Racing in the Mountains – A Rare Outing in 2010

July 7-9, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.

The dead have arisen!!  As most of you will have spotted my racing activities have been severely restricted since moving to live in upstate New York.  Its not that there are no opportunities to take part in historic racing in the USA – quite the opposite as it happens.  However, the realities of such a move mean that time is severely limited as I am working full-time to build a surgical program in Rochester.  And then there is the budget issue of course.  Frankly the last two years has required that most spare cash be spent on house related stuff rather than on such frippery as racing.

Having said all of this therefore you might be surprised to read about a return to the wonderful mountainside track of Mont-Tremblant near St. Jovite in Quebec.  Remember we went there last year with the Crossle 19F – blown engine – and the newly acquired McLaren M1B which was having its first event for Ecurie Scalpel.  The McLaren made it as far as Watkins Glen a few weeks later before it too blew its engine fairly comprehensively.  The 19F is still “resting” until resources find a new engine but the McLaren is now equipped with a brand new 5.7 liter lump courtesy of ace engine builder Ted Wenz.

The event that dragged us out again was the third of the new series being run by former Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal – Legends of Motorsport is the venture.  In fact at the first of four events for 2010 Bobby drove the McLaren at Barber Motorsports in Alabama and you can see this pictures of him driving much faster than me under the gallery section!.  Sadly I could not make the event (!!) but he had a good run before the fuel pump packed in while he was leading the race.  Fuel pump replaced – a new twin set with a cool box alongside to avoid vaporization issues – off we went.

Since the start of the year the ever-helpful Frank Lyons kindly shipped over the Brabham BT35 Atlantic car and my Lotus 20B Formula Junior.  The Lotus is for sale so armed with a newly rebuilt engine we took the Brabham to Canada for some fun.  Incidentally, this car ran the full 1972 season in North America being driven by Nick Cook while the McLaren actually raced at Mont-Tremblant in 1966 and was driven then by Lothar Motsenbacher.

As usual the cars arrived safe and sound looking immaculate and tended by Lee Chapman and his outstanding crew led by Seamus Nolan.  Fellow drivers having fun for the weekend included Larry Kessler from Rochester, Archie Urciuoli from Casey Key, Florida and Rick Carlino from Harrisburg, PA.  All of these guys are known to me of course and are great company for a weekend such as this.  They are also all custodians of some beautiful cars and have been racing on and off for decades in some cases.  Pretty typical historic racers as it happens!

Like most North American events this one ran over several days – testing on the Thursday with practice/qualifying/racing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Of course this means lots of track time in a single weekend and for those with two cars to drive then quite a busy time for sure.  Good news for me though as I had not sat in a racecar since the Goodwood revival last year and was certainly in need of some practice to get rid of the cobwebs.

Lets deal with them one at a time then.  If you can remember back that far you might recall that the Brabham has been raced rarely by me simply because we lost the engine at Oulton Park and then I left the country!  However, prior to that it had proved to be a classic Ron Tauranac product – extremely user-friendly and a joy to drive.  In 2010 it is no different and just ask the driver to have some fun by going faster and faster.  Of course it was somewhat outgunned by the more modern stuff in Canada – cars of the mid to late seventies where the wings actually work properly and the chassis is a monocoque rather than the 1960’s style spacreframe design.  Allowing for that and that the tires are at least three years old I was pretty happy to find us running faster and faster as the weekend progressed.

On day two it rained somewhat so we softened the anti-roll bar at the back and put on a tad more wing and the car was even quicker!  For the subsequent dry sessions therefore we left the wing in place and simply re-connected the roll bar.  Apart from that, all we did all weekend was modify the seating arrangements so I could see properly and the pedals were a bit more comfortable.

The McLaren however was a much more tricky prospect – as it might be with 500+ bhp and 1960’s brakes and gearbox.  As soon as I went out I could tell some things straight away such as:

Brakes OK

Gearbox – better than before but heavy and slow - meant to be I guess (hence the name LG - Large gearbox)

Engine – plenty of oomph for sure!

So far so good?  Yes indeed but the handling was still dreadful.  In the Brabham I felt like I was in control and the only thing slowing me down was lack of talent.  In the McLaren however things were very different indeed.  It was almost like being a passenger in a car looking for somewhere to have an accident.  I could tell the car to do something all right and it would do it – but it would also do two or three other things at the same time and none of them were good!  Thoroughly unpleasant for sure.

So what to do?  We had already got some setup data from Julian Bronson in England – he runs the ex-Masten Gregory M1B with great success.  However, because the UK cars all run on historic Dunlop tires we could not use all the settings straight off.  My car was running on Goodyear’s, so in desperation we took them off and put on the new set of Avon’s we bought last year and never used.  Instantly the car was transformed into something vaguely approaching a drivable racecar and next session out I was fastest!  Frankly I was on the verge of discussing how to sell the car when this happened because it was so unpleasant to drive.  I simply don’t race enough to be driving a car that feels so bad.  However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and I am hopeful we can make things better from now on.  We have already taken off a load of castor at the front and I suspect could do even more to make the steering lighter.  We also stood the rear tires up more to try and even out the wear rate.

So the good news therefore was that there were no mechanical dramas or disasters all weekend – makes a change eh?  A major challenge however was driving in 90+-degree heat each day.  It really was pretty intense even though we improvised some cooling aids for each session – freezer bags of ice stuffed inside the race suits helped quite a lot!!  Certainly cheaper than those fancy cool suit things although it gets interesting if the bag bursts!

Qualifying races on Saturday were fun.  In the McLaren I placed second to circuit owner and all around gazillionaire Laurence Stroll in his 1971 Ferrari 512S.  Not really a fair fight to be honest but I guess, as he owns the place, he can race what he wants!  In fact we replayed the movie on Sunday afternoon in the feature race of 35 minutes – long enough for sure in that heat!  I both cases however I did manage to win the true class of USRRC cars.

The Brabham was fun on the Saturday and I placed sixth behind such things like a F3000 car and a Lola Indy Lights car so was happy enough.  Its somewhat tricky racing like that as these modern cars have phenomenal closing speeds compared to something thirty years older.  If you ask me it is actually not really safe because the ground effect machines can suddenly appear anywhere on the track because of their grip.  I know I am not alone in this view over here but it is a common enough site in my very limited experience. 

More worryingly however I was not happy to discover that on Sunday the schedule had been changed to run the races for the Brabham and McLaren back to back!  It is at times like that when reality strikes home – this is truly a young man’s game!  A ringer was urgently required!!

Step forward old friend John Delane who was there racing his beautiful ex-Jackie Stewart Tyrrell 006 F1 car.  John and I have raced together many times in the UK and as I know him to be a pretty safe pair of hands was happy to make the offer.  He gave the matter a lot of thought (!!) and two seconds later was in the car having the seat belts adjusted to fit him better!!  He is too old to be classed as a "young" hired gun but I guess better later than never.

I am pleased to say that he had fun and brought the car back safely.  Equally important he was just a bit slower than me, which makes all the difference!!  There are some pictures of the cars at the event on the site – just look in the Gallery section under “Mont-Tremblant 2010”.

So there we have it from Canada.  A great event overall with beautiful cars and excellent organization by the Legends crew.  My cars appear to have survived intact and the Lee Chapman team was as professional as usual.  My only gripe – a six-hour drive back home to Rochester on the Sunday night compared badly to my friends who travelled back in their private jet.  Now there’s a thought!


Back To Results Index