Hosted by Lotus marque expert and known authority on the Type 49 and 72 single-seat racing cars, Michael Oliver and fellow organiser Gary Critcher, the 2010 Racing Lotus Film Festival took place at Eynsham Hall, near Whitney in Oxfordshire over the weekend 13th and 14th November 2010.
In spite of its lack of proximity to Leeds, Eynsham Hall was a fine venue for such an event with an intimate conference room doubling as a cinema for the weekend. A Grade II listed country house, Eynsham Hall is an elegant building set in beautiful rural parklands. Coffee and chat at 10am meant an early alarm call – 5.30am (!) – which proved arduous but well worth it once we were sat and enjoying Michael’s introduction. His first film focused on the Lotus 18 and its antics in the 1960 and 1961 seasons. Period footage of the car racing in FJunior and Grand Prix was fascinating, complete with plumby but droll contemporary commentary. The action included Oulton Park, which proved of particular interest as it was my local circuit growing up. Allowing for the modern chicanes at Hislops and Knickerbrook, the track itself actually looked little different, but the lack of Armco was faintly shocking given the dearth of protection these cars offered in a crash.
Of equal interest was the contemporary footage of the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix. In 1960, Stirling Moss had won Lotus’s first Grand Prix in the 2.5L Type 18 entered by Rob Walker. For the 1961 season, the car was converted to the new 1.5L formula which was the prevail for five seasons – 1961 through 1965. It now resides in the Donington Collection. Against the new “Sharknose” Ferrari 156 Dinos, Stirling led at a furious pace during a race which covered 100 torturous laps. Having never seen footage of this particular event before, it was mesmerising to see such a hero at work. At that time, the chicane after the tunnel was a simple left-right flick, completed at enormous speed and with the harbour-front open. Despite Ascari’s watery 1955 exit, there was no protection at that time to prevent a watery departure. The concentration required to drive so fast, for so long was extraordinary and a genuine pleasure to behold. The 18 proved popular for Lotus and they produced many examples for F1, F2 and FJ, run by the factory and customers, before it was phased out with the introduction of the 21.
A break for a bite to eat at midday was welcome; a breath of fresh air and a caffeinated beverage set one up nicely for the afternoon. The organisers had thoughtfully left an extra hour break to permit the broadcasting of qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. While Lotus may not be vying for race wins, the climax to a thrilling season of Formula One racing meant live qualifying was an essential. A close session settled in Sebastian Vettel’s favour was a nice way to tee up for the afternoon, although the crowd might’ve preferred a Brit on pole, judging by its reaction.
The day’s second film was introduced by Austrian Erich Walitsch who had travelled to the UK for the event. Perhaps the world’s foremost authority on Jochen Rindt, he described his work on two films, which were both shown in part – Jochen Rindt’s Last Summer and Jochen Lives. Along with a period documentary, these described Jochen’s life and career, as well as his untimely and tragic death at Monza in 1970. All the footage was, once more, fascinating, with the focus on safety in those times being so alien to one born 13 years after Jochen’s demise. Footage from Zandvoort of a collision between Jackie Oliver and Jacky Ickx was chilling. Immediately both cars caught fire, with Oliver filmed lying on the ground, overalls in flames. The prospect of being injured and unable to extricate oneself, as happened to Roger Williamson, does not bear consideration. As the cars lay burning on the asphalt, the race continued, black smoke pouring from the stricken vehicles as marshals doused them with fire extinguishers. The racers simply jinked around the smouldering machines and continued under yellow flags. At one stage, a driver has to take to the grass as one of the fiery cars slides down the track. It is utterly chilling and helped to contextualise poor Jochen’s accident. Film of his awesome hunt of Jack Brabham’s leading eponymous car at Monaco in 1970 helped offer a reminder of his enormous talent, making the account of his death all the more poignant.
To finish the day, a panel of guests had been arranged, and how insightful they were. Michael Oliver chaired the table and used a slideshow of period photos to prompt his guests into sharing their memories and experiences of the time. Erich, already mentioned above, former driver John Miles, Team Lotus mechanics Bob Dance, Gordon Huckle, Dick Scammell and counterpart from Lotus customer team BRP Tony Robinson spoke with considerable wit and wisdom. John Miles was team mate to Rindt at Team Lotus during the fateful 1970 Monza race and his words carried great gravitas. However, it was light-hearted and celebrated a wonderful period of motor racing when groups of like-minded characters crossed the globe for the simple love of racing. It was a wonderful conversation to be party to, and Michael’s well-researched images were highly evocative.
While all this occurred inside, one of the 18s sat outside the hall. The very chassis entered for Swiss Michael May at Monaco in 1961, it is now active in historic racing. A delightful means to offer some real-life context to the words and visuals indoors.
The festival proved to be a wonderful way to indulge in motor racing’s rich history – in particular that of Team Lotus. To be in the company of some of the team’s most respected members, it was a rare privilege and congratulations must go to Michael Oliver, Gary Critcher and everyone else involved. I look forward to the next one with some anticipation.