A Slice of History

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The Donington Historic Festival in a few short years has become one of the highlights of the classic motor sport calendar. The eighth edition held a few weeks back reinforced this reputation.

Unusually for the May Bank Holiday here in the UK, the weather decided to play ball, indeed record temperatures were the order of the day rather than umbrellas.

 

A quarter of a century has passed since Ayrton Senna produced magic on the opening lap of the European Grand Prix at this very track. As a salute to this historic moment there were several displays of Grand Prix racers.

Formula 5000 was also popular with the big crowd, as were the new catering and ‘restroom’ facilities. We were fortunate enough to have our own pole position man, Simon Hildrew, firing on all cylinders, marvel at his work………..

John Brooks, May 2018

The House that Frank Built

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This week I had both an AGM and a Committee meeting for the Guild of Motoring Writers, the location for these affairs was the HQ of Williams F1. A very impressive complex located at Grove near Abingdon housing one of the great Formula One teams of the modern era.

Employing over 1,000 people on site, Williams Grand Prix Engineering has grown enormously from the virtual cottage industry set up by Frank Williams and Patrick Head over 40 years ago.

One of the major attractions for visitors is a chance to stroll down Memory Lane and see the fantastic collection of Grand Prix racers from the past four decades.

In addition to the single seaters, my attention was drawn to the BMW V12 LMR that triumphed at Le Mans in 1999. Memories, memories………………

John Brooks, May 2018

Classical Times

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The Silverstone Classic is the largest historic motoring festival on the planet………..every aspect of the car is covered somewhere in Silverstone’s flat fields. Motor racing, car clubs, automobilia, anniversaries, music, food, and, most importantly, people are the elements that combine to make the Classic a celebration of one of the most liberating elements of 20th Century life.

If there has been one issue that I have had with this festival in recent years it is the annual clash with the Spa 24 Hours. For 2018 they are on consecutive weekends, so I get to go to both ‘must-dos’. Woo Hoo!

There will be a new attraction in this year’s line up with Group C making way for its younger sibling Masters Endurance Legends featuring sportscars and GTs from the 1995 to 2012 period. The theme for this race will be a salute to the Daytona 24 Hours, with special appearances from former participants.

The Silverstone Classic is one of the great motoring events on the calendar so pop along if you can, there will be something to for you to treasure. Details can be found HERE

In the meantime I can recommend viewing Simon Hildrew’s excellent gallery from the 2017 event………..I anticipate more magic from him this year.

John Brooks May 2018

The Banks of Paris

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One of the few drawbacks of running a site such as DDC is that there are never enough hours in the day, something has to give and usually it is my good intention to post a piece.

OK I am going to plough through the archives in the next few weeks to try and clear out the backlog………….we’ll see how long this impulse last is what I hear you say. Let’s make a start…………..

Montlhéry to the South-West of Paris is these days a place to look back at the rich history of the car. Various events are organised through the year, mainly with a very French taste, all the better for that rich cuisine.

So in late September there will be the fourth edition of Les Grandes Heures Automobile, currently a secret except those truly in the know. However I would suggest that a visit would be most enjoyable for those who enjoy all aspects of motoring, particularly involving competition.

Those of you with an adventurous spirit should give it a go…………..these fabulous images from 2016 shown the rich menu on offer for the automotive gourmet.

Information etc can be found here

Go on, you know you want to. PS photo courtesy of the organisers…………….

John Brooks, May 2018

Keeping it in the Family

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The name Brabham has played a pretty big part in my interface with the world of motor sport. My first Grand Prix, the 1970 British held at Brands Hatch should have been a victory for Sir Jack. He ran out of petrol on the last lap, allowing Jochen Rindt’s Lotus 72 to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Events a few months later when the Austrian was killed at Monza and eventually became the first (and hopefully the only) posthumous World Champion, gave that win a kind of legitimacy, no matter how cheesed off I was on the day.

Brabham became Bernie Ecclestone’s team. They were local to me and I adopted them and their buccaneering style. I then acquired a number of friends from the ranks of those who toiled for ‘The Bolt’.

Herbie, Harvey, Jerry, Robin, Roly, Charlie and others whose faces I can see but the mind cannot name.  I have been fortunate to share a beer or three with these guys in the past and learned a lot about the sport from them. Mechanics and engineers tend to be the most reliable of guides to what is really happening on track, certainly more so than clueless PR hacks such as I.

The association with the Brabham name continued with meeting Sir Jack’s son, David. He turned into one of the stars of endurance racing over the past 25 years, including the top step of the podium at Le Mans, living the dream I believe it is called. David was always one of the good guys, a pleasure to meet at the tracks, almost always with a big grin no matter how difficult things were going. A chip off the old block it used to be called.

Last week the latest chapter in this illustrious family’s history was revealed, appropriately enough at Australia House in London. To my frustration I was on the road heading towards Belgium and Spa while this launch took place but fortunately our Ace Photographer, Simon Hildrew, was there to catch the mood and the flavour of a great evening.

The focus of attention was the new supercar from Brabham Automotive, the BT62. This 700bhp track day only vehicle is the first evidence of a new power in the world of high performance cars. David Brabham is the driving force behind the new venture that is run out of Adelaide and backed by Fusion Capital.

The new car is squarely aimed at the territory occupied currently by the likes of the McLaren Senna. Powered by a 5.4 litre normally aspirated V8, the carbon fibre chassis and trick aerodynamics are evidence of the competition heritage that runs through the BT62. Michelin racing tyres, carbon brakes and an in-built jack system are further signs of the sporting dna.

The aim of Brabham Automotive is to create a road going version of the BT62 and then there is a goal to race at Le Mans but this is all in the future.

Complimenting the new car was a fantastic display of Brabham race cars and memorabilia.

And where there is a free drink you will find racing drivers and the media in numbers………..

 

Enjoy Simon’s great gallery and look out for the Brabham BT62 at a car show near you.

John Brooks, May 2018

A Second Opinion

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Today is the last day of the Ferrari Under the Skin exhibition at the Design Museum in London. I have already had a look at this wonderful collection, motoring art of the highest order.

This week DDC’s resident star photographer, Simon Hildrew, beetled his way to Kensington to catch the show before the curtain came down for the final time.

What a collection of images he captured for us there…………enjoy this spectacle.

John Brooks, April 2018

Design and Conquer

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One of the many benefits of being a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers is their organising of trips to places of automotive interest. Last month it was the turn of the Design Museum in Kensington and we were guests of our gracious hosts, Ferrari UK.

As part of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Ferrari it was thought a good idea to display this most cherished of Italian marques at the Design Museum in London. The angle would be looking at Ferrari,  the cars, the brand and even the mystique from a design perspective. Thus was “Ferrari: Under the Skin” conceived.

The myth has now overtaken the reality, like a motoring version of Hollywood, it creates and, perhaps satisfies, dreams of those who can afford it.

Ferrari is now a big, profitable part of the Italian economy and also the primary component in the dna of Formula One, no matter what those who say that it could live comfortably without Maranello might assert.

There is an examination of the way that Ferraris were crafted down the decades, from the early days…………

There was a look at how Ferrari impacted the lives of celebrities and stars………….Peter Sellers enjoys the company of a Dino…….and Britt Ekland in the courtyard of the old factory at Maranello.

Our party included the President of the Guild, Nick Mason, captured here in front of his F40.

Evidence of the visual influence of Ferrari was on display all over the walls.

Even a poster for that most unlikely of best supporting actors, the Ferrari 512S, from Steve McQueen’s epic, Le Mans.

In the final analysis it is the cars that we come to pay our respects to, not the collateral material, fascinating as that is.

So here are few personal highlights. This 250 GTO, now owned by Sir Anthony Bamford, has a rich competition heritage with two finishes at the Sebring 12 Hours, victories at Kyalami and Luanda in Angola, plus a fourth place overall in the 1962 Tour de France. It is a beautiful machine, now restored to the colours that it raced in originally for the first owner David Piper.

Unique is a much misunderstood and misused word but it applies to this Testarossa Spider, the only example built by the factory. I looked at this elegant GT a while back HERE

Perhaps the most iconic car on display was #2119GT, the 250 GT SWB first owned by Rob Walker and driven to victory in the 1960 Tourist Trophy at Goodwood by the incomparable Stirling Moss. Moss repeated this success at Brand Hatch later that month. He rounded off the season with victory in Nassau Tourist Trophy against very strong opposition. The car was then acquired by Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour, with Mike Parkes as the lead driver for 1961. Several victories ensued and the year was rounded off by a fine second place in Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, only being beaten by Moss in the latest Rob Walker 250 GT SWB. This most handsome of Ferraris is now owned by Ross Brawn who is generous with showing it to the fans at events such as that at the Design Museum.

While we were at the Design Museum it was announced that the concept of the exhibition will go on the road, to Europe and North America. The run at Kensington comes to an end in the next week or so. So if you missed out on seeing it in London, I strongly suggest you catch it if you can.

John Brooks, April 2018

General Winter

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Since its reintroduction in 2014 The Goodwood Members’ Meeting has become one of the ‘must-do’ events on the motoring calendar. It features all the good bits of its more famous sibling, The Revival, without all the crowds that spoil that occasion, at least for an old duffer like me.

As with everything in life there is a price to pay for such pleasures. Held now in March, the Members’ Meeting is subject to the capricious late winter weather in Sussex. Some years that means sunshine turning the swathes of daffodils decorating the track into a golden ribbon.

This year that delight was not on offer. Instead bitter winds and snow greeted those hardy souls who braved the elements and displayed their stiff upper lips, though whether that was a voluntary state or the work of the climate is open to question.

I declared earlier that the Members’ Meeting was a ‘must-do’ however this year even the offer of a ticket on the eve of the weekend could not tempt me from my warm office. A combination of looming deadlines on a couple of assignments and the prospect of encountering “The Beast from East” ensured that discretion was the better part of valour. No Mentioned in Dispatches from the South Downs for me.

Which is what those who took to the track in F5000 cars on Saturday surely warrant. Bonkers does not even begin to describe this situation, but the show must go on, unlike NASCAR at Martinsville this weekend just gone.

Indeed for all the praise heaped upon the competitors, the real heroes of the weekend were the marshals, track workers, those on towing duty in the car parks, indeed everyone associated with making the event not only happen but making it a one to remember.

One figure that was absent from Goodwood was Henry Hope-Frost, who was tragically killed in a motoring accident a week or so before the event.

Henry was a thoroughly good bloke, the very definition of petrol head, with ‘#fever’ as his trademark. He had been the voice of Goodwood for a number of years and was, and will be, missed by all who frequent the track.

I managed to watch a fair bit of the action thanks to the comprehensive coverage provided by Goodwood on the interweb. Saturday afternoon was spent flicking between that tab on the browser and IMSA TV’s footage of the Sebring 12 Hours. Not sure which I missed the most but that is how the cards fall sometimes.

Highlights of the action…………I am always in awe of the pre-war racers………..the Bolster Cup was like watching a high wire act without the net.

As was the Caracciola Sportwagenrennen…………madness, utter madness but enthralling.

Touring Car hooliganism was on display in the Gerry Marshall Sprint, the old boy would have laughed his head off…………..and ordered another round.

Always eagerly anticipated the demonstration runs featured F5000 and Group 5 era sports cars. That would be worth the cost of the ticket alone, steep though that is.

Personal highlight was the irrepressible Rob Huff in an E-type, displaying all the car control that a World Champion should.

Despite the adverse conditions the 76th Goodwood Members’ Meeting was much enjoyed by all who witnessed it, from the hardy souls who braved the weather to the delicate flowers such as I who gazed at their screens, looking forward to 2019!

John Brooks, March 2018

Enjoy Simon’s fabulous gallery………………….

Excel as Expected

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The classic car and historic racing scenes continue to grow like Topsy. Driven by enthusiasm for the past or speculation for the future, or a combination of both. They are like the Terminator, they cannot be stopped or reasoned with. How long this will go on for is anyone’s guess. But for now let’s enjoy the spectacle.

To cater for this wave of nostalgia a number of shows and events have sprung up in recent years. Some disappear almost as soon as they arrive but one or two survive, grow and thrive. A good example of this group is the London Classic Car Show, now with four editions under its belt at the Excel in Docklands.

In a smart strategic move it joined forces with the Historic Motorsport International thus achieving a broad appeal, covering all the bases.

The show is attractive to the dealers as it is in close proximity to London’s financial centre and the timing is optimal, close to bonus time too.

The ROFGO Collection has been one of the most popular features of shows and events over the past decade. In a recent development there has been a merger with the respected classic dealership, Duncan Hamilton. The collection and the business have relocated to Hampshire and are well positioned to be a major player in this market sector. I am hoping to pay a visit in the near future.

Celebrities seem to play an increasing part of the landscape in our daily lives. Some have more validity than others, and into that category would surely fall Sir Winston Churchill.  Widely regarded as the greatest Englishman of the 20th Century, his profile has been lifted by a recent Oscar-winning movie. Churchill was frequently seen in this Daimler DB18 Drophead Coupé during the years from 1944 to 1949 touring the country.

The car is one of just three survivors of the model and features unique bodywork from the Carlton Carriage Company, though the actor is an optional extra – allegedly.

At the 2017 LCCS there was a fabulous display of Ferraris to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Maranello’s finest, the curation being the work of Joe Macari. For 2018 the theme was less exclusive, being Getaway Cars.  OK the Excel sits somewhere between the ’60s Manors of the Krays and the Richardsons but I cannot be the only one who questioned the taste of this collection. Some of these cars were connected to actual crimes not film or TV make believe.

Perhaps the highlight of this group was the Volvo P1800 that was used in the first series of the British TV show The Saint. Dating back to 1962 this car is highly original, even featuring the number plates used during filming.

The Show was opened by Quentin Wilson and two blokes I had never heard of, celebrity power has its limits.

Mention of Joe Macari brings to mind Ferraris and Maseratis and all manner of Italian exotics but the car that caught my eye on his stand was this 911 GT2. It was dressed up in the livery that it ran at the 1998 Pokka 1000 Kilometres held at Suzuka. It was a familiar sight as Nigel Smith, one of its drivers, was a client back then.

A name from that time that was also a client was Lister. Now under new ownership it launched a new car, the Lister Thunder, at the show. There were claims of 200+mph and 666bhp, certainly it looked muscular, almost on steroids.

Another Jaguar-based special was the elegant XK140 with unique Pinnifarina bodywork, apparently inspired by the legendary Max Hoffman, North American importer of both Volkswagen and BMW during the ’50s and ’60s. Even in such company as this show attracts the XK140 was a standout feature.

Perhaps the biggest star of the show was Nigel Mansell, 1992 Formula One World Champion. He is seen here in conversation with Henry Hope-Frost. Henry was killed in a motoring incident last week, a good man gone way too soon, he will be much missed.

Simon Hildrew was on top form as ever with cameras in hand, so enjoy his stunning work in the following gallery.

John Brooks, March 2018

Peer Review

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Malcolm Cracknell was one of the pioneers of endurance racing coverage on the then new-fangled internet. What set him apart from the throng of wanabees and fans with passes who invaded Media Centres at that time was the fact that he actually had a clue. Crackers understood both racing and people, especially the gang of scoundrels who chose endurance sportscars as their platform. Even after years of enforced retirement he observes the distant paddocks with more acuity than many who actually attend the races. Time spent chewing the fat with him over the phone is never wasted and is generally punctuated by laughter and seasoned with salacious gossip, ancient and modern.

When this SRO book was published last year I asked him to write a review from his own perspective, he was witness to much of the narrative. He did so promptly, which is more than can be said for my performance in posting the piece. So with humble apologies from the Editor for the delay here is the weekend treat.

25 YEARS OF GT RACING

STEPHANE RATEL AND SRO MOTORSPORTS

This is an extraordinary book, in so many ways.In terms of value for money, it has to be a bargain: £75 for a glossy, 406 page volume, packed with superb photographs, suggests to me that it has to be subsidised to some degree.

I’ll add a ‘but’ here though: this needs to be described as a hagiography (a biography that treats its subject with undue reverence).  Stéphane Ratel is largely portrayed as a God-like figure, his SRO the salvation of GT racing – which is certainly true in many ways.

Andrew Cotton tells more than the story of 25 years of GT racing: he begins with Ratel’s tragic childhood and describes the young man’s ‘playboy years’, importing supercars from California to re-sell in Europe at a healthy profit, then organising a ‘Cannonball Run’ in France (Paris to San Tropez) for his wealthy mates, which developed into the Venturi Trophy (1992-4, which saved the company) – and finally, with Jürgen Barth and Patrick Peter, he created the BPR Series.

 

Was that the high point of GT racing in the modern era?  In many ways it probably was – at least in terms of the way it captured the imagination of the public.  But as we know so well, Porsche and then Mercedes initiated a very rapid boom and bust – and Andrew Cotton reveals one (of many) fascinating tales that perhaps had more of an impact on Ratel the businessman than any other.  I won’t spoil it for those of you considering buying the book, but the man who wrote the foreword, one B. C. Ecclestone, was involved – and taught Ratel a very important lesson.

When the FIA GT Championship ‘expired’ at the end of a disappointing 1998 season, only one man was prepared to try and salvage the thing, and the last 19 years have seen Stéphane Ratel and SRO carry it on with varying degrees of success.

1999 was probably the low point, but if you’re determined enough, you can follow all the ups and downs to the present day.  It’s a convoluted tale, but to his credit, Ratel has stuck at it and is to be admired for that.

It’s been a battleground along the way, with GT2s becoming GT1s, three hour races becoming two, N-GTs briefly becoming the headline class – and then (I think this is missing from the book), in August 2007, there was an extraordinary Ratel proposal for the future of GT racing which was so convoluted that I’d need a 1,000 words to explain it.

That didn’t happen, but Ratel does admit that his plan for a GT1 Championship, of one hour races, was a mistake.  Ironically, he’d already discovered what the future should be with his GT3 idea.  Who, among those present at the launch of the FIA GT3 Championship, at a wet Silverstone in April 2006, could have guessed where this was going?

I was astonished to read that over 1,500 GT3 racers have been constructed in the last ten or so years.  Bentley has recently announced that it will ‘only’ build 40 of its latest GT3 racer, compared to the 100 to 200 cars that Audi and Mercedes have built.  Extraordinary figures, all of them.

‘Ratel series’ have expanded across the globe to soak up the demand, and it was intriguing to rediscover how the FIA tag came to be dropped, in favour of a slightly less formal, but more commercial, Blancpain name.

The book is punctuated with interviews / mini-biographies of a huge number of (not always) well known names who have been involved in SRO GT events during the last 25 years – many of whom have fascinating stories to tell.

In conclusion, I would suggest that there are only two things missing from this book.  One would be a results section – but in fairness, there have been so many races, it would need another book to encompass their results.

The other would be any mention of any relationship between SRO and fans of GT racing – but fans don’t seem (with the exception of the Spa 24 Hours) to fit the SRO business model.  Stéphane Ratel provides the cars, it’s up to the circuits to market their events to potential spectators.  But with or without them, GT3 racing just seems to grow and grow.

Malcolm Cracknell, March 2018