Feature

Aug 2006

Racing all over the world

If there has been a speed limit to break, a race to be won or a four-wheeled challenge to meet, Scotland has been at the vanguard throughout the sports history. Despite the countrys size, it is the fifth top nation in the world for producing Formula One World Champions.

Scottish legends

Here we celebrate Scotlands extraordinary Motor Racing history, like the Scottish Motor Racing Club, Ecurie Ecosse’s first win at Le Mans and the first track victory for the late, great Jim Clark.

Jim Clark would just have turned 70 this year had not some debris from another car lodged in his tyre at Hockenheim in Germany during practice, causing his Lotus 48 to career down an embankment. He wasnt even supposed to be driving in the minor Formula 2 race on 7 April 1968. His name was down to drive in the BOAC 1000km sports car race at Brands Hatch but contractual obligations with Firestone led him to his tragic fate.

It was a premature end to a glittering 12-year racing career, which had begun in the humble surroundings of Crimond Airfield near Aberdeen in 1956. Clark had come along to help set up the car of fellow enthusiast Ian Scott Watson. But Scott Watson decided to give his friend a turn behind the wheel and realised straight away that Clark was much quicker than him and their roles reversed after that.

Jim Clark didnt win at Crimond. He didnt even come close, but the modest farmer from Berwickshire would quickly graduate to better cars and grander arenas.

In those formative years Clark honed his nascent skills by burning up the quiet country roads and forest tracks of the Scottish Borders. The roads had long straights, smooth surfaces and snaky curves with sudden changes of direction. In the late 1950s and 60s these roads were relatively free of traffic and there was no speed limit outside of built-up areas perfect training conditions for a future world champion!

Scott Watsons faith in his friend led him to arrange a test in a Formula 2 Lotus for Clark. The year was 1960 and it was the first meeting between Clark and Colin Chapman, the Lotus founder. The Scot went on to deliver his greatest victories for Chapmans team and became a colossus of motor racing in the 1960s.

Clark was Formula One World Champion in 1963 and 1965. He won 25 Grands Prix from 72 starts and was also the Indianapolis 500 winner in 1965.

Clark was incredibly versatile in a way that makes todays Formula One drivers look like pampered one-trick ponies. He could drive and win in all types of car, from rallying to IndyCar, NASCAR to touring cars and had an uncanny ability to adapt instantly to whichever car he was driving, regardless of the set-up. Lap after lap he could keep exactly the same line without ever seeming to work hard at it. He was a true natural in any car.

One of Clarks greatest ever drives was at the 1967 Italian Grand Prix in Monza. Starting from pole in his Lotus 49 he was leading the race when a tyre punctured. After a disastrous pit stop he rejoined the race in 16th place having lost an entire lap. But a scintillating drive saw him work his way through the field to regain the lead, setting numerous lap records along the way. Still narrowly out in front and on the brink of an outrageous victory Clarks car ran out of fuel and he coasted across the finish line in third place. This peerless performance was typical of the sensationally gifted Scot and is still considered to be unmatched in the long history of Formula One.

Its little wonder that another all-time great, five-time Formula One World Champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, said about Clark in 1968: In my opinion, Jim Clark was by a league the greatest racing driver ever.

Another Scottish hero was to emerge out of the shadow of Jim Clarks death and it signalled the end of one traditional era and the start of a new more flamboyant one.

Jackie Stewart was three times World Drivers Champion, runner-up twice and won 27 of his 99 Grands Prix.

Like Clark he was prodigiously accomplished in a wide variety of cars. In 1964 he competed in 53 races in 26 different cars in a dizzying array of classes including Formulas 2 and 3 and Le Mans, and won 23 of them.

Then in 1965 his career took off like a rocket when he won his first Formula One Grand Prix at Monza.

Stewart drove for BRM until the end of 1967 when he left to drive for Ken Tyrrell. Twenty-five of his 27 wins were for Tyrrell, including all three of his World Championships. After his first championship win in 1969 Monza went nuts for Jackie and his trademark tartan-emblazoned helmet. It was like Beatlemania with Stewart and his wife Helen hiding in a toilet and escaping the crowds through a back window!

By 1971, his fame had reached such a point that the filmmaker Roman Polanski, who was a personal friend of Stewarts, came to Monaco to film Weekend of a Champion, a behind-the-scenes documentary of the Scot at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

But by 1973, at the age of 34, Stewart was burned out and announced his retirement at the US Grand Prix. He went out at the top as reigning champion with no regrets.

The canny Scot then threw himself into his new passion, business, with as much energy as hed devoted to racing cars. He ran his own team, Stewart Racing, and campaigned fiercely to make the sport safer.

We could be heroes

Clark and Stewart were the trailblazers but many more boy, and girl, racers were to follow in their illustrious footsteps cementing Scotlands place as a fertile breeding ground for motor racing talent.

After 12 seasons in Formula One, David Coulthard still races with the Red Bull team and although the man from Twynholm has failed to win the ultimate prize of World Champion he finished runner-up in 2001, was 3rd twice and has notched up 13 Grand Prix wins.

Allan McNish disappointed in his one season in Formula One but has thrived in the gruelling world of the American Le Mans Series.

Bathgate boy Dario Franchitti moved to America, married a Hollywood starlet in the shape of Ashley Judd, and has consistently excelled in the IndyCar series having previously raced successfully in CART.

The McRae family are Scotlands most famous rally drivers, with Colin not only winning the World Rally Championship in 1995 but also becoming immortalised in a series of popular computer rally games!

And Louise Aitken-Walker is one of Britains most successful rally drivers and was Ladies World Rally Champion in 1990.

Ecurie Ecosse and other Scottish designs

One of the most enduring stories from the world of Scottish motorsport is that of the legendary Ecurie Ecosse racing team.

From a humble back-street mews garage in Merchiston, Edinburgh the team stunned the motor racing world by beating household names such as Porsche and Ferrari.

It was 50 years ago this summer that team manager David Murray led the unknowns with the exotic name to victory in the famous Le Mans 24 hour race. So feted was their triumph which the team incredibly went on to repeat the following year that the D-type Jaguar car, driven by Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, was sold for a record 1.7m in an auction at Christies in 1999.

Murray started the team in the early 1950s on a shoestring budget with no cars of his own but plenty of ambition. In tandem with Cockney mechanic Wilkie Wilkinson, Ecurie Ecosse recruited drivers on the condition that not only were they handy behind the wheel but, more importantly, they had to have their own cars and the new Jaguar XK120 at that!

These cars cost nearly 2,000 at a time when the average British wage was 8.68 a week.

At the time motor racing had little profile in Scotland and anyway no-one could pronounce the teams name, thought up by Murrays wife Judy as a way of helping them become more accepted on the continent.

That was all to change with the sensational back-to-back victories in the so-called Grand Prix de lEndurance.

The Ecurie Ecosse team went on to win a total of 68 races and go down in Scottish sporting history but they eventually struggled to compete with the financial clout of the big teams and sadly folded in 1971.

While David Murrays maverick Ecurie Ecosse team were putting Scotland on the continental motor racing map another group of one-offs were building the cars that would kick-start the careers of some of their most famous drivers.

Joseph Potts Limited of Bellshill designed cars for the original Formula 3, a popular class of racing which involved low-cost, single-seaters with engines no bigger than 500cc.

Despite the relatively small engine size these cars could zip along at a fair rate, especially when fitted with highly-rated Norton engines.

The J.P. race car was built in Bellshill from 1950 to 1954.

During the 1950s Formula 3 was very popular in Scotland with races at Winfield, Turnberry, Crimond and Charterhall.

Both Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, winners at Le Mans with Ecurie Ecosse, competed in these events before graduating to greater success.

Other successful racing cars built in Scotland include the Probe which was manufactured in Irvine in 1971 and the Hillman Imp, built by the thousands in Linwood between 1963 and 1971. The Imp was Scotlands most successful car at the time in terms of sales and racing.

Best in the world

Scotland has probably more potential motor racing circuits including that of Knockhill racing circuit in Fife.

Before local farmer and motorcycle fan Tom Kinnaird decided to do something about it, most racing on two or four-wheels in Scotland took place on ex-wartime RAF airfields or council-owned public parks which had service roads used as the track.

In the early 1970s Kinnaird took an old mechanical digger and a Ford Thames tipper lorry and spent two years fulfilling his dream of turning part of his 200 acres of farmland into Scotlands first ever full-time motor racing venue.

The track, which Kinnaird dug out of the hillside, ingeniously incorporated a narrow service road and a disused railway line and was 1.3 miles long (2km) and 10 metres wide.

Full of twists and turns, drops and climbs it hosted its first motorcycle race in 1974 and was a roaring success, attracting vast crowds from all over the country.

Despite various grand plans to develop the track over the years it fell into disrepair and was bought in 1983 by ex-motorcycle racer Derek Butcher and a process of rehabilitation began.

Knockhill is now Scotlands National Motorsport Centre and has played host to many prestigious series over the years, including the British Touring Car Championships and the British Superbike Championships.

Recording history

Outside of annual car and motorcycle shows, Scotland has a handful of museums that have a motor sport or transport element to them.

The Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has a wonderful Ecurie Ecosse display, while the Motoring Heritage Centre in Alexandria, near Loch Lomond, has an eclectic collection of rare cars and motorcycles from the 1910 Argyll to Joe Potts immortal J.P. racing car.

The Albion Museum and Archive in Biggar is worth a visit for its small motor museum which is open at weekends and the Glasgow Transport Museum has a range of vehicles which mostly concentrate on public transport.

The Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, which is also housed in the Museum of Scotland in the capital, has exhibits honouring its famous motor racing inductees, Bob MacIntyre, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Louise Aitken-Walker.

Scotland has a proud record in motor racing from classic designs to fearless drivers. With an amazing scenic backdrop and the long line of fantastic new drivers, this success looks like to go on and on and on. . .

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