GRR

Racing at Goodwood in Dan Gurney’s Brabham BT7

08th September 2023
Simon Ostler

This weekend at the Goodwood Revival will once again feature one of our favourite races of the year. The Glover Trophy is an opportunity for younger fans of motorsport to experience that magical period of Formula 1 racing from the early 1960s. For some, like James King, it’s an opportunity to rekindle some special memories.

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We spoke to James in the build up to the 2023 Revival, as he was once again preparing to race in his Brabham BT7, a car that Dan Gurney raced to two victories in 1964. It’s been a regular here at Goodwood, having first appeared at the Revival in 2000, returning pretty much every year since, and achieving some impressive results.

James was in attendance at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1964 and saw Gurney in action in his BT7, and some 35 years later he purchased one for his own in the Winter of 1999/00.

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Through his ownership, he became close friends with Gurney, and remains close with his Widow, Evi. The pair regularly swapped photos of the car. James tells me in one of the pictures, there’s black tape wrapped around the steering wheel “not where you’d expect it to be”. He recalls Gurney’s response: “Well we didn’t have any seatbelts back then and at Spa you really didn’t want to grip the wheel to hang on. I braced myself with my left foot on the dead pedal to try and stay in my seat, and I had them tape up the wheel at various points so I could just hold them between my thumb and forefinger through all the fast, sweeping corners.”

It certainly sounds alarming, and a stark indicator of the kind of challenges the drivers were facing while driving flat through high-speed sweeping corners like Burneville and Stavelot, and yet Gurney was hell bent on finding ways to overcome those difficulties and maximise his performance.

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1960s F1 at the 2023 Revival | Glover Trophy

09th September 2023

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The Brabham BT7 raced for three complete seasons from 1963-‘65 in Formula 1, with one more appearance mid-way through ’66, and in that time Gurney’s victories were complemented by six more podium finishes. It was a fiercely competitive time, particularly in 1964 as Ferrari, BRM, Lotus and Brabham shared the spoils in a ten-race season.

John Surtees won the drivers’ world championship, ahead of Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Lorenzo Bandini, Richie Ginther and Gurney. That’s quite the roll of honour, and it’s one of the major reasons why James continues to love his BT7: “Dan drove it and led against some mighty competition”

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And the car itself? “It’s a lovely car,” James says, “and with that size engine it’s all about carrying speed, not over braking and just trying to be smooth and taking advantage of the road holding.”

“I hadn’t driven a treaded-tyre car since my Formula Ford days in the early ‘70s, so it took me a couple of races to reacquaint myself with the fact that I had to get it up on its tippy toes and slide it.”

“It’s very original. We just go through it and just try and make sure it’s setup as it should be. We haven’t done any development work on it. It’s really pretty much as it was.”

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2023 Goodwood Revival timetable

28th August 2023

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And his favourite part of his BT7? “The two collector exhausts up high at the back, the injection trumpets being exposed except for a rock screen on top. That is so evocative of car in that period, certainly the V8-engined cars.”

And that’s what we love so much about the Goodwood Revival, that so many of these historic racing cars come out to play exactly as they were 60 or 70 years ago. James agrees: “I got to experience the very first Revival and was absolutely blown away by the whole event.

“We’ve won here in 2008, we’ve led, we’ve broken down. We’ve often run in the top three or four, we don’t always finish, you know, something goes wrong.

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“You can trust most of the people you’re racing against, they’re pretty respectful of the fact that you’re all driving cars that have a good deal of providence and were driven by real heroes. You have to respect them. You don’t want to end up hurting the car.

“The circuit is one thing. I never raced on the circuit [in period] but I did test on the circuit in ’77. I was driving F3 for March in the BP series and we started going down there in the middle of the summer to do some testing.

“It’s a pretty special circuit it’s very challenging. Every corner in its own unique way is quite challenging. If somebody came to me and asked how best to tackle Madgwick, I’d say well this is my take, but don’t write all this down.

The 2023 Goodwood Revival is underway! You can watch all of the action right here on GRR on our live stream.

Photography by Joe Harding.

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