Last lap before Christmas


Not long till Christmas, so may I draw your attention to a couple of books for those of you wondering what to give a motor racing nut.

The first is a most unusual story. I mention this one because I haven’t read it myself yet and I’m hoping somebody will give it to me next week. Dear Santa… if you know the person, you know the perfect present…
“Crashed and Byrned – The Greatest racing Driver You Never Saw” is the story of an extremely talented racing driver called Tommy Byrne, and is told by a talented journalist called Mark Hughes. This is a book that many of us would have liked to have written but few of us could have done as well as Hughes, who has an eye for detail and a nice turn of phrase.

Tommy Byrne first came to my notice at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in the winter of 1981. I’d been aware of him, seen him at Thruxton, and there was clearly some talent, a natural speed. Then, having replaced Senna da Silva at Van Diemen, (the Brazilian had suddenly and mysteriously returned home, blaming lack of finance), Byrne blew them all away at Brands Hatch. I’m skimping over lots of stuff here – you’ll just have to read the book.

Tommy was immediately signed up for Formula 3 the following year, beating the much-fancied Martin Brundle in the opening round at Thruxton, and going on to win the BP F3 Championship despite missing some races. He missed these because he was already racing Teddy Yip’s Theodore-Ford TY02 in Formula One, making his debut at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim that August, just months after stepping up from Formula Ford. Byrne failed to qualify that weekend but he’d already made a huge impression and was given a test by McLaren at Silverstone in the autumn of 1982. He didn’t get the drive but many who were there that day claimed that his times were the fastest of all.

It’s often been said that Tommy Byrne was as fast as his nemesis Senna da Silva. Certainly there was no love lost between these two very different characters. I am not qualified to say if he was as fast, or he wasn’t, but Byrne was one hell of a racing driver. In those days we had a radio programme called ‘Track Torque’ and Tommy could always be relied upon for some pithy and outspoken conversation. He was confident, possibly too confident, believing that raw talent would take him to the top.

But motor racing isn’t like that. To get to the top, especially in Formula One, your face has to fit. The powerbrokers will be studying the cut of your jib. So, to cut a long story short, it all went wrong for Tommy Byrne. And this is where the book, I’m sure, will be gripping. The Irishman fell foul of wine, women and song. Byrne fled to America where he continued to win races. But his chance of Grand Prix glory was gone.

1983 British Formula 3 Championship, Thruxton, Great Britain. Ayrton Senna leads Davy Jones, Martin Brundle (all Ralt RT3-Toyota) and the field at the start.

The other book I want to recommend is vaguely connected. “The Life of Senna” by Tom Rubython is, in my view, the best of the many books about the great man from Sao Paulo. And, yes, Tommy Byrne is part of the early story which traces Senna’s first steps up the ladder through British Formula Ford and Formula Three. These are revealing chapters, relating the early signs of his fiercely combative, and competitive, spirit. This is a fascinating story and no true motor racing fan should be without a copy.

If books are not your thing, then how about the World Rally Championship DVD? After a huge lunch, or supper, next Thursday you can sit back and ride alongside some of the most daring drivers on the planet. On second thoughts, this might be more comfortable before, rather than after, your Christmas feast.

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