Marcus Pye's Diary

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Paying homage to the Maserati 250F, visiting the Brighton Speed Trials and railing against driving standards at Spa

Donington Park:

Difficult to believe, when one considers the extraordinary longevity of the model, that only two drivers won World Championship grands prix in Maserati 250Fs. That the opposition was immense, and well-funded, implies special talent was called for. Thus it was: Juan Manuel Fangio took six victories and Stirling Moss two as the duo wielded the trident of Bologna around stints for rival teams between 1954 and ’58.

Four of Fangio’s victories in the iconic 250F came in 1957, sowing the seeds of his fifth title. If his win at the Nürburgring, where he slayed the Lancia-Ferrari D50s of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, was considered his most magical feat, his triumph on the tortuous streets of Monaco earlier that season was memorable too.

That day, driving chassis 2528, he beat Tony Brooks’s Vanwall to the chequer. Unseen for many seasons, although owned by Neil Corner for donkeys’ years, the car was a star of the VSCC’s See Red festival at Donington Park on the first weekend of September. Demonstrated by his son Nigel, it joined more than a dozen 250Fs, plus several of the late Cameron Millar’s clones, in a well-attended tribute to the marque’s favourite car.

Brighton:

Almost overlooked in all the brouhaha surrounding Shelsley Walsh’s centenary in August, the Brighton Speed Trials meeting also celebrated its 100th anniversary, on September 10. It’s a quarter-mile drag race these days — with cars and motorcycles dispatched singly — a far cry from the early Edwardian events, run over greater lengths. But none the worse for that.

I’ve made the pilgrimage to Madeira Drive many times since the late 1970s, and love not only the spirit of the competitors but also the ingenuity of some of their machines. This time 94-year old Tom Delaney, who first took his Lea-Francis in the ’30s, strutted his stuff alongside his son Geoffrey and grand-daughter Lucy in Hypers. And transmission king Mike Endean set BTD at 9.45sec (with a terminal speed of 145mph) in his remarkable turbocharged, four-wheel-drive Ford Puma, a carbonfibre-shelled confection crafted by David and Sean Gould of hillclimb fame.

For all its beautifully-packaged complexity, I would still have loved to have witnessed the crude flame-spitting aero-engined monsters of the 1950s. Ted Lloyd-Jones’s Rolls-Royce Kestrel-powered Triangle Flying Saucer (which looked like a bloated 500cc Formula Three car perched high on its Daimler Dingo scout car chassis) and the Merlin-powered Swandean Spitfire Special of intrepid Sussex garage proprietor Michael Wilcock must have been something to behold. The latter machine is apparently being restored by Clayton Beeler of St Louis, Missouri, USA…

Spa:

Barely having drawn breath since commentating at Goodwood’s Revival meeting, I took on a similar role at Francorchamps the following weekend. The Spa Six Hours is another event that I’ve adored from the angles of reporter and competitor down the seasons. Staying in a gourmet’s paradise, 20 minutes away, hadn’t hindered my enjoyment of the Ardennes either.

This year, following a late change of plan, I decided to ‘rough it’, sharing a motorhome in the paddock with a couple of pals. The old Talbot looked a bit incongruous among the acres of Americana, and didn’t have wind-out sides, but the Olleys’ ‘mobile Hilton’ got their FF2000 Delta there on just the one tank of diesel. And my goodness, following nearly 16 hours at the microphone on the Saturday (the feature race didn’t start until gone 6pm) the 100-metre trek to my digs was welcome, with track action due to recommence at 8.30am.

Almost 700 cars and well over 1000 drivers make the event not only one of the world’s great historic racing festivals but also a logistical nightmare to control. But this time the conduct of some drivers in the dark was abysmal and an enormous incident— during a safety-car period — resulted in the race being red-flagged for a further hour. More stringent ground rules, zero-tolerance discipline, tighter vehicle eligibility and mandatory night practice are needed to restore the race’s appeal in ’06.

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