Innes Ireland

Full Name:
Robert McGregor Innes Ireland
Born:
12th June 1930
Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire
Died:
23rd October 1993 (Aged 63)
Reading, Berkshire, cancer
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

The image of Innes Ireland flicking a ‘V’ sign after winning the 1961 United States Grand Prix encapsulates an irreverent and uncompromising character on his greatest day. He may have suffered in comparison with his talented young team-mate Jim Clark, but then few would stand that test.

Upbringing and early racing career

Although Ireland later developed a reputation as a party animal, he was raised in a Scottish Presbyterian family. The son of a Yorkshire-based vet, he was an engineering apprentice in Rolls-Royce’s Glasgow factory before completing national service as a paratrooper in 1954.

He first raced in 1952 but Ireland ran an engineering company before contemplating racing as a career after initial success with a Lotus 11 during 1956. Fifth in the 1958 Tourist Trophy with Masten Gregory and an Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-type, Ireland joined the emerging Team Lotus the following season and finished a fine fourth on his Grand Prix debut in Holland with a Lotus 16-Climax.

Formula 1 breakthrough for Lotus

The rear-engine Lotus 18 was introduced for 1960 and Ireland stunned the establishment by qualifying on the front row for the opening round in Argentina. He led at the start but spun on lap three and finally finished sixth. Early non-championship success was followed by second place finishes in the Dutch and United States GPs as Ireland finished fourth in the world championship.

The 1961 season began with Ireland crashing in Monaco’s tunnel during practice with the resulting broken knee forcing him to miss a race. Increasingly outperformed by Clark when he returned, he was fourth in France, but the United States GP was his day of days. The Scot worked his way through the field at Watkins Glen to record his and the works Lotus team’s maiden GP victory.

Life as a privateer

However, rather than cement his place in the team, Ireland was released by Colin Chapman, who backed Clark as the man for the future. Ireland felt betrayed and signed to lead the British Racing Partnership-run UDT-Laystall team. He won minor events but fourth place finishes in the 1963 Dutch and Italian GPs were the best he could muster when points were on offer during his three seasons with the team. That 1963 campaign was interrupted by a dislocated hip that Ireland suffered when he crashed a Lotus 19-Ferrari during practice for an SCCA sports car race at Pacific Raceways near Seattle.

Ireland drove Reg Parnell Racing’s Lotus 25-BRM and type 33 in 1965 but he was dropped after arriving late for practice in Mexico. He made his 50th and final GP start in the 1966 Mexican GP with Bernard White’s BRM P261.

Career after Formula 1

A one-off NASCAR appearance in the 1967 Daytona 500 (his Ray Fox Ford ran seventh before the engine failed) was a diversion as retirement beckoned. He later became a trawler man, worked in television and as F1 editor for Road & Track magazine. Ireland was elected as President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club in 1992. It was a difficult time for the club and he was tireless in his efforts to extricate it from a £5.3m joint venture with Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR Group and to secure the future of the British GP at Silverstone.

It proved to be a short-term appointment. He married Mike Hawthorn’s former fiancée Jean Mander that year, his third wife, but Ireland was by now fighting cancer and he died in October 1993.

Described by Sir Stirling Moss as "the James Hunt of my era", Innes Ireland liked a party and was a real character who was also a talented and successful racing driver as the sport grew ever-more professional.