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Real Racers

2005-11-14 10:01

Colin Windell

Nigel Mansell earned a slice of history by becoming the first ever winner of a Grand Prix Masters race when he won the Altech-sponsored event at Kyalami on Saturday - South Africa also getting in the history books by being the first to host one of what is planned as a series of events.

However, this was no parade of geriatric perambulators and the assembled stars of yesteryear did exactly what they do best. They raced.

The records will show Mansell - his car bearing the famous Red 5 numbering - won after 30 laps from Emerson Fittipaldi, the difference between the two just 0.40 sec at the flag waved by none other than Jody Scheckter. Riccardo Patrese finished third, ahead of Andrea de Cesaris, Derick Warwick and Hans Stuck.

The 482kW single-seater cars used in the series are all identical, run on the same Avon rubber and the telemetry gleaned by each team is made available to all the other teams so there are no secrets. The only variances come from minor setup preferences in terms of wing, brake balance and the like.

Each race is a stand-along affair. There are no points accumulated and this means there simply is less pressure to win - no less desire, though!

For the race, Mansell set his car up to maximise speed through the quick corners while Fittipaldi preferred to gain maximum traction out of the slow corners and, on a track with more overtaking options than Kyalami, this would probably have resulted in the lead changing several times before the finish.

As it was, Mansell had to compromise his tyres in order to stay ahead of Fittipaldi and finished the race with almost no grip for the last five laps with Fittipaldi jinking left and right behind him looking for a way past.

In qualifying Mansell went quickest and commented after the race: "The fact the cars are all identical highlights the importance of a good qualifying session. If I had not been on pole I very much doubt I would have been able to win this race."

Fittipaldi - who has not raced in anger for more 10 years - just grinned broadly and said: "Next time."

At the end of the qualifying, the gap between quickest and slowest was just 3.5 seconds with several of the drivers having their first experience of the cars in the free practice sessions before the race.

Alan Jones

Of the 15 cars brought to South Africa, only former F1 World Champion Alan Jones did not make the start having aggravated an old neck injury during the practice sessions.

Also unlike modern F1 cars, the GP Masters cars do not have launch control, trick aerodynamics and all the modern trappings that so often make for 80 laps of boring processional driving. These cars produce huge power, slide through corners, get into oversteer and have to driven with the sole responsibility for that action coming from the driver.

The trick aerodynamics of an F1 car mean overtaking is really difficult as the following vehicle, coming in to the disturbed air behind the leading car, loses traction.

With these cars that doesn?t happen nearly as much and the delightful sight on Saturday for the first 20 laps of the race was the entire field tightly bunched, nose to gearbox, ducking and diving as the race order became established.

Only in the latter part of the race did Mansell and Fittipaldi break away from the group as third-placed Patrese had his hands full of De Cesaris, Warwick and Stuck who had all passed Jan Lammers and Eddie Cheever.

"I was desperately hoping De Cesaris would catch Patrese and try to pass him, taking themselves off so I could cruise through to third," said Warwick afterwards.

Of the 14 starters on Saturday only two failed to finish - Stefan Johansson spun off on lap 2 and Jacques Lafitte retired after 9 laps with mechanical problems, the team having had difficulties with the car all weekend.

Unlike the sanitised Pavlovian responses emanating from the top three drivers in the post race GP press conferences, the top six drivers in the Altech GP Masters gave an animated conference liberally interspersed with light-hearted banter and always accompanied by huge grins - hell, it actually looked like those guys were enjoying themselves!

Fortunate enough to have begun my career as a motoring journalist at a time when the likes of Fittipaldi, Mass, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart were all racing, the level of camaraderie shown by the Masters harked back to a time when that was the norm in GP racing; a time when they would go out on the track and race their hearts out and then go out to dinner together or just have a quiet drink in the hotel bar.

It was time when the kind of external pressures now present in racing simply did not exist. It was a time when guys could go out, race their cars and go home as good friends.

Murray Walker came out of retirement to call the race with former F1 driver and sport car legend Derek Bell in the commentary box alongside him and it was Bell who said to me later: "This is what it should be about; this is the spirit of motor racing."


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