Simon's snapshots #16

Racing History

British F3 Championship, Oulton Park, September 15, 1979

Science is powerless to explain my failure to take more paddock shots or portraits during the 1970s. That simple sentence represents countless missed opportunities, but just occasionally I’ll sift through a box of remnants and find photographs of something that isn’t a car. I have no idea why this week’s subjects caught my attention, but it was probably because one of them looked particularly promising. The other, meanwhile, went on to become world champion.

In fairness, both had shown significant mettle. Closest to the camera, Brett Riley finished second to Stephen South in the 1977 BRDC Vandervell F3 series. Alongside him, Nigel Mansell achieved extraordinary results in some clapped-out Formula Ford cars before winning the 1977 Brush Fusegear FF1600 title in a contemporary Crosslé 32F.

Two years later they were hired to represent David Price Racing in the British F3 Championship. The good news was solid financial backing from Unipart. The bad? They were running Triumph Dolomite engines when really you needed a Novamotor-tuned Toyota. It spoke volumes that their only victories came in the wet. Mansell spearheaded a team 1-2 at a soggy Silverstone early in the year, while Riley won at a rain-affected Donington Park in May (a combined British and European championship race, with Alain Prost best of the visitors in third).

In the dry the car was usually capable only of picking up crumbs in the lower reaches of the top six. Riley often made better use of it, while Mansell was felt to be trying just a touch too hard in a bid to compensate for his car’s deficiencies.

He couldn’t be blamed for events a few hours after this shot was taken, however.

Heading into the tight right-hander at Fosters, the Englishman was minding his own business when he was undone by Andrea de Cesaris, an occasional master of the inappropriately optimistic lunge. Mansell’s car was launched into a series of rolls and he was stretchered away with broken vertebrae.

Teenager Mike Thackwell won the race in his works March 793, ahead of Chico Serra’s similar car (prepared by Ron Dennis’s Project 4). Riley went on to finish seventh and later continued racing in his native New Zealand.

Mansell? He received an invitation to join the Lotus F1 team for a test at Paul Ricard, countered his latest injury with turbocharged painkillers and came away with a test contract that proved quite fruitful.

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