NOV 25th 2015
Doug Nye – Safety's Slow Progress
Doug Nye began writing about racing cars at ‘Motor Racing’ magazine in 1963-64. Today he is a multiple award-winning motor sports journalist and author of over 50 years’ experience, with some 70 books to his name. He is Goodwood Motorsport’s founding Historian and consultant and fulfils similar roles for Bonhams Auctioneers and the Collier Collection/Revs Institute in Naples, FL, USA. He is a member of the National Motor Museum Advisory Council at Beaulieu, Hants, and is a regular columnist for ‘Motor Sport’ magazine, while contributing to many other specialist periodicals worldwide.
The Goodwood Motor Circuit pit lane has always been quite confined. This certainly seems true during any of our race meetings’ two-driver or two-rider races when the change-over stops take place. It was certainly true in period 1948-66 when the Goodwood 9-Hour race or the RAC Tourist Trophy were in full swing. There was never a great deal of room for such sizeable cars as Jaguar C-Types and D-Types, Ferrari 250GTs or GTOs and perhaps especially the visiting Talbot-Lago or Chevrolet Corvette when they came muscling in.
Take a look at our heading picture, which shows the notoriously short-fused racing driver-turned-entrant John Coombs waving his friend Graham Hill to a halt, as he makes a mid-race pit stop while leading the 1963 Goodwood TT. ‘Noddy’ had joined forces with Col. Ronnie Hoare’s Maranello Concessionaires team that year, running his pale-grey liveried 250GTO for Michael Parkes more or less as a team-mate for the Ferrari importer’s Graham Hill car here. And they would finish first and second.
As Graham brings the Maranello Ferrari to a halt with its distinctive Cambridge-blue nose right under ‘Noddy’s mark, there on the right – poised with a fresh Borrani wire-spoked wheel and Dunlop R7 racing tyre – is the Coombs of Guildford team mechanic Roland Law.
As always with these archive photos, the more one looks into the image – taken by my long-time colleague and friend Geoff Goddard – the more one sees. Graham is stopping in the service lane, while Roland stands in the somewhat narrower arrival and departure lane. To his right there is nothing more than a yard or so of tufty grass verge to ‘protect’ the pit area from the racing surface of the track itself. And gaze into the background just to the right of the GTO’s roofline and there’s the chicane, slowing cars through that left-hand curve between Woodcote Corner and the pits. Here one can sense why the chicane itself was introduced there in 1952, because without it the racing-line trajectory of cars rocketing round that left-hander would have seen them drifting perilously towards us here in the unguarded pit row. In the background there’s also evidence of the Motor Circuit’s wartime past as RAF Westhampnett – with the big corrugated-iron aircraft hangar looming there on the far side of the Lavant road, against the background of the South Downs.
Also noteworthy is the poor, broken and patched surface of the pit lane in those days. All available funds had been ploughed into maintaining the racing surface itself – and evidently not much attention had been paid to such unimportant peripheries as an early-’60s pit lane…
Back in 1952 the works Aston Martin DB3s with their distinctive ‘portcullis’ radiator grille design won the Goodwood 9-Hour race. Here’s a shot of one team car which didn’t make it to the finish line, being worked upon in a very crisp and fresh-looking pit lane and pit row. No.16 here is the George Abecassis/Dennis Poore works-entered DB3 whose clutch failed after more than 160 laps racing – while team-mates Peter Collins/Pat Griffith tore on to complete 283 laps in the allotted time, to win and beat a brace of privately-entered Ferrari 225S entries.
In our photograph tall George is standing in the background bawling advice into the ear of co-driver Dennis Poore, who is just fastening his helmet strap before taking over. Note the Goodwood ‘Vintage’ dress of the time – wellies much favoured, while the beefy gent on the left with the binoculars case around his neck is, I believe, the Hon. Gerald Lascelles – the Queen’s cousin and a great contemporary racing enthusiast and Aston Martin supporter.
Then compare our corresponding shots at the start of the 1955 Goodwood 9-Hours (above) and that of a much-later BARC Members’ meeting marque sports car race. In the first there’s no spectator-protecting earth bank opposite the pits. Instead the Duke’s famous ferro-concrete post and beam barrier stands there, exposed and proud – and virtually the first of its kind. There are some great drivers in this shot – No.8 Harry Schell in the Scuderia Los Amigos Ferrari 750 Monza, No.34 Stirling Moss in the Porsche 550, and No.14 Lance Macklin in the works HWM-Jaguar.
If we then spool forward to the run-and-jump start marque sports car shot, the tapered ‘protection’ of that grass verge is recorded, still without any barrier of any substantial kind. Standing opposite is the old flat-roofed cafeteria building and it’s noticeable that there were no flower beds at that time softening the appearance of this section of the spectator safety bank – set in front of the old concrete-beam barrier – opposite.
But, during wet-weather practice for the July 1963 Martini Trophy meeting at Silverstone, a promising young driver named Mark Fielden had been sitting in his Lotus 11 in the pits when an Aston Martin DBR1 had aquaplaned in the circuit’s final Woodcote Corner and spun into the pit-lane, killing him and injuring four others. Only 15 days later there, in the GT race which closed the British GP meeting, gifted female driver Christabel Carlisle – herself a considerable Goodwood star – had her works Austin-Healey Sprite spin in the same place, careering into the pit counter where it caught and killed veteran scrutineer, Major Harry Cree. Miss Carlisle escaped physical harm, but would never race again. Silverstone’s pits would be demolished and completely rebuilt, with an elevated pit lane entered via a raised ramp to avoid any repetition of such tragedy.
Spool forward again into the Goodwood Motor Circuit’s final frontline season of 1966 and here’s the pit lane as it was during the final ‘Sunday Mirror’ Trophy Easter Monday Meeting. Trundling down the broken and bumpy pit lane in his Formula 2 Ron Harris-entered Lotus 35 – with its 1-litre Cosworth SCA engine – is none other than Jimmy Clark. In thoughtful mood on the left stands none other than that weekend’s eventual feature race-winner Jack Brabham – so five Drivers’ World Championship titles (and two Formula 1 Constructors’ titles) between them.
And, glory be, what’s that sprouting from the grass verge to the right? A protective pit-lane barrier, no less. Progress you see – it takes time, and encouragement…
Photography courtesy of The GP Library