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Archive for the category “People”

1000 miles per hour

I was fascinated, as a kid, by Donald Campbell’s land speed record attempt on Lake Eyre, Australia, in July, 1964.

403 mph.

At the time, his record seemed to be unimaginably fast.  And it was – as David Tremayne recalls in his excellent book, Donald Campbell: the man behind the mask.  (I recommend, too, John Pearson’s The Bluebird and the Dead Lake.) 

That, however, was then.  The last wheel-driven land speed record.

Craig Breedlove, the first man to break 600 mph, for me was up there with Superman. Art Arfons, meanwhile, could have been his sidekick.  Then came Andy Green – the first man to break the sound barrier and the current world record holder at 763.035mph.

To me, Andy is a hero – and I suspect this becomes obvious in the adjoining interviews.  Visiting him at the Bloodhound base in Bristol is to re-visit an F1 team as they used to hum along in the 1990s.  The right size with the right people.  An atmosphere of passion and detail.  Goals that broaden the brain.

I know some of you will think that these videos are over-length. My producers thought long and hard about editing them down…before we decided to stick with it. Andy is a compelling speaker as well as a compelling person.  His words, his knowledge, his experiences and his thought processes are addictive and emphatically not conducive to summary.  I had to be torn away from the Bloodhound base and I’ll be first in the queue when the car turns a wheel.

 

Rob Wilson’s world

He used to be a very fast (Nelson Piquet-, Nigel Mansell-fast) racing driver. Today he coaches personalities from all disciplines, including F1, GP2, GP3, F3, IndyCar, the WEC and the WRC. And, in between times, he writes music and plays in a band called Grand Prairie. He’s dedicated; he’s disciplined. And I don’t know anyone more passionate about the sport of motor racing. I recently spent a little time with Rob Wilson at his “second home” – Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, about 40 min drive north of Silverstone. I wanted to talk motor racing realities; I wanted to avoid the gloss. I can’t pretend ever to do justice to Rob Wilson but I hope some of the footage we shot  gives you some idea of why today he has the respect of most of the serious players in the F1 pit-lane. The concert clips, by the way, were filmed at the Grand Prairie CD launch party thrown recently by that pre-eminent performance car/F1 enthusiast, Joe Macari.  If you haven’t yet seen Joe’s new ensemble near Wimbledon, London, please try to do so.  Call it museum art-meets-cars-you’d-love-to-own.

Sir Jack Brabham – in his own words

a062And so the greatest of all driver/constructors has passed on:  Sir Jack Brabham not only won two successive World Championships as a professional racing driver (1959/60, with Cooper) but also the 1966 World Championship as a driver/constructor. I doubt we shall see his like again. A self-starter, a racer who enjoyed tinkering with damper rebound as much as he enjoyed flying his own aircraft and racing anything on wheels (from F1 cars to sports cars to touring cars to Indy cars), Sir Jack at heart was just a straightforward Aussie who loved motor racing first and the glamour and the publicity just about last. I count myself lucky to have seen him race on several occasions, most notably at Warwick Farm in 1963, when I was 10. It was sweltering, Jack started from the back of the grid – but through the field he drove in that turquoise new Brabham-Climax of his. I was a fan for life. Many will be the words written about Sir Jack but no-one is better-placed to comment than Dan Gurney, the winner of the first race for Brabham (1964 French GP).  This is what he said earlier today:

“It is with great sadness that I received the news that my former Formula boss and team mate, the three-time F 1 World Champion, Sir Jack Brabham, passed away in Australia over the weekend. A motor racing giant has left our planet whose combined achievements of F 1 World Championship driver and car constructor in all likelihood will never be equaled. Dark-haired “Black Jack” was a fierce competitor, an outstanding engineer, a tiger of a driver, an excellent politician and a hands-on creator and visionary; he opened the rear-engine door at Indianapolis and raced there. He was a doer, a true Aussie pioneer!

“Jack and I go far back in history together. We raced against each other on the F 1 circuit from 1959, driving Coopers, Ferraris, BRMs and Porsches. In 1963 he hired me as his team-mate for his newly-established Brabham F I team and during the next three years we really got to know each other. We discovered we shared similar traits. We were not only interested in driving racing cars but in building them, improving them, searching for every tiny bit of technical advantage we could find. I see both of us sitting in garages all over the world bent over engines, talking to each other and to our team: Ron Tauraunac, Phil Kerr, Roy Billington, Tim Wall, Nick Gooze and Denis Hulme.

“We shared the camaraderie of a closely-knit team pursuing a common purpose; the racing tragedies and the glory days of the 1960s bonded us for life.moremsportshistory

“Since we retired from driving, both in the fall of 1970, we have stayed in touch. I last spoke to Jack a few months ago on the phone. We were looking forward to the golden anniversary of the first World Championship F 1 victory for the Brabham marque: The French Grand Prix at Rouen, June 28, 1964, which I won for the team 50 years ago this summer.

“In 1966 we both went our separate ways. I followed the trail he had blazed by trying to build, race and win with my own F I cars. I have been told that only three men in the history of motor racing have managed to do that. Bruce McLaren and I won races but Sir Jack Brabham won World Championships. He will be forever in a class by himself.

“I will miss you Jack! You showed the way!”

Alan Brinton was an excellent British journalist with whom Jack always had a great rapport. Alan ghosted Jack’s regular column in Motor Racing magazine – and often interviewed him at a time when “interviews” were not really fashionable. When I first came to England, in 1972, I complimented Alan on his work and very kindly he gave me a bundle of tapes he had made over the years. Amongst them was a conversation he had had with Sir Jack just prior to his last Grand Prix, in Mexico, 1970. You can listen to it now (below). And by means of a postscript to this interview,  I once had a long chat with Jack in his office near Chessington, during which he took up the story of what happened after his retirement: “Well, I retired, just like the family wanted,” he said in that way of his, “and then blow me if a year later the kids all wanted to come back to England to go motor racing!  By then it was too late.  Ron had sold the team” (for £750,000!) “and nothing was the same.”  I always felt that the sport missed a huge opportunity when Jack wasn’t welcomed more into the post-1971 world of F1.  He should have been at the front end of the Brabham team – the team he created – for at least the next couple of decades. And he would have been a brilliant ambassador for the sport, too. Jack took his disappointments well, however – as is clear in the interview here. He was a man of cast-iron strength.

Besides, his achievements will forever tell the story.  For those that really know F1, and love F1 – like Dan Gurney – Jack was, and will always remain, a titan.

Paying drivers: nothing new

You can’t have a boring conversation with Niki Lauda: his brain is too sharp for that, his perspectives too logical. It’s always a case, indeed, of “so much to say; so little time…” I chatted to him recently about having to borrow money from a bank in order to secure an F1 drive; the best and worst F1 cars he ever drove; sleeping on the floor of James Hunt’s apartment; the aftermath of “Rush”; the comparisons between the airline and F1 industries, taking holidays (or not!); and his sort of attention to detail. (And in case you’re wondering what Novomatic is all about on this year’s Lauda cap it is this: it’s an Austrian company and it’s one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of…yes…slot machines.) Here is my chat with Niki (recorded in a Bahrain hotel) in three parts:

Images: LAT Photographic and Peter Windsor Collection

Chatting with Paddy

It’s always a pleasure to sit down and talk motor racing with Patrick “Paddy” Lowe. We first met at Williams in about 1990 and I’ve been a fan ever since….ever since the day he pointed to the much-moaned-about cooling towers hard by the Williams Didcot factory and said, “I have a lot of respect for those towers. Did you know that they are a part of the most efficient coal-to-electricity station in England? I find them very inspiring…”  Anyone who is that grounded deserves to win F1 races, let alone run a major engineering team – and so it proved with Paddy. First that brilliant FW14B-Renault at Williams, then wins and championships at McLaren.  Now, if you please, he starts 2014 as the new Executive Director (Technical) of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team. We chatted recently between test days at Jerez.

 

The day he changed the world

IV_MDM_0914140114-PaddyPaddy Hopkirk’s win in the Monte-Carlo Rally 50 years ago was more than just another stat for the history books.  It was a ground-breaker, a medium for cultural change. For one thing, the Monte back then was really big – the biggest rally of the year and one of the most widely-covered international sporting events of western Europe’s new year. For another, he won in a Mini – in a Morris Cooper S, to be precise – and minis, at the point, were the thing, whether you were talking Mary Quant or Sir Alec Issigonis. The talk, before the Monte, was of the big Ford Falcon Sprints prepared by Holman and Moody in Charlotte, North Carolina (two of which were to be driven by Graham Hill and Bo Ljungfeldt) – and of the other rally-tuned classics:  the Ford (Dagenham) Cortina GTs of Vic Elford and Henry Taylor and of course Eric Carlsson’s Saab. It was Paddy, though, who on on handicap. He didn’t know he was close until he got to Monte-Carlo, where Bernard Cahier gave him the nod.  Then it was a matter of completing that final stage without incident. He did, complete with white shirt and tie – and thus he changed the world.  He received telegrams from the Prime Minister and from the Beatles.  His name would live on for longer than anyone could imagine.

I spoke to Paddy recently about that Monte win and what it meant to him – then and now.

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