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.

ENDS