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Archive for the category “People”

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

Jim Clark tests new Ford Falcon!

Jim Clark and Graham Hill were both Ford-contracted drivers from 1967 onwards – and Ford of Australia duly put their testing talents to use during the 1968 Tasman Series. In this short Movietone News clip, courtesy of AP, we see Jim and Graham at Ford’s You Yangs test track in Victoria, examining the new Ford Falcon and driving demonstration laps for the camera. Interesting to see that  Graham wears his Buco helmet while Jim chills in the Aussie breeze. There’s no mention of the reigning World Champion, Denny Hulme, in the period voiceover, but that is Denny with Jim and Graham at the start of the clip. Being a Ford Galaxie man in Europe, Jim, I imagine, would have been quite impressed with the Falcon – and would particularly have liked its future high-performance derivative, the GTHO. Sadly he died only few weeks after this video was filmed.

Clark wins at Aintree

1962 British Grand Prix.A big thankyou to AP and their superb new archive for this short colour Movietone film of the 1962 British GP at Aintree.  The race resulted in a resounding win for Jim Clark and the Lotus 25-Climax but until now our feel for the occasion – well, mine, at least – has been limited to classic photographs – particularly those of Jim shaving the grass through Melling Crossing and of those famous shots taken from behind the grid as the flag dropped.  Now the last British GP to be staged at the Liverpool circuit comes to life as never before. Image above: LAT Photographic

Ingliston Interlude

Jim Clark had been impressed by Jackie Stewart from the moment he saw him drive.  Jackie hailed from Glasgow, Jimmy from the Borders; Jackie’s family ran a garage, Jim’s ran a farm: the differences were pronounced. In common, though, was their love of driving nice racing cars on the absolute limit. Quite what defined that limit, in their respective minds, is still an open question: Sir Jackie today remembers Jim saying very little to him about how he actually drove. “You knew, with Jimmy, when to push and when not to push,” he says. “He always gave me the impression that he didn’t want to talk about the very precise details. They were private to him – and I respected that. Of course we talked about cars and racing in general and strategy and those sorts of things…but Jimmy always kept a little bit in reserve. That was his nature.”

Their friendship blossomed in 1965. Jackie also became a familiar face at Sir John Whitmore’s Balfour Place apartment and in so doing opened Jim’s perspectives to a very different way of life. Jackie, even then, was both fashion- and financially-sophisticated. Jim was less so. The interesting thing, looking back, is that Jackie had no doubt about how to solve the high-earner’s tax problems: he would move to Switzerland and operate as a pro racing driver from that one, central base. Jim, despite his friendship with Jackie, continued to do his own thing with his own, local advisers. He would take the complicated option of moving his “goods and chattels” to Bermuda while residing for a full racing season in Paris.

By the mid-1965, Jackie had also finished second to Jim at Spa, Clermont and Zandvoort: the magazines were calling it a “Highland Fling” and referring to “The Flying Scotsmen” in the plural. None of this troubled Jim.  On the contrary, he was delighted for Jackie – for that was his nature. Jim had persuaded Colin Chapman to give Jackie a quick F1 outing during practice for the 1964 British GP and Jackie had stood-in for Jim in the Rand GP later that year. With Jim’s Indy win paving the way for drivers like Jackie also to race in the States, motor racing north of the border had never looked healthier.

Thus the two friends attended a race meeting at the new Ingliston circuit in Edinburgh on July 25 – in the time between the Dutch and German GPs (at the vortex of what was already a breathlessly intense season). Already well-known to Jim as the site of the Royal Highland Showground, the new circuit was made up from in-field and perimeter roads. It wasn’t long or too demanding – but it was another motor racing circuit for Scotland.  In many ways it was a product of Jim’s success.

The race meeting itself, organised by the Scottish Motor Racing Club, was relatively low-key, as you would expect.  Jackie would have been interested in Bill Stein’s Ecurie Ecosse Tojeiro while Jim would have had a laugh with his old Normand team-mate and fellow F2 competitor, Mike Beckwith, who raced spectacularly at Ingliston in his Elan.  The Rover-BRM turbine “hoover” was on-hand, fresh from Le Mans, for Jackie to demonstrate with Jim alongside him (!) and Jim, ever the man of detail, performed the start-line duties for the Guards Trophy event, stop watch in hand, flag accurately poised. It’s also worth noting that both Graham and Gerry Birrell raced on this day at Ingliston – both were quick and destined for greater things – and that Jock Russell was much in evidence: the irascible Scot would later buy Jim’s 1966 US GP-winning Lotus 43-BRM.

Click on the first image to open this short gallery of the Ingliston Interlude.

 

Jules flies home

Drivers take silence for Jules BianchiJules Bianchi, critically injured in the Japanese GP, has been flown back to the University Hospital in Nice.  His family has released the following statement:

“Almost seven weeks after Jules’ accident at Suzuka Circuit, and following a challenging period of neurological intensive care, we are able to announce that Jules has made an important step.

“Jules is no longer in the artificial coma in which he was placed shortly after the accident; however, he is still unconscious. He is breathing unaided and his vital signs are stable, but his condition is still classified as ‘critical’. His treatment now enters a new phase concerned with the improvement of his brain function.

“Jules’ neurological condition remains stable. Although the situation continues to be serious, and may remain so, it was decided that Jules was sufficiently stable to be repatriated to his native France. We are relieved, therefore, to confirm that Jules was transferred aeromedically last night from the Mie Prefectural General Medical Center in Yokkaichi, Japan, to Le Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice (CHU), where he arrived just a short time ago. Jules is now in the intensive care unit of Professors Raucoules and Ichai, where his care will also be monitored by Professor Paquis, Head of Neurosurgery Service.

“We are thankful that the next phase of Jules’ treatment can continue close to home, where he can be surrounded and supported by his wider family and friends. We have nothing but praise for the outstanding care provided by the Mie Prefectural General Medical Center since the accident. We owe the medical staff there an enormous debt of gratitude for everything they have done for Jules, and also for our family, during what is a very difficult time for us. In particular, we would like to extend our thanks to Doctors Kamei and Yamamichi, and also to Mr Ogura, all part of the team of personnel caring for Jules in Japan.”

Jules and his family remain in our thoughts and prayers. Forza!

Making it over there

I admit it: I’ve been a Jack Hawksworth fan for a while now. I find it difficult not to respect a young driver who saw no prospect of raising serious GP3/GP2 money in Europe and thus focused 100 per cent on racing in America. It isn’t easy in the States; far from it. New culture. New types of racing. New places. There is, though, a “Road to Indy” scholarship system that rewards young drivers from the Pro Mazda (formerly Star Mazda) Series through Indy Lights and thence to IndyCar – a sort of Red Bull progression for those unfortunate enough not have Red Bull money. Jack, a quick karter  and Formula Renault driver in England, had no compunction about making the change and sustaining his motivation.

And this year, in IndyCar, he’s delivered. Driving for another true racer – Bryan Herta – Jack led races and scored a podium finish in Houston. Now the sky’s the limit, as he told me when we chatted a few days ago.

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