It's wonderful to be let loose in a 1970 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 in long-tail Le Mans guise, to sit where one or more of Andrea De Adamich, Piers Courage, Nanni Galli, Rolf Stommelen, Toine Hezemans, Masten Gregory, Carlo Facetti or Teodoro Zeccoli sat 47 years ago. Exactly who, and when, Alfa Romeo's Centro Storico can't be sure because the records are too fuzzy, but what is clear is that the small, brown-rimmed and highly patinated Momo Prototipo steering wheel has been grasped by hands a lot more deft than mine.
The snag – but what a great snag to encounter – is that the journalist has most likely not driven the car before, so into the short run down the Hill from the paddock to the startline holding area is compressed a crash course in how to make the machine work. Then, after the turning loop ( the Alfa can just do it in one go, unlike some later endurance racers) there might or might not be a chance to practise a full-bore start on the brief clear stretch before the startline itself.
So you're being trusted with a delicious piece of history which is likely to be extremely rapid when roused and could behave in unpredictable ways. You want to give the thousands of onlookers, each one of them potentially scrutinising your every move and your every error, a good show, and you want to savour the thrill that doing this will bring. But you also want to return the car undamaged and in full working order, because to do otherwise would suggest an unforgivable disregard for history and automotive art.
No pressure, then. So I flip up the 33/3's flimsy door, climb over the bare aluminium sill of the monocoque (earlier and later Tipo 33s had a tubular chassis), slither into the minimal seat and truss myself into a harness seemingly resembling that of a wartime parachutist. Ahead is the rev-counter, which doesn't work – worrying when behind me is a 3.0-litre, 400bhp V8 capable of thrusting the 33 to 193mph, although probably not in Sussex.
The six dials to my left include a temperature gauge for each of the two rear radiators. There's a low lip of plastic windscreen ahead, intended to be looked over rather than through. Now out of sight are the Avon slicks, encouragingly sticky, and thankfully the threatened rain shower hasn't materialised.