Culture

13/03/2006
FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE

If you join the Goodwood Road Racing Club you receive certain privileges at the Festival of Speed and at the Revival Meeting. There are other events throughout the year exclusive to club members. All members receive a Yearbook, a slim, handsome, volume printed on good quality paper and it comes in a slipcase. I have just received a copy, but then I get mine first because I write half of it.

Each year I have written an account of the Festival and Doug Nye has covered the Revival Meeting, you will find our names in very small print at the back. The two tasks are entirely different; Doug records a series of races, each of which has a result. My job is to evoke a three day event in which very few people now compete. There was a time when McLaren and Williams went hammer and tongs for the course record and people like Mark Surer and Michele Moutton were hounding them all the way. These days, most people choose to 'demonstrate' their cars rather than go for a time.

A few years ago, Johnny Herbert arrived in his Jaguar F1 car. He must have recorded the slowest time ever up the hill, slower even than steam driven vehicles made during the reign of Queen Victoria. Johnny stopped his car at key points on the route and then performed doughnuts for the crowd who, naturally, cheered him to the echo. He then pointed his car in the right direction, built up the revs and executed a racing start with rubber burning.

Johnny perhaps recorded the slowest time ever and nobody cared. Everyone came away thinking what a great guy Johnny Herbert is. So they should have done, because Johnny is a genuine and a very likeable man.

Writing an evocation of the Festival can sometimes be a problem. It's one thing to experience it for the first or second time, it hits you between the eyes, but I have been to every one. Every year I have to try to find a new angle and it is not always easy. For the current GRRC Yearbook, an angle was presented.

Each year there is a theme to the Festival, Doug Nye usually comes up with that. In most cases, the theme has counted for very little, I am just about the only person, apart from the official artist who has to take note, but, in 2005, the theme stressed different national racing cultures and that is a subject which has my full attention.

The design of every car is influenced by politics, economy, geography, climate, loads of external factors. Japanese makers all create very small cars (K class) which are rarely seen outside of Japan. Most of the land of the islands which make up Japan is uninhabitable, If you wish to buy a car in, say, Tokyo, you first have to demonstrate that you have a parking space. That is when the K class cars kick in.

British cars used to have long stroke engines and that was mainly down to the formula the government used to tax cars. For the purposes of taxation, the Austin Seven was rated at seven horsepower, regardless of the actual bhp the engine produced. A 4.5 litre supercharged Bentley was rated at 18 hp, a 2.6 litre Ford V8 was rated at 30 hp, it was a ridiculous system which put an artificial skew into engine design up until 1945.

In the 1950s Jaguar offered the XK120 and XK140 as a standard product with a huge list of optional extras. One of those options was a 'performance' engine with a higher compression ratio and that was fairly standard practice. What most people do not know is that Jaguar also offered a 'bush' engine, with a lower than usual compression ratio for those customers who wanted the swish of the lines, but whose local petrol pump delivered an indifferent product.

In 1951, the French government imposed a 48% employment tax with which to fund welfare schemes and pensions. If you paid Jean Pierre 100 francs in wages, you paid an additional 48 francs to the government. That killed off all the French makers of luxury cars and the coachbuilders who serviced them. In the 1930s, France led the way in automotive style. Within a couple of years of the new tax, there was hardly a French coachbuilder in business. Making a bespoke body is labour intensive and the 100 francs you paid to a craftsman became 148 francs by the time you paid the government.

Since 1951 there have not been many French cars of more then 3,000cc, look at the taxation system. Motor cars are products of their time and place and, unless you understand the context, you cannot understand the car.

Honda has been a long time sponsor of the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I have a soft spot for Honda because it has almost always done everything right, though the original Civic brought it close to disaster. The most recent GRRC Yearbook allowed me space to say nice things about Honda because the theme of my contribution, in essence, was the culture of people involved in motor racing and Honda was the featured marque because it was 40 years since its first World Championship victory.

The first Honda I ever saw was at the Whit Monday Meeting, Cadwell Park, 1962 and I had cycled 25 miles to be there. Jim Redman was on a 250cc 'four' and he took off into the distance. The 'Mountain' section of the track had just opened, (mountain? Lincolnshire? someone was having a laugh) and you could hear the Honda hitting the high notes, followed by the buzz of riders on 250cc singles and twins. They buzzed like bees at a picnic. Every lap they were another four seconds behind Redman, it was a glimpse into the future and the future did not look very bright for the British motorcycle industry.

Mr Sochihiro Honda, the company's founder, was a very wise man. For a start, he set up his son in a separate enterprise, Mugen Engines, and that told every bright young engineer in Japan that there was a company where anyone could rise to the top because the boss had removed his son from the equation. When I wrote my biography of Ron Tauranac, I interviewed the next two Presidents of Honda, Messrs. Tadashi Kume and Nobuhiko Kawamoto followed the founder as President of Honda and they recall working in a barn where the roof leaked.

There were times when Mr. Honda must have performed the Wile E. Coyote trick. You can run off the edge of a cliff, and you can keep running, if you don't look down.

When Mr. Honda made the decision to enter Formula One, Honda had been exporting motorcycles for only three years. The company had just begun to make a small sports car, but only at a rate of about 20 a week. Mr. Honda saw motor racing as a learning process for his engineers, he wanted them to think on their feet and not call a committee meeting a week come Tuesday. Honda won a Grand Prix in its first full F1 season, a remarkable achievement.

If you want to know how remarkable, ask Toyota, a company which spends the GNP of a dozen of the poorer nations and has yet to score a win.

Honda has made its fair share of mistakes, but I believe that Honda is basically an honest company. I also, personally, believe that Toyota is rotten to the core.

For some reason, people at Toyota Motorsport have taken against me. Sorry, but I will keep reminding everyone of Toyota's exclusion from the WRC. We have indications of how the current case about alleged theft from Ferrari will end. It is clear the plea bargaining has gone on. We have had lawyers acting on behalf of Toyota arguing the stolen software should not be returned because Toyota has improved the original. At the time I suggested it was like someone had stolen your car, but you could not have it back because the thief had added a really nice set of wheels.

That is what Toyota's lawyers have said in defence. It sounds to me like a confession though, of course, a statement given to the media by a firm of lawyers cannot be regarded as a confession. If it looks like a duck, has webbed feet, goes 'quack' and can swim, I'd say I was looking at a duck.

Angelo Santini and Mauro Iacconi will have sung their hearts out. Everything was on computers and you cannot argue with that. The more difficult business is moving away from that hard evidence. Gustav Brunner, former Chief Designer at Toyota Motorsport, René Hilhorst, formerly chief aerodynamicist, and Ove Andersson, once the team principal, are all charged under German (commercial) competition law.

I could name a fourth man, still at Toyota Motorsport, who must be having restless nights. He's the guy who, in May 2003, sent an internal e.mail to all personnel telling them to destroy all Ferrari material. I know this for a fact, but I could never prove it. That would mean betraying a source and journalists have gone to gaol rather than do that. I will never, ever, betray a source.

If I go to gaol, what does it mean? It means that I have credibility as a journalist. I'll be awash with Brownie points.

A little while ago I reported how Toyota had cheated in craft exams in Japan. I have no idea how these exams are perceived in Japan, but basically Toyota people on the examining board gave Toyota mechanics, working in Toyota dealerships, all the answers via the Internet. I do not know how important these tests are in the wider scheme of things but I do know that every single exam or test I've undertaken was important to me at the time. The Cycling Proficiency Test was important at the time I took it, and my Swimming Certificate was important at the time.

There is an annual test for car mechanics in Japan and what does Toyota do? Toyota cheats. Toyota seems to cheat as a matter of principle.

Toyota is the world Number One maker of cars. It long ago passed General Motors as a maker of cars, 60% of the General's business in the States is with trucks. Toyota achieved that position because it makes good products.

Toyota has been up to its tricks in NASCAR. DaimlerChrysler has just won US$6.5 million against Bill Davis Racing which was found guilty of developing a Toyota Tundra Truck for use in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2007 while still under contract to run Dodge Intrepids in NASCAR's Nextel Cup.

There is a counter action in process. My Yankee buddies may all be as sceptical as me (skeptical, since they are Yanks and spell funny) and we reckon that Toyota will pick up the bill. A bill that size would be a kick in the bollocks for me, but Toyota makes that much profit every hour.

I cannot fathom why Toyota cheats, yet cheating is endemic in its corporate culture. Toyota doesn't cheat where it matters, in the market place, it offers a fine product at a competitive price, Toyota deserves to succeed.

As soon as it gets into motor sport, Toyota throws all its values out of the window.

When little old me takes on the world's biggest car maker, I have to stand on solid ground. The ground on which I have stood has been pretty firm so far. That is why nobody at Toyota likes me and, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn,

Toyota has admitted cheating in national exams for car mechanics. Bill Davis Racing has been fined US$6.5 million in an American court, for developing a vehicle for Toyota while being under contract to DaimlerChrysler. Toyota Motorsport has been barred from the World Rally Championship for cheating.

I, personally, want to see Toyota out of Formula One. Toyota does not have a place in sport. Toyota does not understand what sport is about.

The silly thing is that Toyota does not need sport to sell its products. It has become the most successful maker of cars in history because it makes good cars and sells them at good prices. Toyota does not cheat in the market place, but when it comes to sport, Toyota cheats.

For as long as Toyota cheats you will read on Pitpass that Toyota is cheating.

Mike Lawrence

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Published: 13/03/2006
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