The following article is taken from Powerboat 83 Yearbook.
‘Racing is about touch, about finesse and about winning. And that’s bloody hard!’ the smile of satisfaction spreads over the cocky Welshman’s face showing just how much he prizes his new world title, and how hard he had to fight for it.
For Roger Jenkins, the 1982 Formula 1 World Champion, success was sweet at the age of 42, with some sixteen years in the sport behind him. Some might call him lucky, claiming that only a broken propeller on Molinari’s boat robbed the Italian of his second successive title. But luck – good and bad – play a major role in most high speed sports. Few could really begrudge the ebullient ‘Jenks’ his moment of glory. It was his first Formula 1 World Championship; a long time since the day he bought his first boat.
‘I always used to water-ski until I broke my leg. Then I went to the London Boat Show in 1966 and bought a Bristol monohull for a class that used to be called EU.
I just put my ski racing engine on the back and started racing at Fairford; I didn’t win anything for two years! But paul Moxey gave me plenty of good advice – I owe a lot to him.’
The irrepressible Jenkins moved into Formula 4 and soon changed his habit of not winning – his fiercely competitive spirit made sure of that. Yet he has only ever had one bad accident (That was until the famous flip at Minneapolis in 1983), at Chasewater when he flipped his Cougar catamaran, a surprisingly contradictory statistic considering the aggressive driving style of the Welshman. ‘I suppose I have been lucky, someone up there must be looking after me! But I love racing. When I stop enjoying it I’ll stop racing and if I start feeling afraid I’ll never sit in another boat.’
1974 for was an excellent year for ‘Jenks’. He claimed his and Britain’s first ever world circuit racing title, beating Renato Molinari and the late Cesare Scotti at Pavia in the Formula 3 World Championship. To add to his trophies that year, the Welsh wizard took third place in the European SE Championships at Evians, France. Formula 3 World Champion again in 1975 in his Embassy sponsored rig, Jenkins then experimented with Volvo Penta and Konig in a Cougar and only lost the 1976 world title due to a faulty fuel system, much to his intense frustration.
‘I raced with Cougars for two years and I thought we could never beat the factory teams. The chosen few received superior equipment and unlimited back-up from the factory – it seems I have been competing against factory teams all my racing life and could never race on equal terms. It’s taken pure determination but at least we’ve shown it can be done.’
Roger’s protest is that, despite all divers having equal 3.5 litre V8 engines on the Formula 1 circuit, Renato Molinari and Cees van der Velden, OMC’s two contracted drivers, still have the mechanical and technological back-up from the factory. ‘Yes, the engines are more equal than they have ever been but even for a well-sponsored privateer it is difficult to beat the professionals. It has to be a professional job for all of us now, we must ensure that we have the same pit facilities: mechanics, engineers, technicians. The only way we can possibly beat people like Renato and Cees is to race on their level – and that’s full time. There is no such thing as a competitive amateur in Formula 1 anymore.’
The chain of music shops that Roger and his wife, Denise, have set up over the last twenty years in Wales are now sufficiently established to give the astute businessman the time to find the professionalism he seeks. And to see the sight of the assembled Carlsberg crew in the pits is a clear indication of how seriously Jenkins takes his racing. ‘I need everyone one of my crew. Terry (Big ‘T’) looks after the fuelling and the boat with Dave Burgess. Dr. Jeb looks after the engine and Dean (my son) looks after me. I went 30 percent over my budget last year but there is no cheap way to race and win. People said I didn’t need the lorry (the transporter in which the boat is housed at all times whilst out of the water) but it has proved so useful and enabled us to work in complete privacy. I’d certainly spend the money again tomorrow.’
Jenkins had a good reason to prize his privacy; the hull that he was hiding from prying eyes was the first of its kind on the formula 1 circuit – a Burgess. The English boat designer has been building performance rigs for twenty one years and with the Formula 1 triumph has now won every single class there is to win. In Jenkins’ words, ‘Burgess is probably the most underrated boat builder in the world.’ Certainly no one expected the rig to win the World Championship but the first race of the season set a few people thinking. ‘We spent a lot of time before the season getting the whole set-up right and that first race we caught the other drivers cold.’ Lying low in the water and almost cumbersome, the Burgess astounded all who watched the Leon Grand Prix with its impressive acceleration and effortless cornering.
‘The hull is very, very good. I’ve raced other designs in Formula 1 but I wanted to be able to alter the rig week by week, experiment with it, and with designers who are supplying half a dozen other drivers that is impossible, so I went to David. I won the Formula 3 World Championship in a Burgess and I always knew he was good. For the first three races we were fairly quick but for the last six we came off the bank like a rocket and turned corners without losing any speed – and that is purely boat design. It seems to take me through a speed barrier.’
‘One disadvantage we have is that we never get flat water to test on. Last year Molinari had speed on us at the top end and we never had the chance to improve on ours. But we certainly have a better rough water set-up and not many races were in calm conditions anyway.’
So, of course, Jenkins was ideally prepared for the rough Bristol Docks course and was oozing confidence in the days building up to the Embassy Grand Prix. Burgess had built a marathon rig, which proved to be a second a lap quicker than the sprint rig in testing, but it was not the hull that let the Welshman down on home waters. ‘I blew Saturday when I threw a blade off my prop. But Sunday was the most frustrating not only for me but for half the other drivers as well. The power trim couldn't cope with the rough water and the engine kept folding under. I changed mine on Saturday evening but it was even worse on Sunday and there is no way you can drive fast on that course if you have to keep jacking the engine out.’
It seems debatable whether Jenkins will be able to maintain the same relationship this year with Burgess as interest increases in the World Series-winning design. The British designer has already accepted further orders for the new Formula 1 rigs, amongst them Rick Frost, the 1982 Formula 3 World Champion and one for Lasse Strom, and has guaranteed that all rigs will be identical. Will Jenkins inherit the problem which frustrated him in previous years, and become just one customer of many for the boat designer? Whatever the case, Jenkins has lost none of that ferociously competitive spirit which won him the 1982 title and it will take more than just a good boat for his rivals to keep him down. ‘My competition this year, as always, will come from Molinari and van der Velden but it’s going to be a tough one.’ The grin of anticipation shows just how much the Welsh ace relishes the battle to come.