Sunday June 8 will go down in the diary as one of those special motor racing days.
Breakfast with Stefan Johansson, surely one of the truly great guys in the sport. He’s back in Sweden to drive a March 761 in the Ronnie Peterson Historic Grand Prix.
“I just love driving still,” he tells me, “ and I’m so lucky to be doing what I’m doing and still to be on the pace. I wanted to break Niki Lauda’s lap record this weekend but we don’t have any new tyres. Hey, but I’m pretty close to Ronnie’s times from 1976.” They’re all the same, these drivers, always so damn competitive. But they’re not all as friendly and lucid as Stefan.
A blast through the forests in the sunshine to Anderstorp, villages waking up to another unseasonably warm day in Smaland.
Into the pitlane, where Cosworths are being warmed up in preparation for the second of the weekend’s F1 races. Johansson won the first, easily, the man still as sharp and tidy as ever.
Along comes the King of Sweden (above). We chat about Ronnie, about what he did for his country, and about His Majesty’s love of motor racing. He is the most charming of men, totally relaxed in this environment, and clearly loves his motor racing. He has quite a collection of cars, among them a Porsche 911, Ferrari 456, and a real AC Cobra. He arrived at Anderstorp, as a King should, in a white Rolls Royce of the type that is made at Goodwood these days.
Alongside the King, with a beaming smile, is Nina – Ronnie and Barbro Peterson’s daughter – who has come with her family to present the prizes.
Dave Brodie is here. He was best man at Ronnie’s wedding and Ronnie best man at his. “Oh, he was such a great guy, a real star in every way,” says Brodie, “we had some great times and of course he was a wonderful race driver. Losing him was an absolute tragedy.”
Historic racers who have opted to go to Monza for the TGP race are missing a great event. Swedes who have gone to the beach – it is unusually warm for early June – are missing a wonderful tribute to a sportsman who put their country on the international motor racing map.
Out comes the black and gold Lotus 79, chassis three, to be driven today by Mr Johansson who has already been out in Ronnie’s little yellow Tecno in which he won the F3 race at Monaco. “The vibration was so bad I had to lift on the straight,” laughed Stefan.
Almost best of all, the Lotus is being prepared by the old boys from Hethel. Rex Hart and Bobby Clark, who were looking after Ronnie in 1978, are back with their car. Bobby is 73 years old now, though he looks years younger. “ All that racing,” he says, “ kept me young.” And he’s not an inch taller than he was, standing just above the big black rear wing as he fits the air starter. “It won’t start if we leave it sitting out in the heat much longer,” says Rex, who reckons Peterson was by far the fastest man never to win a championship in modern times. “Quicker than Mario, quicker than Emerson, but maybe not as well managed,” says Rex. Helping out is little Ake Strandberg, the Swedish mechanic who worked with Ronnie in karting before moving to England and joining his driver at March and at Lotus. Everybody wants this picture.
Along comes Neil Trundle, wearing a grey Stetson made specially to celebrate McLaren’s 1988 world championship year. A band around the hat proclaims that extraordinary season. “I made him wear it,” says Neil’s wife, “ he never wears it these days.
“What a great event,” says Neil, “ and all the old guys here, fantastic. And Lewis on the pole in Montreal, what a lap, we saw it on TV in the paddock last night. He’s a star alright.” Shame it all ended in the pitlane. I missed all that as the TV in my hotel did not receive the one channel that broadcasts the Grands Prix. This morning’s newspaper had just five paragraphs on the race. And five pages of football.
And that reminds me of one Pontus Wedlund, a Peterson fan who insisted on showing me the tattoos on his legs. On the right, a Peterson helmet and autograph and on the left, the badge of Stockholm’s AIK Solna, his favourite football club. Seemed like a pretty fair division of loyalties. Let’s hope AIK remains in his favour as tattoos are, well, for ever.
So, a truly superb weekend of motor racing at Anderstorp, the track itself untouched since last the Grand Prix cars were here. We need more days like these.