News of Chris Amon’s passing filtered through from New Zealand on the morning of August 3. From the moment I read Mark Hughes’s text message, my daily trudge on the commuter train felt a little heavier. The overcrowding began to thin as it always does the closer we crawled towards Finchley Road, and it was then that I remembered the 2016 Motor Sport calendar. Why? Because we’d chosen a 1960s 3-litre Formula 1 theme for this year and the image for August had just pinged crisply into mind. Of course. It had more or less picked itself.
For motor racing people, the summer month traditionally signalled a trip to the green lanes of Cheshire and the popular non-championship Oulton Park Gold Cup. Here then was another excuse to run that photograph, nice and big on our popular large-format calendar.
Sure enough, as I strolled into the office there it was hanging on our wall: Amon, Old Hall, Ferrari 312 – nose pointing directly at the lens rather than in the direction of travel. The art of the four-wheel drift, captured right there in glorious monochrome, surely the defining image of one of Grand Prix racing’s greatest talents. The coincidence made us smile on a sad day.
Much was written about Amon in the days that followed his death, but only some of it by those who really knew him. Mark’s contextual obituary runs on page 14, preceding the reflections of Nigel Roebuck. Regular readers won’t need reminding that our editor-in-chief counted Chris among his closest friends and Nigel dedicates his column in its entirety this month to the Kiwi maestro. I suggest you’ll want to read it.
Bidding adieu has become something of a theme in this edition. Along with Chris Amon, we salute Jack Sears, another popular character from motor racing’s glorious past (p38). Whether in Jaguar Mk2, Ford Galaxie, AC Cobra or exotic Ferrari GT, ‘Gentleman’ Jack could live comfortably in the company of the most highly rated paid professionals. It’s only a surprise to be reminded how relatively short his racing career turned out to be, ending as abruptly as it did in 1965 through injury. And yet like Amon, Sears is one of those figures that appears woven into the fabric of motor sport’s rich tapestry.
Unbeknown to both, these racers also shared membership of a strictly unofficial but select little club created by this magazine. In the past 10 years, the pair found themselves among the 125 subjects Simon Taylor took to lunch as part of our illustrious and much-loved series of career interviews. The ‘Lunch with’ stories have proven to be one of the pillars upon which Motor Sport was built in this decade past.
But nothing lasts forever. Simon has finally called for the bill, and while long-form interviews with drivers, team owners, engineers and so on will continue to be a staple of the magazine, his final lunch – with Sir Jackie Stewart, no less – undoubtedly marks the end of an era.
Simon offers a glimpse behind the creation of this series on page 96, and has also recorded a special podcast for the website as a further sign-off. He has every intention of remaining a regular visitor to this parish with various other contributions, so it’s not a final farewell. But as his editor, I can confirm that as an interviewer he has set the bar at a height reserved for Brazilian pole vaulters.
I always looked forward to our monthly catch-ups to compare notes on whom he should target next. We always tried to work three or four interviews ahead, such was the time and effort they took to organise. Simon would track his ‘victim’, convince them to meet him in a restaurant, café, pub or hamburger joint (in the case of AJ Foyt), then embark on hours of research. ‘Lunches’ could involve a drive to a quiet country location in Oxfordshire – or a long-haul flight to Texas. Once the lunch was digested, there’d be hours of transcription awaiting him, the task of fact checking (racing drivers often tend to ‘re-remember’ key moments in their lives!) and finally the process of piecing together 5500 words of word-perfect copy. Simon always filed on time and I’d look forward to a ‘lunch’ landing as the deadline approached. When I opened the file, I knew I’d rarely have to
change a thing.
Of course, the interviews are available to revisit on our website archive. It’s no exaggeration to say the 125 articles form an unsurpassable body of work as a cut-glass primary source, especially given that they’re all from a single writer. Who else has spent so much time with illustrious world champions, Grand Prix winners, Le Mans and Indy 500 stars – and the odd second-hand car salesman? A few seemed impossible to pin down (Jean Alesi said yes, but then disappeared from contact), a couple turned us down flat (Johnny Dumfries, Eddie Irvine – their loss) and Jenson Button cancelled. But the figures we really regret not buying lunch for were already gone before the series started –
I find it hard to imagine James Hunt and Innes Ireland restricting themselves to a glass of mineral water. Still, in terms of who we did get, I’d say we
did all right.
When great motor sporting figures leave us, such as Amon and Sears, the value of the ‘Lunch with’ archive only increases. Thank you, Simon. It’s been
a Michelin-starred feast.
And with that, I too must bid you adieu. This is my last issue of Motor Sport as its proud editor. In terms of editions, I topped the ton a little while back and it feels like the right time to move on. Editors rarely own the magazines they run, but they tend to feel like they do – and that was certainly the case for me. It gets personal, especially with a magazine as special as this one, and that makes it all the more difficult to walk away.
I offer my thanks to all the wonderful writers who have contributed over the years, particularly my friend Nigel Roebuck who was ‘my Jenks’ as an impressionable youth with an insatiable hunger for the greatest sport in the world. ‘Thanks’ doesn’t quite cut it (but will have to do) for my tight-knit team of green-blooded enthusiasts here in the office, without whom this thing just wouldn’t exist. We’ve shared a great deal during unforgettable, life-changing times.
Finally I must also thank you. Motor Sport’s incredibly loyal and deeply knowledgeable readers expect and demand the best. You’ve kept me on my toes – and quite right too! – but nearly always with a kind word of support and encouragement along the way.
It’s been a privilege that I’ll carry with me always.