A test with Tyrrell

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The first call was made to my brother Jim, He was asked if I might be interested in driving or racing a single seater. I’d driven a good race in an Ecurie Ecosse Cooper Monaco at Goodwood and the track manager Robin Mackay had called Ken Tyrrell to suggest he have a look at this guy. Anyway, my brother told Ken that yes, I might be interested, though at that time I was more focused on my shooting.”

Yes, that’s how it all began. That’s how a young Scot called Jackie Stewart came to drive for the Tyrrell Racing Organisation on a winter’s day in 1964. Now, 47 years later, I am sitting in the Jackie Stewart Pavilion at the Goodwood Revival and alongside me is the man himself, a guest of honour at the circuit where one of the most successful partnerships in motor racing was formed.

“Ken asked me to come down to Goodwood and I agreed, though at that time I hadn’t thought of myself as a racing driver and certainly not in a single-seater” Stewart tells me. “My dream, if I had one, was to drive E-types or GTOs for John Coombs or Tommy Sopwith.

“Anyway, I knew who Ken Tyrrell was, because I read all the comics, but it was an amazing day I mean John Cooper was there, so was Bruce McLaren, and he was there to set a time. I knew Goodwood having raced there for Ecurie Ecosse, so that was helpful. But I’d come from shooting, not motor racing, so I was a bit nervous about this little Formula 3 Cooper. I did five laps, Ken showed me the in-board and when I stopped he gave me a bit of a row, not the full froth job which came later but apparently I’d been going too fast. He told me to go back out, take my time, get used to the car, and then Bruce went out to set a new time because I think I’d gone faster than him.

“The car felt wonderful, and compared to the cars I’d raced it was like a fighter compared to a jumbo jet. The precision, the lightness of it was wonderful, though there wasn’t much power from the 1000cc engine. Anyway, I did some more laps and when I came in John Cooper who’d gone to watch at Madgwick came rushing down the pitlane and said to Ken: ‘You’ve got to sign him, you have to sign him!’ Apparently I’d gone faster than Bruce again, though I never knew that at the time.

“Ken was cool, very cool, and just said he thought we’d done enough laps, so it was all over quite early. But I could see they were excited. It was right here, you know,” he laughs, gesturing out of the pavilion window. “Right here in this pitlane, though it was sheds with corrugated iron roofs then.”

So what happened next? Was he really now the works driver for the Tyrrell team?

“Well, we went back to Ripley, had dinner with Ken and Norah and he said: ‘We’d like you to drive for us and there’s two ways we can do this. I give you £10,000 and I take 10 per cent of your earnings for the next five years. Or I give you £5 and 50 per cent of the prize and bonus money.’ Well, I needed to think about that, talk to Helen. I was intoxicated by the thought of £10,000 I mean, we probably had £50 between us at that time but then I realised that if he was prepared to give me that kind of retainer there must be a lot more money in this sport than I’d thought.

“So I called him and said: ‘Mr Tyrrell, I’ve decided to take the £5 and 50 per cent of the prize and bonus money.’ He said: ‘Fine, I’ll see you at Snetterton for the next race.’ That was it, we had a one-page contract, and I won the first race in horrendous rain at Snetterton, beating John Fenning who was the hot guy at the time. Better still, my winnings came to £168 that day. Then we went to Monaco and I won there too (above) and the first man to congratulate me was Fangio. I just could not believe it.”

And you know what? Jackie Stewart and Ken Tyrrell never had another contract. Three world titles together, and they were still shaking hands on the deal.

Rob Widdows

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