Jackie Oliver on George Follmer: My Greatest Rival

Whether Jackie Oliver and George Follmer were on the track or in the garage, in 1973 and ’74 the British driver usually had the American ‘big guy’ chasing him

Jackie Oliver and George Follmer

From left: George Follmer, Jackie Oliver and UOP Shadow chief Don Nichols, Kyalami, 1973

Bernard Cahier via Getty Images

I have had so many great rivals, Jackie Stewart and Jack Brabham in Formula 1, Jochen Rindt in Formula 2, to name just a few, but most of the time they had better equipment and were probably better than me. Then in long distance sports cars there were Jacky Ickx and Pedro Rodriguez at Porsche. Yes we were sharing cars, but there’s always some rivalry. Of course rivalry is as much about the equipment as the drivers. Were the cars on equal terms? So, for that reason, I have chosen George Follmer because we were team-mates at Shadow in both Formula 1 in 1973, and in Can-Am in 1974.

I brought the UOP Shadow team into F1, was central to their plans, but Don Nichols wanted an American driver alongside me, and the rivalry with George became intense. He was thrown in at the deep end, was always on the back foot, having no knowledge of the circuits or Formula 1 cars, whereas I had been there for years with BRM McLaren and Lotus. He drove well, but as an American in an American team he reckoned he was superior and that only became magnified when we went to Can-Am with the Shadow.

Now he was on home ground and saw this as his chance to get his own back. He’d already won the Can-Am title with the Penske Porsche 917/10 in 1972, the McLarens had withdrawn by ’74, and the Shadow DN4 was the best car, so the series became the Oliver & Follmer Show.

At one race in Canada it got pretty intense. I made some comment about being faster and he started chasing me around the garage. I didn’t want him to catch me, on the track or in the garage, as he was quite a big guy. I won most races, and the Can-Am championship. George didn’t like that, and at Mid-Ohio it all came to a head.

Jackie Oliver and George Follmer racing at Mosport in 1976

Oliver leads Follmer at Mosport in the 1976 World Sportscar series

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Brian Redman was leading in the Porsche, then me, then George and he and I were banging together. He’d come up the inside, lean on me, it was incredible. Eventually he left his braking way too late, careered into me, damaged his radiator, nearly took Brian out as well, and went off the road, all this allowing me to pass Brian. George went into the pits and stormed off, just walked away, accused me of trying to control the race. His problem was that he was just too intense and thought I had some kind of unfair advantage. At the American Grand Prix at the end of that year we put on the Oliver & Follmer Show for the F1 fans, a five-lap race, and George won it.

I learnt later he’d asked for a special, bigger engine for that weekend. But we kept in touch. We’d see each other at Daytona or Laguna Seca… all friendly, and of course we had nothing to fight about any more.”

Jackie Oliver and George Follmer head-to-head

Stats taken from the 1974 Can-Am series, held over five rounds.
Their 1973 Formula 1 tally was one podium each, and Oliver 4pts, Follmer 5pts

Oliver vs Follmer
4 Wins 0
1 Poles 3
2 Fastest laps 3
4 Podiums 3
82 Points 45