Motor Racing: Cue for ultimate truck-driving man: Derick Allsop's analysis of a year in the life of the Benetton team moves to the highways and byways

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The Independent Online
THE Hungarian Grand Prix begins eight days ahead of the race for Camel Benetton- Ford's other drivers, Dave Hughes, Martin Pople, Jon Harriss and Kristan De Groot. They are the men responsible for bringing the team's two trucks, carrying cars and equipment, from the factory in the Cotswolds, across Europe, to Budapest.

They stopped overnight at Reims, Nurnberg and just over the Hungarian border before completing the 1,300-mile journey to the Hungaroring, a circuit set in rolling countryside, just outside the capital. The two 16-metre yellow-and-white trucks are backed up to the pits and remain there until after the race.

Harriss, who drives the support truck with De Groot, says: 'Hungary and Portugal are the longest trips we have. Driving is all I've ever done since I left school. It's my fourth season with Benetton. Our truck carries most of the equipment. When we arrive at the circuit we set up the garage for when the mechanics arrive. With the long-haul races we still have to do all the packing and take the stuff to the airport for the flight. I'm also responsible for Michael Schumacher's tyres. I get them fitted, marked by the scrutineers, see to the pressures and temperatures.

'The appeal of being on the road is not having a boss. We always travel with the other truck and normally with Cosworth and a couple of other teams. We get on well and the life is good. It's easier now the borders are open. Last year, though, the truck was searched fairly thoroughly three or four times coming into Dover.'

'Yosser' Hughes (a nickname from the days of the television series, Boys From The Blackstuff) is a 43-year-old Welshman who first joined the team in 1980. He and Pople drive the truck carrying the cars, but Hughes rooms with Harriss. Hughes says: 'I'm not married anymore and I think that's down to the job. Once you get into this life it's difficult to stop. I was in haulage before I came into racing.

'Some people like driving fast cars, I like driving trucks. You wouldn't catch me going anywhere near a racing car. One or two in the past have acquired a reputation for being a bit reckless, but they didn't last long. With the value of everything we're carrying, you're aware of the responsibility. If I wipe out this truck it's not only the truck itself, which is worth more than pounds 300,000, it's the three cars and spare chassis.

'The worst moment for me was back in '84, when we had only one truck and I had no co-driver, going down through Spain to Portugal. I was coming down a nasty hill, into a gorge, and my brakes weren't working too well. At the bottom there was a sharp right turn into a narrow bridge and I only just made it. That was scary.'

Pople, 29 and also single, becomes the fuel man at the circuit. He says: 'I'd like to be a racing driver and do some rally cross when I get time, but Formula One is a bit above my league. We had a hard time at last year's French Grand Prix, when the lorry drivers blockade was on. They threatened to torch a fuel truck. Instead of taking four or five hours from Calais, it took us about 24. Coming back, all the team trucks travelled together in convoy, through the night, to Le Havre. It was some sight.

'But overall it's a life that suits me. The mechanics just get to see airports and circuits. All the truckies get on well and at the end of the European season, in Estoril, we have a party with the motorhomers.'

There is no party for Schumacher at this race, he has to retire his Camel Benetton-Ford with a systems drive failure. Patrese, however, is rewarded for a consistent drive with second place, his best result of the season. And then the four truckies are on the road again, beginning the long journey home.

Designs on Victory, the inside story of Camel Benetton-Ford, by Derick Allsop, is to be published by Stanley Paul later in the year.

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