Talk curve -- Historic motorsport insight -- Why Wilds' thing is racing
In 40 years of motorsport Mike Wilds has gone from DRW to BMW. He talks to Richard Heseltine
It didn't really need saying but it was good to hear nonetheless. "I just love racing," says Mike Wilds. "It's still my passion after 40 years." In Britcar saloons, aboard Ian Lawson's BMW 320i for 2005, Wilds remains an active competitor and perhaps the most self-deprecating driver to ever sit in a Formula One car. He is, however, keen to return to his first love, historics. "I drove for Richard Budge for nine years in his Chevron [B31/36] and absolutely loved it. I did 49 races in that car and won 45 of them. Richard has since left the sport so that's all come to an end but if someone would like to offer me a drive I'd love to hear from them. A Can-Am car would be great. One of the best cars I ever drove was a Lola T222 at the 'Ring: 8.4-litres of V8 and 910bhp. That's my kind of car!"
So where did The Passion come from? "When I was in my early teens I would walk over to The Chequered Flag garage on Chiswick High Road, close to where I grew up, and press my nose against the showroom window. At that time the MD, Graham Warner, was building the Gemini Formula Juniors. He was a nice guy, letting me sit in the cars and generally nose around. That was it for me. I knew that my future had to be in motor racing.
"When I was a bit older I did some bar work before landing a job with Firestone, and I was then able to borrow £280 to buy a DRW. It was in this car that I started competing in the 1172 formula. In May 1965 I did my first race at Snetterton and finished third. In my next race I was second and then I won my third event at Silverstone. It's been downhill ever since!"
Not quite. The winner of countless races — "I can't remember them all; I wish I'd kept a log" — Wilds was good enough to touch the hem of F1, if only briefly. "To be honest I wasn't the best driver in the world. I'd moved up through the ranks and won a few races in Formula Three and was going well in Formula 5000 but it still blew my mind when I actually made it to F1.
"I'd originally signed a contract with March to replace Hans Stuck for the '74 Swedish GP but I then had a big crash in a Formula 5000 race at Thruxton and injured myself. Mo Nunn at Ensign came to the rescue and I managed to qualify (an N174) for the US GP at Watkins Glen at the end of the year. It was just an awesome experience. To be sitting on the grid next to Ronnie Peterson — my absolute hero — in his JPS Lotus was just surreal. I can recall it like it was yesterday; looking down the time sheets and seeing my name, the guy slowly unfurling the flag. Everything."
And your greatest achievement? "I don't know about greatest, but winning the C2 class for Ecurie Ecosse in the 1985 Silverstone 1000Km was very special. To stand on the podium with Ray Mallock, who was not only my co-driver but the car's designer too, was very special. I really enjoyed racing with the team and had a lot of fun at Le Mans and wherever. I would love to do the 24 Hours again. My last race as a professional driver was the 1988 Le Mans with Nissan (sharing with Allan Grice and Win Percy: they finished 14th). I'll be 60 next birthday so I've probably left it a bit late.
"What I'd really like to do is get my son Anthony into GTs. Right now he's winning a lot of races in Sports 2000 and deserves a chance to go further. I'm so proud of him, I can't tell you. He's a really talented driver." Much like his dad, then.
Fact File -- Mike Wilds career summary
• Wilds started one GP with Ensign in '74 and two with Stanley-BRM in '75
• Titles include the F2 class of the '78 Aurora AFX series in Graham Eden's Ralt RT1, '84 Thoroughbred Sports Cars in an Aston Martin DB4, and the RJB Mining Historic Sports Car Championship in '92, '93, '96 and '98