Gone in Sixty Seconds!


Goodwood Festival of Speed, July 2008.  (photos will follow)


I had never been to the Festival of Speed before this year.  The excellent Jarrah Venables had decided in his wisdom that the event would not be complete without the massed throngs of enthusiasts seeing the Surtees TS9B flying up the hill.  Who was I to disagree, as it is likely I will not drive the car again if it sells as quickly as I hope!


The ever reliable Frank and Judy Lyons team kindly agreed to run the car for the occasion along with their own pair of F5000 beauties – the Eagle and Lola T332 – and the Hesketh 308E F1 car.  Readers will remember that the Surtees lost a mirror going up the hill at Monaco and a new pair was kindly provided by Hall and Hall for the event.  Other than that the car was on the button and raring to go.


Closer to the event however it became clear that I would have a problem being there for the entire weekend.  The big move to the USA is proving to be quite a hassle and a combination of tasks proved my undoing.  However, things proved to be even more complicated as I should explain.


As events developed I would only be there for the Saturday.  Finding someone to drive the Surtees on the other days was never likely to be a problem as tucked up in a starting trap was the Diff.  A brief mention of the possible need for a driver at the weekend and he was ready and dressed for action!  Then to add further confusion to the equation, the very generous Rick Hall offered to allow me drive his freshly restored De Tomaso F1 car on the Saturday!  What an offer.  So it was that Diffey went from deadbeat spectator to full time driver in less than the time it took to say “freeloading midget”.


A word about the De Tomaso though.  This was the first chassis (505-381) made by the factory for Frank Williams who was taking the next step up the ladder to Grand Prix glory.  His driver was Piers Courage who had put in some startling drives in the 1969 Brabhams BT26.  381 made its debut in South Africa in 1970 before being seriously crashed by Courage at Jarama in Spain.  The tub was quite badly bent and because the factory already had the next car almost ready No.1 was put to one side at the factory in Italy.  Courage’s tragic fate is only too well known to all F1 fans as he was sadly killed at Zandvoort and the De Tomaso F1 programme never really recovered.


Just over two years ago 505-381 was bought by ace preparers Rick and Rob Hall who have produced a really beautiful restoration of what is a very cute looking car.  It has the appearance of being a much smaller car than its contemporaries from 1970 and the wings certainly look a little smaller than ideal – these were the early days of aerodynamics of course.


Sitting in the car for the first time was interesting.  The bodywork hugs the shoulders and the sides of the tub come high up forcing the arms wide.  A strange sensation but once on the move not noticed at all.


The Hill?  I had never been up there of course and was not about to get heroic in someone else’s beautiful new car.  Its actually quite a tricky little layout with one or two corners lying in wait for the unwary or over ambitious – just watching the TV screens during the day suggested there were quite a few of those available.  Barring accidents it’s all over in around sixty seconds – or less for the brave and stupid.


The first of two runs was very conservative but produced a nice smokey strip of rubber at the start and the telltale on the rev counter at 9500rpm – 10K is the limit for these DFV engines.  More by luck than judgement suggested Rob Hall!  At the top of the hill I was sitting in the collecting area when the TS9B arrived safely only to produce an impressive crowd-pleasing burnout!  Very F1 indeed and impressively bad for the wet tyres we all ran on for the day!


Second time around I pressed on a bit and found the car to be very user friendly – planted and stable with a nice ‘box and good brakes.  There is definitely fun to be had with this little beauty.  The telltale was now at 9950rpm – luck indeed!  This time the Diff was much better behaved on arrival in the Surtees I am delighted to say.


So, my day of fun was over and I retired gracefully.  At the time of writing the Diff has safely completed day three of the Festival and seems to have had fun.  For me, I am just hugely grateful to the Hall men for allowing me the privilege of driving such a special and rare F1 car – and apologies to Andy Willis for stealing his drive on the Saturday.


And the FoS?  Huge crowds and wonderful cars are a potent combination.  Add in the tremendously professional team headed by Charles March and the outcome is guaranteed.  I have never done a hill climb before so the one-minute blast is all a bit strange – especially for the driver making mistakes (like me of course).  Its all suddenly over and you just want to have another go immediately.


Its off to the US for me now but I know the Ecurie Scalpel cars will be in the safe hands of Diffey as rapid driver and the Lyons lot – there is no way I can properly express my thanks for everything they have done for me in the last few years.  Don’t forget also that Michael Lyons will be out in the Lotus 20B at the Goodwood Revival in September.  I am going to explore new grounds at Watkins Glen in New York – work permitting as usual! 


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