Fifty things I love about motor sport


I enjoy all sports bar horse racing; I will never forgive it for regularly interrupting what little televised motor sport there was during my formative 1970s; the parade ring, the latest odds, the interminable loading of the stalls, the new latest odds, the race itself – yawn – the results, the interviews with posh or Irish people and/or both, and the re-run of the race in even slower motion.

In contrast, the histories of baseball, boxing and cricket have me rapt. But nothing matches motor sport’s multi-faceted appeal: cars, circuits, clothing, designers, drivers, engine noises, liveries, mechanics, politics (my least favourite aspect), races, rallies, rivalries, strategy, tactics, teams and technology – all wrapped up in a photogenic form. There are so many ‘entry’ points – and that’s before you zoom in on the details, quirky or otherwise.

So, on the flimsy pretext that this blog is the nudge just behind square that brings up my half-century for this website, I have compiled a list of 50 things that I love about motor sport.

In no particular order, they are:

1. Dario Franchitti’s passion for its history.

2. Chris Amon’s crash helmet – particularly when it looked sandblasted, i.e. most of the time.

3. That Adrian Newey still uses an Oxford A4 pad, a full-sized drawing board, French curves and (probably) set squares, a protractor and a propelling pencil.

4. Matra’s V12 ‘Vélizy wail’.

5. Markku Alén’s machine gun intonation: “Fo sho! Now we go maximum rally attack!” I’m not sure he ever said that, but you get my drift.

6. Steve Soper versus Andy Rouse in RS500s – brutal yet so, so, so delicate.

7. Those trees at the exit of Tertre Rouge.

8. The disorientating suddenness with which a modern F1 engine switches off.

9. That McLaren’s original workshop had a trod-dirt floor.

10. All Indy roadsters of the 1950s and early ’60s.

11. The circuit outline of Barcelona’s Montjuich Park. I think I have doodled it on most beaches that I have set foot on.

12. Brian Culcheth finishing 16th overall and winning his class on the 1973 1000 Lakes Rally – in a Morris Marina.

13. Achille Varzi’s centre parting.

14. John Cooper’s forward-roll victory celebration.

15. That designer Mauro Forghieri is adamant that works Ferrari 512Ms would have beaten Porsche’s 917 in 1971 given the opportunity.

16. The ‘piano wire’ wheels of a Bugatti T59.

17. Ronnie Peterson opposite-locking his JPS Lotus 72 through Copse, which is where I stood to watch the 1973 British Grand Prix. Woodcote? Never heard of it.

18. A Can-Am ‘big block’ Chevy at its jackhammer tick-over.

19. The old Kyalami’s Jukskei Sweep – my favourite corner name.

20. The ‘horseshoe’ radiator of a Bugatti T35.

21. An ERA on axle stands warming its pre-selector gearbox.

22. The first time I saw Colin McRae live on a stage. Seeded in the hundreds, I think, and aboard a works Peugeot 205 GTI, he caught me on the hop during the 1988 RAC Rally and blew my mind.

23. The little house at the exit of Cadwell Park’s Hairpin. It’s where I wanted to live when I was a kid.

24. The cobbles at Rouen’s Nouveau Monde hairpin.

25. The name Arzani-Volpini.

26. Halibrand wheel spinners.

27. That a Maserati 250F was made so beautiful by tapping it with a small hammer.

28. Derek Warwick’s ‘ironman’ handshake.

29. A monumental ‘save’ by James Thompson in a BTCC Honda Accord at Oulton Park’s Druids Bend. The thought of it still gives me a roller coaster tummy.

30. Any onboard footage with Alain Prost. Effortless. That is how I drive in my dreams.

31. Anecdotes of Patrick Depailler’s scattiness.

32. A Ligier JS11 without its nose wings.

33. That Lancia Stratos and Saab 96 V4 went head to head.

34. The photograph of pre-WWI ace Leon Théry preventing his riding mechanic toppling from their Richard-Brasier by grabbing the spare wheel with one hand. Was it staged?

35. Walks on the crumbling bankings of Brooklands. Shivers.

36. Dragster legend Shirley Muldowney’s ‘Winning!’ response to the hackneyed ‘What’s a nice girl…?’

37. Sketchy Shelsley Specials that go like stink.

38. The Doppler effect of an approaching Cosworth BDA’s bark. Anticipatory glimpses of a strengthening spot-lit beam. In Clocaenog. Or Penmachno. Hot baked beans waiting in a flask.

39. Any book by Joe Scalzo.

40. John Watson’s three knifing passes in a single lap at Detroit.

41. Ayrton Senna and Tom Wheatcroft beaming from the podium after the 1993 European GP at Donington Park.

42. The smell of Castrol R. Ahh.

43. Mark Blundell’s pole lap in that overboosting Nissan at Le Mans. Oocha!

44. That Stirling Moss was not christened Hamish. Phew.

45. Frank Lockhart’s 148mph lap of the Atlantic City board track. In 1927. In a 1.5-litre car.

46. The bare ‘cage’ of a Maserati ‘Birdcage’.

47. An Alfa Romeo Tipo B in 1932 narrow-cockpit form.

48. The yellow exhaust pipes of Jim Clark’s 1965 Indy 500-winning Lotus 38.

49. That they ran an F3 race on the old Mugello road circuit as late as 1966. Two 41-mile laps in flimsy 1-litre ‘screamers’. Crazy.

50. That this list was sifted from the first 70-odd things I thought of, and that another 30 minutes’ endeavour would have dredged up hundreds more, all equally worthy in my eyes.

Curses, now the editor knows how long I spent compiling this article. Still, I am sure he will agree that we are very lucky to love this sport.

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