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24-25 November: This Weekend in Motor Sport History

Discover the most momentous motor sporting events that took place during this weekend in history ……

~24 November~

1968: The London-Sydney Marathon Car Rally started at the Crystal Palace racing circuit in London at 2pm. It finished at Warwick Farm (an outer Sydney suburb), on Tuesday, December 17th 1968. “Until now, the toughest International rally in the world has been the East Africa Safari. If you spoke English, some Afrikaans and perhaps a little Swahili, you could muddle through. In the end, a handful of money waved at some native bystanders would always get you towed out of a bog. But in the London-Sydney Marathon it will be desirable to have a working knowledge of Urdu, Esperanto, lower Afghanistani dialect and possibly even English. This is the most International rally ever run. Cars have come from Britain, Australia, America, Soviet Russia, France, Germany….. the drivers include a Russian named Lifhits and an Indian called Ghandi….. the route crosses dozens of borders….. Organisers can go so far in helping competitors with the problems of country and language, but a lot has to be left with the crews. The comprehensive route guidance notes given to every team months ago, detailed rates of exchange, border procedures, and dozens of other small items of valuable information. But each team, realising that there was hardly any allowance for time lost through breakdowns or servicing, was still faced with the problem of keeping the cars going. In a normal rally, car manufacturers and tyre and oil companies like Dunlop and Castrol literally “shadow” the rally route with service vehicles and crews. But the London-Sydney is so far and so fast, that a complete re-think was needed. Both Castrol and Dunlop have been working for months on a complex network of oil and tyre supplies stretching halfway across the world. Both companies are, of course, quite used to this. Both have been knee-deep in motor sport for the last 50 – odd years. In fact, it was a Dunlop employee, Harry James, who started motor sport in Australia with a “demonstration” run at Aspendale racecourse in Victoria in 1904. Castrol is now one of the major sponsors of motor sport in the world. In Australia, their drivers include the famous Geoghegan brothers, the works Nissan team and the BMC works cars. Overseas, they look after world motor cycle champion, Mike Hailwood, the BMC works rally team of Hopkirk – Makinen – Aaltonen – Fall, and the Ford rally team, as well as Polish driver Sobieslaw Zasada, who last year won the European Championship. One of their more famous operators is expatriate Australian Paul Hawkins, one of the world’s greatest sports car drivers. Castrol car and bike wins have been chalked up at Daytona, Singapore, Wisconsin, Sebring, Le-Mans, Barcelona and the Isle of Man. On the other hand, Dunlop has been designing and producing racing tyres for scores of years. For one period of about 15 years up to 1965, Dunlop was the only tyre company supplying racing tyres to World Championship Grand Prix cars. The choice of racing tyres has become so wide that there are now special tyres for wet and dry racing, for ice and snow, for wet and dry gravel. The London-Sydney competitors will be able to call on six different types of Dunlop tyre for varying terrain and climate. It is this sort of wide experience in servicing motor sport of all kinds all over the world that makes Castrol and Dunlop, and other major companies like them, so involved in this great Marathon”. – Daily Telegraph

March 6-wheeled F1

1976: March held a press to launch their 6-wheeled F1 car called the 2-4-0. The car followed on from the successful use by Tyrrell Racing of a six-wheeled car, the Tyrrell P34, in Formula One racing. However, the engineering concept behind the 2-4-0 was quite different. At March Engineering in Bicester, designer Robin Herd had watched the P34 experiment closely and, by late 1976, had come to the conclusion that the ‘four front wheels’ concept might have been a blind alley. In his assessment, the improved aerodynamics at the front were largely negated by the rear tyres which at 24″ (60 cm) diameter would still have accounted for 30 to 40% of the car’s total drag. He also felt that with a modern rear wheel drive F1 car, the extra grip could be employed more usefully for the driven wheels. With this in mind, Herd drew up plans for a six-wheeled car with four driven wheels at the rear and all of the wheels the same 16″ diameter. His theory was that with all six tyres the same size as the regular F1 front tyre, the car would not only be slimmer than normal F1 cars but would possess improved aerodynamic performance at the rear with much cleaner air passing over the wing. Four driven wheels would also mean better traction and, unlike the Tyrrell, there would be no problem with tyre development since the car would use exactly the same rubber as a conventional F1 car. Herd called this concept ‘2-4-0’, following the Whyte notation used to describe railway rolling stock: two wheels leading, four driven wheels, zero trailing wheels. The first test took place at Silverstone in late 1976. Unfortunately, on the initial lap the gearbox casing flexed and the gears became unmeshed. No immediate solution could be found and so the rear crown wheel and pinion were removed for the rest of the day’s testing. Effectively the 2-4-0 had become a two-wheel drive car again. Fortunately for March, it was a wet day at the circuit and the driver Howden Ganley could not push the car too fast. Consequently, the test was reported as a success by the media. The problems on the first lap highlighted the fact that the car needed a new, stronger gearbox casing and a serious development program. Unable to afford the time and resources that this would require, the 2-4-0 project was de-prioritised by the company. In February 1977, the car — now fitted with a stronger gearbox — ran again at Silverstone with driver Ian Scheckter at the wheel. Although it was another wet day, the car was run up and down the Hangar Straight and, with four driven wheels, Scheckter reported that the traction was ‘incredible’. Additionally, the events of the day again made Autosport magazine’s front page (dated 10 February 1977). But this was the end of 2-4-0’s F1 development history. On its reappearance at the Belgium GP in June, the converted 761 chassis had been reconfigured as a conventional four-wheeler.

1977: Bjorn Waldegaard and Hans Thorszelius won the RAC Rally with a Ford Escort RS 1800.

1988: Marku Alen and Ikka KivimakiI won the RAC Rally with a Lancia Delta HF 4 WD.

1989: Pentti Airikkala and Ronan McNamee won the RAC RALLY with a Mitsubishi Galant VR-4.

1990: Juan-Manuel Bordeu (56) died in Buenos Aires from leukemia. A protege of Juan Manuel Fangio, Bordeu had a successful early career racing in Formula Junior. He was due to race in the French Grand Prix in 1961 but a testing accident left him unable to participate. He raced on in Turismo Carretera and the Temporada F2 series before retiring in 1973.

1993: Juha Kankkunen and Nicky Grist won the RAC Rally with a Toyota Celica GT-Four.

1998: Richard Burns and Robert Reid won Great Britain Rally with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 5.

2005: The curtain came down on the Minardi team with the last outing of a car bearing the name following its takeover and rebranding as Toro Rosso. Fittingly, owner Paul Stoddart drove the final lap. “It turned out to be a more emotional experience than I expected,” he said. “For so many years Minardi has given so much to so many. I wish Toro Rosso every success, but I know I am not alone in thinking it will always be Minardi in the minds of so many people.”

2006: Twenty-one year old Lewis Hamilton was confirmed as Fernando Alonso’s team-mate at McLaren for the following season, despite still not having driven an F1 car. It was the culmination of a relationship which had started 11 years earlier with a handshake between Ron Dennis and Hamilton. “We reviewed the grid and, apart from the top three, we reckoned most of them had plateaued,” Dennis said. “I am distinctly unimpressed with the majority of drivers currently involved in F1. I feel Lewis is well equipped to deal with these drivers who fall into that category.” Hamilton himself admitted he was “overwhelmed”. He added: “It was a surreal feeling. I was sat on a couch opposite Ron at his home. He told me that McLaren had decided to take me on as their new driver. It didn’t kick in. I put on a professional face. I could see Ron was excited. He said I should be, too. Inside I was. But it had been such a long wait. It was a warm feeling knowing the seat was mine. Now I have to get on and prepare.” The decision to appoint Hamilton was made after Monza in late September but had been kept secret.

2009: Flavio Briatore’s ultimately successful appeal against his lifetime ban from motorsport as well as £1 million in damages resulting from the Crashgate scandal began in a Paris court. The controversy centred on an early crash involving Nelson Piquet, Jr.’s car during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix of 28 September 2008, when he was still driving for Renault. At the time, Piquet Jr. described the crash as a simple mistake; however, shortly after his acrimonious departure from Renault and criticism of Briatore nearly a year later in August 2009, allegations surfaced that he had deliberately crashed to help Renault team mate Fernando Alonso, who went on to win the race. After a Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) investigation, on 4 September 2009 Renault were charged with conspiracy and race fixing, and were due to face the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 21 September 2009. In return for immunity from punishment, Piquet Jr. had reportedly stated to the FIA that he had been asked to crash by Briatore and Renault chief engineer Pat Symonds. On 11 September, following leaks of Piquet Jr.’s evidence, Renault and Briatore stated they would take legal action against Piquet, Jr. for making false allegations; however, five days later, Renault announced they would not contest the charges, and that Briatore and Symonds had left the team. The day after the Renault announcement, Renault confirmed Briatore had resigned from the team, while Briatore himself stated of his departure that “I was just trying to save the team”, “It’s my duty. That’s the reason I’ve finished.” The team issued the following official statement: The ING Renault F1 Team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. It also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team.[29] At the same hearing, the FIA banned Briatore from FIA-sanctioned events indefinitely. The FIA also stated that it would not renew any superlicence granted to Briatore-managed drivers—effectively barring him from managing drivers who participate in any competition that is under the FIA’s authority. The FIA stated that it was coming down hard on Briatore because he denied his involvement despite overwhelming evidence, and that Renault’s actions were serious enough to merit being thrown out of F1. However, since Renault took swift action by forcing Briatore and Symonds to resign once the affair came to light, the FIA effectively placed the team on two years’ probation. If Renault committed a comparable offence between 2009 and 2011, they were to be indefinitely banned from F1.  British newspaper The Daily Mirror described the ban as the harshest sanction ever imposed on an individual in the history of motorsport. Briatore later said he was “distraught” at the FIA’s action, and sued the FIA in French courts to clear his name. On 5 January 2010, the Tribunal de Grande Instance overturned the ban and granted him €15,000 in compensation. The tribunal declared in particular that “the decision of the World Council was presided over by the FIA president, who was well known to be in conflict with Briatore, with Mr Mosley having played a leading role in launching the inquiry and its investigation in violation of the principle of separation of the power of the bodies”. The FIA announced that it would appeal the decision issued by the French court, but the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement the following April. In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, Briatore said that he is sure that he will not return to Formula One, despite having his ban overturn.

~25 November~

Gaston Chevrolet

1920: Gaston Chevrolet, the younger brother of famous automobile designer and racer Louis Chevrolet, was killed during a race in Beverly Hills, California. He joined his brothers Louis and Andre in the establishment of a racing car design company: the Frontenac Motor Corporation. Frontenac replaced Louis’ earlier racing car design company, the Chevrolet Motor Company, which he sold to William C. Durant in 1915. After some initial success, the Chevrolet brothers were faced with obsolete vehicles after World War I, and not enough financial resources to make them competitive again. However, in 1920, the new management at the Monroe Motors Company asked Louis to run his racing team. The Chevrolets moved their operations to Indianapolis, and rapidly made the Monroe racers ready for the 1920 Indy 500, the first to be held since 1914. During the 1920s, the Indy 500 was the most important racing event in America, and Gaston Chevrolet, driving a Chevrolet-adapted Monroe, won the first post-war competition with an average race speed of 86.63mph. The Chevrolet brothers did not have long to enjoy their success, however, because just a few months later Gaston was killed along with his riding mechanic Lyall Jolls during the Beverly Hills race.

1951: Frank Mundy throttled his Studebaker to a win in the 150-lap NASCAR Grand National finale at Lakeview Speedway in Mobile, Atlanta, US. Bob Flock crashed his Oldsmobile in the early laps and suffered a broken neck. Herb Thomas wrapped up the tightly contested NASCAR Grand National championship chase by nosing out Fonty Flock by 146.2 points.

1951: The 1,933-mile Pan-American Road Race from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico was won by Piero Taruffi in a Ferrari.

1955: Stirling Moss and Peter Collins concluded a week of testing BRMs at Silverstone aimed at helping Moss make a decision as to which team he would drive for in 1956. “After their success in a Mercedes in the Targa Florio, the pair decided they would race in the same team,” reported the Times, but it the end Moss accepted an offer from Maserati while Collins joined Ferrari.

1968: After ten years with Plymouth, Richard Petty announced he would race Fords in 1969.

1981: Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz won the Lombard RAC Rally with an Audi Quattro. Mikkola’s rally career spanned 31 years, starting with a Volvo PV544 in 1963, but his most successful period was during the 1970s and 1980s. The 1970s saw Mikkola a frontrunner in many international events, usually in a Ford Escort. He became the first overseas driver to win the East African Safari Rally in 1972, partnered by Gunnar Palm and again in a Ford Escort. In 1979 he made a serious challenge at the World Rally Championship title, ultimately finishing runner-up, only one point behind champion Björn Waldegård. Mikkola was joined by Swedish co-driver Arne Hertz in 1977 and the pair were very quickly a force to be reckoned with, winning the British Rally Championship in 1978 in an Escort. The Mikkola/Hertz partnership lasted for thirteen years, through to the end of the 1990 season. He was partnered by Johnny Johansson for the 1991 season. Mikkola was runner-up again in the 1980 season with Ford, but switched to the new Audi factory team for the 1981 season, to drive the revolutionary four wheel drive Audi Quattro. The partnership was successful from the outset: Mikkola led the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally, the Audi’s first event, until an accident put him out of the event. He convincingly won the next WRC event, the Swedish Rally, but the Quattro had problems with reliability, and despite another win on the RAC Rally, Mikkola only managed third in the driver’s championship. He won the 1000 Lakes and RAC rallies the following year, but did not improve on third position in the championship, ultimately finishing behind Opel’s Walter Röhrl and teammate Michèle Mouton. 1983 was to be Mikkola’s year. Four wins and three second places saw him and co-driver Arne Hertz finally take the World Championship title. A second place in the championship followed in 1984, behind his teammate Stig Blomqvist, but 1985 saw him compete in only four world rallies, with three retirements and a fourth place, and slip to 22nd in the final standings after the Audi team was overwhelmed by new Group B competition from Peugeot and Lancia. Mikkola remained with Audi until the 1987 season, winning the Safari Rally in a Group A Audi 200 that year, before switching to Mazda. He remained with Mazda until entering semi-retirement in 1991, although he continued to make sporadic appearances on international rallies until retiring completely from motorsport in 1993. Mikkola has made brief appearances since then, including re-uniting with his co-driver Gunnar Palm for the 25th anniversary run of the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally (Mikkola won the original 1970 event and the 1995 re-run) and competing in the London-Sydney Marathon 2000 Rally, re-united with his 1968 1000 Lakes Rally winning Ford Escort RS1600 and co-driven by his oldest son, Juha Mikkola, founder of Canada Cup (floorball). In September 2008, Mikkola took part in the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally, a round of the Scottish Rally Championship. He was one of a number of former world champions to take part in the event in memory of McRae, who died in 2007. In 2011, Mikkola was inducted into the Rally Hall of Fame along with Röhrl

1992: Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya won the RAC Rally with a Toyota Celica Gt-Four.

1996: Armin Schwarz and Didier Giraudet won the RAC Rally with a Toyota Celica Gt-Four.

1997: Colin McRae and Nicky Grist won the Great Britain Rally with a Subaru Impreza WRC.

2005: Richard Burns, (cover image) who won the World Rally Championship in 2001, died at the age of 34 after a long illness, on the fourth anniversary of his title win. Burns was championship runner-up in 1999 and 2000 before becoming the first Englishman to land the coveted world title 12 months later. He made his rallying breakthrough in 1990 when he won the national 205GTI challenge series, then lifted the Mintex National series title and became the British Championship’s youngest winner in 1993 with Subaru.

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