Tag Archives: Martin Brundle

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Banditti of the Plains

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As promised in the last post, I have a story to tell regarding chassis 288 from Tom Walkinshaw Racing, it was put together by Kerry Morse a few years back when we ran SportsCarPros together. Typical of Kerry’s work, it is too good to molder in the archives of a dormant website. Why now? Well the car was one of the stars of the Retromobile on the Hall & Hall stand, more on that topic later.

Kerry and I both have a personal connection to the story and 288. I was shooting with Keith and Mark Sutton at the time and had introduced them to Castrol, which led to work with Jaguar and Silk Cut, so we were busy at Le Mans in 1990. If you have five minutes visit their archive HERE you will soon lose an hour or two with all the amazing photography. It is with their permission that I use these images. Kerry’s connection is that he arranged the purchase of this car for a client a few years back. Plus we both hold Tony Dowe in high regard, this is really his tale……………

John Brooks, February 2013

There are winners and there are WINNERS. Tony Dowe obviously belongs to that
second group of selected individuals. John Brooks and I want to thank Tony for all his efforts over the years of getting great performances from the teams he has been involved with. He makes our job a lot more interesting. What was it that mean old Ron Dennis once said to a gathered group of hacks. I think it was something along the lines of “ We make the history, you only report it”. Tony Dowe has made and continues to make history.

Kerry Morse, February 2005

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What it takes… Tony Dowe on winning at Le Mans with Jaguar

I worked for Tom Walkinshaw Racing from 1987 until 1998 as Managing Director of TWR USA. During this period one of my “duties” was to supply a couple of cars as part of the massive TWR/Jaguar effort at Le Mans. Unfortunately it was always made clear, never by Tom Walkinshaw of course, that the “American” cars were only there to support the real effort that was run from Kiddlington. Obviously this became a bit “second hand” and so after being the supporting act in 1988 and 1989 I gave some serious thought as to how to:

a) Win the race
b) Circumvent the restrictions placed on my U.S. team because of the supporting role we were expected to play.

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The Rules of the Game
Let me say here that you should only undertake such an action if you’re sure that you can carry it off! Because to achieve anything less than the win is to open one’s self up for a very long period looking for a new job! Of course, if you win, then most of your sins are forgiven!

I always felt that TWR USA were a better race team than the UK team for no other reason than by the time Le Mans came around we had done a 24 hour race, a 12 hour race and a couple of sprint races. The Group “C” team had probably only done a single race and some testing. We were very sharp by 1990. We had finished 1st and 2nd at the Daytona 24 Hours that year, 1990, and had had such a better team we had each car race each other the whole 24 hours. It was a fantastic race.

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TWR USA also had a couple of very good engineers, Ian Reed, recently head of development at Penske, and Dave Benbow, recently with Prodrive. Ian and Dave were very good in their respective areas. Both were and are lateral thinkers and complemented each other very well. Ian was, as now, very good with the suspension and we were running dampers, for example, that were much ahead of the ones used by the UK team. We had briefly used a pair on the rear of the car in 1989 when Davy Jones led the race in the early stages. The biggest problem that had to be overcome was that, along with most of the other team cars, we were only allowed a single engine for both practice and the race. The only team car that had a qualifying engine was the one that was lead by Martin Brundle.

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As we were now running the V-6 turbo cars on a regular basis in the IMSA series, we were able to take one of our V-12 cars out of the mix and prepare it with a lot of love and care. We used chassis 288, which had won our first ever IMSA race in the USA back at the 1988 Daytona 24 Hours. The lead mechanic was Winston Bush, still in Indianapolis, and he did a super job of building a car to the exact same specification as the UK cars!

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Dowe Chemicals
Now we get to the interesting bit!

The week before we had to leave for Le Mans we were racing at Lime Rock Park. Super place and made better when John Nielsen and Price Cobb won with a turbo car for the first time, exactly a year after we had début of the first TWR Jaguar turbo. There to see the car win was the head of TWR engines, Allen Scott. Allen is now back in New Zealand enjoying his retirement and rallying a Mazda. After the race we had a super night at a very nice local restaurant run by an English guy called Terry. Lots of drink, etc. After the meal I took Allen to one side and asked him why “my” car could not have a qualifying engine for Le Mans? Allen, now very “mellow” told me to use common sense, “It’s just not going to happen”.

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I then asked what would happen if we had a mis-fire at the end of qualifying that
could not be found. Allen said, “obviously there would be spare engines for such
an eventuality.” Allen was booked on a flight from Kennedy the next morning back
to the UK. I then played the trump card. I produced an envelope from inside my
jacket and told Allen that inside was a ticket for the next morning’s Concorde flight
to London. It was his if he found a problem with our engine after Le Mans qualifying. After a moment of hesitation Allen looked around and then took the envelope and put it in his jacket pocket. The game was on! Only Ian Reed was aware of what I was planning. And he was like a kid when I told him the bait had been taken. The now finished “vanilla” 288 chassis was sent to the UK for painting and, I suppose inspection to see that we had built the car to the decreed spec.

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We then set about putting together a “care package” of our IMSA “goodies” for fitting when we got to Le Mans. We had different roll bars, front and rear. Different shock absorbers front and rear. But the biggest item were some very special one piece (Billet) brake calipers that Ian had designed and we had built here in Atlanta. They were made to accept a much thicker brake pad than standard, Performance Friction made the pads for us. So now we could also go further than the UK cousins without a pad change. We had also had “Rabbit” (A legendary fabricator who still lives in the Georgia mountains) build us some really trick pad changing tools. The gearbox was built with a limited slip differential. This was quite different from the UK cars because the thinking was that with a “spool” fitted if a drive shaft failed you could get back to the pits! Well, unbeknown to the guys in England, we had Kenny Hill of Metalore (they now make most of the F1 world’s hubs/drive shafts and axles) make us some super strong F1 type drive shafts.

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Can you hear me Major Tom ?
One further item that would prove very useful was the use of the American radios.
Every year we had gone to Le Mans the circuit length meant that the European radios supplied by a guy called “Crackly Ken”. They usually gave up when the cars left the pits! The last thing that we had changed at TWR USA was the rear wing. With the additions of the chicanes along the Mulsanne straight, Le Mans was now the same aero level as Daytona, things were just going our way.

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Lock, stock and two smoking barrels…
So now the fun started.

We started practice with “just a few bits” changed, radios etc, so there was not much notice taken of what we were doing. There was a bit more interest when the brakes went on and the roll bars were changed, but at the early morning meetings the comments were mainly directed towards us in the manner of “So what silly things have the you Americans changed now?”
Roger Silman, the UK Team Manager, was more concerned with why Jan Lammers could not match Brundle’s practice times. He did not like drivers, or anyone else for that matter, to think for themselves about how the race should be run. I’m sure that Tom had some idea of what we were doing as he was a regular visitor to IMSA races and was aware of our development items, but he never said anything to me about what we were up to.

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Our driver lineup was pretty good, “Big” John Nielsen, Price Cobb and Eliseo Salazar. Obviously John and Price knew what we had fitted and were very happy because it brought the car to the same specification as they had been used to racing. Unfortunately after the end of practice, guess what? Allan Scott found the “mis-fire” and we had to change engines! Another hurdle crossed, because if Allan had gone back on the “deal” then the whole plan would have probably sunk out of sight!

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Friday’s pre race preparation brought to light another small problem. The gearbox “dog rings” were being used by one of the drivers in a way that was too heavy on the gear changes. As we had lots of experience of John and Price it was obvious that Eliseo was the problem. I went and found Julian Randles, then of Spice Engineering, who Eliseo drove for sometimes in IMSA and had a “discussion” about his experiences with Eliseo and his use of the gearbox. Julian confirmed that Eliseo’s style of gear changing was quite heavy on the dog rings. I had a long day of thinking about how to deal with this problem, and it was a problem, because with a dog box we were going to probably lose 3rd and maybe 4th gear if history was any guide.

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I went to dinner with Tom, his lady Martine, and a guy from Jaguar who I honestly can’t remember who he was. During dinner I told Tom of my concerns and suggested that it might be a good strategy if I kept Eliseo out of the car for as long as possible in order to keep a seat free should one of the other “favourite “drivers had a problem. Tom agreed and so at our race morning briefing I told the drivers that we were going to use “Big John” and Price through the evening and night until Sunday morning, when Eliseo would be “fresh” for the remainder of the race.

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Sex Pistols and the holiday on the grid
Race day: Just as we parked the car on the “dummy” grid, JJ found a small fuel leak from one of the fuel pump unions… Now, as it is today, there can be no work done on the car on the dummy grid. So what were we to do?

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Well one of our XJR-12 design features was that the whole fuel system, pumps, filters etc, were mounted in the left-hand side pod on quick release clips. So it would only take moments to change them. The problem was how to make the change with the whole ACO “police” walking up and down the grid!

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Fortunately we had made some very nice mock leather “pouches” to protect the spare pump assemblies in. While the whole team posed in front of the car with, what else, the Hawaiian Tropic girls, JJ slid inside and changed the leaking pump assembly for a new one! Honestly! I think that in another life JJ would have made a great David Copperfield.

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The numbers added up for a very Goodyear…
The race its-self was quite easy.

One of the big race advantages we had was that having run at Daytona we knew that the “standard” 480 compound rear Goodyear tires would not double stint on the Jaguars at Le Mans. So back in February at Daytona we had run a much harder 600 compound tire during the heat of the day. When we arrived at Le Mans I found that Goodyear Europe had no 600 compound tires available! Our tire guy for this event was the great American Airlines guy, Kenny Szymanski. I called back to the States and had 10 sets of 600 compound tires shipped in without anyone knowing, thanks to Ken Moore of Rapid Movements. Kenny S. did his bit by removing the tire coding from each tire and hiding the tires inside the old pit tunnels.

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When we started double stinting the tires and beating the UK team “hands down” in the pits, I had a very “uptight” meeting with Tom as to what was going on!!! I had to come clean as to what was going on and we were forced into giving some of our rear tires to Brundle’s car. All of this while trying to run the race! One of the other “fun” bits happened around 10:00 PM. A car had caught fire at the Porsche curves and the ACO had put out the Safety Car. John Nielsen had just been in for fuel a couple of laps earlier and he called in and told me it would take a bit of time to clean up. Just like we would over here. Good US radios at work. I called him straight into the pits to top off the fuel, as you would! Boy, did that move unleash a load of trouble. I had Tom right in my face about giving up track position. Obviously the UK team cars continued running around under a caution flag while we topped off the car, so they then had to pit under a green when we went back to racing! About an hour later we went into the lead after everyone else had had to pit for fuel, etc under a green. This was a lead we never gave up.

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Big Bad John
The next bit of drama was that Price was slowly dehydrating, remember, these cars had no power steering, little ventilation and no drink bottles, and over 5000 lbs. of downforce in those days. So during the middle of the night we had to ask “Big John” to triple stint (!!) while Price recovered. A star then, still a star now. Then the Brundle car, which had been fighting a slow water leak, finally called it a day. Tom came and asked me if I thought the car would be able to last until the finish (!) You can imagine my reply.

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TW took Eliseo off our team and told him he was not going to drive and he was putting Brundle in instead. You can imagine how heartbroken Eliseo was with this decision. So around 8:00 am Brundle got in the car.

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The Mechanics of the Isle of Sodor
The only thing we now had to deal with was the 3rd gear had decided it had enough of the chicanes and gave up. This meant that the drivers had to change from 2nd to 4th, not a great problem, but enough to get some very dirty looks from TW! The final drama was a couple of stops from the end we had a scheduled brake pad change and JJ (John Jackson, our regular chief mechanic, ex Williams F1) found a couple of caliper pistons leaking! So we had to change one of our mega expensive calipers. Now they were a bit tight on the studs, so Pete “Hodge” (Peter Hodgkinson, a New Zealander and now the new car build manager at BAR) took a very big hammer to our beautiful machined caliper to quickly remove it! Job done and not too much time lost.

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Then politics started to take over. The “Management” wanted to have the UK team suddenly involved so they would look part of the effort. No way.

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The Day of the Jackal
So we won. Very satisfying.

Le Mans 24 Hour Race

Mike Dale, then MD of Jaguar North America and a true racer, had supported us all the way and was terrific as the laps wound down. Our car was the only chassis that had won both the 24 hours of Daytona and Le Mans as far as I’m aware of. Now it was lots of celebrating. I remember taking TW back to the airport and he told me I had “done good” I then had to find my way back to the chateau where we were staying. Now that was a trip. I was so tired, and a bit the worse for Champagne. I can’t remember how many times I went off the road. And all the while driving Tom’s personal Jaguar.

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The next morning we went back to the circuit to see the car and it was very emotional for us when we untapped the engine cover and lifted the rear deck off. Never lifted it in the whole race. A couple of weeks later the whole team who had been at Le Mans went to New Jersey and had dinner with Mike Dale and Bob Burden, another super Jaguar person, in a small restaurant a few miles from the Jaguar Headquarters. Very nice.

There are very few people that knew of the lengths that we had all gone to get this result, so this is the first time I’ve told the whole story. Thanks to all of the “villains” that took part, it is something to tell the kids when you grow up. I hope that we will be forgiven, but only ever do this if you are sure your going to win.

Tony Dowe, February 2005

Genius…………but Flawed

Seventeen years ago today the world of motorsport was shaken to the core. The San Marino Grand Prix held at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari on 1st May 1994 proved to be a pivotal point in the history of Formula One. The paddock was still reeling under the shock of the death of Roland Ratzenberger during Qualifying the day before. Then, the unbelievable happened, the World’s top driver, Ayrton Senna, lost control of his Williams Renault FW16, left the track and suffered fatal head injuries. Ten years before I had spent a season following the Brazilian round England, while he won the Marlboro British Formula Three Championship. It seems some how appropriate to recall that time, today.

 

I’m on Top of the World, Ma.

The dictionary tells us that  A genius  is something or someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight.
How do we apply this term than to motorsport? I suppose it gets tagged to something or someone who is beyond exceptional. I have encountered a few in my time of following the sport but arguably the greatest example of this label that I witnessed was back nearly 30 years ago in 1983.

The Guru

At that time I lived in a small hamlet called Charlton Village, a place of farms and two small housing developments surrounded by the massive water reservoirs that supply West London. There were also some small industrial estates and on one of these was located West Surrey Racing. Formed in 1981 as a partnership between entrepreneur Mike Cox and motorsport engineer, Dick Bennetts. Bennetts had worked for Ron Dennis running the Project Four BMW M1 ProCar entry for Niki Lauda and later Hans Stuck. During the 1980 season he had been parachuted into the P4 Formula Three team that was struggling with the then new Ralt RT3. The Kiwi managed to put some order into the project to the extent that Stefan Johansson was able to snatch the Vandervell British Formula Three title at the last race.

Portrait of the Young Man as an Artist

Ron Dennis had his eyes on McLaren and Formula One for 1981 so West Surrey Racing took over the successful chassis and scored another title win for Jonathan Palmer. 1982 saw almost a hat trick of Championships for the outfit but Enrique Mansilla was narrowly beaten by Tommy Byrne. WSR were the top dogs of British Formula Three.
There was an end of season non-championship race held at Thruxton back then, an opportunity to test out new talent. WSR had another South American in the hot seat, Ayrton Senna da Silva. The Brazilian had swept all before him Formula Ford 1600 and 2000 and was marked out as a rising star. Senna shrugged the opposition aside on that cold November day. He had laid down a marker to his opponents for 1983.

There was quite a racing community based around that part of the world that I lived in, F1 teams Brabham, McLaren and Tyrrell were all locals and the Ralt factory was also located nearby. One of the favourite places for social interaction was an old pub based in Shepperton, The Kings Head. Characters as diverse as Brabham team manager Herbie Blash, sportscar legend David Yorke and of course Dick Bennetts could be found propping up the bar on a regular basis and there was a full supporting cast of mechanics and wannabes like myself. At that stage I had one of Dick’s mechanics renting a room in my house and I would regularly visit the workshop to see what “my team” was up to. My wife had even made some of the team’s uniform during their first two seasons, F3 was still a bit of a cottage industry back then. The gang at The Kings Head felt part of the extended family of WSR.

Man and Machine

 

 

However the feeling of intimacy with team changed on the arrival of Ayrton. Strange to say unlike the previous drivers I did not really get to know Senna. He was polite enough but somewhat reserved, part shyness but mainly that he was at all times fully focused on the task in hand, that of winning the 1983 F3 Championship and getting into Formula One. His briefings with Dick Bennetts have passed into legend with the disciplined and methodical approach of the engineer allied to the fierce commitment and work ethic of the Brazilian producing set-up sheets and data logging rarely found outside of F1 at that time. No effort was to be spared in the pursuit of victory.
While the combination of Senna and WSR were the Bookies’ favourite there was considerable opposition before honours could be won. Leading the charge was Martin Brundle who was also lining up in a Ralt RT3, this example for Eddie Jordan Racing. Other contenders were expected to be Davy Jones, Allen Berg, David Leslie, Calvin Fish and Johnny Dumfries but in reality they all became just bit players to the drama that surrounded the two leading protagonists.
If one had considered the position of the Championship after the 9th round and approaching the halfway point, drama would have been the last word to be used. At that time nine points were awarded for a race win plus one for fastest lap, so theoretically the maximum points that anyone could have scored at that point in the season was 90………..Senna had 88.

Leader of the Pack

On March 6th the grid had formed up at the Silverstone Club Circuit to open the 1983 Marlboro British Formula Three Championship, David Leslie was on pole but Senna roared away at the start and drove just fast enough to take victory. This proved to be the template for the first half of the season except all the other races would see the Brazilian on pole. So there would be wins for WSR at Thruxton, Silverstone GP, Donington, Thruxton, Silverstone Club, Thruxton, Brands Hatch and Silverstone Club. Add in seven fastest laps and the position is one of complete dominance over the rest of the grid. Well not quite, as Martin Brundle has finished second eight times, third once plus two fastest laps. Each defeat seemed to spur on the Englishman to greater efforts, he wanted more than ever to get on terms with the Brazilian and he was about to get his chance.

Champions

The 10th round of the Championship was run in combination with the European Series. The choice for the British entries was to run on the control Avons and score points or run the sticky Yokohamas or Michelins and be faster. As three scores had to be dropped during the season both Senna and Brundle opted for the faster Yoko rubber. However EJR had much more experience on these tyres and got their set up right, whereas WSR struggled and went the wrong way. The result pole position and a flag to flag win for Martin Brundle. Ayrton has one spin, recovered but trying too hard comprehensively thumped the barriers at Woodcote, a bit embarrassing.

I have been to the Mountaintop

It got worse for the Championship leader, next round at Cadwell park, he did not even make the race. Duelling with Brundle for pole he trashed the Ralt on the Mountain causing yours truly to jump for cover. The pressure was getting to Ayrton. Brundle duly won the race making up more ground.

Crash Landing

The action reached boiling point at Snetterton when the two drivers made contact after an optimistic move from Senna was blocked by a resolute Brundle. Another win for Martin, another retirement for Ayrton. The Stewards were kept occupied for hours trying to work out who, if anyone was to blame. No conclusion was reached but relations between the drivers and both the teams was strained to say the least. Certainly the crew at WSR were not happy not least because they had to set to and rebuild the car once again. This was having a serious effect on progress, as Dick Bennetts put it at the time “You can’t go testing when you are spending late nights rebuilding a car.” The Kings Head saw precious little of the team personnel during the mid summer period.

Sign of the Times

The old order was restored at the British Grand Prix support round with Ayrton taking another trademark win in front of what he hoped would be next year’s employers. During 1983 I started working with Keith Sutton, then on his way to be one of the great F1 photographers. He had become a kind of press officer to Ayrton since linking up together in FF1600 days. During 1982 Ayrton and Keith had taken the then revolutionary step of sending out press releases of Ayrton’s triumphs in FF2000 to any interested parties including the bosses of all the Formula One teams. A simple idea, well executed, typical of Ayrton’s ability to think five moves ahead.
A few weeks later the tables turned once again in the now compelling contest as Brundle dominated the Donington round putting in a Senna-esque performance that had WSR scratching their collective heads.

Normal for Norfolk

Controversy returned at the following round held at Oulton Park. The pair were scrapping for the lead when Ayrton tried a move that stepped over the boundaries of recklessness. The result was that both cars retired with the WSR Ralt ending up perched on the top of the EJR example. The Stewards moved swiftly to nip this nasty situation in the bud, someone was going to get badly hurt if the fight was allowed to escalate. The Brazilian got a £200 fine plus an endorsement on his licence, this was not popular with WSR. Another race another rebuild.
Then tragedy struck the EJR outfit when the truck bringing their car back from a Euro F3 race went over a cliff killing the team’s chief mechanic, Rob Bowden. This shattered the team so it was no surprise that the next race at Silverstone went to WSR and to add insult to injury the EJR Ralt was declared illegal after failing a check on skirt heights.
Despite all this the contest was far from finished. The momentum swung back to Brundle as he swept up the next three races at Oulton Park, Thruxton and Silverstone. Worse for Senna was the pair of non-finishes with yet another accident at Oulton Park and engine problems at Thruxton. Second at Silverstone was a poor return.

Triumphal Arch

So amazingly going into the final round, number 20, at Thruxton Brundle held a one point lead, at least if you looked at the table. The reality was once the three worst results were dropped, the advantage swung back to Senna by three points. That would be enough and Ayrton and WSR regained their composure to win the final race and the Championship. It had been a hell of a fight.
The WSR camp followers all motored back up from Hampshire after the race and took over The Kings Head, then on to a celebratory dinner at The Riverview Club, also in Shepperton. Needless to say the whole party, including Ayrton, and even his Mother, were extremely well refreshed by the end of the evening.

Perhaps at the time we had not appreciated what we had witnessed during the year but those at the sharp end were under no illusions. Senna reflected “At the beginning, we had our car set up better than the others. Then, the others caught us up. I have done a few mistakes, but still, we have done all we could do. A couple of times we were not so lucky, like at Oulton in practice when something broke and at Thruxton with the petrol thing. Dick is right: it takes away from our development time and all the time Martin is getting the advantage, getting the points. I don’t feel it is a pressure situation for me. Nothing has changed, only perhaps a little bit of luck and that has been with Martin.”
Brundle summed up his approach to the second part of the year, “He’s not unbeatable. After the Euro round at Silverstone I just forced the pace and let him worry about how fast I was going. Psychologically it shifted all the pressure on to him.”
Dick Bennetts was perhaps the best placed of us all to assess just how good his man had been. “He’s the best. Amazingly quick, clever in the car and he always wants to win. I’ll still be here when he moves on, but it is good when both the team and driver make each other look good.”

 


 

In truth the title could have gone either man and no one could have been disappointed. Perhaps the massive achievements of the Brazilian in his Formula One career mean that looking back it seems inevitable that he would come out on top. Back then, approaching the Thruxton decider it was not so certain, even to man so convinced of his destiny as Ayrton Senna. The rest of the field was nowhere compared to the Dynamic Duo and they included future Grand Prix drivers and Le Mans winners, it was an incredible performance from them both.

John Brooks, May 2011