Like Oulton Park in May 1982; Brands Hatch Racing had shipped a fleet of their alcohol-fuelled Talbot Sunbeam "celebrity" cars up to Cheshire, and anybody who had qualified first or second for their regular event was offered a race. I'd done that in my homebuilt Rover Vitesse, so I was in. And so was one Ayrton Senna da Silva, on the front row for the Ford 2000 race.
Come qualifying I got involved in a session long punch up with John Fenning – by then a racer of historics but sometime team mate to Jim Clark – rather than concentrating on a proper lap time, then in the race I finished fourth after another hefty scrap. It sounds better than it probably was. The car seemed nice enough but the tyres didn't feel like they were in contact with the road, as if it was raining when the track was dry. A while later, I was chatting to one of the guys who ran the cars, just to say thanks and all that. "You know that South American bloke, the single seater driver," he said. "Well, he was down here last night asking about the cars. Wanted to know which one had the best engine. Then he wanted the front tyres from one and the rears from another. Seemed like a nice guy. Slipped me a drink..." So was that why my car's tyres had full tread, squidging about everywhere ? "Well we had to put them somewhere..."
It was one good lesson, which I've never forgotten. Senna had other-worldly talent, the like of which we have rarely witnessed – even if we had yet to realise its full extent – but even then, he was so very focused. He knew he was destined for greatness and he wasn't going to risk being upstaged by a nobody thanks to a random factor like tyres with too much tread, or a duff engine. And the other lesson? That qualifying should be just that. The race is a separate event... Lessons learnt even if I haven't always remembered them.
Some years later I drove a TVR Cerbera in a televised drag race against some more, let's say, established machinery and after practice and the official runs, the TVR was the winner. "Can you do one more," asked the director. "Just for a bit of extra footage..." I decided to spare the TVR's transmission because it wasn't for real and it was a turbo Porsche that crossed the line first. You can guess which piece of film they used.
Photography by Drew Gibson.