MO­TOR SPORT FLASH­BACK

DIN­NER AND A CHAT WITH ONE OF THE BEST THAT’S EVER BEEN

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Michael Clark

Over the last three decades, we have oc­ca­sion­ally seen sit­u­a­tions in which drivers have been pre­pared to take a com­peti­tor ‘out’ so that they could go on and win the For­mula 1 (F1) World Cham­pi­onship. This hap­pened in 1989, 1990, 1994, and 1997. Frankly, it was a blight on not just F1 but also much of mo­tor rac­ing gen­er­ally — as in, ‘if world cham­pi­ons can get away with it, then why not me?’ The con­cept of ‘rub­bing is rac­ing’ is noth­ing new, but it ar­guably be­came more ac­cept­able dur­ing the ’90s be­cause world cham­pi­ons were do­ing it on TV — al­beit only three: Alain Prost, Ayr­ton Senna, and Michael Schu­macher.

It was a quite a dif­fer­ent story dur­ing much of ‘the good old days’ — for a start, the fragility of the cars, com­bined with the rudi­men­tary lev­els of cir­cuit and ap­parel safety, which would be laughed at to­day, meant that punting a com­peti­tor could have dire, or po­ten­tially fa­tal, con­se­quences. Six decades ago, F1 wit­nessed an act that stands out as the high­est ech­e­lon of the sport’s great­est ex­am­ple of sports­man­ship. Here’s a quick re­cap to put it in con­text.

Juan Manuel Fan­gio won the fifth of his five World Cham­pi­onships in 1957 for Maserati in the ul­ti­mate ver­sion of that com­pany’s sem­i­nal 250F. He’d crowned that sea­son with the fa­mous vic­tory at the Nür­bur­gring, where he’d chased down the Fer­rari pair of Mike Hawthorn and Pe­ter Collins. Both English­men were again rep­re­sent­ing the Scud­e­ria in 1958, along with Italy’s next great hope, the gifted-buter­ratic Luigi Musso. The pa­tri­otic Tony Van­dervell only had room for English­men in his Van­wall team that was led by Stir­ling Moss with the mas­sively ta­lented Tony Brooks and promis­ing young Stu­art Lewis-evans. BRM was, at last, get­ting bet­ter and had Harry Schell and Jean Behra, while a cou­ple of out­fits lo­cated around the edge of Lon­don built markedly dif­fer­ent-look­ing cars that were both pow­ered by a fire-pump-based engine. The world would be hear­ing a bit more of Cli­max-pow­ered Coop­ers and Lo­tuses be­fore long.

In fact, Moss won the sea­son open­ing race in the sear­ing Ar­gen­tinean heat, which was not only a first for Cooper and Cli­max — it was also the first for a ‘mid-rear’-engine car in F1. It would be an­other year un­til Cooper, com­bined with the ge­nius of Jack Brab­ham and Bruce Mclaren, would turn their cart-be­fore-the-horse con­cept in to a world ti­tle– chal­leng­ing propo­si­tion, but, for 1958, they were mainly ‘make-weights’, al­beit well clear of Lo­tus. Maserati had of­fi­cially pulled out at the end of 1957, but Fan­gio was back in semi-works ef­fort un­til he called it quits af­ter the French Grand Prix (GP) — the once-dom­i­nant com­bi­na­tion was no longer a force. As a mark of re­spect, the race win­ner, Hawthorn, al­lowed the South Amer­i­can great to pass him near the end, so as not to suf­fer the in­dig­nity of hav­ing been lapped. As he parked the 250F, Fan­gio is al­leged to have told his me­chanic “it is fin­ished”.

Af­ter win­ning in Ar­gentina in a Cooper for his friend and pa­tron Rob Walker, Moss was back in the aero­dy­namic Van­walls for the rest of the sea­son. Five months af­ter the opener, round two was run around the streets of Monaco, and the very same Cooper again pre­vailed — this time in the hands of Mau­rice Trintig­nant. Moss won in the

Nether­lands and then Brooks took Spa. Like Chris Amon, the den­tist al­ways shone on the most chal­leng­ing tracks. Van­wall was look­ing good but the Fer­raris were ac­cu­mu­lat­ing points — the team’s 2.4-litre V6 Dino was dwarfed along­side the tall Van­walls. Musso was killed at Reims, which marred Hawthorn’s vic­tory. Collins won at Sil­ver­stone but was killed dur­ing the Ger­man GP that fol­lowed, a race won by Brooks.

In late Au­gust, the World Cham­pi­onship vis­ited Por­tu­gal for the first time — round nine (this was a time when the In­di­anapo­lis 500 was a round of the World Cham­pi­onship — a daft con­cept that was soon dropped), which meant that there were two races to go. Only two cars com­pleted the 50 laps — Moss from Hawthorn — but the Fer­rari driver was sub­se­quently dis­qual­i­fied.

Da Cor­radi

“I hope you and Sandy like pasta, boy — be­cause we’re booked at Da Cor­radi.” Hell, I’d have eaten of­fal (ac­tu­ally no, I wouldn’t have …). I was off to din­ner with Lady Susie and Sir Stir­ling and still pinch­ing my­self as we strolled from the hi-tech May­fair home I’d been read­ing about since I was a boy to the de­light­ful Ital­ian restau­rant at the end of his street. What on earth do you

start talk­ing about, over your risotto ai frutti di mare, when pre­sented with the op­por­tu­nity to chat with one of the best that’s ever been? “Tell me about the 1958 Por­tuguese Grand Prix.” At the time of our din­ner date, it was just over a half a cen­tury since the event, but then Stir­ling was al­ways known for his ac­cu­rate mem­ory. “I was on pole and Mike [Hawthorn] was along­side me — of course, you know how close he and Pe­ter [Collins] were, and it was less than a month since we’d been in Ger­many — first poor Musso then Pe­ter — it was a ter­ri­ble time. It was wet at the start, and that suited me but Mike slipped by briefly. As the con­di­tions im­proved, I took the lead and that was it, you know”.

What I was re­ally in­ter­ested in was Hawthorn’s dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and Stir­ling, sens­ing that that was the point of my ques­tion, con­tin­ued: “The of­fi­cials thought [that] they’d seen Mike re­vers­ing on the track af­ter a spin — I shouted out to him ‘steer down­hill, boy — bump-start the thing’. Well, they wanted to dis­qual­ify him, so I went to the stew­ards and told them what I’d seen, so they re­in­stated him — quite rightly”. Hawthorn got back the six points, and so they headed to Italy with the Fer­rari driver on 37 points and Moss on 32. There were eight points for a win in those days, plus one for the fastest lap. A Van­wall won at Monza, but it was Brooks, not Moss, who’d suf­fered a gear­box prob­lem. Hawthorn was sec­ond and so the gap widened. The fi­nal round was in Morocco — 60 years ago this month and the only time that F1 has vis­ited North Africa. The points-scor­ing sys­tem was such that Moss could still win the ti­tle, but, to do so, he had to win and set the fastest lap, and needed Hawthorn to fin­ish no higher than third.

Win he did, and he also put in the fastest lap — but the Fer­rari driver was sec­ond and, thanks to his non-dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion in Por­tu­gal, was crowned world cham­pion. He’d won a sin­gle race to Moss’ four, but, thanks to the re­li­a­bil­ity of the Ital­ian V6, and the scor­ing sys­tem, he’d done enough — by a soli­tary point.

“A lot of peo­ple have asked me if I re­gret­ted speak­ing up — af­ter all, I’d have been world cham­pion, but I couldn’t have lived with my­self. These days, they’ll drive some­one off the road to win a cham­pi­onship, but that’s not the way to go rac­ing, boy,” Moss told me.

To cap a hor­ren­dous year, his team­mate Lewis-evans crashed dur­ing the Moroc­can race and died a few days later. Van­wall with­drew from rac­ing en­tirely, and Hawthorn an­nounced his re­tire­ment only to die in a road ac­ci­dent early in 1959.

‘El Chueco’

It doesn’t take long to ap­pre­ci­ate that all the words writ­ten about the ad­mi­ra­tion Sir Stir­ling has for Juan Manuel Fan­gio are, if any­thing, an un­der­state­ment — “He was the best” fol­lowed by “but that’s just my opin­ion, boy”. Well, it’s an opin­ion that car­ries one heck of a lot of cred. They were team­mates at Mercedes-benz in 1955, when the young English­man fin­ished run­ner-up in the World Cham­pi­onship — the first of four times, which rather ce­mented his po­si­tion as the best driver never to be cham­pion.

“He was in­cred­i­bly fit, you know; he didn’t look it by mod­ern stan­dards, but he had stamina, which he’d honed on those long races in South Amer­ica,” Moss said. The events Stir­ling was re­fer­ring to were the long­est marathons ever wit­nessed — the vast­ness of the con­ti­nent pro­vid­ing some of the most tor­tu­ous tests of man and ma­chine ever seen. Eighty years ago this month, in fact, from 18 to 30 Oc­to­ber, Fan­gio — nick­named ‘El Chueco’ (‘the bow­legged one’) — headed off as a co-driver/me­chanic for a friend in the Gran Premio Ar­gentino de Car­reteras — a jour­ney of some 7400km that would tra­verse An­dean moun­tain passes. A 1937 Ford sedan was the ve­hi­cle of choice for this epic, and the pair fin­ished sev­enth — the car’s owner quickly be­came ex­hausted, and Fan­gio took over the driv­ing — his days as a sup­port driver were over as he be­came a spe­cial­ist on these en­duros.

In 1939, he turned to a new Chev coupé and so be­gan the ca­reer of El Chueco the racer. In 1941, he tri­umphed in the Mil Lil­las (1000 miles) Ar­gentina, mean­ing that,

“A lot of peo­ple have asked me if I re­gret­ted speak­ing up — af­ter all, I’d have been world cham­pion, but I couldn’t have lived with my­self. These days, they’ll drive some­one off the road to win a cham­pi­onship, but that’s not the way to go rac­ing, boy”

if he hadn’t pre­vi­ously, he had come to the at­ten­tion of Juan and Eva Perón. Anx­ious to pro­mote Ar­gentina on the world stage, the Peróns sup­ported lo­cal drivers to Europe, which in­cluded Fan­gio — by then in his 30s. He had a stag­ger­ingly suc­cess­ful de­but sea­son in 1949, joined Alfa Romeo for the first World Cham­pi­onship in 1950 — in which he fin­ished run­ner-up to team­mate Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Fa­rina — and then won the first of his five ti­tles in 1951. In ad­di­tion to Alfa, he would win ti­tles for Mercedes-benz, Fer­rari, and Maserati. Many (most of who never saw him race) rate him as one of the best ever, but, for Stir­ling Moss — who raced both with and against him — he was El Mae­stro, the best.

‘El Ri­cho’

This month also marks 30 years since Jim Richards won the first of his seven vic­to­ries at Bathurst. His co-driver was Pe­ter Brock, the only per­son with more wins around Mount Panorama, with nine. They were driv­ing Holden’s A9X, and, for the Ma­nurewa lad, it was his first ex­pe­ri­ence of a works team. He and Rod Cop­pins had made their de­buts at Bathurst in 1974, as­ton­ish­ing ev­ery­one by fin­ish­ing third — Cop­pins co-drove with Richards in two more ‘Great Races’ be­fore Jim got the in­vi­ta­tion to join Brock. Al­lan Mof­fat’s pair of XC Fal­con GS500 Hard­tops had de­stroyed the Gen­eral Mo­tors (GM) at­tack in 1977, and, in Richards, Holden signed up the best free-agent in the busi­ness.

In­ter­est­ingly, at the time, Jim was heav­ily in­volved with the prod­ucts of the prime com­peti­tor — in fact, in 1978, he fin­ished sec­ond in the Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Cham­pi­onship in his own XC Fal­con and, in­deed, con­tin­ued run­ning it in 1979, by which time he was firmly in ‘the Gen­eral’s camp’ for Bathurst. He and Brock won by a mas­sive six laps in 1979, again in an A9X. He then achieved the hat-trick in 1980 with the first win for the Com­modore. Af­fec­tion­ately known in Aus­tralia as ‘Ri­cho’, he won his last Bathurst in 2002 — again in a Com­modore. Of the seven wins, three were with Brock, an­other three with Mark Skaife (new for Nis­san and that last one in a Holden), and with Swede Rickard Ry­dall in a Volvo in 1998.

When Jim Palmer and I bumped into him at Bathurst last year, he told us that he hasn’t missed a meet­ing there since that first one with Cop­pins in 1974. What a ca­reer he’s had — and, as a fel­low Ma­nurewa lad, I can still see him driv­ing up Wey­mouth Road in his red Anglia van tow­ing his Anglia ‘race car’ be­hind on an A-frame. That made quite an im­pres­sion on an al­ready-car-crazy nine-year-old — I men­tioned this to him in an af­ter-din­ner in­ter­view at the Skope Clas­sic ear­lier this year and he re­sponded, “You know, the funny thing [was], we went right around the South Is­land that sum­mer, tow­ing the rac­ing car on that A-frame — me and one mate in the van, and two other friends who did the whole trip sit­ting in the race car star­ing at the back of the van — that was their sum­mer hol­i­day!”

Me with ‘God’ in the lobby of his hi-tech May­fair home Septem­ber 2008. Mrs C in the back­ground

Be­low: Museo Juan Manuel Fan­gio, Bal­carce, Ar­gentina

Right: Hawthorn and Collins, in Fer­raris in 1957 at the Nür­bur­gring, fea­tur­ing on the cover of Chris Nixon’s bril­liant book on the pair

Above: A great au­to­graphed Bill Pot­tinger shot of Jim Richards in that Anglia at Tere­tonga, Fe­bru­ary 1968

Right: Jim Richards and Jim Palmer at Bathurst, 2017 (photo: Michael Clark)

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