Letter from Monza

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Letter from Monza From D.S.J. to the Deputy Editor

Dear ML,

During the brief winter lull from Formula One racing there seems to be plenty of time to speculate on what is, or is not, going to happen and then suddenly the season starts and everything happens at once so that there is barely time to keep abreast of what is happening, let alone speculate. We must have been half-way through this season before I really noticed that the factory Renault team were no longer with us, and it wasn’t until I saw Niki Lauda here at Monza that I remembered that he retired at the end of last season! It is not that such teams and drivers did not leave an irnpression, for they certainly did, but such is the pace of things in Formula One that there is not time to look back over the shoulder at the immediate past. Things that happened twenty-five or more years ago take on an historical interest and become imprinted on the mind: ten years ago is a shadowy kaleidoscope, while last year seems slightly unreal! This year is of the instant and already next year looks full of interest.

One very notable omission this year was the Dutch Grand Prix of Zandvoort, made all the more poignant when I arrived at Monza, for I knew then that I hadn’t been asleep, on holiday or sick of the palsy. There just had not been a Dutch Grand Prix this year, nor had there been any talk about it, and in spite of a few draw-backs from which it suffered, it was sorely missed.  The circuit was built on the sand dunes just north of the town of Zandvoort with only a long pile of sand keeping the sombre and unfriendly North Sea away. It had its first race in 1948, and with one or two misses, we have had a Grand Prix there ever since, the circuit and facilities being altered, rebuilt and improved over the years to keep pace with the ever-growing Formula One scene. The Dutch have been fighting a losing battle against the demands of Formula One, not just financially but in matters of space, access, spectator problems, car parking and many other things, but the circuit itself kept its character and with the very long straight down past the pits to the Tarzan hairpin, there was always high speeds and exciting “dicing” to be seen. While the Zandvoort circuit always had its own internal problems, there was an ever-growing external problem, in the shape of the town itself expanding right up to the edge of the circuit, and inevitably the newcomers to the town started complaining about the circuit and the confusion on race day.

When I first went to Zandvoort you could drive into the paddock without any problems and you could arrive the day before practice began and find an hotel room quite easily. As things changed some people I knew stopped going, but rather than miss the Dutch Grand Prix I changed my tactics and ended up with a novel, but none-the-less satisfactory, way of attending the race. I stayed in Amsterdam and took the 8.42 am train into Zandvoort, the station being a ten minute walk to circuit, and returned after practice on the 5.20 pm train.  It was all very restful and drama-free, and thanks to those masters of travelling, Page & Moy, I was able to stay in an hotel opposite Amsterdam station. It was possible to be back in the hotel having a cup of tea before some colleagues had got out of the car park at the circuit, let alone out of Zandvoort town itself. We all used to polish our buckets and spades ready for our trip to the seaside, Zandvoort being the equivalent of Mablethorpe, to watch the Dutch Grand Prix, but sadly not this year

Plans are going ahead for a major rebuild of the Zandvoort circuit, still in the sand dunes, in order to overcome the obstacles that have grown up over the years and the new circuit will not have that glorious long straight. One hopes that the Dutch will not make the awful mistake the Germans made with the Nürburgring, and destroy all the character from their national circuit. In some ways they have been fortunate in Holland in that they have only ever had one circuit, so they have never suffered from opposing and divided interests, like most of the other European countries. If there was to be a Dutch Grand Prix it took place at Zandvoort, but not this year.

At Monza, on the morning of race day, there was a race called the Europa Cup, sponsored by ELF and for competitors driving Renault-Alpine V6 Turbo cars, the latest hot GT coupé from the Regie Renault.

These are one of the quick GT cars of today and they provide some good racing, but it seems a pity that it is a one-make affair. In the “good old days” the Sunday morning race used to be called the “Coppa Inter-Europa” and the field was invariably comprised of Ferrari 250GT coupés, all the VI2 engines making a glorious sound, while the racing was pretty competitive and ruthless. These Ferraris were no-nonsense competition coupés, not prissy and “tarted up” like the restored versions we see about today, but slightly battle-scarred racing machinery, The “Coppa Inter-Europa” was not restricted to Ferraris, and there was one glorious year when Roy Salvadori joined in with a GT Aston Martin and drove them all into the ground. After this GT race there was what the programme described as a “sfilata autostoriche GT-GTS” or in other words a parade of historic GT and GTS cars, a nice loose phrasing that encompassed anything from a Lotus Elite Climax to an LM Ferrari. This parade saw the cars line up on the starting grid and then make a lap behind a pace-car and then stop on the grid again. An Italian flag was waved and the race was on! So much for a “parade”. It was Harry Flatters for everyone and a very standard looking 4.2 litre E-type Jaguar simply ran away with the event. A long way behind came two “beautiful” Ferrari LM coupés, and then sundry Fiats, Lancias and Alfa Romeos. Some of the Alfa Giulietta coupés sounded just like they did in the sixties, pulling well over 7000 rpm on the long straights and sounding glorious. It was some “parade”.

In the non-Formula One part of last month I thought I would take a look at something different, so borrowed a “classic” BSA motorcycle and rode out to one of our local grass airfields with some friends on their “classic bikes” for a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine at a “Wheels & Wings” gathering. It was quite remarkable how many fellow motor racing enthusiasts were there, as well as people I had not seen for more years than we care to remember, and some very long-standing readers of Motor Sport.  It was a splendid day off, with some delightful motorcycling down Hampshire country lanes.

Apropos of nothing I attach a photograph of Neil Corner’s Type 59 Bugatti Grand Prix car of 1934. This is a real one, and it ran away with the Bugatti race at the last VSCC Silverstone meeting.  It will be useful to look at when the “fake” ones appear on the old (!) car scene.

One final word. A vintage friend writing about old car matters ended with his thoughts on the Birmingham road-race which got washed out. He said, quite simply, “They didn’t deserve that.” I am sure it sums up everyone’s feelings.

Yours etc,

D.S.J.

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