‘That Was The Week That Was’ was the title of an early 60′s BBC television satirical comedy show produced and directed by Ned Sherrin and David Frost (as sadly, the recently departed David was then, pre Knighthood), and I could not help use the title to describe events of my own past week as it seemed so apt, for I don’t think I remember a week such as this….
Despite a nightmare Saturday thanks to my Navara breaking down and awaiting rescue for some three hours on the approach to the M11 motorway en route to East Anglia, Sunday dawned bright in the knowledge that I was going to spend my day with my eldest Son Kristian in Henley and enjoy a local pub produced roast lunch. We don’t catch up often enough so the day was spent talking about his work in motorsport engineering and my forthcoming two events that coming week.
The first event entailed an early Monday morning trip to Dublin and then onto a fantastic country hotel (Carton House) some 40 minutes from the airport, (and as a venue which I cannot recommend highly enough) where I was to deliver a 40 minute keynote address followed by a 90 minute interactive audience session on lessons in business, taken from my work in Formula 1 motor racing.
My client Primark had gone to great lengths in briefing me for my closing session on Monday 9th which was to include me joining them for dinner. Primark is a great success story and I found the people I worked with in my session to be focussed, enthusiastic and greatly motivated by the challenge of meeting their customers expectations – they were huge fun to be with too!
Thankfully, my session was very well received and despite not getting to bed until mid-night I was elated knowing that I was heading straight into the McLaren 50th Reunion Anniversary gathering of the Old Boys and Girls Association held in association with The Bruce McLaren Trust at the Hilton Hotel in Arundel, close to the Goodwood Racing Circuit.
A very early start saw me checked in on the BA flight at Dublin Airport and back to the UK in time to collect my wife from LHR’s T5 whence we headed straight for the McLaren reunion hotel. As soon as we arrived I met with my fellow organiser and reunion event founder Matthew Jeffreys. Matthew was a Chassis Design Engineer at McLaren between 1979 and 2005 and I held the position of Sponsorship Co-ordinator between 1984 and 1988, so we share the same kindred passion about the ‘red and whites’ as we often call the team.
Both huge McLaren fans to this day and immensely proud of our respective times with the team, Matthew started a meeting group of ‘The McLaren Old Boys and Girls’ some four years ago and in which I became involved as compere at last year’s event held at Brooklands. This year we worked very closely together as fellow organisers. Matthew as the event founder is hugely enthusiastic about this gathering year on year, and this being the 50th anniversary of McLaren meant we both had to pull something special out of the bag as we had 240 plus places to fill and wanted to make this event something the attendees would remember for a lifetime.
I make no apologies for this being my longest ever blog. As the event unfolded over the two days it exceeded our wildest hopes and aspirations. It was something very special and below are a range of photographs of the event to compliment the narative. To all of those who contributed, attended, provided historic pictures and annecdotes and for the support we received from suppliers, friends and family, we cannot thank you enough. Matthew and I hope you enjoy this look into what was a truly unique day and evening for us all.
Whilst we had visited the venue some months previously and in recent weeks spoken on a daily basis about the event, Wednesday morning the 11th September dawned bright and early for us despite the autumn clouds. The first cars to arrive were provided by Roger Wills and friends and Andrea Burani who loaned us his ex James Hunt M23.
The opportunity to get the family group shot proved too much to resist and here left to right are Matthew’s daughter Emily, Wife Sue, Matthew himself and Son Alex. The car is a huge credit to Andrea and we are indebted to him for making the effort to loan it to us. We also took plenty of pictures with the Senna/Prost MP4/4 but more of that later…
Whilst this iconic racing car was being photographed by many of the guests who were began arriving from 09.30 that morning, a further range of wonderful McLaren history was being unloaded onto the lawns of the venue such as those shown below.
(Left to right in the below picture) Matthew’s wife Sue and my own wife, Denise manned the Welcome Desk on the front reception handing out name badges, welcome letters and generally chatting to guests as they arrived thick and fast for a day of reunion. Seeing so many people from the 60′s through to the current day was an emotional experience and at times it was hard to focus on conversations as mates old and new continually re-introduced themselves.
Throughout the morning and the day, the arrivals kept coming, Howard Moore – James Hunt’s Chief Mechanic in 1976, Tom and Freddie Hunt (James’s Sons), Alastair Caldwell the 76′ Team Manager, guys from CanAm, Indycar, the current McLaren organisation such as Hertitage Collection Manager Indy Lall and veteran spray shop manager, George Langhorn.
The arrivals went on and on and included former McLaren Driver Jochen Mass, 1981 British Grand Prix Winner John Watson, 88′ and 89′ McLaren Test Driver and FIVE TIMES Le Mans endurance winner, Emanuele Pirro. Neil Trundle (pictured below), Wally Willmott who was Bruce McLaren’s first ever employee, legends Tyler Alexander and Jo Ramirez: Even good friend and world renowned designer and technical director John Barnard and the lovely Rosie Barnard turned up…this really was worthy of a one off TV programme in hindsight!
As all of this was going on, the dining room was in chaos for the evening event. Not ony were the AV crew fighting with the backdrops due to incorrect dimensions for the room being provided to them by the hotel, but in the middle of it arrived a racing car that to all of us involved with it, sends shocks of plasure down our necks each time we see it…I refer of course to the MP4/4, (chassis number1) which as Steve Nichols design, won 15 out of 16 races in the 1988 season in the hands of two legendary drivers, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Matthew and I and a great many people present besides, were part of the Marlboro McLaren Honda Team in that incredible year and to have chassis number 1 in our midst, a fully running car at that, courtesy of McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh made us very pround indeed. We all owe Martin a huge thank you for this… The big challenge was to make sure that no-one was aware that it was on site and therefore it was quickly unloaded and placed amongst the packing cases and the AV crew from Multimedia Plus of Henley on Thames who were still construcing the entire backdrop and set despite the last minute challenges! Nervous? Who us?….
(Below) The MP4/4 sits silently on it’s travel wheels awaiting it’s Goodyear race wheels and tyres amidst the set build!
Whilst all of this was going on and in between checking out that the AV crew, film crew and photographers were fine and fed, the guests were happy and the day was on time, Matthew and I continued to circulate the hotel meeting friends, colleagues and special guests. In between I found time to interview a number of VIP’s and those who had been central to McLaren’s successes over the years for use in the forthcoming video, so there was not much time to relax.
Back in the Henty Suite, Mark Oakley of MRO F1 Engineering was displaying his amazing range of hand built 1/12th scale replica McLarens…stunning!
The picture below shows James Hunt’s Chief Mechanic Howard Moore being interviewed by me with us both sitting on James’s 1976 Championship car with Matthew, (centre) Jan McLaren (left) and my youngest Son’s girlfriend Hannah (right) in the background.
Clearly, an event of this magnitude requires recording in terms of images, moving footage, written comments from the attendees and then taking the time to edit this all together for distribution to a wider audience. This we are in the process of doing as with so many great people present for this gathering, there will be a great many motor sport fans around the world who will want to see and hear what went on. A film edit will be available within a couple of weeks and as for stills, the entire collection will be on this wesbite under a separate section in a similar time frame.
Moving on from Howard, I had the opportunity to chat to Jan McLaren (below). Jan is Bruce’s younger Sister and a driving force behind The Bruce McLaren Trust based on the first floor of the original McLaren garage in NZ. Jan was attending with a party of guests and former McLaren employees and indeed a few ‘friends of Bruce’ for this event, and in association with the Trust’s global travels, this gave me chance to catch up with her.
Other interviews with Howden Ganley, a former GP driver himself and also the third ever employee of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing followed, as did chats with a huge number of guests over dinner, but more of that later including pictures.
Time on these events races by, (no puns intended) however early you get up, and at 16.00hrs it was time for a rehearsal. I had spent some 70 hours putting together a presentation for the evening in terms of slides of those memorable moments from McLaren’s history and we were planning on 21 live on stage interviews and a link up over Skype and telephone with American Motor Racing legend Dan Gurney and 1974 Marlboro McLaren World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, so timing was everything…no pressure then!
Rehearsals went well and the room with the staging now finished, looked wonderful – the calm before the storm in reality….with the MP4/4 now positioned and the dining room set, we took a series of pictures. The one below shows the proximity of the Senna/Prost car to the audience and when turned 180 degress on the revolving stage, the second shot below it shows the stage in all of its glory.
The shot below shows the room, stage, especially commissioned bust of Bruce McLaren under the New Zealand flag awaiting unveiling and other staging elements to best effect – 17.35hrs and 25 minutes left to shower up, get my suit on and head for the champagne reception…
By now, the guests are gathering and the stories, annecdotes and the champagne are flowing…pictured below are left to right, Simon Taylor (artist) who painted four especially commissioned pictures of Robin Herd, Gordon Coppuck, John Barnard and Steve Nichols for presentation on the night. Centre is Graham Osmond-Jones, husband of sculptor Alix Beale (right) who provided the one off bust of Bruce McLaren in the pictures and who provided the two wonderful pieces either side of the stage setting of the display of the McLaren MP4/4.
Each table featured a commemorative programme, timetable and menu limited to 275 copies – the design of these and the production of all of the events support materials were courtesy of former McLaren graphic artist, Malcolm Billyard, these days with his own design business ‘Oak Design’ in Hampshire. As an aside, whilst unable to attend, we all owe a huge thanks to Malcom for his work. Guests also received a cast lapel pin marking this truly unique fiftieth event.
The illustrations on the programme were provided by none other than Matthew who spent a great many hours producing these amazing pictures – one off artists proofs were also provided by Matthew later in the evening as prizes for a raffle to raise funds for Cancer Research UK, The Pink Ribbon Foundation for Breast Cancer and The Bruce McLaren Trust.
(See below: Matthew’s illustrations on the event menu and programme)
I called the guests to dinner promptly at 19.15. A plan to photograph everyone outside with a range of McLaren cars was thwarted when heavy rain started to fall and the decision was taken to take a group shot once all guests were seated in the dining room. (See below) A great shame as it would have been a very special shot, but I guess not everything can go to plan…
The formalities commenced with a welcome from me as evening compere and then I handed over to Matthew to welcome Patty McLaren-Brickett (Bruce’s widow) to the stage to meet her extended family of some 242 guests. This was clearly an emotional time for everyone and Patty went on to unveil the bust of Bruce expecially commissioned from sculptor, friend and client Alix Beale for this event. See three pics below in order of:
I welcome the guests to our evening…
Matthew Jeffreys with Patty…
Patty McLaren Brickett and Alix Beale unveil Bruce for the audience…
Matthew, yours truly and Patty seem delighted…
With the opening formalities taken care of, dinner service and the evening commenced (below)
Once dinner was finished, a short comfort break over and with our glasses recharged, we commenced the evening with a BAFTA style reflection of those sadly no longer with us and Tyler Alexander proposed the toast to ‘Present Company and Absent Friends’ – this was widely applauded by all.
Next came apologies for absence from Patrick Tambay (with a confession of why he crashed three cars in one weekend!), Mark Blundell and David Coulthard whilst Alain Prost sent heartfelt apologies for not being present due to being held on business at the Frankfurt Motor Show as did Bernie Ecclestone who due to business commitments could not make the evening.
A series of interviews then followed with a ‘who’s who’ of McLaren history, staff, drivers and sponsors…the audience seemed to love it! (below)
Bruce’s first ever employee, Wally Willmott who said despite being paid only a few pounds a week, he never told Bruce he would have worked for free! (below)
Jimmy Stone reflects on the Can-Am days working alongside Teddy Meyer, Denny Hulme and Peter Revson…(below)
A rare treat for one and all as American motor racing legend Dan Gurney joined us live from the West Coast of America and the All American Racers HQ to share his memories of Bruce McLaren and some of his own memorable moments including where the ‘Dan Gurney Chicken Shit Breaking Technique’ came from…I cannot tell you what is was like for me to interview Dan – I felt very humble! (Thanks to Kathy and her IT guys for making this work too at All American Racers!)
Former long standing McLaren man of old, Leo Wybrott talks the audience through memorable moments testing with the late Gilles Villeneuve in a McLaren – another legend talking about working with a legend! Leo now lives in Perth Australia, but his memories of McLaren still burn brightly for him (pictured below) and in November when I am there with a banking client of mine, I will be taking up his invite to lunch I can’t wait, nice one Leo…
Our next guest on stage was, and is, a true hero for me. Although we never worked on the same team, I used to look at the pictures of Jochen Mass in his F1 days alonside James and I believed all drivers were like that – in other words Superstars!
In latter years post F1, Jochen went on to drive for Rothmans Porsche in World Sports Car Racing with my now wife Denise as his event manager! Matthew and I were both delighted to receive his acceptance of our invitation to the event and judging by the round of applause Jochen received both on coming to the stage and returning to his table, everyone in the room felt the same as me…Jochen is a racer, a gentleman and an all round fantastic chap – thank you Jochen for attending.
The next guest to the stage was a man who recently has been in the public eye a lot. Alastair Caldwell (below) was the Team Manager of the McLaren Team in 1976 and was heavily featured in the Hunt v’s Lauda BBC2 Documentary shown recently in the UK. A very successful businessman in latter years, Alastair is ‘not know for mincing his words’ and he did not disappoint on this occasion, as he shared some very frank views with us from that meteoric year. Certain bits about the new RUSH movie frustrated him, but he did admit it was a Hollywood epic and not documentary in construction – the benefit many of us have had is that having seen BBC 2′s versions of events and now the RUSH movie – we have the complete facts (I doubt that James if you are listening…
It was a real pleasure to interview Alastair and have him in our midst….
As if by magic, (well, good scripting really!) our next two guests were Freddie and Tom Hunt, Son’s of the legendary James. Tom has different views on RUSH to Alastair, branding it a great movie and commenting how much James would have loved the focus on him, and no doubt the red carpet party afterwards! Standing there interviewing them both with their good looks and almost identical voices and similar manerisms to James, I felt hugely priveliged to be doing my job that night!
Next up was Dave Ryan. (below) Almost 35 years with the McLaren Team makes Dave an aspirational figure in Formula 1 and motor racing terms. Starting out as a Mechanic, he graduated to Chief Mechanic, McLaren Factory Manager, Race Team Manager and then Sporting Director before leaving the team in April 2009. Today he runs his own sports car team and is someone of immense modesty, yet huge capability.
Dave received a very warm welcome as indeed did all of our guests, and he told a great story about letting of a fire extinguisher off under the factory toilet door as someone had been in there far too long, only minutes later to see Phil Kerr, former McLaren Racing Director emerge and walk to his office completely unfazed by the ‘experience’….
The evening provided very many happy moment and much laughter. Rosie Barnard, wife of former McLaren Technical Director John Barnard enjoys one of the evening’s stories….(below)
The evening continued unabated. The next person I had the honour to introduce was Brett Lunger. A McLaren ‘privateer’ in his day, Brett was, and is a remarkable man. He served his country in Vietnam having voluntarily enlisted, then after the war followed his career into motor racing. He will always be remember as one of the four drivers on the scene in the immediate aftermath of Niki Lauda’s almost fatal accident in 1976 at the German GP. It was Brett who pulled Niki from the cockpit of his burning Ferrari and when I asked him about in the build up to the evening, and if he would not mind me mentioning it, I asked him how he felt about what he had done when he saw so much fiery horror in front of him- he replied ‘it cost me a good pair of driving shoes’…today he flies mercy missions in the US, around 20 a year, helping severely ill patients, and delivering organs and blood for those less fortunate than ourselves…what a star guest :
….and they just kept on coming! Someone out there should have made this into a TV show for motor sport fans really, but once the edit is complete, it will be on YouTube anyway, so enjoy! To the podium next was James Hunt’s former Cheif Mechanic from the 1976 season, Howard Moore. Howard was interviewed by me earlier in the day and added some great annecdotes to that year both to camera and live, so await the edit with baited breath my friends…
By now, you will have begun to realise what a fantastic job I had on this night, a real honour! Being able to introduce and interview so many legendary figures was a dream come true, and each person contributed some fabulous insights into the evening. Next up was spray shop manager George Langhorn and despite last year telling the audience at Brooklands that the paint only contributed 3.5 kilos to the weight of a GP car, this year he would not open up further – George, you are excused and McLaren’s secrets kept intact!
Next came the opportunity to welcome one of motor racing’s favourite Sons – Jo Ramirez. A friend, a true gentleman and a true cornerstone in Formula 1 thanks to the relationships he has had with his drivers and the teams he has worked for over the years. Jo shared with us his personal thoughts on his time at McLaren, the tempestuous relationship at times between John Barnard and Ron Dennis in a humorous manner and his feelings when at Ayrton’s last McLaren race at Adelaide in 1993 Ayrton spoke to him privately in the cockpit of his race car…what a pleasure talking to Jo was…
One of the great things (and there are many) of working in Formula 1 and then latterly in working with Matthew to create this reunion, is that the characters you have known and loved, in the main return to the events out of their passion from their years in spent in the team. A hugely popular, warm and funny guy next onto the stage was Ben Horne…watching Ben speak and work with his friends and team mates of seasons gone by was a pleasure and whilst Ben by his own words is fighting an illness at this time, he was as warm, funny and pleasant as ever…keep at it Ben and our best wishes
During the course of my introduction to Ben, Matthew approached me from the side of the stage looking rather perturbed…earlier that afternoon, unknown to me, he had spoken to 1974 World Drivers’ Champion Emerson Fittipaldi who was very keen to address the audience, despite not being able to attend in person…When handed a mobile with a World Champion on it and one as legendary as ‘Emo’, one has to improvise…and boy did I have to improvise! You will see and hear in the edited video how it was done…Never before have I held a mobile phone to my tie clip microphone to allow a World Champion to address his audience, but it worked and I loved it as did the audience…wait to see and hear it in that video!
At this point we were running into the latter part of the evening. Matthew and I had intended to wind things down around 23.30hrs but having asked the audience if it was good for me to continue, I got the response to keep going such was the enjoyment we were all having, so our next guests was none other than88′/89′ McLaren test driver, and FIVE TIMES Le Mans winner, Emanuele Pirro. He spoke with typical italian passion about his days with the team and working with Ayrton, Alain and engineer, Tim Wright and the times they spent together in Japan.
Engineers Steve Nichols and Tim Wright were next up with Steve talking about his 1988 design which when it first ran he knew ‘it would be alright’ and Tim shared a great story about being taken around Suzuka by Ayrton in a Honda NSX during a lunch break at testing…the verdict? ‘Unbelieveable said Tim, relaxed, fast and safe...ah, those were the days..
With so many drivers, engineers, team managers and the like present for the evening, we really felt it important to take a look at the team from the sponsors perspective. Matthew and I invited a number of people from Shell and Mike Branigan (left) and Peter van Voorst Vader (right) explained how the McLaren/Shell relationship came about – it makes interesting listening and will be on the video…
No F1 McLaren evening would be the same without JB. John Barnard, (below) is one of racing’s legendary designers and a man who has brought success not only to McLaren, but Ferrari as well during his career. JB told the story of how a pressurised fuel test undertaken whilst he was out at lunch ‘blew up’ a brand new MP4 carbon tub! – For years, JB believed it was Ron’s (Dennis’s) doing but Dave Ryan made a confession on the night that he forgot to put the dump botle onto the tub to relieve in the incoming pressure….is JB going to apologise? You’ll have to wait for the video answer if you were not there on the night….
And so, with the evening drawing to a close, it was raffle time. (below) Matthew had painted four amazing historic McLaren car images as I said earlier…these raffle prizes were taken from the originals – signed one of one proofs by Matthew and a range of team members from each year pursuant to the artwork. Bruce McLaren’s younger Sister Jan drew the four winning tickets and we raised £1589.00 for Cancer Research UK, The Pink Ribbon Foundation for Breast Cancer and The Bruce McLaren Trust – nice one everybody!
And so towards our close…the highly respected journalist and best selling motorsport author David Tremayne explains to the audience why he thinks McLaren is the greatest team in the world and how Martin Whitmarsh has assisted David in his personal land speed record attempt..
We came to the point in the evening where Matthew and I wanted to recognise the incredible talents of McLaren’s legendary designers. International artist, friend and client Simon Taylor offered to produce four stunning images of the designers with their creations although due to a back operation, Robin Herd was unable to attend in person. The pictures were presented to Gordon Coppuck, JB and Steve Nichols by Simon, Matthew, Emanuele Pirro and 81′ British GP winner John Watson to great applause…
Sadly, whilst I think we could have gone on until the wee hours, it was already 00.30 and it was time to close the event. I called upon Event Founder and fellow organiser Matthew Jeffreys (below) to offer his closing words which he did with true passion for the team in which he and all of us in the room had spent the best parts of our lives. Matthew then handed back to me to close the evening…
As I closed out the evening, I welcomed Colin Beanland (below) to the stage on behalf of Patty McLaren-Brickett to say a few final words about Bruce and those early days. I then went on to intro a short 4 minute video of those memories and we ended with the picture below of Bruce and his lovely daughter Amanda who with her Husband was with us in the audience….
Bruce with daughter Amanda (below)
In closing the evening on behalf of Matthew and myself, I would like to thank all of those people who had supported us in making this event happen. For the audio visual, sound, camera and backdrops our thanks go to Guy and Tess Ferguson of MultimediaPlus, Henley-on-Thames, LAT Photographic kindly donated their photographic services through photographer Sam Bloxham, Malcolm Billyard, former McLaren International Graphic Designer provided us with the artwork for the brochure, table settings, place names and support material design through his Oak Design Company of Hampshire, Simon Taylor spent many hours paining and drawing the tribute pictures for Robin Herd, Gordon Coppuck, John Barnard and Steve Nichols, Alix Beale produced the stunning one of bust of Bruce McLaren and provided the two wonderful stage sculptures, we also received great support from Matthew’s wife Sue, my wife Denise, my own Son Julian, and friend and fellow F1 lover, John Curtis.
To Martin Whitmarsh a HUGE thank you for the load of Marlboro McLaren Honda MP4/4-1, to Andrea Burani for the loan of his M23, Roger Wills for the display of early McLarens, Mark Oakley of MRO F1 Engineering for displaying his incredible 1/12th scale replica F1 cars, Matthew for the lovely paintings of the four McLarens taken from over the years for the programme and raffle prizes and to Richard West Associates Limited for also supporting the event behind the scenes.
Without all of them and the support of our families Matthew and I could not have put this event together…to show our appreciation of the support from Matthew’s wife Sue (right) and my wife, Denise, (left) we presented them both with flowers to a rousing round of applause from the audience. (Below)
In closing this epic blog, well mini book really, I have to offer my thanks to Matthew. He and I have spent many months discussing, shaping and working with a very talented group of individuals without whom we could never have delivered an event such as this.
My friendship with Matthew is without doubt, now lifelong. He coined the phrase a while ago ‘You can leave McLaren, but McLaren never leaves you’ and without doubt Wednesday 11th September’s event at The Hilton Hotel in Arundel proved to me that that is true.
As a speaker and event host, this for me was my finest event and I do not say that lighly. I get huge satisfaction from my work each and every time I speak or host, but this was special to me as indeed McLaren is special to me from my few years spent there in the 1980′s. I was deeply honoured to be able to act as on stage host for this gathering and to work with Matthew behind the scenes as his fellow organiser….
My final highlight was to be able to have my picture taken with the MP4/4 and my beloved family, all of which and in every sense, mean so much to me.
Please keep an eye out on my site for the total picture library in coming weeks and of course, the edited video…thank you for reading, I hope the blog is not too long and even if it is, I am sure you will forgive me for recording this piece of history a faithfully as I can remember
This weekend I have relaxed in peace at home knowing that thanks to McLaren, I have yet again experienced history – what a wonderful feeling….