Talking Motors: We need our heroes

Damon Hill - our columnist's F1 hero
Damon Hill - our columnist's F1 hero

It’s impossible to know what the future holds when it comes to motorsport.

But by asking yourself why you watch sport – any sport – you will find an explanation for that overwhelming feeling of disapproval at Roborace.

A computer model of new Jaguar XKSS. Picture courtesy Jaguar Heritage

A computer model of new Jaguar XKSS. Picture courtesy Jaguar Heritage

It’s not the noisy petrolhead thing which makes me shun Formula E – and not even the design of the sleek and futuristic Roborace cars which was unveiled last week will draw me in. Sport needs heroes. And Roborace will have none. It’s driverless.

Imagine if a robot had scored Martin Offiah’s length-of-the-field try at Wembley in ‘94. Imagine if we couldn’t put a name to Ben Watson’s header in the 2013 FA Cup Final.

And away from grass, why do people like motorsport? Yeah we appreciate the cars our heroes drive in. There are good ones and bad ones. But we grow up to cheer those heroes – people.

In Formula 1 my dad’s hero was Graham Hill. Mine was Nigel Mansell and later Graham’s son, Damon. We admired their bravery and skill. And the fact they were human, with strengths and weaknesses, just tightened the grip on our obsessions.

Roborace will debut either later this year or early next year, and it is planned to support the Formula E Championship as a curtain-raiser to each race.

Taking place prior to each Formula E race, 10 two-car teams will compete over a full season, all with the same cars, competing using real-time algorithms and AI technologies – whatever that means.

It’s nothing new for the amazing technology in Formula 1 to find its way into road cars. Sequential gearboxes, active suspension, and use of materials such as carbon fibre are just some of the technologies which have crossed over.

And it’s apparent Roborace will try to have a similar influence as electric cars improve and driverless technology gathers momentum.

Roborace’s website states: “The mission of Roborace is to demonstrate that the future of automotive and information technology is already here, and can even work in extreme conditions.”

As far as human input is concerned, no doubt there will be an army of people behind laptop screens for each team as the cars designed by Daniel Simon jostle for position (It’s even been claimed they will be able to reach 186 mph, making them the fastest autonomous cars in the world).

But it feels like it would be the motorsport equivalent of cheering on a game of FIFA.

Sport will undoubtedly change as years go by. People born in the north 150 years ago would have no idea their towns would become rugby league Meccas.

Pioneering racers in the European Grand Prix races of the 1920s and 30s probably had no idea how much the Formula 1 circus would grip future generations - with drivers becoming recognisable even by people with no interest in the sport.

So give me the excitement. Give me the event, the competition and the races.

But don’t take away what makes us love sport in the first place. Don’t take away the lifeblood of sport: Competition between two heroes performing on the limit of human capability.

Jaguar’s ‘new’ XKSS

Jaguar is at it again – this time with the XKSS.

If you missed it last year (and where were you?) the marque made six ‘new’ lightweight E-types, with unused chassis numbers from 1963.

Made with period correct materials and techniques, only the front brakes were uprated (for safety) from the original spec – with each going for £1.2m.

But that’s still well under the £7m value of the 11 remaining originals (12 were built but two were wrecked, with one of those since being rebuilt). Next year will see a similar project with the XKSS, as nine will be built to original spec to replace nine of the cars which were destroyed in a fire in 1957 at Jaguar’s Brown Lane factory.

The XKSS was a road-going version of the D-type, following the marque’s withdrawal from motorsport, and had Jaguar’s 262 hp, 3.4 litre XK6 engine.

It could handle 0-60 in 5.6 seconds and flatlined at 146 mph.

The nine ‘new’ models will be built at Jaguar’s ‘experimental shop’ in Warwick, using original techniques and will be exactly the same as the original cars – right down to the number of rivets in the body.

Tim Hannig, Director, Jaguar Land Rover Classic, said: “The XKSS occupies a unique place in Jaguar’s history and is a car coveted by collectors the world over for its exclusivity and unmistakable design.

“Jaguar Classic’s highly skilled team of engineers and technicians will draw on decades of knowledge to ensure each of the nine cars is completely authentic and crafted to the highest quality.”

The story of the XKSS began following Jaguar’s three successive Le Mans victories in 1955, 1956 and 1957 with the all-conquering D-type.

The remaining 25 D-types were converted into road-going versions with several external modifications including the addition of a new higher windscreen, an extra door on the passenger side, taking away the divider between driver and passenger and the removal of the famous fin behind the driver’s seat.

But the bad news is, even if you had the £1m plus to buy a ‘new’ XKSS – it would be unlikely you would get your hands on one.

Orders will soon be full – and are being taken from a select group of established collectors and customers.

Concerns raised over scrappage scheme

Remember the Scrappage Scheme in 2009?

If you’d owned a vehicle older than 10 years old for more than 12 months, you could hand it over to be scrapped in exchange for £2,000 off the price of a new car.

The scheme, which was extended in September 2009 before eventually finishing in March 2010, cost the Government £30m, and was hoped to boost the economy as well as get people driving lower emission vehicles.

It could be argued the scheme worked. Car sales in February 2010 were a nudge more than a quarter higher than the year before – and the average emissions of cars sold during the scheme were around 5 per cent lower than the year before.

The main gripe for classic car enthusiasts was the impact the scheme would have on the numbers of classic cars – with many examples being prime candidates for a mindless trade-in given their value was lower than £2,000.

And it would appear they were right to worry.

An online petition has been launched by Jake Dormer of Buckinghamshire after he saw internet images of rows of classics including Minis, Jaguars and even Porches at a site in Bedfordshire – still waiting on death row since being handed in years ago.

Find the petition at tinyurl.com/ccwscrap