Behind the Grand Prix Scene

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The course-car

When the green light comes on and the 24 Formula One cars take off from the starting grid to begin a Grand Prix race, a production passenger-carrying car sets off behind them. Naturally it cannot hope to keep pace, but it is usually a car with good performance and driven by a competent driver who usually manages to complete a lap of the circuit by the time the race leaders are about a quarter of their way round their second lap, whereupon, this course-car pulls off into the pit lane. The object of this exercise is to carry a doctor and a whole lot of emergency medical equipment, so that if there is a first lap accident, in which almost inevitably more than one car would be involved, there is additional medical assistance to join the marshals, doctors and services spaced out around the circuit. Although it has not happened, it could be that this course-car and doctor could arrive at an accident before it has finished happening, and certainly before track-side assistance could get to the scene. It is generally considered that the opening lap of a race is the most dangerous one and when instant help is most needed, which is why this system of a travelling course-car was instigated.

After completing the opening lap the course-car then is positioned at the beginning of the pit lane, near the race administration, and kept at the ready to leave instantly. The driver and the doctor stay with the car throughout the race so that they can set off immediately if required. The doctor is a specialist and full time with the Formula One scene, though the driver of the course-car varies throughout the season. If an accident happens out on the circuit which the track-side doctors and facilities can cope with then the course-car is not sent out. If the course-car takes off in a hurry then you can reckon the accident is pretty serious. What the course-car is and who drives it unfortunately is tied up with local conditions and if, for example, Renault are sponsoring a race they are not going to want a Porsche to be used as course-car. They will supply a Renault-Fuego or something similar. At Silverstone we have our own resident Jaguar XJ12, which must know its own way round the circuit by now, and the familiar figure of “Silverstone Sid” who drives it has probably done more laps of Silverstone than anyone. At some of the French races well-known rally drivers have been employed, while at other circuits a local club-member does duty as driver.

At Long Beach it is Phil Hill who drives the doctor round, and they use a car supplied by the race sponsors. At other times a practising racing driver, who is not competing in the particular meeting will be given the job, such as someone from Formula 2 who is on the threshold of joining Formula 1, but at all times the driver has to be someone who is responsible, fast, safe and secure. Whatever the car used it has to be fitted out with all manner of medical and rescue equipment and it is usually fitted with a flashing orange light on the roof and a distinctive horn or siren, so that everyone working round the circuit knows which car it is that is carrying the chief doctor. Across the season the course-car varies from the XJ12 used at Silverstone to the M1 BMW used at the Osterreichring, while Monaco used a Lamborghini Countach, the principle being that it has to be a fast car that can be driven quickly round the circuit. One of the best for the job is the Porsche 928 and the German National Federation (ONS) have sponsored a fleet of fully equipped Porsche 928s, all to the same high standard, which are in use at all German races. One of these is used by the doctor at Zandvoort, and until this year, at the Osterreichring, while naturally it is the official car for the Hockenheimring. A lot of people would like to see the Porsche 928, to ONS standards, used at all the European Grand Prix more but vested industrial interests prevent this.

The driver of the Porsche 928 at Hockenheimring is Herbert Linge and anyone who used to follow long-distance racing and things like the Tango Florio will know the name well. Linge used to race Porsches of all types often sharing with Paul Strahle and you will find the couple Linge/Strahle (Porsche) featurina strongly in the GT category in races like the 1000 kilometres of Nurburgring. Herbert Linge started work at Porsche as an apprentice and worked his way right through the factory workshops and he moved out into the Porsche/VW agency world. He is a very competent driver, as his past record proves, but above all he is tough, rugged, unflappable, strong, dependable and immensely responsible. If I was a Grand Prix driver I would be very happy in the knowledge that Herbert Linge was following me round on the opening lap, in the Porsche 928 with the doctor and all his equipment on board. Linge is the sort of man who, if he came round a corner and found a car upside-down and on fire, would be out of that Porsche in no seconds flat and by sheer strength and sense of urgency would roll the car back on its wheels and have the driver out, before he would even think about his own safety. Yet I doubt whether any of the drivers in Formula One today know much about him. Some of them may recognise him as “the big beefy guy who drives the doctor’s car” but no more than that.

Last month I explained how, at long last, FISA and FOCA have agreed on one man doing the starting procedure. If they ever get around to agreeing on a single man to take on the responsibility of driving the course-car which follows the Grand Prix round on its opening lap, then I hope they choose Herbert Linge and the Porsche 928. — DSJ.

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