Still drilling for spoils
Dentist David Mercer celebrated three decades in racing by dominating the 2005 Group C/GTP season. Paul Lawrence makes an appointment
"I ought to quit while I'm ahead," jokes David Mercer of his 2005 campaign. Racing his Spice SE90C, the dental surgeon from Kent chalked up five wins, six seconds and one third from 12 races. "Getting pole at Brands Hatch was special," says Mercer, who qualified a second and a half clear of the pack. His new lap record for the Grand Prix circuit even stood as an outright mark until the A1 GP meeting later in the year.
Success at his home track has a special significance for Mercer, as he shared his start in motor racing with circuit boss Jonathan Palmer. "Jonathan and I go back a long way. We shared a flat when we were medical students," says Mercer. "Then we shared a Frogeye Sprite. It cost £325 between us and he couldn't raise all the money, so half of it was mine!"
That was back in 1975. "He did a race at Thruxton, then we both did a sprint and then I did a race at Lydden. By then the car was shagged out! Later we did Group C together. Our paths have often crossed."
Mercer then got his own MG Midget for Modsports, racing it for three years before stepping up to the ex-Richard Jenvey Lotus Elan. In 1977 he did the 1000km race at Brands Hatch in this car with Mike Chittenden and won the 2-litre class in pouring rain.
After racing a Lotus Esprit in the World Championship for Makes, next came the Vogue sports-racer. "I rebuilt it in 1980 and ran the car for three years. We towed it round Europe with the children in the motorhome. ‘Whizzo' Williams shared it at Silverstone in '82."
The arrival of Group C for 1983 rendered the Vogue obsolete at international level, but at the same time Jens Winther offered Mercer a drive in his BMW M1 at Silverstone and they won their class. It was the start of an association that would allow Mercer to realise his boyhood dream; competing at Le Mans.
"It all started in 1966 when I was at school. We were told about an Old Boy, Ken Miles, who had raced a GT40 at Le Mans. I thought, 'I'd like to do that.' But I never thought I would." In fact, Mercer raced in the around-the-clock classic on three occasions with Winther.
"We did Le Mans in 1984 in the M1 and then the next two years in the URD. In 1986 we finished 11th overall: we had to scrounge some second-hand gears to start the race."
Before that, in 1984, his path had again crossed that of Palmer, who was racing the Canon Porsche 956 under the management of Keith Greene. "It was me that ran over Keith Greene in the pitlane in 1984. It wasn't my fault — he misjudged how wide the M1 was," says Mercer. "I fixed his teeth afterwards — that was the least I could do!"
Through the rest of the 1980s and '90s Mercer raced a variety of cars and gravitated towards single-seaters. British F2 in a Formula 3000 Reynard 91D preceded four years of Thoroughbred Grand Prix racing with the ex-Bob Berridge RAM: "In British F2 I was on the grid with lads whose fathers were younger than me!"
The revival of Group C suited Mercer perfectly: "I really like long-distance racing. I'm getting old now and it takes me a while to get wound up! I was looking for a C2 car, but this C1 Spice came up. The car has been quick from the word go. I'd love to have something like a Nissan or a Jaguar, but you could buy three or four Spices for the price of one of those, and I had to re-mortgage the house to buy the Spice as it is."
So a fourth year with the SE9OC is planned for 2006. But Mercer is realistic about his chances: "I'm really not expecting another season like last year!" he laughs.