RJ: Brian, this year Goodwood celebrates Italian racing. What’s your favourite memory of racing in Italy?
BR: I drove for Ferrari for two years, and with them, I won the World Manufacturer’s Championship, so that was a highlight, but of course, I raced a lot in Italy – winning the Targa Florio in Sicily in 1970, with a car very similar to the one I’m driving here this weekend but in 1971, I drove with Jo Siffert and we had an accident on the back straight. They repaired it, and very unusually, John Wyer wanted me to start the race as he didn’t want Siffert and (Pedro) Rodriguez knocking each other off as they were often prone to do. So, I started the race and the handling was immediately… not right and I got about 20 miles, round quite an easy corner, and I turned, and nothing happened – the steering broke. I hit a concrete post, which ruptured a fuel tank, which exploded on fire, so I was very lucky to get out and when I went again – in 1973 – with the Ferrari 312PB with Jacky Ickx – my co-driver – before the race, I said to Jacky, “Jacky you must remember one thing”. He said (Brian then adopts a “Continental” accent!) “What is that, Brian?” I said “This is not a race!”
Well… when he crashed on the first lap, so when I asked him when he came back “Are you okay?” He said “Yes, Brian, thank you very much, I am okay, but I go a long way down a mountain, a very long way!”
I also raced – and won – at Monza, that was the case twice I think and at Imola, I raced there in April, and this was very special for me… at the end of 1970, having won the World Sportscar Championship in 1968 in the John Wyer Ford GT40, driving with Jacky Ickx, and in 1969 with Porsche, this time with Jo Siffert, where he and I won 5 out of the 10 races and then ’70, where Porsche won the Manufacturers Championship, but then I retired to South Africa, because I thought I was going to be killed. I mean, all my friends had been killed. I was offered a job to run a BMW dealership in Johannesburg and I said to my wife, Marian, “We’re going” and so we went. But then in March – that was November – but then in March, “We’re going back!” and so we arrived back in England and I had no drive. Derek Bell took my place in the John Wyer Gulf Porsche team. But then the phone rang, and it was John, in April, and he said “Brian, we’d like you to drive the Targa Florio as Derek’s never done it, so this is how it came about and I thought “Well, this is a great opportunity”. But then I was told – and this is where my whole career is looking in the dumps – Sid Taylor, who I was driving the McLaren 18 for – said “We’re borrowing a BRM can-am car, and we’re going to Imola and Hockenheim!”
So, I went to Imola and it rained, but the car was extremely good in the rain – Tony Southgate designed – and all his cars were relatively softly sprung – and I lapped the field – and the field included the factory Ferrari’s! So, Mauro Forghieri said “Brian, what are you doing next year?” (Brian chuckles), and that was Imola – so, as you can see, many happy memories of racing in Italy. It’s a wonderful, wonderful country, the enthusiasm of course, and it’s just fantastic. But also, of course, I’ve driven Ralph Lauren’s Alfa Romeo Monza 1930 in the Mille Miglia – you know, the recreation – again a fantastic car and when I went up to there to drive it, I went “Oh”, because at 30-40 miles per hour, I thought “Well, I can’t do anything wild in this thing” but of course, when we arrived at the Mille Miglia, and when we got going – it was an incredible machine – goes 90 mph, comfortably, the brakes and steering were good – and I remember thinking just how far ahead of it’s time it was in 1930.
RJ: You started racing many, many years ago in a Morris Mini Traveller – how do you compare that racing car, looking back, to all the other types of machinery that you’ve driven since?
BR: (Smiles).. Oh yes, a Morris 1000…Well, I don’t think you can compare it really, can you … I sold mops, you know, the types you clean floors with, in Burnley, Lancashire, and I delivered them all in the back of this Morris 1000 Traveller and I put an supercharger on it and they were made in nearby Blackburn.
I then put harder brake linings and a roll-bar and then drove it like a raving lunatic! I then thought I’ve got to get off the road and onto the track and that’s how it all started.
RJ: Your sportscar career was fantastically successful – are there any particular attributes that you need as a driver to succeed in this discipline?
BR: Well, I think in those days – you’re talking now about the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, you did have to have some mechanical feel for the car, because you couldn’t drive them absolutely flat out for 1000 kilometres. You know, you could – the Porsche 908 you could – the Ferrari 312PB.. you could drive those flat out for 1000 kilometres. Still, it was much better to have some mechanical sympathy.
When I won the Formula 5000 Championships in America in 1974, 1975 & 1976, in 1974 & 1975, in second place was Mario Andretti. We won the same number of races each year, and the ones he didn’t win, he didn’t finish. The ones I didn’t win, I finished and got more points, so I think there are people who can be successful driving hard all the time, but inevitably something gives way.
You can save fractions of a second by changing gears faster and that might give you a second a lap on a 2 to 3 mile circuit.
RJ: Looking back, you would have attempted your Grand Prix career a little differently, or was it a sideline to be enjoyed?
BR: Oh, my whole Formula 1 career was a major balls-up, because with Cooper first of all, of course I nearly died at Spa – I almost lost my arm, I was so lucky there. There was… it was really at the end of its days – it was a poor car. But then I made a real mess of things with McLaren.
Basically, because, first of all, there was the Rothmans race at Brands Hatch, and they told me, well, the Lotus is going to break so take it easy. Not easy, you understand, but you know what I mean – which I did, but I went off the same lap. But, you know, I also won. Then I had a very good race at Monaco, where I’d never been before and it rained. I was following Denny Hulme, who was the team leader and he went down the escape road at the chicane, and so I grasped the opportunity and passed Denny and finished 5th, although I stopped for a puncture at one point.
But at that time wet tyres.. Firestone wet tyres were far superior than Goodyears – Jean-Pierre Beltoise (in 1973) won for BRM on Firestone cars and I think the first Goodyear finisher was Jackie Stewart… I think he was fourth and then I finished 5thon Goodyears and so that was a good race.
But then it all went wrong! I went to the Nurburgring, which I knew very well, and I liked, and I’d just won there. I’d driven a number of laps around the short circuit behind the pits to warm the tyres up and they weren’t warm enough and I came out of the Nordkurve in 2nd gear, floored it and went sideways and the tyres didn’t have enough grip and I hit the barrier, which needed repairs and then had a very lacklustre race and finished 5th. I was really hoping for the top 3, I thought that I could be in the top 3.
So then at the French Grand Prix at Clermont Ferrand, of course I’d never been there before – I was following Denny, trying to learn the track quickly – made a mistake and hit the barrier. So (laughing)… that was repaired and then on Saturday night.. well this was a very old hotel, dating back to the 1800’s. So there we are on the top floor, Saturday night and we’re going down for dinner. A bunch of mechanics were crowded in the lift and one of them said to me “I bet you can’t beat us down there mate” and so I ran down the stairs and I got to about 4 or 5 steps down the bottom, went head-over-tit, wrecked my right ankle and then we had to adjust my boot to get my foot into it on race day and so then another miserable lacklustre race to finish 7th or 8th, I think.
Then after that, with the Shadow, September 1973, Don Nichols called me and asked me if I would drive the spare Shadow at the US Grand Prix with Jackie Oliver and George Follmer the regular drivers and I qualified quite a bit higher – something like 12th – they were in the 20’s and it broke down fairly early on but Don Nichols said to me “Well, Brian, would you like to sign for us in Formula 1 for 1974?”.
Well, I just finished my first year with Carl Haas and Jim Hall in the Chaparral Lola Formula 5000 – we’d had a great year. Jody Scheckter won the championship, but I’d missed a race. I actually won more races than Jody. So I thought about and thought “Well, Shadow are a middle of the field runner and I’d rather be finishing at the front”.
So I turned it down, and I thought I’ll do F5000, but then the driver who took my place in the Shadow team was Peter Revson. He was killed at Kyalami and four days later, Carl Haas rang from America and said “Sorry, Brian, there is no Formula 5000 this year”. On the same day, Don Nichols rang up asking if I would reconsider. Well.. I didn’t have a drive, so yes!
So I did the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama, the Belgian GP at Nivelles and Monaco. At Monaco, on Sunday morning, an urgent call from the United States. Carl Haas – “the series is back on”. So I told Don before the race that this was now just a one-off and then Tom Pryce took my place and of course also later died at Kyalami.
So, yes, on the Sunday of my Belgian GP, I talked to Colin Chapman, and I was going to drive for Lotus, and that would’ve been great – to be in a potentially winning car, but it didn’t happen, so I do regret that. But it’s partly my own fault. I didn’t really have the great ambition to be World Champion. When I did come across people who did become World Champions – people like Jackie Stewart, Jody Scheckter, Niki Lauda… they all had that burning desire to excel themselves. Well, I never had that at the same level as them, and so I became happy enjoying and loving what I was doing and that was enough.
RJ: You mentioned about accidents before – what motivates you to return to racing after a big accident – for example, your St. Jovite Can-Am crash in 1977?
BR: Yes, yes, that was a life-changing experience. Well, it was partly.. at that time – in 1977.. 1976/77, I was living an ideal life. I lived in the Yorkshire Dales and I raced in America during their racing season, but also went for other drives such as Le Mans and places like that and then hunting.. fox-hunting in the winter. I finished the normal US racing season in October, then the hunting season started the first week in November, so, I had a fantastic time. But it all came to an end when for the first day of practice for the new series, for the Formula 5000 open-wheeled single-seaters and they called it Can-Am.. it was a marketing exercise and the car was very good. I said that at the pits and they said what do you want? I said “take a quarter-inch off the front wing and make it lower” and then the very next lap, I went off and straight up into the air on the main straight – I came back upside down and I broke my leg, smashed my left shoulder, smashed my breastbone and my ribs and I just took an almighty tremendous battering and so for months, I hung around in the garden and I couldn’t think of anything.
My wife, Marian, would take me around in the car and I’d gaze around, you know. One day I saw a farm that was coming up for sale near where we lived and it was being broken up.. it was 250 acres and it was an 18th century farmhouse, and we’d get the house, the outbuildings and 20 acres. So, I was as interested as anything and we bought it and I started working on it and I started walking, then running slowly and then running a little more.
January of the following year, 1978, I rang Joe Hoppen, the head of Volkswagen/Porsche/Audi competition in America and said to him; “Can you find me a good car – not a winning car, though?” He said to me “Ja, Brian”. So I arrive at Sebring and I raced for the Dick Barbour team – the famous racing team and I was in the 2ndcar. The 2nd car was being driven by Bob Garretson and Dick Barbour’s cars often needed money, so the other driver was Charles Mendez, the race promoter! He was a businessman and a bit of an unlikely crew we then had, but we won the race!
So, then I felt okay and still I kept going – in 1978 & 1979, I did four or five races a year and two children away at school in England and so in the end I said to Marian, “I’ve got to go to America” and so we went! When I got to Carl Haas’, whose car I was using when I had the accident, I found I needed a Lola. But then I read the new rules that IMSA, the International Motorsport Association, they had brought out… they were trying to break Porsche domination and won every race for four years, bar one that BMW won and so Lola can build a car with a Chevy engine and win this championship. So Carl said “Go and see Eric (Broadley, boss of Lola)”. I saw Eric, and to cut a long story short, we won the IMSA Championship of that year.
RJ: Finally, you are now a regular at historic events now – what do you enjoy the most about coming here at Goodwood or elsewhere?
BR: Well, really, it’s to meet all the old chaps, that’s the first thing. Then driving the cars is fun as well but here, for example, with the hill-climb, you don’t really have time to get the tyres warm and so, you know, it’s great to do it and of course, Lord March is the greatest promoter in the World. What could be better than to come here, and see everybody and be so well treated.. it’s fantastic, so a wonderful weekend.
Thanks to Brian for making what was scheduled to be a quick interview, nearly 20 minutes in total. I appreciate his time, patience and good humour. Thanks too to Gabby Zajacka for arranging the interview, which was conducted at the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed.