1974 South African at Kyalami by Paddy Driver
How did you make the transition from bikes to cars?
I got friendly with Tony Marsh at Pau, when they used to race cars and bikes at the same time. Two years in a row we parked up side by side, and got chatting. I told him I wanted to get into car racing, and the second year he said, ‘When you get back to England, give me a ring.’ He took me to some driving school in the middle of nowhere, where they had some Formula Juniors. I did a few laps, and I couldn’t have been all that bad because Tony said he would sponsor me. Unfortunately, he sponsored me in a Lotus 20, which was two years out of date by then! So I raced cars and bikes in 1963.
You had your first F1 chance at the end of ’63. How did that come about?
I wanted to do my home grand prix at East London. I talked to Colin Chapman and asked if Lotus could bring an extra car. We got quite far with that, but it didn’t work out and the only other car we could find belonged to Gunther Seifert, a Lotus 24 fitted with a BRM V8 engine. So I hired the car from him. I finished seventh in the Rand Grand Prix at Kyalami, but the South African GP was a debacle.
Why didn’t you start?
I just couldn’t quite make the qualifying time. Count de Beaufort came to me and said, ‘Why don’t I tow you down the straight, and then you can tow me the next lap?’ There was a bend in the main straight, and as I turned over the bump I saw the right-hand steering arm drop out of the rack. The car turned upside down and I was saturated in petrol. I inherited a few grey hairs waiting for the marshals!
You finally got another chance… 11 years later!
I raced Lola and McLaren F5000 cars, then for 1974 Gunston bought a pair of Lotus 72s for myself and Ian Scheckter for the South African races. The first of these was the GP itself. However, I’d been to hospital to have a rib, which had an unusual growth on it, taken out. They wanted to see if it was malignant so they chopped a big hole in the side of me! Then the Lotuses arrived.
So what happened at Kyalami?
I had no stamina whatsoever. I remember absolutely nothing about the GP, except saying to the team, ‘There is no way I can drive this thing for the whole race, I’m just not fit enough.’ As far as I’m concerned I didn’t make that grand prix, although people have given me pictures: the car is right, the number is right, the helmet is right, and my name is on the side!
Officially you retired with clutch problems…
I think that was just an excuse. They told me to start the race and then retire after a few laps so the bosses could at least see the car was in the race. When Gunston asked me to drive I said, ‘I’m 39 years old, why didn’t you give me this chance when I was 20?’ To be honest I was a little bit over the hill for F1. I never did full justice to the car, and I couldn’t match Ian’s speed in other races. I’m delighted to have received the opportunity, but it all seemed to happen so late in life.