JOHN ALEY

A Lifetime in Motorsport

 

 

CHAPTERS


Introduction

My Way

Abarth

Infrastructure

The French

Nurburgring

Racing Small Saloons

Re-start

The Serious Side

The Changing Years

The Chimp

Makes You Think

Memories That Stick

Rollover Bars

Mini Racing

 

Gallery

 

Updates

Downloads

Contact


INFRASTRUCTURE


In the pre-electronic age timing and lap charting was all done by the good old methods of pressing a stop watch and writing details on a clip board.  For this and much else that went on behind the scenes most of us relied on a wife, a partner, a regular girl friend or occasionally someone else’s.  I was fortunate as in 1960 as I married Jean who at that time was secretary to Nick Syrett at the BRSCC and had previously worked for the BARC and Commercial Motor as well as coming from a family deeply immersed in motor sport.  Her father Anthony Curtis had driven HRGs pre war in races and trials as well as being secretary of the JCC while more recently he had headed the Antone Company responsible for the public address systems at places like Silverstone, Goodwood and Shelsley  A pleasant easy going character who only bridled when the PA system was referred to as a “Tannoy”. 

Like many similar partnerships Jean and I made a good team which I think contributed much to our successful years.  As well as looking after the pit she drove the racing Mini to and from races while I followed on in the Mini Pick up or Traveller for these were the times when many cars competing in the road going classes, touring and GTs, regularly arrived at race meetings under their own steam.  Apart from the fact it was quicker and easier than towing we had the theory that many stoppages in long distance races were caused by trivial things falling off and driving the car on the road would sort these problems along the way.  Thus by the time it got to the circuit anything loose would have detached itself and been replaced properly. 

Jean also tended to use the “racer” to visit her horse which lived in the next village and we were once embarrassed to find the boot full of hay when we opened it for scrutineering at Brands. 

Trailering was regarded as a safer option as there was always the question of getting home if it blew up and to guard against this we usually carried a self steering towing bar with small brackets on the front of the “racer” so it could quickly be attached.   This was a system not used much in England but very common on the continent. 

Only once did we have to use this in anger and on that occasion a factory prepared engine we had “borrowed” from Ken Tyrrell – I dare tell this story now Ken is sadly no longer with us – broke irreparable as we entered the paddock at Montlhery.  Ken’s engines were Downton prepared and whilst very good were a little more edgy than ours and for this reason we had been forbidden to drive it on the road; in any case Ken did not know we were taking it to Montlhery as it had only been lent to us for one meeting – Zolder the preceding week where it had given us a second place. 

On the way back to Calais the next day, late after stopping for a good French lunch, we were pressing on to make up time and passed a heavily loaded French family who were so surprised to be overtaken by two Minis, one without a driver, that from my mirror I was able to watch them gently drive off the road and come to an abrupt stop in the middle of the village green. 

On one occasion though we had to fall back on a trailer.  It was at the Nurburgring 6 Hours Race where our friend – the late, sadly, - Sheridan Thynne, who later rose to fame with the Williams GP team and today organises historic racing, particularly wanted to do well on what was his first visit to the place.  He had a very quick well prepared 1000cc Mini Cooper so we lent him one of our drivers Charles Stancomb who knew the circuit pretty well and was generally an accomplished driver particularly in Minis.  Of course the inevitable happened.  Sherry worked hard at learning the circuit and was beginning to return respectable lap times when Charlie took over to do his qualification laps and generally check the car out.  In those days on the steep descent to Adenau Bridge there was a fast right hander where to get a good apex it was necessary to clip the hedge which in pre Armco days surrounded the track . On this occasion Charlie was a little over enthusiastic with the result he arrived at the next corner on what had once been his roof. 

While this drama was unfolding on a different part of the circuit my almost new 1275S decided to put a rod through the side of the block comprehensively destroying the whole unit. 

Surveying the two wrecks back in the paddock garage we came upon the obvious remedy.  I had a good car and there was a good engine in the remains of Sherry`s. Uniting the two, meant I – after tossing for it with my double headed penny – could have a race. Poetic justice struck after a few laps when I too overturned although with a bit of pit lane bodging and the loan of my co-driver`s goggles to compensate for a broken screen we were able to finish – in about 5th place in the class.   Much later that evening after the usual riotous prize giving someone in our party thought it would be a good idea to buy Sherry a consolation drink but when we arrived at his hotel his wife put her head out of the window and told us in no uncertain terms to go away as having destroyed their car she had no intention of letting us get him drunk – as though we would.   We made amends though by sending someone back to Nurburgring later in the week with the ever willing Mini Pick Up and a large trailer to recover the wreckage. 

As well as wives and girlfriends most of us had a band of regular helpers who came along to meetings and “Go-fered” between times.  Few of us could have afforded a crew of paid mechanics and pit crew and yet some form of infrastructure is essential.  The “go-ferring” approach works both ways though and I know many successful drivers who learnt all about the inside of racing through accompanying friends to races in a dogsbody capacity.   Last year I was surprised when I went to Silverstone with my nephew who had recently started racing to find he had already amassed an excellent team of competent but unpaid friends – thank goodness something remains the same in these commercial days. 

Throughout our racing we were fortunate with our helpers.  Being based near Cambridge and with a long association with the University Automobile Club (CUAC) there were always students enjoying the use of our workshop and pleased to help out in return.  Many of these like John Thurston, John Terry and the aforesaid Charles Stancomb had their own Mini Coopers which we looked after and helped them with race entries especially on the  continental.  In fact these three had an excellent season in 1963. This was the first year of the European Touring Car Challenge and when they had finished with college in May spent their whole time on the continent contesting speed hill climbs in the weekends between championship rounds. 

Although unfair to single out some among so many willing helpers, two must be named.   Howard Vero and John Whittall were both stalwarts who shared so many of our successes and sorrows over the years.  Howard regularly organised the pit stops and looked after signalling but thank goodness my eyesight was good and could cope with the long messages he wrote on our blackboard to keep me in the picture.  John liked a roving commission and during the race would wander around chatting to everyone and watching what was happening in the opposition’s pits, at the same time making notes.  This was a tremendous help in two ways.  Not only did it help us to decide on  race strategy but it gave me all the material I needed for my magazine reports after the race. 

By now we had a successful race preparation business established with my old friend George Cayley, who went on to become a successful Citroen dealer, in charge with two young Dutchmen, Han Akersloot and Dick van Yperen wielding the spanners and occasionally ducking to avoid those that flew through the air when George was having a bad day.  Although we did not pay any of them much we gave them their keep and lots of chances to go racing.  Han had some successes with my Minis, then with Bill Blydenstein`s Vauxhall and finally returned to Holland to win the Dutch saloon car championship several years in a row with an Alfa, a make he later imported into Holland.  Dick stayed with us for many years becoming my personal assistant and co-driving with me on occasions.  By now we were dealing with small Fiats for which he had a great liking and frequently he would go off to town for a small part and come back with yet another 500 for our sales area; although I would nag him for spending my money he usually sold them at a profit.  He’s still involved in the sport running a track driving club at his native Zandvoort. 

Looking back to those years I am very grateful for the support I received but win or lose, John Aley Racing was a happy little team.