JAN 27th 2016

GRR Meets... Brian Redman – 'The Group 5 Cars Were Just So fast!'

1970 Watkins Glen 6 Hours. Watkins Glen. USA. 11th July 1970. Jo Siffert/Brian Redman, Porsche 917K, 2nd position,battles with the Mario Andretti/Ignazio Giunti, Ferrari 512S Spyder, 3rd position, action. World Copyright: LAT Photographic

Often dubbed affectionately as the greatest living Lancastrian, Brian Redman raced pretty much anything anywhere from the start of the 1960s – and is still competing in historic events, aged 78. As far as single-seaters go, his staggering CV includes a Formula 1 World Championship podium finish – from 12 Grand Prix starts for Cooper, Surtees, McLaren, BRM and Shadow – in the 1968 Spanish GP at Jarama in the Maserati V12-engined Cooper T81B, three consecutive US Formula 5000 titles and eight race wins in the European equivalent.

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But it’s his record in sportscar racing that has helped mark out Redman as one of Britain’s finest – and most successful – all-rounders.

Between 1968 and 1981 he won 17 rounds of the World Sportscar Championship for Ford, Porsche and Ferrari, some of which included three Daytona 24 Hours victories and two Sebring 12 Hours wins, as well as landing the US IMSA title in ’81.

Trusted and respected, he was one of the very first drivers to race Porsche’s early and unloved 917 prototype. Here, he takes up the story.

‘I raced the Porsche 917, the Ferrari, the Alfa Romeo and the Ford GT40, so for me the end of the 1960s and the early ’70s were busy years, and these were some of the greatest sportscars. We didn’t see it that way at the time; it was just another race to try and win, but looking back it was certainly a golden period for sportscar racing. The cars were just so fast, and there was all the factory participation, the Ferraris and the Porsches, and it was just a fantastic spectacle.

‘The Ferrari 512, when it appeared as a new car, was actually better than the Porsche 917 when that first came out in ’69. As was often the case with Ferrari, however, they were concentrating more on their Formula 1 effort than the sportscars, so the 512 was not as important to them as the 917 was to Porsche. In a sense the Ferrari went backwards, but it didn’t have the development that Ferdinand Piech and Porsche put into the 917 – it was their drive, and their will to win, that made the 917 the car it became in 1970 and ’71. Before that they were terrible cars; going down the Mulsanne at Le Mans at 220 mph it would weave from one side of the road to the other, which was really quite alarming.

1970 Le Mans 24 Hours. Le Mans, France. 13 - 14 June 1970. Jo Siffert/Brian Redman (Porsche 917K), retired, leads Vic Elford/Kurt Ahrens (Porsche 917L), retired, and Pedro Rodriguez/Leo Kinnunen (Porsche 917K), retired, action. World Copyright: LAT Photographic. Ref:  12791B - 10.

‘When John Wyer took over the running of the Porsche team in 1970 we went testing at the Osterreichring, but nothing we did to the car seemed to make any difference. Then, towards the end of the day, Wyer’s chief engineer John Horsmann noticed that there were dead insects all over the front of the car but no more until the very tip of the tail… So they made a new short tail which made it look like a pick-up truck, and suddenly we were four seconds faster. Now we had a race car, and with some new Firestone tyres and other small changes, we were five seconds a lap faster. It was just incredible.

‘We won the first race, at Daytona in 1970, but Jo Siffert and I had constant problems with our car: a burst tyre damaged the oil cooler, a rear shock absorber broke, then a fuel leak, and then the clutch went. During all these delays team manager David Yorke asked me to take over from Leo Kinnunen in the leading car with Pedro Rodriguez because Leo didn’t speak English and they couldn’t make him understand the pace they wanted to run. So we won, and Jo (Siffert) came in second.

‘Jo and I won again on the Targa Florio, this time in the 908/3 because the 917 was absolutely not the car for the Targa. We were up against Vaccarella and Giunti in the Ferrari 512 and they were doing a fantastic job in this huge truck of a car on those twisty Sicilian roads. Three times I tried to pass Vaccarella, and three times he tried to push me off the road! The 512 was faster than us on the long straights, but we passed him by doing much faster pit stops. The 908/3 was like a go-kart, so neat and nimble, but when I first saw it in Stuttgart at Christmas 1969 I saw that my feet would be in front of the front wheels – just an oil cooler between me and an accident. I told the engineers I thought it would be the perfect car for Douglas Bader… But it was such a nice racing car and I still race one today in historic races.

‘We won again at Spa, the old Spa of course, which was such a fast circuit. Jacky Ickx said he thought the Nurburgring was the most difficult and dangerous circuit but I always thought Spa was more difficult. There were less corners but the speed in the corners was just so great, much faster than in a Formula 1 car. In the 917, coming into the Masta Kink, we were doing 214 mph and at Stavelot, taken in top gear, we were doing 170mph through there. In practice in 1970 Jo was having tyre failures, and when my turn in the car came we thought we’d sorted it, but on my fourth lap the tyre came off the rim at 180mph at the blind right-hander after Stavelot. The car was sideways, then fishtailing, and I lost the feeling of where the front wheels were pointing, but I’d read that if you let go of the steering wheel the Ackermann action of the front geometry would straighten it, and it did. I got it back to the pits and Jo said my face was the colour of my overalls. They were white. Anyway, the next day we won the race, the fastest road race ever, at an average of 149 mph…

Le Mans, France. 13 - 14 June 1970. Jo Siffert/Brian Redman (Porsche 917K), retired, action.  World Copyright: LAT Photographic Ref: 70LM15

‘So, it certainly was a golden period for sports cars, yes, and it will be great for the fans to see them at Goodwood. I’m now in my 56th year of racing and I will be back at the Festival of Speed this summer.’

The 74th Members’ Meeeting will feature daily demonstrations of a staggering horde of Group 5 sports-racers from a highly evocative period of the International Championship of Makes – the World Sportscar Championship by any other name. The years 1969-1971 produced incredible battles between the fastest and most beautiful, purpose-built endurance weapons ever seen, including Porsche’s flat-12 917, Ferrari’s V12 512S – and later 512M – and British brawn in the shape of the V8-engined Lola T70 Mk3B.

Interview by Rob Widdows, photography courtesy of LAT

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