HISTORIC RACING’S UNSUNG HERO
CHRIS WARD PROFILED
The first half of the Chris Ward racing story is not unusual. Clearly very talented from the start, he was a winner in Formula Ford 1600 before struggling to raise the finance to move up to Formula Vauxhall in the mid1990s. He was quick in what he did, but an F3 budget was never likely to materialise.
Instead, he switched focus to sportscars, initially in prototypes in the National Supersports Cup and then the V de V series before getting some GT drives. Winning GT4 in the 2011 Blancpain Endurance Series with Nissan was a career highlight but it was then a case of what to do next, and an unexpected door opened.
A chance invitation to race in historics came along and suddenly a whole new career opportunity developed. Of course, the patronage of Derek Hood at JD Classics has made a huge difference and Ward is now racing, winning and making a permanent living as part of the JD team. It’s a motor racing feel good story and proves that the good guys can prosper.
It all started in Champion of Oulton FF1600 where the young Ward was a winner in short order while still a teenager. Formula Vauxhall came next but the Bill Durrant-tended car was run on a typical shoestring in the category’s Class B. Ward duly won the class title in 1997, but there was no money to progress any further up the single-seater ladder.
Mike Swinnerton, then chairman of the Clubmans Register and a fellow instructor at Silverstone, recognised Ward’s talent and opened a door to some drives in what was to become the National Supersports Cup. At least Ward was still racing and the title followed in 1999. Some British GT and then a V de V title kept him match fit while he rose to become chief instructor at Silverstone.
“I started instructing at Silverstone in 1994 and became chief instructor in ’99 and then the role developed from there,” says Ward. “Latterly, it was more about overseeing the circuit on an operational basis.”
At the same time, he got the chance to race with Nissan and bagged the 2011 GT4 Blancpain title. The Nissan drive also led, indirectly, to the next phase of his career. “I started racing historics in the 1990s with a German family and they then decided to go off and do some sailing so the chance went away,” explains Ward. “When I was driving for Nissan with Alex Buncombe, Alex was racing for JD Classics at the time and that led to a chance to try some of the historic cars. I had my first drive with JD in 2012 and it has been fantastic.”
Over the next couple of years he did more and more racing for the JD squad and that led to the offer of a role in the classic car operation: “I’m now with JD Classics full time, co-ordinating the various departments and liaising with the customers in an overall management role. I thoroughly enjoy it and I’m very proud to be part of the JD team. The guys are so passionate about what they do. Derek Hood has built the business up from scratch and he has a passion for classic cars.”
Now 41, Chris and his wife Gill moved to Essex with the new job. “The predominance of the racing I do now is historic and I thoroughly enjoy it, probably because there is more input from a driver’s point of view,” says Ward. “You don’t have traction control, anti-lock brakes and so on. The car moves about a lot more and that suits my way of driving.
“I’d love to have another go at modern racing and I still think I’ve got the ability to drive a modern car very well. So if the opportunity was there, we’d have a go.”
Clearly a front-line GT drive would be seized with both hands, but right now Ward is carving an enviable reputation in historic racing.
Inevitably, given the company’s reputation in the Jaguar field, racing Listers, C-types, D-types and E-types has been at the core of Ward’s racing over the last couple of seasons. But there is considerable variety to his programme. Ward: “It’s not all about Jaguars, although from the racing side we tend to have mainly Jaguars. In restoration and sales it is Ferrari that is the busiest. We’re also starting to diversify in the racing. We take the Cologne Capri out a lot and we’ve got the Bastos Rover so we’re moving into different fields. I’m very lucky with the type of cars we have to race. We go from XK120S to C-types, D-types, lightweight E-types and more modern touring cars.”
Last year Paul Gibson asked Chris to share his Lola T70 MK3B in twodriver events. “That was fantastic. We’ve raced against each other for many years and Paul was a real rival in the days of National Supersports,” says Ward.
“I’d like to try my hand at some historic single-seaters, maybe Formula 2 or Formula 1,” he adds. They are the cars I grew up with.”
At this year’s Goodwood Members’ Meeting, he raced the team’s ex-patrick Motors Rover Vitesse in the Gerry Marshall Trophy race and, partnered by Gordon Shedden, they finished second.
“The boys have done a great job to get the Rover going well and we had a good result this year,” he says. “It’s about team work and that’s what I like about historics and modern endurance racing.”
The 2016 programme has been based around the major historic racing festivals including Monaco with the C-type, the Mille Miglia, the Brands Hatch Legends, Le Mans Classic, Silverstone Classic, Goodwood Revival and the Spa 6 Hours. It’s a schedule that many drivers would love to have.
“I’ve got a lot to thank Derek at JD Classics for,” agrees Ward. “Historic racing is fantastic; it’s what racing is all about. There are lots of different types of cars and it is a spectacle, which is really important.”
Ward has already shown he is more than capable of adding to that spectacle. ■
“I have been lucky with the cars I have raced” CHRIS WARD
Ward has gelled with the JD Classic Rover SD1