Cheerio, Foub.

This blog would not exist were it not for the encouragement of Peter Foubister, who died suddenly and unexpectedly last week. ‘Foub’ was a constant in the world of motor sport as a journalist, publishing executive and latterly as the Motoring Secretary of the Royal Automobile Club. He was someone who knew virtually everyone and had a bad word for few.

Above all he was an enthusiast – and a contagious one at that.

Being one of the few who in our industry has never darkened the doors of Haymarket Publishing (in an official capacity at least), our paths did not truly converge until 2009. That was when the Foub was recruited by Martin Whitaker to assist with bringing the Bernie Ecclestone Collection of historic racing cars to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

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The ex-Hunt, ex-Villeneuve McLaren M23 in Bahrain, 2009

Together we worked on turning this astonishing and seldom-seen collection into an informative attraction for fans and media, while also building notes on the cars that were provided by Doug Nye into a commemorative book with Interstate.

It was enormous fun and made all the more so by Foub’s very obvious delight at the role – not least when Bernie’s BRM V12 took to the circuit long after nightfall, with the Bahrain International Circuit’s safety car in front illuminating the way.

The following year saw Foub back in Bahrain – this time as anchorman for the official 60th anniversary celebrations of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. An astonishing array of title-winning cars and drivers had been assembled, from the ‘father of the house’ Sir Jack Brabham through to the young pups still competing on the grid.

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Mario Andretti leads Damon Hill around the Bahrain International Circuit in 2010

Only two living world champions failed to make their way to the ‘gem of the Gulf’: Nelson Piquet, who was persona non grata after blowing the whistle on ‘crashgate’, and Kimi Räikkönen, who couldn’t be bothered to come. All of the rest were coaxed and cajoled with alacrity by the Foub, who ensured that their every heart’s desire was met and every inducement found its mark.

This time all the writing fell upon yours truly to put together. The midnight oil was burnt in trying to piece together exactly which chassis were coming, in putting press material together with approved quotes from our retired champions and bullying people on the price of pictures – all of which was achieved in record time with the Foub’s assistance.

The memories of that weekend will last a lifetime. The Williams mechanics successfully wedging Keke Rosberg back into his car; the moment when John Surtees mashed the throttle on Bernie’s Ferrari 1512; helping Mario Andretti to locate a lost crash helmet when he was late for his flight; Nigel Mansell feeling a little aggrieved that his was the only Williams not present and correct – and Patrick Head’s response.

All that and so much more was possible because of Peter Foubister’s efforts in making it so. It was his attention to detail with what the drivers wanted or needed that helped ensure that Sir Jack Brabham rallied to make it to the grid on raceday. That was the moment when it all crystallised and, after that, all that was left was to write the book.

Thereafter, back in the UK, Foub and self became a bit of a double act at the Royal Automobile Club for a time. If something needed writing on behalf of the Club, the phone would ring and there would be the lilting request that a website be rehashed, the bon mots for the Segrave Trophy be jotted, the description for the latest car to be shown off in the Rotunda or some stories about the Future Car Challenge be put about the place.

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Nigel Mansell made the London to Brighton Run an experience to savour.

My favourite mission from Foub was to cover Nigel Mansell’s appearance on the London to Brighton Run, driving a Mercedes. Your scribe was dispatched in a brand new Peugeot 207 GTI to chase after the 1992 world champion and his jovial co-driver, transport minister Mike Penning, to capture the story of their Run for the Club magazine and website.

Despite giving away more than a century in technology and a hat full of horsepower, it was I who reached each checkpoint with the metaphorical tongue hanging out as Mansell set a blistering pace at the helm of his veteran machine.

In fact he reached Brighton nearly two hours ahead of time, so we decamped to the nearest hostelry for something restorative. Nigel, unbidden, took out a packet of playing cards and proceeded to entertain not only our table but all of the lightly stunned families and drinkers with an hour-long improvised magic show. The minister could do little else but go with the flow (and say something about abolishing the MOT).

It was while writing about the first Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy that the Scarf & Goggles came into being. I’d written a story for Foub about the first race in 1905 to support the return of the TT to the FIA World Sportscar Championship calendar. Eventually that story ended up on the cutting room floor but I felt it deserved resuscitation. Foub suggested that I should start a blog for such pieces. So I did… and for a while stories to be found on here often coincided with work undertaken on behalf of the Club.

Eventually Foub and his brilliant PA-cum-manager Jemma were joined by a permanent member of staff to help with the workload and Haymarket moved in to produce the ‘assets’ for RAC events. Our little production company became redundant, although there were still occasional and enjoyable calls. There will be no more, and that is a very sad prospect. Thanks for so much fun, Foub. My thoughts to all your nearest and dearest.

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Peter Foubister (left): an enthusiast and a good man

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Working with a racing legend

There are very few times in one’s life when the opportunity arises to say: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the seven times world motorcycle racing champion and 1964 Formula One world champion, John Surtees.”

But that is exactly what happened at Goodwood last month.

Big John‘ and self were engaged by Shell to bring the Revival to life for its guests and to mark the restoration of the Shell Classic X-100 motor oil as a brand. Not only is Shell bringing back an icon of the 1950s and 1960s to the shelves of your local retailer, but with every can sold it is raising money for one of the best causes out there – the Henry Surtees Foundation.

At Brands Hatch in 2009, a promising and personable young racer, Henry Surtees, was killed. Your scribe was at Manston that day, but had been at Brands Hatch the day before, when I was introduced to Henry by a mutual friend and was deeply impressed by his wit and easy confidence. When the news came over the radio that he had been lost, I was not alone in feeling his loss very sharply indeed, even after such a short meeting.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I first met Henry’s celebrated father, when he was among the champions who had gathered in Bahrain to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Formula One world championship. His early arrival and eager presence around the paddock – accompanied at every turn by the stalwart artist, Michael Turner – became a welcome feature of the weekend.

Then came the matter of climbing aboard his car for the parade of champions: the wickedly beautiful little Ferrari 1512, which now resides in Bernie Ecclestone’s very private collection. John was rather uncomfortable about this, as it was to be the first time he had gone on track since Henry had died and his family was far from thrilled about it. Then the car broke. Bernie was annoyed, spotted windmilling his arms in the collecting area, but Surtees himself was outwardly unmoved.

The following day, with the car miraculously fixed by the genius who cares for it, the host of champions mustered once again. First out of the blocks was Nigel Mansell at the wheel of the glorious Thinwall Special Ferrari. He was followed by the likes of Damon Hill in his title-winning Williams, Mario Andretti in his title-winning Lotus and Jody Scheckter in his title-winning Ferrari.

I was stationed beside ‘Big John’ in case there was another problem. Here was a rather wiry, almost nervous old gentleman, far removed from the confident, beaming figure that we all recognise in the photos from the mid-Sixties. He seemed ill at ease while the likes of Keke Rosberg and Jackie Stewart set off on either side amid the yowl of Cosworth DFV power – but then came the most unforgettable sight.

First of all, the Surtees chin jutted. Then he snapped his goggles down and the years fell away. Everything about his body language changed – as if to say: “I’m still a bloody racing driver, like it or not!” And with that he dumped the clutch and left two black lines running down the immaculate Bahraini pit lane. It was an astounding demonstration of courage.

Fast forward to this year’s Revival, where John was to be found signing autographs at every turn, posing for selfies, doing interviews and generally being pressed into action. He drove a Ferrari 250 LM to lead out the Lavant Cup competitors, helped to open Shell’s new vintage-looking aviation refuelling area and he played a key role in the Bruce McLaren tribute.

In the midst of all this, he came and spoke to a lot of bigwigs from Shell. As MC for the event, I had seven questions to make sure we said all the right things – and didn’t need one of them. Surtees has been a Shell ambassador for decades and knows, very precisely, what to say and when. Then I asked him to tell the audience something about Henry and what the Foundation is doing in his name. And what a response.

John talked us through his time as a karting dad, about Henry’s life and loss and then about the work that the Foundation has done since 2009. He spoke brilliantly about the lives saved because the Air Ambulance now has blood transfusion equipment. About his determination not only to make the world safer in Henry’s name but also to use motor sport to bring wayward and disadvantaged kids back from the brink.

All of it impressed upon the guests how important every can of Shell X-100 oil sold will be. And, equally, it also showed the determination and energy of a man who, even in his ninth decade, is determined to work harder than ever in his son’s name to bring some measure of good from his horrendous loss. This is the John Surtees that I have come to know. These encounters have been a pleasure and a privilege and I hope that our paths cross again before long.

Goodwood Festival of Speed highlight

For more than 20 years the Goodwood Festival of Speed has resonated with the sounds and sights of motor sport’s greatest machinery while the public has had the chance to meet its heroes from every epoch. After doing so much for so long, one might be forgiven for wondering where the next big thrills can come from.

Well one in particular was the ‘dual’ run up the hill at Goodwood House by both 1964 Formula 1® world champion John Surtees and the 2007 title winner Kimi Räikkönen – each in their respective championship-winning Ferraris, appearing courtesy of Shell. It is extremely rare, after so many years and so many stars, for the Goodwood crowd to burst into spontaneous applause – but it happened, and deservedly so.

You might feel that the film was a little beyond the remit of the S&G with its pre-61 policy – but let’s not quibble. After all, ‘Big John’ was on winning form throughout the 1950s with another legendary Italian stable. Next stop: a knighthood for the oldest living world champion!

 

Scarves and Goggles in the desert

It was remiss of me not to have had a camera about my person when 14 of the 16 world champions who walk the earth congregated in Bahrain a couple of years back – together with 20 of their cars. You can probably find the TV footage on Sky’s F1 channel at most hours of the day and night. However m’colleague Ben Nicholson very thoughtfully took an excellent record of events.

Sir Stirling was due to come too, after all few such gatherings should be without him, but unfortunately he had an altercation with his lift shaft and was therefore U/S. This left Sir Jack Brabham as the sole representative of Scarf & Goggles-era racing, and he was on good form, especially when being interviewed for TV.

TV girlie: Sir Jack, how does the modern sport compare with your day?

Sir Jack: What?

(TV girlie repeats the question louder, and Sir Jack considers it for a moment…)

Sir Jack: Too easy! And too much money!

And with that, here are some pictures of the more venerable of the collection:

An insurance man's dream come true

An insurance man’s dream come true

All unpacked and ready to go...

All unpacked and ready to go…

Nigel Mansell hustles the Thin Wall Special around Sakhir

Nigel Mansell hustles the Thin Wall Special around Sakhir

David Coulthard lets rip with the Mercedes-Benz W196

David Coulthard lets rip with the Mercedes-Benz W196

Juan Fangio II at the wheel of ex-Horace Gould 250F

Juan Fangio II at the wheel of ex-Horace Gould 250F

Donington Collection's glorious Ferrari 500 F2 - arguably the most successful chassis on earth

Donington Collection’s glorious Ferrari 500 F2 – arguably the most successful chassis on earth

The 1959 Cooper-Climax T53

The 1960 Cooper-Climax T53

Rob Dean giving plenty in the big Ferrari 375

Rob Dean giving plenty in the big Ferrari 375

Mario Andretti gets a feel for the W196

Mario Andretti gets a feel for the W196

Ron Dennis in a Ferrari - smiling!

Ron Dennis in a Ferrari – smiling!

Sir Jack Brabham on the grid with his old steed

Sir Jack Brabham on the grid with his old steed

Magnificent effort from John Surtees in Ferrari 1512 (yes it's post-S&G but you don't see that every day, do you?

Magnificent effort from John Surtees in Ferrari 1512 (yes it’s post-S&G but you don’t see that every day, do you?

Nigel - still going strong in the Thin Wall

Nigel – still going strong in the Thin Wall

 

 

Surtees and the dream machine

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

The 500cc M.V. Agusta stands as one of the most exotic motor cycles in the world when viewed in 2013. When viewed in its competitive heyday of the mid-1950s, it was quite simply one of the most thrilling machines in the world.

Count Vincenzo Agusta and his brother Domenico formed Meccanica Verghera Agusta in 1945 as a means to save the jobs of employees of the Agusta aviation works. Their plan was to produce cheap, efficient transportation that could withstand the demands of rural life and yet cut a dash on the streets of Rome.

Despite its utilitarian ideals, M.V. Agusta was soon operating just like its great contemporary Enzo Ferrari’s burgeoning sports car business: selling domesticated racing machines as a means to fund its on-track successes.

The design team of Arturo Magni and Piero Remor developed a range of bikes bristling with performance features and success arrived in 1948 when Franco Bertoni won the Italian Grand Prix. In 1956 the senior 500cc class was dominated by M.V. with its signature machine, this 4-cylinder inline thoroughbred ridden by the brilliant young Englishman, John Surtees.

With its quartet of exhausts broadcasting an ear-splitting howl and its standard-setting technology dressed in immaculate red and silver racing colours, the M.V. Agusta 500 GP bike embodied the thrill of motorcycle racing like no other machine.

With it Surtees notched up 22 world championship race wins in 1956-1960 and was crowned world champion in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960. The records that he set with the 500cc M.V. Agusta include 32 wins out of 39 races entered in the 1958-60 seasons and a total of four Isle of Man TT victories, becoming the first man to win the Senior race three times in succession.