Mike Spence

Full Name:
Michael Henderson Spence
Born:
30th December 1936
Croydon, London
Died:
7th May 1968 (Aged 31)
Indianapolis, Indiana (USA), Indianapolis 500 practice
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

The 1968 season proved to be a tragic year for motor racing as hardly a weekend seemed to pass without tragedy. When Jim Clark was killed in April, his former Lotus team-mate Mike Spence was chosen as his replacement for the Indianapolis 500. But that invitation would end in Spence’s own demise.

Childhood early racing career

Despite having suffered from polio while a child, Spence was a fine rugby player and cricketer while at school. He served his military service in the tank corps before embarking on a competition career in 1958. He drove his father’s Turner 950 sports car at first before switching to the Bristol-powered AC Ace given to him by his parents as a 21st birthday present.

Spence graduated to Formula Junior two years later with a Cooper-BMC entered by a team named after the family sliding door manufacturing business – Coburn Engineers. Performances in a semi-works Emeryson in 1961 and with Ian Walker Racing’s Lotus 22 a year later attracted the attention of Colin Chapman.

Formula 1 with Lotus

Spence signed for Team Lotus in 1963 on a long-term contract and he was initially placed with Ron Harris’ FJ squad. He also made his Grand Prix debut in the 1963 Italian GP replacing the injured Trevor Taylor in a works Lotus 25-Climax. He began 1964 with Harris’ semi-works Formula 2 concern but Spence was drafted into the Lotus Formula 1 team once more when Peter Arundell was injured in the French GP. He spent the rest of season as Jim Clark’s team-mate and impressed by finishing sixth in Italy and fourth in Mexico.

Retained for 1965, Spence inherited victory in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch after Clark crashed and both Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham retired. A maiden GP victory remained elusive however, as his Scottish team-mate won race after race. Spence did finish third in the Mexican GP and began the following year with victory in the non-championship South African GP at East London.

Switch to Reg Parnell Racing and BRM

However, the fit-again Arundell returned to Lotus in 1966 and Spence endured a frustrating season with Tim Parnell’s old and underpowered Lotus 25-BRM. He drove for BRM in F1 and Chaparral in sports cars during 1967 but both had their problems. However, he scored four fifth place finishes in the former while developing the BRM P83 and its H16 engine. He also won the BOAC Six Hours at Brands Hatch when the revolutionary Chaparral 2F-Chevrolet’s fragile transmission held together for once.

Much was expected of Spence in 1968 especially after qualifying second for the non-championship races at Brands Hatch and Silverstone. He also planned to race in sports cars and Can-Am that year but the call from Lotus was not expected. He travelled to Indianapolis to drive Andy Granatelli’s wedge-shaped STP Lotus 56-Pratt & Whitney turbine and was soon on the pace – lapping at nearly 170mph in the second quickest lap of the Brickyard so far. However, Spence crashed in Turn 1 while testing Greg Weld’s sister car at the end of the day. His front wheel struck him on the head, ripping his helmet off. He died in hospital four hours later – another shock in a devastating summer for the sport.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1968 F1 World Championship
Owen Racing Organisation
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1967 RAC British F2 Championship
Reg Parnell Racing
2 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1967 International Championship of Makes
Jim Hall
Chaparral Racing
2 0 1 1 9
1967 F1 World Championship
Owen Racing Organisation
11 0 0 0
0% win rate
10th 9
1967 European F2 Trophy
Reg Parnell Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1966 South African Drivers Championship
Team Lotus
1 0 1 1 0
1966 F1 World Championship
Reg Parnell Racing
8 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 4
1965 F1 World Championship
Team Lotus
9 0 1 0
0% win rate
8th 10
1965 Autocar British F2 Championship
Ron Harris Team Lotus
4 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1964 Autocar British F2 Championship
Ron Harris Team Lotus
4 (1) 1 1 1
25% win rate
1st 18
1964 F1 World Championship
Team Lotus
6 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 4
1963 F1 World Championship
Team Lotus
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0