March, April 2018

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 Two Feet, Two Pedals

Many Blog readers will have driven go-karts. Go-karts come is two types: the mega fast pro-karts, and the slower versions for fun or corporate entertainment. ‘Fun’ karting it enjoyable for all, as well as for reminding race drivers of the importance of carrying speed through turns.  Karts have two pedals: one on the right for acceleration, and one on the left for braking. In karting, we have no trouble using our left foot for braking. Until reading these words, most fun-kart drivers have not given left foot braking a second thought. However for road use, they will see left foot braking as a dark art for the dark side. Or is it?

In real world motoring, 3-pedal manual operated transmissions are in decline. Two-pedal automatics, paddle-shifts and electric cars are on the rise. If your road car has only two pedals, do you use your left foot for braking? In 99% of cases the answer is, “No’. So how come we have this anomaly? Left-foot-braking is fine at your karting emporium, yet it is out of the question in your road car.

When I drive a two-pedal car, I always use my left foot for braking, although my wife (who has driven karts) refuses to left-foot-brake. In a two-pedal road car, left-foot-braking has several benefits. It is safer as you can hover over the brake pedal in situations where there is a possibility that you may need to brake. It is also useful for low speed manoeuvring. On the move, it reduces time delay in two ways: throttle to brake, and brake back onto throttle. While this road-going time-saving may seem like words from a racer gone mad, time saving is not the primary reason for left foot braking. By deleting this delay, the ride is smoother in the transition phase: throttle-to-brake and brake-to-throttle. This delivers a more comfortable ride for you and your passengers. It can also be advantageous in the growing number of two-pedal turbo cars as a means of eliminating turbo-lag.

There are disadvantages to left-foot-braking. Get it wrong, like mistaking the brake pedal for a non-existent clutch pedal, and the car will stop dead, whereupon you will be rammed from behind because you ‘braked for no reason’. You might even suffer a dyslexic confusion and stand on the accelerator when you meant to brake. Until you have refined your left foot’s pedal action, you won’t have proper control. It is a valuable skill but don’t blame me if you get it wrong. Once mastered, you will wonder why it took you so long to come over to the dark side.



November – December 2017

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Man vs Robot

There was an unusual TV programme recently because it linked self-driving cars with self-driving race cars. It began by telling us that trucks will be an early up-taker of the new technology as 30% of this transport cost is paid to a driver. A truck driver must also conform to tachograph rules, thereby limiting use of the truck. If you are a school leaver keen to become a trucker or taxi driver, now is the time to change your mind, although not so for trainee race drivers.

Electric propulsion lends itself well to new technology and car makers are working flat-out to get electric and hybrid cars in their model range. The UK media bombards car buyers with news about the imminent arrival of high-tech motoring. This has resulted in a fall in the UK’s new car sales as people are reluctant to buy old technology petrol or especially diesel cars. They are waiting instead for manufacturers to launch the next generation of low emission vehicles.

Blog readers may be aware of Roborace; a self-driving race car concept that will soon have its own championship (yawn). The development mule is DevBot, a Ginetta LMP3 robot vehicle that looks like a modern Le Mans racer with the cockpit in place, but the bodywork absent. This enables easier maintenance, and for the vehicle to carry a driver if required. For a real-world comparison, they strapped in Guy Martin, the have-a-go-hero who is a favourite on our TV screens. On Silverstone’s tiny 0.8 mile Stowe circuit, Guy was tasked to beat DevBot’s lap time. As a comparison, a Formula Ford can lap this circuit in 39secs. The result was Guy 61sec, DevBot 68sec. This 11.5% difference is an eternity in the world of motorsport. For example, if you have a race car in front of you that is 1 second per lap slower than you, that other car is very much in your way. One second is about 150 feet per lap slower at race speeds.

While DevBot’s ingenious technology may be beneficial to robot street cars, a robot race car algorithm can only compete with other robots. What goes on in the brain of a race driver when a car is balanced at an ever-evolving limit in ever-evolving circumstances, is light-years ahead of any artificial intelligence. So much so, that it is not even worth discussing. And we haven’t even mentioned racecraft. Yes, we know that in 1997 the world chess champion Gary Kasparov was beaten by IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue, but a chess algorithm is as nothing when compared with a human brain.



September – October 2017

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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 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.


July, August 2017

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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.



May, June 2017

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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.


March, April 2017

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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….




January – February 2017

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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

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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:

July, August 2016

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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?