John Fitzpatrick on the times when modern and classic racing collide – in a Lister
John came in for some good-natured ragging after demonstrating a rather ebullient racing style at Silverstone – and in someone else’s classic too
As I’ve mentioned previously, I have owned several cars that have become classics and after selling them have watched as their value increased to a level at which I could never afford to buy them back. But thanks to the Goodwood Revival and Silverstone Classic, I have been invited to drive many real classics that would normally fall well beyond my means. My first venture into historic racing was when David Pennell invited me to drive his Lister-jaguar in a support race at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
This was in the late Nineties, about 15 years after I had retired from modern racing, and it was all a bit new to me. I had driven very few open-top cars and sticking my head up above the bodywork to be buffeted around by the wind made it all a bit different. I soon got used to it though, putting the Lister on the front row of the grid alongside a Maserati Birdcage and a Jaguar D-type. It was great fun and the tailhappy, oversteering Lister kept me busy and amused until I finished in third place, which was where I had started.
As a result David asked me to drive again and I started to enjoy the Lister and get the hang of it, until one race at Silverstone when I got rather too high-spirited. I was well back on the grid after a problem in practice and it was raining at the start. I always enjoyed racing in the wet and saw this as a great opportunity to work my way through the field to chase after Frank Sytner and Gary Pearson, who usually won these historic sports car events.
I got a bit over-enthusiastic on the first couple of laps and made contact with some competitors’ cars while making my way impatiently through the field. Nothing serious, but the clerk of the course was not impressed. Just as I was closing in on the leaders, I crossed the start/finish line to be faced with a furiously waving black flag accompanied by my start number. I pulled into the pits and succumbed to a severe telling off from the clerk – I knew him quite well and he had a smirk on his face while he was scolding me. I looked suitably repentant and was allowed on my way, but David never invited me to drive again. I can’t say I blame him.
Despite this, over the next few years I was invited to drive a great variety of classics including Ferraris, Corvettes, Lotus 15s, GT40S, Ford Galaxies and Austin A95s. I will always be grateful to the owners of these cars for not only trusting me with them but giving me the opportunity to drive cars I had never sat in before.
My two favourites would have to be Lord (Irvine) Laidlaw’s Porsche 904, which we shared at the Nürburgring and Spa, and Marc Devis’s Ferrari 250GT SWB in my last race at the Goodwood Revival. The SWB was not the fastest Ferrari I have driven but it handled beautifully and, even wearing ear plugs, the note from the V12 was fantastic. A good way to bow out – and I didn’t hit anyone either.
Crash, bang, wallop... Stonie’s cartoon of the day when John’s enthusiastic driving earned him a wigging from the clerk of the course