Good old days — off the grid
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In the lead-up to the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, the FIA ratified another “rebranding” that would have brought fond memories to the sport’s old guard.
I hasten to add here that the sobriquet includes me.
I moan and constantly remember “the good old days” because, as I have said before, the brain much better recollects the “good” bits about the “old days” — and they were, on balance, simply better.
Anyway, back to the FIA pronouncement that the GP2 Series will now be known as the FIA Formula 2 Championship.
I have yet to see just how having an official ladder, from F4 to F3 to F2 and then presumably to F1, will provide young drivers with “great opportunities” to achieve that progression in any way different from before. Just changing a name doesn’t do much. If it did, mine would be Ayrton Senna.
F2 had earlier beginnings, but I believe its heyday was the 2-litre engine days. Formula 2 was the main route to Formula 1 from 1967 to the early 1980s.
It disappeared in 1984, when Honda entered the fray with a works engine and an endless supply of dollars, effectively destroying the competition and the grids.
For a few years in the early 1970s I was doing double duty in F2 and F1. Even in those days it was a great feeder for the main game with drivers often doing F2 alongside their F1 commitments. They mixed with the young drivers in cars that were by today’s standards rudimentary.
Even in the early 1970s the likes of F1 stars Ronnie Peterson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Reutemann and Niki Lauda mixed with new names such as Hunt, Mass, Watson and Cheever.
It was a great series with a paddock inhabited by a rabble of young, excitable thrillseeking men.
Teams were overpopulated if more than seven people were looking after two cars, but the cars were simple and panic rebuilds happened only when the driver departed the black stuff on track. Nogaro in southwest France seemed to be a favourite with teams.
The town was also the site of a large Armagnac brandy distillery and in the centre of French haute cuisine.
In 1975 streaking was becoming fashionable and one tyre fitter decided to streak the entire grid, from the last row to the front.
We had a cunning plan for him to escape the CRS police.
This entailed him de-clothing behind a truck and me taking his clothes on my new Harley Davidson mini bike to the front of the grid.
He completed the run, then hopped over the pit wall to to make his escape, but unfortunately had forgotten that my little bike had a raised exhaust.
The dangly bits of his anatomy landed on this exhaust and any pretence of a quiet getaway was lost as the entire grid listened to his screams.
The track was also, I believe, the occasion of the first truck race. With a paddock full of some prime movers, officials thought it would be impressive to have them do a lap of honour before the F2 race.
I was driving a Bedford TM among trucks from all the major teams lined up on the grid.
We were instructed to follow an open-topped car with the local mayor standing in the back holding a flag. We did this for almost one lap but on the final turn, the temptation for the drivers was just too much and they accelerated hard.
The mayor crouched low on the back seat of his mayoral limo car as black smoke enveloped him. When we came to the start/finish line at the conclusion of the first lap the dense smoke eclipsed the officials frantically waving us down with flags and flailing arms.
The CRS managed to halt the race near the end of the second, perhaps third, lap.
We were showered in spittle from an array of apoplectic “directeurs de course”, threatened with arrest by the CRS cops, severely chastised by our team bosses (with smiles on faces) and then we got on with the weekend.
I maintain that impromptu event was the first truck race on an FIA circuit (though the first truck race was recorded as being at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 17, 1979).