Page 18 - PCA Metro NY Region POST
P. 18

Yet more Ramblings
Last month’s column was mostly about the 1955 Le Mans tragedy. As luck would have it, shortly after I submit- ted the column I saw the 2017 film “Ferrari: Race to Immortality”, which has actual foot- age of the disaster.
This film is a documentary with many scenes of the 1955-58 period, including interviews with the big stars of the era including Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio, Enzo Ferrari and numerous others. It is a must see if you are interested in racing history. It also covers in grim detail the ter- rible time before about 1966 when Jackie Stew- art instigated safety improvements into Formula One.
The fatality rate in Formula One in that era was staggering - about 10% of the drivers died ev- ery year. The tracks often ran right next to trees (which killed Jim Clark at the Hockenheimring
in Germany in 1968) and spectator safety was hardly considered at all (as in the 1955 Le Mans tragedy and the Wolfgang von Trips crash at Monza which killed him and more than a dozen spectators.) von Trips’ death gave the F1 cham- pionship to his Ferrari teammate, Phil Hill who became the first American to win the title. (The second and only other American was Mario Andretti in 1978 for Lotus.) The cars themselves in that era were so flimsy that the drivers didn’t use seatbelts - it was considered better to be thrown clear of the car than to be crushed inside it or trapped when it caught fire. By contrast with
the hazards of the past, the most recent Formula One death occurred when Jules Bianchi died
in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, and the one before that was Aryton Senna in 1994.
Similar safety improvements have also occurred in sports car racing over the years which natu- rally impacted Porsche. The 936 was introduced in 1976 and was an immediate success, winning Le Mans 3 times in its first 5 attempts but the FIA changed the class structure for 1982 ren- dering the 936 obsolete. In response Porsche introduced the 956 which was equally success- ful, winning Le Mans 4 times in a row. At that point Porsche decided to enter the IMSA series in the USA but while the 956 was almost IMSA- legal, in one respect it was not. The driver’s feet were forward of the centerline of the wheel hubs. Many drivers had suffered serious foot injuries
in crashes due to this attribute and IMSA had mandated that the feet be aft of that location. Porsche added about 2 1/2 inches to the 956 wheelbase to rectify the problem and named the new car 962. It went on to win Le Mans 3 times.
Speaking of the 962, in 1985 it introduced an innovation: the PDK automatic gearbox. Yes, the PDK first saw the light of day in the 962 race car in 1985. But it wasn’t offered in any production Porsches until 2009; why the 24 year delay? The reason is that the shifts weren’t smooth enough to offer to the public. A great of engineering was undertaken to get it ready for commercial use. Derek Bell (5 time Le Mans winner and very long-standing Porsche racer), who attended a Metro event 2 years ago, gave a great interview to Automobile Magazine about the 962 PDK. ( Bell-PDK-interview)
(Continued on page 18)
Track Ramblings

   16   17   18   19   20