I see reader R J Dawson from Weymouth, (Letters, MOTOR SPORT, October 1987) fell into the trap of believing that the BBC Television Grand Prix coverage shows you everything.
He referred to Michele Alboreto’s rush into the pits in Austria at the end of the parade-lap, suggesting that I did not see correctly. I saw everything just as he describes from his television view, as I happened to be standing on the Rindt curve by the pit-lane entrance. What I was referring to in my report was what Alboreto did on the top straight on the approach to the Bosch curve, as seen on a television monitor replay of the view from a helicopter high above the top of the circuit, not down by the pits. Enough said.
As you know, every now and then I sneak off from the Formula One scene and take part in sprints or hillclimbs on my racing motorcycle, for the sheer fun of competing, and also to keep in touch with one of the basic forms of competition. The first weekend in October is always my summer holiday by the sea(!) for I ride in a motorcycle “demonstration” at the Weston-super-Mare Speed Trials run by the Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club.
Each year the Burnham Club kindly finds room for this in their programme and it always seems to go down well, for the demonstration is always “at characteristic speeds” — which means peak rpm in all the gears all the way down the sea-front road and terminal speeds by the two-wheelers at anything from 100 to 140 mph, depending on the bike’s power and the rider’s right hand on the twist grip.
The real point of the meeting is the large car envy, from tweaked-up saloons, through clubmans’ to the ultimate in sprint machinery. Some of the speeds recorded along the promenade are pretty impressive, and this year was no exception. On his last run of the day Roy Lane clocked 10.90 seconds for the 500 metres, with a terminal speed of 166 mph. This was in his Pilbeam, a car little bigger than an old Formula Two car, powered by four litres of Cosworth DFL.
The meeting ended with an extra run-off for the fastest twelve cars, starting with the slowest (!) of the twelve, and culminating in Roy’s 166 mph. At the start-line is a digital timer which ticks away the seconds as the car disappears down the course, and as it breaks the finish-line beam the timer stops and the speed trap figure appears below the time.
The tension and excitement while watching these runs was super, and it is the sort of thing we need at Formula One races during qualifying, so that we can appreciate fastest laps and maximum speeds as they happen, not some time afterwards, or over the public address just as another car goes by, so that all you hear is “. . . . a new fastest . . . . Brrrrm . . . . by . . . . Brrrm . . . .”
This year my seaside holiday was doubly enjoyable for the Burnham Club and the Woodspring District Council agreed to keep everything in place for the Sunday and allowed the Vintage Sports Car Club to run an event for pre-war sports and racing cars. It was a really pleasant “old time” sprint meeting.
Needless to say I could not stand on the sidelines and watch and was fortunate enough to be loaned a sports 4.3-litre Alvin of 1937 vintage by David Roscoe, who is Vickers Engineering PR man and an enthusiastic VSCC member. Sharing the car with the owner made the day all the more enjoyable as we were able to have our own private “needle” match, honour being retained by David with a time of 20.05 seconds against my best of 20.62 seconds, with terminal speeds of 84 mph.
While all this was going. in the happy and carefree atmosphere of English club competition , a similar happy gathering was taking place down in Italy at the Imola Autodromo. This was a big gathering of Ferrari enthusiasts who were celebrating forty years of Grand Prix Ferraris, with a good collection of old Ferrari racing cars, as well as Alboreto and Berger in this year’s cars and many Ferrari Grand Prix drivers from the past.
While it was nice to hear of this get-together of drivers from Fangio to Andretti, I could not help sparing a thought for all those drivers who died at the wheel of Grand Prix Ferraris over those 40 years — such as Collins, von Trips, Bandini, Castellotti, Musso, Villeneuve and others — to say nothing of all those who died at the wheel of sports Ferraris. Forty years of supplying very competitive racing cars for drivers of all nations is bound to take its toll, but we must not regret it, we must just be thankful that so many survived, and remember with respect those who paid the price of speed.
Every year when the European season finishes and I say that places like Mexico, Japan or Australia are just too far away for me, people ask: “What are you going to do?” They need not worry, there is plenty to do, even though it may not be involved with F1.
Last winter I spent a lot of time putting one of my old racing cars together so that it could go on display. This is the special 41/4-litre 8-cylinder Duesenberg that was built for the Scuderia Ferrari in 1933, came to England 1934 and raced at Brooklands until 1939.
1987 saw the eightieth anniversary of the building of Brooklands Track, the first motor racing track (Indianapolis followed four years later). 1987 also saw the formation of the Brooklands Museum Trust, under the capable chairmanship of Sir Peter Masefield.
I could think of no better place for my Duesenberg racing car to reside, and last winter worked long and hard to get it all together and deliver it to the Museum in time for the anniversary, and to leave it on permanent display inside the refurbished Club House. If I can tear myself away from my motorbikes this winter, I might start on something else for the Brooklands Museum.