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MotorSportsTalk’s exclusive interview with John Surtees

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As he prepares to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his Formula One world championship win, British racing legend John Surtees took some time to speak to MotorSportsTalk about his life and career in motorsport as well as his views on the modern sport – and of course, that double points rule…

Let’s start off at the beginning of your career. What was it that sparked your love for motorsport and got you into racing in the first place? 

JOHN SURTEES: Well of course motorsport for me encompasses two, three and four wheels. My car racing career didn’t start until somewhat later in that I saw my first car race from the cockpit of a car in which I was competing in, which is going back to as far as 1960. My road racing career on motorcycles started in 1950 at Brands Hatch. My career then started and I became British champion and world champion on a number of occasions, right up until I retired at the end of 1960 from motorcycle racing. I had had the idea sewn in my head about possibly trying a car in 1958 when I met up with Mike Hawthorn who had just been crowned world champion in Formula One, and Tony Vandervell who won the championship with his Vanwall cars in the constructors, and they suggested it. My first drive in a race car came testing an Aston Martin DBR1 car which was a car that won Le Mans and also won at the Nurburgring and like Stirling [Moss] had driven and Tony Brooks. I tested that at Goodwood and they asked me to drive for them, I said “no, I’m a motorcyclist”, but then I decided at the end of 1960 to actually try cars, so that year I drove cars and motorcycles – different weekends obviously. My first drive was in a Formula Junior for Ken Tyrell, my second drive was in a Formula 2 car which I had bought. My third one was again Formula 2 and then Colin Chapman said “drive Formula One!”. I said “no, I’m a motorcyclist!” “Well drive Formula One when you’re not motorcycling.” And so that’s how my year developed!

After so many years on bikes, was the transition into a Formula One car easy or was it quite difficult?

JS: I had to obviously learn to deal with all sorts of different conditions and a bit of track craft was different, but the actual ability to relate to the car and communicate with it – which is what you have to do, it’s just as you’re racing a bike – that came along quite well. You have to get all those experiences about how you cope with different weather conditions with a car, which of course was somewhat different with a bike. And the biggest single thing of course was that you had to know the other competitors, because I had never seen any racing at all. I knew nothing about any of the other people who I was racing against, whereas in motorcycling I knew intimately how you would treat different riders etc. I had to build up all that data log on the environment in which I was racing.

How did you get into contact with Enzo Ferrari and end up driving for him in Formula One?

JS: They called me at the end of my first year in Formula One, and said “would you come to Maranello and have a look.” So I went there and had a look and everything else and I listened to their plans and thought that frankly I needed to have more experience, so I said no. I did a year then when I worked with the building of a Formula One car which was a Lola, and that gave me a lot of ground work. They asked me again at the end of that year. In fact, with our new car, we had beaten the Ferrari team in the world championship and finished fourth with the new car. They asked me again and I went out and I joined them.

It must have been very humbling. What was it like working with Enzo as a man?

JS: It was different times to nowadays of course. It was very much a situation where he ruled the whole thing, and so you were never quite sure what was happening necessarily. He tended to be changeable and he was trying to keep a lot of things going which was very difficult, because he didn’t concentrate just on Formula One like they do today. He had a big programme which held back the Formula One programme in sportscars. They were very good to drive, the prototype cars, and I had the job of doing the development work on them, because they introduced a new range in 1963 when I joined them. Very enjoyable working with them and racing them. But it did detract from the Formula One programme and made it that much difficult to win Formula One races.

Was it quite frustrating racing and knowing that you’re in a car that could be so much better if they concentrated solely on Formula One? 

JS: It was disconcerting at the beginning of the year. The first three races or so, you were struggling against teams who had been working strenuously all through the winter and doing all this testing and preparing themselves and frankly you didn’t do any of that work really until the Le Mans race.

Your association with Ferrari then came to an end in 1966. Could you talk us through your decision to quit?

JS: In the middle of the year when I was leading the world championship, a political scene all came up involved with Fiat and things which… if one looked back, just the same as he [Enzo] said to me some years later, we would have perhaps sorted it out other ways. As it was, I was quite impetuous in those days and also very targeted on trying to get things done and the rest of it. That time, this made me fall foul of certain elements within the Ferrari company and I changed sides. I was unfortunate not to still win the world championship, because we got the Cooper-Maserati which I transferred to be quite competitive, apart from a couple of silly incidents, we were there.

You raced in a golden era of Formula One against the likes of Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Stirling Moss. Who would you say was your greatest competitor?

JS: Well basically when I first started of course in 1960, we had Stirling Moss around who was driving a similar car to what I was driving, so he was the yardstick. He was always a great competitor. You had my first teammate, Jimmy Clark, in Lotus, we were together there. In fact Colin Chapman offered me the number one position in the team, but again for political reasons and things like this, it didn’t come about. Jimmy was a great driver. You had Graham and you had Dan Gurney who you could never underestimate, and Jack Brabham. They were all there. The latter part we came across Stewart of course, but I look upon the others as being of my period.

One of the races you never entered was the Indy 500. Was this through choice or was it something you wanted to win?

JS: I did all the testing on the Indianapolis car for the 1966 season, and then I had a very bad accident at the end of ’65 in a Lola sportscar in which I broke part of my back and a number of other injuries which were touch and go for a while. So I wasn’t able to commit myself, I didn’t know whether I would be fit. And in any case, I had to commit myself first and foremost to Ferrari who I was contracted to and who had been very supportive during my accident. So I had to tell them that I wouldn’t be able to race the Indy car which I had tested. They said “well who do you pass it over to?” So I arranged with them that they would pass it over to Graham Hill, and of course he actually won with that car!

So what racing did you do in North America?

JS: Racing in America I enjoyed very much. We went with our own team and went with the Lola cars and fitted Chevrolet engines into them and won the first Can-Am Series which was very prestigious. That was very heartening and very good, with very good competitors. Those big sportscars were very enjoyable cars. Different, but again enjoyable. The prototype cars, like your racing Ferrari, were good, the circuits you did, the 1000km etc, and the out and out sportscar races using the five litre and seven litre engines were also different but nice.

You spoke earlier about your junior career and getting into Formula One. Nowadays, funding is such an important thing. You do work with Racing Steps, so how important do you think it is that this group helps fund young drivers and how difficult do you think it is for young drivers to get into the sport? 

JS: Well I think it’s vital, things like Racing Steps. Racing Steps is fairly unique. You know it doesn’t have a race team like Red Bull. Red Bull have also been fantastic for developing drivers and giving opportunities, but Racing Steps has certainly on the British scene gone along and given the drivers the ability to display their skills etc. Unfortunately, you come to a scene where that’s not necessarily enough if you’re going to follow a Formula One career. Nowadays, that dreaded thing of ‘bought drives’ comes in and they’re highly financed. I think the structure of motorsport is wrong, and there needs to be a system that allows talent to be able to progress without having mega bucks to support it. So I think that in many ways, like Racing Steps is doing at this moment, they’ve got to look at perhaps feeding drivers perhaps into the American scene. One of our drivers will in fact be in America next year, and that is good from a point of view of taking the British challenge over there. But it’s sad that in a way Formula One does not necessarily, except in rare examples, take the very best drivers.

For next season, there’s the idea of introducing the double points round for the final race. What do you make of this idea?

JS: (sighs) It must be purely a commercial gimmick. I think it’s totally and utterly wrong. This means of trying to artificially change the results of championships or races is something which is not in the true spirit of what we should be trying to achieve.

Finally, would you be willing to make a prediction for this year’s world championship?

JS: Very difficult to say. It would depend largely how the engine side develops. When you go along and see the complete way that the Red Bull team is operated and its structure, and you have a driver like Sebastian Vettel who has been superb in every area and the way he attacks his racing is something which is an example to all these young drivers I think, they must have a chance to be right at the top. Ferrari, with the opportunity to develop the new engines and going back to V6s, there’s a chance for them. I’m not quite so sure how the relationship with Alonso and Raikkonen will work. It’s not the one I would necessarily have chosen, but just the same, they’ll be there. Mercedes, also. I don’t like what I’ve seen happening at Mercedes, this juggle that’s taking place and people like Ross Brawn going. But just the same, they have immense resources and some very good people, and two very capable drivers. McLaren’s last year with Mercedes will be trying to lift up their game. It’s going to be very interesting, and the first race everyone will eagerly watch how things develop.

Raikkonen drops five places on Monaco grid after gearbox change

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen will drop five places on the grid for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after being hit with a penalty for changing his gearbox.

Raikkonen qualified sixth for Ferrari on Saturday, but will now start from 11th on the grid after the team made the change on his car following final practice earlier in the day.

The change on Raikkonen’s car came short of the six consecutive races that it is required to last, prompting FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer to refer the case to the stewards, who duly handed Raikkonen a five-place grid penalty.

Ferrari struggled to match the pace of Red Bull and Mercedes in qualifying as Sebastian Vettel could only finish fourth.

Raikkonen did qualify sixth behind Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, but will now have to fight his way back up the order in Sunday’s race.

“The whole weekend has been quite tricky, but this morning the car felt a bit better and for qualifying we improved even more,” Raikkonen said.

“For sure we did the right things, but we struggled to make the tires work as we wanted. They were too much on the edge of the grip, the rear was slipping or the front was sliding and in a track like this when you don’t have a consistent good grip you lose a lot of time because of that.

“Obviously we are not happy of where we end up and the penalty due to the gearbox change for sure doesn’t help, but we’ll try to make the best out of it.

“We cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, for sure the race it’s not going to be easy, but usually many things happen here, we’ll try to get the most, to do the right calls in case of safety car and to take the right decisions.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Karam: “From Carb Day to ‘500 race day for the Gas Monkey Energy car”

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his fourth entry, after Carb Day and with tomorrow’s Indianapolis 500 now set to launch. You can read his firstsecond and third blogs here.  He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Wow, it’s the weekend of the 100th Indianapolis 500. And I’m ready to go.

We had Carb Day on Friday with all 33 drivers on the track for the final one-hour practice before the big race. As it did on Monday, the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevy felt good on Carb Day. It handles great in traffic. In fact, we stopped early in practice as the car felt very good.

Now, it’s the countdown for the world’s biggest race. I’ve been waiting some nine months to get back in a race car. And last year, my race was short at Indy (went out first turn of the first lap), but I’m back and feel great about Sunday’s classic race.

For the last two years, we have run the same configuration of chassis for me. I have become accustomed to it now. Now I don’t have the experience of a Scott Dixon or a Tony Kanaan. I don’t know if it’s our car or setup, but it is good in race trim. It’s the best kind of feeling I’ve had in a car here.

I think many of the other guys should fall off in the race. I think a lot of cars up front will fall back, and some guys don’t look good in race trim. It’s hard to pass. I feel like there will be a big pack. Guys who can get through the middle of corner should be good in the race.

It’s funny how things change here over the course of the month. I think there was one day in practice last week we tested, and we weren’t bad. I was eighth. I liked how the car was, but we made a big geometry change and then I was lost. We were 16th or 20th. The car was awful, and I couldn’t pass a soul. I felt like I was in Indy Lights car and getting the doors blown off. “Man, this will be an awful month,” I thought.

I told our guys that we need to go back to the car we had on Monday. We did, and right from the get-go it was better. We worked with it a bit. I was passing on demand! I could drive behind all five Andretti cars. This is a great race car. Obviously we missed it in qualifying.

After that bad day, I was telling you about being down in the dumps. I said, “Well, this stinks. I’m gonna run mid-pack and try make something out of it.” Then Monday happened and it was like a light switch went on. I felt super good. When you’re passing people it’s incredible… I passed guys who have won this race before.

And we have a strong team too. We have 90 percent of the same crew as my first year with Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing in 2014. We have a good pit box, right at pit in. I can just focus on squaring it up every time. The guys are working so hard.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

I expected to go to the finals again Friday in the Pit Stop Challenge. We got a tough call when we were put in the right lane – the asphalt lane. There wasn’t any grip there and I spun the tires out of the pit stop. The crew was fast but tires spun. I feel badly for the crew because they did a great job. I thought we could win it. Penske and Ganassi always bring it. I wanted to take the top dogs down Friday.

I’m a big believer in keeping the morale up at the team. Earlier this week, I was just wiping down my mechanic’s bike. He has a bike he rode to the track. I said “Hey, it’s the little things. You work for me and I work for you.” They love that stuff. They’ll be laser sharp focused for Sunday. We can make up time in the pits. Hopefully, by halfway, I can be where I need to be.

I have a shot at this race. I’ve been nervous since Monday. If you actually have a chance to win this race, it’s an incredible feeling. The 100th Indy 500 in general makes you feel good.

So how about becoming the youngest Indy 500 winner in history, and doing so in the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

Now that’s a great story, and I hope to pull it off this Sunday.



Kvyat escapes penalty despite failing technical check after Monaco qualifying

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo on track during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat has escaped exclusion from qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix despite his Toro Rosso car failing a technical check.

Kvyat qualified ninth in Monaco on Saturday, and was due to start the race from eighth on the grid after Kimi Raikkonen was given a grid penalty for a gearbox change.

However, Kvyat looked set to be excluded from qualifying when his car failed a front floor deflection test after the session.

“A front floor deflection test was carried on car number 26 [Kvyat],” FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer wrote.

“The vertical deflection under a vertical load of 4000 Newton exeeded 5mm.

“As this is not in compliance with Article 3.17.5 I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration.”

However, the stewards confirmed that Kvyat’s car had failed the test due to damage sustained during qualifying, prompting them to allow him to keep P8 on the grid.

“The team produced evidence that the car suffered an impact which reduced the downforce and resulted with a slower lap time than in Q2,” the stewards said.

“Therefore whilst technically the car failed to pass the deflection test, the stewards have decided not to impose any penalty. However the team is reminded that further tests will be conducted and that future failure of the test may not result in the same decision.

“The FIA technical team is requested to further study the telemetry produced by the team and provide a report to the Stewards if appropriate.”

Kvyat spoke of damage to his car that may have contributed to the floor failing the technical check after qualifying.

“I’m not happy with my qualifying today,” Kvyat said.

“I think I hit a curb hard in the third sector during my last run and I don’t know if this is maybe the reason why we lost a bit of time in Q3.

“The car certainly behaved differently compared to Q2, so we now have to analyze this, because we could’ve finished in a higher position than P9. It’s quite disappointing as we know we have a strong car with huge potential.

“Having said this, I’m confident for tomorrow, we have a good chance of scoring points and we will fight hard for them.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

Carpenter’s “Team America” trio optimistic of big race day at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet,  drives  on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Conor Daly’s made a big deal about his partnership with Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee’s brand new T-shirt company, ShirtsforAmerica.com this month.

Fellow young American Sage Karam made waves and created running jokes about his own lack of shirts last year.

Yet neither of those two drives for the team you could accurately dub as “Team America,” this month, in Ed Carpenter Racing.

With Josef Newgarden, JR Hildebrand and team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, there’s a three-headed monster of freedom coming from Rows 1, 5 and 7 in Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Newgarden carries the team’s best hopes with a car, the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, which is considered by many in the paddock as one of the leading contenders to win Sunday’s race.

The 25-year-old American won the Freedom 100 here in 2011 but that would pale in comparison to anything he’d pull off on Sunday, if he pulls it off.

“I got spoiled the first year I was here,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “It couldn’t go much better that. But I haven’t had a race here anything close to that since.

“It’d probably be similar, times 10, for the Indy 500. Yeah there’s a great crowd then. But if it were to happen on race day, it would probably be sensory overload.”

Frankly he’s due for a result of any note here given his past four starts have ended 25th, 28th, 30th and ninth. But Newgarden made the key point that finishes in the Indy 500 don’t matter at all unless it’s a win; he’s also got a specially designed Brett King Designs helmet that features a tribute to inaugural 1911 Indy 500 winner Ray Harroun.

“I feel like nothing matters here unless you win,” he told me Monday after the final full day of practice.

“Man, the worst place you can finish here is second. Third is great for points. But it’s another year you didn’t win. Winning is the only thing acceptable at this place.

“It’s more heightened here. People remember who won the Indianapolis 500 and they don’t remember anything else. You come here to win this race.

“It’s a balancing act, but if it came down to it, I’d go for the win over points, because it’s the Indianapolis 500.”

A guy who of course famously went for the win, and lost, was one of Newgarden’s teammates in JR Hildebrand, in 2011.

The driver of the No. 6 Preferred Freezer Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet rolls off 15th on Sunday and sadly his runner-up finish of five years ago still is the first thing that is associated with the talented, still only 28 years old Californian out of Sausalito, who now lives in Colorado.

But the last two years have seen Hildebrand end best of the one-off entries, 10th and eighth, and neither time with the best pit crew.

Now he’s armed with a better crew and arguably an ace in the hole from the engineering side in Steve Newey, who ironically, was a co-owner of the winning car that beat Hildebrand in 2011. Newey was with Bryan Herta Autosport at the time, as the two watched Dan Wheldon’s No. 98 car fly past the semi-stranded JR.

“It’s been interesting working with new guys,” Hildebrand told NBC Sports. “It’s been engineering by committee, in large part because Josef is a legit title contender, so they’ve wanted continuity for his program.

“But here, Steve has been great. He has given a great feel for what goes on at this place. After this extra car effort now the last couple years, I have the best crew now in these three years.”

Both Hildebrand and Carpenter are happier with their cars in race trim compared to what they’ve shown thus far in qualifying. Carpenter starts his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet from the same position – 20th.

“I feel really good with the balance in race trim. It’s been frustrating here and there to not get speed out of it,” Carpenter told NBC Sports.

“But last year we all dealt with cars hard to drive, that were unpredictable and inconsistent. Now they’re consistent and predictable.

“Yeah I qualified better last year, but this year I am more comfortable with our car going into the race to legitimately get up front, much more so than last year.”

Here’s another nicer element of the year for ECR at Indy compared to last year – they’ve been clean.

Massive accidents for both Newgarden (airborne) and Carpenter (heavy Turn 2 plus some air) contributed to a nightmare month in 2015 and yet this month, they’ve all been clean.

Carpenter was also quick to hail Newgarden’s growth and development as he’s ascending into the top tier in the series, and really the only younger driver (south of 30 years old) who’s done so consistently in recent years.

“I think Josef gets better all the time. He’s entering the prime part of his career,” Carpenter explained.

“The biggest difference I’ve noticed here is his confidence, in himself and the car at this track. He’s been one of the guys to beat every time this month. Confidence is building. Car is fast.”

How does Carpenter balance the dilemma of wanting to win an elusive first ‘500 himself versus either of his teammates?

“That’s what good about teammates and having strong ones. It helps at the same time,” he said.

“There’s a couple times this week I thought about taking cars to shop and swapping paint jobs. His is so fast!

“But I’d never do that. I’m so happy that our cars are well prepared. We’re going for it.”