On the Monday following the German Grand Prix, Teddy Mayer was driving back from Nürburg to Colnbrook. When his Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3 broke down on the A61 Autobahn near Bonn. Mayer was moderately annoyed at the car braking down. His main reason for buying a Kraut car had been their perceived reliability. And now there you had it… his mighty Merc refused to move.
Teddy somehow made it to Bonn’s Hauptbahnhof. Where he waited for a train that would take him to Cologne. He was sitting in the dreary railway station’s buffet, while flipping through the different tickets. A ticket for a train that would take him from Cologne to Brussels; and another for an onwards train to Ostend. From where, he would ferry over the Channel to Dover. To take a final train to Waterloo Station, London and be picked up by one of the McLaren staff.
True to reputation, the Germans had gone out of their way to keep the station a tidy place. A rather overweight looking woman, wearing shapeless polyester scrubs, was wiping the floor with a certain degree of devotion. The bartender was constantly rearranging glasses and bottles, and rubbing at the slightest stain on his counter.
It did not stop small splinters cracking from the wooden tables and chairs. Nor did it return any shine to the zinc slats running down from the massive wooden bar, dressing its front with a vapid grey surface.
Mayer was nipping from the flat collarless glass of lager in front of him when he noticed the young man. Merely a boy actually, stooped down in a corner, just outside the cafeteria’s door. He looked lost. And uncertain as to what he was supposed to do next. It was as if he was on the roof of the world and found himself lacking the footing to maintain his standing on those elevated heights. And feared the long fall down. As well as the hard hit ending the fall.
Listening attentively, Mayer thought he heard the kid sob; it was a sobbing that somehow sounded familiar. And the fraught kid did not stop starring at him.
Was it the compassion only men of Teddy Mayer’s stature display? Was it an impulse of Mayer’s infallible instinct? Or was it just mere providence?
Even Teddy Mayer would never know for certain, but fact was that he invited the kid for a drink to his table. The ensuing conversation almost made Mayer miss his train to Cologne. And then he had forgotten all about it.
Till, following the Laguna Seca race, Juha Bos strolled into Mayer’s office. And announced that he would be unable to attend the last Can-Am race of the season at Riverside. As Bos walked out, Mayer reached into the cabinet under his massive mahogany desk and retrieved the beermat on which, back in Bonn, a sullen youth had left a phone number.
Mayer needed a driver and, this late in the season, his options were scarce. And with not much left to loose, why not give a kid a chance, Mayer mumbled to himself.
And so a young boy showed up at Riverside to partner Sabre. Several drivers and other pit lane regulars found him to be familiar looking. But no one could really recall where they might have met him before.
And then, the kid did a good job out on the track. He applied himself to learning track and car. And even if initially slower than Sabre, by the time qualification had come, he was about as fast as the Brit.
One thing hit people as quiet peculiar however. It was that, whenever the young man said something, he insisted on mentioning victories at Kyalami and Monza-races no one had ever heard of. As well as a pole position at an Indianapolis-event no one could remember. It was as if he were talking about races in the distant future.
It did not stop the kid from taking pole position with a lap that was almost a full half second faster than Sabre’s best lap. A lap that still earned Sabre second on the grid, with a full McLaren front row as a result.
Riddall was shadowy close to Sabre’s time in third. Plaçais and Jaques, respectively 4th and 5th were already over a second slower than the newcomer’s time. Jundt in 6th, gave in almost 2 seconds a lap.
This was starting to look quiet impressive. Even more pleasing was the modesty with which the toddler went about the achievement.
Voigt did not qualify. After our abominable performance in Laguna Seca, the McCaig Brothers had gently dismissed our offer for further services. I had briefly contemplated a mission to persuade them otherwise. Then, recalling the miserable performance Voigt had displayed at Laguna Seca, forgot all about it. We would be concentrating on seasons to come.
The McCaigs hired Mick Chapman who qualified the McLaren 14th for Riverside. If ever proof was needed of Voigt’s complete inaptitude, there it was.
Plaçais had bagged the championship at Laguna Seca. Jundt’s second place was unreachable for Sabre who was out of Jaques’ reach. Just as Adamovich held a tight grip on fifth. The entire Riverside race thus was somewhat of a formality. And even if most drivers were willing to defend the honor of their colors, with not much at stake, no one expected them to go the full nine yards.
That probably to an extent also explained Teddy Mayer’s never heard of youngster grabbing pole.
Still, for the warm-up lap at least, the tot would be in the best place to be.
The kid stayed in that spot as the starting flag dropped and held on to his lead. Sabre’s manhood had seemingly been tickled and the McLaren regular was on a mission to get the lead as soon as possible.
The Brit had a first look under braking for turn 7, the infield hairpin. But McLaren’s new boy fended off the attack and stayed in the lead.
Ray Riddall was facing a disastrous start to the race; understeering out of treacherous turn 1 and hitting the trackside fencing hard. He would be soldiering on with a heavily battered Lola.
Sabre was meanwhile determined to show the new kid on the block how men deal with this stuff called racing. Riverside has a very long back-straight, coming down from the dessert dunes, leading to the last turn. By the end, that long straight is somewhat marred by a chillingly fast left kink.
It was exactly in that kink, that David pulled along side his new teammate’s car. That somewhat startled the youngster and he found himself on the slower outside for turn 9. As Sabre was now getting ahead on the inside, McLaren’s little one defended hard. So hard that he softly touched the outside wall.
Sabre was in the lead however, and the young one was forced to chase.
Loose canon Henrique had already quit by now, probably after having destroyed yet another Porsche 917-10. I have no clue as to the depth of Siffert’s pockets, but they must be pretty deep to keep a driver like Henrique employed.
There was lots of other stuff going on around the track at this stage and the race felt a bit like a bedlam craze. Ray Riddall had caught up with Bruno Chacon and was planning a move. Alberto Iquino, aka Little Al, went of. Others were swapping positions or aiming at gaining places. It was a madhouse at its manic peak.
The frenzy seemed to somewhat deteriorate the Baby McLaren’s earlier form. Sabre, undeniably the number one driver at McLaren, was pulling away and the toddler’s racing lines through the Esses seemed seriously off. Which in turn allowed Grant Riddall to close in. The image of Shadowy Grant in one’s mirrors can unnerve even the most seasoned of race warriors. Many thus wondered how the McLaren juvenile was going to handle it.
Little Al pulled past Mick Chapman in the fast back-straight kink, once more showing what a solid levelheaded young racer he is.
The McLaren kid meanwhile got some of his composure back, had distanced himself from Riddall a bit and now looked like enjoying a very comfortable run in Sabre’s wake.
Things were settling down a fair bit all around the track; most cars running in an Indian file kind of composure.
Having made his point, and with nothing left to gain or lose in the championship, Sabre lowered his pace. That allowed his stripling teammate to close in. The lad even returned the earlier turn 9 favor, taking the inside line and seizing the lead. Sabre was very cautious in defending and did make it all but hard on the number 7 McLaren. It was dawning that the top boys’ heart was probably not really in it.
Grant Riddall (Shadow), Yves Plaçais (Ferrari) and David Jaques (Autocoast), occupying 3rd to 5th, were providing some entertainment at this stage. But still, one could feel that with not much at stake, they were not taking the Can-Am monsters to their outer limits. It seemed that the pushing the outside of the envelope would be scarce at Riverside.
Plaçais spun his car in turn 7 and fell back to 6th. But no one at Ferrari seemed to care.
With 8 of 61 laps covered, the McLaren kid had somewhat solidified his lead, with now just over a second on Sabre in the second factory McLaren. It was now pretty obvious that Sabre could not be bothered in risking anything however.
Riddall and Jaques in 3rd and 4th were already about 6 seconds behind the leader.
There was another 8 seconds gap to Jundt in 5th, who now had Plaçais’ Ferrari right behind him. The top 10 was rounded out by a small train with Janik in 7th, Jereb in 8th, Canola in 9th and Whited in 10th. But these men had already conceded more than 20 seconds to the leader.
A remarkable thing however: apart from Henrique, everyone was still running.
Both Sabre and Plaçais spun at about the same time, be it in different spots. The McLaren nipper now enjoyed a comfortable lead and Sabre had Jaques and Riddall on his bottoms. In that order, as Jaques had just before overtaken Riddall for third.
Plaçais’ spin allowed Jundt back into 5th.
But nor the Shadow-people, the Scuderia-crew or the Autocoast-guys gave a damn with nothing to gain from it.
There was some real balls on the table action further down the field though. Jereb made an audacious move on Janik through the flat-out kink leading to the last turn. Raul made it stick and the Motschenbacher McLaren went up to 7th. The Detroiter was not going to take it lying down however, and tried to put the better inside line through following turn 9 to his advantage.
Jereb persisted however, and maintained the advantage al along the endless outside line of turn 9. Even pulling away a bit on the start-finish straight. Janik had another look in turn 1 and then looked like striking in the Esses.
Jereb stayed ahead however, and things seemed to settle down. One thing was clear though: these guys were not messing around.
Hackman retired the Bob Brown Racing McLaren with damage.
Things remained hectic in the 7th to 10th train. Canola was now looking for a shot at going one better at Janik’s expense. The Brazilian made it stick through turn 9.
Janik mounted his retaliation next time round through the Esses, putting dense pressure on Canola. Into turn 6, the Detroiter put his nose inside and took 8th back.
The Brazilian would not abandon however. On the long run down the dunes, he pulled ahead of the American Racing Associates McLaren.
All this swapping places and fighting for position allowed Jereb in the Motschenbacher car to inch away. While as Whited, in the other Motschenbacher car, seemed somewhat blocked behind the Brazil Beachcombers versus Detroit Wiseguys battle.
Plaçais was past Jundt again. And Jaques and Riddall pulled a little stunt racing side-by-side towards turn 7. Only to wisely settle back into a safer pattern as they reached the turn.
Sabre was edging away from these two, but it was clear that no one was really going to make the effort to disturb the McLaren urchin’s lead.
The fracas over 7th to 10th had shifted to a conquest for 8th to 11th place. Jereb now indeed had 7th rather secured with a decent advantage over Janik. The Detroiter was now fully occupied with containing the other Motschenbacher car piloted by Jason Whited. The man from the Old Dominion in turn had to keep an eye on his mirror as both Canola and Ryon were ready to seize the slightest opportunity at a pass.
Whited was anxious to get past Janik and tried to force a pass along the fast straight down the hill and into the long right hander leading back to the pits. Janik defended well though and Whited found himself on a very slow outside line for turn 9. Janik pulled away and both Canola and Ryon got ahead of the Motschenbacher car.
It only took Virginian Whited about half a lap to take 10th back from Ryon, but Canola had, in that time, already gathered a small gap.
Sabre decided to have a spin, letting both Jaques and Riddall the Faster through. Many wondered whether those two would launch an expedition to reel in the McLaren newbie.
The damage on Ryon’s Lola was now really starting to play tricks on its driver. Gerard had another highspeed spin, hitting the outside wall in the fast swerves following the start-finish straight. The Lola incurred even more damage and now looked like a handful to control.
Canola easily went ahead of Janik on the back straight.
Jaques went by Riddall and these two now put in some very fast laps. Still, they did not appear to reduce the gap to the McLaren brat up front.
Janik seemed to have found a new breath. He had relegated Canola back to 9th and was now on Jereb’s ass, aiming for 7th.
Jereb then someone messed up his exit out of turn 8 and was slow onto the run down the hill. Janik pulled alongside on the long straight, but as the yellow American Racing Associates McLaren was catching up, suddenly Canola’s green McLaren sped by the both of them. If you would ever be in a need of an illustration of two dogs fighting over one bone and a third one getting it… look no further.
Jereb also had to let Janik past, and was down to 9th.
Janik was now on dynamite and on the run towards the Esses went straight passed Canola. Two others on dynamite were the two Motschenbacher cars who at once also dispensed with Canola. Thiago had thus been in 7th for about one long turn and then fell back to 10th in just one straight.
Young Alberto Iquino blew his engine and was out of the race.
The Grant Man had meanwhile fallen in discord with the Esses. And, as often in such situations, the turn ended up holding the advantage. It pummeled Grant’s Shadow off the track and straight into a brick wall. At nearly unabated speed. The car sustained sufficient damage for Riddall to retire on the spot.
Ryon also called it a day, fed up with battling the crippled Lola.
With now 25 of the 61 laps covered, the factory McLaren brat enjoyed a 7.5 seconds lead over Jaques. People started wondering where Teddy Mayer had collected this pup. Surely, commanding a race in such fashion supposed previous racing experience somewhere on this globe?
Jaques was in a lonely second, with Plaçais about 10 seconds behind him in third. Sabre, in the other factory McLaren, seemed to be gaining on Plaçais, while Jundt seemed to evolve in his own universe. The Swiss was running 5th, over 10 seconds behind Sabre and about half a minute ahead of the train Janik, Whited, Jereb, Canola.
Mick Chapman, running for the McCaig brothers, had made it into the top 10.
Sabre decided to test the pirouetting capacities of his McLaren and spun of in turn 7. The 10 seconds gap over Jundt evaporated into thin air and the Swiss had done it again: out of nowhere, he was running 4th.
Sabre set out to catch Jundt, but the Englishman seemed in trouble. The rear of his number 5 McLaren developed an increasing will of its own, and David was struggling to keep a tied leash on it. Soon, he had another spin in the fast turn leading back to the start-finish line.
Whited and Janik were at it again for 6th place. Behind them, Canola got the better of Whited’s teammate Jereb. The Croatian’s electronics would soon call it a day anyway, ending Raul’s race prematurely.
Championship bagged or not, Plaçais was still intent on ending the season on a high note. Disturbing the McLaren rascal up front seemed a tad too ambitious, but why not have a shot at Jaques’ second?
Whited now rattled the dust off the run down the hill. Made a little bet, hoped his Chev would pull through. Picking up speed for some easy gains, ‘cause he blew the goddamn championship on all these other tracks. He stole a paper to check the front page. Headlines read: “The race track can’t be saved!” How can Duda open up a shitty shopping mall? On the night the lights in Gurney’s house went down. So how long does Whited have to wait, until he gets the spoils to the hairpin on the hill?
The Virginian got a shot at the hairpin-on-the-hill crown by cleanly dispensing with Janik through turn 9. Then immediately started edging away slightly.
Two others pulling idiotic stunts in the hairpin on the hill were Plaçais and Jaques. Jaques’ rear end went slightly bananas on the exit of turn 6 and the Canadian had to work hard to sort the car out. He lost momentum in doing so and there was Plaçais claiming his share of real estate.
The Ferrari pulled alongside on the run to this magnificent hairpin on the hill. Plaçais had the inside line but Jaques was stubborn as a coon and refused to budge. The Ferrari and Autocoast rounded almost the entire hairpin side-by-side. But Plaçais managed a better exit and had the advantage going into turn 8.
Onto the back-straight, Jaques hoped to benefit from that big bad barfing Chevy 8 liter block in his back. But meticulous Yves managed to get the power of his Italian screamer down way earlier than Jaques. It handed him such a gap that the Autocoast came nowhere near the Fezza. And Plaçais started to build a small gap.
With about 2/3rd of the race vanished in the empty void of the near past, Mayer’s toddler now had a lead of over 12 seconds on Plaçais’ Ferrari. The Frenchman had in turn garnered just over 2 precious seconds over Jaques in the Autocoast.
Behind Jaques was the dessert. Somewhere amidst that dessert was a Swiss Clockwork Orange grinding laps. Sabre, in the second factory McLaren, was almost 20 seconds behind Jundt. Far behind followed Whited, Janik, Canola, Chapman and Riddall the Wiser.
Mark Craggs left the track exiting turn 2 and launched his car into mid-air on one of the dune-banks. It looked like a Kitchenaid saucer. However, as the car came back to the ground, it remained quiet intact. It was testimony to the quality of the Zuffenhausen machinery.
The damage inflicted to the Porsche 917PA was however to serious for Mark to continue the race. He retired some laps later.
Plaçais was slowly closing in on the McLaren kid, having reduced the gap from somewhere around 10 seconds to 7 seconds in the space of about 5 laps. Would the newly crowned Can-Am champ give the McLaren newbie a run for his money? Not, as the kid was soon edging away again.
Any remaining hope for a downright fight for the lead got crushed a few laps later when the Ferrari’s electronic circuits bought the farm. Plaçais was left with not choice but to retire.
Janik repassed Whited for sixth, which soon became fifth as a result of Plaçais’ retirement.
The McLaren boy came up to lap them and as the McLaren went by, Whited ran wide and hit some dust. It was enough to let Canola through.
Sabre lost control over his McLaren over the crest on the back straight and rolled his car multiple times into retirement. After a strong start to the season, the last races had catered not much but harsh disappointment for David. And this final race was no different.
With ten laps left, the McLaren youngster now was so far ahead that it seemed he was in another race all together. Jaques and the Autocoast, in second, were over 20 seconds down. Third was Clockwork Swiss-style Jundt with his Autoworld Jerubee McLaren. Janik was running fourth.
Canola was in fifth. But as they started lap 51, he went a tad wide and Whited took over fifth. Thiago was relegated to sixth.
Mick Chapman was up to seventh for the McCaig brothers. Ray Riddall followed him in 8th with his trusted Lola. Tony Dean and Dave Miller rounded out the top 10. Chacon, who was the last man running was upside down by this time. His race seemed over, reducing the number of runners to merely ten.
Canola took fifth back from Whited. Whited fought back and took fifth back through the last turn.
The Brazilian nevertheless smelled the scent of blood. On the long run down the hill, he slipstreamed passed the Motschenbacher car. Then carried too much speed into the final turn. The Performance Engineering Ltd car went wide and there was Whited back into 5th.
It were pointless scuffles in the larger scheme of the race however. And that scheme was that the new McLaren kid took victory for an elated Teddy Mayer who could hardly believe his own luck.
Jaques took second and Jundt third. Janik came home fourth, with Whited and Canola in his wake.
And so the season came to an end. Contrary to all predictions, Ferrari took it home. Which was mainly due to Plaçais ability to recover from bad luck at the start of several races and still finish strong, even if not winning. Yves took two victories on his way to the crown. As many as Sabre and even one less than Jundt.
But the Frenchman also bagged three second places and two third places to only score no points twice. That regularity was what bagged him the championship in the end.
As to Jundt, he had a somewhat slow start to the season. A start that also got marred by some back luck in the first races. But once he got going, there was hardly any stopping him, winning 3 out of the last 6 races, an impressive one out of two. No one can say how the championship would have turned, should his pace have picked up sooner.
And then there is Sabre. The one who looked like set to become the runaway champion in the early season. But then seemed to loose grip entirely in the second half. Barely managing a top 5 finish in the last 5 races.
And what if Riddall and Jaques would have been in more competitive cars? There is no telling what they would have achieved. Nor what Ogonoski would have done, had he been allowed to continue at Shadow.
Still, the season could not have a worthier champion than Yves Plaçais, and with that, all is said and done.