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Interview with John Surtees, part 3: & # 34; I wanted to end my career at Ferrari & # 34;

Daniel Reinhard
Interview with John Surtees, part 3
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What role did the sports car accident in Mosport in 1965 play in your career?

S urtees: The accident shouldn't have happened. For me it was good that Lola told me afterwards that a wheel carrier had broken. Attributed to a defective casting. That took away the worry that I'd made a mistake. Otherwise it would have been more difficult to return. After that, it was just a question of getting well again. The biggest impact on my career was that certain forces at Ferrari got the opportunity to take advantage of my ailment.

When I returned after the accident, Enzo Ferrari said to me: I want you to be in Maranello more . I was ready for it and was already starting to live in an apartment that had been found for me. Then I got into problems with certain people on the team, including race director Dragoni. My stable mate Lorenzo Bandini does not belong to this group. He was a fine guy and a friend.

What happened at Ferrari in your absence?

Surtees: It all started with test drives at the beginning of the 1966 season. We had problems on all fronts. In Formula 1, the new three-liter engine formula applied. But the new three-liter V12 was not yet ready. Instead, only a modified sports car engine was available. The test drives therefore began in the sports prototypes for Le Mans. After the Monza tests, I told them we had to modify the car. They blamed my criticism on the fact that I was still suffering from the effects of the accident. I disagreed. Look at the lap times. They are worse than the old car. And I was still faster than any of my teammates.

In the end they took my advice and the car got better. Then it was the turn of the Formula 1 car. Again I found it wasn't good. It was too heavy and the engine too weak. You said the engine had 330 hp. In fact it was less than 300. I checked the numbers on the test bench myself. So the year started with tension. It wouldn't have gotten so out of control without the accident. Enzo Ferrari was too busy helping me. At the time it was about the sale of his company. Ford on one side, Fiat on the other.

When you sat in a racing car for the first time after the accident, was it more of a physical or mental problem?

Surtees: After the accident, I was four inches shorter on one side. My pelvis was split, my thighs broken. The big problem was the bruised kidneys. The car landed on me after the rollover. A doctor from St Thomas Hospital in London flew to Canada with Tony Vanderwell to see me. At his instigation, I was pulled straight again. It fit to within eight millimeters. The doctors recommended that the best healing is possible in warm weather and in water.

That's how I flew to Guadeloupe. There was a nice beach there. There I lay down in the shallow water and did my exercises with my legs. When I got into a racing car again for the first time, I was still on crutches. They lifted me into the 2.4 liter Tasman car with a lifting device. And I beat the lap record at the Modena Autodrom. The accident made me mentally aware that I was more concerned with preparing the car. The break in the material had made me suspicious.

How did the separation from Ferrari come about in the middle of the season?

Surtees: You are under pressure after an accident like this. You have to get fit. And you want to be as fast as before. You can understand that I wasn't happy when I had to drive a car at the start of the 1966 season in Monaco that was two seconds too slow. For the next race in Spa we had more power in the upper rev range. About 320 hp. Engineer Rocchi had made changes to the cylinder head. In addition, Spa hardly had any slow corners. As a result, the weight handicap did not have as much effect. I was able to win the race.

Mr. Dragoni was the only one who wasn't happy about my victory. It did not suit him. Then happened the stupid incident at Le Mans that led to the breakup. After the preliminary tests, we came up with a strategy to beat Ford. When I showed up for the race, Dragoni had thrown everything upside down. I told the old man I couldn't work together under the circumstances. I actually wanted to end my racing career at Ferrari.

Do you regret it today? You may have built your second world title with it.

Surtees: It is true that I could have become world champion in 1966. Later, Enzo Ferrari and I regretted this step. I saw him just before he died. He said to me, John, we should only remember the good days, not our mistakes. And it was a mistake. I was aa bit too impulsive, also because I wanted to make a good comeback after the accident. But even with the Cooper-Maserati, which I then switched to, I could have won the title with a little more luck. I would have won the race at the Nürburgring if I hadn't lost two gears in the transmission. I still came in second.

To make up for my loss, Ferrari worked hard on the engine. In Monza the engine finally had the performance that we had been promised at the beginning of the season. Still, it might have been enough to take her off guard. Then the rear tank broke and we lost gas. I was behind Bandini at Watkins-Glen when Arundell came out of the boxes and picked up my Cooper. Again points were lost, maybe even victory was given away. In the end, Jack Brabham won the title. I grant him it, even if I would have preferred to become world champion myself. At least I was able to demonstrate to Mr. Dragoni that I was still fast. Faster than my Cooper teammate Jochen Rindt. Despite the accident. That was important.

You have always dealt with the technology of cars. Why?

Surtees: I was always interested. Even in my motorcycle days. I built my motorcycles myself and prepared them for the races. Also my first racing car with my father. With Honda in 1967 and 1968 I got more involved in development. Cooper-Maserati didn't know if they would continue, despite my victory in the 1966 season finale in Mexico. Then Mr. Nakamura from Honda came up to me and said to me: Honda will only continue if you drive for us. We need them. As a driver and as an organizer. That was an announcement.

You were still allowed to take part in the CanAm races in the USA?

Surtees: That was already the case when I was at Ferrari. At the time, I already had a sports car team with which I competed in CanAm races with Enzo Ferrari's permission. In 1966 I won the CanAm title with it. The cars came from Lola. I was allowed to drive them, but only on the condition that they bore my name. This is how the Surtees team came into being. I had a handful of people and a workshop. That helped me at Honda. This is how the Honda team moved to Slough. I met Soichiro Honda in Japan. We agreed that I would develop the car in 1967 and look for sponsors. We had to drive with the previous year's engine. Initially, the car weighed around 80 kilograms more than the competition. That was ridiculous. We had to work on that.

Where did you acquire the knowledge to modify a Formula 1 car, at least a Honda?

Surtees: It came to meIn 1965, I took advantage of the fact that I did the majority of the test drives for Lola's Indianapolis car for George Bignotti's team. I was asked if I would like to drive the Lola in the 1966 Indy 500. Because of the accident, I didn't want to ask Enzo Ferrari to give me permission to do so. It was important for me to get back on my feet. And to get the best out of it for Ferrari. So Lola asked me to suggest a driver for them. I recommended Graham Hill. And then he won the Indy 500. Knowing this car, a thought occurred to me.

Honda will not build a lighter engine. So we need a lighter car. That was the basis for it. The Japanese agreed. What surprised me. In fact, the 1967 Honda was a Lola Indianapolis car with a Honda engine. It came about in six weeks. Honda and I had agreed on a five-year plan. It was stopped when Jo Schlesser had a fatal accident in 1968 in Rouen.

You had recommended Honda not to use the new eight-cylinder Honda in this race?

Surtees: Yes, but that had nothing to do with the accident. Some of the ideas that were in the car were worth developing further. If they had water cooled the engine it could have been a good car. In Rouen, however, it was simply not finished to reliably drive a race. The accident was an unfortunate incident. Schlesser died in a car called Honda.

How did you get on with the Japanese?

Surtees: That was a problem. First the distance and the different time zones. But also their attitude. The Japanese philosophy has always been to use motorsport to train engineers. They believed in racing. In her opinion, car racing developed not only new technology, but better engineers. Because they have to work there under pressure. Therefore, there was constant coming and going. There was no stability in the engineering office. And you always had to deal with inexperienced people.

You have got to know all the great team bosses in motorsport. Who impressed you the most?

Surtees: They were all very different. It was a privilege to work with them, but I also took the liberty to criticize them from time to time.

Why do you have your own racing cars after all built?

Surtees: It was strange circumstances that drove me there. A little bit of my own impatience, which sometimes I would have better tamed. Many things happened at the same time in 1969. I went after thatHonda retires to B.R.M. That was a mistake. Team boss Louis Stanley painted me a beautiful but unrealistic picture of the brand's rebirth. They wanted to build the team around me, bury the 16 cylinder engine and focus on the V12.

I remembered the 1.5 liter time in which B.R.M. built good and reliable cars and thought I made a good choice. But it wasn't. The '69 car was just too slow. And the engine couldn't keep up its performance for a racing distance. This coincided with an offer from Jim Hall to deny the development program for Chaparral and drive in the CanAm series. I've always had a high opinion of Chaparral. The plan was to start the season in a McLaren with one of the specially prepared Chevrolet engines. At the same time, the new chaparral was to be built in cooperation with GM.

That was the famous white whale?

Surtees: Yes. It was the most impractical racing car imaginable. It could have done well on the skidpad, but not on the racetrack. The idea behind it was: the car would be so fast on the straight that it would not be necessary to quickly turn corners. It had a very narrow rear track with extremely wide tires. They should give you good traction. The driver lay on his back and looked out through a window. The sides of the car could only be seen in the mirrors. It was impossible to see where you were going. Chaparral had to remodel.

The first thing I did was sit outside again to see something. Then a monstrous wing was screwed into the stern. Because otherwise the car would try to take off from a certain speed. With the wing, the whole idea of ​​the outstanding top speed died. So we had way too much drag, also because of the extra-wide tires. I respect Jim Hall, but I think he was under a lot of pressure at GM to make something extraordinary. Then there were the problems in Formula 1 at B.R.M. The stress led to pneumonia at the GP USA. It was the low point of my career. I should have gone to Chapman before the season, buried the old problems and made a fresh start. Then I would have had a winning car in 1969.

And out of this frustration your own team emerged?

Surtees: I would say for practical reasons. After all the problems at B.R.M. I wanted to use my own chassis, derived from a Formula 5000 car. I said to B.R.M. that it would be better if they took this chassis and fitted it with a different front suspension. Then it would have felt better in the corners. Before the British GP it was agreed that I wouldshould drive a modified car. The B.R.M. immediately went better around house corners. After that, I should start an intensive test program to optimize the modified car. Unfortunately, the front axle broke in front of Stowe Corner. Very unusual for B.R.M.

It turned out that parts were badly soldered. Louis Stanley canceled the test. He didn't want to upset my teammate Jackie Oliver. I was so angry that I went to the top boss, Sir Alfred Owen, and said to him: What on earth are we doing here? I had meanwhile bought Len Terry's Formula 5000 car to let film actor James Garner drive in it. After Steve McQueen's Le Mans film, all actors suddenly wanted to be racing drivers. The car was successful in the US and Europe. I had my baby there. The Formula 5000 car became the Surtees TS5. And from that came the plan to do everything myself in the future.

I bought a new factory. My first Formula 1 car, the TS7, was ready for the 1970 GP England. I was fighting for fourth place when a bearing got stuck in the gearbox. We made a mistake with the oil tank. Then we won the race at Oulton Park. Derek Bell will always remember this car. He got his only World Cup point with him.

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