It’s funny how history can be viewed so differently.
Back in January, my first motor sport assignment of the year was to cover the Autosport International Show at Birmingham’s N.E.C. It’s always a ‘must’ for the post- season blues, but this year’s event had the added attraction of a unique ‘showstopper’ exhibition, dedicated to celebrating the publication’s 70th anniversary, and featuring some of the most iconic cars of each of its decades.
You have to make the most of times like this and I headed straight to the display, contorting my frame in search of perspectives. It was whilst I was crouched low, marvelling at the detail on the 1967 Lola T90 MkII Indycar that a stylish pair of highly polished brown shoes came into frame. A quick glance upwards, intended to communicate a polite “excuse me” was halted as I soon recognised the owner as someone whose presence was far more valid than mine: After all, I’m just an everyday fan of motor racing who is fortunate enough to be able to earn a few quid taking pictures and writing about it; Karun Chandhok, on the other hand, has raced at the very highest level and is able to present a unique opinion on the sport’s past, present, and future.
The car that had so drawn our eye, the evolution of Jackie Stewart’s exceptional 1966 Indy 500-leading car, is now a treasured part of the late Martin Birrane’s collection at Mondello Park. Sir Jackie, an Indy-rookie back in 1966 had held a commanding lead over teammate Graham Hill but with just ten laps to go, his oil pressure dropped and he was forced to retire and take a long walk back to the pits. This is the updated car for the following season.
Initially, Lola gave it the ‘T92’ moniker but officials stateside felt that the similarities to the T90 were so strong that the ‘Mk II’ badge was proposed instead. Again, Stewart showed great skill and pace, but sadly, again, his engine let him down.
A few moments passed and then I was alone once more, left to compose my shot. But a quick glance over my shoulder and I was intrigued; ‘Karun’ had moved-on to the Cooper T51 and Maserati 250F; both titans of their time; both world-beaters. And there was a question burning on my lips;
“Which would you prefer to have raced?”, I asked.
“Neither,” was the unexpectedly swift reply. “If I could choose from all the cars on this display, I’d love to take a drive in the Lola – it’s beautiful.”
I hadn’t expected this. Oh the T90 is a stunning-looking car but the pedigrees of the Maserati and Cooper are almost unrivalled.
“Can I ask why?”, I pressed.
“It’s the only one of these three that had seatbelts fitted: I want to race, I don’t want to die”, he went on to add, “I might be crazy, but I’m not stupid.”
So, as well as getting some cracking shots, I also gained a valuable insight into the racer’s mind. The times may have changed, but racers are still the same.. just a little more safety conscious.
* * *Images: Howard Fielding (@PhotoWodUK).