Thursday, 5 July 2012

'When you're racing, it's life, anything that happens before or after is just waiting...' (Steve McQueen, 1971)

Image courtesy of
Ok, forgive the rather pretentious opening quote but, unfortunately most of us don't have the means to enjoy the adrenaline rush of racing a car every other weekend. The next best thing though, whilst 'waiting' (... er thanks Steve!) and especially when that torrential summer storm occurs making even fettlin' in the garage unappealing, is to live it vicariously by chucking on a DVD and sitting back...

Hermann Lang on the Nurburgring Nordschliefe (image coutesy of
'Shell A History Of Motor Racing'.
One of the most fascinating pieces of  motor sport film I've seen is not even a race but merely a 'demo', but the combination of driver, car and circuit is absolutely unique. It's taken from the Shell archive and it's Bill Mason's 1962 film of Hermann Lang taking the Mercedes W125 around the Nurburgring, if that wasn't enough the voice over is by Graham Hill. This was of course well before the use of miniature cameras that can  be strapped to the cockpit so Bill got the shots by putting one of his cameramen on a seat strapped to the tail! It must have been frightening but the results are incredible.
Although not taken from the Shell shoot this still shows the type apparatus used to get that unique 'in - car' footage. Image courtesy of

A story of Industrial espionage where ' ...the attempt to headhunt an Italian car designer ends in theft, corruption and murder.' Recently re-mastered so the wonderful early colour cinematography really does bring Italy alive in this classic 1956 British movie. It features genuine footage from the Mille Miglia  so there's plenty of Ferraris, Astons and Porsches all sounding fantastic. 
Wealthy team owner Warren Ingram (James Robertson Justice) has a collection of motor racing art and models in his London office that most of us would give our right hand for. I often found myself looking at the stuff in the background rather than listening to the dialogue but the plot is pretty straightforward so don't worry you won't get lost - it's no 'Inception'!
The city of Florence looks perfect in the Italian sunshine as do the period outfits but I was a little surprised to see a Le Mans style start in the city square...!

Image courtesy of
'Le Mans'.
 Steve McQueen was not one to trouble the typists too much in the script department as nobody says anything for the first 40 minutes but that doesn't detract from the wonderful atmospheric shots of the build up to the 1970 24 hour race. One can't help but feel this film was one of sheer self indulgence on McQueen's part but we can still take huge enjoyment from the superb cinematography. We've all heard the stories from the contemporary racing drivers of the period who drove the cars in the film -David Piper, Derek Bell, Richard Attwood et al - blocking McQueen between their cars through the esses scaring him to death, coming out of corners at racing speeds to find McQueen lying flat in the road holding a camera to get the ultimate shot. What McQueen did achieve though was a film that many enthusiasts believe to be the definitive motor racing movie but be prepared to watch it alone, I've yet to meet a woman who can sit through the full 104 minutes.

image courtesy of

'The Goodwood Revival - The First Ten Years'.
 I find myself going back to this DVD again and again. Documenting what has become the greatest historic race meeting in the world this seems to have it all - edge of your seat drama from those great duels such as Sytner and Brooks in the '50s sports cars, emotion as Barry Sheene tells us he's diagnosed with cancer and wonder as we witness the expertise of drivers such as Peter Hardman in the Le Mans winning Aston Martin. Touching tributes from racing greats which have sadly since departed such as Carroll Shelby and Phil Hill give the film even more gravitas.The added bonus is that it is also free from pantomime TV presenters...

image courtesy of

'Grand Prix'.
  This is the one everybody remembers but I've not seen it for many years. I was never a fan of leading man James Garner as 'The Rockford Files' always reminded me of boring wet afternoons in front of the TV at my Grandmother's house. Frankenheimer's movie is worth returning to if only to spot the F1 drivers of the day in the background - Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill amongst them. The circuits can't help but impress and the Monza banking is daunting, so different to today's modern circuits. The race sequences certainly get the adrenaline pumping and they capture the anxiety, excitement and inevitably the danger of racing F1 cars in the 60s.

image courtesy of
  This is the big one. It's not a period of motor racing I'm particularly interested in but this film is all about the man. On the surface and viewed through the press at the time he was not an attractive character but what this beautifully crafted film does, using purely archive footage and no 'presenter' voice over, is show the committed, almost obsessive, spiritual driver Senna was. Prost was not his only rival, Frenchman Jean Marie Balestre, the FISA and FIA president made some astonishing decisions at the time and that all fed into Senna's psyche. We all know how the film ends but the raw footage of Senna's accident as well as Ratzenberger's and Barrichello's that fateful weekend at Imola in 1994 never fails to shock.

                                                    In The Pipeline...

After many years of pretty poor fare the success of Senna has (hopefully) heralded a new dawn for the motor racing movie. The release of Ron Howard's film 'Rush' which portrays the epic battle between Hunt and Lauda for the 1976 world championship should be coming soon. Howard has 'Cocoon', 'A Beautiful Mind' and 'Apollo 13' amongst others on his Director's CV so my hopes are high for this one.
Daniel Bruhl plays Niki Lauda and Chris Hemsworth is  James Hunt in Ron Howard's 'Rush'. (image courtesy of

The real thing - Hunt and Lauda on the podium.

The release though which I'm positively itching to see is 'La Scuderia'. Coming off the back of his success with 'Senna' the writer Manish Pandey has got backing for his version of the story of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins competing for the 1957 and '58 world championship whilst driving for Ferrari.
The story of Hawthorn and Collins at Ferrari will be told in Manish Pandey's new film 'La Scuderia'. (Image courtesy of
 Although some big names are rumoured to play the leads and direct the film I would normally cringe at the thought of somebody bringing such a story to the screen, but, after witnessing the sensitivity and craftsmanship of the 'Senna' film this could be very, very good...

Now is it time to go racing again...?


Monday, 18 June 2012

Tales From The Cockpit - The Richmond Trophy, Goodwood 2011

Front row of The Richmond Trophy Grid, Goodwood Revival 2011. Image courtesy of

  The HWM team were frequent visitors to the Goodwood circuit in the 1950s and as we are the fortunate owners of one of the three remaining single seaters we have been invited to race at the Revival meeting a number of times.  To race at the Revival is a real privilege but it can also be extremely nerve-racking.  You are frequently up against seasoned racers such as Gary Pearson, Rick Hall, Nick Wigley etc who probably cover more racing miles at the Revival than I have over the last 5 years. In the early days of the meeting our HWM used to qualify for the Goodwood Trophy for Formula 1, 2 and libre cars from 1948 to 1955.  The dates for the grids have been slightly adjusted so now we are in the Richmond Trophy for pre 1961 Grand Prix cars.  This results in the speed differential between some of the cars being extreme and as the HWM is one of the oldest cars on the grid it's unlikely we'll be dicing for the lead with BRM P25s and Ferrari Dinos.  The Revival is a unique event in the racing calendar and the anticipation before it is intense, the atmosphere and crowds can easily fool us amateur drivers in to thinking we are real racing drivers for three days!

Goodwood circuit with its fast sweeping corners
 The circuit itself is wonderful to race on and so very different to the modern British club circuits.  The fast sweeping corners tempt ever greater speeds but with run off areas at a minimum it can be unforgiving.  Saying that, nothing can beat the exhilaration of accelerating up the start / finish straight with the grandstands full and the noise from the stub exhausts bouncing off the period pit buildings.

HWM exiting chicane (image courtesy of

The current gearing on the HWM means you can always gain a few places at the start. After our formation lap there seemed to be some confusion on the grid as Rick Hall had stalled his Ferrari Dino on the front row. Willi Balz stalled his 250F as well and then a Gordini cut his engine just in front of me.  Eventually the 3 minute board was shown and just as I was taking it out of gear the union jack was unfurled and dropped.  I hastily grabbed 1st gear, gave it four thousand revs and dropped the clutch.  The HWM snaked its rear tyres from the line and I was conscious of passing a couple of cars as well as the stalled ones further up the grid.  The mistake is to try and rush the change of the Moss gearbox but thankfully I hooked up third and was swiftly through Madgewick and into top and up to 6000 rpm, I felt the engine could have pulled more but that was my red line for the day.

HWM in a  Maserati 250F sandwich with the Vanwall and Jolley's Lister Monza just looming behind (image courtesy of Shannon and Fee)

I fell into a great dice with Niamh McGuire in her Cooper Bristol, we were evenly matched in the corners but the HWM had the legs on the straight.  We picked off some slower cars but I was painfully aware of my lack of track time and race technique.  As the brakes warmed they were beginning to grab so this forced me to keep my foot away from the centre pedal as much as possible.  Along the Lavant straight we were quickly gaining on David Clewley in the Cooper Alta.  He kept left and gave us plenty of room but disaster struck, I didn't see him but Hubert Fabri was on a hard charge coming up to lap us. He had decided to go on the other side of David and clipped the Cooper Alta's front wheel.  This threw the Aston into a spin and he thumped the bank hard and span back on to the circuit.  The race was immediately red flagged.  I was relieved to be honest as I was rapidly dropping back due to the grabbing brakes.  On the slow lap behind the safety car we passed Fabri's damaged Aston which was a sharp reminder of the potential danger of racing these cars but thankfully Hubert was fine after a hospital check up.

David Clewley in the Cooper Alta. Image courtesy of Jane Sanders)

The race came to a disappointing end behind the safety car with Gary Pearson taking the winner's laurels in the BRM P25.  We were far from finishing on the podium but the high one feels after racing at the Revival certainly lasts for weeks if not months.  I always come away promising myself to get more track time in and may be a day's tuition from one of the 'hotshoe' drivers but some how work, family and paying a mortgage get in the way.  I hope I'll have another opportunity to race at the Revival but even if I don't I feel very lucky to have experienced driving the HWM at such a prestigious event.

I have attempted to credit images which I've taken from the web.  If you do not want them to appear in this post please email me and I'll happily remove them.

Friday, 15 June 2012


I will hold my hand up now and say I am very lucky. Having a father who was a strident chairman of The Historic Grand Prix Cars Association (but due to heart problems was unable to retain his race licence) I was allowed to take over the driving duties of our HWM Grand Prix car. It was the number 1 works car in 1952 and was driven predominantly by Lance Macklin but was also piloted by Peter Collins towards the end of the 1953 season.  The car's moment of glory came in 1952 at the Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone when Lance brought it home first in front of Tony Rolt in another HWM and Baron de Graffenried in a Maserati 4clt. It was a good day for the small HWM equipe.

Lance Macklin winner of the 1952 International Trophy in chassis 107, Silverstone. Note the 'LM' insignia on side of cockpit.
 George Abacassis and John Heath, the founders of HWM, worked their cars hard throughout 1952 and '53. They survived on the 'start' money offered by European race organisers so the more Grand Epreuves they entered the greater their income.  This resulted in a relentless charge across Europe from one weekend to the next often with mechanic Alf Francis at the wheel of the AEC transporter.  Some weekends they would even split the team so they could attend two Grand Epreuves simultaneously. Pau, Marseille, Silverstone, Bremgarten, Montlhery, Nordschleife... the list was endless resulting in our chassis (107) notching up over thirty Grand Epreuves starts between 1952 - '53. When British racing green was conspicuously absent in Europe it was this rather disparate band of men (the polish immigrant mechanic Francis, the boy wonder Moss, the suave well-to-do gent Macklin) surviving on a shoestring that kept British racing hopes alive.

John Heath with an HWM (Hersham & Walton Motors) mechanic

George Abecassis

HWM team cars lined up at Silverstone
When the 1953 European season was over George Abecassis saw the Tasman series in Australia and New Zealand as another potential money earner.  Tony Gaze, who was a semi works driver was packed off to his native Australia with our car.  Abecassis and Heath knew the HWM would be up against some serious machinery in the Tasman series but they had a rather special plan - they took the twin blown engine from Joe Kelly's 1951 Grand Prix Alta, enlarged it to two litres but still retained the twin superchargers and put that engine into the HWM.   This obviously upped the car's potential enormously creating a bhp output in the region of 250.

HWM chassis 107's 2 litre engine with twin blowers (only just visible) mounted at the front of the engine.
 Tony was instructed to sell the car in Australia and thus avoid the 'purchase tax' imposed in the UK, which he did to John Horton but not before putting in some impressive race results such as 2nd in the Lady Wigram Trophy and third in the New Zealand Grand Prix  beating Ken Wharton in the V16 BRM.  The HWM was campaigned competitively down under until the early 1960s.
By 1954 HWM was finding far more success putting Jaguar engines into their sports car chassis than with their Grand Prix cars so production stopped on the single seaters.  There are therefore not many true single seater HWMs left.  Not counting the earlier one & a half seater cars such as Simon Taylor's Stovebolt Special I believe there are only 3 cars in existence.  Mike Harting's 1951 car, Adrien Van der Kroft's ex Kirk Ryland's car and our car chassis 107.

HWM's 1952 works number 1 car chassis 107
When one considers the problems which George Abecassis and John Heath faced trying to build a team of Grand Prix cars in post war Britain and then to campaign them across Europe, when firms such as BRM with their corporate backing were becoming a national embarrassment, one can only admire their dedication and commitment.  They really are the unsung heroes of early British motor racing.

Images courtesy of:
Simon Lewis Transport

Sunday, 6 May 2012

VSCC Spring Start

It's a bright, sunny morning in late April and I'm gunning the Volvo towards Northampton with a packed lunch in the boot and arguably the safest navigator in the civilised world at my side - my 10 year old son armed with my iphone. The exhaust is on its last legs which gives the Volvo a raucous bellow as we pass along high streets, I cringe with embarrassment but my son loves it, 'It sounds like we've got one of those 'cherry bomb' exhausts - it's cool!' So all is good with the world as we are heading for Silverstone  for the VSCC Spring Start race meeting - the unofficial start of the historic racing calendar.
The meeting has really become something special. Blessed in recent years with great weather the crowds really do turn out and this year was no exception. It's not always been the case though. I vividly remember attempting to race a Riley special on a windswept  Silverstone whilst snow lay on the track side at the approach to Copse. It just happened to be the meeting I chose to introduce my then girlfriend to the glamorous world of motor racing - trying to pass myself off as some kind of apprentice Grand Prix driver. After six hours of holding on to a Styrofoam cup as her only source of heat she saw through the facade. Miraculously she agreed to become my wife but she scarcely comes  motor racing anymore!
This meeting was a pleasant contrast. We crested the the bridge over the circuit  and the car parks were packed. One can't help but be impressed by the new 'Wing' complex by its sheer size if nothing else. It's in sharp contrast to the racing the VSCC was celebrating today.

We found ourselves at the end of what was the old runway. Fortunately my son had brought his scooter along to help with the distances. Any walk through a VSCC car park is a slow one, spying  the 'proper' cars amongst the family moderns. We saw a gorgeous but small Bonnet Djet GT.
There was a beautifully presented Dunsmore, a car I'm not particularly familiar with. Now with three children, a mortgage etc, etc I'm constantly on the look out  for a car that offers the vintage experience, is relatively family friendly and doesn't need rebuilding every 100 miles. The purists would baulk at the Dunsmore but its Alfa Monza looks certainly caught my eye.

Having a ten year old in tow is a good excuse to visit the model retailers. Within minutes of arriving £16 was dispatched and we were owners of two ERAs - the collection grows!!
We always head to the BRDC stand to view the races (unbelievably for years they used to keep this stand closed, policed in case somebody might creep in!) and it was packed. The first highlight was to witness Twyman take his Alfa to victory in the race for pre war racing cars and specials. The Alfa looked and sounded fantastic. Where they find these cars I don't know but with minimalist body work at the rear it really evoked the adventures of Nuvolari in the Targa Florio or Mille Miglia in the late twenties.

 It was chased home by a very quick Alvis special. I can't get enough of these Alvis specials as I was fortunate enough to race one a few years ago. I'm guessing this was a 4.3 (increasingly rare) and probably blown.

Arguably the main attraction is the race for pre 1961 racing cars. This race offered up a battle between Ferrari, Lotus, ERA, Connaught and Cooper. The ERAs are so incredibly quick these days, their Riley based engines highly developed but more importantly they are usually driven extremely well and Mark Gillies is one of the best. The ERAs seem so tall with a high centre of gravity in comparison to the 1950s racers so it takes a brave driver to throw it into a corner and make it slide. Historic racing often throws up some incongruous sights and an ERA battling with a Ferrari Dino is one. They're both beautiful cars but if you pushed me I'd take the ERA home every time. Neither took the victor's laurels that privilege was for Walker's Lotus 16. Nobody can argue with the effectiveness and clean lines of Chapman's front engined design (even a misfiring Lotus 16 came home 4th) but to be honest it's a car that leaves me somewhat cold. 
Walker's race winning Lotus 16 (photo courtesy of gdphotographics)

 Not far from the front was Will Nuthall in a Cooper Bristol. Son of race preparer Ian Nuthall, he is still relatively new to historic racing but so quick. I'm big enough to admit I'm envious of his talents and in awe at the speed and commitment he threw the Cooper into the corners. I was told he suffered a misfire under acceleration, if it wasn't for that he would have been dicing with the leaders.
Historic motor racing goes through trends and at the moment in my opinion the current one is for sports cars. Once the support racers for the Grand Prix cars now it's the race everybody talks about and looking at the market place the prices for sports cars reflect this. Watching Julian Majzub trying to tame the horse power of his Sadler is essentially the appeal of historic racing - constantly sideways, correcting, drifting it's a lesson in car control.

He never lost his head as he was chased by a Cooper Monaco, arguably the polar opposite in design to the Sadler. When he took the flag the lady next to me shot from her seat in delight, I think she was Julian's companion and it was the first time she'd seen him race.
We returned to our car through the paddock marveling at the transporters as much as the cars ( I thought we were in a double dip recession?) and stopped for a welcome coffee and snack at the HGPCA truck. It was the end of another successful VSCC Spring Start meet but the beginning of another fascinating historic race season.