‘It was obvious the boy was a bit special’
Goodwood Motor Circuit, a chilly morning early in 1964: two keen young racing drivers, both with wins behind them but still with plenty to prove, arrive at the circuit for their respective test drives, both for the Tyrrell team.
John Fitzpatrick, club racer, is there to test the Mini Cooper he will campaign in the 1964 British Touring Car Championship (he will be runner-up, at his first attempt). And Jackie Stewart, Ecurie Ecosse driver and emerging sports car talent from north of the border, is there to have his first go in a formula car, Ken Tyrrell having been tipped off about the 24-year-old’s potential from Goodwood circuit manager Robin Mackay.
It’s a big day for the pair, but John at least already has a contract for the ’64 season. Not so Jackie, not for F3 anyway. By the end of the day things are rather different…
If these things can ever be pinned down to a time, that day at Goodwood 50 years ago was the day that Jackie Stewart, soon-to-be three-times Formula 1 world champion, was discovered. Was the Flying Scotsman’s ability that obvious? GRR tracked down John Fitzpatrick in Spain to ask for his recollections…
‘I remember Jackie being just incredibly smooth. He didn’t look fast. He had this fabulous way of making a car look like it was floating through the corners. Most drivers when they are pressing on have some opposite lock on at some stage, but not Jackie. He didn‘t seem to need opposite lock. Ken Tyrrell was staggered at how quick he was.’
As in all likelihood was Bruce McLaren, Tyrrell’s star F1 driver who was also there on the day to help shake down the Cooper T72-BMC, an all-new car for the 1964 F3 season.
‘During the day Bruce would go out in the car, come in, have a few changes made, go out again and do a decent time. Then Jackie would go out in it, and immediately be quicker. Ken said something like, come on Bruce, now go out and do a proper lap. I think Bruce thought by now he’d better pull his finger out, so he would go out again and go a bit quicker. Then Jackie went quicker still. That happened all through the day.
‘I hadn’t met Jackie before that day but I had heard good things about him. We were the new boys – that’s what brought us together. We all went to the Richmond Arms for sandwiches and found we had a lot in common, including golf (John left school to be a golf pro but took up motor racing instead after breaking his arm – ed).
‘There was no question at all in my mind that Jackie was a bit special. On that day he was sensational. Anyone who could get in a car he had never seen before and immediately go quicker than Bruce McLaren had to be pretty talented. I think Ken had a contract for Jackie to sign that day.’
He signed – and the rest is motor sport history, something that will be celebrated in finest Goodwood tradition at Revival with a special tribute to Sir Jackie, including an appearance by the very F3 car he drove for that first Goodwood test.
John and Jackie’s friendship has endured after their first encounter. ‘We’ve always been firm friends, always will be,’ says John. ‘At the end of that test day at Goodwood we drove back to my parents’ house in Henley-in-Arden. He stayed the night and drove back to Scotland the next day in his blue Austin 1100. I remember being very impressed because he had his own JYS number-plate!
‘There’s never been anyone quite like Jackie in the sport. And I don’t think there will be again. He is absolutely the best, so much integrity it’s not true, a fantastic business brain and someone who really cares about people. It’s a delight just to know him.’
All in all that day in early ’64 was a good day for Goodwood – John Fitzpatrick of course went on to be British Touring Car Champion in 1966, European GT Champion 1972 and ’74, Porsche Cup Winner 1972 and ‘74, 1980 IMSA Champion…the list goes on.
So is he coming to see his old friend at Revival? ‘I come every year to FoS but when I stopped racing three years ago I decided not to go to Revival any more in case I got tempted to drive something. This year though I would make an exception – I would love to be there for the tribute to such a great racing driver and friend.’