An Alternative

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An Alternative

THE GREEN light has just come on and my hand was releasing the clutch lever when the heavens opened. It was too late to back out and barely able to see the road in front of me I groped my may up the “speed hi//climb” in the lovely valley at Cricket St. Thomas in Somersetshire. In a cloudburst I tried desperately to control the wheeltpin on my 650 c.c. Triumph “Special”, and sat at the hairpin for what seemed like seconds before I could get any grip and accelerate away round the fast double-right-hand sweep over the finishing line. In the top paddock my friend Ian Mitchell sat on his bike dripping from every point for he had ridden into the cloudburst as he reached the top of the hill, having gone off before me. I switched off and Ian said “Why aren’t you in Las Vegas?” — “Because I thought this would be mere fun” I replied. As the rest at’ the riders came up the hill the rain continued to pour down and the variety of comments made as rack one arrived in the top paddock really were very funny. They ranged from “Con, me!” to ” h and “I’m paying money to do this” and “a day oat out

in the country on the bike, they said”. Others make comments like “I nearly dropped it at the hairpin” and “I thought the clutch was slipping. It was wheelspin”. The interesting thing was that all the competitors arrived at the top of the hill, they had all journeyed to Cricket St. Thomas to take part and a little rain wasn’t going to stop them. Later the sun came out and we had one run on a completely dry surface, which saved the day, but while we were all lined up for our last tuned the day down came the rain again, and Ian grinned at we and said .You should have gone to Las Vegas”.

Gordon Murray, the Brabham designer and I have a number of things in common, we love racing cars, fast motorcycles and garden railways, but mom important, the whole idea of the town of Las Vegas offends our sensitivity. Gordon has gone on record as saying that “Las Vegas encapsulates everything I detest about the world” and without going there I can agree with that. A.H. tells we that he kft Las Vegas without the place producing anything for him to remember, adding “. . even in Detroit I gathered a fete pleasing memories . . .” and all this is without putting a Formula One race in its midst. Sc it was no problem to opt out of the trip to the last Formula One race of 1982 and find an alternative, which proved to be a motorcycle hillclimb int/te pouring rain. Actually a number of alternatives were available and by finishing my Formula One reporting season after Monza i WaS able to do a number of interesting and varied things. One was a standing-start kilometre sprint meeting on an airfield organised by the Vintage Sports Car Club, during which I was able io take part in a “demonstration run” on a 1928 methanol-buming 600 c.c. “din-track” Douglas, which clocked 106 m.p.h. though the speed traps. At the same meeting we had or pedal-cycle races of a very informal nature, with prizes for first, fourth and seventh places! The first race was for “ordinaries” which arc more popularly called “penny-farthings” and the second second was for “safety-bicycles” of historic interest, in which I rode my post-ladies bicycle which used to deliver the ” post to the VSCC w e healuayrt. ers at the Phoenix Hotel at Hartle,’ More variety was afforded by Thoroughbred and Classic Car magazine who organised an informal afternoon at the Goodwood circuit as press-preview for their Classic Car Show at the Hotel Metropole in Brighton on November 5/6/7. They assembled an interesting cross-section of classic cars for us to look at, try and talk about, ranging from MGA to 7-litre Cobra and also provided two sports-racing cars for us to ride in. One was the prototype Aston Martin Nimrod and the other was the turbo 934 Porsche of Richard Orate that he and Tony Dron had driven to a class victory at Le Mans. Michael Bowler took us mood in the Nimrod as fast as he dared on rain-tyres in the dry and Dron took us round faster than the Porsche really wanted to go on “slicks”, To go for a ride in something like the Nimmd is good for keeping a sense of proportion for you don’t realise how low you sit until you actually get into the cockpit and the vision over the short nose is incredible. The Nimrod is a typical Group C car for today’s long-distance racing and is in the idiom of a Lola T70 or a 917 Porsche and the impression you get of being part of the machinery once you have slithered down into the tight-fitting seat and tiny cockpit, has to be experienced to be appreciated fully. The sound and vibrations from a race-prepared engine just behind your head is something else that has to be tried. Once the gull-wing doors are shut you feel YOU are there until someone lets you out, and ills a very secure feeling though I would love to experience 200 m.p.h. or more down the Mulsanne Straight in such a car,

The Porsche is a very different thing, for it is based on the Porsche 911 format, so you sit higher, you climb in through a normal door and need to hang on to the roll cage to snip flapping about in the spacious cockpit. With racing tyres fitted Tony Dron was able to extend the car well to its limit of road-holding and the controllability was very impressive. The speed at which changes of direction take place are beyond the imagination of normal motorists and the amount of physical Work that Dron did with arms, hands and feet in a single lap near the limit of adhesion was enough to keep the average motorist going for six months. Co-ordination between hand on the gear lever and foot on the clutch at the same time as arms are correcting slides with the steering wheel and the nght foot is on the brake pedal, round a tight little circuit like Goodwood, with no real straights, results in what seems to be a continual blur of movement by the driver. Meanwhile the car is hardly ever pointing the way it is going for very (.4, but throes result is a truly exhilarating ride. As the 934 Porsche is a production GT racing car, at the end of the ride you merely unbuckle the safety-harness, open a normal door and step out, thinking “that was fun”.

There are plenty of alternatives to going to Las Vegas, which sounds like the “annal rectimus” of the civilised world as we know it. — D.S.J.

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