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.