Fascinating F1 Fact: 76
February 11, 2018 by Joe Saward
If you were born in 1957 and your name was John Walton, it was almost inevitable in the 1970s that you were going to end up with the nickname John-Boy. The problem was that there was a popular CBS television series called The Waltons, which was sold all over the world. The lead character was called John-Boy Walton, who lived in a folksy world of backwoods Virginia in the 1930s, where a fictional Baptist family operated a lumber mill, went to church, held hands when they blessed their food and called their father “sir”. For reasons that perhaps one day social scientists will be able to explain, The Waltons became a massive international hit, drawing audiences of up 50 million every week… perhaps because it felt safe in a world when nothing seemed certain any longer.
Formula 1 had its own John-Boy Walton, but his story was rather less homesy. A Dubliner, John-Boy grew up in the tough Coolock neighbourhood on the Northside, where Alan Parker would later film his celebrated movie The Commitments. His father died young and the family struggled. He worked as a mechanic from the age of 13. He was then asked by a mate to help at a race in Phoenix Park, working for an ambitious bank clerk called Eddie Jordan, who was racing in Formula Atlantic at the time. The two began to work together and in 1978 Jordan won the Irish Formula Atlantic title and the pair moved to Britain in 1979, aiming to make it in British Formula 3. John-Boy was the first employee of Eddie Jordan Racing. Eddie and his wife Marie and their new baby daughter slept in a caravan at races, while John-Boy had a hammock and a second mechanic slept under the caravan!
Jordan was struggling for money all the time and John-Boy needed cash (to support several children he had in Ireland) and so he joined the new Toleman Formula 1 team and found himself as Ayrton Senna’s mechanic in 1984. When the team was transformed into Benetton John-Boy was appointed chief mechanic and oversaw the Benetton-BMWs of Teo Fabi and Gerhard Berger in 1986, when the Austrian gave the team its first F1 victory in Mexico City. John-Boy would remain as chief mechanic until 1990 when, tired by the political in-fighting that beset the team at the time, as Flavio Briatore fought to control the team, he took the opportunity to join forces with Eddie Jordan once again, as the chief mechanic of the new 7Up-sponsored Jordan Grand Prix, which entered F1 in 1991. One of the founding members of the F1 team, along with Gary Anderson and Bosco Quinn (who died soon afterwards in a road accident), Walton looked after the Jordan 191s in the team’s dramatic first year and the more challenging 1992 programme, with Yamaha engines. Things were better in 1993 with Hart engines but then team manager Trevor Foster moved to Team Lotus and Walton was promoted to be Jordan team manager for the next three years. As Jordan grew bigger there was more of a need for a management structure and Foster returned in March 1996 as general manager. Walton decided to move on and took up an offer from his old Benetton workmate Gordon Message, who was in charge at Arrows, to become team manager of the Leafield team. The 1997 package, with Yamaha engines, Damon Hill and Bridgestone tyres was promising, but the team was struggling for money and Walton was dumped in a management reshuffle at the end of 1998. He spent much of 1999 in legal action, but was then called in to be sporting director of Prost Grand Prix in January 2000, thanks to his relationship with John Barnard, which had begun at Arrows.
The problem was that Prost did not have the money either and it closed down in 2001. Walton moved to Minardi at the start of 2002, at the behest of the team’s new owner Paul Stoddart, running the entire operation for the Australian, with his usual laid back and laconic style, disguising an uncompromising dedication to doing things properly.
In the summer of 2004 the team took part in the F1 display on Regent Street, in the days leading up to the British Grand Prix. Walton was in the thick of it as usual, making things happen and delivering the impossible, when he suffered a major heart attack. He was rushed to hospital but died the following day – at the age of only 47.
One of F1’s great unsung heroes…
Posted 11 February 2018 - 15:28
Posted 12 February 2018 - 13:14
Fascinating F1 Fact: 77
February 12, 2018 by Joe Saward
Bananas are big business in Japan. They became popular in the years after World War II, and remained a delicacy until the 1970s. People bought them one by one, rather than in bunches, which explains such glorious Japanese inventions as the portable banana case, designed to protect a single banana from bruising…
Today Japan’s banana imports are worth $900 million per annum. Every year, close to a million tons of bananas are shipped to Japan, accounting for 60 percent of the country’s fruit imports.
Back in the 1960s, before the big combines moved in, you could get rich quick in the banana trade – and Matsuhisa Kojima did exactly that.
Born in Kyoto, a charming town, boasting a string of famous temples, not far from Osaka, Kojima became a motocross rider while still at school and then, while training to be a mechanic, he signed up to be a Suzuki factory rider. He was the dominant force in 250cc motocross in Japan. He even made a trip to Europe to compete in the Motocross World Championships. There was never much money in motocross and so Kojima retired at the age of 24 – and went into the banana business. Two years later he had made enough to start a racing car manufacturing business and bought a GT40, which he entered in the Suzuka 300 sports car race. It was painted banana yellow…
In 1971 he built a Suzuki-engined Formula Junior car for the new national series and Kojima Engineering won the title, with former Suzuki works motorcycle rider Yoshimi Katayama, who had raced all over the world on two wheels. Kojima also created a two-seater rotary-engined sports car with Mazda.
The company then stepped up to FJ 1300 and built a car based on a March 733 Formula 3 car, powered by a Nissan engine and his old motocross rival Masahiro Hasemi raced the car with much success. The next step was the All Japan F2000 series in 1974. This was equivalent to Formula 2 in Europe. Rather than build his own cars he ran a Surtees for Hasemi and they went on to win the title in 1975 with a March 742.
When it was announced that there would be a Japanese Grand Prix in 1976, Kojima decided to build his own F1 car and hired Masao Ono, who had designed the Maki F1 car in 1974. The KE007 was powered by a Cosworth engine and ran on Japanese Dunlops tyres. The car was crashed heavily and had to be rebuilt, but still managed to qualify 10th, ahead of a string of regular F1 runners. In the race, Hasemi finished 11th. He was credited with the fastest lap, although this was later corrected. It was impressive nonetheless and in 1977 Kojima built his own F2 cars, based on the F1 design, but powered by a BMW engine. Hasemi won an F2 race at Suzuka early that year, but then moved on while Kojima ran the car for another former bike racer, Kunimitsu Takahashi. The car was even driven by visiting Europeans Didier Pironi and Hans Stuck, and Pironi raced a Kojima-run F2 March at Suzuka.
For the 1977 Grand Prix Kojima built a new KE009, based on the 007. Two cars were manufactured: one for Noritake Takahara, the other for Heroes Racing’s Kazuyoshi Hoshino. Takahara crashed and Hoshino finished 11th. Kojima then did a deal to sell the cars to Willi Kauhsen and Keke Rosberg even tested one of the cars.
Kauhsen’s money never arrived.
Ono then built a new KE010 for the Grand Prix in 1978, but the race was cancelled and so the car was never completed, although several Kojima chassis were raced in Japanese F2 that year and Kunimitsu Takahashi won the JAF Grand Prix after Pironi retired from the race with gearbox trouble. The team built a new F2 car, the KE011, in 1979, but it had no success, despite being driven by both Yoshimi Katayama and Pironi.
At the end of the year Kojima decided to go powerboat racing instead and began building KE boats, which he raced himself in offshore events and continued to do so, winning several championships, until he retired in 2007.
Today the Kojima company has a busy marine business, while also chartering helicopters and organising motor sport events.
Posted 13 February 2018 - 13:23
Fascinating F1 Fact: 78
February 13, 2018 by Joe Saward
It has been a pretty long time since the last American team won a Formula 1 World Championship race. Indeed, if you were born the day that happened, you would now be coming up to your 42nd birthday.
We all hope that Gene Haas’s team will get up to speed, but secretly we want to see other big guns joining the fight: Penske, Andretti, Ganassi, Hendrick or Gibbs. It is not very likely in the the short term, but you never know. The last time Penske was involved in F1, it was a rather unusual programme…
It was all John Lambert’s fault. He was an British engineer, who designed and even drove racing cars, but his speciality was manufacturing them. He had worked with designer Len Terry at Team Lotus and then went off to Santa Ana in California, where he helped Dan Gurney get his Eagle production up to speed. Then Lambert returned to Britain and decided to set up his own business, to manufacture racing cars. He needed a low-rent facility and, just as Team Lotus had moved up to Norfolk in 1966, and the new March team would soon set up shop in rural Bicester, Lambert found a nice cheap place to rent – on the Creekmore Industrial Estate, on the outskirts of Poole in Dorset.
Dorset is beautiful. It boasts beautiful hills and beaches. The weather is good, the countryside verdant and the towns quaint. It is the land of Thomas Hardy, but Bournemouth (which was then in Hampshire) was a place where old folks went to live out their retirement years. Adjacent Poole was a charming old town with a working port and a large harbour, celebrated as place to go sailing. A lot of the residents were older folk, but not quite as wealthy (in that era) as those in Bournemouth. The one exciting thing about Poole was that it was – discreetly – the home of the Royal Marine commando amphibious training school and the base from where the secret elite Special Boat Service used to operate. Times have changed, the commandos have departed and Poole has become rather fancy, particularly down in the Sandbanks district.
Thanks to John Lambert, Poole would also become a quiet centre of motor racing expertise. Len Terry’s Transatlantic Automotive Consultants, based in Hastings, closed down soon after Lambert opened his business and Terry moved along the coast to Poole and joined Lambert in a new venture, which they called Design Auto.
It was 1967 and they were immediately commissioned to design and produce the M2 Mirage for John Wyer’s J.W. Automotive Engineering Ltd (JWA) – with funding from Gulf Oil. This new 3-litre Group 6 sports car class, powered by a BRM V12 engine, was not a huge success, but it established the business and Terry and Lambert then decided to try their hand at Formula 5000. Design Auto did the design work and they started a new company called Leda Cars to manufacture and sell the cars. It was not a great success and in 1970 Leda was quietly merged into the Malaya Garage Group.
In 1971 New Zealander Graham McRae was enjoying much success in Formula 5000. He won the Tasman Series in a McLaren and went to Europe to compete in the series there. He did a deal to have Leda look after his car and this led to an agreement for him to use a Leda chassis in 1972. That winter the Leda-Chevrolet won McRae another Tasman title and then it was back to Europe, where McRae found support from insurance broker John Heynes to acquire Leda and transform it into McRae Cars Ltd. The Oil Crisis then hit racing and after 18 months McRae put the business up for sale and Roger Penske bought it.
Penske sent his Porsche CanAm team manager Heinz Hofer to head operations and Geoff Ferris was hired to design a Formula 1 car with Karl Kainhofer, Penske’s engine builder, joining the team later. The Poole-built Penske PC1 was ready for the last two races of the World Championship in 1974, with Mark Donohue doing the driving and backing from First National City Travellers Checks, a very prestigious US bank, which was looking to use Formula 1 to expand its business around the world.
In 1975 the team continued to develop the PC1 with Donohue driving, but then switched to a less troublesome March 751. Then in Austria Donohue suffered a tyre failure and crashed heavily, suffering head injuries that led to his death a couple of days later. It was a shocking blow, but the team kept moving, hiring Ulsterman John Watson and building a new PC4 for the 1976. That summer, a year after Donohue’s death “Wattie” won the Austrian Grand Prix. Despite the promise shown, Penske was a businessman and opted to shut down the operation at the end of the year, selling the equipment to German industrialist Günter Schmid for his new ATS team. One can only wonder what might have happened if Penske had gone on, but he was never a dreamer – and is a billionaire as a result.
His Indycar team was based in Reading, Pennsylvania, and he argued that the 2,500 miles to California, where many components had to be sourced, was not much different to the 3,500 miles from Reading to Poole, which also gave him access to the specialised skills of Britain’s motorsport cluster. He kept the Poole operation going and the first Penske Indycar – the PC5 – was built there in 1977. Penske chassis built in Poole went on to win 82 Indycar races and seven Indy 500s. The arrangements continued until 1999 when the PC27B became the last car to be produced in England. The team switched to Reynard chassis in 2000, although Penske kept the factory busy until 2006., when it was shut down and the facility sold.
Posted 14 February 2018 - 13:15
Ovaj post 'ladno moze i na egzotiku:
Fascinating F1 Fact: 79
February 14, 2018 by Joe Saward
In 1968, with the students of the world rising up in protest, the cinema had a particularly good year, with three films all grossing more than $50 million at the US box office. You might think that Steve McQueen’s celebrated “Bullitt” would have been one of them, but it wasn’t. It pulled in only $42 million, although it turned the Ford Mustang into a legend. There was the amusing “The Odd Couple”, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, but that managed only $44 million.
Topping the list was Stanley Kubrick’s grandiose science fiction epic “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which grossed nearly $57 million. It was chased by William Wyler’s romantic musical “Funny Girl”, starring Barbra Streisand and the super-smooth Omar Sharif, which grossed $52 million, just $800,000 more than Walt Disney’s “The Love Bug”, starring a Volkswagen Beetle called Herbie.
That summer everyone loved the Volkswagen Beetle. No-one cared that it had started out as Adolf Hitler’s Volkswagen – literally the car for the people. Few knew, nor cared that it had been designed by Ferdinand Porsche. In the 1950s it gradually took over the world and became known affectionately as The Beetle, or The Bug. It was the Beetle in English-speaking countries, the Coccinelle in French, the Käfer in German, the Escarabajo in Spanish… and so on. In total, more than 21 million Beetles were manufactured, making it the most produced car in the world until the Toyota Corolla came along.
Down in Brazil the VW was known as the Fusca. The first Beetles appeared in Brazil in 1950 but by the time the production ended more than three million VW Beetles had been manufactured in the country. One of them was just a little bit special.
To start with it was owned by Emerson Fittipaldi. In 1969 he was 22 years old and that year had gone off to Britain to become a motor racing star. He spoke no English at the start but had the money to buy a Merlyn Formula Ford car. He could not afford to crash it. He put the car on pole for his first race, which took place in Zandvoort. Then, very quickly, the wins started to come and by July he was in a Lotus Formula 3 car- and winning. By September Frank Williams had offered him an F1 drive. Then Colin Chapman of Team Lotus. Emerson did not think he was ready and declined both offers. His last race in Britain that year was at Thruxton in mid-November and then he headed home to Brazil for the winter.
His next race would be the 1000km Guanabara race in Rio de Janeiro, an important local sports car race at the time, scheduled for December 13. Emerson and his brother Wilson had been working on the construction of an Alfa Romeo-engined prototype for the big race, in league with their chief engineer Ricardo Divila. The problem was that the whole project was behind schedule because of a delay in the casting of the front uprights. The opposition was busy importing the latest new machinery: including a Lola T70, a Ford GT40, and an Alfa Rome T33.
Things had reached a critical point when Divila, passing through Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, picked up a copy of Hot Rod magazine from the United States and read about the latest twin-engined machinery on the West Coast. It struck him that if he could build a very light car with twin engines, the result might be competitive with the big sports cars, which had a great deal more power but were also a lot heavier. Divila got out his slide rule and did the numbers. They worked. He discussed the idea with other team members at the Churrascaria Interlagos, and the first sketches were made on the paper napkins. Soon afterwards they set to work in the team’s workshop, opposite the gates of Interlagos.
Deusdedith José de Sena cut the rear end off the standard VW Beetle chassis, just behind the driver’s seat. The back end was replaced with a tubular frame, over which a lightweight fibreglass rear bodywork was fitted. This was built by a company called Glaspac, in nearby Santa Amaro, run by Donald Pacey and Gerry Cunningham, two Brazilians descended from British immigrants who had discovered the potential of fibreglass while working in the UK. They had begun to produce car bodies for racing cars and then manufactured kits for beach buggies, based on the Beetle. These were all the rage in California.
The Beetle front suspension and steering were retained, but Porsche drum brakes were fitted. Engine man Darci de Medeiros acquired a second standard 1600cc VW Beetle engine. The two units were stretched to 2.2-litres and were mounted one in front of the other in the chassis to create what was, in effect, an eight cylinder engine. Cooling was a problem, but Divila angled the windscreen backwards creating a gap between the top of the windscreen and the roof, which acted as an air-scoop, and channelled air through a false ceiling to flexible hoses that fed the air into the engine bay, while the 100-litre ethanol fuel tank was shaped to form the driver’s seat! The entire device weighed only 400kg, but the two engines combined to produce 410 horsepower (despite a few blow-ups), giving the car a great power-to-weight ratio.
The Beetle was ready and tested before the 1000km race. Carlos Pace qualified fastest, setting a 1m30.9s in a new Alfa Romeo T33, the Fittipaldi Beetle, driven by Wilson Fittipaldi, set a 1m36.3s – the second fastest lap, ahead of a Porsche special, a Lola T70 and a Ford GT40.
Emerson started the race and was third at the end of the first lap but he then moved back to second after five laps and was easily able to hold off the Lola and the GT40. After about half an hour, however, the gearbox failed…
The car in its twin-engined form raced once more, with Wilson Fittipaldi driving. Volkswagen contacted the Fittipaldis and asked it they might send over some engineers to take a look at the car, as they were struggling to understand how a Beetle could stay ahead of a Lola-Chevrolet T70. Eight engineers arrived to examine the machine, but went away still scratching their heads. The front engine was later removed and the car raced in single-engine format before it was sold to Adu Celso, who also raced it before it disappeared into the mists of time…
Posted 15 February 2018 - 13:19
Fascinating F1 Fact: 80
February 15, 2018 by Joe Saward
If one talks of East London, most folk think of the so-called Cockneys, people born within earshot of the Great Bell of Bow, in the church of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside, to the east of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Cockneys talk in a strange rhyming slang, saying things like: “Cor blimey, love-a-duck. I saw this geezer with a syrup and I nearly fell down the apples. I couldn’t believe my mincers, so I got on the dog to my trouble and we had a good larf…”
I will not trouble readers with an explanation, as this story is about a very different East London, this one being a port at the mouth of the Buffalo River, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa… where the construction of a scenic drive along the coast to the west of the town, alongside the coast to Hickman’s River and then inland, across some low hills to Settlers Way, a fast road back into the town. This led to local motoring journalist Brud Bishop, of the Daily Dispatch, to suggest that there should be races on the new road. He knew a lot of people and the idea attracted much support. The plan was originally for a local event, but South Africans were hungry for motor racing and so entries arrived from all over, even from abroad, and so the decision was taken to call the event the South African Grand Prix.
And thus it was that on December 27, 1934, the dramatic Marine Drive Circuit hosted the first such event. There were 18 drivers who raced six times around the 15.2-mile course. The prize was £250 and a silver trophy worth 100 Guineas. It was won by Whitney Straight in a Maserati and word got out of the exciting new track in South Africa. The track was shortened to 11 miles, renamed the Prince George Circuit (after Prince George, Duke of Kent, the popular fourth son of King George V) and used to host the South African GP again between 1936 and 1939. New tracks sprung up in Johannesburg and in Cape Town but then the outbreak of World War II stopped all motor racing in South Africa and it was not until the late 1950s that racing began to develop again with a new generation of circuits. East London was the first of these, reduced in length to 2.43-miles it incorporated sections of the old track, set in a natural amphitheatre, where the hills met the beach.
The first modern South African GP took place there on January 1 in 1960 and was run to Formula Libre regulations – as racing cars were still scarce. The race drew a crowd of 50,000 and was won by Paul Frère.
Oddly, there would be a second South African GP that same year, run on December 27 and won by Stirling Moss in a Porsche. So if anyone ever asks you who won the South African GP in 1960, watch out! It’s a trick question! The second event was preceded by a Cape Grand Prix at Killarney, near Cape Town (also won by Moss), and the beginning of an annual run of South African races in December and January, which was popular with the drivers as it took them away from wintry Europe and provided time for a holiday in the sunshine.
In December 1961 there was a Rand GP at Kyalami, followed by a Natal GP at Westmead, near Durban and then the non-championship South African GP on Boxing Day (December 26), which drew a crowd of 67,000, who witnessed Jim Clark beat Stirling Moss, both driving Lotuses. This was followed by the Cape GP at Killarney.
Given the success of the non-championship events, it was no surprise when the racing authorities decided to grant full World Championship status for the East London event in 1962, with the circuit playing host to the title-decider. It was three months after the United States GP and followed non-championship races at Kyalami and at Westmead. The Grand Prix attracted 90,000 people who watched the showdown between Graham Hill and Jim Clark. The Scotsman had to win to take the title and was dominant until lap 62 of 82, when the engine began to smoke and he came into the pits with an oil leak. Hill won the race and the title.
Clark would win the race in 1963 and again in 1965, when the race moved forward a couple of days and so became the first race of 1965, rather than the last of 1964.
In 1966 the event kept the January 1 date but dropped off the F1 calendar. It was won by Mike Spence in a Lotus, while Clark went to New Zealand for the Tasman Series instead. Rival track Kyalami was improved each year, while East London remained as it was and the inevitable happened in 1967 with the Grand Prix switching to the Johannesburg track.
The East London circuit is still there today and is a busy national venue, but I wouldn’t believe my mincers if F1 ever returned, nice though that might be…
Posted 16 February 2018 - 13:24
Fascinating F1 Fact: 81
February 16, 2018 by Joe Saward
Back in the 1950s there was a celebrated band leader known simply as Mantovani, from a family which emigrated from Italy and became British (à la di Resta, Franchitti etc). Mantovani was a star and sold more albums than anyone until the Beatles came along. It was schmaltzy stuff with cascading strings, but between 1930 and 1960 he sold 60 million records – and at one point had six albums in the US Top 30 at the same time. He is also reputed to have received 700 offers of marriage in one year…
These days he has largely been forgotten, although his descendants no doubt live comfortably, thanks to his efforts.
Mantovani is quite a common name in Italy, if not in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where the band leader ended up. In motor racing circles the most famous Mantovani these days is Father Sergio, a priest from Modena who used to turn up and bless F1 Ferraris when they raced at Monza and Imola. It didn’t help much. There were times when even the Pope could not make the Ferraris competitive…
Before that there was another Sergio Mantovani, a man who might have become a big star. Born in Milan in 1929, he was a wheeler-dealer who started motor racing in the summer of 1950, soon after he turned 21, competing in the Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti in a Fiat 1100. He finished 10th, and sixth in class. The following spring he raced a Fiat 500 in the Mille Miglia, but did not finish and then appeared in a Fiat 1100 in the Coppa Sant Ambroeus at Monza. The following year, in different machinery he began to make an impression, finishing second in the Giro delle Calabria in a Lancia Aurelia. A few days later he was seventh overall and second in class in the 12 Hours of Pescara and then raced a Ferrari sports car at Bari, finishing second in class and seventh overall. The results impressed the Italian racing fraternity and in 1953 he was recruited as a junior driver by Maserati, to drive an A6GCS in road racing events. He was 10th on the Mille Miglia and then shared a car with Juan Manuel Fangio in the Targa Florio and finished third. A few weeks later he won at Caserta and later in the summer was runner-up in the Supercortemaggiore race at Monza.
Maserati then gave him the chance to make his F1 debut at Monza, shared a car with Luigi Musso, another young Maserati recruit. For 1954 Formula 1 switched to new 2.5 litre regulations and Giaocchino Colombo designed the Maserati 250F, one of the greatest F1 cars ever built. Mantovani raced one at Syracuse in April 1954, finishing third behind the Ferraris of Giuseppe Farina and Maurice Trintignant. He raced a Maserati sports car in the Mille Miglia and the 250F in Bari before another big result in June when he was third in the non-championship Rome GP, behind Maserati team-mate Onofre Marimón and Harry Schell. In July he and Musso won the Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti in a factory Maserati.
He was then called up to race a 250F in the German GP at the Nurburgring. In practice Marimón went off and his car somersaulted down a hillside. The Argentine driver was killed. Maserati withdrew Gigi Villoresi but Mantovani continued, presumably because he owned the car. He finished fifth, ahead of the likes of Piero Taruffi and Schell. He was back in action at Bremgarten three weeks later and finished fifth again.
That summer he raced in a sports car race at Monsanto Park in Lisbon and then teamed with Musso to finish fifth in the Tourist Trophy and then ended the year in an Alfa Romeo on the Carrera Panamericana.
The 1955 season promised to turn the youngster into an established F1 star. In January he went with Maserati to Argentina for the GP there and then reappeared at the end of March in Turin, racing in the non-championship Valentino GP in Turin. In practice he had a bad crash and broke his leg. Such things were not unusual in the 1950s but medical science was not as advanced as it is today. The break was a complicated one and the doctors decided that they should amputate the leg below the knee.
Mantovani was soon learning to live with an artificial leg, but he still wanted to go racing and in March 1956 he raced a Lancia Aurelia in a couple of events. It was not a success. He reappeared in the Nurburgring 1000kms in 1957, sharing an Osca with Alejando de Tomaso, but his dreams of F1 stardom were ruined. His racing days were over, although his passion was such that he remained involved in the sport as a member of the sporting commission of the Automobile Club of Italy for many years afterwards.
Posted 17 February 2018 - 13:45
Fascinating F1 Fact: 82
February 17, 2018 by Joe Saward
There is nothing more enticing than a secret. People love them because it allows them to indulge in flights of fancy. Maybe this happened, maybe that happened. Who can say? And if no-one can say, then there is no-one to contradict a theory…
There is much mystery surrounding first American-born Formula 1 driver – if one excludes the participants in the Indy 500, which was a World Championship event but was never run to F1 rules – and Harry Schell, who was American but had been born and had lived most of his life in France and Switzerland.
His name was Robert O’Brien and no-one knows much about him. Some say he ran a European car parts business in New Jersey, where he was born in 1908. The problem is that there do not appear to be any Robert O’Briens born in New Jersey in 1908…
There are records to show that a man of that name raced in the 1950 Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, by which time he would have been 42. In 1952 the name popped up again at Watkins Glen, Allentown and at Palm Beach. He was, by all accounts, an East Coast person. In 1952 he raced at Vero Beach and Sebring in Florida and then at Bridgehampton, in New York. Most of the races were in a Jaguar XK120, which fitted in with his supposed role as an importer of foreign car parts. There was also a Ferrari and a Connaught sports car. In entry lists he was listed as being from New Jersey and was linked to a company called European Parts Exchange Inc. of Newark, New Jersey, although this was owned by a California-based Norwegian. The company did well, however, as it expanded from Kearny to Newark and later moved into even bigger premises in Meadowlands.
Some people think he was born in 1922. Similarly no-one can agree on when or where he died, some saying 1987, others 1997. And none of the combinations fit anyone in the US government records.
We are not helped by the fact that O’Brien is a pretty common name in the US, most of them being on the East Coast, the offspring of Irish and Scottish immigrants. Some have extrapolated all this to suggest that O’Brien must have been some kind of secret CIA agent, who used the name as a cover, but that does not seem a very likely explanation either.
What we can tell from results is that in the late 1950s, after a gap of five years, a Robert C O’Brien, resident in Tiburon, on San Francisco Bay, began taking part in races on the West Coast, using British machinery, notably an Austin-Healey, which appeared at race tracks in places like Stockton, Cotati, Sacramento and Laguna Seca. The following year he appeared at Tracy and Vaca Valley, again in California and it was the same from 1958 through to 1961. Occasionally he would appear in races in Nevada. His last race being in 1963. The name changes as well with Rob sometimes used and other times Robert or Bob.
Were there two Robert O’Briens, or did the man from New Jersey move to California?
What we do know about him is that he turned up in Europe in the summer of 1952, going from race to race towing a Fraser-Nash sports car behind a hefty Cadillac. In June he appeared at Spa and talked Johnny Claes into letting him race a Simca-Gordini T15 (presumably money was involved) in Ecurie Belge colours. He was not very quick, qualifying last and finishing a distant 14th in the Grand Prix, six laps behind the winning Alberto Ascari. In August he then appeared at the curious egg-shaped race track called the Grenzlandring, not far from the Dutch-German border, where he raced the same car again.
Perhaps there are people out there who know?
Posted 18 February 2018 - 14:51
Fascinating F1 Fact: 83
February 18, 2018 by Joe Saward
The vast Ferrari factory at Maranello has its own test track, known as Fiorano, although it is in fact next to the Ferrari campus. It is the only current F1 team to have access to its own dedicated testing facility, even if the rules mean that the team cannot actually use it for F1 activities. Porsche has a similar facility at Weissach and in recent years Audi has built one at Neuburg an der Donau, near Ingolstadt. Mercedes has a facility from the 1950s in Stuttgart, but none of the F1 teams of today (apart from Ferrari) have their own test tracks. Oddly, there are more such facilities in rallying with Citroen having a test track next to the motorsport factory at Satory, and M-Sport currently building a test track next to the factory at Dovenby Hall, near Cockermouth.
There was a time when Team Lotus used to run its F1 cars on the aerodrome at Hethel, next door to the F1 headquarters in Ketteringham Hall; Ligier had its factory on the Magny-Cours circuit and even the little AGS team had direct access to the Circuit du Luc, while Renault had its own dedicated workshop on the back straight at Paul Ricard.
In the modern era, Williams looked at acquiring its own circuit at one point but it was McLaren, as ever, which had the biggest ambitions. Ron Dennis always wanted to have an integrated facility for his F1 team and road car business (which was to be launched in May 1992). The company needed a bigger facility and so in 1989 he went looking at the available sites. There were the former airfields at Wisley and Dunsfold, which were close enough to Woking to be perfect, but getting permission to do anything with them was impossible.
Dennis and his team were forced to look further afield for what the media quickly dubbed McLarenello. Their conclusion was that the best available option was in rural Kent, 95 miles from Woking, between Canterbury and Dover, and not far from the Channel Tunnel, which was due to open in 1994. It was called Lydden Hill and was famous in Britain as the home of rallycross. In the 1950s Bill Chesson, a promoter of stock car events in Sittingbourne, had bought the land, close to the A2 but hidden away in a natural amphitheatre. The first tarmac was laid in 1962 and within three years there was a complete one mile track. It was there in 1967 that the first rallycross events in Britain took place. It was a big thing on television in that era, being a regular feature in the BBC’s Grandstand programme on Saturday afternoons.
There were also regular car races and in 1968 a youngster called James Hunt won his first victory at Lydden. As with Silverstone, however, the track came under two different planning jurisdictions: the circuit being in an area controlled by Canterbury, the remaining parts and the access roads coming under the Dover District Council. This meant double trouble with planning.
In the late 1980s Chesson got into trouble with the RACMSA, the British sporting authority, because he did not want to install crash barriers because he believed to would drive away motorcycle racers. The MSA refused to grant the circuit a permit so Chesson put it up for sale and it was sold to Tom Bissett in 1989. Dennis then agreed a deal with Bissett and announced that they would be turning Lydden Hill into an advanced research and development centre for the TAG/McLaren Group, which would be “a flagship for British industry”. The plans, which included an oval test track, were unveiled early in 1991. Dennis and Bissett would soon fall out and McLaren eventually became the sole owner of Lydden Hill.
But there was a problem… The McLaren staff did not want to leave Woking. By 1993 Dennis was forced to accept that he could not move everything to Lydden Hill and so the circuit was leased to the British Motorcycle Racing Club and the company acquired Mizens Farm, a 125-acre ostrich-breeding farm, on the outskirts of Woking, to create what Dennis initially called The Paragon Technological Centre. Planning was a long and drawn out process (including the relocating of a miniature railway) but work finally began in 1999 and the facility finally opened in 2004.
While this was happening, McLaren tried to make use of Lydden, proposing the construction of a manufacturing facility and test track for the company’s road cars. This was turned down by the planning authorites and McLaren gave up. In 2008 the track was leased to five-times British rallycross champion Pat Doran, who began to build up the rallycross business once again…
Boldovano - ova Lotusova test staza je poznatija po svojoj ulozi u kultnoj TV emisiji Top Gear.
Posted 19 February 2018 - 14:42
Fascinating F1 Fact: 84
February 19, 2018 by Joe Saward
Archibald Butterworth was born with a name which might not have looked out of place on the door of the manager’s office at Lloyds or Barclays, or painted in gold on a polished board in a cricket pavilion, listing team captains of old.
But Archie, as he was inevitably nicknamed, was a soldier, a weapons designer, a racing car driver and a racing car constructor. There might not be much in the record books about him, but this was a man of action.
Born in Ireland in 1912, his father had been an officer in the British Army who after the Boer War had settled in a country house, near the coastal town of Dungarvan in County Waterford. The family moved to mainland Britain in 1919 because of the troubles in Ireland and young Archibald was sent to Mount St. Mary’s College College, a Jesuit school near Sheffield. He then went on to study at University College, London, but money was short and so he joined the Irish Guards and spent the next seven years in the military, switching to the Royal Army Service Corps, as a driving instructor. In his spare time he built a racing car to be used on dirt tracks, but before he could start racing it he was posted to Egypt and was assigned to a long-race reconnaissance unit, venturing deep into the desert to keep an eye on troublesome tribes.
When he was not out in the desert, he was busy in the unit’s workshops. Demobilised in 1937, without any qualifications, he worked on a production line at Ford before moving through a series of engineering firms in the Southampton and Isle of Wight area (where the family had settled) in the years leading up to the war.
In 1939, he enlisted and was soon a motorcycle despatch rider with the British Expeditionary Force in France. Little was happening in the winter of 1939-1940 so he designed a light machine gun as he felt the British weaponry was outdated. When the Germans invaded Butterworth found himself at Dunkirk where, legend has it, he shot down a German plane, using a captured Luger pistol.
When he got back to Britain, he was assigned to the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, although his light machine gun was never manufactured, as the factory was already working on the Sten gun. He would remain a weapons designer until 1950, working largely on guns for tanks, which took him to the top secret Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment at Longcross, in Surrey.
In this era he was finally able to start racing, buying a 4.5-litre Bentley and taking part in the first post-war race at Gransden Lodge in 1946. At Longcross he discovered a couple of captured Steyr 3.5-litre V8 engines that had been used in German half-tracks during the war and had been sent to Longcross for evaluation. No-one wanted them and he was able to acquire them and their transmissions for an investment of just £10. He mounted one of the engines in the chassis of a Jeep and integrated the complex Steyr 4WD transmission into the vehicle. The AJB proved to be very competitive in hillclimbs and so he started his own business, Butterworth Engineering, in Frimley, and began developing the engine. He found an impressive 260hp and so decided to enter the AJB in the 1950 International Trophy, a non-championship F1 race. Thus he became the first man to race a 4WD F1 car. It did not last long in the race but he continued to develop the car until a big crash at Shelsley Walsh the following year, when he ran off the road, hit an earth bank and was thrown from the car.
He decided that it was time to stop racing and so turned his attention to engine design, building a 1986cc flat-four based on the old Steyr, which would be run in 1952. His aim was to create an engine that was much lower engine than rival Bristol engines, mated to a modified MG gearbox. It was at this point that Bill Aston appeared, looking for a new engine and so the Aston-Butterworth F1 car was born: Aston had one and a second was raced by Robin Montgomerie-Charrington.
The cars were very unreliable but Montgomerie-Charrington drove one to third place at Chimay. There was never enough money to develop the engines properly and when the rules were changed to 2.5-litre engines at the end of 1953 there was no money to build a new unit. Butterworth developed a 1.5-litre version of his engine, which was used by Elva in a sports car which showed well when raced by Archie Scott Brown. The two men grew close but when Scott Brown was killed at Spa in 1958 Butterworth lost interest in racing and faded from the racing scene.
Posted Yesterday, 17:51
Fascinating F1 Fact: 85
February 20, 2018 by Joe Saward
Force of character is a key element of success in Grand Prix racing. Racing teams need strong and inspiring leadership which is why the sport has enjoyed so many colourful characters over the years. Few of them were rounded individuals, but they made things happen – and got the job done.
Guy Ligier was just such an individual. He could be brusque and unfriendly and had an explosive temper, but his energy and passion were sources of inspiration for those around him. This drive came from a troubled childhood, which resulted in a burning desire not just to be rich and secure, but also to be recognised as a success.
He came from lowly roots, the son of a cattle farmer from Vichy. He lost his father in 1937, at the age of seven. In 1940 Vichy became the capital of unoccupied France, but the government there was collaborationist, although it drew many of the country’s rising political stars to the town, including François Mitterand, who spent a couple of years there, before switching to join the resistance. It seems that Mitterand may have known the Ligier family from this era, but he would not become important to Guy Ligier until much later.
At 14 Guy left school and became an apprentice butcher, although his life revolved around sports, initially boxing and then rowing, as a member of the Club de l’Aviron de Vichy. This led to him becoming French Junior Rowing Champion in coxed pairs in 1947. At the same time he played rugby, for Racing Club Vichy and then for the French Army, when he was doing his national service, and finally the France B international team. Too many injuries resulted in a new passion in 1954: motorcycle racing. This would continue for six years and in 1959, riding a 500cc Norton, he won the French national Inter title and competed in the French GP, won that year by John Surtees.
When he wasn’t racing motorbikes Ligier was digging ditches and moving earth, renting a digger. His first business was with his brother-in-law, the second with Pierre Coulon, the mayor of Vichy, who was in the process of redeveloping the town of Vichy, hoping to attract more visitors. Ligier bought his first digger with prize money from his motorcycle racing and soon had plenty of contracts, including work on a dam across the Allier to create a rowing lake, which would host the European Rowing Championship in 1967. There was further work creating a sports centre and soon Ligier was expanding to autoroute construction and other big public works projects. At its height his business employed 1200 people and boasted 500 earth-moving machines operating from a large base at Abrest, just south of Vichy. The company build hundreds of kilometres of autoroute and was also involved with the new Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
With money no longer a problem Ligier did his first car races in a Simca 1300 at Montlhéry in 1957 but then turned to single-seaters with a Formula Junior Elva-DKW in 1961. He didn’t really get going until 1964 when he raced a Porsche and was signed by Ford France to race a Brabham in F2 with team-mate Jo Schlesser. Ligier was too old (and too busy) for a serious racing career but he scored good results in sports car races and in 1966 bought himself a Cooper-Maserati F1 car and raced in five Grands Prix. That year, he and Schlesser became the exclusive importers of Shelby products in France, but the year ended with a bad accident. Schlesser refused to allow the doctors to amputate Ligier’s leg.
Guy was back in action in 1967 with a Brabham-Repco and scored a point in Germany. He also won the Reims 12 Hours, driving a GT 40 with Schlesser. With Ford reducing its racing involvement in 1968, Ligier, Schlesser and José Behra started their own team called Ecurie InterSport running a pair of McLaren F2 cars. Then disaster struck: Schlesser was killed on his F1 debut in a Honda at Rouen.
Ligier quit the sport.
He began to build his own sports cars, hoping to set up a car company, but when this was hit by the oil crisis, he turned the business into a company fabricating cabins for tractors and then producing micro cars that did not require driving licenses.
Motor racing was still a passion and his good relationship with politicians (useful in the public works business), particularly with rising star Mitterand, led to access to government money for a sports car team and that led Guy to buy the assets of the Matra F1 team (but not the engines) and launch into an F1 adventure as a team owner… with his cars always called JS, after his pal Schlesser.
Edited by Rad-oh-yeah?, Yesterday, 17:51.
Posted Yesterday, 19:42
Srecan 84. rodjendan Bobiju Anseru, trostukom pobedniku Indi 500 i dvostrukom Indikar sampionu!