15. Sep, 2020

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TUESDAY 15-09-20

We were up in good time this morning as we had to ensure we were clear of the campsite by 10:00 because there was a horseracing meeting there today. If you miss that window you have to stay another day. Had we not been on a tight schedule for the next couple of days we both agreed we'd stay for another day just to watch the racing, and having confirmed it with the gate stewards on the way out, the guests on the campsite would have been the only people able to watch it at the track, and right next to the rack at that, because of the restrictions on social gatherings due to the coronavirus.

So where to today?

When I was about eleven years old, my mate across the road, Tony, was a big motor racing fan. The bonus being that his dad had access to is employers' Morris Minor van. So with a few wooden boxes in the back to sit on, I was invited to come along to a few motor racing meetings with he and his family. To start with I found it all rather boring. Firstly, we didn't have grandstand tickets and so had to stand behind a rope barrier at certain parts of the track. Unfortunately my view was often obscured by larger people standing in front of me. Then there was my lack of knowledge about the drivers and cars. To me they were just noisy cars that went round and round, and round, and being on an ex-wartime airfield it was always windy and often wet.

Over time I became interested in it, and they were the days (early 1960's) of a young Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, John Surtees, and my personal hero, Jim Clark, who drove for Team Lotus. In time I progressed to meetings at Silverstone with the added bonus of a grandstand ticket, usually opposite the pits. I don't know what happened after that. Maybe I joined the Navy (1965), but anyway my interest waned and I stopped going to race meetings, but my support for Team Lotus was still there.

So a bit about Lotus Cars then:

The Lotus founder, Colin Chapman, who never used his first name, Anthony, was born in Richmond, Surrey, England, in 1928. He was the son of a tavern keeper, and he began dabbling in second-hand cars while studying aeronautical engineering at London University.

After serving with the Royal Air Force, Chapman studied structural engineering at University College London and joined an aluminium firm but, like so many inventors, his real work began when he left his corporate desk and went home to the solitude of his garage. In 1949, he built his first sports car from a modified Austin Seven. Proud of his creation, he entered it in a trials race, which it won, giving him a taste for the chequered flag and convincing him to focus on racing cars. With a loan of £25 from his fiancée he formed the Lotus Car Company, named, perhaps in tribute, after his pet name for her. The rest, as they say, is history, or, in Formula 1 circles, legend.

A mere 10 years on from the foundation of the company, Lotus claimed its first grand prix victory in 1962 and went on to win a further 71 over the next two decades, claiming seven constructors' titles.

Jim Clark, who won the first two world championships for Chapman in 1963 and 1965 and was thought by many to be the greatest driver in history, died in a Lotus at Hockenheim in West Germany in 1968.

Chapman was also successful in the USA, thanks in part to the American racing driver Dan Gurney. Dan felt that Colin and his team could produce a winning car to win the world's richest and most prestigious race - The Indianapolis 500, a race which the Ford Motor Company were keen to win. Dan set up a meeting between Colin Chapman and the Ford bosses. They agreed that Lotus would produce a car and Ford would provide the engines in a joint venture.

Their first attempt was in 1963 with the Lotus 29 (which was a stretched rear-engined Lotus 25 Formula 1 car powered by a Ford V8 engine), almost winning at its first attempt with Clark at the wheel. The race marked the beginning of the end for the old front-engined Indianapolis roadsters. Clark was leading when he retired from the 1964 event with suspension failure, but in 1965, it was third time lucky. He won the biggest prize in US racing driving his Lotus 38 and winning by a whole lap; it was the first rear-engined car to win the Indianapolis 500. The car, said by many to be the finest racing car ever built, set numerous records during the race, some of which stood for twenty years.