Hooked on motor racing
Like Donn Anderson, I was around 12 years old when I first went to the New Zealand Grand Prix [GP], mine being Stirling Moss’s win at Ardmore in ’62. Like Donn, I was hooked. I was at the first GP at Pukekohe on the bank at the lefthander after the grandstand also. Another great day.
I became involved with racing when I started helping Robbie Booth with his Formula Ford [FF] Lotus 22, then the Australian half of the Tasman Series with Alan Rollinson in his Mcrae GM2 007. On return to New Zealand, I rejoined Rob with his Begg FM3, then I went to Vancouver, BC, where I met and got involved with Graeme Cameron and his Titan FF. Our main rival was an ADF, the car he campaigns today.
I went to the UK in ’75 and applied for a job at Penske’s in Poole. I lost out to a fellow Kiwi, so I joined Frank Williams Racing in the same week as one Patrick Head (we called him ‘Headache’, but he wasn’t!). The Hesketh 308C cars turned up about two weeks later, and I thought they were pretty good, so I asked Patrick what he thought, and he said that he didn’t really like them.
We took a Williams FW04 to Goodwood testing with Richard Scot driving, my first taste of a DFV Cosworth. The sound impressed me — far sharper than the Formula 5000s that I knew, but I was told “wait to you hear the flat-12 Ferraris and especially the Matra V12”.
First time was on the pit wall at Interlagos ’76 and yes ‘they’ were right — just an awesome highpitched howl, especially the Matra. The Ferrari had a deeper, more hollow sound, and back then there was no left-right-left kink at the end of the straight but a sweeper that the best drivers took flat without lifting, so it was like a stereo effect as they rocketed down the back straight.
The best race I saw was at the Dutch GP at Zandvoort [in] 1977. [ James] Hunt and [Mario] Andretti took each other out early, and it became a battle of the 12s, with front-row man [ Jacques] Laffite in his Ligier and [Niki] Lauda in his Ferrari. Laffite had qualified his long-wheelbase car but had blown his engine in the morning warm-up, so he had to race his short-wheelbase car, one suited for Monaco. The pit wall is quite close to the appropriately named Tarzan Bend, so I had a bird’s eye view of the race.
Laffite was harried by Lauda as he weaved to protect, and Niki feinted left and right trying to outbrake into the corner. The sight and especially the sound as they went past at 300kph and only 20m away were unreal. When Niki finally got past, he dummied and sent Jacques to the left, then shot to his right and came so close to the pit wall that we were hauling our pit boards over the fence. Jody Scheckter in Wolf WR2 (my car) came third, but we were a lap down, such was the pace of the 12s.
At Kyalami in South Africa, the Alfa Romeo flat-12 ran Castrol R, so not only did it sound good but [it] smelt great too! If you were leaning on the pit-wall Armco, it buzzed until the Alfa driver lifted off over 300m away. Resonance.
Just a note: the Kiwi who got the Penske job ended up at Williams three weeks later! Ian Gillingham Thanks for sharing, Ian. You’ve certainly mixed with a few of the great names in motor racing, and I bet you have a few more wonderful stories to tell. AFW