Getting the hang of it
Ian Mitchell waited 39
Now he’s almost prolific. Paul Lawrence reports
years to win his first race.
David Wragg and Peter Gaydon were the winners of the inaugural Clubmans championship in 1965. It was sponsored by Radio Caroline, and whereas that pirate station is long gone, this type of racing is alive and well, and the Fuelforce Classic Clubmans Championship is home to an ever-growing number of pre1980 front-engined sports-racers.
It’s a class with unrivalled driver loyalty: current pace-setters David Childs and Malcolm Jackson have raced Clubmans since the ’60s, and Ray Mallock still occasionally exercises the type of Mallock Mkl 1 with which he won the 1971 Shell Clubmans title as a 20 year-old.
But none of them can match the pedigree of Ian Mitchell, who had his first Clubmans race at Castle Combe in August 1965. Exactly 39 years later, he scored his first win. Few victories can have been more popular across a paddock.
“It was very special. If you have been trying for so many years, it’s a triumph of perseverance over skill,” says this modest man with typical good humour. “I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen. And the fact that the first victory was at Castle Combe, scene of my first race, made it even more special.”
His racing career began after a knee injury stopped him playing rugby as a 21-year-old. His parents offered him a second-hand Mini; he bought a Lotus 7 kit. Incredibly, he has raced every
season since, always in Clubmans: “In some years I’ve only done two or three races, but I don’t think I’ve ever completely missed a season. I’m no great talent, but the people are friendly and they put up with an ungifted amateur.”
What makes his effort even more commendable is that he followed the Clubmans’ tradition of building his own racer. Over the winter of 1979-80, he built the IM Mkl . Fitted with a 1599cc Ford ‘Kent’ engine, it’s the car he still races in the Classic series.
“I was doing so badly in the car I was driving I decided to build my own,” he says. “I rather enjoy ‘adult Meccano’, so I just thought I’d have a go at designing a car. I knew a little bit about chassis design and my father was very supportive.”
Using parts from the Centaur he had been racing, Mitchell created his own car in around nine months, a slack period at work allowing him to sketch the project on graph paper before setting to with a welding torch. This time in the garage was the perfect counter to his work as a genetic toxicologist: “It’s a narrow corner of a narrow world. You know a lot about very little, and bugger all about anything else!” In 1995, he unveiled the Mk2, to be used in the contemporary MGengined Clubmans category, but the creation of the Classic class opened up a new life for the Mkl : “I’d only mothballed it for a season when
Classic Clubmans came along, so I just blew the dust off it.”
Now 61 and retired, Mitchell has just enjoyed his best season of racing. That first win was followed by another at Snetterton, and he ended the campaign with one more, at Thruxton: “Wins are like buses!”
However, for Mitchell, taking part is reward enough: “One of my main interests is the construction of the car. And my wife puts up with it because it gets me out of the house!
“One of the nicest things was that everyone was so pleased for me. Clubmans has got that same level of friendliness it had 40 years ago, and that counts for a lot.” Ian is already planning his 40th race season and harbours plans to e construct another car. He’s also developing a taste for winning. FM 8_
Clubmans’ movers and shakers • Clubmans was created for 1965 by Nick Syrett of the BRSCC • Ray Mallock. Will Hoy and Frank Sytner were all Clubmans stars • Audi sportscar ace Jamie Davies’ first race was In a Clubmans car • Max Mosley, Patrick Head and Harvey Postlethwalte all raced In Clubmans