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Cartoon image of plane trying to take off

A Swedish Rubber Movie

by Derek Freathy

Usually, when you head off for work in the morning, you've got a pretty decent idea of what you'll be doing before sitting down for your tea. Dunlop Racing Division sometimes exhibited a habit of changing that. Well, I say sometimes...

The European Touring Car Championship was probably our most important formula, so we were stocked up and fully prepared for the 12th May '85 race at Anderstorp, Sweden. Stocked up and prepared, in every way but the minor consideration of having enough tyres.

Tom Walkinshaw Rover VitessesOne of our principal partnerships at the time was Tom Walkinshaw's two-car Rover Vitesse team. Anyone who remembers Tom will recall his gentle, forgiving nature... as being entirely absent. Actually, Tom and I always got along well, and he could be surprisingly understanding when we came up short on his tyre requirements. Racing with no Rover tyres at all, however, was likely to tax the relationship. I wasn't too anxious when the truck left on the 8th, sans Tom's tyres as Tyre 8 were scheduled to catch up by the following day, when I had another truck standing by.

Unfortunately, I'd omitted to consult the Swedish customs who, with Scandinavian precision timing, went on strike. With strong mental images of the forthcoming loud, one-way conversation with an enraged Scotsman, I called my favourite logistics magician, Graham Storry, and begged his help.

"It's not going to be easy, mate. The only way is to charter a plane and take them yourself, but don't expect Singapore Airlines. There's a private airfield next to the circuit where you should be able to land."

Once again, the day was going to end in an unpredicted way.

Graham engaged his arcane powers and I found myself strapping into the right-hand seat of the plane he'd somehow conjured. We loaded fifty tyres into the space where the seats should have been and I tried to ignore the anxious look on the pilot's face. The take-off roll seemed a little long, but I reassured myself that I was in safe hands... probably. All was well as we crossed what suddenly seemed like an awful lot of sea, and the airfield came up pleasingly on the nose. And, yes, there was the van waiting outside the hangar. This was going to work out after all.

I heard my pilot requesting landing but couldn't hear the reply. Then I heard him request again. And again. He glanced at me and said, "Did you check the field was open?"

I pointed out that, as my set of specialities didn't include aviation protocol, I'd unfortunately omitted this apparently important step. In fact, in all my air travel to date, I'd somehow scraped by without confirming that landing facilities would be available at the other end.

"So what do you want me to do?" he asked.

I weighed up the alternatives. Risk imprisonment by the Swedish authorities or tell Tom Walkinshaw I hadn't got his tyres.

"Land anyway."

Having escaped incarceration, I returned to Fort Dunlop on the Tuesday and phoned Graham Storry to thank him for his miracle.

"No problem, did it all go OK?"

"Pretty much, though I think a diligent pilot should have checked if the airfield was open."

"You should be grateful. A diligent pilot would have knocked it on the head when he didn't think the plane would take off!"


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