Ecurie Ecosse’s proud Le Mans tradition – it won there in 1956 and ’57 – meant that the team’s mid-1980s reincarnation was geared solely around La Sarthe. That it failed to win there, yet wound up with a world title, is one of racing’s happier twists of fate.
The first Ecosse, C284, was based around Dorset Racing’s De Cadenet Lola. Low fuel pressure halted it at Le Mans in 1984, and it was eventually destroyed in a fiery crash at Brands Hatch late in the season.
The driver on that occasion was Ray Mallock, who was also the designer. When the Cl programme with his heavily revised Nimrod (11 sec faster at Le Mans) came to an end, he brought his full attention to Ecosse for 1985. The result, with help from Graham Humphrys, was a little jewel: flat bottom, low frontal area, low drag, good mpg – a Mulsanne missile. But again Le Mans was unkind. ‘Henry’ – do all C2 cars have nicknames? – led for much of the first half, only for DFV vibrations to cause its second compound gear to fail.
Elsewhere, on run-of-the-mill circuits, it usually gave best to the ground-effect Spices, but a strong and consistent driver line-up – Mallock, Mike Wilds and David Leslie – often kept Henry in the hunt, and wins at Silverstone, Hockenheim and Brands were logged.
A second car ‘Reggie’ was built for 1986 and into it was dropped the V64V power plant initially developed for the Austin Rover Group’s world rally campaign. This was less powerful but lighter than the DFL (to which the team had switched after its ’85 Le Mans problems), and once its cambelt problems had been cured by Swindon Racing Engines and Max Boxstrom, there was little to choose between the performances.
Le Mans was another what-might-have-been. Despite running at three-quarter throttle because of conrod worries, Reggie was holding a big lead at the midway point when a burst tyre sliced through a rod.
“Those 13-inch front tyres were no problem – except for that one blow-out at Le Mans,” sighs Leslie. (The offending cover is hung up in his garage!) “But the small brakes did cause some worries. We had to pace ourselves. Our plan was to finish as quickly as we had started, whereas the Spices tended to go haring off and slow towards the end.”
After a victory at Brands Hatch, ARG saw a title opportunity. It loaned Marc Duez, who promptly shared the winning car at the Nürburgring and Spa. The finale, though, was at Fuji… Rover pushed the boat out, and the title was secured courtesy of another win, this time from Mallock and Leslie.
“That was a fantastic experience,” says Mallock. “The car was very efficient, but so was the team. Getting the fuel right [a maximum of 330 litres per 1000km race] was tricky, especially because the Cl cars tended to complete the distance within the time limit. You had to keep an eye on their performance as well as your own. And we got it just right that year.”
Datapost-backed ‘Pat’ joined Reggie for 1987 – both cars sporting DFLs. Wins at Silverstone and Brands Hatch took the title down to the wire, but this time Spice prevailed at Fuji.
And Le Mans? Pat led for much of the way and finished eighth overall… second in C2. Gearbox woes and a fast-recovering Spice costing it the victory.