Letters, September 2013

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Wistful thinking

Thanks for the superb Jim Clark edition (August). A chord was struck with the track test of the Lotus 25, reminding me of an interesting coincidence that occurred 20 years ago.

It was the 1993 Autosport show at the Birmingham NEC and we had a small trade stand there. We were part of the Champion Spark Plug pavilion, which pulled together some of the smaller, specialist suppliers (we did racing valves) and Champion embellished the stand area with some really eye-catching exhibits, not least of them a Lotus 25.

As anyone who has manned these stands will know, the best time to have a look around is before the punters arrive and this particular Sunday morning was no exception.

At about 8.30am, we were there, slowly regaining consciousness, when we had a visitor, a very serious and young up-and-coming guy with Formula 1 ambitions. As he studied Jim Clark’s winner, the look on his face was interesting and somewhat wistful.

My colleague broke the reverie by asking, “Fancy a go in it, David?” He replied only, “Hmm…”

Twenty years on, he has. Like me, he knew something special when he saw it.

David Walker, Coventry

Monaco memories

Nigel Roebuck’s article on the career of Lorenzo Bandini and his dreadful accident at Monaco in 1967 brought back my own memories of that day.

I had a seat in what was then the Station Hairpin grandstand and can still hear that foreboding ‘whump’ of petrol igniting, thankfully out of my sight down at the chicane.

For several laps previously, Bandini’s fatigue had been all too apparent, with his head jerking forward as he braked and changed down for the hairpin, and then snapping back again as he applied the throttle. I remember wishing he would pull in, but of course he was a Grand Prix driver. His drive that day was a testimony to his courage and determination, as he would have been well aware that his endurance was being tested. It was a very hot day, and I am sure that Chris Amon’s explanation of the demanding nature of 100 laps of Monaco is spot on.

I enclose a photograph I took of Bandini earlier on in the race, kicking up the cement dust that was spread over the oil from Jack Brabham’s car when a rod let go on the way into the hairpin. Note the marshal’s dress!

Gavin Ross, Alford

1940 Le Mans 24 Hours…

Returning from my annual visit to the Le Mans 24 Hours (my first was in 1957), I found my August issue of Motor Sport with Doug Nye’s account of when ‘Sammy’ Davis helped liberate Le Mans in 1944. It reminded me of fellow Le Mans driver Mortimer Morris-Goodall telling me of this similar story recorded in 1973.

“Robert Hitchens and I finished the race in 1939 so we could qualify for the next one, but there wasn’t a next one because of the war. Do you know I was there at Le Mans the day the race should have been run in 1940? This would have been in June and I was retreating fast from Le Havre to St Nazaire. I was then a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. The CO gave us orders to get out of Le Havre quick – the Germans were then surrounding the town. The Canadian Division was arriving at Brest and we were supposed to go and unload them, but the Germans stopped all that.

“Instead I was told to take the Batallion Transport down to St Nazaire. The Batallion Transport then consisted of two motorbikes and one 15cwt lorry! When I got to Rennes (I think), I saw a signpost that read ‘Le Mans’ – this was on the Saturday the race should have taken place. I thought, ‘Hell, it’s only 60km or something’, so I turned left and went over to Le Mans, said goodbye to the people in the Hippodrome café and did one lap of the circuit in the truck. I had no idea where the Germans were – it was a stupid thing to do really. Then I turned round and hit out for St Nazaire like a two-year-old. But I did a lap on the day the race should have been run in 1940.”

I asked Mort whether he’d have had an entry to race Robert Hitchens’ 2-litre Aston Martin again. He said, “Yes, Robert and I would have been driving.” Robert commanded gunboats during the war and was killed in action.

Brian K Joscelyne, Braintree, Essex

Inspirational Win…

I was moved when reading Lunch with… Win Percy (August issue), particularly regarding his spinal injury. As a chiropractor, I know a lot about backs and that they take a hell of a pounding when strapped into a racing car for lap after lap – not counting the shunts and exuberant thumping of kerbs and barriers. In Win’s case the damage was likely done long before the gardening incident tipped things over the edge, and it is tragic that he ended up in surgery – always a risky business.

I wish him well in his continued rehabilitation. He’s an inspiration.

It’s one of the reasons I work with a number of young racing drivers, to help make sure they never end up in that situation. On which note, a word for Damon Hill. I had the pleasure of meeting him recently and he was telling me all about his bad back, including his dodgy self-remedies. Remember, Damon, to come and see me next time you are visiting your mother…

Toby Colliver, Cobham, Surrey

…a true racing gent

As an avid reader of Motor Sport for more than 60 years, and as a competitor in open wheelers and sports cars for more than 40, may I say congratulations on your recent Lunch with Win Percy.

As Simon Taylor wrote, Win has that rare sense of decency that is missing in this day and age.

My wife and I were fortunate to dine with Win and other close friends in Geelong (south of Melbourne) in the 1990s. It was most entertaining, in terms of race chat, food and wine.

What a wonderful personification of an English gentleman he is. His stories of racing and his life were riveting. The several glasses of red must have got to him as in the mailbox the next day was a copy of his racing resumé, and written on it was ‘To Roy, thanks for the driving lessons, Win Percy’ – very tongue in cheek, of course.

I still have it and will always treasure it and his natural humour.

As you say, he will be long remembered as a wonderfully decent bloke, a top driver and a great all-round personality. Go well Win, you will always have a special place in our memory bank of extra-special people.

Roy Williams, Geelong, Australia

Meeting Bandini

Nigel Roebuck’s thoughtful piece about Lorenzo Bandini took me back to July 1961. During a continental camping holiday with car-mad friends, we called in to the Modena Autodrome to find a Centro Sud Maserati-engined Cooper T53 in the sun-baked pits.

In halting Italian we very reluctantly convinced the mechanics that we were not there to try out the Cooper – at that time Centro Sud race school was full of English-speaking hopefuls – and we were soon joined by a quiet, polite and earnest young Italian in a T-shirt and chinos, who stepped into the Cooper and was push-started away.

My photo below shows him alert and focused, the young Lorenzo Bandini.

The Cooper rushed off, snorting and crackling, the sound bouncing off the high walls that surrounded the autodrome as he disappeared from view. He circulated steadily for three laps then went for it, finally exuberantly sliding out of the last corner before the pits, much appreciated by the applauding Centro Sud mechanics.

We chatted briefly with Bandini and a week later followed the Centro Sud transporter to Germany, where at the Nürburgring – in just his third F1 start in the outdated Cooper – he ran well but retired with mechanical problems.

That damp day we were however treated to one of Stirling Moss’s greatest drives in the Walker Lotus 18/21, when he gambled on rain tyres and beat all the sharknose Ferraris. Little did we know this would be Stirling’s last World Championship Grand Prix win.

Having been charmed by Lorenzo we naturally followed his F1 career, so the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix left us each utterly shocked.

David Morgan, Mill Green, Herts

F1 losing its grip?

I read Paul Hembery’s comments on the need for Formula 1 to entertain with interest (July issue).

Although drag-reduction systems and deteriorating tyres might appeal to the casual TV viewer in the same way as 20/20 cricket, there is a danger die-hard fans will become disillusioned with the highly contrived show.

I have been following F1 for more than 30 years, but the sight of a driver cruising round nursing his tyres, or a DRS-assisted overtake that the driver in front is unable to defend, has resulted in me reaching for the ‘off’ switch. I now get my motor sport fix from MotoGP, a sport that has maintained its integrity by not introducing gimmicks.

It is the way of things that the casual TV viewer will soon bore of F1 and move on to other sports. And if F1 alienates fans from its traditional European heartland, then it could end up with no fanbase at all. Although I respect Paul Hembery’s comments and understand why the sport has gone down this particular route, I believe it is a potentially ruinous one.

Nicholas Bird, Southsea, Hampshire

Landing on his feet

Regarding the Le Mans 24 Hours of 1967 (July issue), the mother of a good friend chartered a light aircraft from Luton to take three of us, landing on a grass strip behind the main grandstand from where we watched the start.

After the total silence before the drivers ran across the track and the subsequent explosion of engines, my abiding memory is of the sheer speed as the leaders passed us on the first lap into the Dunlop Curve. To those brought up on British club racing, it was an awesome revelation further enhanced by walks around various parts of the circuit, inside and out.

While we were, from a patriotic view, disappointed by the early departure of the underprepared Lola-Astons, the Ford/Ferrari battle kept us riveted, particularly after the multiple crash to which Nigel Roebuck refers seemed to even up the odds once again. Seared forever into my memory, however, is the glorious Sunday sound of Parkes/Scarfiotti using the full rev range in all gears of the P4 lap after lap in what turned out to be a fruitless pursuit of the rumbling Ford.

Greatest race possibly, but I have never felt tempted to return.

David Bridges, via e-mail

Henry, the golden engine

In Paul Fearnley’s article on Sir Henry Segrave (July issue), the paragraph on Golden Arrow mentions obtaining finance from Portland Cement and BP. This is incorrect because the finance for Golden Arrow came from Lord Wakefield of Hythe and his oil company CC Wakefield trading as Castrol.

During World War II, Golden Arrow was stored in packing cases along with Lord Wakefield’s world water speed record boat Miss England II in the London Docks. After the war the remains of Miss England II were found destroyed by fire due to an incendiary bomb. Golden Arrow survived, but then it had to because it was always the most beautiful of all Land Speed Record cars.

Golden Arrow was retained by Castrol through the 1950s and was often stored in a large lock-up garage in Ilford. In 1959 it was displayed at the Goodwood TT then presented, on loan, to the Montagu Motor Museum, now National Motor Museum, by Capt George Eyston, who was at the time a director of Castrol.

Jeff Gibson, via e-mail

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