- Post is under moderation/ #Leo-Kinnunen 1943-2017 Always genial Finnish driver who set the fastest-ever #Targa-Florio lap / #Porsche-917K / #Porsche / #Porsche-917
When Leo Kinnunen lined up on the grid for the start of the #1974-Swedish-Grand-Prix , he created a bit of history on the quiet: this permasmiling trailblazer became the first Finnish driver ever to participate in a round of the Formula 1 World Championship.
He retired from the race aboard his privateer Surtees TS16 and failed to make the cut in other points-paying rounds that season, but if his status as an F1 one-hit wonder in terms of starts gives the impression that Kinnunen was something of a tail-end Charlie, a gentleman driver who was in above his head, then nothing could be further from the truth. His sole GP outing was a mere downward blip in an otherwise glittering career.
Kinnunen, who died on 26 July aged 73, enjoyed a highly successful career that spanned almost 20 years, campaigning all manner of machines on two wheels and four. Nevertheless, he is best remembered for taming the mighty Porsche 917. After a few years racing motorcycles in the early 1960s, he rose to prominence in rallying, autocross and ice racing before switching to single-seaters in 1967. Kinnunen raced an outdated Brabham to a single victory in the national Formula 3 series, beating Ronnie Peterson in the process, before making the switch to sports cars. In 1969, he won the hotly contested Nordic Cup, which led to the invitation to test for the works Porsche team.
Kinnunen landed a full-time seat for 1970 and won first time out in the Daytona 24 Hours, sharing a Porsche-917K with Pedro Rodríguez. The Finnish-Mexican duo also claimed honours in subsequent International Championship of Makes rounds at Brands Hatch and Monza, and he shone in that year’s Targa Florio aboard the latest 908/03. Kinnunen drove much of the distance after Rodríguez was taken ill, finishing second behind the sister car of Brian Redman/Jo Siffert. Kinnunen somehow mustered a 33min 36sec lap of Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie on his final tour, and this blistering new record was never eclipsed. He finished third in the 1973 Targa, too, sharing a 911 RSR with Claude Haldi.
Kinnunen also excelled in the Interserie championship, the European equivalent of Can-Am, steering variants of 917 to consecutive titles in 1971-73. He claimed 18 outright wins and 11 heat victories over three seasons, and was still a factor in the World Endurance Championship up to 1977, when he retired from circuit racing. Despite staying away from track action, Kinnunen continued to dabble in other disciplines. He had dovetailed race and rally programmes for much of the 1970s, his third place on the 1973 1000 Lakes Rally behind Timo Makinen and Marku Alén being a stand-out performance. He continued to compete off-piste to the end of the decade, claiming outright honours on the 1979 Arctic Rally among others. Kinnunen remained a strong supporter of motor sport after hanging up his helmet, becoming a close friend and supporter of Valtteri Bottas among other fellow countrymen who followed in his wheeltracks. Sadly, Kinnunen was wheelchair-bound for the last ten years of his life after suffering a massive stroke, but he never lost his sunny disposition.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationOutside Line Richard Meaden by #Drive-My
Money no object. Three words, endless possibilities for the imaginative petrolhead. Meaden gets the ball rolling with his perfect flight of fantasy.
Thinking. Always a dangerous pastime. Especially when you’re a freelance journalist who has turned procrastination into an art form. Still, what is life without daydreams? That’s what I say. Especially when you can turn a few hours of staring out of the window and drinking copious cups of coffee into a long-overdue evo column. I blame my erstwhile colleagues Nick Trott and Jethro Bovingdon for prompting my latest catastrophic distraction and litany of missed deadlines. The former for asking us to concoct our ultimate McLaren Special Operations (MSO) project a few issues back, the latter for reminding me of his N24 drive in Jim Glickenhaus’s eponymous home-brewed racer.
Where am I going with all this? Rather pleasingly, the haphazard wiring in my brain has taken these random sources of diversion and arrived at what is surely one the most pressing questions of any petrolhead’s life. Namely, what would you commission as your one-off supercar?
As is always the case with these flights of fantasy, money has to be no object. Likewise, I rarely allow my tenuous grip on engineering to inhibit my desires. In any case, if anyone dared say something wasn’t possible, I’d refer them back to the ‘money-no-object’ bit, for as Bugatti proved with the Veyron, unlimited budget is the ultimate engineering solution.
So, the six million dollar (or in all likelihood, rather more) question is: what to build? After considerable deliberation, a number of blind alleys and one or two changes of heart, I’ve settled on… a Porsche. Surprise, surprise, I hear you cry, but incredibly, given you’re reading evo, it has nothing to do with a 911. You see, while I have major lust for Stuttgart’s rear-engined icon, I’ve got a real thing for Porsche’s early sports prototype racers. Naturally this includes the #Porsche-917 , but the true apple of my eye is the unspeakably gorgeous #Porsche-908/01 from 1968.
Why? Years ago I had the immense privilege of driving one of the original factory 908/01s during a trackday at the Nürburgring. Given the very same car raced in (but sadly retired from) the 1968 Nürburgring 1000km, this was truly a day to remember.
The beauty, delicacy, speed and exquisite engineering of this fierce and fragile machine stuck with me, only to return to the forefront of my mind during my aforementioned daydream.
Imagine, I thought, what it would be like to make a modern homage to the 908/01, in much the same manner Jim Glickenhaus did with his spectacular Enzo-based, Pininfarina-designed P4/5. Initially I thought a 918 Spyder would be the ideal basis. But then I had to concede it would be too big and complex. And even if you could junk the batteries and motors, it would have a V8 when the 908 had a jewel-like 3-litre air-cooled flat-eight good for 350bhp. It’s at this juncture I should give special mention to evo’s resident curmudgeon, Stuart Gallagher, for his enduring tirade against the 718 Cayman’s less-than-sonorous flat-four. I’m not a great fan of the engine myself, but if two were joined at the crank I reckon I’d have the perfect modern flat-eight. Strip away the turbos, drop in some high-compression pistons and prickly cams, have a play with the firing order and speak to Mr Akrapovic and my project has a suitably special motor.
The 908 was built around a spindly alloy tubular spaceframe, which the bodywork wraps like an eggshell, only thinner. My 908 will have a chassis made from tubes, but ones fabricated from carbonfibre, perhaps collaborating with a bicycle manufacturer, as they understand the material. The body would also be carbon, the contours of which would be shaped by Rob Dickinson, obsessive genius behind Singer Vehicle Design. Not only would the panels be flawless, but Dickinson’s eye and lightness of touch would capture the essence of the 908/01’s perfect proportions while adding a contemporary twist to elevate the car from re-creation to 21st century tribute.
Naturally my 908 would have a manual transmission, complete with birch gearknob, and the finished car would be painted white, like all Porsche’s factory prototypes, perhaps with a flash of red or blue around the nose. It would have 600bhp and weigh less than 1000kg. It would be road-legal but track-capable; trimmed for minimalist comfort, but well suited for long European drives. The trouble with this kind of fantasy is the whole process gets rather addictive. Indeed, as I prepare to conclude this column, I’m thinking the perfect accompaniment to the #Porsche-908 would be a more ambitious, #Porsche-917LH -inspired machine. Perhaps powered by an 8-litre, 1000bhp flat-12 made from a spliced pair of #Porsche-911-GT3-RS motors. It needs more thought, obviously, but I’m sold on the idea. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’d best make myself another coffee.
‘Initially I thought the #Porsche-918-Spyder / #Porsche-918 would be the ideal basis, but it’s too complex’
Richard is a contributing editor to evo and always the last columnist to deliver his words / @ DickieMeaden / #Porsche / #2017 / #1968 /Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationPORSCHE 918 SPYDERS / #Porsche-918-Gulf / #Wyant-Group / #Porsche-918-RSR / #Porsche-918-Gulf-livery / #2015 / #Porsche-918-Spyder-Gulf / #Porsche-918-Spyder
They are the stuff of legends. And we’re sure #Steve-McQueen would be amazed. He made the #Porsche-917 in #Gulf-Livery famous in the 1971 action film “ #Le-Mans ”. Following suit, on August 27, 2015, #Porsche Centre Saskatchewan unveiled two exceptional Porsche 918 Spyders at its Saskatoon facility. The only two period correct cars of their kind in the world, these 918’s were factory-built and exclusively customized with approval of both Dr. Ing. h.c.F. #Porsche-AG and Gulf Oil, two historic racing partners of the early 70s. Following its 2013 debut at the Frankfurt International Autoshow, the 918 Spyder captured worldwide press with its designer, innovative plug-in hybrid concept and super sports car performance. It shattered the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record by an astonishing 14 seconds, posting a 6 minute, 57 second run. With V8 and hybrid system combined, the 918 has a total output of 887 hp.
“The concept for these commissioned cars began several years ago and we are extremely proud and excited that they are truly the only two “period correct” of their kind in the world,” says Vaughn Wyant, President and CEO. “Our passion for the brand, and for the 918 in particular, has made the journey worthwhile and we are pleased to announce that one of these cars will be for sale to the ardent and discerning driving enthusiast who wants to own a truly spectacular, one-of-a-kind sports car.”
Porsche’s rich history in racing dates back to 1948, and Porsche and #Gulf Oil had a sponsorship relationship through the 60’s and into the early 70’s. Its final year to race the iconic Gulf Livery blue and orange was 1971, with the iconic Porsche 917.
“The 918 is, by any stretch of the imagination, a supercar,” says Wyant. Porsche limited production to 918 units and those with the Spyder Weissach package boldly took things to an extreme level: weight reduction of 41 kg, additional use of carbon fibre, titanium and ceramics, lightweight magnesium wheels, lightweight sport bucket seats, carbon interior and lightweight doors.
The Porsche-Gulf partnership has long since ended. In fact, it took some time to convince Porsche AG to accommodate factory production of these two supercars in such exacting detail (the factory paint in period correct Gulf Livery colours is the first in factory since 1971 ).
Each 918 Spyder engine was hand built by a single technician over 20 hours. The details are meticulous and include the Gulf logo embossed in the leather seatbacks in place of the Porsche crest. From custom-painted brake calipers (acid green just didn’t work) to factory painting with the Gulf brand (no decals here), custom upholstery stitching, Gulf Livery key fob and so much more, these cars transcend the normal supercar.
“Their unique story enhances what are already magnificent Porsches and while these one-off productions may be priceless, one is most certainly for sale,” concludes Wyant.
Wyant plans to keep one vehicle for his private collection. The other? The world stage will be its market and its owner is sure to be someone with an appetite for a rare, high-end and collectible performance automobile.
THE 918 SPYDER’S FEATURES
1 Highly desirable Weissach Package
2 Exterior Paint to Sample in Period Correct Gulf Blue and Orange with Painted Gulf Logos by Porsche Exclusive
3 Authentic Leather with Piping to Sample in Exterior Colour (One Car Orange, One Car Gulf Blue) by Porsche Exclusive
4 Weissach Package Wheels Painted in Platinum Satin Matte Finish
5 Special Order Gas Hood Strut
6 Special Order Luggage from Porsche Exclusive in Carbon and Piped in Gulf Blue or Orange
7 Front Axle Lift System
8 Two Zone Electronic Climate Control
9 Multi-Function Sport Steering Wheel in Leather with Centering Marker Coloured to Match Piping
10 Burmester High End Surround Sound System
11 Vehicle Key Paint to Sample with Leather Key Pouch
12 Carbon Floor Mats with Piping to Sample
13 Custom Tailoring Options by Porsche Exclusive Including Deletion of Acid Green Exterior
14 Accents and Gulf Logo Embossed Headrests (which required bespoke tooling)
15 Porsche Motorsport Six Point Racing HarnessesStream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationThe problem with attending most historic car events as an ancien pilote is that you are always on duty. By that, I mean sometimes it would be nice just to be able to stop and have a nose around; kick some tyres and actually chat to people for more than a picosecond before bidding them farewell. This was brought home to me in late September when I participated in the fifth Rennsport Reunion, at Laguna Seca. I have been to all five, the first staged at Lime Rock back in 2001, and this was the best yet. I loved the sense of informality and cannot wait for the next one.
This Porsche-only event attracted close on 50,000 spectators over the three-day weekend, not to mention 1400 or so 911s, including the very latest model, which made its global debut before the marque faithful. Oh, and there were more than a few racing cars, too, ranging from smallcapacity air-cooled machines to Can-Am monsters.
Porsche has such a rich competition history in North America, not least in IMSA GTP, but this year’s central theme was Le Mans. I was one of 11 drivers on hand who have won the 24 Hours aboard a Porsche. Our ages ranged from this year’s co-winner Earl Bamber at just 25 years old, to Hans Hermann, who claimed the first win for the marque back in #1970 . The 87-year-old German was joined by Richard Attwood, with whom he shared the winning 917 all those years ago. Then there was my dear friend Jacky Ickx, Gijs van Lennep, Hurley Haywood, Jürgen Barth, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Vern Schuppan and… Well, you get the idea.
It wasn’t just drivers, either. It was a pleasure seeing #John-Horsman , who I knew from my JW / #Gulf days. John tends to get airbrushed out of the story behind the #Porsche-917 but, in many ways, he made the car work. John, and John alone, sorted the aerodynamic issues that blighted the 917 in the early days, and he did so without factory assistance. It was all down to brainpower and intuition.
It was great catching up with old friends from either side of the pitwall, but what I enjoyed most was meeting the young guns, not least fellow Brit Nick Tandy who, along with Bamber and Nico Hülkenberg, claimed outright honours in June aboard the factory 919 Hybrid. I had an opportunity to meet Nick in the run-up to the 24 Hours but, the thing is, I know what it’s like to be distracted when you’re preparing for a major race, so I left him alone. At Laguna Seca, there were no such constraints and Nick turned out to be a super chap as well as a supremely gifted driver. We had a long chat, and I was surprised and humbled by how much he knew about my career. Nick reached the big time via an odd route, starting out racing on short ovals as a kid when his contemporaries were battling it out in karts, but he went on to enjoy success in single-seaters before making the switch to GTs and sports cars. He told me he wants to win Le Mans at least another five times to eclipse my record. I wouldn’t put it past him.
A particular treat and a real eye-opener was being able to wander around the cars that were either on display or lined-up on the grid for the many – many – Porsche-only races. I have been to countless Porsche events, including those catering for the old stuff, but this was something else entirely. When you see every conceivable Porsche from late-1940s 356s – the jumping-off point, if you will – to the latest models via all manner of one-offs, small-series specials and heaven only knows what else besides, you really grasp just why Porsche matters. Even I was surprised by the diversity of the cars at the Rennsport Reunion.
And in what passed for a moment of introspection (as much as I do introspection), it made me realise just how important #Porsche has been to my career. To be honest, getting the JW/Gulf drive back in 1971 was a huge boost at a time when my #F1 prospects were a little shaky, while my 1981 victory alongside that man Ickx paved the way for a works drive in the 956/962 and two world titles.
I was lucky enough to drive the ’81 Jules-sponsored 936 over the weekend. That, and the DHL-livered RS Spyder that was the dominant player in LMP2 in 2008. There really was no point in trying to compare them, or today’s 919 Hybrid which I sat in and would one day love to test, but it made me further appreciate just how different sports car racing history would look had Porsche not made such a huge contribution, and in so many classes.
‘NICK TANDY TURNED OUT TO BE A SUPER CHAP. I WAS SURPRISED AND HUMBLED BY HOW MUCH HE KNEW ABOUT MY CAREER’Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationPORSCHE MOMENTS by Colin Goodwin
Colin Goodwin ponders the races he hit, those he missed, and wonders if contemporary motorsport might be more exciting than we realise…
Another working day that should have been a productive one wrecked by too much YouTubery. The usual stuff: a bit of vintage #CanAm racing, some #F1 and to wrap up a five-minute snippet of a documentary on the #1970 #BOAC 1000km at Brands Hatch.
Everyone knows that race, the epic drive by #Pedro-Rodriquez in a #Gulf-Porsche 917. I think the clip is from a documentary film made about the John Wyer-run and #Gulf -sponsored team and I have a feeling that I’ve seen the whole film, but that could be my ageing brain playing up. Sadly a brain that may be old, but not one installed in a body that was old enough in #1970 to take itself the 45 miles from my home in Woking to Brands Hatch to watch that epic race. My dad wasn’t interested in motor racing; he was into boxing, tennis, athletics and never drove a car in his life. He did take me to see the film Le Mans the next year, though, so he can be forgiven.
What I can’t forgive myself for is not going to watch more sports car races in the 1980s. What on earth was I thinking? I’d like to put forward the argument that the 1980s through to the early ‘90s was the golden era of sports car racing. Yes, the #Porsche-917 and #Ferrari-512 battles were amazing with fantastic drivers on mighty circuits in cars that were hugely challenging to drive on the limit but look at the depth of the field and the variety in the Group C period: There was #Porsche , of course, with its #Porsche-956 and then #Porsche-962 , Jaguar, Mercedes, Lancia, Nissan, Dome, Mazda and more; the #Mulsanne straight without the chicanes; #Jacky-Ickx , Bell and #Pescarolo – all legends from the years that I missed when I was in short trousers; and Brundle, Wallace, Dumfries and other younger talents at the top of their game.
I caught a few good races but I should have been to more of them. I guess you don’t realise that you’re going through a peachy period when you’re in it at the time. Well, I think we’re entering another one and this time I’m not going to make the same mistake. Reading Frankel’s report on Porsche’s magnificent performance at Le Mans in June has been a particularly strong wake up call that something wonderful is happening in sports car racing. Reading a nice long, well written and emotive feature backed up by excellent photographs is still an unbeatable medium. Many Tweets and blogs came my way after this year’s race but it was reading Andrew’s feature that brought the event to life. 140 characters in a Tweet can’t do that.
And there’s another reason why I’m revved up about the current scene. I’m beginning to think that we’re getting a bit too wrapped up in the past. I have a subscription to Motor Sport magazine and love (and am quite knowledgeable about) the machinery and personalities from the ‘60s and ‘70s but I have a feeling that supporting and enthusing about contemporary motor racing, if it is good, is important.
And another thing: I have had enough of the Gulf and #Steve-McQueen worship. If you own one of those fake Gulf racing jackets you’ll probably be spitting carpet tacks at this point but once I wore a No Fear t-shirt into the Autocar office and was quite rightly shot down by Steve Sutcliffe and Monkey Harris. I knew I had sinned and I repented before the onslaught from my peers.
Right then, June 18-19 have been blanked off in the 2016 diary. See you there perhaps. “You don’t realise that you’re going through a peachy period when you’re in it at the time”Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationDRAMA CLASSES RACING FORD CAPRIS
Willie Green teaches Robert Coucher a thing or two. Robert Coucher meets racer Willie Green at Silverstone to learn how to handle some very hairy #Ford Capris.
Northamptonshire, England. And it's winter. I'm driving towards Silverstone Motor Circuit, 'The Home of British Motorsport', and feel distinctly ill. It's down to nerves, for two specific reasons. First, heavy black clouds are billowing in and rain is most definitely on the way. Second, I'm due to meet up with race ace Willie Green, who has promised to show me the way around Silverstone in his trackday car. I feel the strong need for a cigarette, even though I gave up smoking years ago.
As you probably know, Willie Green is a racing driver of the first order. He's competed in more than 1500 races and has won about 600 or 700 of them, not that he keeps an accurate tally. Hailing from a wealthy textile family in Derbyshire, Willie has been racing since the 1960s and has driven everything from a Daytona at Le Mans to numerous D-types, #Ferrari GTOs, GT40s and Maserati 250Fs (he's a maestro in any of those), and he really made his name winning in the JCB 512M Ferrari in the wet at #Silverstone in #1972 , besting a #Porsche-917 . He's an extremely competitive racing driver, who, no doubt, does not suffer fools. At all. Maybe I shouldn't mention the fact that the last time I raced at Silverstone, I crashed at Becketts Comer...
I arrive at the old pits and the circuit is bustling and busy. This is an RMA Trackday and the garages are full of exciting cars, ranging from Porsche 911s and a bunch of Audi R8s to track-focussed Radicals and Ariel Atoms as well as pure racers. I'm looking out for Peter Whelan and his brace of racing Capris: the Hermetite Group 1 car and a Group 2 RS2600. Peter has also invited me to join the shakedown of his Capris with Willie. How generous.
‘I LOVE CAPRIS AND HAVE HAD PLENTY OF THEM. THEY ARE BRILLIANT ON A CIRCUIT’
- WILLIE GREEN
Above and right. Racer Willie Green has long been a Capri advocate. This one is lighter, lower, more stiffly sprung and features twin-cam 24-valve Cosworth V6 in place of the old 2.8 OHV. Oversteer aplenty for those who can handle it.
In the 1960s, the only vaguely sporting Ford on sale in Britain was the #Cortina . Affectionately known as the Dagenham Dustbin, it was very popular but Ford realised that a more stylish, money-spinning sidekick was due. In America the Ford Mustang was launched in April #1964 . It was a hit with younger drivers thanks to its sporting appeal and went on to sell two million examples in two years and set a sales record that stood for 20 years. In #1965 Project Colt was initiated for the British market: the #Ford-Capri .
Led by John Hitchman, a team of British engineers had prototypes running by #1966 in Boreham, Essex, using prosaic 1.3- and 1.6-litre engines and gearboxes from the Cortina. Launched on 24 January 1969, the #Capri was billed as 'The car you always promised yourself'. And it proved to be an immediate sensation. Over the next 18 years nearly two million Capris were sold in the UK, Europe and America, and it remained in the top ten best-selling cars 11 years after launch.
It was even popular in Germany, where it became known as the #Maurer-Porsche : the 'bricklayer's Porsche'. In Britain it became infamous for its habit of leaving the road at speed thanks to its supposedly wayward live rear axle, though that reputation was likely due more to over-enthusiastic young drivers.
'I love Capris and have had plenty of them. They are brilliant on a circuit,' says a slightly prickly Willie Green when I mention the oversteer issue. 'The idea that they don't handle is nonsense. This one is a #1982 2.8 and is fantastic. I have fitted a 2.9-litre 24-valve Granada Cosworth engine, which puts out more than 200bhp, and dropped it all-round on stiffer springs at the front with shorter dampers and de-cambered rear leaf springs. I've fitted uprated front discs, a limited-slip diff, cage and safety fuel cell, and that's about it. It's done 27,0 miles of trackdays and all I have done is change the plugs. Oh good, it's started raining. Put on a helmet and let's go!'
With me strapped firmly into the suicide seat, Willie fires up his standard-looking British Racing Green - or should that be BRDC Green - Capri and we head out onto the circuit. He winds the car up for a sighting lap, then switches into full tuition mode over the headphones.
'Silverstone is a great circuit but it is fast and technical,' he says. Going extremely swiftly indeed, Willie then says: 'I tend to enter corners more slowly. If you go in too fast you can end up coming out too slow. Historic cars with limited brakes and unsophisticated chassis need to be sorted out before the corner... You want to get the car turned in and then feed in as much power as it will transmit at the apex... Don't forget, if you make a fast exit you carry the speed all the way up the next straight.'
All sounds bleedin' obvious but Willie's idea of 'slow in' is somewhat different to mine. Yet I'm amazed at his smoothness and how he then absolutely powers the Capri through on the exits. 'I like to get the car onto the edge and keep it there so I know where I am. In that way there are no surprises.'
Suddenly we are into Copse Comer, which he says is 'interesting. You want to turn in early... the apex is on the way to the corner at the end of the pitlane and then it opens out. Now we are coming into Becketts, where you can do a Scandinavian flick [at this point I forget what happens next: think there was a rumble strip involved, sideways], then down the Hangar Straight to Stowe, which is fast and enjoyable. Take a late entry and don't turn until you have run completely out of road. Club Corner has changed... be careful... the concrete wall is magnetic! Abbey is great, I love it... really fast. Now, get the silly hairpins out of the way and coming into Brooklands you don't want to be too far right, you have to get it back for Luffield which has twice as much grip on the outside in the wet. OK, flat out through Woodcote, which can be a bit bumpy...'
With apologies to Willie Green, this is an approximation of Silverstone from the passenger seat of his Ford Capri at racing speed. Well, what I remember with my eyes wide shut. But it's not entirely what I'm expecting. Searing speed, yes. Perfect car control, sure. But a good degree of gentleness and patience, some waiting time to allow the car to gather itself up, with light, minutely judged fingertip inputs? No. And the sheer mechanical grip from the Capri's Toyo 888 tyres and communicative balance from that simple, leaf-sprung chassis? Definitely not.
This is a lesson in dancing a car around a wet circuit in total control, on the edge, but never over the ragged edge. Certainly Willie is the master of the controlled slide but he does not showboat just for the sake of it, because that's never the fastest way.
Willie has retired from top-line single-seater racing but he is still on-it. I forgot to mention how we went past a track-missile Atom on the outside of one of the wet corners, hovered up numerous M-badged BMWs and other fast racing cars, and were about to lunch a 6.3 #AMG #Mercedes until the red flag came out because someone had gone off (again) in the rain.
'What I really enjoy these days is teaching. I love to see people improve. Right: now it's your turn,' says Willie. I strap into the firm driver's bucket seat; the Capri starts with a growl, but it is not noisy. The clutch is light and the five-speed gearshift is pleasant, even though the earlier four-speed is supposed to be better. As the rain abates, I'm out on the circuit with Willie telling me what to do over the headphones. I start tentatively, feeling like a kid learning to ride a bicycle as he eggs me on.
'Come on, it will take it. Turn in and now add the power on the apex. Now more speed. Keep it flat here, good, now brake gently. Wait, wait, wait, now throttle and let it run wide, it can take more; come on, more speed, that's it...'
Still going less-than-quickly, a few laps with Willie improve my overall performance significantly. He doesn't bully or harass but remains calm and encouraging all the way. He's patient and gets more excited than me when I get a few of the comers just right. Issuing terse but accurate instructions, the man is an excellent teacher. 'You need to learn the circuit but at least you listen and you've improved a good deal,' he says.
I'm more than happy with that.
Back in the garage, it's time to recover and let the pulse rate subside. I pull up a chair for coffee with owner Peter Whelan, racer Mark Waghom and author/historian Peter Darley. Mark raced Peter's Group 1 Capri at last year's Goodwood Member's Meeting, where the tin-tops proved a real hit. 'The Hermetite Recreation Group 1 car is a #1978 model driven in period by Holman Blackburn, who was the sponsor,' says Peter.
It, too, looks pretty stock apart from the nicely presented racing colours. It has a 3.0-litre Essex V6 engine, uprated to 200bhp thanks to a huge twin-choke Weber carburettor and better breathing. The black alloys are shod with slightly wider 205/15 tyres and the interior is fully stripped, but equipped with a cage and large fire extinguisher.
Peter suggests I take it out next. The racing bucket is set low and doesn't adjust. The Weber carb needs a bit of a tickle before the engine will start but as soon as it fires the Essex V6 is abundantly rev-happy, which is unusual because they are normally somewhat short of breath. Again the clutch is light but the gearshift is not particularly precise. Get past the carb's fluffiness and the recalcitrance of the high-lift cam and the engine properly ignites. On the track it is noisier than Willie's track car, with sharper reactions thanks to its full race set-up. And the handling is a delight.
Following Willie's advice I go into corners none-too-quickly but power though the apexes. The Capri is on-side and benign. Through the hairpins the track is very wet and at one point the car begins to slide, so I just lift off, let it come together, then ease on the power again, gently. This is the obedient sort of front-engined, rear-wheel-drive car we would all like to race because of its friendly nature.
Above and top left This is the real deal, a full-on racebred Capri rather than a road car adapted for track use: one of Ford’s own homologation replicas of the 1972 works Le Manscar.
The rain is coming down hard now so really it's pros only for Peter Whelan's ferocious-looking #RS2600 - 319bhp on slick tyres! It is an original 1972 RS2600, built as an exact replica of the 1972 works Le Mans car, number 53, that was raced by Jochen Mass and Hans Stuck. It has an original, authenticated, fuel-injected Weslake engine, which was found in Spain, as bought by its then-owner as a spare, directly from Ford via Peter Ashcroft, Ford's competitions manager.
The ever-energetic Willie dashes over and instructs me to get into the passenger seat of the Weslake monster, never mind the bucketing rain. He jumps in and guns the ferocious- sounding V6. Then the 900kg lightweight is off and attacking Silverstone. Willie's arms are whirling around at speed and his foot is playing the reactive throttle pedal as he tries to throw all 319bhp at the greasy track. The racer is flying even though the angle of attack into some of the comers is a full 45° to the direction of travel, but he's careful to keep off the painted and slippery rumble strips.
As the line dries, Willie applies the horses ever more firmly and the thoroughbred racer hooks up and comes on song. The stonking Weslake engine is on an entirely different level to the two previous Capri V6s. And yes, it's shod with (gradually warming) fat slicks, but it's obvious that the multi-link rear suspension offers so much more grip than a standard live axle can muster, and the high- revving engine allows a top speed of 170mph. Silverstone disappears below us at an astonishing rate of glorious speed.
No wonder that, in 1972, the RS2600 won eight of the nine rounds of the European Championships, with Jochen Mass taking the European Drivers' title and Hans Stuck the German Championship. With a proper racing driver at the wheel, I now understand exactly how it was done.
Above and below Pukka RS2600 flanked by 3.0-litre (on left) and Willie Green’s own 2.9-litre-engined Capri Injection; the man himself, in his element in tuition mode.
THANKS TO owner Peter Whelan, RMA Trackdays, www. rmatrackdays. com; Peter Darley, historian; Willie Green, racer/instructor, tel: +UU (0)1773 550339, email: email@example.com
Car #1972 #Ford-Capri-RS2600
ENGINE 2995cc V6, OHV, alloy Weslake cylinder head, #Kugelfischer fuel injection
POWER 319bhp @ 7000rpm
TRANSMISSION Five-speed #ZF manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
STEERING Rack and pinion
Front: MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, radius arms, anti-roll bar.
PERFORMANCE Top speed 170mph. 0-60mph 4.6sec (depending on gearing)
‘WILLIE’S FOOT IS PLAYING THE THROTTLE PEDAL AS HE TRIES TO THROW ALL 319BHP AT THE GREASY TRACK’
Above and left. Even a big, old, simple engine like Ford’s 3.0-litre Essex V6 can be coaxed into producing gobfuls of trackday power: witness 200bhp at fully 6500rpm, as here; livery makes it look purposeful outside while interior is, er, functional.
Car #1978 #Ford-Capri-3000
ENGINE 2994cc V6, 0HV, #Weber carburettor
POWER 200bhp @ 6500rpm
TORQUE 180ft lb @ 3800rpm
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual. rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
STEERING Rack and pinion
Front: MacPherson struts, coilsprings, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers, radius rods.
PERFORMANCE Top speed 135mph. 0-60mph 6.5sec (est)
‘THIS IS A LESSON IN DANCING A CAR AROUND A WET CIRCUIT IN TOTAL CONTROL, ON THE EDGE BUT NEVER OVER IT’
Car #1982 #Ford-Capri-Injection-2.9
ENGINE 2935cc V6, DOHC, 24-valve, #Bosch fuel injection
POWER 206bhp @ 5800rpm
TORQUE 203lb ft @ 4500rpm
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
STEERING Rack and pinion
Front: MacPherson struts, coilsprings, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Rear: live axle, semi- elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers, radius rods.
PERFORMANCE Top speed 130mph. 0-60mph 7sec (est)
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- Post is under moderationLooked around the handsome interior and wistfully thought about the beauty of it all, stroking the finely textured instrument binnacle and absorbing the general ambience of well-being. Then I turned on the ignition: with a fine whine that eloquently spoke of high technology, the starter-motor engaged the flywheel. Like an animal stirring, the entire car powered-up and we were good to go. I was soon on a clear stretch of road in gloriously misty-sunny daylight.
‘LIKE CHILDBIRTH AND BRINGING UP CHILDREN, NO-ONE EVER TELLS YOU THE RAW TRUTH ABOUT CLASSIC CARS’
On a good day in the right mood, there are few experiences better than driving a great car in a romantic location. Since the road was empty, I had an enjoyable time attacking the corners on the epic coast road from Lourinha to Peniche: juggling with braking points, tum-in, clipping apexes, gear selection. Feeling forces load-up and then disperse in a series of exciting peaks and dips. Truly, a delicious sort of erotic intercourse with a machine.
What was the car? A dirt-cheap Hyundai rental I had picked up from Lisbon’s Portela airport. I doubt I could have worked this road faster - or more comfortably – in a #Porsche-917 .
Like childbirth and bringing up children, no-one ever tells you the raw truth about classic cars. It’s a survival characteristic. If we were realistic about the pain of parturition and the fatigue (not to mention wince-inducing expense) involved in childcare and education, human reproduction would promptly cease. Civilisation would end. And with classic cars, if we spoke the truth, or, at least, faced the facts, we would be out of business. But we don’t. We bash on. If we were cold-eyed realists, we would have Hyundais. We are, instead, romantics.
But my experience of driving or owning classic cars has been universally dismal. The fact that I am still enjoyably engaged with them is evidence of man’s laughable folly, of the triumph of blind hope over cruel experience. I remember a glorious-looking #1955 #Thunderbird in rural Illinois: steering so vague that there appeared to be no mechanical connections involved whatsoever. Certainly, spinning the wheel did not influence the car's direction. And the crude 120bhp lump could scarcely stir the prehistoric two-speed automatic... which was just as well, as the car had no brakes. Or the little #Fiat-Nuova-Cinquecento I bought for my wife. Ineffably cute, certainly, but it was like owning a sick pet: adorable, but tragic. It could not be made to move.
The E-type, I found, handled like a rowing-boat. And the #Citroen-DS ? This astonishing car inspired Roland Barthes' wonderful line about design being ‘the best messenger of a world above that of nature’ - yet recently its wheezing, cumbersome demeanour made me yearn for something new. precise and Korean.
But this, of course, has nothing to do with it. Complaining that (most) classic cars do not work well is like moaning that you can’t put Sevres porcelain in the dishwasher, that Rembrandt is low- res, Shakespeare can't do jivetalk. Abbey Road has crude stereo separation and Jack Kerouac took drugs. The whole point of any classic - in any medium or genre - is that it transcends the ordinary and defies rational criticism.
For more than 30 years I have been fielding questions about 'classic design’. My response? Any classic has to have an ambiguous relationship with time: it must speak of the age that created it. but also be beyond the basic cycles of fashion. And classics must tell a story, evoking a mystique beyond the here-and- now. Additionally, they establish a type: true classics have neither precedents nor successors. They are magnificently singular. And. of course, desirable.
I think the essence of a classic car is the way it excites desire, an anticipation of pleasures to come. Look at that #Lancia-B24 or that #Lotus-XV and you start an imaginative, rather than a real, journey. In a sense, desire is the opposite of nostalgia because nostalgia looks backwards while desire projects yearnings into the future. It does not matter if the experience of driving or owning a classic is often compromised, a classic speaks to a higher level of psychological engagement.
As with people, flaws and mistakes make cars interesting. The baseball sage Yogi Berra said if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be. The Hyundai is perfect, yet isn’t desirable. The #Thunderbird , #Jaguar , #Cinquecento and #DS are comedically imperfect, but I want one of each. Sometimes I think the only certain thing about human preference is its total lack of rationality. Thank God. Otherwise, we really would all be in Hyundais.
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- Post is under moderationWhen I was actively racing, the offseason was something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you had more time to spend with the family and were able to catch up with friends. On the other, you might be out of a drive and anxiously trying to find a new one. And even when you had a confirmed seat with a team, it was difficult to switch off the competitive part of your brain: you just wanted to get your bum in a car and start testing.
‘IN ALL SPORTS YOU HAVE TO BUILD UP TO A LEVEL. AT LE MANS, YOU DON’T JUST START DOING 246MPH, AS I DID IN THE PORSCHE 917’
That said, during the first decade or so of my racing career, there was no off-season. While I was at #Ferrari , for example, I competed in the Tasman series alongside great mate Chris Amon. Racing Down Under was infinitely more pleasurable than spending another winter in the UK kicking my heels.
These days, of course, I am a retired racing driver. Strictly speaking, I should say that I am not ‘retired’ in the dictionary sense of the word as I still compete in histories as and when the mood takes me, but the point is that I am not chasing drives. So what do I do with my time? I’m busier than ever! At the end of last year, for example, I visited Number 10 Downing Street and - please don’t judge me on this - I also found myself at a concert in Miami watching Miley Cyrus take her clothes off. I’m pretty sure she also sang a little, too, but I was distracted. The point is, life this past winter has rarely been dull.
One of the highlights of last year was getting to race Adam Lindermann’s Ecurie Ecosse #Jaguar-D-type at the Goodwood Revival Meeting. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and Adam and I are hoping to team up again in 2015 and do some events. While we were in West Sussex, Adam and Lord March got on famously and, in a roundabout way, this led to one of those ‘pinch me’ moments back in January.
Adam owns an art gallery in New York, just off Fifth Avenue, and is among the most plugged-in people imaginable. This became abundantly clear when he organised a special display of His Lordship’s photography. What a lot of people don’t know is that, long before he turned historic motor sport on its head with the Goodwood events, Charles was a photographer. A damned good one. The exhibition of his woodland studies was well received, and I was delighted to attend alongside my wife Misti.
And it turned into one of the most surreal nights of my life. The gallery was bursting with the beautiful people, with even the likes of Al Pacino dropping by. At dinner, Misti was introduced to the lady sitting next to her and was rather blown away to learn she was the granddaughter of Pablo Picasso. Me? I was placed next to Princess Eugenie, who was very sweet and surprisingly clued up on motor sport. Then we went out for drinks, and who should stop by? Oh yeah, that would be Naomi Campbell. Misti began trembling when she saw her, as did I, but I’m guessing for different reasons.
Fast-forward a week and I was in Berkeley, California giving a speech at a United States Ski & Snowboard Association fundraiser. Once again I found myself wondering how and why I was there, but I ended up having a great time. The subject was speed, and in all sports you have to build up to a certain level: at Le Mans, for example, you don’t just start doing 246mph, as I did back in the #Porsche-917 days, straight off the bat. You feel your way in, and with confidence comes speed.
You also have to learn how to compartmentalise your mind and find focus. There is commonality between all sports in these regards, so having a racing driver as a guest speaker wasn’t as odd as it might have seemed, I guess.
Once again, I was surrounded by fascinating people, not least the event’s organiser, Steve Reed, who just happens to own a fabulous array of racing cars including a #Maserati-300S and an ex-Lauda Ferrari. The point is, both of these amazing evenings occurred through friendships forged via motor sport. I am forever grateful for what my career brought me in terms of success trackside, but also the life it gave me away from the circuits. And it remains a gift that keeps on giving, even though I am (technically) retired.
But, just in case this reads like one long name-dropping love-in, I should point out that winter was bookended by a dose of flu and time spent batting away norovirus. Sometimes, life has a habit of bringing you down to earth with a bump.
Derek took up racing in 1964 in a Lotus 7, won two World Sportscar Championship titles in 1985 and 1986, the 24 Hours of Daytona three times in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and Le Mans five times in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987. He was speaking with Richard Heseltine. #Derek-Bell
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- Post is under moderationRenault - #Alpine A443 1978. Richard Meaden on track in a #Le-Mans icon. This French-crewed, French-built racing car led at La Sarthe in 1978 until a controversial fuelling issue handed victory to its team-mate. Richard Meaden tests it at Dijon-Prenois. Photography Gus Gregory.
Given the passion and beauty that defines Alpine and Renault's collective efforts at building racing cars, it's appropriate that the work of this most Gallic of motor sport partnerships should be separated into periods, like those of an artistic movement. The boldest creation to emerge during the rather self-explanatory 'Yellow Period' is this, the spectacular 1978- #Renault-Alpine-A443 .
The culmination of an obsessive quest for outright victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours, this remarkable-looking machine was created with the express intention of succeeding where the previous three efforts had ended in heartbreak and humiliation. Its visual intent speaks volumes, but fully to understand the extraordinary investment in effort and francs that Renault Sport piled into its 1978 assault on Le Mans, you need to appreciate what preceded it.
Though the World Championship of Makes - forerunner to the current World Endurance Championship (WEC) - had long provided impetus for all the major manufacturers' season-long sports car racing campaigns, the lure of Le Mans ensured it remained the Big Prize, even though it was a standalone event. In #1976 #Renault was still dividing its attention between a full World Championship effort and winning Le Mans, but for #1977 the decision was taken to focus its endurance racing resources solely on the blue riband 24-hour race.
Then, as now, whether you're a beancounter keen for global marketing capital or a racer hungry for immortality, the pull of Le Mans rivals that of gravity itself. Yet with its revolutionary #Formula-1 adventure already beginning to eat into Renault's resources, privately and publicly there was a very real sense that, win or lose, 1978 would mark the final chapter in #Renault-Alpine 's Le Mans odyssey.
The A443 was everything the partnership knew about building racing cars, crystallised into one epic machine. Lest we forget, these were pioneering days for endurance racing. New Group 6 regulations introduced in the mid-70s had cemented the shift from the big-banger sports prototypes epitomised by the #Porsche-917 , #Ferrari-512 and #Lola-T70 to be-winged, slick-shod, open-cockpit projectiles powered by a new kind of downsized, turbocharged engine.
Together with the new #Porsche-936 - which combined an evolution of the 917's tubular spaceframe with the forced-induction fiat-six from the 935 - the Renault-Alpines were the most impressive and outlandish- looking sports prototypes of this brave new era.
None was more highly developed, or exuberantly elongated, than the one-off A443. Developed in secret with the hope of stealing a march on #Porsche , the A443 took the already pace-setting A442B to its ultimate conclusion. With a longer wheelbase for greater stability, an enlarged 2.2-litre turbocharged V6 for more power and torque, refined aerodynamics for reduced drag and increased downforce, plus countless detail refinements to improve reliability and fuel economy, the A443 existed on the cutting edge of sports-prototype design.
In recent years Audi's WEC effort has come to define the methodical approach that secures longterm dominance, but Renault Sport's programme of repeated endurance tests was every bit as meticulous. During the development of the A442 and A442B, the Renault-Alpine squad conducted countless longdistance tests at Paul Ricard and even at industry test facilities in the USA. They also ran somewhat risky high-speed aerodynamic tests on closed sections of French autoroute, running at speeds in excess of 350km/h. Theirs was an effort akin to the Space Race in four wheels. It's a lesser-known chapter of his career - I have to confess I only learned of it while researching this feature - but among the stellar ranks of French drivers selected by #Renault-Alpine for its all-out effort was a lone Englishman: #Derek-Bell . This was before his celebrated run of success with Porsche during the 1980s Group C era, but after his spell driving the mighty 917 and an early foray in the 936. He knew what it felt like to be part of a big, successful team, yet Renault's approach to racing blew him away, as he described in Volume 2 of Roy Smith's definitive study Alpine & Renault: The Sports Prototypes.
'When Gerard Larousse called to ask if I'd join the team at Le Mans for #1977 I couldn't believe they actually chose a Brit! I did feel a bit flattered, though by then I had already done seven #Le-Mans-24-Hours , winning it in 1975 with #Jacky-Ickx , so maybe they felt I had something to offer... Gerard said that before the race there would be a lot of testing to do. My God, what an understatement that was! The guys in the team were incredible; mentally driven like I had never seen before. Remember I had raced for Porsche; they had been there and done it all. At Porsche it was almost the same every year - you know, "OK, lads, it's Le Mans time again! Let's get sorted!" All the guys knew what to do, but they didn't go much for change.
'Renault was an amazing outfit. Suddenly I became part of this team - all young and dynamic. The organisation was 21st Century; it was fantastic. No disrespect to the other teams I have been with, but I have to say Renault was probably the most outstandingly refreshing of all of them. A serious, going-places outfit. Every time they went testing it was a big deal. They sorted the car, the drivers - everything.'
The test regime was intensified during the build-up to the 1978 Le Mans, not least because Renault's effort had ramped-up with the decision to build and develop the new A443 alongside its proven A442s. No fewer than five 24-hour endurance tests were conducted, covering tens of thousands of kilometres in an effort to expose any flaws in the car and root out any weaknesses in the team, its strategy or its driver line-up. The budget had also increased, from FF 7,714,000 in 1977 to FF 8,273,000 - just shy of £1 million, a massive amount of money for the time. The pressure was on like never before.
Le Mans is always a war of attrition and neither the French nor the German squad was taking any chances, each entering no fewer than four factory cars. Qualifying honours went Porsche's way, thanks to a blistering record-breaking lap from Jacky Ickx securing pole position in the first qualifying session. The Renaults found more pace in the second qualifying session, the A443 eventually posting the second-fastest lap in the hands of Patrick Depailler to secure a front-row slot alongside Ickx's flying Porsche. With the next three rows of the grid filled with the remaining works Renaults and Porsches, the scene was set for an epic battle.
One of the defining features of the A442 and 443 was the bizarre Perspex bubble canopy. With a letterbox-like slot in the front to help feed cool air and aid visibility, it boosted top speeds by some 5mph but it also made the cockpit unbearably hot. For the tall guys such as Jean- Pierre Jabouille it made life even harder, for he could barely fit in the car. He and Depailler tolerated the canopy for qualifying but ditched it for the race, while Jean-Pierre Jassaud over-ruled co-driver Didier Pironi and elected to stick with it on their A442B.
The race began in perfect conditions and Jabouille wasted no time in asserting himself and the A443 over Ickx and the 936. By the end of the first lap he had an 11-second lead over the Porsche, with the pair of 442s in hot pursuit. Drama came quickly, with the 936s of Ickx and Hurley Haywood both pitting on lap two for heat- related fuelling issues. By the fourth lap the A443 led from the pair of A442s, much to the partisan crowd's audible delight.
As darkness fell the Porsches continued to falter, while the Renaults ploughed on in dominant fashion, the lead swapping between them with the ebb and flow of pit stops. By midnight Jabouille and Depailler were back in the lead after stints that saw the pair lower the lap record half-a-dozen times.
By morning the 936 of Ickx and Bob Wolleck had mounted a comeback and was now in second place, two laps behind the A443, which was suffering from wheel vibrations but otherwise going like a train. When the threatening Porsche encountered transmission issues just before 9am and took more than 40 minutes to re-join the race, victory looked to be within Renault's grasp. Keen not to take unnecessary risks, the team instructed Depailler to use a device that had been fitted to all four Renaults before the race, which would allow the boost pressure to be reduced to make life easier for the engine. It was the only component on the car that hadn't been subjected to the relentless testing regime...
Despite misgivings from some quarters of the team, the decision was made to ease the stress on the engine. Twenty-one minutes later Depailler was stationary at the side of the track, surrounded by a cloud of smoke, the engine having suffered what was later diagnosed to be a piston failure caused by a fuelling issue directly related to lowering the boost. The 443's race was run.
The rest, as they say, is history; the Pironi/Jassaud 442B inherited the lead, surviving a deteriorating clutch and Pironi himself almost succumbing to heat stroke as he cooked beneath the greenhouse-like bubble canopy during a gruelling double stint to the finish. Weighing 7kg less than he did at the start of the race, Pironi was virtually desiccated, but after being plied with water he was sufficiently revived to make the podium celebrations. Renault had won Le Mans!
Something of that dramatic race remains present in the A443 to this day. Seeing it parked in the pitlane at the Dijon-Prenois circuit is a real pinch-yourself moment. This is one of the most dramatic and outlandish racing machines ever built, and its exaggerated form still possesses the power to stop you dead in your tracks nearly four decades after it first slackened jaws at Le Mans. Unlike today's LMP1 cars, which trade beauty for brutal functionality, the A443 is mesmerising, crazy and magnificent. Unmistakably the product of a company in its pomp, every part of the car exudes the confidence, purpose and pride of a car built to win, not merely to take part.
Owned and prepared by Renault Classic, the A443 is no dusty museum piece. In fact it still enjoys an active life, taking part in numerous demonstration runs and wowing appreciative crowds at the biennial Le Mans Classic race weekend. Pristine in every respect, it's a priceless jewel in the crown of Renault's remarkable back-catalogue of heroic competition cars. I'd be more than happy simply to stand and stare, but the ever- generous Hugues Portron - manager of Renault Classic - has agreed to let me drive it for a precious handful of laps.
I'm a little disappointed to see the A443 isn't sporting its famous Perspex bubble canopy, even though the sweltering beneath it and peering through the narrow, distortion-free slot would most likely be a horrid experience. Without it, climbing in is simply a case of swinging your left leg up and over the high side of the cockpit, plonking your foot down on the seat, then hopping slightly awkwardly as your right leg follows suit. Then comes the tricky job of supporting your weight on the two hefty tubes that dive down either side of the cockpit from the top of the rear bulkhead, before carefully threading your pins down into the footwell. Your ankles and shins clout a worrying array of hard metal objects on their diagonal route to the pedal box, which is offset so crazily to the right it feels like you're driving side-saddle. Best not to think about how far forward your feet sit in relation to the front wheels...
Put those dark thoughts to one side and, once you're settled into the seat, the A443 is surprisingly comfortable. The open cockpit is wide and spacious, the view ahead dominated by the stepped dashboard, which runs the full width of the car and sports an array of simple analogue dials that indicate the car's vital signs. With the slave battery connected and a 'C'est bon!' from the Renault Classic guys, it's time to press the starter button and awaken the 2.1-litre turbocharged V6.
After a few churns of the starter motor it fires into life, angry and urgent, each squeeze of the throttle eliciting an unmistakable blare from the exhaust and a lazy spool from the turbo. The clutch is heavy to depress; likewise the right-hand gearlever requires some muscle to pull across left and back to find the dogleg first gear. Despite a few nerves I manage to extricate myself from the pitlane without stalling, heading out onto the circuit for a few learning laps.
Portron has recommended double-declutching on upshifts as well as down, for the 'box was built with durability rather than sweet, sharp shifts in mind. You can certainly sense more inertia in the rotating masses of the 'box, and bigger-than-average teeth attempting to mesh with one another. Still, so long as you're deliberate with your inputs and synchronise the pumping of your left leg with a firm, accurate push or pull of the gearlever, it swaps cogs smoothly and swiftly enough, with emollient heel/toe blips the final bit of finesse needed for perfect downchanges. Reassuringly, once you're up and moving, the dogleg gate is sweetly sprung and well- defined, its centre bias helping you navigate your way either side of the second/third plane without getting lost on the way to or from fourth and fifth.
After a quick courtesy call back to the pits to make sure all is well with the car (it is), I'm sent back out for a few laps to drive as fast as prudence and courage allow. What strikes you first is how tall the gearing is. As you can imagine, employing five ratios to span 230mph leaves a few gaps, but what strikes you next is how the turbocharged V6 gets on top of each gear as torque begins to build, then rips though the last few thousand revs as the boost really hits home.
Second and third gears are the order of the day through the twists and turns of Dijon-Prenois, the big yellow car taking great bites out of the 2.4-mile lap with every lunge of boost. Apart from the endless downhill-uphill Courbes de Pouas and the long main straight it feeds you onto, Dijon is nothing like Le Mans, yet the A443 is great fun to try to get to grips with. It's keen to change direction, yet feels stable and faithful to your inputs. There's massive grip from the slick tyres and, as you gain confidence and carry more speed, you get the magical feeling of that mechanical grip being augmented by downforce.
As you might expect there's considerable turbo lag, which is exacerbated somewhat by the tall gearing and the fact that much of Dijon's lap is comprised of comers, yet far from the car feeling ponderous, you sense that you're beginning to get a tune from the A443. The engine is a force of nature, gaining exponentially in ferocity and firepower as that massive turbo begins to spin; once you're plunging out onto the long and slightly cresting straight, it more than has the lungs to hit its stride in top gear before the braking area for the tricky Villeroy double-apex right-hander emerges from the mercurial puddle of heat shimmer.
Your head bobbles about in the slipstream that passes over the open cockpit, but the view out is never less than breathtaking: the rising white louvred tops of the front wheelarches give you the perfect pointers as to where to place the car in the corner. Being sat so near to the front means you're always aware that there's an awful lot of car behind you (especially when you glance in the mirrors!), but it's never less than intuitive to thread between the kerbs. It's not especially physical, for thanks to the large-diameter steering wheel you only have to make modest steering inputs, with even the 180° Parabolique requiring no more than a quarter-turn of lock to negotiate. That said, I suspect a three-hour, flat- out double stint in the heat of the day might be taxing.
As ever with this kind of track test, it's an enviable opportunity to experience a brief but vibrant taste of what it must have been like to race a fabulous machine, not some ill-advised stab at the definitive dynamic appraisal. Nevertheless, that calm steering must have made it a joy to guide through the superfast curves at Le Mans, while the boundless straightline speed would surely have been exhilarating, and perhaps a little daunting, when spearing down the chicane-free Hunaudieres straight in the dead of night. To be Depailler or Jabouille - two great French racers at the top of their game - leading the French race in the French racing car must have been magnificent. Then to be so cruelly denied what must have felt like their destiny could only have been devastating.
Theirs was the pivotal act in an epic play; a tale of obsession that took Renault-Alpine to the brink of despair, but eventually filled an entire nation with pride. The #A443 might have failed to finish the only race it ever entered, but its role in the Regie's monumental effort to win the world's greatest endurance race should never be underestimated. Vive le Jaune!
‘THIS IS A VIBRANT TASTE OF WHAT IT MUST HAVE BEEN LIKE TO RACE A FABULOUS MACHINE’
Right. The A443 dominated the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours until a move intended to save the engine trashed it instead; Meaden sits where Depailler and Jabouille once ruled.
‘SQUEEZING THE THROTTLE ELICITS AN UNMISTAKABLE BLARE FROM THE EXHAUST’
Car #1978 #Alpine-A443
ENGINE 2138cc V6,
DOHC per bank, 24-valve, Kugelfischer fuel injection, Garrett T05 turbocharger
TRANSMISSION Hewland five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Rack and pinion
SUSPENSION Front and rear: four-link, coil springs, telescopic dampers
BRAKES Vented, cross-drilled discs
PERFORMANCE Top speed 224mph
‘THE A443 EXISTED ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF SPORTS PROTOTYPE DESIGN’
Above and right Author Meaden squeezes into the cockpit ahead of his test at Dijon-Prenois; out on track he discovers ferocious power and docile steering.
Left and right. The stepped dashboard layout means all necessary info is in sight; functional bodywork looks menacing at a standstill; 2.1-litre V6 suffers monumental turbo-lag but grants enormous pace once on-boost.
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- Post is under moderationThe legend #Derek-Bell
Last year saw me celebrate a bit of history on the quiet. In March #1964 I competed in my first ever race and, against expectations, I won it aboard my #Lotus Seven. That maiden outing at #Goodwood was the jumping-off point for a career that would encompass #Formula-1 inside a decade, but I am best remembered as a sports-car driver.
As I have mentioned in this column before, I had no great desire to race them; they were a means to an end once my single-seater career faltered. The opportunities to race a competitive GP car simply weren’t there so sports cars were the best alternative. The thing is, I grew to love the category - and one race in particular.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of my first win at Le Mans. To be honest, it makes me wince a little just thinking of how many years have passed by since #Jacky-Ickx and I stood on the top step of the podium. But what a win! The #Cosworth -engined #Gulf we raced that year was successful against the odds, as the #DFV most definitely was not an endurance engine. It was designed to run for a few hours in the back of an #F1 car and not around the clock.
What’s more, Gulf nearly didn’t compete that year. The backstory is that, after the #Porsche-917 adventure was over, the Gulf team became an also-ran as #Matra and #Ferrari went head-to-head. When our team principal John Wyer went to see Keith Duckworth at Cosworth with a view to using the DFV in endurance racing, he asked him: ‘What would you do?’ Keith replied: ‘I wouldn’t, lad.’
In the #1974 race, there were no works Ferraris but our cars were still outpaced by the wailing Matras. I raced that year alongside the much-missed Mike Hailwood. In about the second or third hour, I handed over the reins and told him: ‘For heaven’s sake, Mike, take it easy. There is the most awful noise coming from the gearbox.’ He looked me straight in the eye, smiled and said: ‘Oh well, let’s get it over with quickly so we can all get back for a few glasses of wine!’ Motor sport was a lot more relaxed back then, especially with ‘The Bike’ around. We finished fourth.
A year later, the team’s programme was trimmed to the bone. Much of this was down to Gulf’s Grady Davis - who was thick as thieves with John - retiring from the board. Not only that, there was a US senate enquiry into American oil companies, with Gulf chief among them. It was something to do with off-the- books financial incentives for certain South American countries to import their oil and theirs alone.
‘THIS YEAR MARKS THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF MY FIRST WIN AT LE MANS. THAT MAKES ME WINCE - BUT WHAT A WIN!’
I was driving elsewhere for #Willi-Kauhsen in the mighty #Alfa-Tipo-33 s and for a time it looked as though Gulf would be sitting out the entire season. It was only late in the day that a two-car Le Mans bid was announced. I was delighted that Jacky asked if he could be my team-mate, with Vern Schuppan and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud sharing the sister car.
Following the Fuel Crisis, the organisers took the initiative in trying to promote an economy-conscious formula. As such, we were obliged to run a minimum of 20 laps between fuel stops in addition to restricting the size of the tanks. That meant that our cars had to return more than 7mpg just to qualify. Our GR8 wasn’t a bad car, but there was no way we could run the DFV at the usual 9500rpm: it wouldn’t stay together and we would be way off on fuel efficiency. It also had a frequency problem at about 8200rpm.
There were all sorts of issues during the race, too, not least the most awful vibration and accompanying graunching noise each time you went around a right-hand corner - and there are a lot of right-handers at #Le-Mans .
With three hours left to run, we had a long stop to change a cracked exhaust manifold, which wasn’t the work of a moment. When I got back in the car, the prior vibration was now a loud thump-thump. With the second-place Ligier of Louis Lafosse and Guy Chasseuil gaining on us, it was a fraught time to put it mildly. Fortunately, the car held together and Jacky and I won by a lap. We discovered subsequently that the graunching noise was due to rear suspension pick-up point fractures. When the car moved, the rear end began to flex and steer...
I wouldn’t say that it was a lucky win. We worked bloody hard to be that lucky, but good fortune was on our side, that’s for sure. I still get goosebumps thinking about it all these years later.
Derek took up racing in 1964 in a #Lotus-7 , won two World Sportscar Championship titles in 1985 and 1986, the 24 Hours of Daytona three times in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and Le Mans five times in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987. He was speaking with Richard Heseltine.
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