As the likes of Hill and Clark fell by the wayside, Innes Ireland splashed through the puddles for he BRP-BRM’s only win. By Gordon Cruickshank
A huge budget, the best car and a star driver – a team manager’s nirvana. And that’s pretty much what Ken Gregory had in the early years of the British Racing Partnership. A budget of £40,000 to spend on Formula One Coopers and £20,000 to run the team went a long way in 1960, especially if you had Stirling Moss aboard, at least some of the time. It was, says Gregory, the first full sponsor package in Fl, as first Yeoman Credit and then UDT-Laystall signed all the cheques.
True, Moss was more often in Rob Walker’s cars, but Gregory was able to field some fine talent: Harry Schell, the brilliantly promising Chris Bristow, Tony Brooks, Cliff Allison, Masten Gregory…
What began to fall behind was the machinery. Cooper couldn’t build extra cars for 1961, so BRP went to Lotus. But the successive 18,21 and 24 were always one step behind the works cars, and by late ’62 it was clear BRP needed its own machine. But it was a bad time. As Moss’s manager, Gregory was dealing with the aftermath of his terrible accident. “The pressure was colossal. I was dealing with 300 letters a day,” he recalls. And there was a lawsuit hanging over their finances; the result was the end of the comfortable years.
Engineer Tony Robinson decided to build a full monocoque for ’63. “Chapman had made everything else obsolete with the 25,” he says, “so we knew that was the way to go.” With no monocoque experience this was a bold act. “A heroic effort,” says Ken, though Robinson is less effusive. “Just common sense. We followed the layout of the 25, but there were differences.”
The result was slim and clean, but built from thicker-gauge alloy than necessary, so weighed just as much as the tube-framed 24. Suspension came straight from the Lotus, but with the BRM V8 and Colotti gearbox.
It was that ‘box which put Innes out of the car’s first grand prix, the Belgian in June, but in the following Dutch event Ireland ran out fourth. It didn’t get much better that year; out of seven races, Ireland’s non-championship third at Solitude and another fourth, at Monza, were the best they reaped.
In an all-or-nothing mood, Gregory and Robinson began to build three lighter cars for ’64. But these weren’t ready for the season opener, the Daily Mirror International Trophy at Snetterton in March, so Ireland drove the ’63 car and Trevor Taylor the old Lotus 24.
Torrential rain cut the event from 50 to 35 laps, and significantly both Clark’s Lotus and Black Jack’s Brabham sat on Dunlop’s latest super-wide 13in tyres. In the downpour these proved a nightmare, and the lead bounced around as cars aquaplaned off the soaking track. Graham Hill’s leading BRM slid into a bank, Brabham went off but recovered, and Peter Arundell’s spirited lead evaporated as his Lotus gearbox broke, letting through Jo Bonnier in the Walker Cooper. Clark got up to second before retiring, but through it all came Ireland to claim the BRP-BRM’s only win. “It was great to see,” says Robinson. “Innes enjoyed beating the Lotuses, and we had a good old beer afterwards.”
It augured well for the new cars, which were shaped round Ireland. ‘We only needed 13in for Innes’ bum,” says Robinson, “so they were slimmer, lighter and better-looking, even in that terrible meadow green.” But monocoque repairs are hard — and there were plenty. “If Innes didn’t bend it, Trevor [Taylor] would,” says Tony. ‘We must have built five or six frames in ’64.”
Gregory concurs. “Innes had his good days, but he was so furious with Colin [over being sacked in 1962] that I don’t think we ever got 100 per cent from him.”
Gradually, Gregory lost heart. ‘We’d lost Stirling, Bristow and Schell, Innes had had some horrible shunts, and the emotional responsibility weighed on me. And we’d eroded all our capital over ’63-64.”
He decided to give up racing. Robinson took his new knowledge to Cooper, and, barring a commission for two Indy cars, BRP evaporated.
It had all looked so rosy. ‘We could have been in the top five,” reckons Gregory. Instead, Ireland’s soggy triumph at Snetterton remained their last hurrah.