More sad news today, the passing of the great Murray Walker, this makes three of the senior members of the BRDC have passed away within three weeks. Murray was the great age of 97.
This is too sad, one of the BRDC’s oldest members passed away suddenly on Monday 8th March. Keith had been a BRDC member since 1959, some ten years before me. His life long friend Chris Craft had died just 17 days before Keith, to loose both of them is just too sad. They had worked together in Motor Sport for so long. see this: https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/may-2012/108/lunch-with-keith-greene-chris-craft?fbclid=IwAR00zadQjbhN2HuDZm1ZnCE_JGqBQ3wSCi0YHHytb56HDW8sbbkKKyUCsIQ
This photo dates back to 2010 when Chris was making the very last batch of Rocket cars and I made a visit at that time , fortunately Marie-Therese was there to capture the event.
Yesterday, 20th February 2021 we lost my dear friend, Chris Craft to the paddock in the sky. Apart from racing together many times in the day and being co-drivers in Paul Richard in 1971 in the works Chevron B19, we used to go biking together all over France, travelled on amazing trips which Marie-Therese organised for us every year. Chris was an inventor, an engineer, and designer of furniture, his skills knew no limits. He will be missed by so many who knew him. A special guy.
Here is a great new shot of the Avalon Lola T70Mk3b in the pits at the South African 9 hour race. It won the class and was driven by Jackie Pretorius and Barrie Smith.
Once again a new photo of the 72 Le Mans race has turned up on line, I have never seen this before. Here I am being overtaken by the Autodelta Alfa T33 driven by Nino Vaccarella and Andrea de Adamich to 4th place overall .
Latest web site stories
During the Covid19 lock down I wrote some racing stories publish by a French site. Here are the links
Le Mans 1972
9 Hours of Kyalami 1970
The Danish Grand Prix 1968/1969
This photos was the front page of the local newspaper in Silkeborg the day before the race and they had 80,000 people come the next day to see if she was still there !
Johnny Blades holds the hand of the nice lady while Peter Crossley and father Crossley look on. The Chevron B8 is the FVA engined car of John Blades.See more in French at:
1972 was the 1st and only year that I raced exclusively in France due to a wholly French sponsor, the car was out nearly every week-end doing either circuit races or International hill climbs which are daunting and I had never done before, how that came about is part of the Le Mans story.
1971 I was left with no money for racing and had to get a sponsor to continue. I knew that during the Winter exhibition season the top men in their companies always attended for the press days. My idea was to look for a sponsor in France as the French companies were at that time much less solicited than the British ones , or so I thought. My French was not so good and I contacted an old French racing friend, René Ligonnet who I had met in 69 while we were both racing F3. René warmed to the idea of getting some sponsor money and we set about contacting various companies on press days of exhibitions.
We went to the Photo exhibition and after visiting several stands, we came across an impressive Kodak Pathé stand and managed to contact the marketing manager directly which would have been impossible at his office. We got an appointment to make a pitch a couple of weeks later at their head office, Avenue Montaigne , Paris.
I made a plan with René and I said we need to have a model with the Kodak colours . So we went to a model shop and bought a McLaren M8 in kit form and assembled it then had it painted professionally in Kodak colours. Found a plain cardboard shoe box where the model was “garaged “till needed !
I knew, despite limited French, that in negotiations, the two important words in French business were “ Spécialiste” and Exclusivité “
The day of the pitch arrived and at a huge boardroom table René and I sat with 4 Kodak Pathé directors, some distance away. Me holding the shoe box which intrigued them, I am sure. They asked me about our “Exclusivité” and I said we had the only female mechanic in France and produced photos of this beautiful girl, Marie-Nelly Lartigue, dressed in overalls working on René’s F3 Chevron.
I was waiting for the question which I was sure would come sooner or later…. What will this car look like ? When it did I had great pleasure in opening my shoe box removing the model and whizzing it right across the huge meeting table into the hands of the Managing Director, much to his surprise. I think at this moment the deal was sealed in their minds. They could see the advertising merits of our ideas.
We bought a Lola T290 which had been over ordered by Guy Edwards who I knew well, got a couple of new Cosworth FVC motors , bought a new Bedford van and a covered trailer and the Kodak racing team was born.
Our agreement was we had to race exclusively in France, and planning Le Mans was our first job at the start of the season. René and I shared the car for long distance races and we exchanged every week-end, he had his French mechanic and I had the brilliant John McDonnell who had worked for Mike d’Udy and David Piper previously .
We decided that we needed some expertise to help with Le Mans and wanted to change the bodywork. We added rails along the side of the body with a pair of upright fins at the rear. Rails to stop the air spilling off the side and fins to give stability in the long straight lines at Le Mans. This work was carried out by Grand Prix Metalcraft in London.
For the engines we went to Geoff Richardson who explained that a Cosworth 4 cylinder FV engine had never completed 24 hour race ! Their problem was the valves. They become very pitted ingesting all the dust and gravel particles from the track, after some time the compression is lost and the engine would not restart ! So Geoff said build an air intake from above the car to supply clean air, he also fitted F1 cams for more peak, we fitted the clean air intake. [All of these mods were copied by the factory for the 1973 model car, T292 !]
I asked the factory for some spare body parts on a sale or return basis and they refused saying no Lola had never completed a 24 hour race before and it was stupid to try, it was Derek Ongaro who told me that !
We rented a house near the circuit in a village called Volnay. There was a garage in the village and we rented a corner for preparation and the whole village got involved. After our arrival the village school teacher arrived with all the children who drew pictures of the car ! We had become part of the village for that week ! John McDonnell had engaged his two old colleagues , the Amette Brothers John and David. John Amette had worked for Piper and Charles Lucas on his GT40. He is now the factory Classic Ferrari man in North America working out of California.
After the 1st shake down I had noticed something strange about the clutch, John removed the gearbox to find the bearing release carrier was too long and had to machine it shorter. If he had not done this the Lola would not have completed 1 hour of the race !
The official practice went well, we were allocated a pit next door to the fateful Jo Bonnier Lola 280 team.
We had journalists queuing outside our caravan to interview Marie-Nelly our beautiful mechanic. Kodak were so pleased when the articles appeared in magazines and newspapers all over France. Another bit of good luck was that in practice at one moment the TV camera followed our car for nearly a complete lap as there were few cars on the circuit at that time.
The other important member of our team was our French speaking pit manager.
I asked my old friend from Nice Jacques Barichella. Fortunately for us he accepted and he was an excellent professionally trained photographer, which is why we have such an excellent photographic record of the event.
Among all the photos Jacques took, he took possibly the last portrait of Jo Bonnier with Gérard Larousse just before the race. Sad. We also had Barry Sheppard and Mike Rawlings from Rawlson Cars who looked after the signalling pit on the far side of the circuit. Hard and tedious but important job.
The race was really quite uneventful with two exceptions. One drama was when the far side of the circuit got wet, the rest of the circuit was dry and I spun on the wet bit with the slicks on and stopped just feet from the Armco ! So that was lucky !
Then in the morning we ran out of front brake pads and lost 30 minutes while the boys struggled with red hot disks to replace the pads. Ferodo later told us they had pads which would have lasted the distance. Had we not lost that 30 minutes we would have finished 5th overall ! As it was we won the class, 2 litre “Proto” and became the 1st Lola to complete the 24 hour race !
After the race we sent the race engine back to Geoff Richardson for a rebuild. A couple of days later he stripped the engine then called me say what an idiot I was, I had sent him the practice engine ! Of course I had not , he could not believe what excellent condition the race engine was in, he changed the bearings and rings and put is back together ! Like new !
I had some similar remarks from Hewland when they stripped the gearbox !
Photos can be seen at:
Story by Barrie Smith © 2020.