The next time I saw Mike was in 2005 when I learned we would be sharing with Ian Flux a Mazda RX-8 in the inaugural Silverstone 24 Hours, the first twice around the clock race held in the UK for anything other than 2CVs in over a decade. Fluxie was and remains a legend of long distance sports car racing while Wilds’ record as a F1 driver for BRM, Ensign and a works Nissan Group C driver spoke for itself. By contrast back then I’d never even raced at night, let alone for 24 hours.
Between them, these two taught me everything I needed to know about this form of racing: how to handle a track that in the dark looks nothing like it does in daylight, how to look after the machinery and still go fast, how not to make silly mistakes and the most important and most overlooked factor of all: how to manage yourself. Any car is only as reliable as its least reliable component and you owe it to your team and team-mates to make sure that component is not you. I can remember Flux teaching me how to find turn-in points to corners you can’t see in the dark, but most of all I recall Mike’s calm reassurance, his ready smile and his ability to put me at ease each time I was about the get in the car. More than anything else and to a rather scared and complete rookie at this kind of racing, he was just incredibly kind.
Which is the only reason I made no mistakes that weekend and, despite the fact the car was a pure street machine with a standard engine and gearbox and just some slicks, suspension and big brakes for racing purposes, we did rather well, coming second in a class of 15, beaten only by massively modified Honda Accord full of touring car drivers. I’ve done countless long distance races since then, every one of them informed by that experience.
Mike is 70 now, still teaching people how to drive racing cars, still racing them himself and still winning – most recently in this year’s Britcar Endurance championship in a Ferrari 458 he shares with his son. I’ve been blessed to share far more exciting cars with some even more successful drivers but when I think of who it was who taught me most of what little I know about the thing I like to do best, it’s always Mike Wilds. I’ve met many amazing people in this industry but taking his qualities as both a driver and a person, very few I’ve felt luckier to come to know and call friend than he.
Images courtesy of LAT