…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

Archive for the category “Days Past”

Some classic John Surtees…at Suzuka!

Sifting through the AP Archive the other day I came across this collection of gems – Honda-made footage from 1967-68 featuring John Surtees at Monza, Suzuka and Rouen. It was all mute, so I hope you don’t mind that I’ve added a few thoughts and a bit of music; and it was originally edited all over the shop – ie, ’67 had been mixed with ’68, Suzuka with Monza, etc, etc. So here is the finished edit. I hope it does some justice to John’s staggering achievement at Monza in ’67…because it’s not every day that a driver convinces a manufacturer that he can produce a new car in 30 days…and then wins, first time out with it. Equally, we should never forget the race John drove at Rouen the following June: against John’s advice, Jo Schlesser started the French GP in the difficult Honda A302 – and was then fatally injured in a fiery accident.Through the rain, and the fire and the smoke and debris, John nonetheless battled on to finish second (despite having to stop in the pits for a new pair of goggles). The footage from Suzuka is in my view equally amazing. I’d never seen any colour action images from Suzuka prior to the 1980s – and it’s amazing to see that the track has changed very little over time. Anyway, enough of the words: here’s the vid:

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Jack Brabham’s last-corner heartbreak

At Monaco, Jack Brabham seemed to have his second win of the 1970 season fully gift-wrapped. With Jochen Rindt closing fast, however, the slower car in front of Jack before the last corner of the last lap suddenly posed a problem. Jack couldn’t afford NOT to pass Piers Courage’s DeTomaso, so close was Rindt – but on which side, going into the last hairpin, should he do so? Piers, uncharacteristically, was giving no indication, which left Jack facing two invidious choices: either he should do so down the inside – risking a brake drama on the marbles; or maybe he should take the outside – where Piers Courage, in the slower car, might run him wide and Rindt might slip down the inside. Jack chose the inside…and instantly locked an inside front. Suddenly he was on ice, sliding into the straw bales. And into the lead, on that last corner, thus sliced an awesome Jochen Rindt, whose previous lap had been nearly a second faster than Jackie Stewart’s pole time. In association with AP Archive’s little-seen footage, re-live the awesome 1970 Monaco GP with Peter Windsor.

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Chatting with Gordon Murray

It was, of course, a lot of fun to chat to the brazenly-creative Gordon Murray, the South African who came to Europe to design and build racing cars – and who went on to dominate the world. Gordon was working in a small office at Brabham, under Ron Tauranac, when Bernie Ecclestone bought that team in 1971 – and Ron’s advice at the time was to “sack Gordon”. Bernie’s natural instincts suggested otherwise. He gave the young engineer full control of the design office at Brabham – and two years later the team was winning Grands Prix with the ground-breaking, triangular-shaped Brabham BT42. With multi-world championships behind him at Brabham and McLaren, plus hundreds of other scintillating road cars and road car designs, not the least of which was the McLaren F1, Gordon today runs his highly-successful Gordon Murray Design studio in Shalford, Surrey, England – adjacent to the site where John Barnard designed and produced the Ferrari F189-640 F1 car and to where the race-winning, Enrique Scalabroni-developed, F641s were built.

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F1’s unlikeliest winner

All bets were off by the time they arrived at The Glen in ’66. Jack Brabham and his fabulous Brabham-Repcos had secured the world championship; John Surtees had switched mid-season from Ferrari to Cooper-Maserati, thus ending Maranello’s realistic title challenge (despite producing a car that could have won it). Dan Gurney had debuted his gorgeous Eagle, albeit still with 2.7 litre Climax engines. BRM had tried unsuccessfully to make their big 3-litre H16-engined cars serious runners. And Lotus, in the wake of that BRM disaster, vacillated between the 2-litre Climax-engined Lotus 33 and the Lotus 43-H16. As the field prepared for F1’s richest race to date, the US GP at Watkins Glen, Lotus’ Colin Chapman was unsure of whether to follow his head (race the 33) or his heart (delight the fans with the temperamental but throaty-sounding Lotus 43-H16). Aware of the recent success of big sports car racing in North America, he chose the latter course. And the rest is history.

This video includes little-seen footage of the 1966 USGP and a start-up, in more recent times, of the winning car.

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The amazing Walter Rohrl

I’ve been a massive Walter Rohrl fan since March, 1980, when in thick fog he pulled out a lead of 4min 59sec on the second Arganil stage to win the Rally of Portugal with his Fiat 131 Abarth. Walter was peering out the side window for most of that night, driving with total commitment, but also with touch and feel and phenomenal car control, as his navigator, Christian Geistdorfer, yelled out the pace notes. Carlos Reutemann, below, who met Walter that year through his Fiat connections, was so impressed with the feat that he later taped the word “Arganil” onto the steering wheel of his Williams FW07B-Cosworth.


Fast-forward to August, 2017: Walter Rohrl, now a Porsche man, is taking us for a lap of the Nurburgring long circuit in a 1979 rally-spec 911 (minus any electronic gizmos, in other words – as per that historic, Arganil era). Walter, without gloves and wearing 1979 period overalls, is particularly impressive, I think, through the Wippermann section just before Pflantzgarten (approx 6:55-7:10) – a fast rise-and-fall combination that Reutemann, who won the 1975 German GP at the Nurburgring, always felt was the most demanding of the 15-mile lap.

The video comes to us courtesy of FIVA (Federation of Classic Vehicles) and Pirelli.

Farewell to a genius, a racer and a very good man

IMG_0761I was very saddened to hear of the recent passing of Peter Westbury.  He was one of my heroes as I grew up in the 1960s, reading old copies of Motoring News and picturing the races in my mind long after they’d been held; and when I first met him in the 1970s I was not disappointed. Peter will be remembered by many as the Championship-winning, bearded hill-climber who made four-wheel-drive a pre-requisite for any sort of success. He was an engineering genius – the man behind Felday Engineering (along with the very likeable Mac Daghorn).

Much more than that, however, Peter inspired no lesser driver than Jim Clark: intrigued by Peter’s ground-breaking Felday four-wheel-drive, 2-litre BRM-powered sports car, Jim approached Peter about possibly racing the car in the Guards Trophy race at Brands Hatch in 1966. Jim duly turned up on the race weekend – and loved the car from the moment he sat in it.  I asked Peter once about that momentous time.

“I don’t remember a minute when Jim was not absolutely in tune with it,” he said. “He just adapted to it naturally. It was an absolute pleasure to watch and to share. He could make the car understeer or oversteer at will and was also very detailed with his descriptions. I never went along with that stuff about Jim not being a good test driver. He was superb.”

Thanks to Peter Darley, the official Team Lotus photographer at the time, we can see Jim and Peter on the grid at Brands, discussing last-minute details (with, in the background, former driver, Henry Taylor, who was by then head of Ford’s Competition Department). Note Peter’s standard-issue Firestone jacket with added “Felday” logo.PD-108.1.11 - Version 2

PD-108.1.12Peter was a very fast and able racing driver in his own right, eventually progressing to the front of international Formula 2 racing in 1969-70 with a beautifully-prepared Brabham BT30. (Peter is pictured below – photo courtesy of LAT Photographic – at the 1969 German GP, when F2 cars ran alongside the F1s.) Thanks to his long-standing ties with BRM, Peter was also invited to drive an F1 BRM P153 at Watkins Glen at the end of 1970.

Articulate and well-informed, Peter was always enthralling. I last saw him at Goodwood two years ago, when we chatted at length with Sally Swart, Jim’s ex-girl-friend (top). Peter was telling me how much he was enjoying his retirement in the Caribbean (St Lucia), where he spent much of his spare time in support of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Club (as per the logo on his blazer). He had plenty to say about modern F1 – and most of it was constructively good.

He that sort of man.

Peter Darley’s superb photographs can be enjoyed in two current books – Jim Clark: Life at Team Lotus and 1965: Jim Clark and Team Lotus – the UK Races.  His next volume, Pit and Paddock, will be published in early 2016

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