Letters, September 2016

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Garner’s question time

Following Richard Heseltine’s excellent article on the 50th anniversary of the iconic film Grand Prix, I recall standing beside Damon Hill’s Jordan on the grid at Suzuka in 1999 when a tall, elderly gentleman approached and asked about the team name. It was James Garner.

His interest in Jordan Grand Prix came from the film’s fictional Jordan Racing Team, and his presence in Suzuka was due to a BAR-Honda PR stunt relating to the fictional Yamura team. We discussed Grand Prix and he reminisced about how much he had enjoyed driving real racing cars as well as visiting some of F1’s greatest circuits. He told me how, on a wet Spa-Francorchamps, Phil Hill’s camera car was quicker than some of the race cars thanks to the weight of the equipment. 

James Garner passed away in 2014, but his daughter Gigi has retained many files and records of both his acting career as well as his racing. He fielded cars at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona, drove the pace car on three occasions at the Indy 500 and was well known for his off-road exploits. It is clear that Grand Prix held a special place in his heart combining, as it did, both his passions.

Mark Gallagher, Aynho, Oxfordshire

Spock’s human error

In Richard Heseltine’s article on the film Grand Prix, he mentioned Baffled in his list of worst racing movies. I worked on that with stunt man Ken Shepherd, who drove Reg Gubbins’ F5000 Nike 5A during crash scenes filmed at Pinewood Studios. The car mirrored Henri Pescarolo’s tea-tray March in the Oulton Park Gold Cup and Leonard Nimoy wore a green helmet to match.

The pit sequence was also done in the car park, but Nimoy couldn’t actually drive so was pushed by some burly stage hands and coasted in. He kept missing his mark and, after about 10 takes, I mentioned to the director that we usually had a mechanic in the pit lane to stop the car. “Get this guy some overalls,” he shouted – and suddenly I was in the shot. Unfortunately Nimoy again missed his marks and, at the last moment, I realised he wasn’t going to stop. The front wing caught me and flipped me down in front of the rear wheels, which went over my ankles.
My Cuban heels took the weight and I was about to jump up when Ken ran up, pushed me down and whispered, “Lie still and groan a bit, it’s worth money.” Spock was very apologetic. I got £100 for that – a lot of money back then.

The whole race section of the film was only about three minutes but we spent weeks on it. As Richard wrote, it was indeed a dire film.

Bob Dove, Barnstaple, Devon

Blazing saddles

The piece on the John Frankenheimer film Grand Prix brought some memories flooding back. The British GP in 1966 marked my first ever visit to Brands Hatch, as a 15-year-old. We did see some activity by the film crew on the day, including a few Lotus 21s disguised as F1 cars circulating between races. 

Everyone was invited back to be part of the crowd in further filming, so I dragged my father along to watch some scenes. The most memorable was the end-of-race sequence, when Pete Aron’s Yamura caught fire and he bailed out at the top of Paddock after crossing the line. It appeared that the (not so) special effects might have malfunctioned, because the fire was much more extensive than I think was intended and a slightly singed James Garner bailed out and was heard expressing his lack of amusement at being medium rare.

I’d like to question one point. You state that Pete Aron adopted Chris Amon’s distinctive helmet design. Could it not be that Amon adopted Aron’s helmet design for the remainder of his career, as I don’t seem to remember him using it before 1966?

Peter Richings, Coventry

Crash and carry

The excellent feature on the film Grand Prix was very enjoyable, particularly so as it produced a mystery I am hoping someone might solve.

On page 76, a distressed ‘Sarti’ is being lifted out of his crashed Manetti-Ferrari by two strapping young men.
On a closer look I thought that the one on the right, in the red checked shirt, looked remarkably like a young Val Musetti, a quick driver himself and known as a very able stunt double.
Can anybody confirm this?

Gerard Sauer, Worthing, West Sussex

Stars and stripes

In the article about the film Grand Prix it is stated that Chris Amon’s helmet design was shared with Aron’s for continuity purposes. If you compare the two, the stripes are reversed, Aron’s is red on the right while Amon’s is blue!

Steve Taylor, Dalbeattie

Lost in translation

Your article regarding Grand Prix brought back strong memories. In 1965 I was 22 and decided to spend 10 days in Monaco, around the GP. I had no idea about the filming activities going on.

I checked into a small hotel and signed up at a gym. The next day, one of the other customers asked me if he could read my International Herald Tribune between sets. We hit it off and that evening Phil Hill was driving me to Cannes for dinner! 

Thanks to his friendship I could come and go on the film set and sat for hours participating in the crowd scenes. It was mainly boring, waiting for something to happen, and I blotted my copybook by reading the newspaper, waiting for the stunt driver, F1 lookalike and cannon to be synchronised (in order to give a Hollywood version of Paul Hawkins’ excursion into the harbour the year before). As I was oblivious to the Tannoy message, the person standing behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said “Mr Frankenheimer wants you to put down the paper.” It was Garner and I was mesmerised by his stature and good looks.

Phil was unpretentious, charming, erudite and kindly took me under his wing. Walking into a café I was confronted by the who’s who of motor racing – I judge that most of the drivers of that era were there, and the fun and camaraderie was evident. 

I later got a postcard from Phil, telling me there would be ticket for Le Mans waiting for me at a hotel. He didn’t mention it was a pit pass – suddenly I was with the Chaparral team and had the job of translating the French Tannoy messages. The Chaparrals gave a good account of themselves, for eight hours as I recall, but the transmissions eventually failed… like my translations! 

Paul Creak, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

Lobbying for Frankenheimer

I really don’t care what critics of today think of the movie Grand Prix. I adore it… from the melodrama and fake F1 cars to the stilted dialogue and cameos by racing heroes.

I’m lucky enough to have the full set of eight very large movie lobby cards created for the Mexican release of the film… just stunning.

Paul Chenard,
Halifax, Nova Scotia

United stats

There is a very relevant British Grand Prix statistic I haven’t yet seen mentioned.

Since Lewis Hamilton made his F1 debut, he has previously won the world championship during every season in which he has won at Silverstone. When he hasn’t won his home race, he hasn’t taken the title. I think I now know which of the two Mercedes drivers will be champion this year.

Peter Dick, Toronto, Canada

Liverpool echo

In last month’s magazine you published my picture of a smiling Tony Brooks in his BRM at Aintree in 1961. Having read Tony Brooks’s excellent autobiography Poetry in Motion, in which his rather torrid time with BRM is accompanied by a photograph captioned “a rare smile in the 1.5-litre BRM”, I sent him the photograph you published.

I received by return a charming letter in which he wrote, “I believed that the photo in Poetry in Motion was the only one that showed me smiling in a BRM, but yours of me with the same countenance is nothing less than astonishing – it must have been my fastest lap of the race and the thought that I had been given the wrong engine!”

Also, in the introduction to the Private View feature you mentioned that I am one of many voices to have graced the Oulton Park commentary box – and next season will be my 40th at the microphone. Over the years I have seen many things at the track, including a local cricket team playing on a pitch to the inside of Lodge Corner while oblivious to the motor racing.

The changes made by Jonathan Palmer’s MSV group have been the most dramatic and have made the circuit what it is today – a superb facility with something for all the family. Excellent catering and clean toilets are among the bonuses of a day out at one of the country’s best circuits.

Michael Cookson, Audlem, Crewe, Cheshire

Sound of the crowd

Your story about crowd unrest at the 1976 British GP put me in mind of the 1971 International Trophy at Silverstone. Just in front of our prime position, at the entry to Copse, a large gang of press photographers ambled down before the start and set up on top of the bank, completely obscuring our view. This caused a lot of discontent and heckling. The photographers were completely insensitive and obviously not to be moved, so fruit and canned drinks were thrown, the photographers turned their cameras on the crowd and it became quite ugly.

As the start approached, with all the cars on the grid, I and some other people mounted the low fence and sat on the grass bank with the press. This caused marshals to order us back, but we refused to go because if it was safe for the press it was surely safe for us.

There were urgent calls on walkie-talkies and the chief marshal came across and pointed out that we would delay the start, but to no avail. Eventually he made the press crouch down behind the bank, to allow us to see over them, and said that they’d move after the start anyway.

We accepted this and returned to our places, but without our action we’d have missed seeing JYS seriously overcook it and plough straight into the bank a short way from where we’d been – quite spectacular!

Arthur Bayley, Tyldesley

Long-distance runner

In the June issue Gordon Cruickshank asked if readers knew of cars that were left-hand drive and left-hand shift. Well, we had such a car. It was a Morris Isis purchased in Canada when I was about seven. The car had a ‘four on the floor’ with overdrive, but no syncro between first and second. As a result double-declutching bore no terrors for me many years later, when I started racing an Austin 7. I don’t remember seeing another such car. The Isis had the same 3-litre engine as the Austin-Healey 3000, but detuned. 

Ultimately we gave the car away. It made it past 150,000 miles, which is pretty good for the era, especially when it had to stand up to Canadian winters.

Erle Archer, West Kelowna, British Columbia

Starlet trek

Your Parting Shot of the Formula 3 grid at Cadwell Park in 1969 brought back a flood of memories. I had trekked over from Manchester to see the race specifically because of the March team’s debut. The car I believe was designated 693, not 703. The high spot for me was an epic battle between the upcoming James Hunt, in an old Brabham BT21, and established hot-shot Reine Wisell in a works Chevron.

Hunt just edged it for fourth place and became my hero from then on. 

Malcolm Harding, Pin Mill, Ipswich

Actions speak Lauda

Reading the comments by Niki Lauda in August, I am reminded of the last time Niki drove a McLaren in the UK – tyre testing at Brands Hatch in 1985. In my office I have an enlarged photo of him rounding Druids.

It is a great shame that such testing can no longer be viewed by the general public and I echo his sentiments entirely regarding this and the lack of DNA in Formula 1. Keep it up, Niki.

David Ellis, Chepstow