Don’t fence me in: A collision with David Kennedy blew any chance of a race win, but he still did enough to claim the Aurora F1 title. By Adam Cooper
“In 1978, I had a big accident in a Surtees at Zandvoort. I injured my hand, so I lost any opportunities for Formula One for the following year. Then Jackie Oliver got on to me and asked if I would drive an Arrows in the Aurora F1 series in ’79, so that’s what I did.
“It was an excellent championship, very competitive. There were always four or five people who could win races. I was really impressed at how good a driver Desiré Wilson was. I always thought she had bigger balls than the rest of us! The other person who I thought was really good was Guy Edwards. He was the only driver I really trusted to race wheel to wheel with. He was somebody who wouldn’t do anything stupid.
“The Arrows was a very good car and I enjoyed driving it very much. I started the season late, but prior to the final round at Silverstone I’d won all five races that I’d finished.
“I’d also had a big crash at Oulton Park. I was in the lead and my brakes went because of a piston leak, and! had a soft pedal throughout. Guy was chasing me, and eventually I was just using the gears to slow the car down. I got to Old Hall and I missed a gear and went straight on It took 45 minutes to get me out of the thing, but I’d only cracked a couple of bones in my leg.
“David Kennedy started the year with the old Wolf but then he got the ground-effect chassis and became very competitive. The championship came to a head at the last race, and he had a few more points than me. Emilio de Villota was also in the frame with the Lotus, but he wasn’t really up for it.
“Of course, I’d been in an F3 showdown at Thruxton in 1976, when I had to take out Bruno Giacomelli to win! You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do…
“I got Iwo points for pole, but I still had to beat Kennedy. It was damp for the race, and Kennedy and Gordon Smiley got in front of me, although I eventually passed them both. Villota had spun off, so that helped. Then I was held up by an F2 car and Kennedy tried to repass me as we came up through Abbey.
“It was raining as we came up to Woodcote; he just did a dumb move and collected me. We both went off in synchronised spins, but I was strangely very calm. I was thinking, ‘I’ll get out of this!’ He went through all the catchfences, but I just caught one of them.
“I kept the momentum going, put it into gear and drove away. Once I got going there was no problem, but I was surprised that the nose-cone stayed on. Smiley was now leading and I was second, but the team was worried that I’d get a 10-second penalty for missing the chicane. So! had to push very hard towards the finish, because Geoff Lees — who was Kennedy’s teammate — was catching me.
“In the end it wasn’t a problem, as there was no penalty. Second place, and a point for fastest lap, was more than enough for the title.
“It was a very good day, but it would have been nice to round the season off with a win. But at the end of the day I was a lot more satisfied having the title than worrying about the victory too much. It got me back onto the scene in F1, with John MacDonald and RAM, and it was good to come back from such a big accident and start winning again. You do a few years without winning anything and you start losing your self-confidence.
“I remember that the Silverstone race was live on the BBC. There was a strike and there wasn’t much else on, so a lot of people saw it. And the good thing about that was every Italian restaurant I went into for the next week gave me a free meal.”