‘How can you race a car worth millions of pounds?’ It was a fair question, asked by a chum in the pub the other night who knows little and cares less about cars.
It will be a question I’ll hope not to be asking myself this time next week as I head out to qualify for the Lavant Cup in someone else’s Ferrari 750 Monza with the aforementioned multi-million pound price tag. Does it help that the car is (a) insured and (b) not mine? Not really. The insurance only cuts in after you’ve done a quite a lot of damage and, if you do a really proper number on the car, it cuts out again after a certain amount has been spent. So if I crash it, it’s going to cost someone a lot a money come what may. That this person is not me makes me more and not less fearful about driving it. If I were rich enough I couldn’t own a car like a 750 Monza and not race it, because that’s the moment it stops being a racing car and becomes a mere chattel, a line in a portfolio, a good place to park money when interest rates are low. And if I raced it, I’d accept that now and again it would get damaged because that’s what happens to racing cars.
But the thought of doing that to someone else’s 750 Monza… well that’s an entirely different matter and one that makes me shudder.
Enough not to race it? Certainly not. The owner knows the score and it’s not as if I held a gun to his head: the Lavant Cup this year is a race for 1950s drum-braked Ferrari sports racing cars and quite rightly, he is of the view the car has to be there. Seeing those sleek red cars together, with engines from snarling fours to howling V12s will be one of the greatest sights of any Revival, and it would be preposterous for it not to show up and take part.
To be honest, I worry more about damaging its history. What man has done before he can do again, usually rather better; but the history you cannot put back. This is a car that took part in the fateful 1955 Le Mans with Masten Gregory at its wheel and, while it’s collected a few battle scars over time, by the standards of most 60-year-old racing cars, it is stunningly original and I want it to stay that way, just as much as its owner.
So how do you go about making sure it does? The simple answer is you can’t. Even if you were sufficiently misguided to elect to just trundle round, you’d probably be a greater danger to yourself and certainly everyone else out there than if you got stuck in. As you may know, the racing at the Revival is as full on as it gets, and the one thing no-one needs are the additional dangers of a mobile chicane at the back of the grid. And, even if you were alone on the track, driving at Goodwood requires 110 per cent of your concentration all the time because the circuit is merciless. If you’re just gently stroking a car around the track, that is simply not possible.
All you can do – all I can do – is try to avoid unnecessary risk. I can, for instance, make sure I don’t over-rev its thumping 3-litre, 4-cylinder Lampredi twin cam motor and not attempt suicidal overtaking manoevres. I can manage its drum brakes, keep off the kerbs and look after its gearbox. But I can do nothing about my co-competitors, any oil their cars might drop on the circuit or, indeed, the weather. And we are all human and, despite the best plans and intentions, can still screw it up come race day.
But I hope not to. I drove in the very first Revival in 1998; a dozen since and I can scarcely believe I’ll be saddling up once more next week. And I know that a blot on the copybook means not just a big bill for someone else, but for me the opportunity to kiss goodbye any chance of racing here again. If that doesn’t keep me focussed on keeping the Monza on the island, nothing else will.