Readers letters, October 2009

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Passion versus profit

Sir,

What great news – yet another passionless manufacturer is leaving Formula 1.

They’re all the same. They want a slice of the global advertising exposure and then, surprise surprise, they’ve only just arrived and they want a slice of the cake too. They think that they can buy F1 success, but when the going gets tough they don’t have the character or self-respect to stay in and fight. So they take the easy way out, and in this era manufacturers like Honda, Ford and now BMW (and watch the rest follow) give a lame excuse and close the factory, making very many exceptionally talented people redundant.

But the truth is they’re not redundant at all, they are just considered surplus to the number crunchers’ requirements.

The reason that modern Formula 1 has survived for so long is that it hasn’t had much to do with automobile manufacturers.

No, it was the great men of passion who built Formula 1. Men like Rob Walker, Reg and Tim Parnell, John Cooper, Bruce McLaren, Jack Brabham, Colin Chapman, John Surtees, Ken Tyrrell, Ron Dennis, Keith Duckworth, Mike Costin and Bernie Ecclestone too, and of course my two friends Frank Williams and Patrick Head, and not forgetting a cavalcade of exceptional and individual drivers spanning five decades.

I include the great Ferrari and Mercedes factories with these amazing guys. They both have had their fair share of lean periods – Ferrari didn’t win for over 20 years – but they had passion and were in for the long haul.

These wonderful, relentless and amazing guys did not sling their toys out, then cut and run when the going got tough, they worked till they literally dropped to stay in F1. Nothing would persuade them that something much easier would do, they were in F1 for the adventure by ‘being there’, for as long as it took. The risk was worth it and their fingernails held up, something manufacturers would not be able to understand. In their world 50 per cent of the day is spent covering their rear ends.

So I say bravo to the real enduring men of F1. Their passion does the talking and rules the day, and the great thing is, guys like the F1 founders are emerging in this new era.

At the funeral of that dear boy Henry Surtees, Ferrari sent two representatives, as did Williams F1. Now that’s respect and compassion.

David Brodie, Whitchurch on Thames, Berks

Portimao lacking in pizzazz

Sir,

The 1000Kms of the Algarve featured some great racing on an undulating track. As a lifelong endurance fan I should have been on the edge of my seat, but bizarrely I found myself a little bored. I have yet to watch Eurosport’s coverage of the closing stages and probably never will.

So why the antipathy? The reason lies with the circuit, or perhaps I should say ‘facility’. Quite simply, Portimao has no character. From the TV coverage it was almost impossible to tell what part of the track they were on, as it all looked the same. Every part of the layout was a dip or a brow, the corners were all short in radius and the backdrop of empty grandstands was a constant feature. In fact Portimao looked more like a building site than a road course. What’s wrong with trees and grass? In my opinion a great track has to have both. Had the action taken place at Monza, with its history and parkland setting, then I would have been on the edge of my seat.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. I’ve just returned from the Spa 24 Hours, where I drove around the old ‘Speed Triangle’, and I’m currently reading a book on the history of the Spa 1000Kms. When you think about the exploits of Rodríguez, Siffert and Co in their 917s, taking the Masta kink at 185mph, the 1000Kms of Portimao seems a bit lacking in gravitas.

The Le Mans Series is supposed to hark back to the glory days of sports cars, so how does one justify a race in Portugal? I know of one traditional sports car venue where a big crowd would be guaranteed: Brands Hatch. Imagine the Astons and Pescarolos on the GP loop – now that would be harking back to a golden era!

To end on a cynical note: was the race held at night so as to disguise the fact that there were virtually no spectators?

Nicholas Bird, Fareham, Hants

Classic at a cost

Sir,

Once again the Silverstone Classic was a very enjoyable occasion, but was the Sunday ticket really worth £35? After one adds £8 for the programme, plus the extortionate cost of food and drink at the circuit, we found there was little change left from £100.

Looking around the empty stands all along the approach to Woodcote, it seemed we were not the only people who had decided they might be better off elsewhere, or are these meetings simply put on for the entrants and the classic car clubs?

One final moan – why have the circuit owners installed an easy-to-read electronic lap signalling tower near the BRDC stand and then failed to use it? In any long race or one where there are driver changes, it would have proved a great asset to the spectators.

The Le Mans Series race at Silverstone on September 12/13 will not be on our list of meetings to attend in 2009 unless these points are addressed. If not, we’re off to Castle Combe, our favourite circuit, where you always get value for money.

John Stanton, Maidenhead, Berks

Seconds with Derek?

Sir,

I really enjoyed the ‘Lunch with… Derek Bell’ (September issue). I have been lucky enough to meet him during my time in the motor trade. When I was at BMW in London he came in one day and told us how, after racing at Le Mans, he got in his road car to drive home. Soon afterwards he glanced at the speedometer and was shocked to see that he was doing 150mph!

Some years later he drove me around the Mountain circuit at Millbrook in an Audi S4. That he was able to have a friendly, relaxed conversation while twirling the Audi around at great speed was truly impressive.

What a great racer and character. I’d love to read a second episode of his reminiscences.

Roger Edwards, Maidenhead, Berks

A telling line

Sir,

Further to your article regarding Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin in the July issue (Doug Nye column), it is surprising how just a few words can tell you a lot about a person.

I recall seeing a copy of Full Throttle inscribed by ‘Tim’ Birkin to the owner in the paddock at Brooklands. The inscription read: ‘Keep your foot down’!

A few words say a lot about the man.

Paul Gibbons, Bewdley, Worcs

On Ron’s payroll

Sir,

The excellent article ‘When second was best’ (September issue) stirred memories of the Easter Monday Formula 2 meetings at Thruxton, and one incident in particular may raise a smile…

At one meeting – the year escapes me – I was strolling through the paddock during Saturday practice when I was asked by a marshal who was a friend if I knew of a signwriter, as the Project Four team had secured additional sponsorship for the Monday race (this was before instant stickers appeared). Fortunately my son-in-law was a signwriter who was available, and I was asked if I could deliver him to the team on Sunday morning. The extra decals were hand-painted on to the car. I also remember meeting a young Stefan Johansson, who strolled up and chatted for a while. I was asked if I would return on Monday morning to collect the agreed fee, as none of the management was present.

When I arrived at the team’s base on Monday one of the mechanics asked me to wait while he searched for someone to settle the fee. The person who eventually appeared was, to my great surprise, an immaculate Ron Dennis who thanked me for my assistance, shook my hand and then produced a wad of notes. He peeled off a few and settled the amount outstanding. On reflection I feel I should have framed the notes instead of handing them over to my son-in-law (less my commission of course)!

No doubt a small incident in Ron’s life, but something I will always remember.

A Eglington, Winchester

Can-Am BRMs safe and well

Sir,

I’m always delighted to receive my Motor Sport, as following the rebirth it is without doubt one of the few things that gives me an instant smile.

However, I was disturbed to read of the demise of the Can-Am BRM at Brands Hatch (September issue), and more particularly the claim that it was the only survivor of two, the other having been lost at sea.

This is wrong. There were more than two built – the others still exist in the hands of the Hepworth family who bought the project from BRM in the early ’70s. The story about the ship is often recounted, but it is a myth. It never sank, although the cars on board did suffer damage in a fire during the voyage to South America.

The subject was discussed at length on The Nostalgia Forum, with contributions and photographs from various people including the son of the late David Hepworth, and Doug Nye, who was interested as the story forms part of the BRM series of books.

Mike Fairholme, Grantham, Lincs

Tragedy never far away

Sir,

How sadly ironic it was to receive the August issue of Motor Sport featuring John Surtees on the cover just over a week and a half after losing his son in a racing accident.

When John was in F1 it wasn’t uncommon to hear that one of the great drivers had lost his life in a crash. Today, with the cars so much ‘safer’, we forget how dangerous and heartbreaking motor sport can be. The death of Henry Surtees and Felipe Massa’s near-fatal crash is a reminder that this is not a sport for the faint of heart.

I had the pleasure of meeting John when he was honoured at the Amelia Island Concurs d’Elegance several years ago. He was one of the most gracious and humble recipients of this accolade. John thanked those who asked for his autograph and took the time to exchange a kind word or two.

Rick Mansfield, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA

Porsche flameout

Sir,

It was fun to see the Baker/Blackhaller/Mullen Porsche in Richard Heseltine’s 935 review (August issue), belching flames like an angry green dragon on its way to fifth at Daytona in 1984. Readers may be interested to learn that, a year earlier, this same car featured in what many call “the greatest upset in sports car history”.

In ’83 Wayne Baker converted a 935 previously driven by Bob Garretson and David Hobbs (whoever he is) to 934 specification, fitting a huge single turbo and demoting it from the top-level GTP class to mid-level GTO. Wayne and I won five races in ’83, including (with Kees Nierop) the 12 Hours of Sebring overall – the only time in IMSA history anything but a GTX/GTP car was first. Wayne also won that year’s GTO Championship, alas with one more point than me for a single, stellar pole position.

Our 934 was a junkyard dog among pedigree greyhounds, garishly painted in school bus yellow with sponsors’ names often in press-on lettering. The single turbo could throw the car down Daytona’s straights at 215mph, but it required determination and an unusual driving technique to kick it through the twisty infield. So slow was the turbo to spool up, we drivers had to floor the accelerator for one very long second before power was required – then delivered in shattering fashion. GTP drivers would shake their fists as we slewed painfully through infield corners and pull out to pass as we climbed on the banking, only to lose the drag race as we rocketed down the straight. When competitors followed too closely at night, we’d lift off the throttle and give them six feet of orange flame, searing their eyeballs if not the paint! (This flame is prominent in the Motor Sport photo since the car retained its single turbo even when restored as a 935.)

A quite different and much better 935 was the car I drove for Bob Akin in ’85. Bob, Hans Stuck and I were to run the Coca-Cola 962 through the year, but co-sponsor Ralph Lauren wanted his own livery at Daytona, so we freshened up Bob’s 935 and I recruited Kees and a driver named McIntyre to the team. We held fourth at 23 hours with the Akin/Stuck/Miller 962 a lap behind. There were no team orders, save one: Bob ordered Hans to run us down at any cost, which with consummate skill he was just able to do, returning me to fifth for the second consecutive year.

The 935 was a great car and those were great days. What a privilege to have been a part of it.

Jim Mullen, Manchester, Massachusetts, USA

Black marque to us

Sir,

As the previous owner of Chris Rea’s very original Lotus 6 – chassis number 74 and with original registration PTX 999 – it distressed me to see it called a Caterham in the caption to the picture accompanying the article (August issue).

Tom Candlish, Burnham, Bucks

Babs’ summer home

Sir,

Returning from a holiday in Wales it was interesting to read Bill Boddy’s article on Parry Thomas and Babs (August issue), as I visited the Museum of Speed on the seafront at Pendine.

Readers may like to know that Babs is exhibited each summer in this modern building, positioned so that she overlooks the beach used for the speed attempts. She was named Babs after the young daughter of a friend of Parry Thomas. The museum also plays archive film showing the record attempts by both Parry Thomas and Sir Malcolm Campbell.

Mervyn Pritchard, Marchamley, Shropshire

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