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Archive for the category “Days Past”

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

A day of Firsts

Chris Amon (1)Silverstone. 1970. The Daily Express BRDC International Trophy in association with GKN.  A non-championship F1 race, true enough – but an F1 race nonetheless.  BRM and Ferrari stayed away but the field still included such names as the 1969 World Champion, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt, Chris Amon, Jack Brabham, Piers Courage, Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren and Graham Hill. Even more significantly, Jackie and Chris were both racing irascible March 701s, Jackie on Dunlops, Chris on Firestones. No driver felt comfortable with the handling of the new Robin Herd-designed March that year but there was no turning back: Ken Tyrrell had bought 701s for Jackie and Johnny Servoz-Gavin/Francois Cevert as stopgaps prior to the late-summer completion of Derek Gardner’s prototype Tyrrell; and Chris had left Ferrari for what he perceived to be the better reliability of the Ford Cosworth DFV. He signed for March long before he knew that Jo Siffert, Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson would also be racing 701s – and that was in addition to the two Tyrrell March drivers.

By any standards, then, the racing was going to be close.  No-one doubted Jackie Stewart’s talent; finally, though, we were going to see Chris Amon up there in direct competition with him, their difference in tyres notwithstanding. Chris had won big sports car races for McLaren in 1965/66, had won Le Mans for Ford in 1966 and had been a major front-runner at Ferrari from 1967-69.  Always, though, with an F1 victory in sight, a mechanical drama had intervened – particularly in 1968, when the Ferrari V12 had been truly quick.  Thus Chris’s desire to race in 1970 with the three-year-old (and very proven) DFV engine design.

It had been tense from the start.  In South Africa, on March 6, Chris and Jackie qualified second and third behind Jack Brabham’s rapid new Cosworth-powered BT33. The lap times of the two March drivers were identical but Chris took the honour because he had been out on track first.  Jackie then scored two wins in a row – at Brands Hatch on March 22 and then in the Spanish GP at Jarama on April 19. On both occasions, Jackie’s Dunlops had had the edge and Tyrrell’s preparation and organisation had proved vastly superior to the unwieldy factory March set-up. With the new Ferrari showing lots of promise in the hands of Jacky Ickx, Chris was wondering again if he was ever going to win an F1 race.

Then came Silverstone where, as at Brands, March entered just one works car for Chris Amon. Tyrrell did likewise with Jackie. It would be something of a showdown…

Thanks to the AP Archive, we now have a brief video taste of what happened next.  In its original form this hithertoo-unseen film had no sound and so I hope you enjoy the comments I’ve added, together with some freeze-frame analysis of Amon, Stewart, Rindt and Courage. I was also delighted to discover a little F3 footage in the opening sequence so I’ve included that, too.  F3 was brilliant back then and David Walker was on the threshold of a golden period that stretched through to the end of 1971.  I first saw Dave race at Catalina Park, Katoomba, Australia, in 1964 and quickly became a fan. I liked to think I was the only guy with a “Dave the Rave” Walker GLTL tee-shirt this side of Avalon Beach, NSW, and I spent many happy hours with Dave in 1972, when we were both experiencing a full season of F1 for the first time (he as Emerson’s team-mate at JPTL, I as a young journalist working for David Phipps).GLTL F3 team

Like Chris, Dave never achieved F1 results commensurate with his talent.

Both drivers, though, would not forget this day:

 

 

Cruisin’ on a Sunday afternoon

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With the F1 season winding down with a decisive thud, I thought I’d approach the aftermath of the Brazilian GP a little differently.  To wit, I’d ring my mate Rob Wilson and chat to him while we drove through London for a late Sunday lunch.  Or brunch, as Rob likes to do it.

Of course, the Brazilian GP theme was just a ruse. As normal, the conversation quickly meandered a number of different ways, as often as not re-connecting as if by magic.  It’s always like that when I chat to Rob:  one minute we’re talking gentle-firm brake application;  the next we’re analysing the difference in style between, say, Roly Levis and Max Stewart.

Thus we happened-upon the Nota story. I grew up with Nota Formula Vees at Warwick Farm, in Sydney, Australia. Geoff Sykes introduced FVee racing in general; and his club, the AARC, bought three Notas for Club member use. As a school kid who spent his holidays working at the AARC offices, my job was to maintain and manage the “Nota programme”. In the pictures above and below, I’m there on the right with my mate Colin Piper, sprucing-up the Notas by the famous Steindl Homestead (on the inside of the quick Homestead right-hand kink at Warwick Farm). Rob and I got to Nota by driving through the Elephant and Castle roundabout in London. That reminded Rob of the lock-up he used to use to house his Ralt; Ralt led to Ron Tauranac; Tauranac led to Geoff Brabham – and Geoff, for me, let to Nota, because it was in one of those Nota Vees that Geoff had his first single-seater drive.

Which opens the door nicely to Guy Buckingham, the talented engineer behind Nota. As it happened, Guy passed away only recently, so I thought it would be nice to reproduce here the words used by his son, Chris, at the funeral:

“My father, Guy Buckingham, passed away yesterday after a brief Illness. A number of his friends, Nota owners and business associates suggested I write a brief description of his involvement with motor racing.

“Guy was born in 1921 in England. During World War II he spent time with the RAF where he was involved with aeronautical engineering. On leaving Guy utilised those skills to build lightweight sports racing cars. In 1955 he moved to Australia and set up Nota Engineering in the former Ice Works behind the David Jones store in Parramatta. From there, he and Michael Martin introduced a tubular-steel space-framed car with lightweight aluminium cladding.

“Initially they built Clubman-format cars but when Guy employed Jack Wiffen, a former Rolls Royce craftsman, Nota started to build a number of alloy streamliner cars which Guy drove very successfully plus KM200 Notas for drivers like Spencer Martin.

“Notas also won the NSW Hill Climb Championship on a number of occasions with drivers like Barry Garner and Ralph Sach.

“Nota then decided Formula Junior racing cars were the way to go and built the first of these in Australia. Initially these were front-engined but they evolved into mid-engined ones using Reno and Ford componentry. Max Stewart ran a mid-engined Nota very successfully in Tasmania and this car is now being raced In England at Goodwood and other historic events.

“Guy lent his hand to other creations as well, designing the Oran Park circuit by driving round the empty fields with George Murray following behind him, pegging out the initial design.

“Warwick Farm Racing Circuit and its manager, Geoff Sykes, convinced Nota to make Clubman-style cars and to have their own series with cars like Lotus, Elfins, Notas etc rather than run with the likes of MGs and other production sports cars. Nota excelled in Geoff’s Clubman series, winning the championship seven times through the years.

“Geoff Sykes then asked Guy to make Formula Vees for the new category.  Nota made three for the AARC and went on to build 38 in all, doing particularly well in the hands of Peter Finlay.

“Guy went on to build the very pretty Nota F3 and Formula Ford cars before returning to England. There he set up Teal engineering, producing Formula 3s, clubmans and Hillman Imp-based sports sedans. He then returned to his roots, getting involved with restoration of World War II aircraft – something he always loved.”

I’ve divided my chat with Rob into three videos; the reference to Nota is in the third. Enjoy.

 

 

Mexican Memories (2)

And so we say goodbye to Mexico City – to one of the most enjoyable F1 races of recent times. Here are my post-race thoughts and (below) some close-ups of as many of  Cesar Galindo’s paintings as I could find in the various paddock offices. Cesar has recently published a magnificent art book, details of which I shall be giving to my wife to ensure an early Christmas arrival…

 

Mexican Memories

I can’t recall any other occasion in F1 history when the delineations have been so clear: the three lives of the Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez (1962-1970; 1986-1992; 2015-) encapsulate F1 eras so visually different, so technically diverse, that it’s as if…as if they each belong to their own lifetimes. So it was that I met my old friend, Rudy Alcocer, upon arrival in Mexico City. I first met him in 1986, when I was Sponsorship Manager for Williams, but he was truly “my man in Mexico” when I was managing the team in 1991 and 1992. We won both of those races, with our one-two in 1992 remaining one of the best days of my racing life. (Highlights of that race can be seen on http://www.f1.com).

And so, a few days ago, it was time to meet Rudy again – and to re-live those times.

Five Good Men and True

On the eve of this year’s US Grand Prix in Austin, I thought it might be nice to have a look at some video cameos of the five American drivers who have to date won World Championship Grand Prix races (or a race).  Thanks to Pathe and AP Movietone, I’ve put together a YouTube playlist of video content that to date has had very little airing; and, wherever possible, I’ve tried to steer clear of the obvious. Phil Hill, for example, is encapsulated by a charming (and I think very funny) video-documentary shot around his first GP win (at Monza, 1960).  It features such advanced techniques as “sound recordings”; Phil reading a script, post-race; and the transfer of images, from Monza to Fleet Street, via “photo-electric cell”.  Watch for the dispatch rider delivering said photos to the studios at Teddington – today’s home of F1 Racing, Autosport and Motor Sport News…  For Mario Andretti, I’ve chosen some nice colour footage of the Lotus Cavalcade staged in Norwich in late 1978.

Where possible, I’ve left the original audio. The silent videos have been re-voiced.

So here they are (in the order in which they won their first race): Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, Peter Revson and Mario Andretti

 

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