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F1 History 16

Jackie Stewart: back to the beginning

Where do we start when discussing memories of Jackie Stewart? Which era? There are so many pictures in the mind of JYS doing his thing. For me, Monaco stands out, but I’ve chosen to go back to the very beginning.

As a teenager I was lucky enough to live just a mile away from the Goodwood Motor Circuit and it was in the Woodcote grandstand, watching the races with my father, that my passion for the sport began.

history  Jackie Stewart: back to the beginning

But it wasn’t just the racing, it was the testing, and most weekdays there would be cars out on the circuit. Bruce McLaren was a regular visitor, developing first his Grand Prix car and later his Can-Am sports cars.

On a cold winter’s day early in 1964 the circuit manager Robin Mackay, who allowed me to stand in the pits on test days, tipped me off that Ken Tyrrell was testing a new young driver in the Formula 3 car he ran for the Cooper Car Company works team. The name meant nothing to me but of course I jumped on my bike and pedalled furiously over to the track.

Bruce McLaren was there too, having a run in Tyrrell’s Cooper T72, and so was John Cooper who went up to Madgwick Corner, the double-apex right hander after the start, to watch when Stewart took over the car. He was a little guy in a white open-face helmet with a tartan band around it, two very bright eyes behind the goggles. Tyrrell stood by the car, clipboard and stopwatches at the ready, and Robin Mackay arrived to have a look. It’s since been said that Mackay first alerted Tyrrell to Stewart after a sports car test day. One thing is sure, an odd air of expectancy hung in the winter chill that day.

Out he went, and round he went, no fuss, no drama, nothing spectacular. Very neat and tidy, the gearchanges crisp and snappy. Head back in the cockpit, arms out straight, he reminded me of Stirling Moss. Was he really trying? It didn’t look like it. But the watches told a different story and Tyrrell brought him in, put Bruce McLaren back in the car to set a benchmark time for the day. The target time set, Stewart went back out. Same story, no histrionics, no wild slides, and on he went. John Cooper came back from Madgwick, out of breath, and said to Tyrrell so all could hear: “You’ve got to sign this lad.”

history  Jackie Stewart: back to the beginning

In came Stewart, his times quicker than McLaren. Back out went the New Zealander but he was not to better that day’s times from the young Scot who’d been racing sports cars for Ecurie Ecosse. The rest is history.

Of course I didn’t realise the significance of what I had seen that afternoon. Not even master talent spotter Tyrrell could have envisaged what was to unfold over the next decade. But within days they’d met back at Ockham and drawn up a contract. Stewart ran away with the 1964 Formula 3 title, winning his first race in the rain at Snetterton by a huge margin.

Many years later I would watch JYS at Monza, or in Monaco, and see the very same precision, the same calm and inch-perfect style, never flustered, in tune with the machinery, never in too deep, or out too wide. He was one of the true greats, a man born to drive a racing car, and a man born to win.

Now, just yards from that very same Goodwood pitlane, stands the Jackie Stewart Pavilion, built for VIP corporate entertaining at the Revival. A fitting tribute to a man who, having been discovered that winter day at Goodwood, won three World Championships and became closely involved in the corporate and commercial side of Grand Prix racing.

Add your comments

16 comments on Jackie Stewart: back to the beginning

  1. Elusive American F1 Fan, 7 December 2012 13:52

    Thank you for an entertaining read. I would have liked to have been there!

  2. Bill, 7 December 2012 15:33

    One of the most amazing things I ever saw was at a Ford-promoted Jackie Stewart driving day at the old Ingliston circuit near Edinburgh. There were lots of good things going on but the highlight was the Jackie Stewart driving challenge. This involved a Ford Granada with a large saucer shaped moulding mounted on the bonnet. A tennis ball was placed in this and the challenge was to drive it round the circuit as quick as you could without it rolling out. After all the punters had had their go and set their times Sir Jackie went and did three laps each of which was about 15 seconds faster than anyone else could do – this on lap times around 1:30! Simply astounding smoothness and car control. Only one I ever saw like that was Jim Clark. I have gone on at length over the years about how the really fast guys look as if they’re slow, and none more (in my experience) than those two

  3. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 7 December 2012 16:13

    What amaze me most is the directness of all the process. JYS masterly lapped the circuit and BANG! : got signed by Tyrrell.
    So simple was car racing in the ’60s and 70′s!

  4. Ray T, 7 December 2012 19:33

    Tyrell was infamous for hating drivers who abused his cars to get speed. He likely looked at those lap times and watched how Stewart treated the car and made his decision right there.

  5. Carl, 7 December 2012 20:21

    Rob Widdows writes: “He was one of the true greats, a man born to drive a racing car, and a man born to win.”
    True, and this is something not often acknowledged by motor racing fans, the ease with which the best drivers are able to reach speed. A friend of Jim Clark has said that, after one of his early races, Clark asked why everyone else was going so slowly! His friend had to tell him they were driving as fast as they knew how.
    The superhuman combination of hawk-like vision, superb sense of balance and abnormal hand-eye coordination are there at birth, a gold mine to be developed by the driver.
    Nonetheless, I wish I could have been there that cold winter day! A racing car driven close to its limit still awes this racing fan.

  6. Simon Lord, 8 December 2012 00:11

    Hey Bill, was that day at Ingliston the launch of the Capri RS3100? JYS was demonstrating what he called ‘Formula Finesse’ on that day – I still have some photos around somewhere…

  7. Steve W, 8 December 2012 11:39

    Stewart also had an analytical mind to go with his physical skills. I remember reading a quote from him a few years ago in this magazine about when he was leading the USGP at Watkins Glen. It went something like this: “I was leading and I noticed that if I went faster, the whole field went faster. If I went slower, they went slower”.

  8. Bill, 8 December 2012 13:32

    Simon, I tried and tried to remember the proper name. Formula Finesse it was!!! Thanks for tolerating my senior moment

  9. Hotdogger, 8 December 2012 17:53

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Rob and commenters!

  10. Rich Ambroson, 9 December 2012 03:57

    I remember reading about the “Formula Finesse” as well, fellow commenters. Smooth stuff!

    Great read as always, Rob! Must have been something to have been there, and even if you didn’t realize it at the time, you’ll always have the memory of being there. Love the John Cooper bit, too!

  11. chris b, 9 December 2012 16:47

    ahh sweet memories, I always felt Jackie was more remembered for his safety campaigns than for his driving, and thus not always included in the greats – well he is in mine, not quite up there with Jimmy, but then who is? but JYS wasn’t far off,

    that ability these brilliant drivers have to slow events down in their mind, is another attribute I would add to the list above, its like they seem to have much more time that the mere mortals – and that smoothness – it all looked so simple…

  12. Carl, 10 December 2012 16:39

    chris: I agree that top drivers have an impression of more time, maybe derived from eyesight so keen as to allow more frames per second. Stirling Moss said he sometimes recognized someone he knew in the crowd and found time to wave to them!

  13. Tony Geran, 12 December 2012 07:09

    Nice piece Rob, not many of us get to witness history. I can recall my elder brother coming back from Surfers Paradise where JYS raced in a 12hr sportscar race back in 1967, I think, where I think he was racing the Ferrari P4 prototype for David Mackay – what a beautiful piece of kit that was – but I digress. He brought back an official timing sheet of Stewart’s times and all flying laps were within a tenth of a second of each other. I think Prost is the only driver of recent times to look so slow yet be so fast.

  14. rob widdows, 20 December 2012 14:24

    Well, thank you everyone for all your comments, it’s nice to see that a little piece of history is so appreciated. We do like our readers on this magazine…….top people, all of you!
    So here we are, at the end of another year, and it’s nearly Christmas. Just want to say I hope you all have a great holiday and look forward to being back on line in the New Year. Actually, I will be having two weeks off in January while the Chief Mechanic at a local hospital fixes a problem with my right hand. But I should be back behind the keyboard towards the end of the month.
    Meanwhile, I am preparing a feature with Rob Huff, the new WTCC World Champion, and our latest podcast will be here on the website over the Christmas holiday.
    Have fun, and here’s to another great season next year.
    RW

  15. Rich Ambroson, 23 January 2013 23:47

    Hope your hand is all sorted Rob!

  16. JMLB, 1 April 2013 23:14

    I was at Ingliston that day as well – 10 November 1973 if you really want to know!!

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