owned by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, a former racing driver, team manager and President of the BARC. It was known as RAF Westhampnett, was an ancillary to the main Fighter Command station at Tangmere, and was used almost exclusively for Spitfires. To provide access for their large refuelling tankers a perimeter track was laid, which by sheer chance produced an extremely good 2.4-mile circuit when it was tried out by some of the RAF pilots. In fact in retrospect I cannot recall a circuit with such a variety of challenging, double-apex, varying camber corners in so few miles, so unwittingly I could not have found a better one on which to make my debut. Although the short practice period would allow me only five laps, I had adopted an approach which would stand me in good stead in the future, carefully studying the circuit map, clearly identifying every corner and getting at least some idea of their radii. So learning which way the Goodwood circuit went was not a great problem, and having clearly in my mind what was coming up next helped me to make the most of the meagre five laps. The first practice lap time my father recorded for me was 2min 21sec. Silverstone was not a serious competitor in a scratch race, but what I was after was as much experience as possible in as short a time as possible and it was fast enough to get a sense of what motor racing was all about. Sitting on the grid, some way back, staring
fixedly at the raised Union Jack, all doubts were banished from my mind and I was determined to at least be the first of those on my row into the first corner, Madgwick. Holding the engine revs constant at 1750rpm I let the clutch pedal up at the drop of the flag, inducing the little bit of wheelspin I wanted to ensure the revs were kept in the torque range, then eased back on the accelerator to kill the wheelspin and gain maximum acceleration. My first race start was good — better than some I made later in my career — and I edged ahead of the rest of my row, which was the first little racing ‘kick’ I enjoyed. We jostled our way around Madgwick and started to string out a bit before Fordwater, which became flat-out with more experience, and by the time I reached the right-hander before St
Mary’s I was able to use the whole road, taking the correct line and hanging on to it. Through both St Mary’s and Lavant I was still able to hold the best, tight line, with someone optimistically trying to go round me on the outside, and then I was into the straight, clocking just 100mph and charging towards Woodcote Corner. I had a fast car on my inside so I had to give way to it on braking, swinging through its two apexes on the right line, braking as late as possible into the new tight chicane and rushing up the straight past the pits. I had
safely completed my first-ever racing lap, and the exhilaration was something I remember to this day. Apart from that first lap there was little wheel-to-wheel racing and I was pleased to be able to concentrate on learning everything I could about the corners and the best line through them. The five laps flashed by and I hardly had a chance to fully savour the pleasure I had in trying to push myself and the car to the
limit that my experience permitted, but I had to be satisfied with sixth position and the great thrill of my first race. I couldn’t wait for my second event, the five-lap handicap. Dad timed my standing-start lap at 2min 12sec, but although I reduced my lap time to 2min 8.5sec by the end of the race it was not good enough for the
handicapper and I finished in eighth position. I might have done better if the car hadn’t begun to splutter due to petrol surge. I had learned another lesson: a minimum of three gallons must be maintained in the tank. The results of my first two races might appear disappointing, but I was elated and utterly convinced that motor racing was what I wanted to do. I had improved on my first timed practice lap by 12.5 seconds and at this stage of my career I would have to be satisfied with measuring my progress in these terms, not by results. All things considered it was a successful
debut. Most importantly, I had not damaged the car mechanically or reshaped it, a philosophy I would cling to which would earn me a reputation for having a safe pair of hands and lead to invitations to drive the cars of others. The fact that any contretemps would mean us going back on the train, apart from the expense of repairs, was justification in itself for my philosophy and reinforced my commitment to it. Most of all I had really caught the racing bug and lit a burning ambition which kept me smiling on the drive home immediately after my last race, the Silverstone seemingly running more sweetly than ever, averaging 26mpg for the weekend trip, including the racing.