The private owners in Grand Prix racing

GRAND Prix racing is essentially an activity for factories and industries, but there are always a few people who are prepared to join in even if they have no factory backing or very much hope of success. Occasionally Grand Prix racing reaches a high state of development and factory teams can fill all the entry lists and this is how it should be, for it is a technical exercise for the Research and Development of the motor industry, affording the opportunity for high pressure research that need not be passed on to the passenger car division directly, but the knowledge gained must inevitably be of use to the R. and D. department in all aspects of design. When full factory support is lacking then there is room on the starting grids for non-factory entries and these are divided into two categories: those of people who enter cars and employ people to drive them and those who enter cars and drive them themselves. It is the private-owner-driver that I am concerned with at the moment, and in this season of Grand Prix racing there are three who support the racing whenever organisers will accept them. These are Bob Anderson, Guy Ligier and Joakim Bonnier, all of whom own their cars, enter them and drive them. Of course there are the other owner-drivers, Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney, but they are essentially works teams with the backing of factories of which they are part, and not private-owners in the sense of being sporting amateurs, or amateur professionals.

The most successful owner-driver is undoubtedly Bob Anderson, who is professional in as much as he makes his racing pay its own way and makes a living from it. His bright green Tasman chassis Brabham car is always immaculately turned out and organisers are generally sympathetic to him as he can be relied on to keep racing and to make a satisfactory performance in spite of having to rely on an obsolete 4-cylinder Coventry-Climax 2.7-litre engine, there being no suitable 3-litre unit available for him to buy. Obviously, no private-owner is going to be able to challenge works cars or works drivers, for his car cannot benefit from the continual development work carried out by a factory, and if he over-drives the engine and breaks it, he has to pay for it. If a factory driver over-stresses things to gain the odd seconds or achieve victory and something breaks then the cost doesn’t come from his wages, though some people think it should! The private-owner can only race to the extent of his personal financial limit, and not the absolute limits of his car or engine. Organisers would rather have a private-owner who will run regularly and consistently than one who lasts only a few laps at breakneck speed or who spends more time in the pits than on the circuit.

Anderson was racing motorcycles a few years ago, being acknowledged among the top ten or twelve riders in professional road racing, and this year he made a brief return to motorcycle racing with the Yamaha team. In 1962 he did a season of Continental Formula junior racing with a Lotus and in 1963 he bought a Lola-Climax V8 and started on a Grand Prix career. In 1964 and 1965 he put the 1 1/2-litre Climax V8 engine into a Brabham chassis and campaigned his lonely way around the Grand Prix circuits. By keeping his overhead costs down and by retaining an essentially economic and practical outlook he manages to make his racing pay for itself. He transports the car about Europe on an open Volkswagen pick-up truck, travelling with one mechanic and doing a lot of the preparation and maintenance of the car himself. He is really more than an owner-driver he is an owner-driver-mechanic, as well as business manager and team-manager. He enters races under the title of D.W. Racing Enterprises, as he finds that he gets better terms when dealing with businessmen than he would if he was just Robert Anderson Esq. His racing is financed by contracts with B.P. and Firestone and by starting money and the occasional prize money, for if the works teams run into trouble and retire from a race he is one of the first to benefit and move up into the more beneficial placings. There are a lot of people who envy Anderson and his racing but few of them are honest and admit it; they prefer to make derogatory remarks about his ability or his way of doing things. If he runs into trouble in practice he will immediately pack ‘up and return to his home in Bedfordshire rather-than bodge-up the car into a “starting money special” or stay and do nothing. He will rightly point out that it will cost money to stay three or four days in a foreign country without any income.

A new name in the Grand Prix lists this year is that of the Frenchman Guy Ligier though he has been racing on European circuits since 1963 with GT cars and Formula Two cars as well as doing rallies and hill-climbs. Before that he raced Norton 500 c.c. motorcycles winning the French championship. Ligier (pronounced Lee-jay) comes from Vichy where he has a road making business and he also has a garage in Paris where he is the importer for the Shelby Cobra and Mustang 350GT, which is why you will see him travelling to races in a 350GT Mustang. He bought a brand new Cooper-Maserati V12, number F1-4-66, at the beginning of the season, had it painted French blue and has two mechanics, one English and one French, who are employed by him full time to look after the car and to transport It about Europe by car and trailer. While the racing season is in full swing they have no permanent base. working either at Byfleet at the Cooper works, or at Modena in the Maserati factory, the rest of the time being spent travelling or at race meetings.

Ligier is a stocky and fit-looking 36-year-old, and to anyone who has met him it comes as no surprise to learn that before he took up motorcycle racing he was a top-line professional Rugby player. Unlike Anderson he is essentially an owner-driver, leaving mechanical problems to his mechanics. He finances his own racing, with the assistance of a B.P. fuel contract, and uses Champion plugs and Dunlop tyres without a binding contract and is essentially a sportsman prepared to spend money on racing for his own amusement. As it is his first season of Grand PAS racing he still has a lot to learn. his first visit to England and the wide open spaces of aerodrome racing at Silverstone leaving him completely bewildered, but he is quite philosophical about it all and accepts mechanical disaster or adversity with a typical Gallic shrug and enjoys talking about his racing as much as he enjoys the racing itself.

At this year’s Targa Florio he drove a Ford GT40 with Rallyman Henry Greder and on the last lap Ligier went off the road in the hail-storm that swept the mountains; he got going again with the front of the car looking very second hand. He was still leading his category although he had lost some places in the overall list of survivors, and he arrived at the temporary pits at Bivio Polizzi in a great rush, shouting for the Ford France mechanics to tear the lose bits and pieces away. With half the front missing he roared away, intent on completing the final lap. Unhappily a rear stub axle broke on the descent into Campofelice and he skated along the road on three wheels andd came to rest at the side of the road, safe but heart-broken, being only a few kilometres from the finish.

When the roads were open again I left Bivio Polizzi and drove along the circuit, heading for the coast road and was most surprised to come across the derelict Ford GT40, with Ligier sitting beside it surrounded by a crowd of eager Sicilians. I offered him a lift but he politely refused, saying he would stay with the wreckage in view of the many “souvenir hunters.” He was very grubby and thirsty, and not a little tired and all I could offer in the way of sustenance was an orange that had been kicking about in the back of my Jaguar. If I had offered him a five-course meal with wine and liquers he could not have been more grateful. A few miles further on I saw Henry Greder on his way to rescue his co-driver, with a car and trailer, so all was well. Guy Ligier may not be a Jim Clark, or even a Jean Behra, but he is a welcome addition to the Grand Prix scene.

The third owner-driver in Grand Prix racing today is Joakim Bonnier, a Swede by birth, but now a resident in Switzerland, and he is also the owner of a Cooper-Maserati. His name is almost too well known to require explanation and he has the unusual distinction of having started racing as a private-owner in the mid-1950s, risen to the heights of being a works driver for Porsche and B.R.M. in Grand Prix racing and returned to being a private owner. In GT and sports-car racing he is still offered factory drives by Porsche and his year has been driving for Chaparral, winnine the Nurburgring 1,000-kilometre race with Phil Hill. Bonnier is a strange mixture of motoring enthusiast, racing diplomat, international businessman and gentleman racing driver. He always motors about Europe, currently using a Mercedes-Benz 250SE and rates Mercedes as the best car in the world, having owned six of them. He is the leading light of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, a negotiator on all manner of things to do is oh racing and has a great advantage over most of his Grand Prix drivers in that he is articulate not only in Swedish, but in German, Italian. French and English, so it is hardly surprising that he has decided to live and develop his business interests in Switzerland.

As a driver he is some-thing of an enigma, for one day you will see him going slowly and the next day he will be outstanding. He is particularly good in mountain country and has always more than justified his drives with the works Porsche team in the Targa Florio, or at the Nurburgring, but has never shown the same flair in a single-seater, though he did win the first Grande Epreuve for B.R.M. at Zandvoort in 1959. He now takes part in Grand Prix racing as an owner-driver more for amusement than anything else, and like Anderson and Ligier finds the mental strain of being responsible for paying for his own mechanical breakages the hardest part. With the aid of contracts from B.P. and Firestone he bought Cooper-Maserati number F1-5-66, painted red and white and it is prepared and maintained by two Swiss mechanics who used to work for Siffert, and like Ligier’s mechanics they spend a lot of time at Modena, doing their travelling in a Volvo 1800 estate car with the racing car on a trailer behind. Bonnier employs these two mechanics and leaves everything to them, not being a spanner-man himself and he makes his entries under the title of Ecurie Suisse.

At present these three are the only owner-drivers in Grand Prix racing, and how long they can manage to continue to battle against the odds is anyone’s guess. If Grand Prix racing attracts more factory teams or more cars from existing teams then the private-owners will be the first to go. On the other hand if factory teams withdraw then there will he room for more private-owners, but it is a courageous. wealthy, enthusiastic driver who sets forth into Grand Prix racing, knowing from the outset that he has no hope of winning.