The 2008 Australian Grand Prix was unusually hot… Well unusual considering the torrential downpour during qualifying a few years back, but even for the prolonged summer spell Melbourne has inherited (either through Tropospheric Temperature change or the ABC’s Parliamentary broadcasts) it was beyond the comfort level usually ascribed to Tony Greig commentary in the 1990’s.
But I couldn’t complain, as I was, situated on a hay bale purposefully babysitting a recently restored Porsche 904 as part of that year’s Historic display. I had therefore nothing better to do than ogle the odd Matich SR3 Can-Am, marvel at Vern Schuppan tending to his very own 300SL Gullwing, or if I was really bored, listen to Stirling Moss recall his Australian GP victory in the gorgeous Maserati 250F… Yes life can be pretty dull 17,000 kilometers from Goodwood.
Despite surrounded by more venerable eye-candy than an episode of Age of Love, my attention was drawn to a creeping menace scything its way through a D-Type enclosure. The group’s melting black and white face-paint revealing they had mistaken the Historic display for that year’s off-track entertainment – 70’s rockers Kiss. Well at least they had a sense of nostalgia.
Shadowing the now near desiccated Kiss army was an altitudinous chap in full Honda gear, now making his way in my direction. Drawing nearer I could see he even sported Honda sneakers – ex officio no less. Man this guy was keen!
Seeking refuge from the heat under our display tent, the gentleman stood transfixed by the Porsche for a time, before demurely requesting if he could take a closer inspection.
“Absolutely!” I responded, reminding myself of my duties. “Do you want to sit inside?”
“No, no, no… That’s okay. I just want a good look. I’m Alistair by the way”, he greeted in the faintest South African argot.
“Great to meet you.” I replied.
What a lovely guy, I thought to myself. Not wanting to impose himself, simply happy to observe.
Whilst perusing the ins and outs of the car, Alistair asked all manner of questions: When was it restored? How’s it been running? Does it see much competition? I tried to answer all his queries without sounding like the dilettante I am. I can’t say I succeeded.
Alistair excitedly divulged that his father had been involved with 904’s and that the car was the reason he became involved in motorsport.
The penny finally dropped.
He thanked me, saying that he didn’t have much of a break that weekend as he was training a new lollipop man, but was determined to get around to seeing some historic cars. Pleased with his findings, Alistair went on his way.
Of course I now know this was Alistair Gibson, chief mechanic at Honda. Attending his penultimate race with the team, he was handing over the reigns (or rather lollipop) to the next brave man in line. What I was to find out however, was Alistair’s remarkable career as a carbo-fibre sculptor; transforming F1 parts into casts of fish and aquatic themes. If you haven’t seen them I recommend checking out his website at www.carbonart45.com
There is a strange idiosyncrasy in motorsport for events to turn-in on themselves. Sometimes tragically as in the case of Alberto Ascari (dying in an accident at the same age of his father, same number of championships and same racing number ‘26’). Likewise, Damon Hill bearing the load of a team in mourning after the death of Ayton Senna – just as his father Graham did after the passing of Jim Clark (Clark and Senna arguably the greatest drivers of their generations).
I would however, like to think such coincidences invariably take a more heartening deviation. As in the case of Alistair – reminded as he exited the sport, of why he fell in love with it in the first place.
I should (or maybe shouldn’t) mention there was a minor pitstop hiccup with Rubens Barrichello’s Honda in the race that weekend. I can’t say for sure whether it was Alistair or his protégé behind the lollipop, I just hope it had nothing to do with the distraction of a little silver 904.