GRR

Thank Frankel It's Friday – Sideways at 100mph in a Ferrari F40...

25th August 2016
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Earlier this week I was at Silverstone doing some testing. As I wandered down the pit-lane between stints I heard a voice cry out my name. I knew the voice but without a visual, couldn’t place its owner. It was coming from the passenger seat of a yellow Porsche 911. Unfortunately it was also coming from within a full faced helmet and, with my mind still full of other things, my momentarily blank expression would not have been missed. ‘Andrew, it’s me – Mike.’ And so it was. After too many years I had bumped into former F1 driver and Group C racer Mike Wilds.

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Did I mention he was my team-mate too? One of the many joys of this job is that just occasionally you get to race with your heroes and over the years I’ve shared cars with the likes of Richard Attwood, Klaus Ludwig, Tim Harvey, David Leslie and John Fitzpatrick. Mike’s name may be less familiar to you but to me he’s right up there with the best of them, not least because the first time we met he damn near saved my life.

It was the late ‘80s, possibly 1990, and the magazine I was working for was running a competition to determine which road car was fastest from 0-100mph and back to zero again. Back then the fastest thing with four wheels and a number plate was the Ferrari F40, but if you’d rung up the importer’s PR agency and asked to borrow one the request would likely to have been met with a volley of expletives or laughter. Or both.

Happily I knew Nick Mason had one he was happy to lend so long as he could nominate its driver, which was Mike. Less happily, on the appointed day the weather at Santa Pod was so bad I’ll never figure out why we didn’t just pack up and reschedule. Instead Mike went to work trying to get the F40 to 100mph and back again on what by now resembled a boating lake. And on the very last run as he just nudged the brake at just over 100mph, the car snapped sideways. And I don’t mean it twitched, or slid a bit, I mean there was a period of time when we were travelling at a three figure speed and all I could see through the windscreen was Armco. I had never, have never and will never witness a quicker, more instinctive save. We went from apparent and total catastrophe to safe and sound punctuated only by nervous laughter in one instant, expert wrench of the wheel.

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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

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