Goodwood Breakfast Club March 2010

While enjoying a spring jaunt to the south of England in March, we took in one of the famous Goodwood Breakfast Club meets, where car lovers from across the country descend upon the pretty Sussex circuit for bacon butties and a glance around some unusual motors. There is nothing quite like it in the north so it was a remarkable honour to see some many exquisite cars displayed. The obvious highlights were the Lamborghini Muira and Ferrari 250 GT SWB parked adjacent to one another, as casual as you might wish. Quite apart from the K1 Attack, innumerable Atoms, Lotus 340Rs, Ferraris of every vintage, including an Enzo and anything else you might imagine. The theme was Tax-free Classics so anything pre-1973 was offered a position on the start/finish line but there were awesome cars from every era wherever you looked. It proved so enjoyable, we made a bit of an excursion down there later in the year.

Racing Lotus Film Festival 2010 – Eynsham Hall

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.

Superleague qualifying day – Brands Hatch 2010

July 31st and the first annual jaunt to beautiful Brands for the Superleague qualifying day. We usually stop over at the Thurrock West Premier Inn and once again a cardboard cut-out of Lenny Henry greeted us upon arrival in the glamourous Thames Gateway hostelry. An early start permitted arrival in time to see the small Group C field take to the track for their opening session. Standing out past Pilgrim’s drop at Hawthorn the air was moist as the track slowly dried. All the pilots were being cautious, not wanting to risk their valuable machinery so early in the meeting. In spite of this, Group Cs look fabulous at any speed and the noise of Cosworth-motivated Spices contrasted with the barrel-chested timbre of Don Miles’ Group 44 Jaguar XJR5 and the might turbocharged Nissans. Great to see former series champion David Mercer back at the wheel of a Spice SE90C – he was on tremendous form, apparently losing none of the speed he showed during the revived Group C’s early years.

The Superleague boys were out next and the cautious approach of the owner-driver Group C field was immediately apparent as a full grid of single seater stars launched their full talent and 750bhp at Brands’ sweeping Grand Prix circuit. As the pack circulated at speed, a dry line was quickly evident and the entry speed into Hawthorn was mighty; little stabs of throttle to balance the car before unleashing the wailing V12 as they went hammering towards Westfield; sound echoing around the woodland. The good news was the pace of local favourite Craig Dolby who was on top form on his first appearance on the full GP loop, having spent much of his formative career racing on the Continent. We wandered round to Westfield which proved equally fruitful viewing. The entry speeds are high but there is a wicked bump just on the exit of the corner which the drivers were handling with some aplomb as the unloaded inside wheel was pitched in the air and the revs rose as the grip reduced. These cars are so spectacular to watch with loads of grip but even more power delivered from that raucous and incredibly loud V12.

A short walk back towards Pilgrim’s drop and the bridge to watch the Lotus Cup Europe runners hit the circuit which was now pretty much dry. The 2-11s are no longer permitted in the UK’s domestic series, but make a fine sight in its European euqivalent and for us members of NYLOC it was great to see one of our members, Gavin Kirby, showing fine form in his 2-11. With the best of the runners from the UK making an appearance as well as the best of the Europeans, it was wonderful to see so many variants of our own car out there on track. Gavin ended up on pole.

Following a natural migration towards the paddock we watched the GP Cup from Druids where a fine selection of GTs brought back memories of the British GT Championship from the 1990s with a huge miscellany of different cars; not all conforming with the SRO’s rigorous homologation of GT3 and GT4. Seeing a Venturi for the first time in many years was a treat, as was Chris Randall’s mighty Lotus Europa which was proving an extremely useful tool around Brands’ topographical challenge.

One more untimed practice session to watch from the outfield between Druids and the deceptively slow and tricky Graham Hill Bend. A rare mistake from 2010 champion-to-be David Rigon who skipped across the gravel and made heavy contact with the barriers of Druids. There was some excitement among the partisan crowd as Craig showed majestic form and set the session’s fastest lap with an apparent degree of ease setting himself up nicely for the timed qualifying session.

Last thing before lunch and the day’s only race – for Formula Junior. These cracking little cars are limited to 1100cc, yet they employed Grand Prix technology at a time when those F1 cars were only of 1500cc capacity themselves and really are quick. With no aero and a narrow track they can actually race one another too. It was all looking too easy as John Milicevic streaked into the lead at the start and looked untouchable, pulling away from the rest of the field with beautiful controlled drifts through Paddock Hill Bend. He was chased hard by fellow Cooper runner Andrew Wilkinson though and the paid ended the race half a minute up the road from their nearest competitors. All through the field though strong battles ensued and, despite their lack of pace relative to the modern stuff, the diminuitive FJs remided the crowd of what made the formula so popular in period.

The second Group C session and a dry track at last. Those runners who had ducked out of the first session on the basis of poor weather were out on the circuit and our vantage point as the cars dropped down into Paddock Hill allowed them to show off serious downforce and sheer power. Highlight of the session was Nathan Kinch in the mighty Spice SP92 with a 1.20 lap only 7 seconds off the fastest of the Superleague runners. Mammoth Chevrolet engine bellowing towards Druids, he showed the class which brought him to the lead of the Le Mans support race earlier in the year. Pole was his by a comfortable margin, desite Mercer’s best efforts in his Spice.

Qualifying for the Superleague Formula headline race followed the football theme, with heats, quarter finals and semi finals before a final head-to-heat battle for pole. On paper the system sounds confusing compared to a traditional format, but trackside it is exciting with a genuine sense of excitement as the best drivers whittle themselves down. Form man Craig Dolby had shown great pace earlier in the day and he looked a good bet for the pole. It was disappointing, therefore, to see him knocked out by a stunning lap from Marcos Martinez, who went on to claim the number one spot from John Martin by a whisker. The knockout format is really good fun and challenges the drivers to consistently produce strong laps – you can’t just pit for fresh tyres and have another go. One does wonder whether this might suit Sebastien Vettel with his single-lap heroics.

And with that it was time to hit the road, as West Sussex beckoned and a jaunt to August’s Goodwood Breakfast Club for further automotive indulgence.

Maranello Rosso Museum

In 2009 we took a holiday in Umbria, a most charming province with relatively easy access to beautiful countryside as well as some of Italy’s most photogenic towns. On completing some reading, I’d learned of a small museum not far outside San Marino. Aside from giving its name to the Grand Prix, I knew precious little of the principality so we decided to take a trip up there. It is the most remarkable place. Situated high above the surrounding strata with views of the Adriatic to the east, it is a beautiful and surprising place full of charm, despite plenty of tourists.

A few miles outside the city is the little Maranello Rosso museum. Entirely lacking the fanfare of the Ferrari museum in Maranello itself, the place features a remarkable collection of Ferraris, and a separate but even bigger array of Abarths. Sadly no cameras are allowed inside which permits an air of mystique, but it would be nice to have recorded the remarkable cars inside. 250GTO, California and GT SWB all star as well as 312T3 and F40. In total about 25 of the finest machines ever produced. The Abarth collection is the largest in the world, with everything from 695s to 2L Osella sports prototypes. If there is a criticism, it would be that there is precious little information to back up all the cars, but their sheer charisma makes being in their company a pleasure.

This place is a well-kept secret and feels somehow more in-keeping with my own feelings on Ferrari the brand than the slightly glossier museum run by the factory. San Marino is the icing on the cake.