Who is Johnny Cecotto, anyway?
Imagine it’s a sunny Silverstone Saturday and you’ve wandered along, as our intrigued reporter did, in the hope of seeing some motorsport on two wheels. The day promises much, as the 750 FIM contenders tackle Silverstone as it should be, sans Woodcote chicane. Perhaps, as one well-known motoring national newspaper writer confessed to us, you are one of the growing band who have come to see human beings pitch themselves against some of Europe’s swiftest corners. An added bonus is a visibility and accessibility, of man and machinery, in the pits that is just not part of modern Grand Prix Racing.
It is a foreign world when you haven’t seen a bike race for years. You have to master the adoption of slick tyres, screaming 750 two-stroke engines that pulse out 115 horsepower instead of the single thumper Norton’s 50, and standing starts with enough smoke to satisfy Guy Fawkes. Then they have plug-in refuelling gear in pit stops (this in a 35 lap race ! And there’s the second leg to complete the next day). Then there are slick tyres, plus exhaust systems, footrests, gearchanges and fairings hiked-out of the way of terra firma, all knees-out cornering styles and—to cap it all—a team of bikes that are nicknamed “Green Meanies !”
You know Barry Sheene exists. How could you not? He gets more publicity than most of the car people lumped together. The Cockney 24-year-old who crashed at Daytona, and now seems to be able to win both 500 (which are still the world Championship proper bikes) and 750 (a sort of “5,000 concept that works” with the bikes already faster than 500s). Most popular Silverstone 750 mount was the Yamaha four-cylinder, or three-cylinder two-strokes from Suzuki or Kawasaki. Sheene is the subject of interviews in every kind of media . . . and after all he is British, so he must be best!
It doesn’t look like that on Saturday. On the first lap 19-year-old Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto heels his 750 Yamaha through Woodcote in one long swoop, a clear leader, the wheels wriggling lightly as the kerb is approached on the exit to Woodcote at some 130/140 m.p.h.
Gradually Cecotto (who has already taken a win earlier in the season at Imola, and who has virtually assured himself of the 350 title in his first International season) pulls away from a great dice between Patrick Pons (Yamaha 750) and Barry Sheene (Suzuki GB 750), to win by nearly half a minute in immaculate style. Sheene falls victim to a short change in fuel at his pitstop, but all the pundits are right about his nerve. From the apex at Woodcote he overtakes Pons on the outside, and, although this happens elsewhere in the field, Sheene appears to have this tricky manoeuvre down to the point where he can even brush rough exit kerbstones, twitch the bike straight and gain ground !
Cecotto set fastest lap at 1 min. 35.0 sec. on Saturday with his overheating Yamaha, but on Sunday (before 60,000 spectators) for the second leg of the 750 qualifier, the youngster was out within four laps on a borrowed Suzuki. That left Sheen and Barry Ditchburn (Kawasaki) to fight for the honours, Ditchburn’s works machine eventually settling for second after setting a new record it 1 min. 34.0 sec. (112.10 m.p.h./180.40 k.p.h.) Put in perspective these times are slower than modified Group Two saloon cars, but the pleasure of seeing someone enjoy taking on Britain’s fastest circuit, with a knee hanging inches off the tarmac, is one to cheer even the most jaded motorsport enthusiasts. It is also nice to see the approachable way in which Sheene and the majority of other bike stars look after autograph hunters.
The Avon Tour of Britain
That annual confrontation between the racing and rally drivers, the BRSCC-organised Avon Motor Tour of Britain, was this year firmly claimed by rally crews who took no less than six of the final top ten placings. The Tour of Britain, a mixture of visits to racing circuits and tarmac special stages, is now in its third year, victory in the past being split between racing (James Hunt won the first Tour) and rallying; Roger Clark was last year’s winner.
Basically, the Tour is a carbon copy of the Tour de France, and being run for Gp. 1 cars, it has in the past attracted stars from both branches of the sport. This year’s Tour, however, clashed with the German GP so the Formula One drivers who had competed in previous years were unable to make it, but despite this lack of Grand Prix “talent”, the Tour attracted a first-rate entry, albeit down on previous years, for a route which turned out to be the best to date. Racing circuits visited during the three-day event included Silverstone, Cadwell Park, Snetterton (for the now traditional night-racing), Oulton Park and Mallory Park whilst there were 13 fairly short special stages at a variety of Stately Homes, the notable exception being the army ranges at Epynt.
On paper at least it appeared that the format would favour such racing drivers as Gerry Marshall, Tony Lanfranchi, Gordon Spice, Bernard Unett, Alec Poole, Peter Hanson, Brian Pepper etc. As it turned out, the going suited young Tony Pond, the regular Dealer Opel Team rally driver who was allowed to drive a loaned Ford Escort RS2000 for this one-off event. Despite a lack of racing experience, Pond showed complete mastery on the Circuits, and with co-driver Dave Richards was consistently fast on the special stages. Nearest opposition came from the British Leyland Team Unipart entry for Brian Culcheth in a Dolomite Sprint with journalist Ray Hutton. Despite a determined effort to get on terms, Culcheth eventually finished second by 47s, after a supreme effort over the infamous Epynt special stages in South Wales. Third place did in fact go to a racing man, Bernard Unett in a Hillman Avenger GT. Chrysler driver Unett with co-driver Neil Wilson drove exceptionally well on both the tracks and stages, and he was only beaten once at Mallory Park when he had to contend with Escort RS2000s.
Under the guidance of BRSCC Executive Director Peter Browning, the Avon Motor Tour of Britain has developed over the last three years into a rally on which racing and rally drivers can not only match their respective talents, but also meet socially—a rare occurrence for the two major branches of motor sport.—M.R.G.
Where 47 m.p.g. is “average”
The heatwave was striking fiercely at the Thames Valley when one of our number spotted a large advertisement in the local paper reading “win a sunroof”. It went on to detail how this could be achieved, if one recorded the best m.p.g. of all local competitors in a 1300 Escort.
Tempted by the lure offered through Gowerings of Reading, a large Ford Main Dealer, our man went along. On the way to Gowerings the test Renault 5TS was pressed into fourth gear negotiation of traffic lights, while standing starts were accomplished with the minimum of throttle, but we could have saved ourselves the trouble.
In fact the test route turned out to be almost entirely flat countryside—quite an achievement in this area—and the route was part of one used by this reporter to arrive at Thruxton over the Bank Holidays. The Escort was 100% worse than the normal press car offering, wandering and responding to both brakes and clutch at the limit of pedal travel, but none of that mattered. The winning contender managed over 52 m.p.g. and we could muster just 47, which the Gowerings representative told us was “about average”.
Frankly, we could have hoped that the constant practice of nursing petrol-starved test cars back to the office would have yielded rather better results!
Another 2CV Cross
If you live in the Lancashire area and want to see some fun on the weekend of September 20th and 21st then head for Clitheroe, where the Lancashire Automobile Club and Citroën Cars Ltd. are promoting the second 2CV Cross. The first one at Camberley was tremendous fun simply watched from the sidelines. This time the Assistant Editor will have to look to his laurels—he’s down to race one of these rudimentary animals, while his wife has been threatened with an entry in the Ladies’ Race.
A totting-up system for bad behaviour on the Circuit by racing drivers is being introduced by the RAC next season. The scheme will allow an RAC steward to endorse a competitor’s licence for a serious infringement of the rules or for lack of gamesmanship if other stewards at the meeting are fully agreed. If a driver gets three endorsements in a season he will automatically lose his licence for a period, though will have a right of appeal. Readers’ reactions will be welcomed.