From the archives with Doug Nye: Need a driver?

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How a chance encounter with a former world champion at Goodwood opened up a new business opportunity

Coo – it was hot. That was the downside of driving the 1966 Le Mans GT-winning Ferrari 275GTB/C at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. As a lifelong enthusiast/scribbler I am unaccustomed to wearing Nomex overalls. I am particularly unaccustomed to wearing Nomex overalls and crash helmet and then sitting in quite a cramped cockpit with heat soak from engine ahead and transmission behind combining with a thoroughly un-British sun scorching down through the sloping windscreen to broil everything – including yours truly – beneath it.

We were down at the Festival startline, where during the line-up before the runs it is pot luck whether you have to pause as the queue shuffles forward within the comfy shadow of the flanking trees, or in the full blaze of searing sunshine.

I assumed there was some delay on the hill. Some dope with more ambition than skill had probably stuffed one of those impractical supercars, that I find so bewildering, into the bales. This might take some time to sort out. I sat for a while with the driver’s door open, then popped my crash helmet off my sweaty head. Still phew. Stifling in there. OK, unfasten the seat belts and hop out for a walkabout. Waste not a moment. I’ll take some photos instead.

I scrambled up the bank flanking the turnaround point and recorded some digitals with the faithful – handily pocket-sized – Canon G15. Hmm – Ferraris worth something like £130 million pounds in that first frame alone. I ambled on down the line, in the cool shade beneath the trees… snap, snap…

Aah – there’s Laurence Stroll’s Ferrari 330 P4 parked in the queue. Goodness me, 50 years ago in the 1967 Brands Hatch 6 Hours, Ferrari had pitched its P4s – backed up by concessionaire-entered 412Ps – against Porsche’s factory 907s and 910s. The FIA’s World Championship of Makes title was up for grabs. There was a joker in the pack; the Phil Hill/Mike Spence Chaparral-Chevrolet 2F Coupé – which of course went on to win outright, while Ferrari and Porsche would end the year as champions in their respective classes. I was assistant press officer at that race, sweltering in the startline grandstand press box. It was a terrific event – arguably the finest sports car race ever run on British soil… impossible (but true) that it was 50 long years ago.

I took some shots of the P4 sitting there before realising that its driver was beckoning to me. Oops – it was Jackie Stewart. He’d had a one-off Ferrari factory team drive in the P4 at Brands but his opening remark surprised me. Our conversation went like this:

“Hi Doug – they letting you have a drive today then?”

“Errr – oh well it does happen sometimes you know. They pay me bugger all, so the occasional drive is compensation…”

“Ooh – so you didnae realise you can get paid for driving then?”

“Ooh nooo Jackie – I’m far too naïve and innocent to have realised any such thing.”

“Aye, well – tell you what, I’ll be your manager – for a percentage – and we’ll soon put this right.” And he guffawed at the notion.

So that is why, if anyone else might require an experienced, enthusiastic – and careful – septuagenarian beardie-weirdie to drive their multi-million pound treasure, then here I am – but first you will have to contact my new manager, Sir Jackie Stewart.

At Brands in that memorable BOAC 500 six-hour race, Jackie co-drove the works Ferrari P4 with Chris Amon. But on race day poor Chris was decidedly unwell with some kind of food poisoning and it was left to Jackie to drive the lion’s share of the distance.

They ran second behind the winged Chaparral at the end of the opening hour, with team-mates Scarfiotti and Peter Sutcliffe third, ahead of the works Porsche 910 co-driven by Jo Siffert and Bruce McLaren. After two hours Bruce and Seppi led outright for Porsche from the Chaparral and Jackie and Chris’s works P4.

At half-distance – three hours – the P4 had completed 106 laps of the acrobatic valley circuit and led from the Porsche and Chaparral. After 126 laps Mike Spence in the Texan winged wonder was chasing down the McLaren Porsche for second place overall, soon rumbling by and charging on to catch Jackie in the leading Ferrari. At two-thirds distance the Chaparral lay 1min 17sec behind Jackie in the still-leading P4. By lap 138 Spence had narrowed the deficit to 1min 3sec, and when Jackie made a pit stop for both rear tyres to be replaced, and have “a great deal” of oil added, Amon – by now feeling better – took over, rejoining third behind the now-leading Chaparral and the Porsche.

One report described how: “Spence came in on the 156th lap to change the rear tyres and let Hill take over, despite a stop of 2min 20sec for the brake pads were changed as well, the Texan car, despite its pit stop, was still in the lead. The battle now was between Ferrari and Porsche, for this was the all-important issue with only one point separating them in the manufacturers’ championship.”

Chris led the 910 by 1min 38sec, but had to make another refuelling stop. He managed to build a sufficient cushion for Jackie to take over in a final 25.5sec stop that enabled him to rejoin still with 69sec in hand over the works Porsche. And the race ran out in that order, Hill/Spence winning from the Stewart/Amon Ferrari P4, which clinched yet another FIA world title for Ferrari – on team manager Franco Lini’s birthday. He had to make the telephone call to Mr Ferrari back in Maranello, and Franco’s smile was even wider than Phil’s, Mike’s, Jim Hall’s, Hap Sharp’s – or indeed Jackie’s. One way and another he’d had to make some pretty tough calls that year – not least after the accidents to team drivers Bandini at Monaco, and Michael Parkes at Spa – then the defeat by Ford at Le Mans…

Sitting in the Goodwood queue in Stroll’s P4, Jackie remarked, “You know how the Matra MS80 is very special for me, my favourite Formula 1 car? Well this Ferrari rates as the best sports car I drove. That weekend at Brands Hatch it was just beautifully balanced – ideally matched to the circuit – and I found I could do just anything I wanted to do with it. It had plenty of power, that fabulous V12 noise was something else and it was really agile…which surprised me. I loved driving it – and doesn’t it also look just great!”

Some praise indeed to mark Ferrari’s 70th anniversary – and the P4’s 50th too…