One of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport in New Zealand died of cancer at the end of October, aged 78. Jensen was a major early influence on Bruce McLaren, but he declined his own chance to carve out a professional career in Europe.
Jensen began racing an Austin 7 Special soon after leaving the New Zealand Air Force in 1946. By ’54, his skills had attracted the attention of the Austin-Healey importer, which hired him to race its sportscars. His first 100/4 was then sold to a young McLaren.
Jensen’s main rival was Tom Clark, and the duo’s invitation to the 1957 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park led to Peter Whitehead offering Jensen his Ferrari 750 Monza sportscar for the NZ series. Jensen duly won the NZ Gold Star award. Encouraged, he purchased Stirling Moss’s Maserati 250F, and proved his ability by bettering Moss’s lap times at Ardmore. A second place finish at Wigram behind Archie Scott-Brown’s Lister earned him a drive with the British marque after the latter’s death in ’58. He then received an offer to test for BRM, but he turned it down and returned home.
He retired from racing in ’61, but remained a key figure in NZ motorsport. He was a founder member of the New Zealand International Grand Prix Association, which funded the ‘Driver to Europe’ scheme that pushed McLaren and Denny Hulme into F1.