I served my apprenticeship with Jaguar, initially working on the last models of the E-Type, then the XJS, the XJ6 and the Daimler Limousine. I was involved with the chassis design of those vehicles. It was a fabulous time when everything with Jaguar was good. I left Jaguar and joined Hesketh Racing. From my point of view, it wasn’t the champagne times associated with the team, but a lot of hard work and working through the night at the offices, or shall I say stables, at Easton Neston, Northamptonshire. The champagne party lifestyle was at the races and I was office-bound back at base. I worked alongside Harvey Postlethwaite, he engineered the car at the racetrack and I worked on the design back at base. I stayed with them through the James Hunt period and when he left for McLaren, I left and joined Aston Martin. At Aston, I went back to working on roadcars, specifically the chassis design for the Lagonda. I did some work on a proposed Group 6 car to be driven by Ray Mallock, but that became a white elephant due to the lack of money. I needed to get back into racing again and joined March working on the first Indycars, the Sports 2000 and the 82G sportscar, known as the “Lobster claw” car. This took me to Le Mans, in 1982, for the very first time working with a team. One car, driven by Eje Elgh, Jeff Wood and Patrick Nevé, lasted just seven hours, retiring with electrical problems and another driven by Bobby Rahal, Jim Trueman and Skeeter McKitterick only lasted three hours with fuel tank problems.
Some 20 years or more later and with several years of involvement, Le Mans was to give me a much greater experience as part of that now famous McLaren F1GTR win with the Ueno Clinic car piloted by JJ Lehto, Yanick Dalmas, and Masanori Sekiya. Lanzante Motorsport, run at the time by Paul Lanzante, was the team chosen to run the car, I was invited to join them, bringing my Le Mans experience as they had not competed at Le Mans before. Our team was independent from the McLaren works for the race, and was on a level playing field with the other customers. The car designed by Gordon Murray was the car to have at Le Mans in 1995, but while his design was superb we had to make a few adjustments. The first was a change to the steering wheel of the car for JJ’s benefit, he was so much taller than the other guys he couldn’t read the digital display, so we cut out the top of the steering wheel to accommodate him. Another unique feature with this particular car was the “Frog-eyed” bonnet, used at night, this had angled high intensity lights to help the driver illuminate the sides of the track and hence the apex points. I also took the precaution of having the engine inspected as the data was showing excessive rpm, I wasn’t too sure if we needed to change it or not, so involved the BMW engineers. The decision to change the engine was made around 1 or 2 p.m. on the Friday, by the time it was fitted and “dressed” it was quite late. I think it was 2 a.m. the next morning when we got the car onto a low-loader and took it to the nearby airfield to test. Anyone witnessing the struggle to get the car on and off the truck surrounded by only drunks in the middle of the night would have laughed if it were suggested this would be the winning car. For the race, the drivers had been given very precise instructions on how to approach the race. Every lap fuel meter readings would be provided. This was for both the team and drivers’ benefit. The absolute key in 24-hour endurance racing is knowing the potential of the package you have, because you cannot race someone else’s. Come the race, things worked well in our favor and by Sunday morning we’d got into 2nd place, it was clear that we had a chance for overall victory—something completely contradictory of our expectation when we started. History shows we took a famous victory. As a team we were naturally elated, however, the true star was undoubtedly the F1 GTR. Of the seven cars started, five finished—a truly great racecar!
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