totting-up endorsements could be applied for offences like barg3.4 another car off the track, and that such Justice should he seen to he carried out on the Spot, and swiftly. At present, “we hang around all night, and then a really serious offender can be tapped on the back of the hand, or a decision left to an RAC Tribunal at a later date .. a bit of benevolent dictatorship for the small number of experienced
international Clerks of the Course, would be no had thing; powers that make the competitor realise that he can’t just get away with blatant rule breaking.”
Silence, of vehicle exhaust systems, is another Browning thought for the future. He holds out the carrot of increased circuit use, especially in the West Country, if complete meetings could be run for road-silenced cars. Obviously road-based vehicles are prime candidates for such meetings, but Browning says, “although the Formula Ford people wouldn’t like it initially, I think they could be made to use silencers if they could see the prospect of more racing.”
Finally, on the safety record of catch fencing, Browning is particularly interested to hear any bright ideas to improve this system of arresting errant machinery, without the sturdy supports pole-axing the unfortunate drivers. So far Tony &Ise has suggested that such fencing need come no higher than the wheels—hopefully avoiding the day when a driver will be cocooned in the netting while the car catches fire—which also brings the benefits of shorter poles and easier access for rescue marshals. Derek Ongaro at Lola is researching the construction and use of lightweight plastic/glassfibre poles that shatter on impact (frangible poles to go with frangible helmets in today’s safety jargon?) and thus minimise driver injury. Spectators will need to be agile veterans of the blitz!—J.W. Riley Register Coventry Rally
RESULTS are now to hand and show the class winners as B. H. Ross (1924 11.9 tourer), D. Davidson (1935 Merlin), R, D. Longman (1935 Lynx), F. M. Hawke (1934 Ulster Imp), and D. J. May (1931 Mk. VI tourer). The best special was the 14/6-engined LIAR and the most original Riley D. E. Taylor’s 1925 11.8 tourer.
IF YOUR Dolomite is feeling rather neglected in the face of all those overbearing Fords with their instant Boy-racer wheel arch extensions flaunting themselves hundreds of miles from the nearest competition, take heart. Leyland ST have decided to market glassfibre reinforced spats—which attach via self-tapping screws and cost £38.50 a set.
FEELINGS OF 1984 and Big Brother is watching you can be shared, even by racing drivers now. Johnny Rutherford’s current turbocharged Offenhauser McLaren carries sensors that report on 14 aspects of the car’s performance, including acceleration and cornering forces, pressures and temperatures of anything from the air intake to oil. The information is radioed back to a small computer housed in the pits which, according to this release, “translates the information into terms that can be understood by the team’s engineers”.