Old Folks' Boogie
If ever there was an entertaining time of year, Christmas certainly is not it. The
racing engines in Europe are quiet for the time being (though in the background
we can still faintly hear Laurence) and teams, drivers and organisers are busy
hacking away at granite edifices hoping to find the golden cash underneath that
will comprise the 2004 budget.
My office was moved out to the garage over the summer, the arrival of the latest
Cotton coinciding with the Sebring 12-hours and the removal of his father from
what is now youngest's bedroom. Already, the office has turned into something
akin to an American invasion, a wasteland of fallen papers, bad music, dead
computers, and no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Unless you count
the remnants of last night's curry, another reason for expulsion from the house.
The Yuletide is a chance to regroup, to attempt to find the floor of the office by
hanging shelves and sticking the junk onto them so that a clear path to the desk
may be found. The golf bag, which was also removed from the house, along with
the golf shoes, the hats, the T-shirts, the photos and the golf trophy (singular) are
all now being elevated as Brooks fires off e-mails asking if all of his contributors
One of the tasks this winter is to go through the old Autosport and Motoring News'
and work out which bits I want to scan and store, and throw the rest. One recurring
story of the past four years has been that of Jamie Campbell-Walter, the 30-year-
old Scot who tested for Corvette in the US recently.
JC-W's inclusion in the test is a welcome one for the man who has become
synonymous with the Lister Storm team and it is about time he was given the
chance to show that he can drive other cars too. His runs in the Lister Storm
prototype this year have not been the stuff of legend - the car lasted about ten
minutes at Sebring, didn't start at Le Mans, and lost the chance to really shine at
the Le Mans 1000KMS when a tripod joint broke.
His performances in the 2003 FIA GT Championship have been masked by
various factors, from mechanical breakage to sheer bad luck, which would have
sent a prima-Donna running to the pampering shop.
In 2000, Jamie burst onto the international scene as the British champion in the
Lister Storm, shared with Julian Bailey. They won the title together and Laurence
was put out when I put Jules ahead of Jamie in my selection of top drivers of the
year. I thought that Jules had done a good job; it was enough that Jamie could go
on and lead the team the following year with a succession of co-drivers.
Over the winter of 2001 Laurence came up with a grand plan - to make team
backer Nicolaus Springer the FIA GT Champion. What you needed, reckoned
Laurence, was the fastest car (Lister Storm), the fastest driver (Jamie) and the
best tactician (Laurence). A large dollop of luck wouldn't go amiss either.
The poor reliability of their rivals helped, but that year, Jamie was astounding. He
was given the instruction to drive flat out, wherever he could, build up a lead, which
Nicolaus would lose, and Jamie would have to do the rest. A hair-brained scheme
if ever there was one, and even Laurence couldn't believe it three wins and a
second place later when the title went to the final round at Estoril.
They didn't win it - denied by a Frenchman breaking down and parking in the
middle of the first corner, bringing out the safety car just as Jamie was about to lap
his championship rival and allowing him to claw back a lap.
Whether it was for the win, as at Brno where Fabrizio Gollin, defending his lead
from Campbell-Walter and Christophe Bouchut, ran out of fuel and Campbell-
Walter beat his French rival in a straight scrap, or for sixth at Jarama, where Jamie
burned his feet on his way to a single, point JC-W drove a corking race.
This year, the luck has been shocking. A broken windscreen, a broken throttle
cable, a broken steering rack, windscreen wiper…it wasn't until Anderstorp that
JC-W's and Nathan Kinch's car finally took victory, their only one of the year. They
hardly featured in the battle for the championship, but Jamie has finally been
noticed and given a fighting chance at life outside Lister.
His test at Sebring was a good one. Driving a left-hand-drive car for the first time,
around a track that he had hardly driven and for a manufacturer team for the first
time, he didn't bend it and was not slow. Whether he has done enough to warrant
a drive next year having gone up against drivers of Max Papis, Olivier Beretta and
Emmanuel Collard's calibre, we don't know, but if he does get the part-time drive,
he'll be a busy man, driving a full FIA GT season, a full LMES season with Lister.
He is also looking at Sebring, Le Mans and the Petit Le Mans with Corvette, an
exciting calendar by anyone's standards. Here's hoping.