I think you have to base your answer to the question, “What is the greatest racing car?” on your own experience. I can’t go back and say, “It was Schumacher’s 2004 car” because I didn’t drive it and don’t know what the competition was like. If I had to pick two cars, believe it or not, two of the best cars I drove were the Can-Am Frisbee, a very simple car but a great design, and then the 1989 Penske PC17, which was just a fabulous racecar.
You can only base it on your experience but here’s the problem of only picking one car…it’s like saying who’s the greatest driver? There are so many different eras. One of the most fabulous cars I ever drove was the 1963 Ferrari GTO. It handles like any of the modern-day cars. So you have to think which era, and whether you are talking about sports cars, formula cars…the list goes on.
I knew I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver. My goal when I went to the U.K. was to get into F1. I was lucky to have driven in F1 for a season with Ken Tyrrell, who was perhaps the best guy I ever drove for. That was a fabulous car, but I wouldn’t say it was the best because the Williams and the McLaren of the normally aspirated cars were a little better. I mainly base my judgment on the cars in which I had the most fun and those in which I won the most handily or most easily.
One of the Formula 3 March cars in 1973 with the round nose was a fabulous car, as was the Elden in Formula Ford when we put the Falconer body on it at the end of the season. In different eras there were different criteria. As I gained experience, I changed my views. I drove a Porsche 962, which was as easy a car to drive relatively fast—except for that last second or half second of speed—as any other car I drove. If you put it here in front of me today, I could get in and turn the key on and go fast; it was that easy to drive. But Porsche built that with customers in mind, for long-distance racing, to go 24 hours with guys of different sizes and ability. Then there were cars like the DTM Alfa 155, which was very comfortable but I never got a practice day in it, I only drove it in official practice and races, so I never got 100% with that car. I had Nannini’s car so I had a dual sequential shift…I had to hit them both up and down…so if I forgot where I was…it was a problem.
If I go back to the period of the GTO, that was great, but so was the lightweight E-Type, and then there was the Lotus 15…even earlier…the one with the aerodynamic body, with only a 1500-cc engine but fabulous handling. Then there was the John Surtees F1 Honda RA300 that I drove at the Goodwood Festival…that has to be one of the greats. I didn’t get round the track but you know it was good.
Worst cars? Maybe at the top would be a PC-15 Penske. That was a bad car, and then there was the Intrepid, a Can-Am car that was really bad, then a Boxer, a Brian Lewis F2 car, the Ehrlich F3 car? I drove some funny stuff in those days. We were all struggling to race and someone would say, “Drive this car” and I would say “Yes, I’ll drive it!”
When you drove great cars, everything else got compared to it!