Enamoured of Tyrrells after seeing Jackie Stewart’s performance at Monza, this American charger vowed to race one of his own. And he does. Several in fact…
He’d been on the road since April, campaigning cars around Europe. We meet at what American John Delane calls his English home, as he prepares for the Goodwood Revival.
We are within earshot of the circuit, in the village of West Stoke, where John and his wife Mimi are traditionally based for Goodwood events. This time he is racing his Brabham BT5, but he’s best known for his stable of Tyrrell grand prix cars and his stewardship of Team Tyrrell.
The boy from Redondo Beach stumbled into motor racing when his father’s business took the family for a brief exile in France. “I’d always loved cars and a friend took me to Le Mans in 1961. We stayed up all night, saw Hill and Gendebien win for Ferrari; first race I ever saw.”
Back home in California he started doing time trials with a Lotus Elan, and then marriage to Mimi and the arrival of children kept him away from the serious stuff. But then his daughter chose a course at the Jim Russell school at Riverside for her graduation present: dad went along for the ride.
“I was hooked, big time,” he smiles. “I just loved it and wanted more. My dad and I, with a guy called Fred Jensen, had started our own company DEL-JEN, providing support services to the Federal Government, and things were looking good so I went out and bought an MGB, took some more lessons, and raced it at Riverside in 1984.”
You get the impression that if Delane wants it he doesn’t give up until he gets it. “When I go after things, I can sell ice cubes to Eskimos,” he says. “The difference between me and a real racing driver is that I didn’t wake up with talent. I took lessons and worked at it. I’m a student of motor racing.”
From those early days with the MGB, the student graduated to single-seaters with a Lotus 18 which he still owns today. Venturing outside his home state, he started to race on the East Coast and made the biggest step yet, acquiring the
ex-Unser/Andretti Viceroy-liveried Lola T400 F5000 car.
The love affair with Tyrrell began in ’70 when Delane made his first visit to a grand prix at Monza and saw Jackie Stewart in 001. The race was won by Clay Regazzoni for Ferrari but John’s imagination was captured by the Tyrrell team.
“I was just nuts for the fact that this was an independent outfit; the cars were somehow special and different. I had huge admiration for Ken Tyrrell and what he was trying to achieve. From that day on I had a poster of Stewart at Monza on my office wall and I vowed to drive the cars one day.”
That day came in 1998 when 002 came up for sale in California. “It was a big moment,” he remembers. “Moving from the F5000 car to the Tyrrell was like going from a truck to a precision instrument. But it was in poor condition and scary to drive before I got Carroll Smith to sort the handling.”
This was the car that François Cevert raced for the team, a real piece of history. “It was just incredible, sitting in it, realising that it was completely original and I was using the wheel, gearlever and pedals used by Cevert and Stewart. It took me a long time to feel comfortable racing that car.
“I was invited to bring 002 to the Goodwood Festival of Speed for the tribute to Ken following his tragic illness,” explains John. “I met his family and when Adam decided to sell 001 at auction I bought it to keep it in the Tyrrell family. Bernie Ecclestone generously withdrew his bid for the car.”
By now a friend of Delane’s had acquired 004 so they decided to recreate Team Tyrrell. “My contract with the family was simple and straightforward. I was given 001 on loan, the deal being that I restore and maintain the car. We
got hold of the old transporter, we made copies of the Stewart and Cevert helmets and overalls, and went racing.”
Monaco 2002 was Delane’s first ever wet race. He grins: “Imagine… I’d never seen rain on a racetrack; it was always dry in California. I asked Danny Sullivan for some tips. ‘What, on racing at Monaco?’ he said. ‘No’, I said, ‘on racing in the rain’. He said I needed medication. The thing I remember best is getting on some oil going down to Mirabeau, getting sideways, looking in the mirror and seeing Ben Liebert in the Eagle spinning down the hill and catching me up!”
He’s been racing Formula 1 cars ever since, winning three FIA/TGP championships and flying the Tyrrell flag. Delane now owns 006 as well and is therefore the guardian of three of the seven early Tyrrells that still exist. And it’s hard to imagine a better outcome for Ken’s cars than to be in the loving care of this passionate and enthusiastic collector.