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MEMORIES / Two guys and a vest!

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Date

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Who?

Gilles Villeneuve

What?

McLaren-Cosworth M23

Where?

Silverstone

When?

1977 John Player British GP (July 16, 1977)

Why?

Realising that the British GP would more than likely be my last taste of motor racing at first hand for some time, due to my impending work overseas, I was looking forward to Silverstone 1977 even more than normal. I left alone for Northants in my trusty Triumph Herald (13/60 Estate, I'll have you know!) during the Wednesday evening and was in Towcester in time to grab a Chinese take-away. Once I'd parked-up in the queue - fifth in line - at the main entrance, I ate my food and got ready to kip in the back, rear seats folded down.

Silverstone '77 attracted such a large entry that an extra day had been added to the programme for 'pre-qualifying', and whether this fact hadn't publicised well enough or people couldn't get the extra time off work I don't know, but there weren't a great number of folk there on day one.

That was fine by me, as it meant a more relaxed atmosphere and the chance of getting in into a few 'extra' areas! I didn't, however, expect the help which I was shortly to be afforded after I'd paid my 1 general admittance fee...

As I was walking towards the Motor bridge (which I'm sure wasn't Motor but John Player Special or something else by then), the chap in front of me carrying a cardboard box let something drop to the floor. Clearly he hadn't noticed, so when I reached it I picked it up with the intention of catching him up to hand it back to him. Until, that is, I realised it was a flag marshall's vest... What do I do?! Ok, calm down. I looked around, and there was nobody nearby or even looking. Yikes - this was a difficult one! As I was already heading for the toilet block by the foot of the bridge, I continued and locked myself in a cubicle to think, and eventually decided that this was simply too good an opportunity to miss, so I folded the plastic garment up and slid it down my jeans.

As I wandered around pondering my next move, I noticed one of the 'new' drivers getting out of his road car. A short, rather sheepish chap who I'd already become aware of as a bit of a hot-shot in F Atlantic across the Pond. I wandered over and politely asked for a photo (funnily enough, something I virtually never did, as I always prefered to take candid shots) which he duly obliged and I took on my Kodak Instamatic. That was Gilles, and not long afterwards I happened upon another rookie who was struggling with an awful lot of baggage. Naturally, I asked him if he would like a hand and he gratefully accepted so I helped him lug his gear over to the F1 paddock where I again asked for a pic. That was Tambay...

 

As time went on I became more comfortable with the thing in my jeans (!) and in the afternoon, I decided to see what I could do with it. The Herald was parked round the back of Woodcote, and I thought it would be handy to be more central. So, without any form of car pass, I drove it towards the first line of marshals. Upon arrival I simply waved the vest at them and was ushered through with a smile and a thumbs-up! Same again at the next lot, until I got into the car park where I'd earlier encountered Villeneuve and Tambay. Brilliant! In the early evening, when I met my friend outside the main gate as arranged, I shoved him over and performed the same routine and parked his Escort van next to my Herald! Sadly that day also witnessed David Purley's horrible shunt at Becketts, but I don't think the gravity of the situation was widley known until the following morning.

With my mate now in situ, I felt more confident about using the vest and we both walked down the pitlane a couple of times where I snapped a few pics on my second roll of film...

 

Come Saturday night, having enjoyed various forms of revellry at the track the previous evenings, we decided to see what a GP Barn Dance would be like down the road and we had a great laugh! The highlight had to be realising that I'd met the DJ in a pub near Brands the night before the Race of Champions that March. In fact he'd broken the news about Pace to me, and as he was 'working' his girlfriend spent more and more time with us, culminating in her licking my tonsils right in front of her boyfriend on his decks! Quality.

Race day enjoyed fantastic weather IIRC, and the shirts were off and the folded vest hanging over the top of my jeans like a flap for the third day. Pits, paddock, BRDC hut were all done again and we got into a great position at Copse for the race. Actually we were early, and due to the fact that there were some female marshals on the post right by us, we joned them over the fence in the gap before the GP.

After the GP we visited the pitlane where (I think it was there) a bloke was selling/giving away cheap paper stickers proclaiming 'James Hunt is a Steaming Turd'! I got a few from him and shortly afterwards felt a trifle hypocritical when I took this shot in the McLaren garage...

...however, if I'd have looked at his M26 first I'd have felt better, as there was one stuck on its nose!

After another visit to the BRDC unit, we headed off home; myself with one of the aforementioned stickers on the chest of my white nylon bomber jacket. Not too far down the road I had to stop for gas and got chased back to my car by a big geezer driving a VW Caravanette who took offence at the message on my clothing!

Author and friend (in centre circle) pose unwittingly in this photo from Autosprint.

I'm certain to have missed stuff out due to the passage of time; and maybe I should have spoken with my friend first before writing this. Whatever, it was a brilliant few days and a good GP to boot. Oh, and why aren't my pics of Gilles and Patrick up on here? Well, in all the years I sent my slide cartridges off to Kodak for processing I never had a problem - until that weekend, as I only ever got one of my two films back in the post. Gutted doesn't even come close...