Loot is elusive in this sport we call motor racing – and it’s never been harder to find than it is right now. On any given day of fun, it’s 60-40 – 60 per cent car, 40 per cent driver – which means that well over half the battle for any driver of talent is to find the money to pay for the car. In F1 terms that means taking around £15m to a team for your year’s racing; in F2 it’s £1.8m; in F3 it’s £900k. Bear in mind also that major sponsors in F1 are today about as plentiful as an overtake in the Monaco GP and you have a clear picture of why the “ladder system” to the top is pockmarked with glitches. Money rules. Talent runs secondarily. And the gap is widening. Continue Reading…
Back in May 2007 I sat down with Lewis Hamilton at Paul Ricard to do an interview for the much-missed Observer Sport Monthly. Hamilton, yet to win a race but already the most talked about driver in Formula One, had spent the day testing his McLaren for the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix. He had completed 98 laps, set the fastest time by a considerable margin and just sat through a two-and-half hour debrief with his engineers, yet was chatty and engaging despite the interruption to his own data analysis session. What struck me was that being a racing driver is bloody hard work. Continue Reading…
Sunday’s German Grand Prix was an absolute treat, races with a mixture of weather conditions usually are. Great racing drivers aren’t just fast, they are superb at adapting to every change in track temperature, grip, tyre wear and fuel load lap after lap. It’s what they do and why the rest of us just watch. Hockenheim was Formula One at its brilliant best. Continue Reading…
W Series’ reverse-grid race at Assen on Sunday morning was an undoubted success. The starting order was determined by the championship standings with the high flyers at the back, which created a golden opportunity for Megan Gilkes. At 18, the Canadian is the youngest of the 20 women to have taken part in W Series races this season and it’s fair to say she has struggled. At the Norisring a fortnight ago she was told she wouldn’t be racing that weekend. It’s tough in W Series. Continue Reading…
Sport demands a winner, and rightly so. Extra time, golden goals, whatever it takes. But in the aftermath of the Cricket World Cup final, it’s worth asking at what point does a mechanism to resolve a sporting deadlock become so arbitrary that it demeans the contest. Continue Reading…
Professional sport is a tough way to earn a living. Forget the glamour of a Wimbledon final, a British Grand Prix, a Cricket World Cup final… those are just the tips of the iceberg, the culmination of all the hard work done in training, in touring, in relentless, often monotonous, practice and preparation. As Muhammad Ali once famously said: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” Continue Reading…
Fifty years ago, Mario Andretti won his first Indianapolis 500. Unfathomably it proved to be his only trip to the IMS Victory Lane – and even that was a close-run thing.
Autosport magazine’s Indy 500 preview featured Eamon ‘Chalkie’ Fullalove, Mario’s mechanic and the (until now) untold story of the modification to make the best of a bad situation. Andretti, the 1978 F1 World Champion, was delighted that his ‘comrade’ was getting the credit he finally deserves. Magazine space being at a premium these days, and with so much recent topical news means that Autosport’s loss is Sport500’s gain. Here’s Mario’s own version.
It’s awesome that Autosport has given the attention to Chalkie. A career like his has touched the many teams he was with in a very positive way. I know the camaraderie that he optimises among mechanics. Everybody loves him. Whenever I think of Chalkie, he brings a smile to my face. He’s the man I definitely want to have a beer with! He has a proper surname, Fullalove, that sums him up.
Chalkie is clearly one of my very favourite mechanics that worked on a team I was on. Ultimately the biggest thing that you have is an appreciation for his ability as a mechanic to solve any problem. He’s clearly the fabricator extraordinaire. We had that huge issue after qualifying at Indy in ’69 because we had overheating oil. We were going to add an outside radiator after we qualified, but they wouldn’t allow us to do it.
Chalkie solved the situation. He managed to install a radiator out of sight behind the seat! It was a bit inefficient, but it was the only thing you could do. It was hot! I ended up with blisters on my back, but it got the job done and kept us in the game for the 500 miles.
We were worried it wouldn’t last. I took the lead at the start and already about six or seven laps in my oil temperature was in the 270 degrees range and that’s when I backed off, letting Foyt and Roger McCluskey by. I stayed with them, I wasn’t going to let up. I was never worse than third in the race, and I knew that – at will – I could lead, so I figured I should just keep staying the way I was.
We had another issue with the right rear tyre. We couldn’t take it off! If we’d messed about in the pits with that, we’d have fallen behind and never recovered. We did 500 miles on that one set of tyres – and we won it.
I remember the party after and I’m laughing now at the memory… It was huge, as you can imagine! Andy Granatelli-style, everybody kissing. There was a lot of emotion, no question about it.
It made so many people happy. Many deserved this prize at times before, but for one reason or another it didn’t happen. Especially for my chief mechanic, Clint Brawner. Jim McGee was the co-chief, but he was young like me, so he felt he would have many other opportunities. Brawner was at the end of his career and we were finally able to bring it to him. Of course, we know how hard Granatelli worked, and how much the win meant to him. Indy was the only race he cared about. He didn’t care about the championship or anything else. Not like us you know?
That Indy win in 1969 was still one of the most satisfying moments in my career. For me and the team behind it.
Mario Andretti was talking to Andy ‘@Hallbean’ Hallbery & Johanna ‘@writebend’ Husband
To read Autosport’s story “The man behind Mario Andretti’s luckiest day at Indy” with Chalkie, you can purchase the e-issue here:
I’m a 22-year-old racing driver, competing this year for FA Racing by Drivex, Fernando Alonso’s team, in Formula Renault Eurocup. It’s an international series, comprising 20 races on 10 weekends in nine countries. I’m from South Africa – although I live in St Albans, UK – so I guess that makes me something of a rarity: a South African single-seater driver on the international racing stage. Don’t get me wrong: there have been some very good South African drivers, but there’s been only one truly great one. He last started a Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1980, and no South African has started one since. I’ll tell you a bit more about him later.
I’m writing this from my hotel, which is in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. I flew here Wednesday morning, by easyJet, from Luton Airport. I’m super-excited. Have you worked out why? OK, I’ll give you a clue. My hotel is a 15-minute walk from Casino Square. That’s right: this weekend I’ll be racing at Monaco. I’ve never set foot here before, let alone raced here, but I walked the circuit Wednesday afternoon, and I don’t mind telling you that I got shivers up my spine as I did so… but in a good way.
I’ll be qualifying today, all being well, and racing on Saturday and Sunday. I’m not going to make any outlandish predictions, but I’m going to give it my all. On social media I call it #SchoolOfSend – absolutely flat-out in other words. And, while I’m ‘sending’ it, I’ll be inspired by the great South African I mentioned in the first paragraph, because he was always mighty here.
His name is Jody Scheckter, and he won the Monaco Grand Prix twice, in 1977 and 1979, the second time in a Ferrari, from pole position, leading all the way. It really doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Monaco, Ferrari, pole, victory, leading every lap.
Moreover, Jody was fantastic that day. He’d outqualified his Ferrari team-mate, the brilliant Gilles Villeneuve, a man whom Jody himself has described as “the fastest driver in the history of motor racing”, and the two hurled their brutal but elegant Ferrari 312T4s around the super-tight confines of Monte-Carlo, nose to tail, lap after lap, until Villeneuve’s race was ended by transmission failure on lap 55. Jody then reeled off the last 21 laps, judging his pace perfectly and taking the flag half a second ahead of Clay Regazzoni’s fast-closing Williams FW07. Oh and this coming Monday, the day after the second of our two races here, it’ll be 40 years to the day since that famous victory.
Jody’s race helmet was one of the best: a white Bell with an orange band, ‘Jody’ bold and clear on each side, and a ‘Brooklyn’ logo on the visor. As a tribute, my helmet this weekend will be identical, but with ‘Callan’ in place of ‘Jody’. You’re an inspiration, Mr Scheckter, sir, and, 40 years on, I hope to follow in your tyre tracks.
As Simon Pagenaud topped the podium at the Indianapolis GP this month, you could clearly tell he was savouring every drop of champagne. And who could blame him? After all, it had been a long time between drinks for the likeable French driver. Before his breathtaking masterclass in the challenging, changeable conditions on the Indianapolis road course, Pagenaud’s last victory was at the Sonoma season finale… two years ago.
For the 2016 IndyCar champion the win drought was hard to swallow and even harder to comprehend, making his victory last time out all the sweeter.
“I guess this is the sweetest victory I’ve ever had. We did everything right this weekend and slowly but surely we got there” said Pagenaud.
With the monkey firmly off his back and his confidence riding high, Pagenaud is now keen to follow in the footsteps of his team-mate Will Power, who went on to clinch his first Indianapolis 500 victory after dominating the Grand Prix last year. He’s certainly made a good start towards bringing Roger Penske a staggering eighteenth victory at the Speedway, putting his bright yellow Chevrolet on pole during a tense qualifying weekend.
“This is the best day of my life so far,” said Pagenaud. “Obviously, it’s one of the most stressful days in racing, but being able to get it done today is just awesome. We’re in racing to win and Penske aims to dominate, it’s just an honour to be a part of this team. I’m ready to win this thing now, let’s go do it.”
Despite having grown up in Europe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still special to Pagenaud. He gets the tradition, the history and that indescribable ‘something’ that makes this place and this race something different, something beyond a regular event.
“The attendance here is amazing, being the biggest sporting event with regards to so many people in one place. But there’s also a kind of aura around the race track, almost like an electricity. It’s a legendary place where speed records have been broken, and it’s the fastest anyone goes on a closed circuit. For all those reasons and more, it makes this above any other race.
“You get a real buzz here. My first time was actually very intimidating, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I got very emotional before the start, just being part of it. And now being able to fight for the victory is even more special. I think for me as a racer and a competitor I want to race to win, so being able to master this unique place and have a car to do it with is incredible.”
It’s fair to say that Pagenaud’s turn around in fortunes, and on-track entertainment, has already been pretty incredible this month of May. It might be almost 100 years since a Frenchman last won the Indianapolis 500 but, on current form, it’s hard to bet against ‘Pags’ adding his likeness to the iconic Borg Warner Trophy on Sunday afternoon.
There will have been some head-scratching in Indianapolis and Woking, and maybe even at 36,000 feet somewhere between the two, after Kyle Kaiser and under-funded Juncos Racing bumped the all-star combination of McLaren and Fernando Alonso out of this year’s Indy 500. How did it come to this? How far can a team fall? Continue Reading…