Token

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Last updated: 15-September-2003


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• Rondel taken over by Tony and Ken
Picture this: Ron Dennis calls a press conference to announce that McLaren have just lost their Mercedes engine partnership, and West and Siemens have departed as sponsors, and as a result McLaren are pulling out of F1 with immediate effect. Paul Stoddart's sweetest dream, perhaps. But going by current standards, it seems incredulous to think that back in the 1970s, the likes of Dennis and Sir Frank Williams were indeed the minnow privateers of the time, their F1 dreams at the mercy of sponsors who came and went.

It was only in 1980 that Dennis' Project 4 concern bought McLaren, but before then he had already made an abortive bid to enter Formula One. In the early 1970s, Dennis ran the Rondel team with Neil Trundle, achieving some success in junior categories. The team was sponsored by oil company Motul, so much so that Rondel's 1973 F2 car was actually badged the 'Motul'. For 1974 though, Dennis planned an attempt at F1, and asked Ray Jessop for a design, only for the 1973 oil crisis to hit. Motul withdrew its backing, and Ron's project was left without the funds to bring it to fruition.

As a result, he was forced to sell the project to two other British businessmen, shipbroker Tony Vlassopoulo and Lloyds underwriter Ken Grob. Combining their first names resulted in the name 'Token', with the chassis called the RJ02 (RJ being the initials of its designer, Jessop). As with all other upstarts at the time, the car used Cosworth 3.0 litre DFV engines and a Hewland gearbox, and gained a supply of Firestone tyres and Shell oils. A distinctive feature of the RJ02 was its wide, flat, scooping snout-like nose, with air intake at the front reminiscent of Grand Prix machines of the 1960s.

For drivers, Token turned to British F5000 hotshots, the first being the Welshman Tom Pryce, who brought with him some sponsorship from Titan Properties for the green and yellow car. The combination made its debut at the non-championship Silverstone International Trophy, where its lack of an airbox or an engine cover gave new meaning to the notion of 'normally aspirated'. After limited practice, Pryce was the slowest out of the 16 competitors who recorded times, and was slower than James Hunt's pole time in the Hesketh by 26.2s. He then retired 15 laps in with a gear linkage problem.

The Token made its Championship debut in Belgium. The Token made its Championship debut in Belgium.
• Ashley follows Purley who followed Pryce
But perhaps this less-than-flattering performance was not a true indication of the Token's true ability. The car finally appeared in a World Championship round when it arrived at Nivelles for the Belgian GP, round 5 of the 1974 title. With small front wings now attached on either side of the nose, as well as an airbox, Pryce ensured that the RJ02 gave a respectable showing. He qualified 20th out of the 32 entrants, only 3.03 seconds off the time of pole-sitter Clay Regazzoni in the Ferrari. In the race, he completed 66 laps before retiring after a collision with Jody Scheckter in the Tyrrell.

Token entered Pryce for the Monaco GP, but the application was refused on the basis of the driver's supposed inexperience. With that, Pryce left the team and eventually joined Shadow, while Token had to wait until round 10, the British GP, before appearing with another driver. The brave David Purley had been driving for Peter Harper in F2, and already had F1 experience in a March in 1973. Drafted into the Token team, the RJ02 showed up at Brands Hatch sporting a new red and white colour scheme, but unfortunately that made little impact on their performance.

Purley was 26th quickest only 0.3s off Tim Schenken's Trojan, and only 3s off pole-sitter Niki Lauda's Ferrari. But that was one spot off getting onto the grid, and after this one-off Purley departed. So for rounds 11 and 12 in Germany and Austria, the seat was offered to another English driver, Ian Ashley. For his first run in the RJ02, Ashley had to tackle the monstrous Nurburgring Nordschleife, but he felt that he had nothing to lose, and so he took up the offer, despite the fact that he would not get to sit in the car before practice began, a decided disadvantage on the 195-corner track.

Still, despite the fact that he was 23.8s away from the pole set by Lauda, Ashley was the 26th and last qualifier, with another six drivers even slower than him. The race started in overcast and showery conditions that threatened to make things even more treacherous for the rookie. Although the Token was still last at the end of the first lap, Ashley had in fact gained some 5 positions, thanks to the McLarens of Emerson Fittipaldi and Denny Hulme taking each other off, Lauda colliding with Scheckter, and Patrick Depailler's Tyrrell having had a spin.

David Purley failed to qualify at Brands Hatch, and then departed the team. Tom Purley failed to qualify at Brands Hatch, and then departed the team.
• Wheel issues hamper progress in Germany
It was a good, solid run, the RJ02 getting faster every lap, and Ashley using the car to the full. At one stage it was up to a fabulous 8th - but this flattered to deceive. The team did not realise that in fact the wheels they were using were porous, and the tyres were going down. Ashley had already experienced problems in practice and in the warm-up at the 180 mph Foxhole corner. Then, with only a lap or so to go, the tyre went down at exactly the same place, leaving Ashley on three wheels with 10 miles to travel to get back to the pits!

Being a low-budget operation, the team did not have quick hammer jacks or airguns or other such equipment, and what should have been a routine and simple pit stop took some two minutes. Finally they got the Token back out onto the track, but by this stage it had lost a full lap (which around the Nurburgring meant a loss of over seven minutes). Ashley could now only salvage 14th place, a lap down on the winner, Regazzoni. However, some statistics record Ashley as having been disqualified, although for what reason is not made clear.

In Austria, Ashley once again made the grid, this time in 24th spot out of 25 qualifiers and 31 entrants. He was some 3.27s away from Lauda on pole. In the race, though, the RJ02 encountered more wheel problems, forcing Ashley in for two stops, dropping him down to 8 laps adrift by the end of the event. Ashley wasn't classified as a finisher, but neither was Graham Hill, who was some two laps ahead of him. At least the Token did better than Jacques Laffite, who suffered even more terminal problems in his Iso Marlboro and finished the race some 9 laps behind even the RJ02!

Ashley's sponsors, though, who had funded his time in the Token, were now getting sick and tired not only of the Token's lack of competitiveness, but also of the chronic wheel problems. Out of drivers willing to take up the seat, and out of money, after Austria Vlassopoulo and Grob folded the Token team. It thus became yet another example of a promising privateer outfit simply not having enough resources to make a proper, sustained F1 effort. However the car did reappear on the British domestic scene the next year, where it was called a Safir.

Ian Ashley had an adventurous introduction to the Nordschleife. Ian Ashley had an adventurous introduction to the Nordschleife.

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