September – October 2017

Indoctrination

The Oxford English Dictionary defines indoctrination as, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”

Indoctrination works best with the very young. Their youthful brains retain philosophies for their whole lives. Obviously, there is good and evil indoctrination, so let’s focus on a good one: automotive indoctrination.

The Mille Miglia road race ran annually from 1927 to 1957, with a small gap when Italy was fighting World War 2 with the Germans – when the Germans were winning – and against the Germans, when they were not. A tip for warriors: In war, it is better to be on the winning side.

After 1957, the Mille Miglia was banned because too many spectators got killed. Sir Stirling Moss, who won the whacky race in 1955, told me that the spectators – placing their children to the front – would lean into the road, watching for the next car. Eventually the long line of ‘leaners’ would reduce the width of the road to zero. Moss travelling at 150mph, would gently wobble the steering; appearing to be out of control. This ploy alarmed the spectators into retreat and opened up the road. Since 1982 the Mille Miglia is now a delightfully bonkers road rally. I ran in the event in 2011 and was pleased to see the spectators still holding their children aloft close to the cars flashing by; thereby positively indoctrinating the next generation.

When my 18-month-old grand-daughter (Isabella Giordanelli) travels in a car, it is in a rear-facing safety seat in the back of a Range Rover. Therefore, she is deprived of seeing a driver at the helm of a vehicle. Conversely, as a toddler, I rode in a car unrestrained on the front seat. Sometimes on the driver’s lap.  Or sometimes standing on the top of the seat leaning out of the sunroof. Add growing up with Calabrian gun culture and fishing with dynamite, it is no wonder that I am indoctrinated to do things that today are considered dangerous.

My grand-daughter has been deprived of car culture indoctrination. However, she is now old enough to come motor racing. More importantly, I bought her a 1955 Austin J40 pedal car that she can race at Goodwood in the Settrington Cup. That is when her legs are long enough to reach the pedals. So, Blog readers, get out there and indoctrinate future generations.

ENDS

 

 

 

July, August 2017

The Dean Van Lines Lister Chevrolet Knobbly at the 1958 US Grand Prix

It is that time of year again. A big envelope thudded onto the mat. It fell face down. On the back of the envelope, the sender’s details: Goodwood, with its Chichester address. Yes, an invitation from Lord March to race the ‘Dean Van Lines’ Lister Chevrolet at the 2017 Goodwood Revival Meeting in September. This will be my 8th Goodwood if you count the Members’ Meetings. Most races have been in the Lister BHL110, although I had great fun racing Stephen Bond’s 1965 Lotus Elan 26R (with what I believe is a record lap for a 26R) and also Paul Clayson’s 1964 ex- Ford Falcon Sprint. The Elan 26R is a joy to drive as it simply becomes part of your body. This means that a driver can ‘get in the zone’; vital for exceptional performances. People often ask me what it is like to race a Ford Falcon. Given that all the above cars race on ancient Dunlop crossply tyres, handling is light years away from a car on modern rubber. Only historic race cars slide so dramatically. The old Dunlop has no ‘steering capability’, a change in direction is executed by throwing the car into a huge slip angle; effectively rotating the chassis into a four-wheel-drift. The Falcon is actually great to drive. Paul’s Falcon has period history and Paul was reluctant to make it competitive. It was the heaviest and least powerful of the bunch and so easy to slide about.

Back to Summer 2017 and time to prepare the Lister for the Revival in September. The engine is currently away being rebuilt by Knight Racing Services. Fingers crossed that the 5.8 litre V8 is back in time for some testing in August. The Lister will race in the Sussex Trophy; for pre-1961 Sports Racing Cars. Each year the lap times of the fastest cars get inexplicably quicker. Goodwood has announced that only cars with current FIA papers can race, and that they will be closely inspected. The trouble is that modern technology is being employed in the set-up phase of the engines and suspensions. High tech damper dynamometers can deliver ideal spring damper set-ups that trial and error cannot match. Infinitely variable suspension geometry is infinite! Once all the tech is disconnected, you have a quicker car than a period car ever was, yet they look the same. Add the modern data acquisition from testing and the quick cars have another string to their bow. This makes it hard for a ordinary bloke fettling away in a wooden shed to keep up. I shall be racing against the best of the best who are supported by armies of clever engineers.  A ‘top ten’ finish is okay. A ‘top six’ would be more than okay.

I am often asked about the differences between a Lister Chevrolet Knobbly and a Lister Jaguar Knobbly. Both cars have similar weights and similar power. Handling is infinitely variable depending on set-up. Running costs are where the big difference lies. Jaguar engines are now being super-tuned to very high power; to the point of detonation. They are expensive time-bombs on a short fuse. Jaguar race engines cost £70k and D-Type gearboxes are £20k. Starting with nothing, a complete and reliable Chevy race spec V8 costs about £30k. A bomb-proof Chevy gearbox cost about £2500.

Other racing this year sees me in a Porsche 968 Turbo RS, which is a recent reincarnation of the 1994 ‘works’ Le Mans car. It is a great car to race, and getting even better as we develop the machine. I am also racing a 1970s Aston Martin V8, which we call ‘The Rolls’ as it is such a comfy race car. Then there is the Lola T298. This is a serious racing machine and differs from all the above by being exceedingly physical to race. Visits to the podium this year have been plentiful. If you had told me in 1966 when I started racing a Ford Anglia, that in 2017 I would be invited to race at the world’s best race meeting I would have fallen off my Lambretta.

ENDS

 

May, June 2017

Equality

In London, everyone hates cyclists, yet cycling is set to overtake driving. Traffic grid-lock, insufficient parking places and fines for driving into the city will only get worse. Public transport is similarly ghastly, especially ‘The Tube’ – London’s underground railway network. It would be illegal to transport animals is such conditions but it is okay for humans to be crushed like sardines. I once asked Transport for London (TfL) why it is virtually impossible to park a motorcycle or scooter in London. The reply left me open-mouthed, basically, ‘We don’t like motorbikes. They are dangerous and look ugly.”

No surprises to hear that London has seen a massive growth in cycling. In the year 2000, car-to-cycle ratio was 11 to 1. In 2014, the ratio hit an amazing 1.7 to one. TfL reckons that in three years’ time, there will be more cyclists in London than cars.

When cycling for recreation, I find out-of-town routes with little or no traffic as the health benefits from cycling can be outweighed by inhaling poison gas from exhausts. Approximately 15 cyclists per year die in London road accidents. Cyclists are risking their lives to save the planet and reduce congestion, so for me, part of the deal is freedom. Cyclists like me sometimes ignore inappropriate red traffic lights, or occasionally cycle on empty pavements. Would you stop at some cross-roads in the desert if the light shows red and there is no one around for miles? There is long, fast, narrow, bendy road near my house with a footpath that has rarely seen a pedestrian. I have choice: cycle on the road and risk death, or cycle on the empty footpath.  I must choose between breaking the law and living. The abandoned word, ‘discretion’ needs re-establishing.

Recently, my wife and I entered an 80km London-to-Brighton cycle race. At about half-distance I could see a traffic-light-controlled pedestrian crossing. There was only one pedestrian and he was long-gone by the time I arrived at the red light. I chose not to stop. Shortly after this, a fellow competitor cycled alongside expressing displeasure for my act. I suggested that he go forth and multiply, or words to that effect. So, not only do motorists and pedestrians hate cyclists, so do other cyclists. Equality rules.

PS. If you are a policeman reading this, all the above is fictitious.

ENDS

March, April 2017

 

 

Driven to Crime

Your licence acquires penalty points as you break various laws. Eventually you receive a driving ban. 12 penalty points is the theoretical ceiling before a driving ban ensues. The BBC recently reported that 10,000 people are still legally driving their cars despite accumulating enough points for a ban. The main reason for the criminalisation of the UK population is because millions of traffic cameras are triggered without discretion. Little old ladies are now criminals because they made some insignificant error. Some thoughtful magistrates are reluctant to issue driving bans and utilise a long-forgotten tool called discretion. A driving ban has serious consequences and can lead to unemployment, homelessness, divorce and an early death. Yes, I know the pious will say, “You should have thought of the driving ban before you broke the law”, but punishment should fit the crime.

 

In Finland, they have ‘means-tested’ speeding fines. A wealthy Fin was caught at 64mph (103km/h) on a 50mph (80km/h) highway. No big deal, you might say; but he was fined £47,000. Then a wealthy Swede got caught speeding on a deserted motorway in Switzerland at 181mph. The fine? A cool £567,000 and his Mercedes SLS AMG impounded. This means that crimes are greater if you are wealthy. Question: Should a wealthy criminal – say a murderer – receive a longer prison sentence that a poor murderer? While we all agree that “Punishment should fit the crime”, the sticking point is in the word ‘fit’. What fits for one person, does not fit for another. The punishment spectrum ranges from beheading someone for a parking infringement, to ‘case dismissed’ for a mass murderer.

European prisons are full, so judges are reluctant to add to the over-crowding problem. This means that you must commit a really big crime to receive a custodial sentence. To receive a prison sentence for a European motoring offence you must either kill people, or poke fun at the law by uploading your GoPro speeding footage to YouTube. It happens.

Finally, a philosophical question for minds much greater than mine; let’s say High Court Judges. Here is the question: Can there be a crime if there is no victim? In Europe, if I don’t pay my taxes, I understand that the poor, or those who do not wish to work, will be victimised by receiving less welfare. But if I am speeding, and then slow down, there is no victim. No victim, no crime. Please discuss….

ENDS

 

 

January – February 2017

Back to Work

There was a TV programme some years ago about people who did things at the weekend. Lying in bed all morning and extended breakfasts did not figure in the study. Strenuous, dangerous and competitive sports did. Sports people were interviewed. The purpose of the study – amongst other things – was to determine the efficiency of these people the day after their weekend competitions; i.e. what kind of Monday they had when back in the real world. Psychologists, doctors and various experts were called in and the sporting heroes were studied. It was found that our sporting warriors packed so much into their weekend that they effectively sacrificed much of their first day back at work to staring into space.

Some blog readers will have strenuous weekend sports and activities, or maybe drive competition cars. They suffer from (what shall we call it….?) I know, RDS (Recuperating Day Syndrome). In effect, their first day back at work becomes their day off, but instead of lying in bed they must go to work. They are tired, anti-climaxed and their work performance is unproductive and generally below par. Apart from spending the day staring into space, there is the weekend’s story to tell. This helps to overcome the deflation of going back to work. The story has to be told countless times of course. Work colleagues have to hear, and overhear, it many times. Then there are the phone calls – the same story about their feats of derring-do. For those with CCS (Compulsive Communication Syndrome), the telephone will be in use much of the day.

The study is not bad news for the employer as the experts on TV found that weekend-competitive-people are more efficient than their conventional colleagues if a whole week’s work were to be studied.

“Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence. ”

George F. Will

US editor, commentator, & columnist (1941 – )

 

November, December 2016

Heroes

My two heroes have something in common: Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Niki Lauda have both cheated death regularly. You should never meet your heroes, so permit me to ignore my fleetingly brief meetings.

Rather than list why the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is a hero, I suggest you Google him because his achievements would fill several books. He gave a talk recently in London where I received a signed copy of his latest book: Fear. He has written 24 books.

As for Niki Lauda, modern man will have seen him counselling the F1 Mercedes team on TV whenever there is a Grand Prix. I met him in 1976. We are similarly aged, so to me he is still that skinny 20-something who won three Formula One World Championships; not because he had the best car, but because he made the best of what he had. The British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1976 was the year of unparalleled rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. So much so that it generated the Movie ‘Rush’, which is a fair account of the events.

Following a brief chat with Lauda at the 1976 pre-British GP cricket match, I wished him well. After a controversial race, Lauda was eventually declared the winner. The next race was the German GP at the notoriously dangerous Nurburgring Nordschleife. At 23kms per treacherous lap, it is impossible to marshal safely. Everyone knew that F1 cars had long since outgrowth the Nordschleife and Lauda was not frightened to say so.

In appallingly wet conditions Lauda’s Ferrari slammed into the Armco, ending up in a blazing crumpled mess in the middle of the track just after a blind brow. Two more cars then slammed into the blazing wreckage. Lauda was trapped in the fireball, his helmet came off his head, and there were no fire marshals anywhere near the scene. He was eventually extricated by other drivers who stopped at the devastation. Barely alive, Lauda was taken to hospital where a priest read him his last rites. Unbelievably, 6 weeks later, Lauda raced at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza finishing fourth. When he removed his bloody balaclava, skin came away with it. Where lesser men would have quit, Lauda went on to win two more F1 World Championships.

A good trick: Knock on Death’s door, then run away. Death hates that.

September, October 2016

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Goodwood Revival 2016

The Goodwood Revival is an ever–increasing global success, because of effort.

There is massive effort on the part of Lord March and his team as well the countless other organisations involved. Competitors also pull out all the stops to put on a good show. It takes months to prepare the circuit for the Revival Meeting. Teams work long hours in preparing the cars for this event. Many competitors arrive on the Wednesday and leave on the Monday, such are the logistics. If you are a small team, you can arrive on the Thursday morning and leave late on the Sunday night.

This year I raced a Lister Chevrolet Knobbly in the Sussex Trophy. The race is for 1950s Sports Racing Cars. Today’s equivalent would be modern Le Mans cars; ie all the technology of Formula One wrapped in a lightweight skin.

Straight-line speeds for the big bangers is in excess of 150mph, with lap averages of 100mph. 200mph would be possible with long enough straights. The cars have to run on period Dunlop Historic rubber. The low grip available defies description but it creates a level playing field and applies period stresses to the suspension and chassis. Attaining speed is easy, convincing a car the change direction or slowdown is not.

As the 30 cars line up for a Union Flag standing start, I am on the outside of row-3 of the 3-2-3 grid pattern. I can see that if my Dean Van Lines, Lister Chevy dragster makes a good start, I can overtake a few cars on the outside/left.

With the 5-second board raised, I hold the 5.8 litre motor at a steady 4000rpm. The Union Flag rises and falls. The rear end squats. The rear tyres lay rubber and a smoke screen. I know that not much else will happen in the first of my four gears, but wait for first gear and skinny tyres to get me up to 60-mph (about 3.5 seconds). Still level with my now fast-moving competitors, I engage second gear. I know that my car is overgeared and wait for second gear to get into its stride, and bingo. Despite a tired motor, the Lister Chevy blasts from 9th to 3rd place approaching turn-1 (Madgewick).

Sounds good but the Lister is still in development and has an understeer problem. Understeer on turn-in, mid-corner, and corner-exit. At Madgewick I run slightly wide, momentarily come off the throttle to bring it back on line, and lose two places. I know that Goodwood is often a race of attrition. This circuit does not take prisoners. I struggle on with understeer and gearing so tall that I hardly use top gear. Nine cars crash or breakdown. Sad for them, and sad for me as I could not profit from their demise, as they were all behind me. The race ends prematurely following a 3-car pile-up at turn-3 (No Name), and a Jaguar D-Type in the wall at turn-1 (Madgwick).

A short race suited me as the Lister was not at its best. I manged to get within 2 seconds of the lap record but that is no good enough. This car should be on the front row. Easily achieved in minor races, not so easy against the best of the best. A front row slot for next year’s Revival is the target.

View from rear camera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cygz102NblA

July, August 2016

 

Hal

Tesla Motors in the USA recently disclosed the death of one of its test drivers. It appears that the autonomous – or self-driving – car was in collision with a truck at a non-controlled road junction. This news is both tragic and thought-provoking.

This technology is new and until it has fully evolved, there are going to be challenges. Eventually when all vehicles are autonomous and all road layouts and obstacles are included in the software, road deaths will be reduced dramatically. Total number of deaths on the roads globally currently runs at circa 1.3million annually, with another 50million injured or disabled.  Of the 172 countries listed, the UK contributes circa 1800 to this annual death rate, but don’t panic. If we look more closely, the UK’s global league table position in per capita terms, ranks it 169th out of 172 on the list. This is at the extremely low/safe end of the international table.

There are always 1-million people up in the air. Air traffic controllers have some computer assistance, and aircraft have collision avoidance systems, but it is still up to humans to make the ‘life-and-death’ decisions. Fully autonomous aircraft may come one day, but don’t hold your breath.

Autonomous car accidents, are going to keep the lawyers busy. It will also add ‘air-traffic-controllers’-stress’ to the job of the software engineers. What if an autonomous car cannot avoid an accident and has to choose between driving off a cliff or ploughing into pedestrians? What if it has to choose between killing a rich man or a poor man? Eventually autonomous cars will save the majority at the cost of a few.

Perhaps trust is the greatest challenge. I know people who won’t fly because they see it as dangerous. Pointing out that just about any other mode of transport, or any other activity is far more dangerous than commercial flying is pointless. Regardless of statistics and logic, trust is not there, so the non-flyers don’t fly.

Attaining trust with the general public will be the greatest challenge to the autonomous car industry. The media will headline any autonomous car accidents, adding to the complications. You may still be wondering about the title to these words. If you are not familiar with the computer named ‘Hal’ in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent 1968 movie, “2001 A Space Odyssey”, then you should watch it or at least some clips of Hal’s behaviour. Then ask yourself a question. Would you want Hal controlling your car?

ENDS

 

June 2016

Image by Chief Design Officer Daniel Simon / Roborace Ltd.Once Upon a Time

There was a time when if you fancied a nice juicy steak, you would pick up your pointed stick, murder a wildebeest, rub bits of wood together to start a fire, roast and tuck in. This was normal behaviour for millions of years. These days we simply point to a menu and a juicy steak arrives.

Normal behaviour changes. Nowadays we drive our cars. One day we will be driven by a computer. Self-driving cars are currently on test on a street near you. The amount of control varies. We already have self-parking, collision avoidance, and steering assistance where the driver still needs to be overseeing the actions of the computer. Gradually more and more self-driving features will enter the equation. Eventually whenever we need to travel, a driverless ‘pod’ will arrive and deliver us safely to our destination. We will no longer own cars that currently kill 1.25 million people per year. We will be amazed that once upon a time we actually owned cars, and even more shocking, we had absolute control of them.

Motorsport will also change. The first motor races were on public roads in the late 1800s. The first purpose built race track was Brooklands in the UK, which opened in 1907. Apart from the engineering and accident statistics, motor racing has not changed much. This beggars the question that when road-going vehicles are all state-owned, state-controlled pods, what will happen to motor racing? For now, Formula E electric race cars pacify the ‘greens’, and no doubt hydrogen race cars should do the same. Will there be driverless racing cars? Of course not, I hear you say. Well…, a concept race car already exists (picture above). It is called Robocar and is for a race series to follow Formula E. This will not be a car controlled by someone with a joystick. It will think for itself.

Unlike current computers, pods will not crash. We will be transported with no seat belts or airbags, and with the internal décor of a hotel lobby.  If the idea sounds egalitarian and utopian to the point of some impossible communist fantasy, fear not. Just as jet planes have three classes, so could pods. You may even have a pod-robot serve you a juicy steak in your gold-plated, diamond-studded, upper-class pod, whilst watching driverless race cars on the 3D hologram pod-screen. We will be living in a perfect world. Oh what fun….

May 2016

Monaco Historic10th Grand Prix de Monaco Historique

Grand Prix de Monaco HistoriqueBlog readers will be familiar with the glitzy Grand Prix in Monaco. Barring the odd world war, this glamourous event that has taken place annually in May since 1929. In 1997 the Automobile Club de Monaco had the brilliant idea of presenting a biannual Historic Race Meeting two weeks before the modern Formula One event.

It takes the principality six weeks to build the race circuit in the centre of the busy city, and another three weeks to dismantle it. With such a massive construction task, it makes sense to add the Historique to the infrastructure for F1 Monaco Grand Prix. With a slight deviation around a swimming pool, the 3.3km circuit layout is much the same as the 1929 layout but with many more safety features.

Invisible efficient technology has made historic cars very fast, and an exciting spectacle. Well trained trackside marshals, medics and hospitals now save lives that would otherwise have been lost. There have been four F1 deaths at Monaco. The most recent being Lorenzo Bandini in 1967. These were crashes that today would be survivable. The FIA has always been concerned about historic racing as this governing body fears that any serious accidents may impact modern racing and thereby the FIA’s income. Historic racing has considerable authority as it is such a boom industry. An irresistible force on a collision course with immovable object? Time will tell.

For the competitors, racing in the Monaco Historique is a costly business. Assuming that an entrant has the right car, he or she then has to pay a hefty entry fee, as well as the accommodation costs and transportation costs of his support team, and running costs for the race car. So one short race, where nothing bad happens, could easily cost the entrant well over £20,000. Or about £1000 per minute. But then this is peanuts compared with how much the modern F1 teams spend two weeks later.

Incidentally a 1billion dollar superyacht is under construction which will resemble a floating Monte Carlo, complete with a Monaco city scape of buildings, replica race track, casino, beach, lake, and much much more. It is easy to become blasé with millions and billions. A million seconds is just over 11 days. A billion seconds is nearly 32 years.