Saturday 19 September 2009
Brian Viner: Ageless charm of Moss leaves scandal far behind
The Last Word
While modern motor sport careers wildly on through the Renault race-fixing imbroglio, it seems appropriate that the Goodwood Revival, celebrating simpler and more honest – albeit more dangerous – times, should be taking place. Moreover, Sir Stirling Moss is racing this weekend at the famous Sussex circuit's annual nostalgia-fest, and no one better embodies all Goodwood's yesterdays.
It was there in 1948, over only three laps in a Cooper 500, that he recorded the first of his 222 wins (in 506 races and 84 different types of car) as a racing driver of rare skill and courage. And that inaugural triumph happened 61 years ago yesterday, the day after Moss turned 19. Which, adding up, means that two days ago the great man turned 80.
Not that his four-score years will stop him gunning his little 1500cc Osca round the track where, in 1962, his illustrious racing career came to an abrupt end, as, so very nearly, did he. Desperately trying to catch Graham Hill, he came out of the Fordwater bend in his Lotus Climax at more than 100mph and crashed into an earth bank. He was in a coma for 32 days afterwards, and paralysed for six months. His eventual attempted comeback, needless to add, was also at Goodwood. But he knew immediately that the old touch and timing were awry. "Just driving the car took all my concentration," he recalled earlier this year, "while in the past I could do that, look at the dials, and spot a pretty girl in the crowd."
One of the privileges of my own rather less risk-laden career is to have sat down with Moss several times in his neat Mayfair mews house, gently prompting wonderful tales of derring-do and chasing "crumpet". I was last there just a few months ago, sitting in the ground-floor office from where he runs the small property empire that he started to build once he realised he would never race again. "I was 32 years old and suddenly I had to work for a living," he said. The brown eyes twinkled. "I had no training in any trade or profession, and when you know nothing about anything, you have two options: either you become an estate agent or an MP. I didn't fancy either."
I took him for lunch after our interview, at a fancy hotel just round the corner. He won't mind me saying that he still has an eye for a pretty waitress, and still has all the stylish gallantry he used to exhibit even when racing at breakneck speed around Monte Carlo. He was at his fearless best in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix, taking the lead on the 86th of 100 laps and never relinquishing it, even though his Lotus was outpowered by the Ferraris of Richie Ginther and Phil Hill just behind. If he had completed every lap in pole-position time, he would have finished the race only 40 seconds sooner, such was his screaming speed up to and around every hairpin bend. Yet he still managed, every time he passed the dancers sitting outside a well-known strip joint, to blow them a kiss.
And when I asked him which car he cherished the most of all those he drove, the brown eyes twinkled again. "Just as you would take a different girl to bed than you would take to a first night, it all depended on the race," he said. "At Nürburgring, you wanted a responsive car. The Maserati 250F was best, but it wasn't reliable. The Mercedes was more reliable, but it wasn't easy. The Aston Martin DBR1 was terrific, but the gearbox was a real sod. The Porsche was a fantastic car for throwing round, but it wouldn't shine on an uninteresting circuit like Le Mans. And the Lotus was better than the Cooper, but the wheels would fall off."
Belated birthday greetings to one of British sport's true originals, and while the wheels fall off his beloved motor sport, long may his stay on.
Crooks rant is wide of the target
Poking gentle fun at Garth Crooks is the sports column's version of shooting fish in a barrel, and on the whole The Last Word tries to resist, but I'm sorry, sometimes it's impossible.
On Tuesday morning he was on the BBC Breakfast sofa, looking almost physically puffed up with his own pomposity, claiming that Emmanuel Adebayor's provocative goal celebration in front of the Arsenal fans last Saturday was a perfectly reasonable assertion of a striker's right to answer his critics. Naturally, no sentient being would try to condone the relentless abuse that those rabid fans directed at Adebayor, and to call them merely critics is to dignify them, but Crooks is utterly, dismally wrong.
A Premier League striker's right to answer his critics should be asserted in only one way, by sticking the ball in the back of the net. And £150,000 a week ought to be enough to buy a sense of responsibility.
Early to bed: the gambler's safety net
With Roger Federer a set and a break up in the US Open final on Monday, and playing marvellous, controlled tennis, I took what in retrospect was the foolish decision to switch the telly off and go to bed. Meanwhile, odds early in that second set of 1.04 (that's 1-25 in old money), didn't stop punters from backing Federer heavily on the online betting exchanges. At least I only put my pillow where my certainty was, not my wallet.
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