Ticket to Ride
Dave Lister pulls on his boots and get back to his roots…………..
Being a "mere" youngster, I missed out on what many remember as the "golden
age" of sportscar racing. No dusky recollections of hero-worshiping feats of dare
doing in flimsy rocket ships at exotic places such as Brands Hatch for me, I'm
I do remember, vividly, sitting in the Odeon Cinema in Middlesbrough, sometime
during the early 1970’s though. The main feature was Steve McQueen’s “difficult”
racing film “Le Mans”; I’d been taken along there by my father, who was more a
fan of McQueen than sportscar racing and he probably hadn’t a clue who John
Wyer and Pedro Rodriguez were.
But much as I’d like to be able to report that the 917’s and 512’s (which were
every bit the stars of the film) made a mind altering, career forming affect on me,
they, err, didn’t. The truth is that I probably remember more of the
lipsmakinthirstquencingeverlastingcooltasting. Pepsi advertising and the
unforgettable taste of plastic cinema cartons of Sunkist than I do of seeing the film
on it’s first release (*see note below)...
Perhaps not the finest entertainment for an 8-year-old, then!!
The Long and Winding Road
It wasn't until a few years later that I first got my first proper taste of sportscars. A
friend of my father’s (Roger St John Hart) was racing a DB4 Zagato at the time
and we, as a family, trucked down from Middlesbrough to Silverstone for the
AMOC Sir John Horsfall meeting. (Roger had two Zagato's, actually, including the
ex Jimmy Clark car, 2VEV. He had picked them up for a few thousand quid in the
early 70’s; they were bloody noisy and regularly sideways). Once there, close
encounters with J C Bamford’s 512, a 312, a GT40 or two and various Porches
and Astons (as well as the aforementioned Zagato) had a much more visceral
impact on this 13 year old. Am I alone, though, in remembering that AMOC
meetings of the time had a smell of their own? Not Castrol R, so much as the
whiff of Roger Hart’s aftershave lotion?
I digress, a year or so later and trips to the ’77 Tourist Trophy (Walkinshaw won
with Quester in a Gosser beer BMW CSL) and the ’78 six hours (the debut of 935-
78, Moby Dick, but remembered by me more for Ronnie Peterson’s heroics in a
fire breathing BMW 320 turbo) had escalated my interest for long distance racing
It wasn’t until ’82 and ’83 that I was finally hooked. My own "golden age" began
when I witnessed the debut of 956_001 at Silverstone in ’82. That and seeing the
LC2 Lancia's a year later started a long time love affair with Group C sportscar
racing, and all that followed, that has never waned. Sure, we’ve had our little tiffs
along the way (being forced to watch Interserie once Group C had finally died was
a tough call) but the passion for sportscar racing has endured, hard enough to
force me to even forge my own bit part in its history.
One Nation Under a Groove
This brings me somewhat lazily around to the inspiration of this piece, which is
the great delight that many of us took in seeing both the ACO and the organisers
of the LMES give more than a passing nod to more recent sportscar history in
their selection of supporting events in 2004.
The burgeoning Group C historic scene got a chance to star on the Le Mans’
Saturday, as a support act for the 24hrs itself. In bright sunshine, a wide variety of
Group C and IMSA machinery raced and/or posed around La Sarthe. Glorious it
was. There were some quick guys out there too. Both Ralf Kelleners and Simon
Pullan in Kremer 962’s and Bobby Verdon-Roe in Mike Jankowski’s Courage
looked the business in qualifying. The sounds and sights took many of us back to
our earlier years. I can’t say that I noticed the fact that the leader retired on the last
lap leaving Charlie Agg to win in a Nissan that surely never raced at Le Mans in
“that” colour. In fact, believing that the race was supposed to be 1 hour long, I was
somewhat miffed when it was stopped at about 30 minutes. David Leslie, who’d
just spent 30 mins or so revisiting his late ‘80’s ride, an Ecurie Ecosse, came up
beaming from ear to ear. I think that was a thumb’s up, then, David?
The endurance racers of a decade or so earlier were also given an outing or
four, as support for the LMES races. The classic endurance racers brought along
a varied selection of 60’s and 70’s machinery that never failed to tingle the nerves.
There was variety as well; reflecting the greater diversity of machinery that often
raced together back in “the day”. It was always a pleasure to wander down to the
end of the pit lane, where the garages for the classic endurance racers were often
positioned, to spend a little time gazing at the lovingly prepared machinery on
Kerry Morse wrote of his “Le Mans” movie moment on SCP (Monterey Pop) earlier
this year. Mine was standing behind David Piper’s 917 in the garages at Monza
early last year, looking through the little sliding back window into the cockpit and
remembering, vividly, parts of the thump-thump, thump-thump heartbeat
sequence used to illustrate the start of the race in the Le Mans movie. Heady stuff,
fer-sure (as they say on the other side of the pond).
Sure, with all of these historic racers, there are plenty of provenance issues.
There are those that question how many rebuilds can a car have before it’s not
the original car? Some suggest that you can remanufacture a car using only a
chassis plate as it’s starting point. Some, indeed, suggest you don’t even need
that much and some, at the other end of the scale, would prefer that the car
retained even the original oil, brake fluid and windscreen wipers to be called
original. But I don’t care much about any of that. I can’t afford one of these cars, I
am never likely to be able to do so, and so I’m more than happy to simply see
them out there in their current guises………rumbling/screaming and posing
about like Rolling Stones on a cocktail of Philosan and Viagra.
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, heck, it sure must be a duck.
An aside: My single regret from 2004 was not going down to the Le Mans classic.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
As for Le Mans the movie. Well, I watch it every other year or so and, apart from
the “manufactured” last lap seemingly lasting longer than the rest of the film put
together (W O would have been highly disappointed had one of his Bentley Boys
done a lap that long), I never cease to be awed by the 917’s, 512’s, T70’s etc in
the film. The film itself is quite entertaining too (certainly in amongst the motley
collection of movies grouped in the category of racing films) and as for it being
“difficult”, well, no worries there as Sylvester Stallone would redefine the term
“difficult” with his production “Driven” 30 or so years later. So much so, in fact, that
Steve McQueen’s Le Mans is now rightly seen as a “Classic”.
*(On reflection, I probably dispatched a Walls “funny face” during the interval as
well as the Sunkist. Perhaps the e-numbers were mind altering?)
Over the last few years I have had the chance to have a number of chats with
Norbert Singer of Porsche. I always found him to be a patient and philosophical
man, clearly the sort of person who was extremely good at what he did.
Somewhat mischievous I would expect, too. In particular, I shall always
particularly remember the 30 minutes or so that we spent chatting during the
verifications in the Jacobins this year. Thinking about what I have written above, it
occurs to me that Herr Singer will have been at, and played a vital role in, both of
the pivotal (for me) Silverstone meetings that I write about. In ’78 (for the debut of
935_78, Moby Dick) and in ’82 (for the debut of 956_001). Being able to wish Herr
Singer a happy retirement, as I did when I last saw him at Oscherleben in
September, was, therefore, somewhat of a closing of a circle for me. I hope that
the trip that I undertook immediately following that race, to Laguna Seca in
October, was the opening of another sportscar circle for me……………