Around and about: comment on the racing and club scene
At the start of the year this column told readers of two new single-seater Formulae being introduced to the British calendar. One was the Motor Circuit Developments-backed Formula Atlantic and the other the Volkswagen-sponsored Formula Super Vee. Now with the season drawing to an end it is perhaps time to assess the progress of the two rivals.
Firstly, Formula Super Vee is in the middle of a big publicity push culminating in a test day at Silverstone recently when journalists and interested drivers were invited to try some of the cars. As it turned out there were too many people and too few cars—at least ones with owners who were willing to let the Press try their hand anyway. A couple of colleagues went home in disgust without ever driving, but I was perhaps a little more persistent and tried both the Hawke DL5 and the Royale RP9.
Super Vee has grown from Formula Vee and, whereas the earlier cars did tend to lend themselves to asides about ugliness, this latest breed of VW-powered single-seaters look, feel and are every inch a racing car. Various VW suspension parts (including rear brakes) have to be used, but nevertheless the designer has enough lassitude to use the latest racing suspension techniques and geometry. Another interesting rider to the rules is that the maximum width for the road wheels is 6 in., although racing tyres can be used.
The glory of Super Vee is that it falls somewhere between Formula Three and Formula Ford in cost and thus enables drivers who want to make a step out of FF but feel they cannot afford a full F3 season to find a happy compromise. So far Super Vee has made a rather slow start here in England with only about ten regular competitors because Formula Ford has such a stranglehold on the British scene. FF is a known and established rung up the ladder of success, as Tim Schenken, Emerson Fittipaldi and Colin Vandervell have already shown, and thus the aspiring youngster hardly dare stray from this rung to the next one which is Formula Three. But on the Continent the temptation is far stronger and Formula Super Vee has caught on very well indeed.
The focus of attention is on the Volkswagenwerk Gold Cup, a series held all over Europe, with excellent prize money to attract successful competitors. Such a round was held at the German GP and it produced an exciting and well-contested preliminary to the main event. Although the rewards for winning are higher than in Formula Three the cars cost around the £2,000 mark compared with over £3,000 for a good F3 and running costs are probably lower, too. Furthermore, the 120-b.h.p. Super Vees do not give much away on top speed to the F3s and at the Silverstone test day Brabham Grand Prix driver Tim Schenken lapped a Lola Super Vee in 1 min. 38.0 sec. to compare with the F3 slipstream record of 1 min. 25.8 sec. At the end of the day up and coming Steve Thompson, who usually drives the Contac 400 Ensign F3, also did a 1 min. 38.0 sec. on his fourth lap in the Royale.
Right now there must be quite a few more British drivers considering Formula Super Vee for next season. For the driver who wants to take in European motor racing in a single-seater with the opportunity of making a financial success out of it this would seem to be the way. Further details from the Formula Vee Association Great Britain, Volkswagen House, Brighton Road, Purley, Surrey CR2 2UQ.
Formula Atlantic is the British version of Formula B as run in the States. Throughout the season varying fields in Britain have battled out points in the well-promoted Yellow Pages Championship. At times the racing has been tremendous, the 200-b.h.p. cars making the Formula Threes sound flat and uninteresting. The main problems have been ones of unreliability and high cost. To be competitive it was thought that one had to use a Ford BDA-based engine, but these have proved to be fragile in racing trim and all too often a potentially good dice has been spoiled by engines going off song. This looks like changing now that Broadspeed have got their BDA going well in a single-seater. Meanwhile, Australian Vern Schuppan has remained faithful to a two-valve-per-cylinder BRM-tuned Ford twin-cam in his Palliser and presently leads the championship.
The two races over the August Bank Holiday weekend both produced good fields full of smart and competitive cars, but again Atlantic is out of the mainstream of the road to success and the capability of the drivers varied considerably. People like Ray Allen (who was driving the works Royale), Cyd Williams in the Graham Eden Chevron and Schuppan in the Palliser are obviously very talented drivers but too many of the others are unfortunately chaps who never really made it in Formula Three or Formula Ford. At present the financial returns for success are minimal and even Schuppan is finding it exceptionally difficult to make ends meet.
Personally I consider Formula Atlantic to be a far better stepping stone between Formula Ford and Formula Two than F3 both for the experience of power it gives the competitors and the potential it has for spectators. But it needs a big influx of money and it needs more competitive drivers.
• As the season nears its end comes the news that Leo Mehl, the popular Manager of the Goodyear European Racing Division, is to return to the company's headquarters in Akron, Ohio, to take up a senior appointment in tyre development. Before he left Europe he gave us an enlightening interview, during which he discussed many aspects of his four-year stay. This will be featured in next month's issue.
• Castrol, long-time supporters of a keen competition programme, will be making cutbacks in the coming year. In future each Castrol company throughout the world will be responsible for all competitions activities within its own area. Previously the programme has been conducted from Britain and this season has seen the Castrol colours on a plethora of racing cars. In the UK the present Competitions Department will be merged with the Club's Liaison Department. The combined department will be headed by Alan Sewell and the competitions side will be in the hands of Roger Willis. The emphasis, according to a statement from the company, will be "more on assisting motor sport at the club rather than at International level".
• Despite Castrol's recent policy changes their very successful Motoring Quiz series enters its third year but this time without a co-sponsor. Run on the lines of University Challenge, the quiz has provided a tremendous fillip to motor clubs' social activities during the winter season. This year no fewer than 380 clubs will take part initially within the 12 areas but later at area final level. The 12 successful clubs then go forward to meet in four three-cornered inter-area finals and by the end of March to the National semi-finals and the grand final.
Winners for the last two years have been the Liverpool Motor Club but their star performer, Ian Titchmarsh, a solicitor and part-time motoring scribe, is to become one of the 12 area chairmen so their chances are reduced. The competitions make interesting entertainment for the audience and competitors alike and this year the prize fund will be similar to previous years but more clubs will benefit.
• The Lotus Seven Register continues to thrive and the monthly meetings held on the third Thursday of every month now alternate between the White Hart at Godstone in Surrey and Pub Lotus which is situated in Regent's Park Road just north of London Zoo. Last month's talk was by GLTL Lotus F3 ace Dave Walker, who told not only of his racing experiences but also of his virtually one-man drive in the London-to-Sydney Marathon.
• The British Automobile Racing Club's Gold Medals awarded since 1955 have two new recipients. They are Jackie Stewart and Ken Tyrrell, who the club feel have fulfilled the citation of making an "outstanding achievement in motor racing by British subjects". Neither have won the solid gold specially-minted medals in the past.
—A. R. M.