In 1914, a Sunbeam engineer became the first Brit to compete in the fledgling 500
If you followed F5000 in ITS early days, you might remember Ian Mitchell who raced a BRM P261 during the 1969 season. But he wasn’t the first member of his family to make a mark in racing. He tells us his grandfather was the first Englishman to race at Indianapolis, 100 years ago in the fourth ‘500’ Sweepstake Race.
Percy Mitchell was a development engineer for Sunbeam. As he had been involved in developing the team’s Grand Prix cars, he was asked to take the scary seat as Jean Chasssagne’s riding mechanic when, after the cessation of racing in Europe due to war, the firm sent a pair of cars to The Brickyard. The other had an American crew. Although Chassagne claimed pole, in the event a puncture caused the car to roll, throwing Mitchell out and giving him a broken arm though his driver was uninjured.
Harry Grant’s fifth place in the other car was not much compensation for Britain’s first attempt at the classic event.
Later in the war Percy went on to join the Air Ministry and helped design the interrupter gear that allowed a fighter’s machine gun to fire through the propeller, radically increasing accuracy.
Ian adds his own historic landmark – it’s 50 years since his own first race win, although a UK saloon race isn’t quite as glamorous as his grandfather’s debut…