Monday, November 8, 2010
1979 Polish Grand Prix. by Forrest Evers
If Nigel hadn't made all that noise about winning more GPs than Stewart I wouldn't even mention the `79 Polish Grand Prix. It certainly didn't do anything for my career. But Stewart still won't talk about it and I think it's time to set the record straight.
I was nineteen, dragging my first Formula Three car across Europe behind a clapped out Cortina. I was in Hockenhiem, scrounging the pits for a used half-shaft when Jackie Ickx introduced me to a tall, pale man in a pin-stripe suit who said he represented Count Jazelrewski, Grand Nephew of King Karol of Roumania. He didn't look like he represented anybody, he looked like he had been sleeping in doorways. So when he asked if I would I care to race in the Polish Grand Prix the next weekend, I had to smile.
"Is not a joke," he said. "The Count needs to make up the field. £500 cash."
£500 was a fortune. £500 meant I could swap my lump of an engine for a Judd worth rebuilding. But the Polish Grand Prix????
The plane landed in the dark and slid on the wet grass. In the semi darkness, I could pick them out moving toward the open door. . . Andretti, Hunt, Ickx, Lauda, Schecter . . . I don't know what they promised Stewart to lure him out of retirement and ignore the obvious shortcomings in safety (Hunt said it was over £50,000). Stewart was the first down the ramp, scurrying across the lawn towards what looked like Dracula's house.
The Count shook hands as we walked into cold entry hall. He was smiling, saying "Good Morning, thank you for coming. I am Chairman Polski Fiat, Count Jazelrewski."
I liked the Count. He was a short intense man in overalls, with the presence of a corporate chairman, offering us a glass of Jazelrewski `69 in the ballroom for our driver's briefing. "You must forgive me for rushing you," he said, "but the plane has to be back with Air Poland in Cracow before dark."
The Count explained that he had `borrowed' a 77 Ferrari 312 T2, for replication by the Polski factory, "accurate, I assure you, to the last detail." He and FISA were going to sell the 26 replicas to rich collectors in the West to demonstrate Polish engineering skill, attract foreign capital etc. etc. My mind wandered to the doorway where a hauntingly beautiful young woman was fiddling with the button on her blouse and staring at me.
The Count droned on; limited crew and flag marshalls, a cameraman at each of the more important corners to record the event, "maybe to sell to TV."
"No spectators," he said, "Too bad. The regime maybe not understand importance to Polski Fiat, to Poland and World Peace. 6.3 kilometres to the lap, 70 laps. Qualifying would be from 10 to 11. Perhaps you wish to walk the course before."
The "course" ran from the front of the castle down to the lake where it plunged into the gloom of the Polish forest, emerging after a mile long uphill straight on a high ridge, two fast curves along the ridge, then it dove down through the forest again to a nasty decreasing radius turn in the semi darkness before the track emerged again from the forest, swept along the shore of the lake and rose up to the "pits" in front of the castle. Something like a narrow Spa with wild boar droppings.
Practice was tough. The cars were accurate replicas except for the last detail. The tires were the best racing tires in Poland; stolen off the limousines of foreign diplomats. I had never driven a Formula One car before, let alone on street tires, and qualified 21 out of a field of 21. As Marjeanna was later to point out, I had a lot to learn.
There was a wall of tire smoke at the start.
I saw very little of the race. My tires seemed to be made of a wood substitute and it didn't make much difference whether I stood on the brakes or put it into a broadslide, it wouldn't slow down. Which didn't matter because flooring the accelerator just spun the wheels. It was a pig on ice. I did three cautious laps and Stewart flew past me. In the two corners I was privileged to watch, he was so smooth he never seemed to touch the ground. I went off trying to replicate his technique, spinning into a marsh at the end of the lake.
When I got back to the castle to wash off the mud, a slender hand on my shoulder stopped me. "I am Marjeanna, daughter to the Count," she said. "I want to show you the other Poland."
Later, flying back to Berlin in, none of the drivers, not even Stewart, would speak to me. And when I go back over the day two questions go through my mind. Did the Count and Marjeanna set up the bedroom scene, the Count knocking the door off its hinges, to get out of paying us? And do FISA, in their archives, have a record of the race which had gone 47 laps, Stewart leading every one, before the Count ran out on the course, waving his arms and screaming, stopped the race? Either way it is all on film somewhere in the castle. I would love to see it.