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A Grand Prix Driver at work

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#1 Roger Clark

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Posted 11 October 2000 - 20:35

I was reading don's latest RVM, about the differences, or otherwise in Grand Prix racing over 50 ears. For some reason, it reminded me of this, which I had not read for some time, and some people may not have read at all.

As he was number one in the team he had two cars at his disposal, one his car for the actual race, the other as a spare car and specially set-up for qualifying. Morning testing had not gone too well, with numerous little niggling mechanical problems, and in the afternoon qualifying, further troubles prevented him getting the best out of the T-car, so that he ended up in 8th place, nearly three seconds slower that the man holding temporary pole position. Lt was a bit frustrating, as pole position is often his, but no matter, there was another qualifying session on Saturday.
Saturday morning went a lot better and everything was set for a real crack at pole-position time. Apart from the money you earn for being on pole-position for the race, there is the advantage at the start, the knowledge that you will avoid start-line accidents, but more than anything else it is a question of pride. If you want to be number one in the Formula 1 world you must always be the best.
Qualifying was due to start at 1 pm, conditions were good, and about 1 0 minutes before 1 pm engines began to be started up and warmed in readiness, while the special 'short-life' tyres were being warmed up in their electric blankets, the car sitting on jacks minus its wheels. The turbochargers had been set to give maximum boost for the tweaked-up qualifying engine, there was the minimum of fuel in the tank, the ride-height was at its lowest, suspensions settings were set for one hard lap, the aerodynamics were trimmed for the 'ultimate' rather than the 'optimum’ and the driver was about to put on his helmet and gloves. The mechanics started the engine, it fired and then spluttered. Consternation. A quick check of all the easily seen things. Nothing wrong. Try again. No joy. The engineer came over, the engine man joined them. Check this, check that, fuel pressure seemed suspect. Undo a union, fit a check-gauge, crank the engine over, fuel squirted out, the driver hurriedly grabbed a fire-extinguisher and stood by. Qualifying had started, the opposition were already out on the track. Diagnosis by the engine men. Fuel pump failure, the mechanical one that is buried down at the front of the engine. You can't run the engine on the electric one, the mechanical pump will have to be changed. Mechanics' hands appeared from everywhere.
The driver put the fire extinguisher back on the bench and walked to the back of the pit.. "Mechanical fuel pump," he said as he walked by. Two small boys appeared at the back of the pits, he signed their programmes for them, his engineer came over and had a few words and they looked at their watches. 1. 1 0 pm, 50 minutes left. The mechanics and the engine men were ripping things apart; it meant that the engine/gearbox unit had to be disconnected from the monocoque, in order to get at the defective fuel pump. Undo the fuel pipes, the wiring harness, the gear linkage, remove the body panels and the rear aerofoil, undo all the engine mounting bolts, insert a special trolley under the engine, remove the rear jacks, disconnect brake and clutch hydraulic pipes, disconnect the throttle linkage and many other bits and bobs. The time is 1.20 pm and the whole power unit is wheeled back from the monocoque and the engine men disconnect the pipes to the troublesome fuel pump while others have gone to the transporter for a new one.
The driver still sits at the back of the pit. His engineer joins him again, they discuss the situation. He is still in 8th place on the grid, but there are three or four other drivers who are about to relegate him further back. Quiet calm, no panic anywhere, sweat is pouring off the mechanics as they work away.
It is 1.30 pm. Oniy30 minutes left. The engineer suggests re-rigging the race-car as best they can and recording some sort of lap time with it. No hope of challenging for pole-position, but it should be capable of getting him into the first half-dozen. Driver puts on his helmet and gloves mechanics re-set the ride height of the race car, trim the aerodynamics put in the minimum of fuel, fit warmed-up qualifying tyres and the drive climbs into the cockpit, as calm and cool as if nothing had happened. T team-manager comes in from the pit wall. "Jesus Christ!' he mutters "twenty-five minutes of qualifying left and the car is in a dozen pieces". It is 1.40 pm and the race-car engine is being warmed up. The engine me have fitted a new fuel pump. 1.45 pm and the driver eases out of the pi garage and sets off down the pit lane. Eyebrows raise in other pits, no knowing what is happening. "He's late out," they think.
The engine/gearbox unit is being wheeled forwards to locate onto the pick-up points on the monocoque. As hands insert the engine bolts, others start connecting all the pipes, wires, rods etc. These chaps could do this in the dark, they know their way round the car so well. 1.50 pm and the car is ready to lift down off the trestles. No time for fancy lifting gear, all the mechanicsgivetheold'heave-ho'andthecarisliftedbodily,whiletrestles are changed for normal jacks and the car is down on the ground. While wheels are fitted the engine is fired up, systems checked, pressures checked, all is well. Body panels back on, nose cone on, rear aerofoil on, the second set of qualifying tyres and wheels are put on and the car is off the jacks.
The driver has done a fair time with the race-car, but only good enough for 12th position, for the pace has been hot and the opposition have been going hard.
1.55 pm, only five minutes left. The driver screams into the pit lane, leaps out of the race-car almost before it has stopped, mechanics wheel it quickly out of the way, the driver runs across to the T-car, whose engine is running and warming up. lnto the cockpit in one stride and down behind the wheel, mechanics snap the seat harness into position, the driver dabs the engine control with his right foot. Brrarrp, Brrarrp, brrarrp, he's ready to go. Out of the pit garage, down the pit lane, its 1.57 pm. A pause at the pit lane exit for the marshals to check the markings on the qualifying tyres and he is away on a warm-up lap. The commentator notices, "he is going out for another attempt." He doesn't realise what has been going on.
It is 1.59 pm as the driver passes the pits to start a flying lap. It is going to be the last lap of the session, the man with chequered flag is already unfurling it. The driver's pit signal reads"1 min. Place9.42.0".There is one minute left, they’re already three places out, but no matter, and 1 min 42.0 secs is needed for pole. The driver comes by again, really flying, under the chequered flag. The Olivetti timing read-out says 1 min 42.329 secs. Three tenths of a second off pole-position; third place on the grid.
The whole team relax visibly and start to clear up the mess of the frantic work. They are hot and sweaty and filthy, but it was all worth it, the driver didn't really let them down, he never does. The car arrived back at the pit. It is 2.05 pm and the pole-position man is being interviewed by the media-men. The driver gets out and takes off his helmet; he shrugs. "I am sorry," he says to the team manager and his engineers; he thanks the mechanics and apologises to them for not getting pole-position. "I am sure the car could have done it, if we had had two goes at it". There are smiles everywhere. Everyone had done their best, it had been an incredible example of team work, which is what Grand Prix racing is really all about, and something which so few of us are privileged to watch at close quarters.
The engine? Renault. The team? Lotus. The driver? Ayrton Senna da Silva, from Brazil.

The writer? Denis Sargent Jenkinson


#2 Ray Bell

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Posted 11 October 2000 - 22:25

The obvious question (Senna, Jenks were a moral to be the people)... what race?

#3 Don Capps

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 02:41

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I wrote this week's column out a sense of, well, not sure. I really just happened upon the Jenks article starting reading it and got to thinking about what he wrote.

I still do not like the icing currently on the cake, but Life goes on and Bernie doesn't talk to minions like me. Besides neither he nor Max asked me for my views and besides, it is harder than it looks to run The Show than you think. As the XO for a $100M program at one point in my so-called career, t'ain't easy, Mageee....

I am given to understand that Bernie has read my column a time or two, but since he didn't email me any comments I will have to struggle onward cherishing that knowledge...;)

I firmly believe that the cake is pretty much immune to all the icing despite the difficulties thrown in the way of the drivers and others in the sport and its many branches. Talent usually will emerge, even if only fleetingly, and the right tough bastards will be right tough bastards, just somewhere else.

I harbor no illusions about the past -- too many deaths, too many injuries -- and not in despair about the present and the future: the mechanics of today are not much dfferent than those of the past (better pay and nicer uniforms probably) and that encourages me. Besides, they do screw up and actually peoduce some excellent F1 races from time to time.

As an Enthusiast, F1 is definitely not my Alpha (or is it Alfa?) & Omega (although I did own a 1977 model of the latter). I enjoy darn near every form of the sport. And try not to badmouth any -- I like to think of my comments as constructive criticism....

I get just as excited about the Alan Kulwicki 1992 season as I do the Keke Rosberg 1982 season. And I have a real soft spot for Indy roadsters. And Grand National dirt track races from the 40's thru the 60's. Hey, I think Tim Flock is one of the greatest racers ever, along with Curtis Turner and Junior Johnson. But, I still think the world of Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones and AJ Foyt. And I often wish Jochen Rindt were still us, along with Ronnie Peterson and Francois Cevert. Hey, Don Garlits is The Man! And the Don "Snake" Prudhomme is a great person and John Force is pretty much what you see in the commercials.

Kyle and Richard Petty are the two greatest people with fans I have ever met. It never ceases to amaze me how they do it. I first met Richard Petty in 1961 and he is pretty much the same -- and a lot sharper than folks realize.

And I am a dyed-in-the wool sports racing guy. Next season I hope that I get to see Michael & Pete Argetsinger race in whatever series they try. I highly recommend the Motorola Cup whenever it is in your neighborhood -- I really enjoyed the Watkins Glen race and going to follow it & the Grand American series plus the ALMS as well. Great stuff! I used to love the sports car races both in Europe and the US -- I am happy I got to see the Chapparal team race on a number of occasions (to include the sucker car) as well as the Scarabs, the McLarens in their Flower Power days and see the turbo-panzers up close and very personal....

I really love this stuff!!!!!

#4 Don Capps

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 03:04

By the way, Bira selected this for me and I have loved it ever since I first saw it!

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Indeed, I always wanted to race midgets. I did once upon a time. I am delighted to say that I wore a dark driving suit since it was right up there with combat at five meters with flamethrowers!

I did two qualifying heats and the consolation race and almost didn't make the final -- which had I an IQ in the multi-digit range I should have missed...

I only did well in the consy because almost everybody in front of me -- which was, well, almost everybody -- had a Major Coming Together and I slipped across to take the final spot to advance to the final...on an inversed grid start! This is where I was glad I had a dark suit!!!

Fortunately it was on dirt so I managed to live to smile about it, but the first 20 or so laps were awesome -- I did not realize that there were SO many ways to get passed!

I eventually got with the program and actually passed a few and nudged a few out of the way as well, although it was not my intent one soon realizes that it is "no harm, no foul" and it got done to me a bunch!

Out of 22 starters in the final, I wound up 9th -- okay, there was another Massive Shunt and I was slow and so avoided being caught up in it. Oh, I was 9th of 13 finishers, but somehow stayed on the lead lap, but barely.

I promptly retired and having tasted other forms of racing with similar results decided that writing was my best contribution to the sport and returned to safer pursuits like flying nap of the earth and jumping out of airplanes...

Not a Stud, but not necessarily a Dud either.... well, close -- I root for Minardi &tc with my experiences on the track well in mind. After all, as The Great Casey (Stengel) once remarked: "Without all the losers, where would the winners be?" Amen, Brother Casey....

#5 Ray Bell

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 03:15

You bring to mind that picture of Dan Gurney, with a leather face mask, that was once published in either R & T or SCG, when he raced a Baja car or something... black and unseen, but known to have such latent skill...[p][Edited by Ray Bell on 10-12-2000]

#6 Marcel Schot

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 08:03

Originally posted by Ray Bell
The obvious question (Senna, Jenks were a moral to be the people)... what race?

Hockenheim 1986. Senna went on to finish 2nd to Piquet, after Rosberg and Prost had run out of fuel in the final lap.

#7 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 04:13

I would just like to say that Mr Peter Argetsinger is the man

Ross Stonefeld
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#8 MoMurray

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 19:02

What a lovely story and the real hero here is not the great Senna but the great Jenks. If you have not yet read "Jenks, A passion for Motor Sport" then you have not yet read the best motor racing book ever published. I must admit that I was ignorant of Jenks or his writings while he lived but in the publicity that followed his death, my interest was piqued by editorial comments from such as Nigel Roebuck. I ordered and read this wonderful book and would recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining read. It is nothing more than a collection of his motorsports columns assembled after his death by fellow journalists. It includes a detailed account of his winning ride alongside Stirling Moss in the 1955 Mille Miglia among other racing related stories. Once I had finished it, forget Elvis Presley and JFK, the one person I wish I had spent some time with but hadn't has without question become Denis Sargent Jenkinson. To enhance your enjoyment of the book even further as well as really having a good time, read it right before you visit the Donington Museam at Donington Park in England. many of the great and unusual cars referred to in the book are in the museam (Ferrari Bimotore for example)and my appreciation for these great works both literary and engineering has been deepened by enjoying both. Have fun.