Paul Fearnley's Off the line

Wot, no Whitmore ?

We catch a little flak for our Top 20, 50, 100 lists: how can you compare this with that, etc? I perfectly understand that viewpoint. But from my experience, if any enthusiasts gather for any length of time, it’s not long before you overhear: ‘Joe Sideways? Nah, Harry Flatters was far better.’ For even the purest of the purists have their personal favourites, be it driver, car, race, circuit, livery, engine noise, corner, championship, etc, and though they tend to rubbish the concept in general terms, they can’t help but bristle over the omission of Jean-Pierre Trésvitesse, etc.

And again I perfectly understand. While compiling this month’s list, it dawned on me that one saloon-atic I considered a surefire certainty to be included was being consistently overlooked by our jury. There was a flourish of support as the voting closure date loomed.., but still he missed out: Sir John Whitmore, the 1965 European touring car champ, wound up 22nd on our ‘definitive’ list. I bristled at his omission.

Alan Mann, his team boss during the Cortina heyday of 1964-66, was more sanguine about it — the mark of a good team boss, I guess. But he was effusive in his praise of Whitmore.

Given the opportunity by Walter Hayes to run two Lotus-Cortinas in the 1964 ETCC, Mann didn’t hesitate: Whitmore was his man.

“I’d seen him racing Minis. He was dramatic, lots of tyre smoke, but when I started to check his lap times, he was very consistent. I reckoned he was one of those drivers with the extra bit of ability that allows them to do the impossible.”

In 1964 Whitmore was victorious at Karlskoga and at the hillclimbs (an ETCC quirk) of St Ursanne and Timmelsjoch. In ’65 he won his class at every round bar Monza — winning outright at Mont Ventoux, Nürburgring, Zolder, Olympia, Snetterton and St Ursanne. By ’66 Alfa’s GTA stepped up, yet Whitmore won at Aspern, Zolder, Mont Ventoux and Eigental, another hillclimb.

But it was Whitmore’s drive in the non-ETCC 1964 Spa 24 Hours that sticks in Mann’s mind. Not expecting the Lotus-Cortinas to go the distance, Whitmore agreed to act as the hare and take the fight to Eiigen Böhringer’s Mercedes 300SE. True to his word he clung on for the first few hours. It was impressive, but Mann was taken aback when the grandstand rose as one as Whitmore climbed out at his pitstop.

“I thought the guy on the PA was getting a bit overexcited,” says the non-French-speaking Mann. “But then Böhringer wandered down the pitlane and shook John by the hand. It turned out that they had been passing and repassing five or six times per lap, out of our sight.”