Reims reminiscence

MotorSport Page 16, November 1998


I can confirm John Starkey's September letter regarding Paul Hawkins record lap at Reims, as I remember it well. I was one of the two mechanics working on this particular Lola at the time.

The T70 was owned by Jack Epstein and Co, and driven by Paul Hawkins for this and many other races. The lap record was probably set between 2 and 3 o'clock in the early hours of the morning, the race having started at midnight. Not wishing to detract in any way from Paul's superb driving as always, the car did have a slight edge over our competitors - Jack had the foresight to get Mike Hewland to make a special pair of overdrive top gears; for those who might not know, the car had a six-speed gearbox and with the exception of first, all ratios could be changed, so with a fast circuit like Reims it was an extremely good idea to fit a high ratio so the car could pull a greater top speed at the top of the rev range. This clever ploy was to keep our competitors, namely John Surtees, guessing. We felt sorry for his mechanics who were obliged to change an engine after practice, as it was considered to be underpowered. However, all this was to come to nought. Paul brought the car in for a routine pitstop, my fellow mechanic Barry and I refuelled the car, and Jackie took the wheel for his stint. As the car left the pits it moved forward a few feet and came to an abrupt halt. We knew it was terminal before we lifted the back up and sure enough the torque of the big V8 Chevy engine had torn the gearcase apart.

Some while later John Surtees was to retire as well with a blown engine, incurred while trying to chase the flying Aussie. After the race I asked Paul how he managed to drive faster in the dark than he did in the daylight. "What's the difference, got lights haven't I?" Those of us who had the privilege of knowing this talented and amusing character will know exactly how that was said.

Incidentally, does anybody know if this car still exists, and if so is it racing? I would be very pleased to know.

I am, yours, etc. Ted de la Riviere,