Letters from readers, October 2003

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148

Thumbs up for Hulme

Sir,

Adam Cooper’s touching story about Denny Hulme in last month’s issue reminded me of my one and only meeting with ‘The Bear’.

As an impecunious Leeds University student I’d hitch-hiked from Petts Wood, near Orpington, to Brands Hatch for the 1968 British Grand Prix practice sessions on the Thursday. At the end of the day’s activities I wandered down to the lay-by on the A20 (‘Death Hill’) and started hitching.

Eventually a big black Ford pulled up. I opened the door and at the wheel was Denis Hulme! He was on his way back to the McLaren factory at Colnbrook.

I was almost speechless, even a little frightened, as his reputation for not suffering fools was well known. However, we chatted easily about racing and his prospects for the weekend, which he did not rate much. I remember we also talked about the French GP, the rain and the Schlesser crash. I asked if the race should have been stopped; he was of the opinion that they were right to carry on.

His driving was leisurely — the car was an automatic, which at the time I thought was a strange choice for a racer, but no doubt it was supplied by Ford — and he ate a lot of marshmallows!

He was relaxed and friendly, and seemed glad of the company — the private face of the man away from the public glare.

I am, yours etc,

David Fox, Harleysville, Pennsylvania, USA

* * *

Star Letter

Cuddly ‘Bear’

Sir,

I am not normally disposed to rush into print, but on this occasion I feel bound to counter the impression of a curmudgeonly Denny Hulme which your readers may have inferred from Adam Cooper’s most readable piece in the September issue.

I first met Denny in 1967 after a ‘cold call’ asking for his help with a book I was writing about the accident risk in motor racing. Despite the sensitivity of the subject, and the fact that I was completely unknown to him, he responded with an invitation to lunch and, while Greeta cooked, he talked openly, honestly and articulately about the subject — brought sharply into focus by the recent death of Lorenzo Bandini at Monaco. Of course his style was laconic, as is the case with so many New Zealanders, but in no sense of the word was it taciturn.

Later, Denny and Bruce McLaren helped me to develop a high-tech product for one of my clients. Their contribution, for which there was no payment, was invaluable, and our brainstorming sessions were hilarious: Bruce was funny, but Denny was funnier.

Denny didn’t suffer fools gladly; he was always the first to deflate the ego of an officious jobsworth, but he was not, as he is so often portrayed, a grizzly bear with a sore head.

I am, yours etc,

Michael Cooper-Evans, Middle Claydon, Essex

* * *

Design scoop

Sir,

Seeing that concave-surfaced Porsche 917/10 nose section (in orange McLaren Can-Am livery?) launching from the cover of your July issue was like a lighting bolt from the past, flashing me back to winter 1972 at Trojan Racing, Beddington Lane, Croydon. I was involved in the Trojan T101 Formula 5000 prototype (which you tested in May 2001), and the 917/10 had a significant influence on it.

I remember as if it were yesterday works manager Bill Meece asking if I could piece together Trojan’s first F5000 prototype, with my knowledge of McLaren since 1968. Ahead of the engine, the basis was the beautifully neat, Ralph Bellamy-designed McLaren M21 Formula Two car. The aft part was the McLaren M22 F5000, which had its roots in Robin Herd’s Formula One M7A, evolved by Gordon Coppuck into the subsequent M10A, M10B and M18 F5000 can. All the conversion components were Trojan design.

I had been impressed by the nose section of the 917/10 Can-Am car, and decided that an evolution of this would give the Trojan a distinctive appearance, with a raked radiator inlet and NACA ducts to cool the front brakes. More art than science, but it looked the part – and proved itself in testing.

Following impressive lap times at Silverstone and Goodwood by the amazing Keith Holland, who enjoyed a Mansell racing style, Ron Tauranac was brought in on a consultancy basis to develop it; consequently, the nose surfaces became more convex on production cars. This may explain Bob Evans saying in your F5000 track test that it was difficult to get adequate front downforce when raced.

I am, yours etc,

Paul Rowlinson, Lymington, Hampshire

* * *

Daily thunder

Sir,

I always enjoy Simon Taylor’s Modern Times, and I read with much empathy his August column. He wrote that British TV is being inundated with F1 to a point where “it has sucked the attention, the audience and the money from everything else”.

We face a very similar situation in America, one that might well be even more pervasive: its name is NASCAR. Americans who enjoy Formula One, Le Mans, Goodwood, etc, live in a near-barren TV world that touts only the wonder and circus-like atmosphere of NASCAR. Many have called it the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) of motorsport, with its obvious lack of technical interest, garish cars and seemingly contrived finishes, each race hampered by endless caution periods and its drama ‘enhanced’ by bunching the field for a guaranteed photo finish. It’s as if we have invited the world to a family reunion where cousins marry cousins.

Living in the south east, NASCAR and football (our version) dominate all manner of reporting, unless of course someone is injured in F1.

I was fortunate enough to attend Le Mans in 1990 and enjoy the fervour of Jaguar winning. We camped with the Porsche Club of America who were immediately adjacent to a powerful British contingent with a great number of Lotus Sevens and the like. I’ve never had more fun at a race.

You may have a bit too much F1, but let me assure you that it could be much, much worse.

Thanks for a great publication. When you reinvented Motor Sport, I discovered my favourite magazine.

I am, yours etc,

William Barker, Alabama, USA

* * *

An ERA of change

Sir,

The fact that ERA R9B has managed to beat the 1953 Goodwood laptime set by Mike Hawthorn in the Thinwall Special suggests that driver and car alone are not the critical factors here. I can’t believe that a beam-axle 1.5-litre car would be a match for a 4.5-litre Ferrari-engined Vanwall development device – and certainly I’m no Hawthorn. This only leaves tyres and circuit.

I wasn’t born in 1953, so I can’t comment on either tyre or circuit then. I do know that today’s rubber benefits from optimisation. My team and I pay great attention to pressures and temperatures. Goodwood generates considerable heat in the Dunlop R5, so we run higher pressures than at any other UK circuit and a significant stagger (2psi) between inside and outside wheels. This is critical to get through Fordwater flat with sufficient margin to avoid death by sleepers. I reckon my pressures give me 1-2sec on most circuits with high-speed corners over those with non-optimised pressures.

How is it that R9B manages to compete so effectively with bigger-engined cars?

I don’t subscribe to the modern technology or materials explanation. Indeed, the crankshaft in R9B was put in by Peter Waller in 1973, and is probably in a considerably worse state than was the youthful crank in Graham Whitehead’s car in ’53.

Peter Berthon knew his stuff, so in 2001 — the year R9B set the fastest ERA lap at Goodwood — I was running standard cam timing and lift, and standard valve head dimensions.

What about chassis and brake developments?

There’s not much you can do with cart springs, friction shock absorbers, solid axles, and rod and cable-operated drums. Limited-slip diff? I don’t know if Whitehead had one, but I did in 2001 — and it was knackered!

The biggest advance in performance of a B-type 1.5-litre is through fuel and increasing cylinder pressure. Pre-war, the cars ran 200-mile races and so were tuned to do around 4-5mpg with 80:10:10 fuel delivered via a single float chamber, sucking through a 2.5in SU carburettor. In this form they produced around 175bhp. They achieved this running approximately 6.5:1 compression and 16-18lbs of boost.

Today, we’re doing 25-mile sprint races so fuel consumption is not such an issue. Accordingly, most sensible folk use pure methanol. Roughly, this gives 10 per cent more power. The 2.5in SU’s internal channels limit the fuel delivery, and hence limit the power to around 195bhp at 6000rpm. Many have bravely tried to exceed this only to be beaten back by melted pistons.

The trick is no more high-tech than to get more fuel in. Several of the cars today have simple pipes from the float chambers to the bottom of the jet. I did this on R9B in 1993, and have been steadily raising its compression ratio and boost pressures since — all that time waiting for the bang. Currently, I’m over 8:1 and running 24lbs of boost from a 140mm supercharger. But still I don’t believe that R9B can make up a 33 per cent capacity deficit on other ERAs on power alone. So maybe it is tyre optimisation after all.

I am now building a smaller supercharger to put on the car, as I don’t think size matters in this context. I hope that I get an invitation to race at Goodwood again to see whether the speed remains.

I am, yours etc,

John Ure, Brettenham, Suffolk

* * *

Enduring image

Sir,

What memories the August issue brought back! Simon Taylor pointed out that the World Sportscar Championship has withered away leaving only a stump in the form of Le Mans — but what a stump that is. Although I’ve only been once, it marks a highlight in my life. The fact that it was 1988 when Jaguar won for the first time since the ’50s helped, but the atmosphere and thrill was extraordinary.

But my experience has always been that sportscar races provide great value and entertainment. I was at Brands in 1968 (aged 8), and while my main memory is getting home to the news of Jimmy Clark’s death, the excitement of seeing the Ford F3L dice with works Porsches is tangible still.

Eight years on, and the first Silverstone Six Hours offered the great Ronnie Peterson three-wheeling the BMW CSL — and the broken works Porsche being sent out after two hours in the pits to hammer round and break its own lap records for fun.

I’d agree with Simon that any fan who hasn’t been to Le Mans has a serious gap in their education. But then I’m one of the converted, and I’m looking forward to taking my own boys there soon!

I am, yours etc,

Simon de Souza, Reading, Berkshire