Friday, July 20, 2012

Pro Tip: Race For Amenities, Not Just Wins

Before he worked for Ford (and later himself), John Wyer managed the Aston Martin racing team in the 1950's.  He was well-known for running a tight ship.  Anything less than meticulous preparation was not tolerated and drivers who failed to follow team orders were fired.  (This was in an era when drivers wore their egos on their sleeves, and would have been puzzled if told that they needed to brush up on their sponsorship skills.)  Wyer also insisted that the entire team (managers, mechanics, drivers) stay together in the same hotel when abroad.  He believed it built team spirit.

Wyer's taste for fine dining was also well-known.  He sought out good hotels; the deal-clincher was  food and drink.  In some years, he took scouting trips in late winter only to select a place to stay near that season's races.  "It was a dirty job..."

For Le Mans, the team always stayed at the Hotel de France in La Chartre sur-le-Loir.  It was 27 miles south of the track--another benefit as far as Wyer was concerned: no distractions.  The team was there for as long as two weeks before the race, because winning Le Mans was the main goal of Aston Martin's owner, David Brown.  It took them seven years, but everything came right in 1959 when Ferrari imploded and Aston-Martin finished 1-2, two laps ahead of the third place car.  Carroll Shelby, who was never heard from again, co-drove the winning car with Roy Salvadori (who really was rarely heard from again).

There was quite a party at the Hotel de France that night.

Hotel de France, La Chartre sur-le-Loir, south of Le Mans.

Dining room, Hotel de France, La Chartre sur-le-Loir.  "Carroll Shelby imbibed here."

 Owners' Club Bennies: Stirling Moss ("seat stick") holds forth on what the DBR1 was like to the Aston-Martin Owner's
Club of the U.K., in the courtyard of the Hotel de France.  Moss never won Le Mans, but he won the Nurburgring 1000 km's three times, twice in a DBR 1.   His second win helped Aston to win the sports car championship in 1959.

Power Trio: John Wyer with David Yorke (left) and John Horsman (right).  They were the brain trust behind the Gulf  Ford GT-40 and Porsche 917 dominance of the 1968-1971 seasons.  In the 1950's, Yorke ran the Aston Martin team on race weekends when Wyer wasn't there.  (He also managed the Vanwall Formula 1 team.)  Horsman was an apprentice.  When Wyer started his own team in 1968, he recruited Horsman as Technical Director.  Yorke was Racing Manager.  Does Wyer look like a notorious gourmand and bon vivant in this picture?  Horsman called this expression his Death Ray Stare.  He didn't have to say anything.  You never overlooked or did it again, whatever it was.


Watchtower said...

Good post PA, I like how you included a picture of the hotel.
France and the rest of Europe (well at least Western Europe) is on the wife and I's bucket list.

Pilote Ancien said...

Actually not my own pix. But I DID stay in Le Mans overnight, without visiting the track.

France and Belgium are AWESOME. Am a military history buff, so I had to "do" the Battle of the Bulge along with Rouen, Reims, and Spa-Francorchamps.

Ever seen "The Lion In Winter" (Hepburn/O'Toole)? Rent it before you go, if you decide to Rosetta Stone and just rent a car at Charles de Gaulle. Luckily for me, I had a (then) girlfriend who spoke fluent French. But many people who deal with tourists, even in the small towns, speak passable English. And contrary to legend, they are hospitable!

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