Catch me if you can, copper

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Tony Brooks remembers a disappointing race enlivened by an unexpected police chase

It may be 60 years gone, but Tony Brooks has the details of his abortive 1957 Pescara Grand Prix to hand, in the racing journal he kept throughout his driving career. For him Pescara was a race to look forward to, a proper road race, a circuit of grandeur with all the hazards of everyday life on the Adriatic coast. 

He arrived by Hillman Minx coupé with his fiancée Pina and Roy Salvadori: “It was a test car loaned to Roy. The Aston Martin drivers didn’t like to drive other team members. He left me the driver’s seat, but didn’t know I liked driving on the continent so I enjoyed the trip.”

Not having driven Pescara, Brooks had mugged up: “I’d done my usual preparation by studying a map of the track. My technique was to pick a corner that couldn’t be mistaken and learn that section thoroughly, so that if you lost yourself on the lap you waited until you came to a corner you could identify and then picked up from there. Essential at the Nürburgring, but not quite so vital here – although it was 15½ miles it didn’t have 176 corners like the ’Ring!

“It was a bit similar to the ’Ring, but rough in parts, with slower sections so the Vanwall didn’t handle too badly. I don’t remember doing a recce in a road car – but it is a long, long time back. We certainly didn’t have the preparation you’d hope for a 15½-mile track. Stuart Lewis-Evans suffered even more and we both had grossly inadequate practice. In fact we weren’t given cars that were able to put in competitive times.”

So as not to interfere too much with daily life around the circuit, that practice consisted of one 7am session and another at 4.30pm. “7am!” Tony exclaims. “Shades of Monaco… In the morning I managed four flying laps and set a best of 10min 8.8sec while Stirling put up a 10min 5.8sec.”

It would be the best he could achieve, as one of the cars gave problems in the afternoon and Tony could only fit in two flying laps without any improvement. Though Vanwall brought four cars, it didn’t help: “Sometimes the spare car was more of a spares car than a competitive runner,” Brooks reflects. This put him on the third row alongside team-mate Stuart Lewis-Evans, behind Schell and Behra, Moss and Fangio out in front. 

“To avoid the afternoon heat we were to start early for a Grand Prix.” But Tony remembers it being chaotic. “It was the same as at Syracuse,” he says. “The starter was surrounded by a crowd of people and you literally couldn’t see the flag fall, so I was caught out. My goggles slipped down so the dust at the start almost blinded me and I spent the first minute trying to steady the wheel with my knees so I could raise the goggles. But the surface was too rough, and the goggles got tangled with my spare pair.”

Eventually he managed to sort himself out and through the recovered eyewear found he was still in fifth place. Passing Behra he tucked in behind the bulbous tail of Fangio’s Maserati, giving him a close and instructive view of the world champion in action. “I found myself doing what Stirling had done in 1955 when he and Fangio were team-mates, able to watch the master at work and learn from him.” 

It’s a typically modest remark from Brooks, as he was not only keeping up comfortably with the Argentinian world champion on the downhill towards the first straight but closing up on him – until a cloud of impending disaster blew over him. “I was braking for the chicane at the end of the second straight when suddenly the cockpit filled with smoke. There was nothing I could do so I coasted into the pits. They told me it was due to the fuel mix being too weak, causing a hole in a piston. I don’t think the cars were particularly well prepared for Pescara.”

Stirling’s victory and new lap record were triumphs for Vanwall, but for his team-mates the sole Pescara Grand Prix was less joyous. Sitting in the pits, Brooks watched Lewis-Evans come in twice with shredded tyres.

“And we were doing 180mph on those straights,” Tony points out. “So Stuart was lucky. He managed to finish fifth.” But there was a degree of relief: “It was only six weeks after my Le Mans accident [when his Aston Martin DBR1 overturned and he received multiple injuries] and I was still a bit tender, so I wasn’t weeping at only doing one lap.”

Even at this distance Tony is still tickled by Jack Brabham’s accidental pitstop, when he parked his out-of-fuel Cooper in a garage forecourt (see page 76).

Although his race was brief, Tony looked forward to the prize-giving dinner, where there was a camaraderie he likens to pilots in WWII. “They were always fun, especially in Italy – drivers swapping tales, and any irritations from the race were sorted out there and then. No lengthy protests back then and I don’t remember any fisticuffs. Formula 1 today could learn from that, including Vettel. We didn’t used to drive into each other’s cars.” 

Attractive as the seaside resort of Pescara was, there was no time to relax before heading off. “We used to have to work for our peanuts in those days,” he says. With his race effectively unrun, Brooks was able to expend some pent-up adrenaline on the trip back to Milan. “Jack Brabham wanted a lift so we employed the Aston strategy and left him the driving seat. He didn’t say much and drove rather slowly. Then we caught up with a long military convoy and he didn’t want to pass as it had a police motorbike stopping any overtaking. I got a bit frustrated as at this rate we’d never get to Milan before night. I told Jack I was going to take over – without stopping as there was a queue behind us. Roy in the front seat held the wheel while Jack climbed over the seatback and I slid behind the wheel.”

A Hillman Minx four-up is hardly a performance car, but when a gap appeared Brooks set off past policeman and 20 army lorries. “The policeman looked astonished,” he laughs, “and then set off in pursuit. I had to dive into a couple of gaps to avoid oncoming traffic, but I’d forgotten there was a police rider at the front. He was even more astonished as we went past.” 

But the first policeman was on his tail, and finally Brooks had his race, using all the road and every rev the little Hillman could deliver. “The road was empty but a Minx four-up couldn’t leave a motorbike behind so I was glad when rain began. And then we saw a level crossing with the barrier just starting to come down so I aimed for the gap, put my foot down and made it with a couple of feet to spare.” 

It’s hard to imagine the restrained, gentlemanly Brooks in this Indiana Jones mode, but he’s still laughing about today – even though he recalls that his passengers all went quiet. Their pursuer caught them at the next level crossing, though, where they had to stop and Tony wound down his window and rested his head. “The rider must have been accumulating saliva for miles because he pulled alongside and spat expertly at me. What I didn’t know was that Roy had given him the V-sign and he thought it was me!”

“I know it doesn’t sound like Brooks,” he goes on, “and sadly Roy isn’t here to confirm it, but Pina can. No word of exaggeration! I certainly got rid of my frustrations about the race.” 

Honour satisfied, the carabiniere returned to his station and Brooks drove on calmly to Milan, adrenaline overload expended. “People will have a totally different view of me if you print that!” he says.

Picture perfect

The artist Tim Layzell reveals how he created this months stunning cover image

There has always been one surefire way to tell if you have made it as an artist: people start copying you. It is a truth ruefully acknowledged by Tim Layzell, the man who created this month’s cover image.

“I suppose I have a distinctive style,” he says. “And I have noticed that some people are trying to copy it now, which is annoying, but I still love doing it.”

Over the past two decades since winning a competition at the age of 13, Layzell has carved out a name for himself as one of the world’s foremost painters of motor racing. His pop-art style has been imitated but never matched and to many it is perfectly suited to capturing the drama and movement of the sport. 

This magazine has long admired his work and when it came to illustrating our cover story celebrating Stirling Moss’s victory at Pescara in 1957, he was an obvious choice – not least because colour photographs of the event are so rare. We approached him at his studio in Bristol, and after several meetings to discuss what was possible and what was required, he accepted the commission. 

“A lot of my work is commissioned these days, and a lot of time goes into researching the paintings,” he says.

“For the Pescara image I looked up old issues of Motor Sport, found YouTube videos and read books to get a feel for the race and decide on the moment I wanted to paint. 

“The painting shows Moss in his Vanwall in the foreground followed by Luigi Musso in the Ferrari and Fangio in the distance in his Maserati. A lot of research goes into getting the colours right but on this particular image the most difficult thing was finding images of the banner over the pedestrian bridge – it is always the things you think will be easiest that end up being hardest.”

This specially commissioned acrylic-on-canvas painting took Layzell about three months.

“The style is deceptively simple,” he says. “I use block colours, which means that rather than shading in areas as you would on most types of painting.

“I just use one colour, then another. It gives the painting real movement and draws you in, but it is like painting with one hand tied behind your back. And I paint direct onto the canvas too – it’s not something I sketch out then fill in.”

Layzell’s work has appeared everywhere from Goodwood to Monaco and sells for thousands. But he says that he still gets a massive thrill from each new commission: “The ones I enjoy the most are those where I have to create an image of something that doesn’t actually exist before I paint it,” he says. “In that sense the Pescara picture was ideal.”