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Archive for the tag “Jackie Stewart”

Weekend of a Champion: F1 in the raw

S2550025There have been very few F1 films like Weekend of a Champion – films in which one of the world’s best directors has been invited inside our sport to do with it what he wills.  Roman Polanski played the role of that director at Monaco, 1971.  He met Jackie Stewart socially, he became captivated by the man’s aura…and so he made a film about him.  At Monaco.  Over a race weekend.

The result, in my view, was brilliant.  We see Jackie and Helen Stewart in their hotel suite, chatting about Jackie’s shaving or his lack of appetite.  We see the always-cool Editor of l’Equipe, Edouard Seidler, walking down the famous Monaco hill with Jackie and Helen, pulling at his ever-present Gitanes.  We see Francois Cevert, wide-eyed and barritone, asking Jackie about gear-change points and ratios.  We see Yardley BRM stickers on the toolboxes of the Tyrrell mechanics.  We see Jackie talking about that famous gear lever knob with the ever-dour Roger Hill.  We see all the details that the TV feeds then – as now – never show(ed).

Weekend of a Champion was this week re-screened at Cannes (where it won an award in 1972) because it has been re-mastered and added-to.  We reach what we think is the end…but instead we see Jackie (now Sir Jackie) and Roman, in the same Hotel de Paris suite, 42 years on.  They talk about Jackie’s sideburns in the film, and about Jackie’s fear, that day back in 1971, that race day would be wet.  “The Goodyears were just so much slower than the Firestones in the wet around there,” says Sir Jackie, reminding you that not once in the original film does he speak badly of Goodyear, despite the frustrations.  They talk about the terrible death-rates of the time and Roman, quite rightly, highlights the “success” of Stewart’s campaign for safety.

Mostly, though, they have a laugh.  And this is what is so memorable about Weekend of a Champion.  Stewart, in what he now looks back as a “very trendy” time, comes over in situ as the lithe, nimble, athlete-superstar that he was.  “That is why I made that film,” Polanski told me last night.  “I made it because Jackie was this amazing driver who was also so articulate, so lucid.  He is the film.”

And so you watched the reactions of some of the guests.  I sat behind Damon Hill, who was seeing the extensive footage of his father for the first time.   “It was a bit scary seeing my Dad in that form but I loved the film.  Just loved it,” he said afterwards.  Alain Prost, too, was captivated.  “Just amazing.  It reminded me of my early days in F1, when things were also changing so quickly.”  Allan McNish, too:  “You can see why Jackie is who he is.  Even then, he was so much more than just a racing driver…”

I cornered Jackie afterwards and pursued some details:

“Nice to see that NAZA race suit again.  And the lovely Westover shoes…”

“Och no.  They weren’t Westovers.  Everyone thought they were.  You know what they were?  Hush Puppies.  I needed a bit of extra sole support because I always walked on my toes and I was beginning to have problems.  Everyone at the time said you had to have very thin-soled shoes for maximum feel but it was like the gloves:  I started to wear gauntlet gloves with much thicker palms with flame resistance.  Didn’t change my feel at all….”

“Why were you so on edge that weekend?” asked McNish at the star-bedecked post-film party.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a blood imbalance that would become a duodenal ulcer in 1972.  I wasn’t sleeping well.  I was tetchy.  You can see it when I get annoyed with that photographer before the start.  That shouldn’t have happened. It was a sign that things weren’t right.”

We had a laugh about the famous scene in which Jackie and Roman, on the inside of the entry to Casino Square, watch F3 practice.  “Now he’s got it all wrong,” says Jackie, pointing to John Bisignano (who sportingly would say a few years later, “that was the end of my racing career!”).  “But he’s ok.  And so is heHe knows doing…”

“Do you remember who that was?” I asked.

“No.  Who?”

“ Looked like James Hunt.”

This is the film’s most prominent feature – its exposure of the warts as well as the laughs.  It is a reminder that F1 was, and is, a never-ending movie, a 24-hour, 365-day TV show in which all the players must, and should, co-operate.  Certainly this was Stewart’s philosophy of the time.  I loved, too, the post-race Gala.  Jackie and Helen are there with Princess Grace (looking much more like Grace Kelly than the podium photos ever allowed), with the Prince, with Ringo Starr and others – but so, too, are many of the other drivers of the day – the guys who hadn’t won in the afternoon.  Pedro Rodriguez.  Jo Siffert.  Graham Hill.  Jacky Ickx.  Ronnie Peterson.

“When I see that film, I just think of the romance of it all,” said Allan McNish, walking back in a late-night drizzle to fetch his car.  “They were all at the post-race party.  That was lovely to see.”

Weekend of a Champion will be re-released soon in France by Pathe and in other regions thereafter.  This latest version was Co-Produced by Mark Stewart Productions. 

Geoff Sykes – Australia’s “Mr Motor Racing”

File0012Warwick Farm, the Tasman Series…and the cream of the world’s F1 drivers. It all came together in a golden age of Australian motor racing. Too quickly, though, it was over. The Farm was for the most part replaced by a housing estate; the Tasman became a championship too far. Geoff Sykes – dapper, under-stated, respected by all – rode into a motor-cycle- and aviation-oriented retirement.IMG_0002

Recently I was asked by the Australian Dictionary of Biography to write a brief profile of Geoff Sykes.  This was my attempt to do him justice:

Geoffrey Percy Frederick Sykes was born on September 6, 1908, at Beresford Manor Cottage, Plumpton, Sussex, England.  Percy Robert Sykes, Geoff’s father, was both a gifted wood-worker and the first Headmaster of the Chailey Heritage school for the disabled in Sussex, assisting disadvantaged children to forge their place in society.  The eldest of three children (his sister, Marjorie, was born in 1910, his brother, Reginald, in 1913), Sykes was educated at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, to which he travelled each day by moped and then by train, thus ensuring that he was licensed to ride a moped from the age of 12.  Upon leaving school, he was apprenticed to British Thomas-Houston in Mill Road, Rugby – an electrical engineering industry leader. Certified as an electrical engineer in August, 1929, he then joined the Department of Works, where he was seconded to a number of public buildings, including Buckingham Palace.

Sykes married Margaret Rose White (a friend of his sister’s) on September 1, 1939.  They had three children – Robert (born April 28, 1943), who worked for the British Council abroad and is now retired;  Richard (born May 25 1945), who would study engineering and work for Ricardo, Tickford (where he was involved in the engine design of the Ford XR6) and TWR before joining Cosworth and subsequently Mahle Powertrain; and Julia (born August 15, 1948), who attended the Arts Educational School in London and taught dance for much of her career.  She was subsequently appointed Secretary of two branches of the Imperial Society for the Teachers of Dancing.

Motor racing very quickly became a passion for Sykes.  He regularly attended pre-war race meetings at Brooklands; he loved riding motor-cycles; and he competed in hill-climbs and trials with his open-topped Wolseley Hornet two-seater.  Sykes was an active member of his local motoring club, the Brighton and Hove Motor Club (BHMC), and during this period also met John Morgan, who was then Secretary of the Junior Car Club.

At the outbreak of war, Sykes applied for a transfer first to the Air Force and then to the Army (which he would have joined at the rank of Major) but The Air Ministry instead commissioned Sykes to top-secret electrical engineering work, concentrating on the guiding of damaged aeroplanes to bases throughout England using the Drem lighting system.  On one occasion, in the early dawn after the Luftwaffe’s bombing of Coventry, the aeroplane in which Sykes was flying was mistaken for the enemy.  Despite considerable shelling, Sykes and crew survived unharmed.

Sykes worked in various management positions in the immediate post-war period before joining the Electrical Drawing Office at the Ministry of Works. Simultaneously he fostered his love of cars and motor-cycles with the Junior Car Club. The JCC amalgamated with the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club in 1949 (under a new name – the British Automobile Racing Club, or BARC), thus enabling Sykes, who by now had been elected Chairman of the BHMC, to work for the man who would become his mentor – John Morgan.  A brilliant organizer and promoter, Morgan quickly established his reputation in British motor racing circles – and from 1954 did so with Sykes by his side.  As the club’s Assistant General Secretary, Sykes, charming and mild-mannered, was an obvious counterpoint to the no-nonsense Morgan, the club’s General Secretary;  and, as motor racing burgeoned in the 1950s, it did so in concert with the BARC’s growing stature.  (It should also be noted that Sykes’ second wife, Meris Chilcott Rudder, also worked for the BARC at this time, married to the aviator, Jim Broadbent.)

His life changed dramatically when Mrs Mirabel Topham, owner of the Aintree horse-racing circuit in Liverpool, contacted the BARC in 1953 to discuss the design and construction of a motor racing circuit.   After a number of meetings to discuss the project, she wrote to Morgan to say that she wished to go ahead but insisted that Geoff be the one she dealt with on a day-to-day basis.  Under Sykes’ direction, the Aintree circuit was completed in 1954 and would go on successfully to stage the British Grand Prix on five occasions – 1955, 1957, 1959, 1961 and 1962.  At many of these meetings – and at the early Grands Prix – Sykes officiated as Clerk of the Course.

In 1959 Sykes received a lawyer’s invitation to attend a meeting with the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) to discuss the design of an Australian version of Aintree.  Unbeknown to Sykes, Sam Horden of the AJC had mentioned his motor racing circuit concept to the pre-eminent British Formula One private entrant, Rob Walker; and Walker, impressed by the organization at Aintree, had had no hesitation in recommending Sykes.

Sykes travelled by BOAC Comet to Australia for a three-week fact-finding tour, beginning in December, 1959.  Staying at Tattersall’s Club in Elizabeth St, he rang Meris Rudder, who had moved to Australia following the death of her husband and had bought a small flat in Kirribilli below the north-east pylon of the Harbour Bridge. In a matter of three hours, using Meris’s living room table as a flat surface, Sykes drew what was later to become the Warwick Farm motor racing circuit.  Few changes were made to the original design (which included two Aintree-inspired crossings of the horse-racing circuit).S2290005

That first draft – described by Meris at the time as looking more like a Picasso than a motor racing circuit – is today the property of Richard Sykes.

Sykes returned to Australia permanently in June, 1960, when work promptly began on the new circuit.  Thanks mainly to Sykes’ planning and organizational expertise, the new facility was finished in an astonishing six months.  The removable Tarmac sections for the two temporary crossings were designed and built by de Havilland (Australia) Ltd;  and the design overall of the 2.25-mile circuit combined fast corners with a series of ess-bends, a double-apex, negative-camber left-hander over the lake and two tight corners – Creek Corner hairpin at the end of Hume Straight (which was parallel to the Hume Highway) and a right right-hander by the AJC Polo field.  The three grandstands on the pit straight were as used for the horse-racing (as at Aintree).   The circuit was noteworthy at the time for its large expanses of grass and for its white railing (from the horse-racing track).   It was thus so far ahead of its time in terms of safety that Sykes felt obliged to try a “no-spinning” rule in 1964, arguing that this would be the equivalent of the trackside hazards that characterized other circuits throughout the world.  Given the dangers of motor racing in the 1960s, it is remarkable that not a single driver or spectator was killed at a Warwick Farm race meeting.  (One driver lost his life in a testing accident.)

The first Warwick Farm race meeting was held on December 18, 1960, and was followed soon afterwards, on January 29, 1961, by a major international race meeting that featured a 100-mile event for F1 drivers and top locals.  In 110 deg F (41 deg C) heat, 65,000 spectators watched Dan Gurney, Graham Hill, Innes Ireland, Jack Brabham and the eventual winner, Stirling Moss, give the new circuit, and its organization, a massive vote of approval. Moss declared the circuit’s layout and organization to be the equal of any venue in the world.  Warwick Farm was an instant success.

Sykes, who habitually wore light chino trousers, suede shoes, white shirt, club tie or cravatte, sports jacket and cloth cap, was also a man of great artistic talent and attention to detail.  He personally designed the badge of the circuit’s new club, the Australian Automobile Racing Club (the AARC, instigated in July, 1961), together with the circuit’s support merchandise, including the programme covers, posters and car stickers, nominating a local artist, Peter Toohey, for much of the artwork.  The AARC was from the start a small but extremely efficient operation, featuring Sykes as the General Secretary; John Stranger, formerly of the North Shore Sporting Car Club, as Accountant and Secretary of the Meetings; and Mary Packard as general administrator.  They were later joined by a young school-leaver, Peter Windsor (Press Officer).  The AARC was originally based at 184 Sussex Street, Sydney, but moved to the site of a former Bank of NSW, on the corner of Sussex and King streets, on June 24, 1967.

As one of the few locations in Australia where you could “talk motor racing” and read the latest publications from the UK (Motoring News and Autosport), the AARC offices quickly became a Mecca for both famous racing names and rank-and-file club members.  The AARC staged four to five major race meetings at Warwick Farm per year, including the February international, three or four club meetings (on a shorter circuit that looped back to the Causeway after the first corner) and numerous members’ film nights – these providing the only opportunity for motor racing enthusiasts in Australia to see the latest images from overseas.

On February 10, 1963, Warwick Farm hosted the Australian Grand Prix for the first time.  Again run in extremely hot conditions, it was reported in Autosport by Sykes himself, who wrote, “Race week was a busy one from a social angle, and there was for the first time in Sydney an atmosphere of Grand Prix fever… On Thursday the AARC put on their second annual cocktail party with an attendance of 550, and regrettably had to turn down almost 200 would-be attenders….both Stirling Moss and Graham Hill gave brilliant dissertations rather than speeches…Graham Hill also had his Datsun Bluebird towed away from outside Geoff Sykes’ office – it costs £4 10s to get it back in Sydney!…The meeting was voted the best so far at Warwick Farm, and all the officials did a magnificent job to keep everything going like clockwork under such trying conditions – full marks to all those with the thankless jobs.”

Sykes and his New Zealand counterpart, Ron Frost, initiated a new Tasman Cup in 1964, taking the Antipodean summer international series to even greater heights.File0047  As the promoter who had the unique respect of the major F1 teams and drivers, Sykes travelled to Europe each year to negotiate their appearances (a trip usually timed to allow Sykes to indulge his love of aircraft at the mid-July Farnborough Air Show).  Sykes and Jim Hazleton helped the great Scots driver, Jim Clark, learn to fly at Bankstown airport in 1965;  and the AARC would go on to own several light aircraft for the use of its members – a Cherokee 140 (registration VH-ARC), a Cessna 172 (VH-ARA), a Cherokee 180D (VH-ARD) and latterly a Beechcraft Sundowner (VH-ARF).  Sykes also flew his own low-wing Thorp T111 Skyscooter out of Bankstown, registration VH-DES.

Due to the long time they had spent apart on different sides of the world, Geoff and Margaret divorced in September, 1966.  Four weeks later Geoff married Meris Rudder.

kb-alfa.jpgWarwick Farm staged the Australian Grand Prix on four occasions –  1963 (won by Jack Brabham); 1967 (Jackie Stewart); and 1970 and 1971 (Frank Matich).  Sykes introduced the extremely popular, and affordable, Formula Vee cars to Australian motor racing (two Vees and a Formula Ford were owned by the AARC for the use of club members); pioneered the concept of the club race meetings and practice days; and, in the 1970s, was also one of the key figures behind the choice of production-block Formula 5000 cars for Australia’s premier single-seater category. The AARC continued to promote successful and well-attended national race meetings through to July, 1973, when the AJC decided that the land used for most of the motor racing circuit should be sold for property development.   Sykes and the AARC (primarily through the work of Mary Packard) then assisted with the promotion of club race meetings on the smaller Warwick Farm circuit (through to October 28, 1973) and then at Amaroo Park (through to November 30, 1986).  Living with Meris in the original Kirribilli flat, Geoff in his retirement spent much of his time with bikes and cars:  he enjoyed restoring historic motor-cycles and riding his vintage Velocette; and, following a succession of white, automatic Triumph 2000s, drove a yellow Alfa Romeo GTV.

After several years of battling a heart condition, Geoff died on April 12, 1992, at Royal North Shore Hospital, North Sydney.S2290004

Captions from top: Jim Clark drifts the Gold Leaf Lotus 49 through the Warwick Farm Esses during practice for the 1968 International 100; Geoff takes Colin Piper’s new Suzuki for a quick spin around the Warwick Farm paddock; the Farm circuit changed not at all from Geoff’s original sketch; Jim Clark (left) and Jackie Stewart share a laugh.  The “chair” is Graham Hill’s new F2 Lotus 48, the background is the Causeway lake; Kevin Bartlett dances through Leger Corner in the Mildren Alfa; and (above), the AARC cloth badge

Photos: Paul Hobson, Colin Piper

Louis T Stanley – son of the PM

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about the enormity of the contribution made to Formula One by Louis T Stanley.  Married to Jean, the sister of Sir Alfred Owen, the co-owner of BRM, Louis T effectively was BRM in their glory years – and through to the end.  Along the way, he published his own F1 annuals, featuring his own photographs, and wrote numerous books, the most memorable of which were undoubtedly Golf With Your Hands and Lawn Tennis. Stanley was fond of candid portrait shots and would typically like to picture Tony Brooks drinking a cup of water and write as a caption: “Tony Brooks – speaks directly, but in no way loquacious”, or write this about the legendary Mercedes team manager, Alfred Neubauer: “He combines the manner of Friar Tuck with the authority of a dictator.  Vaguely reminscent of the ‘man of very stout countenance’ in Bunyan, who bellowed at the keeper of the Book of Life: ‘Set down my name, Sir!’ and hacked his way thereafter through an army into Heaven….”  Not your average SkyTV soundbite presenter, in other words.

A pioneer of safety in F1, Louis T was responsible for the arrival of the mobile Grand Prix Medical Unit in 1967 and was a great supporter of Sir Jackie Stewart and all that patently needed to be done to make racing safer in the 1960s.  He is pictured below, indeed, at a Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) meeting in South Africa, 1969.  Sir Jackie is in the centre, speaking to Graham Hill, Chris Amon, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Jacky Ickx, Jochen Rindt, Denny Hulme and Mario Andretti among others – and there, on the side, immaculately dressed, as ever, is Louis T Stanley.

I mention all this because a lurid book has just been written by Bobbie Neate in which the author claims that Louis T Stanley protected a secret for most of  his natural life – to wit, that he was actually the illegitimate son of the British Prime Minister, HH Asquith.  Neate was Stanley’s stepdaughter but never knew of this background until she began to research the family history.  In F1 Louis T was always known for the affectation of his – how shall I put it – upper-class ways, so now I guess we can all appreciate why he was the way he was.  So Lordly did he appear to foreign drivers that most of them called him “Sir Louis” even without thinking about it.  “Yes, Sir Louis.  Tea at the Dorchester.  I’ll be there”: they all said it – from Pedro Rodriguez to Jo Siffert to Jackie Oliver to Larry Perkins – and yes, to that real knight of the realm, Jackie Stewart.  Stanley-bashers loved to call him a fraud.  Now – assuming we are all over the the business of being “illegitimate” – we can all look back at Louis T and raise our hats.  He indeed had the pedigree.

Bearing in mind that Louis T obviously didn’t want this information to be made public, I suspect Neate’s book is on the scandal/resentment side, and therefore probably very negative (sadly);  I have to confess, though, that I’ve only read its “Product Description”.  If you’d like to buy it, go to Amazon.com and search for Conspiracy of Secrets.  Me?  I think I’ll re-read The Beauty of Women and Journey Through Cornwall by Louis T Stanley.

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