The man who gives Dragon its fire

From engineering Jean Alesi at Tyrrell to being technical boss of US racing giant Penske, Dragon Formula E technical director Nigel Beresford has done it all in motor racing. Sam Smith profiles the veteran engineer.

Nigel with his charge Jerome d'Ambrosio at Marrakesh in November 2016
Nigel with his charge Jerome d’Ambrosio at Marrakesh in November 2016

For all of Formula E’s dynamic focus on a youthful outlook in image and content, there is a solid seam of personalities who are as influential as they are experienced in the all-electric formula.

Jean-Paul Driot at Renault e.dams and his former trusty F3000 and sportscar organisational lieutenant Rob Arnott, who is now at the Andretti team, are two prime examples of proficient banks of knowledge that lead teams forward.

But there is one man who trumps all when it comes to racing wisdom and how to prepare for just about every situation that presents itself at high levels of international motorsport.

These skills are especially prescient when it comes to the tight time-frames and pressured decisions that have to be made on a concertinaed Formula E timetable.

This man is Nigel Beresford, one of a few trusted confidantes of racing’s acknowledged Captain – Roger Penske.

After years working for Ralt Cars and Tyrrell, Beresford built up a multi-faceted role at Penske Cars with whom he worked, first as a race engineer and then technical director, for 15 years.

It was a relationship every bit as dyed-in-the-wool as Pat Symonds at Enstone or Jo Ramirez at McLaren. Bonds as close as this are rare in racing today, motorsport is now reasonably transient, yet Beresford’s relationship with the Penske family is still bonded by trust and mutual respect.

“Nigel is part of the DNA of our organisation, simple as that,” says Jay Penske, son of Roger and now Beresford’s direct boss at Faraday Future Dragon Racing in Formula E.

“The partnership goes way back with our family of course. He was with my father’s Indy car operation for many years and then worked with me over there before coming back to the UK. When he did, he was the only guy we contacted because we knew his dedication and leadership would get everything together.

“No job is too big or too small for him. This team would be half the team without him. He’s smart, has integrity and is a man of great ethics. You can’t ask for someone better as a team manager and as a technical lead.”

Penske’s words are no PR hokum; they are said genuinely and with reverence. Ask any other member of the Faraday Future Dragon Racing team about Beresford, and the answer is consistent.

What they really like about him is that he engenders a shared trust and doesn’t hide or twist information. This is reflected in the continuity of the engineers and mechanics at the team over the last three years. Emotional investment in racing is alive and well at the team and for that Beresford takes pride in running.

It was these very qualities that began the chain of events which saw him follow his father Don’s footsteps in to racing some 40 years ago.

It is often said that formative years in any career are the most telling. For Beresford, imbued in racing passion and mystique from hanging around the old McLaren workshops with factory manager Don, he chose an alternative path to making his own way in the industry.

“As well as Dad, I also got advice from Gordon Coppuck throughout my school days on what I could do next to get in to racing full-time,” says Beresford. “Other kids would go and work in the supermarket or down the butchers on a Saturday and I’d go and work at McLaren. I was 13 or 14 years old.

“I then made a complete hash of my A-Levels and I didn’t get the grades I needed to get to university. After doing some jobs at McLarens, driving vans that kind of thing, I turned up at the gatehouse of the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington in 1978 and said: ‘Hi I’m Nigel, and I really want to do engineering. You got any jobs?’

“To my astonishment the guy at the gatehouse didn’t say ‘bugger off’, and instead he phoned someone in the Metrology department who showed me around.

“This guy then told me about the National Maritime Institute in Feltham, which was owned by the NPL. So I went up there and introduced myself to another gatekeeper! Within a few minutes I was up before the managing director and I somehow talked myself in to some work experience!”

It was here, in Feltham, working as a scientific officer on industrial aerodynamics, that Beresford first met a group of fellow engineers who would, like him, go on to become significant players in 1980s and 1990s F1 engineering and design.

Working in one of the NPL twin-tunnels on the McLaren MP4/1 design at the behest of new McLaren custodian Ron Dennis and genius in residence John Barnard, were Geoff Willis (future Williams and Mercedes), Jeremy Bliss (future Lotus), Chris Saunders (future Williams and McLaren), Rob Cooke (future Brabham), Alan Stovold and Laurie Cole (future McLaren) and also a very young Spanish student by the name of Joan Villadelprat (future Ferrari and Benetton).

Nigel giving advice to Jean Alesi in 1990
Nigel giving advice to Jean Alesi in 1990

It was a pioneering yet rarified time in motorsport research and development, and it was attracting some visionary presences.

Beresford was almost pre-ordained to have a career in racing and attended late 1970s windtunnel tests with his father helping out with tooling-block models at MIRA and the Isle of Wight facility owned by the British Hovercraft Corporation!

“It was here on the Isle of Wight in 1975 they hung a McLaren M23 car upside down in the tunnel!” recalls Bereford.

“I was on a pre-programmed path anyway as far as working in motorsport was concerned. The purpose of going to the NPL was to get experience and understanding of tunnels and then I went to the National Maritime Institute to get some composites experience, doing things like composite/plastic cylinder block projects.”

Once he had built up his CV, young Nigel could then go to a racing outfit, walk in the door and take an opportunity with some confidence.

“I was on industrial placement during my sandwich course at this time and when they moved from the twin-tunnel to the bigger facility at Teddington I went off to university, but I used to hang around and chat to the guys there. It was funny because Dad also did some work on the MP4/1 programme and I helped out too but only pretty menial stuff.

“What this early experience did, was give me a good understanding of how to conduct a proper scientific test,” says Beresford. “Track time is so limited and so expensive now, and especially in something like Formula E, where in-season testing is outlawed to a major extent, the integrity of experimentation has always been pretty poor I feel. So I learnt from an early age that doing a proper R&D study and statistical analysis is vital to arrive at correct conclusions.”

From these beginnings, through determination to forge his own way in motorsport, Beresford soon went on to design F3 and F3000 components for Ralt, before beginning the first of two spells at Tyrrell – where he engineered the likes of Jonathan Palmer, Jean Alesi and Stefano Modena at the track.

Away from it, he was part of a rich axis of brainpower that came up with the remarkable Tyrrell 019 with which Alesi performed miracles on the Grand Prix racing scene in 1990.

Along with Harvey Poselthwaite and Jean-Claude Migeot, Beresford takes credit in this memorable design as it was he who provided the drawings for the aero surfaces under Migeot’s visionary direction.

This in turn led to his own epoch at Penske where engineering the likes of Paul Tracy, Rick Mears, Will Power and at his famous one-off Indycar test Ayrton Senna.

This is merely a sliver of his roles and responsibilities at Penske during his three phases with one of America’s most extraordinary family businesses.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate along the way,” Beresford says modestly. “Lots has changed in racing over the years I’ve known it, but lots has also stayed the same too.

“You work hard, you think as a team and you go racing because you love it. You have to keep things as simple as you can in many respects, and that is what I try to impart with what we are doing today.”

Photos with thanks to Nigel Beresford and Faraday Future Dragon Racing

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Paul Warwick: Britain’s lost F1 hope

Exactly a quarter of a century ago the UK was slap bang in the middle of Mansell mania.

Gripped by the second act of the bellicose Brit’s tumultuous F1 career, the country was celebrating his rejuvenation just a year after he had announced a phantom retirement.

In addition to his renewed quest for the F1 title, many forget that Mansell had also branched out in to team management when he became a partner in the Madgewick Motorsport team which ran in both the international and domestic Formula 3000 championship.

For 1991 the British F3000 team was spearheaded by Paul Warwick, younger brother of Renault, Arrows and Lotus F1 driver, Derek.

Warwick readies for a race in 1991
Warwick readies for a race in 1991

At 22 years of age Paul Warwick fresh from two and a half disappointing Formula Three seasons, but had since branched out in to F3000 in a poor Leyton House March chassis in the final races of 1991. It proved to be an inspired career move, one that jettisoned him on to a seemingly fast tracked F1 future.

1991 was Warwick’s year with a 100% success rate in the races. His ascent was rapid and going in to round five at Oulton Park, a venue where he had already won the season opener on Good Friday, the world was seemingly at his feet.

However, a tragic fate robbed British race fans of seeing Warwick mature further in to what many believed would be an F1 driver, and a career that would follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“He was a person who had both feet firmly on the ground and with a great family around him,” recalls his team boss at Mansell Madgewick in 1991, Robert Synge. “Derek knew what was required to get his brother in to Formula One, but I think irrespective of that he was good enough to get the job done on his own terms anyway.

“Paul had the mentality and work ethic you’d expect from a Warwick,” continues Synge. “I think that sadly British racing fans were denied the opportunity of seeing something special in the future when Paul died.”

Paul Warwick – The Man

In 1991 Warwick was ‘the man’ in every sense of the word. He vanquished strong opposition in British F3000, displayed growing maturity and eyed a likely promotion to the International F3000 series in 1992.

“He was super impressive in the five races he did with us and his confidence snowballed,” recalls Synge. “But he never got big-headed. That wasn’t in his make-up. He channelled all that confidence in to a very strong capability as a professional driver.”

Warwick’s race engineer in 1991 was experienced F3000 staffer Humphrey Corbett, who was under no doubt that Warwick would have become an F1 driver, and a successful one.

“As soon as he got in the Reynard 90D at the start of ‘91 he loved driving it and was very accomplished from the beginning,” says Corbett. “He was phlegmatic, in the sense that if there were issues with the car he would be patient, and nothing rattled him at all. For a 22 year old he was extremely mature and I think a lot of that came from the advice and encouragement he got from Derek. Paul was an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Warwick and engineer Humphrey Corbett
Warwick and engineer Humphrey Corbett

Warwick’s rivals were equally impressed by the advantage he exerted on the opposition which included seasoned F3000 drivers like Richard Dean and Phil Andrews.

“I knew Paul a bit from when he came in to Formula Ford in 1986,” remembers Andrews. “We raced against each other quite a bit in ‘87. It was obvious he was very good. He just struck you as a nice kid, a bit quiet even thoughtful I’d say. In 1990/91 I got to know him better, along with his Dad – Derry.

“In ‘90 we had a bit of an incident at the Birmingham Superprix and collided, but it says a lot about Paul that there were no recriminations or anything afterwards,” continues Andrews. “Earlier that year he was driving for Superpower in F3 and I was in their F3000 team, so we would hang out a bit at the factory and chat. He was just a lovely guy, quiet but had a sharp sense of humour. You could see there was quiet steel to back up the talent.”

By 1991 Paul’s brother too had noticed a change in his approach and stature in his chosen career.

“I honestly don’t think I am living in a false world when I say that Paul could have won races and potentially become World Champion in F1,” says Warwick. “I see him like Damon (Hill) in a way, because Damon flourished when he got in to F1 after a so-so junior career. The more horsepower, the quicker and more confident Paul became. He was extraordinary in F3000 right from the word go and he was just much more suited to the extra power, just as he had been in Stock Cars. He had grown from a boy in to a man almost overnight.”

“Paul was my hero, he was my Mum’s hero, my sister’s hero, my children’s hero,” continues Warwick. “He had this demeanour about him that people would just love and follow, like a pied piper. People wanted to just be around him because he was a special person who was on the verge of something big in his career and in his life.”

21st July 1991

In the fifth round of the championship at Oulton Park, Warwick had set pole position to maintain his 100% record. The sheen of invincibility showed no signs of dimming.

“I was on pole right until the very end of qualifying,” remembers rival Phil Andrews. “Then he went and beat me by 0.006s! I was gutted and remember thinking ‘for f*** sake, what do I need to do to beat this guy.”

“At the start I got bogged down as I had this issue with the gearbox several times that year and I went from first to fourth gear, so I lost second to Richard (Dean),” continues Andrews. “Paul ‘ran and hid’ again, he was pulling away from us effortlessly.”

With just seven laps of the race remaining Warwick led from Deana and Andrews. Approaching the Knickerbrook right-hand corner at approximately 160mph, his Reynard failed to make the turn and ploughed headlong in to the barrier. A rod-end on the front suspension had broken, leaving Warwick with no steering and little braking capability.

Beyond the tyre-wall was a single armco barrier shielding an earth bank. The force of the impact shattered the front of the monocoque in a manner similar to Martin Donnelly’s horrific Jerez accident nine months before.

“I remember coming over the hill up to Knickerbrook and as I came over I thought I saw what looked like the remains of a car but I didn’t see any impact,” says Andrews. “As I approached I thought it was the ex-First Racing Reynard that was being run that year (for Ranieri Randaccio).

“Then I saw Richard pulling off the track and my initial thought was he’d run over some debris and I thought ‘ok I’m up to second then’. But by the time I got to Druids the red flag was out and I went back to the pits. I was completely unaware it was Paul or it was that big a shunt, and also that actually Richard had actually stopped to help.”

An eerie pall of black smoke rose from Knickerbrook and alerted those in the pit area that something was seriously wrong.

Synge was only aware that Warwick had stopped and seemingly his 100% record that season was over, but had no idea about the scene of devastation at Knickerbrook.

“The first we knew about it was when Paul and Richard went missing, but with the gap Paul had it seemed strange they could have collided. Paul hadn’t damaged the car at all that year,” says Synge.

Warwick on the limit in the Mansell Madgewick Reynard 90D
Warwick on the limit in the Mansell Madgewick Reynard 90D

“Then I remember the clerk of the course, a guy called John Symes approaching me in the pits and telling me Paul had a big shunt and it didn’t look very good. In fact, I remember he said they were treating it as a possible fatal accident. Those words just didn’t register with me at that stage and I had to get him to say them again. I just thought ‘this can’t be happening, this cannot be real.’

“We went to Knickerbrook and Paul was there, lying on the bank,” continues Synge. “Amazingly he looked fine but was obviously unconscious. Then the air ambulance arrived and I went with Humphrey (Corbett) to the hospital, but as soon as we got there we were told he had died.”

The accident knocked the Mansell Madgewick team for six, and for Corbett the tragedy had a powerful emotional impact.

“Paul’s death affected me hugely,” says Corbett. “I can clearly remember driving home that night and crying all the way back. We used to run together and we’d chat about all sorts. After the accident running became a huge motivation for me. Paul was always ‘with me’ on those runs I did.”

“To lose someone with such a great future ahead really hit me and the team very hard indeed. I know that some guys in the team left the sport because of it. It was that bad.”

“Time is a healer in some ways, of course it is. But for many years afterwards I went to visit Paul’s final resting place and paid my respects. I still think about him an awful lot. He was really special.”

For Corbett it was the first of two tragedies as almost three years later he engineered Roland Ratzenberger at Simtek.

“Roland’s passing was very sad but by that time I had made the personal decision not to get too close to drivers, to just keep it entirely professional. With all respect to Roland, and I say this having really liked the guy, he was a good journeyman driver, whereas Paul was someone who in my opinion, and in the right car, would have won Grand Prix for sure.”

Richard Dean’s story

Richard Dean has never previously talked about the incident that cost Paul Warwick his life at Oulton Park. Dean selflessly stopped his Lola to aid the rescue attempt on Warwick’s burning Reynard 90D immediately after it had crashed and recalled to Motorsport.com his memories of the day.

Yorkshireman Dean was a no-nonsense racer with a strong combative spirit that had seen him score points in the previous years International F3000 Championship in an unfancied CoBRa Motorsport Reynard. For ’91 he was Phil Andrews in a Superpower Lola run by former RAM F1 bosses John MacDonald and Mick Ralph

“I’d come from Formula Three in 1989 and it was probably my worst season in racing, so I suppose there were some similarities between myself and Paul,” remembers Dean. “I got to know him quite a bit in the F3 days and we had mutual friends, but in 1991 we were rivals so we didn’t speak a lot. To be honest that was probably because he was so dominant that year and it just pissed me off!

“Everyone liked Paul though. He was a hard person to not like, even when he’s beating you all the time.”

Dean had run Warwick close at the opening round of the year at Oulton Park and had led the race before going off under pressure from Warwick. At the next visit to Cheshire three months later Dean was determined to redress the balance and attempt to reign in Warwick’s point’s advantage.

“I remember pretty much every aspect of that race and what transpired,” recalls Dean. “I tailed Paul for a few laps before he then opened up a reasonable lead. After a while the gap became quite static. I was using him as reference points around the track but I just couldn’t catch him. I remember feeling frustrated in the cockpit. He had complete control of the pace.”

As the race went in to its final phase Dean was pushing ever harder to try and catch his rival and emerging from the Hill Top crest just before Knickerbrook the accident happened right in front of him.

“I was completely focused on his car because it was my reference point. Everything I was doing in the car was natural at that stage, the gearshifts, etc because my eyes were totally fixed on him.

“The sequence of events seemed to happen in slow motion, it was weird in that way,” says Dean. “There was a puff of smoke from his car and he went straight in to the barrier, but it wasn’t like a normal shunt where it spins around and rattles down the Armco. It just came straight back out from the barrier but it also went up in the air after the impact and then it just erupted in to flames. It is all so vivid, even now.”

Dean unhesitatingly stopped his Lola and ran to the scene in an attempt to extricate Warwick from the wreck.

“I was probably there at the same time as a couple of the marshals,” continues Dean. “My instinct was to just help get him out. Where I stopped I could see the rear of the car but the smoke was so thick it was difficult to see anything beyond that. I tried to feel for the cockpit of the car with my hands but there was just nothing there. I could see the wheel was attached to the rear bulkhead and the front axle was intact but the cockpit opening was just shattered.”

“I don’t remember that much from then on because a marshal led me away, it was quite confusing. I then saw Paul against the fence and I knew it was as bad as it gets.”

Dean briefly stayed at the scene while the medical staff attempted to save Warwick, but then realised he needed to make his team aware that he was ok.

“I actually walked back to the pits and as I did so I saw the helicopter landing at the scene. I’ll tell you how vivid it all is – my Mum was at that event and it was only the second time she had ever seen me race. The first time was in karts and I broke my leg! Then here we are at her second race and I’ve disappeared, there is a big cloud of smoke in the air and my Mum has almost passed out in the pits. I got a bollocking for taking so long to get back there.”

Dean, who now works for the United Autosports team, was never recognised for his actions in attempting to help that day, despite the Warwick family attempting to get his bravery formerly acknowledged. Today Dean is adamant that he only did what anyone else would have done had they been first to come across the accident.

“It was just a natural reaction to try and help,” Dean says. “It wasn’t a bravery thing, it wasn’t a heroic thing, it was just something you do if you see someone in an accident whether it is on the road or at the track.”

F1 future beckoned

The immediate aftermath of Warwick’s death was one of complete shock. After the mourning and initial grief, the investigation in to how the accident happened took place.

“It was a freak accident in many ways,” says Synge. “Reynard had not one instance of that part failing in any running whatsoever. If it had happened ten seconds earlier he would have gone off at the preceding chicane and just cursed his luck. It was just an appalling set of circumstances that ended with tragic consequences.”

Warwick’s modest F3 career had been largely forgotten by the time of his death and those that worked with him in F3000 noticed the more brawny cars suited him much better.

“Paul seemed to revel with the increase in power that F3000 brought,” recalls Synge. “That is why I think he would have really taken to F1 in the early and mid-90s. We had an option on him for 1992 as I seem to remember, and I am pretty sure that with Derek’s contacts he would have been at least an official test driver in ’92 and possibly a race driver the following year.”

Corbett concurs with Synge’s opinion and believes Warwick’s star was ascending at an unrelenting rate.

“I absolutely would have wanted to work with him wherever he went in his future and I am sure that future would have been in F1. The guy had massive potential to be a top Grand Prix driver. By the time he left us he didn’t have any chinks in his armour at all. He mastered a very powerfully single-seater very quickly”

F1 may have been on the horizon sooner than anyone anticipated though, as Warwick Snr was already in negotiations with Arrows, Tyrrell and Jordan about possibilities for 1992.

“Paul had already done some work with Arrows and my relationship with Jackie Oliver was good enough to at least open the door,” says Warwick. “I could afford to help him in to a reasonable team so F1 was beckoning.”

One day at Donington

On a glorious autumn day at Donington Park in 1991, some three months after the tragedy at Oulton Paul Warwick officially became the 1991 British Formula 3000 Champion. It was a day of high emotion after Warwick’s five wins proved good enough to take the crown. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house.

“I clearly remember Derek coming up to me after the race and giving me this enormous bear hug,” remembers Phil Andrews. “I think he gave one to everyone in the paddock and then invited us all for a glass of champagne to toast Paul. It was very poignant to finish like that and it made sure the title went to the most deserving driver. We all remember him as a great champion.”

Frederik Ekblom’s late title push ended at the final round when Julian Westwood took maximum points and Jason Elliott, who had been drafted in to the Mansell Madgewick team, finished second.

“I remember some people saying that we didn’t want to win the championship and that we were kind of orchestrating it so Paul won,” says Richard Dean. “I can tell you that was absolute rubbish. We were young racers and of course we wanted to win. The fact was that Paul won the championship because he did the best job and gained maximum points from the races he competed in. He was just better than everyone else that year and by quite a margin.”

Paul Warwick’s legacy

For his elder brother, the loss was almost unbearable to deal with, but the way in which Derek Warwick reacted to his brothers passing was indicative of the man himself and his wider family.

There was never any hint of blame toward the team or Reynard. Instead, his efforts were rather channelled in to improving the UK circuits via work with the MSA on improving run-off areas and circuit safety in general to protect the next generation of racers.

“I buried myself in to making British circuits safer after I visited Knickerbrook a few weeks after the accident,” recalls Warwick. “I could not believe what I was seeing when I went there. Bolts hanging out of the Armco, rotten supporting posts, no gravel, no run-off etc. I was stunned.

“I made friends with the MSA (Motor Sports Association) and planned what we could do,” continues Warwick. “Of course, it wasn’t popular. There was even a stand-off at the gates of Brands Hatch once and they weren’t going to let me in!

“But we got in and we were able to make some good changes. Some were better than others. We got hammered for the Knickerbrook chicane but the circuits couldn’t afford a Tilke or another top circuit designer. We had to do something though. I believe that we saved lives and saved families going through what we had gone through.”

Derek Warwick in 1991
Derek Warwick in 1991

Today, Warwick remembers his brother daily and is looking forward to including him in a book he is penning about his life in racing from the early hard-knock days of Stock Cars in the 1970s to F1 and Le Mans throughout the eighties and nineties.

“I used to lock Paul away in the back of my mind when I was racing, but that stopped when I finished my career,” says Warwick 25 years on from losing his kid brother. “The Warwick family remember Paul every day. If you went to any of our houses you’d see a picture of him prominently on display. We are so proud of him and what he achieved in his short time with us.”

“You know, I still occasionally think of him and start crying. But I cry in happiness mostly, because although there is nothing we can change now, and he left us a long time ago, we celebrate him all the time. Even my daughters and my sisters’ children, who were too young to really know him well, worship his memory because the recollections of him are so special. He is still a big part of our family and always will be because he was just a very special guy.”

All photos with thanks to Jakob Ebrey – www.jakobebrey.com

 

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Manufacturers get serious about Formula E

Germany has been the hub for some of the world’s automotive engineering giant’s for over a century. Yes, France invented the motor race, yes Great Britain has had more F1 World Champions than any other nation and yes Italy has the most iconic and romantic producer of cars that there has ever been. But consistently, Deutschland has led the way in technical efficiency and production, on and off the track, with automotive giants VW and Mercedes among the country’s most celebrated institutions.

Just as, on the much missed David Bowie’s Berlin influenced Low album of 1977, there is something for everyone in Formula E and Germany has embraced it. Traditionalists may scoff about a perceived lack of aural attraction in the all-electric series. More often than not, they have usually not bothered to even to watch a race live, let alone understand what it is trying to achieve in motorsport and future mobility. And the supposed ‘sound issue’ is now so passé. What the crowd love about the sound is that they can actually still communicate and interact with their families and friends while the racing is going on.

German appetite for future ideas and concepts is why so many people have shown an interest in the two rounds of the all-electric championship held on German soil so far.

Last Saturday afternoon the starting grid on the on the Allee Karl Marx offered some solid evidence for this significant level of interest. On the grid I counted several influential people, in not only the motorsport industry, but also the European car making business.

Dr Stefan Knirch, Member of the Board of Management of Audi AG Technical Development; Jurgen Stackmann, Member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars and Dr Wolfgang Durheimer, Chairman and Chief Executive of Bentley were just a few of those taking an great interest in the series. Why, even Frank-Stefan Walliser – Vice President of Motorsport at Porsche AG – and a well-known face in the FIA WEC paddock with Porsche was in casual attendance, but keeping his ear very close to the ground. There were also senior personnel from Volvo and BMW in attendance. DTM boss Hans-Werner Aufrecht was even there, while his racing community qualified a few hundred miles away in Spielberg.

Of course, Supermodels are a glamourous addition to the Formula E grid, but it is big hitters such as the above gentlemen who will start changing the landscape of racing in the coming years, ascending even higher peaks for zero emission racing. The upshot is they have to, because the projected forecasts for electric and hybrid road cars is significant enough to warrant huge R&D spends.

Recent research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that’ sales of electric vehicles will hit 41 million by 2040, representing 35% of new light duty vehicle sales.’ How the oil industry will digest this is probably going to be one of the most interesting political and economic stories of the next generation.

OEM’s now banging hard on Formula E’s door

There were several significant meetings going on in the Berlin paddock and VIP areas at the weekend. Stories linking Nissan and BMW have yet to be realised but at some level both are set to be involved in some capacity to existing teams in the coming months and years.

The names of Mercedes/HWA, ZF and potentially several brands within the VW Group are highly likely to follow. Then there are the Silicon Valley big hitters. The Faraday Future company is seriously considering a Formula E project in the coming seasons and could be on the grid in some capacity from the start of season three.

Why the clamour to get in to Formula E when it is still at a relatively nascent stage in its development? It’s simple; the product and potential return on investment for these huge companies is significant in the long game. Its customers of the future are out there on the city streets and they are sponges to new and most importantly cool mobility.

The venues are getting bigger, the territories are expanding. Reach is everything in sport and Formula E’s tentacles are starting to spread rapidly. In short Formula E is maturing faster than expected.

Berlin

Agag, Liberty Global, Discovery Communications, the teams and indeed all those who put on the events are growing the Formula E experience in to something that can achieve their grand ambitions in the coming seasons.

And they come non loftier than getting an event in New York, the self-acknowledged holy grail for series boss Alejandro Agag. The deal isn’t done yet but progress was made at meetings that the irrepressible Spaniard had in the Big Apple last week. If he could pull it off it would send a sizeable shockwave of awe and envy through and probably beyond motorsport.

Speed of Life, the opening track on Low includes the lyric ‘I was running at the speed of life….’ It is a relevant ditty in many ways, not just for Agag, but actually for all those that have kept faith with the Formula E dream and are now starting to get the credit they deserve for starting something very special in sporting, social and economic terms.

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Inside the Buenos Aires ePrix

Fangio fever sits neatly with racing’s new dawn

There is a cloying fever for racing in Argentina. The fans love to see a great race and that is exactly what they got at the Puerto Madero parkland track last Saturday. Even the press men and women of the media centre whooped, jeered and applauded as Sam Bird held off Sebastien Buemi’s meteoric charge in a suitably thrilling finale.

A country that has delivered effervescent talents such as Juan-Manuel Fangio, José Froilán González and Carlos Reutemann, has a sound pedigree within the histories and legends of motorsport.

Now though, the buzz in Buenos Aires is Formula E, where solid foundations are being laid to capture new fans and disciples.

El Maestro - Photo by author
El Maestro – Photo by author

Heritage is still a key pulling tool though. Ask Jerome d’Ambrosio, who along with Bruno Senna undertook a journey of a lifetime to see Juan Manuel Fangio’s summer house and self-designed race track in his home town of Balcarce.

“It was incredible and quite moving actually,” the Belgian told Motorsport.com “The circuit was exceptional and the cars we drove were fantastic, not easy to drive but it was an incredible day, one we will remember forever – the day we went to Fangio’s town!”

The drivers tried a 1938 Ford V8-powered ‘single-seater’, a 1939 Chevrolet Coupe that Fangio raced in the famous Mil Millas, a gorgeous 1950 Talbot Lago 4500 that he raced in the 500 Millas de Rafaela and a Maserati 450S.

Fangio was suitably everywhere in Buenos Aires – from statutes, to a street named after the five times World Champion – and it was comforting to see the deserved reverie that is still displayed toward El Masestro.

The outlook for the Buenos Aires ePrix looks promising with positive noises being made about the ePrix continuing in to season three. The initial contract of two fixtures has now run out, but such has been the success of the event and the buzz it has created in the city that new investment for a 2017 race is already in advanced discussions.

Adam Carroll: Once, twice, three times a stand-in

Despite not getting a chance to race in Buenos Aires, Adam Carroll’s weekend was nevertheless fruitful as he continues to be courted by teams.

The Northern Irishman secretly flew out to Argentina last Wednesday but Motorsport.com was able to break the news before he touched down as he prepared to standby for the recovering Nick Heidfeld.

“I tested for the team last summer and we have kept in touch,” Carroll said last Thursday. “I obviously know Adrian Campos (whose outfit runs the Mahindra operational side) very well as I drove for his team. So when they asked if I would come here, just in case Nick was not fully recovered, I decided to seize it.”

Adam Carroll with Freddy Hunt at Buenos Aires last week - Photo by author
Adam Carroll with Freddy Hunt at Buenos Aires last week – Photo by author

On Friday evening Heidfeld declared himself fit, so Carroll was prepared to be a useful observer for the weekend. Then matters started to take several unusual twists.

When Daniel Abt fell ill on Thursday/Friday, the Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport team contacted Carroll, who had a seat fitting just in case Abt’s bug was persistent. It wasn’t, and Abt recovered to race.

Saturday morning saw the dawning of Jean-Eric Vergne’s own stomach turning troubles and when DS Virgin put out a tweet stating Team Principal Alex Tai had ruled out Vergne for the day’s running, it seemed Carroll too might have a chance there.

It was déjà vu for the Frenchman who had a similar issue at the Battersea Park finale last summer but such was his condition that DS Virgin got Carroll and local hero Jose-Maria Lopez to have a seat fitting.

In fact it turned out that Tai’s prognosis, although sensible and at the time correct, was of little relevance. The FIA medical delegate is the only authorised person to declare a driver unfit to race.

Eventually, when Vergne made a significant recovery and got clearance from medics to race, Tai relented and let his driver in to the cockpit, as he explained.

“I had to make the call not to let him drive but we monitored his progress and then the FIA declared him fit to drive,” said Tai. “To me he seemed pretty weak but he has the very understandable passion to want to drive. At that time it was a horrible commercial decision to not have the car out there but safety comes first.”

“It was a pressurised environment, but the fact is I think we made the right decisions at the right time and I had full backing from those people around me,” continued Tai. “Safety is Virgin’s first mandate.”

The saga was over and the resolution was a relatively happy one, but only time will tell if any fissures have formed between team and driver over it. Motorsport.com understands that the entente cordial between Tai and Vergne was somewhat understandably frosty during those few fraught hours.

All this could have left less a driver than Adam Carroll dispirited and down, but he has been around the block, and back again many times before. Immediately before qualifying a relaxed Carroll reflected on the whole situation(s).

“It has been a useful weekend for me building up contacts and reminding people that I am not done with single-seaters yet,” Carroll told Motorsport.com “I like this championship a lot and I really like the cars. I know I could do a job here, but at the same time I want to do it right. It could have happened a few times this weekend but in the end it didn’t, but I still met some great old and new contacts which I’ll be working on.”

Will we see Carroll in Formula E? The only thing we can say is, and with some irony, that as he flew out of Buenos Aires, Carroll was probably in a better position to make it a reality than when he flew in. He would be a major asset to any team in the Formula E paddock.

Ali-A – Game(r) for a laugh

Recognise the name Ali-A? I must confess I hadn’t, but then again my gaming knowledge stopped in 1985 when I couldn’t complete the sixth level of the graphically challenged Manic Miner on my often abused Spectrum ZX+.

But by the end of the weekend the social media sensation had one extra twitter follow to add to the remarkable 1.2 million that he already reaped for his entertaining diatribes on the modern world of gaming.

Ali-A about to get taste of FE action - Photo by author
Ali-A about to get taste of FE action – Photo by author

Mr A (real name Alistair Aitken was in town to get his first taste of the FIA Formula E Championship. Not only that but the lively youth drove one of the Formula E test cars after he answered the Call of Duty (sorry) from Formula E’s uber-creative media team. The grin on his face as he exited the cockpit was as wide as his the brim of his ever-present baseball cap.

“Wow…..mega…..what a buzz…” were just a few of the acclamations Ali-A machine-gunned out (sorry…again) as he thanked the Formula E staff for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Not even a night on the tiles in Buenos Aires with several of the drivers dimmed Ali’s ferocious social media output on the morning after the race.

You can follow Ali-A on Twitter www.twitter.com/OMGitsAliA

 

 

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Ramirez remembers….

Jo Ramirez is probably one of only a handful of people to bestride the pioneering years of the original Mexican Grand Prix track, located in the world’s largest metropolitan city, and the new version of the Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez which will host this weekend’s Grand Prix.

A trusted friend and confident of the Rodriguez brothers, a colleague and sounding board for Ayrton Senna, and a man immersed in racing history that spanned five decades, it comes as no surprise that ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix this weekend, Jo will be a proud man.

Fully infusing his homeland’s bubbling values of passion and sporting mania Ramirez has memories and anecdotes to throw away, but the man who has lived most of his life in Europe has always valued the present and future over the success and occasional heartbreak of yesterday Ramirez was of course a very close friend of Ricardo Valentín Rodríguez de la Vega, otherwise known as Ricardo Rodriguez, and the two journeyed to Europe together in 1960 as the talented young Mexican set off on a wonderful but cruelly short ascent to the cusp of racing greatness.

Jo Ramirez - Photo by Jakob Ebrey
Jo Ramirez – Photo by Jakob Ebrey

“Ricardo was a very special person, a guy full of life, always ready for a good joke,” recalled Ramirez “He didn’t need to work hard in a racing car, he was natural like Ayrton, Alain and Michael. He had an instant facility to drive at the limit without looking like he really had to try. He was very well loved in Mexico. He would have been among the greats, I have no doubt.”

One of Rodriguez’s most potent displays came on his Grand Prix debut in 1961, in a Ferrari, at Monza, amid a title fight with two of his team mates – Wolfgang von Trips and Phil Hill. Ramirez remembers it clearly.

“At Monza in his first Grand Prix he qualified on the front row with Von Trips, amazing. Some of the other drivers came up to him and started asking things like ‘which gear are you in for Parabolica?’ and ‘When you brake for Lesmo?’ Ricardo said: “I don’t know, I have not driven Grand Prix here before, why ask me’ But they were all asking him because he was so quick, so immediately. It was a very special time and he even led in that race but retired with a fuel pump problem. But of course that was completely unimportant as von Trips died with all those spectators. It was a sickening day.

A telling theme that Ramirez returns to more than once is Rodriguez’ attitude to a life doing what he had an innate affinity for – driving any racing car very fast.

“You know, Ricardo was not in awe of any of those drivers at Monza that weekend, that is why I say he was such a natural,” continues Ramirez. “They were just opponents to him, not heroes. In his mind he was at the same level as them but not in an arrogant way. He was the opposite; he got on with everyone and was very easy going. He was an important person in my life and he introduced me to people like Signor Dragoni, and also a young engineer called Mauro Forghieri, who I still have a great friendship with today.”

Young Rodriguez’s life was taken in a crash during qualifying for the 1962 non-championship race. He was three months shy of turning 21. When the Mexican Grand Prix starts this Sunday afternoon it will be 53 years to the day that Mexico mourned its devastating loss.

“I wasn’t there,” says Ramirez. “I actually couldn’t afford to go back for the race to my home city, and I had to stay where I was living, in Modena. I remember he was trying to get a proper solution with Ferrari for 1963, and if he didn’t then he would have driven for Rob Walker who was on the lookout for someone to try and fill Stirling’s shoes. I would have worked with him whichever way it went.

Over half a century on and Ramirez will remember his friend on 1st November, at the very location which extinguished so much potential, so much hope for the next decade and beyond. Now, Mexico has a new young star, one that could follow up on the promise shown so far in 2015.

“I think Sergio (Perez) can have a strong race,” Ramirez opines. “The track has a very long straight, so I think with the Mercedes engine being so good, he will be quick. Sergio has not raced in Mexico for many years. The extra adrenaline he will get will be substantial and if he uses it well it could be fantastic. It is easy to say you can treat the pressure like any other race, but it isn’t any other race is it. I remember being in Brazil when Ayrton was racing and he was the top guy. Everyone wanted a piece of him. It was intense and sometimes it showed even to him.

“It is still the early days of Sergio’s career. I think he has measured his aggression well and he is improving every year, so let’s hope we see that continue as it would be fantastic if he could get another big result at his home race.”

Perez will race on a track that has been much modified since the fearsome Peraltada hosted the magical 1990 Mansell ‘red-mist’ overtake on a startle Gerhard Berger, to some truly terrifying shunts suffered by the likes of Derek Warwick and Philippe Alliot, both in 1988, and even Ayrton Senna in 1991. The bumps were no respecter of reputation, the tyre-walls even less so.

“The track itself was built on a lake and actually the track used to move slightly because of this, so you had the famous bumpy track,” remembers Ramirez. “I recall that they were so bad in the 80s and 90s that the drivers could not actually focus and very often they either braked too early because they couldn’t actually see clearly, or too late and they would go off.

“Now they have different asphalt that has three different cuts of a much more modern and special surface material to make it harder, so that there will not be so much undulations. On the other hand I think that some of the best drivers always liked a bit of rough surface, they don’t like a billiard table to race on all the time. I remember that Ayrton when he would follow rivals would study where and in which area the car in front was reacting compared to his car. He used to talk about that in great detail sometimes.”

Ramirez will attend the Grand Prix this weekend and when he enters the circuit the memories will be too strong to hold back.

“You know, I went back to the track recently for the official opening,” he says. “So much has changed, it is a totally different place from when I first went there.

“So much has happened at this place. Bad things, good things, unforgettable things. I hope that the positive ones will continue because for Mexico and Mexican motorsport having a Grand Prix can only help the new Ricardo’s, Pedro’s and Sergio’s to come up and continue our nations racing legacy.”

Sam Smith

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Good Abt-itude

There are famous racing dynasties the world over. From the Andretti’s’ and Unser’s’ to the Fittipaldi’s and the Piquet’s.

Germany too has a long tradition of racing families. Young Mick Schumacher is cutting his racing teeth this season in the AFAC Formula 4 championship, while the Winkelhock’s legacy of Manfred and Joachim is carried on via factory Audi racer Markus.

But for a German family completely immersed in racing, both on and off the track, there is only really one three-letter name that comes to mind – Abt.

Daniel Abt - Photo Jakob Ebrey Photographic
Daniel Abt – Photo Jakob Ebrey Photographic

Daniel Abt is cultivating just as rich and as diverse a career in motorsport as his ancestors did, and believe me when I say the Abt ancestry has an engineering lineage like no other.

The Abt’s fascination with engineering stretches back to 1895 when Johann Abt (Daniels’ great-great grandfather) started the family business honing horse-drawn coaches in the southern German town of Kempten. Remarkably 120 years on, the Abt business is still based here, and it is thriving.

Hans-Jurgen Abt, Daniel’s father, is the Managing Director of the Abt Sportsline empire, which also now includes an event management company – ABT Lifestyle GmbH, of which Daniel is CEO.

His uncle is of course former DTM race winner – Christian. The traditions are endless but yet there was no significant pressure for the latest Abt Jnr to follow in the family traditions. The emphasis was very much on doing it if he enjoyed it.

“Nothing was taken too seriously for me at first,” says 22 year old Daniel Abt. “Some guys take it very seriously, even karting already at a very young age, but for me it was really about enjoying racing first. When I got close to formula racing, that’s when it got more serious. I think that is the way it should be for a kid because there is a lot to do growing up these days.”

Abt’s early racing career marked him out as one to watch. Wins in German F3 and GP3 ensured a rapid ascent too GP2 by 2013. However, two tough seasons with ART GP and Hilmer followed, before a career re-think took place in the summer of 2014.

When you are imbued in racing as much as Daniel Abt, just one international programme is unlikely to satisfy the thirst for competition. Therefore a dual campaign in 2015 saw him compete in both the FIA Formula E Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship, arguably two of the most flourishing series on the international calendar.

Abt at the Battersea Park Formula E race in June - Photo by Jakob Ebrey
Abt at the Battersea Park Formula E race in June – Photo by Jakob Ebrey

“The first season of Formula E was a real mix really for me,” says Abt, who of course runs with the family run Audi Sport Abt squad. “From my personal side I did enjoy quite a lot of races because I’ve always been quite upfront in terms of speed. But I had a lot of, let’s say races where I did not finish and where I should have finished in the end. It has been a real challenge to race these cars but a great learning experience for managing some good technical areas which are great for developing yourself as a driver.”

For the second season of Formula E he stays alongside Lucas Di Grassi at the team, and has been instrumental in testing the new ‘manufacturer’ powertrain which has been developed in house in conjunction with technical partners Schaeffler.

“It’s very good for the sport and it creates a lot of unique technology,” says Abt. “So far I have no idea what it is going to be like this season. We’re working hard on the package and have a good team behind us. The championship is getting more and more interesting with manufacturers involved now; this is what a series needs to raise it to the next level. The start has been good with testing but when we get to Beijing I think there could be some big surprises.”

Next levels had to be dug deep too back in June when Abt made his Le Mans 24 Hours debut. It was done the hard way as well With Rebellion Racing, a new engine in the shape of the AER, which was mated to the existing ORECA designed and built Rebellion R-One LMP1 racer, Abt had plenty to learn.

“Honestly, it was really a tough race but I enjoyed it a lot, it was a fantastic week, so much going on, it almost too much to take in and process. There were so many new things for me. I had to learn everything, the car, the team and just the whole new discipline of driving at night. I had to learn the track quickly, driving traffic at night… all these things, but I enjoyed it so much because doing these new things pushed me in a tough but very positive way.

Despite several stoppages Daniel was able to emulate his uncle Christian (who stood on the podium in Audi’s first Le Mans back in 1999). A win in the LMP1 privateer class was the young German’s reward for a dogged first La Sarthe campaign.

“In the end, suddenly I was standing on that podium and saw that big crowd,” he surmises. “It was a fantastic feeling; I will never, ever forget it.”

Abt in action at Le Mans - Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photographic
Abt in action at Le Mans – Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photographic

“You know, all my life I’ve been around racing cars and been involved in lots of topics in motorsport and racing, you know? When I grew up I was with my family at STW Races. You don’t realise what it’s all about but you just see all this crazy stuff that is going on and even at that age you think, ‘I would like a slice of that please.’

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Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches: 1990 and all that

Last week Autosport magazine looked back at 1990. It was a seminal, and in some cases truly life-changing year for many big names in the sport, particularly Nigel Mansell, Jean Alesi, Alessandro Nannini, Martin Donnelly and Eddie Jordan.

Below that though there was a momentous amount of talent throbbing underneath the F1 radar. F3000 was perhaps at its peak in 1990, and somehow I was fortunate enough to get a front row seat in seeing the likes of Allan McNish, Heinz Harald Frentzen, Eddie Irvine, Damon Hill and eventual champion Erik Comas.

Hill leads McNish, Irvine and Andrews on lap one in to Druids - Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography
Hill leads McNish, Irvine and Andrews on lap one in to Druids – Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Somehow, with a combination of my father’s fearless lobbying and my own 15 year old green as grass innocence I saw half of the F3000 races that season. As a ‘go-fer’ with Colin Bennetts eponymous CoBRa Motorsport, I unknowingly started my career in racing, give or take a few lost years at college and also in the hideously stultifying world of wine retailing!

I started out by being just a fan in the opening two races at Donington Park and Silverstone. At the former I witnessed Allan McNish’s appalling accident which sadly claimed the life of an onlooker.

A few weeks later I was in the inner sanctum on work experience at Brands Hatch and Birmingham for International F3000. Stir in a holiday visit to Pau, and all of a sudden, in my own head at least, I was Simon bloody Arron!

My less than prodigious mechanical knowledge initially made me the laughing stock of the CoBRa factory floor. I was, for my own safety, kept away from spanners, air-hammers or anything else that could harm me or anyone within a fifty metre radius. Sweeping the garages and polishing the car were entrusted to me, and I soon became a leader in this particular field.

Michael Bartels' Reynard 90D resplendent in wonky decals courtesy of the author
Michael Bartels’ Reynard 90D resplendent in wonky decals courtesy of the author

Two gleaming Reynard 90D F3000 cars became my friends that summer. Whether my Dad would drop me off in Warrington, or I would climb aboard a knackered old No.42 bus from Knutsford, I was a happy wee urchin. Whichever mode of transport I took, the journey would be soundtracked to the Stone Roses or the Happy Mondays. Manchester was just up the road and I was fully immersed in the whole ‘baggy’ scene.

‘Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches’, The Monday’s seminal sophomore album was a few months away, but as you will read later, it perfectly illustrated my less than glorious pre-race social engagement at the Kentagon pub at Brands that summer.

Still, I was part of an International F3000 team, which included veteran engineer David Luff, future RML engineer Rik Perry, and of course the force of nature that is Colin Bennett. It was a tight unit, which also included Colin’s son Alistair, who was roughly the same age as me, but was allowed to wield a spanner without threat of injuring himself or anyone about his person.

After being promoted from director of wheel washing to pit board controller for Alain Menu in the Oulton Park Gold Cup a few weeks before Brands, I was making a meteoric rise through the motorsport industry and was surely destined to follow Eddie Jordan in to F1 soon. It was now only a matter of time before I moved up to applying stickers, of that I was sure. That massive responsibility was thrust upon my young shoulders, and I happily slapped sticky LUK and Borbet decals on to Herr Michael Bartels’ 90D in readiness for the big one at Brands. If you look closely at photos you can see my obvious inability at doing this properly, which was mainly due to an inherent lack of cohesive balance.

Alain Menu and a 15 year old spotty urchin (on right) at Oulton Park Gold Cup, August 1990
Alain Menu and a 15 year old spotty urchin (on right) at Oulton Park Gold Cup, August 1990

So to Brands. The eighth round of the 1990 International F3000 Championship. There was a test on the Thursday and then it was straight in to the meeting. This was mid-August in southern England, so as a Northerner I was relatively non-plussed by the mirk and rain that weekend.

We listened to the Happy Mondays again in the CoBRa ‘fun bus’ on the way down to Brands. As I ‘stepped-on’ to it, little did I know of the unholy off-track carnage that was to come my way that weekend.

First off, my weekend started quite unpleasantly, as I was almost run over in the pitlane by Stephane Proulx’s Pacific Reynard during the test day. My embarrassment was complete after a double bollocking. First from one of Proulx’s mechanics (who it later transpired was my future colleague at Lola – Craig Wiggins) and then by my own boss – Mr Bennett……sir.

If that were not enough, the CoBRa mechanics goaded me with cheap lager on the Friday night in the Kentagon, and as an inexperienced drinker (but with lots of future potential), I flat-lined spectacularly in the hotel lift. I have no recollection of this, but one of the mechanics later told me that no less than Eddie Irvine and Trevor Foster, then with Eddie Jordan Racing, had helped me to my room. Oh, the wretched infamy!

Edmund Irvine. Podium visitor and adolescent drunken emergency service
Edmund Irvine. Podium visitor and adolescent drunken emergency service

My first real hangover resonated through the natural amphitheatre of the Brands pit and paddock for much of Saturday like a Mader tuned V8 in a tunnel made of tin. A mixture of wheel washing solution, swarfega, brake cleaner overdoses, and the rasp of Mugen and Cosworth V8’s rendered me almost unconscious on several occasions. If Stephane Proulx had decided to run me over again I really wouldn’t have felt a thing.

God only knows what my pit board information was like that day. It probably contributed to Bartels qualifying only 20th. At least he made it. Our other driver, the wonderfully bonkers Giovanna Amati raggedly attempted to make the cut but joined Marco Greco, John Jones and somewhat surprisingly Karl Wendlinger’s Helmut Marko run Lola on the sidelines.

Amati was a ‘special friend’ of a devilishly swarve, tanned and devious looking fellow Italian who frequented our pit occasionally that weekend. His name was Flavio Briatore. He went on to win stuff, make money and cheat in F1.

To the race, and what a race it was!

Qualifying saw a remarkable front two rows locked out by Brits. Eddie Irvine, fresh from rescuing a giddy drunken bum at the hotel the night before, stuck his EJR Reynard on pole from Damon Hill.

Hill-04

The future World Champion headed the similar DAMS run Lola T90/50 of Allan McNish, while a startling cameo from Phil Andrews saw him start fourth in a brand new Superpower Reynard, after his previous chassis was comprehensively disassembled by an errant Amati at Oulton Park the previous week. For the amusing (not for Phil) story on that incident click here – http://www.sniffermedia.com/blog/2013/03/09/291/

To be honest, the race was actually a blur but looking back on it now, a classic wet/dry affair it was. What was clear though was that Allan McNish reigned supreme and gave plenty of notice that as well as Irvine and Hill, he was destined for great things.

My distinct recollections of the race were that my cheap lager affected pit board skills were usurped by someone more conscious and capable. Yet, this demotion was quickly forgotten as I was asked, by the boss himself, ‘if I could lend a hand should the conditions dry, and be a chief ‘taker-off-er’ in a pit stop. You ‘ant got a choice kid, so shut the fuck up and listen t’lads ‘n’ get on wi’ it, reet!’

“Sure, a sinch….easy,” was the demeanour I gave. Inside that though there was a quaking, jibbering idiot, waiting to get out and run far, far away from Brands Hatch.

And then, there he was. Bartels bombing down the pitroad. Pit speed limits in those days didn’t exist and as he braked for his slot there was a momentary lock-up as approximately 550kgs of Adrian Reynard’s brain-creation toyed with the idea of ending my life before I’d even shaken off its first hangover.

Somehow ‘Mikey B’ stopped it and the air-hammers whirred. I pulled the Avon bedecked wheel off and then grabbed the fresh one and placed it on to the hub. It seemed to takes ages and probably did, but off he blasted, ultimately to finish a rather dis-spirited 10th.

McNish-01

We did get fastest lap though in the drying conditions. 1m15.566s. But the intense Bartels sought no solace and grumpily skulked off soon after dumping the car in Parc Ferme.

The British boom continued as per qualifying. As well as ‘Nishy’ winning the thing, Hill was second and Irvine third. Little Pedro Chaves completed an excellent cameo in Madgewick’s Reynard for fourth, while among the retirements was a bruised Gianni Morbidelli, after a hefty shunt at Westfield, title leader Erik Comas, and young international debutant Paul Warwick.

My Dad, soaked to the skin, and £15 worse off after being stung by the notorious ‘Umbrella mafia’ at Paddock Hill Bend, reached home long before I did.

Pulling in to Knutsford services at midnight, I was booted off the CoBRa fun bus. I was physically finished, my hands looked like raw steaks, I had chunks of ‘Avon marbles’ in my hair and those four pints of ‘disco-piss’ were still playing havoc on my insides. Yet, I was probably the happiest 15 year old in the world that summer.

Special thanks to Stella-Maria Thomas for all photos

 

 

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Judgement Day approaches for Formula E teams

Two FIA Formula E teams that have developed their own technology for the second season of the all-electric championship could end up reverting back to the original McLaren-Hewland powertrain.

That is the opinion of a leading technical engineer within the championship paddock. The well-known figure, who wished not to be named, told Motorsport.com this weekend that on the eve of the pre-season tests at Donington, “two of the squads have as yet had nowhere near enough track running to make their respective packages reliable.”

formulae_test

Season two manufacturers were granted 15 days of private testing to be undertaken before 1st August. Six further joint testing days are taking place at Donington Park this month before the cars leave for the first race in Beijing at the end of August. The only team known to have utilised all of its testing days is DS Virgin, who completed its program at Guadix last month. The new Anglo/French alliance started track testing in May.

“The manufacturer teams are all confident that they will be starting the season with their new homologated packages, but I know for a fact that quite a few of them are a long way from being competitive, let alone reliable,” said the source. “Some teams like ABT, DS Virgin and Renault e.DAMS have good resources and good timing plans, but others are struggling massively and I think there is a big element of underestimating what needs to be done. I know of two teams that are almost certain to have no other option but to go back to the original package. There will be plenty of all-nighters getting things ready but there is an element of some of them having bitten off way more than they could chew. With no testing opportunities after the 25th, some tough calls will need to be made.”

Motorsport.com can reveal that teams will be allowed to fall back to a default season one powertrain package but this has to be applied for by the end of the final day of testing on 25th August. An agreement between the teams was formed at a technical meeting at Miami in March to allow competitors this option. One team is believed to have attempted to block this, but were ultimately over-ruled by series boss Alejandro Agag.

All of the teams must package its cars for ship freighting to Gdansk in Poland on 31st August. They will then be transported by train through Russia to China in September, before arriving for the start of the season which is at Beijing on 17th October. This leaves just three weeks for teams to test, develop and potentially modify their new systems.

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Hirsch’s Heroics at Le Mans

Hundreds of stories emerge from Le Mans. Many are heart rending tales of bravura above and beyond the call of endurance duty.

This year, the one standout tale of daring-doo out on the 8.47mile La Sarthe track came after Gary Hirsch stopped his Greaves Motorsport Gibson-Nissan with a dead battery in the sixth hour. What followed is a story that although touched upon by media at the time, is now told in detail from Hirsch’s perspective after Motorsport.com spoke with him post-race.

Gary Hirsch; Quick driver and trainee 'lecky' - Photo by Eric Gilbert
Gary Hirsch; Quick driver and trainee ‘lecky’ – Photo by Eric Gilbert

“I knew I had a problem as I past the pits as an alarm came on in the car about the battery,” recalled Hirsch who was running P2 in the LMP2 category. “Then there was blackout, everything shut down, no radio, no nothing. So I went downhill after the Dunlop bridge using my momentum but at the bottom I had no more and had to pull off. The marshals pushed me back.

“We had some procedures in case of emergencies like this and I had to try my best to get the car re-started and maybe I learnt more about electrical engineering than I ever will again in my life!

Like all of the entrants, the team prepares for such eventualities as that which befell Hirsch and a tool box, mobile phone and other crucial equipment is stashed away in the car.

“We have a tool box in the car and also a mobile phone,” confirmed Hirsch. “ Plan A was to disconnect the battery and then re-connect it and maybe it would work again. Then we had a safety battery as well which I checked out and connected. I had to tape the cables and re-connect but still it didn’t work. So I then took the cable off completely, turned them around to make the connection again but it wasn’t working at all.

“Remember I had no radio but I had some of the mechanics and also my engineer Paul (Anthony) close by in the spectator ensclosure. I was doing some signals but I think the body language was enough for them to understand.

“After about twenty minutes I was still working on it and then the dashboard lit up. I couldn’t believe it, but when I pushed the buttons on the steering wheel it all shut down again. That was cruel!

The Greaves Gibson-Nissan at Le Mans - Photo by Pedro
The Greaves Gibson-Nissan at Le Mans – Photo by Pedro

“I was trying this for over an hour. Everything we could do was done but there just no way it would come to life. We had to get the car back to the pits for a simple battery change but there was no way. It was so frustrating as if it had happened 30 seconds earlier I would have come in to the pits!

Hirsch was encouraged by the crowd down at the Esses after Dunlop and they played their part in keeping Hirsch’s efforts going.

“The public were fantastic and very supportive and encouraging,” said the Swiss ace. “I could hear them shouting and telling me to keep trying, that was really nice. I really did my best but in the end there was no way.

“The mechanics did a fantastic job to rebuild the car after the qualifying accident (by Palatou) and the car felt great. We were in P2 and you have to say we would have been there at the end. There are some good memories before the battery problem. We just needed a bit of luck and we didn’t get it.”

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Iggy Pop at Le Mans?

Iggy Pop at Le Mans! Now there’s a thought. There are a couple of men with a shared passion for motorsport, who could make this seemingly random, yet wonderful dream, a reality.

In a year when Le Mans’ rock n roll credentials are at an all-time high via the Rolling Stone magazine involvement with ESM, there is actually another LMP2 driver that can rival the hedonistic pulse of an exciting music and racing business cross-over.

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Meet John Giddings and Matt Howson. The former is a well-known and successful music industry figure, while the other is one of the up and coming breed of quick and savvy professional sportscar drivers with the KCMG team which scored two class wins in last season’s WEC. Howson will tackle this weekend’s race with team mates Richard Bradley and Nicolas Lapierre in the alluring electric blue Oreca 05-Nissan.

The two met when Giddings, who is a friend to many in the F1 paddock, went to Brands Hatch and sponsored Howson’s Formula BMW entry on the recommendation of his old friend and Carlin Motorsport co-founder Steve Hollman.

“It was all very surreal actually because I was going to partner up with one of the Carlin cars to promote the festival, this was way back in 2006,” says Giddings. “But they had deals with Red Bull deals in place so they put me on to this kid called Matt Howson. Anyway, he went and won the big Sunday race which was televised live. That’s where it all started. Matt is a quick, good looking kid and he’s very professional so I wanted to see him do well, which he has.”

“We have a synergy that really works and Matt spreads the love on the Isle of Wight Festival and I get plugged in to racing, so everyone wins.”

John Giddings, guv'nor of the Isle of Wight Festival
John Giddings, guv’nor of the Isle of Wight Festival

The relationship blossomed and whereas Giddings has a genuine love of motorsport, Howson is also a talented DJ and has played ‘sets’ regularly to the hip and the cool around his home city of London. He even got a go on the ‘decks’ at the 2006 IoW Festival itself.

“That was cool but we also had my car at that time – the Formula BMW – back stage. Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters took a liking to it, sat in it and had his photo taken (see left),” Howson recalls. “That was damn surreal but a very special moment indeed.”

Giddings gave the iconic Isle of Wight Festival a re-birth back in 2002 and the event has again become one of the biggest of the festival season. He hitchhiked as a young man to the famed 1970 edition when The Who, Hendrix and The Doors rocked the gentile island on the very southern tip of England.

Now, Giddings presides over the modern rock Gods/Goddesses who perform at the Festival and has a fair few special memories to share: “I remember Robert Plant coming up to me at the entrance of the Premier Inn one year and asked “do you like Moroccan disco?” with a straight, sincere face, I said yes.”

“Then there was watching the Sex Pistols perform a country version of ‘Pretty Vacant’. Brilliant!”

“We’ve also had Adrian Newey here at the Festival; he’s a great guy, really good fun,” concludes Giddings.”

The memories flow and Giddings’ natural enthusiasm for both music and racing come through readily. He was at the Silverstone WEC race and was devouring every detail of Howson’s weekend.

Giddings is quick to acknowledge his reverence for racing drivers and also acknowledges the similarities between the rock star/artist and a modern racing driver?

“I suppose if you look at the perceived glamour then you could make a lazy assumption between the two, but to be honest if you are a Pro in either of these games then you are performing at an exceptional level as a professional,” he says. “For me, Matt and his adversaries have got just as much skill and guts as some of the top boys and girls performing at the Festival.”

Bet that feels good!
Bet that feels good!

So where does Iggy Pop fit in? The rock behemoth and energetic genius behind ‘Lust for Life’ and ‘I Wanna be your Dog’ is still one of Gidding’s clients and a long standing friend. Maybe Iggy could ride as The Passenger at La Sarthe?

“Get Iggy to Le Mans?” Giddings muses. “Now that would be fun wouldn’t it. Let me make a call.”

I Know its Only Rock ‘n’ Roll but I La Sarthe it!….sorry but I couldn’t resist!

For more on the 2015 Isle of Wight Festival click here – http://isleofwightfestival.com/

Follow Matt Howson as he attempts to win the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship at https://twitter.com/MHowsonRacing

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