The first column… 1 January 1967
PERHAPS IT'S JUST a sign of the times that the new hip-high-to-a-hare Lotus 47 has the Lotus plaque on its flank reading ‘Indianapolis Winners 1965’ with no mention of the fact that the good Jamie [Jim Clark] also won the World Championship in the Lotus-Climax Formula 1 car that year.
I wonder if the man in the street really knows more about Indy than he does about Formula 1 racing? There is certainly more money at stake for the race around The Brickyard, and it’s usually money and excess thereof that waters the mouth of the above-mentioned man in the street.
I hear that Mario Andretti, fastest of the Indy fliers, who had ‘Think Charge’ taped across the steering wheel of his Lola T70 at Nassau, was offered a quarter of a million dollars (near enough to £90,000) if he would switch his personal racing contract from Firestone to Goodyear.
And that – in case you’re still counting the noughts – is an awful lot of money to pay one man for doing anything.
HAVING WON THE World Championship for both drivers and constructors last year, it looks as though Jack Brabham may be thinking about building a team for Indy in 1968.
Denny Hulme (who still hasn’t signed his 1967 Formula 1 contract with Brabham although he says he intends to when he gets a minute) is driving a brand new Indy Eagle for the George Bryant racing team and he will have as his technical advisers for the race a Mr Brabham and a Mr Tauranac!
Denny will run on Goodyear, while number two man in the all-Kiwi team will be Chris Amon in one of the ex-BRP monocoques running on Firestones, which would seem to complicate the issue.
Hulme, who seems to take most things in his stride in a rather disarming matter-of-fact way, says that Indy was different but the main thing he found he had to concentrate on was the fact that the Eagle’s clutch pedal was mounted up above the steering column out of the way, and the brake pedal was on the left. The Eagle, being a two-speed machine with ‘low’ to get started and ‘high’ for everything else, didn’t require more than a couple of stabs at the clutch, so for the economy of cockpit room the clutch pedal was tucked upstairs.
This also meant a change in driving style to go-kart fashion with the right foot for ‘go’ and the left foot for ‘stop’. I remember reading that Alf Francis switched Stirling Moss’s 250F Maserati accelerator pedal from the traditional Italian central position between the clutch and the brake, to the ‘normal’ position on the right of the brake pedal, so that Stirling wouldn’t outfumble himself in an emergency.
You wouldn’t credit how much your reflexes take over on no-hope occasions. I drove the ex-Rubery Owen 250F Maserati on my first – and briefest – track test in New Zealand a few years ago, and by an injudicious prod on the central accelerator in a rather low gear (I think it was first!) while feeling my way down the straight on the first lap, managed to involve a tail-slide in a straight line. Being wholly unaccustomed to such violent displays of out-of-control horsepower while proceeding backwards off the road, I stabbed at the brake (which of course was the central accelerator) and simply aided my hurricane progress into the undergrowth!
Fortunately we all managed to regain the track unharmed save for a few trailing lupins from the sand dunes that surround Teretonga – the southernmost circuit in the world – and drove gingerly back to the pits to explain the sudden disappearance of the car and the minor sandstorm.
THERE HAS BEEN a change-around of fuel and tyre companies since season’s end in Europe, and it looks as though we’ll be seeing different people on different fuel and tyres next season. John Wyer has signed up his Ford GTs with Gulf for fuel in 1967, and I gather that such worthies as Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren have also been asking about prices from the same company. After doing a lot of sorting-out for Firestone when the American company first came over to try their hand on European tracks, Bruce McLaren’s team is now running on Goodyear.
THE TASMAN SERIES started last weekend with the New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe, near Auckland; this year, of eight races, only six (four in Australia and two in New Zealand) count for the Tasman title held at the moment by Jackie Stewart.
BRM has a pair of the 1.5-litre ex-Formula 1 cars fitted with extra-stretched 2.2-litre versions of the 1.5-litre V8, for Jackie Stewart and Richard Attwood. Jack Brabham drove a modified version of his Formula 1 car fitted with the latest thing in Repco 2.5-litre V8s at the New Zealand Grand Prix, but he will leave Denny Hulme to hold the fort for the remainder of the New Zealand races. Jack has shipped a special Tasman Brabham built up from a Formula 2 car fitted with Formula 1 wheels, brakes and suspension, and the Repco V8, to Australia to complete the two-car team for his home tracks.
Jim Clark will have the hard-worked two-litre Lotus Climax ‘down under’, while Graham Hill, originally contracted for the series with BRM, will probably drive in Australia with a two-litre Lotus-BRM. BRM ‘new boys’ Piers Courage and Chris Irwin will also get their bedding-in lessons to more power than they’ve been used to from the Formula 3 cars when they share a BRM drive in New Zealand and Australia.
Courage will drive with Attwood at Teretonga and Stewart at Lakeside, while Irwin will drive with Stewart at Warwick Farm (Sydney), Sandown Park (Melbourne) and Longford in Tasmania.
The constantly smouldering tyre war will pick up again, since BRM and Brabham will be using Goodyear, and Lotus will be running on Firestone.
And the last column… 29 July 1998
The Tyrrell mechanics reported a genuine miracle in their pit at Silverstone before the British Grand Prix when, before their very eyes, Uri Geller smoothed his fingers along a six-millimetre combination Snap-On spanner and it bent as though it was made of spaghetti.
They didn’t believe what they were seeing and naturally applied some muscle to the spanner, but couldn’t make an impression. They could get a bend if they locked it into a vice and belted it with a hammer, but now way could they bend the Snap-On the way Geller had. They’re all believers now.
Photographer Nigel Snowdon (no relation to the noble Lord) has brought out a splendid retrospective of his photographic work called Formula One Through The Lens – Four Decades of Motor Racing, published by Hazleton, which appeals to me enormously because both he and I have been around the circuits in Australasia and Europe for pretty much the same length of time.
One of Snowdon’s favourite shots is of Steve McQueen making a V-sign to the camera. He notes that he had explained to the star at Le Mans that while Americans made a single-finger gesture of disapproval, Europeans recognised the two-finger salute and McQueen used it thereafter.
Snowdon and I were also both on the set at Le Mans when the movie was being made, and well remember a session with Porsches in the pit during a rain scene. Snowdon was there below deluging sprinklers, being soaked in a supposedly French downpour.
We were being paid handsomely as journalist ‘extras’ and were sitting happily on the wall across the track in sunshine, laughing at Snowdon and his photographer mates getting soaked.
At this point Snowdon had a sense of humour failure and drew the attention of the director to the fact that there were no journalists in the shot, and there should be. Namely us.
The director agreed and dispatched a lackey to bring us in. We replied firmly that in the interests of authenticity there was no way that a journalist with a notebook and pen would be out in the pit lane in the rain. He agreed, Snowdon continued to get drenched and we continued to sit on the wall and laugh.
I started writing this column in the New Year issue of 1967 – 31 years and around a million and some words ago. I thoroughly enjoyed writing every one of them a good deal more than I enjoy writing this, the last.