MAR 15th 2016

Just How Scary Was Testing F1 Cars At Goodwood In The '70s?

Watkins Glen, New York State, United States. 6 October 1974. Mike Wilds. Ensign-Ford N174, retired, action. World Copyright: LAT Photographic. Ref: 74USA30.

‘Testing an F1 car at Goodwood in the 1970s was scary… but magic!’

So says Mike Wilds, a veteran British racer who’s been there, done that and won it over a career spanning half a century.

During a recent catch-up with the ever-genial and versatile Wilds, who’s come down to Goodwood to have a run in Mark Fowler’s Esso Ford Capri that he’ll race in the Gerry Marshall Trophy at next weekend’s 74th Members’ Meeting, we soon get onto the subject of Formula 1 and what it was like to hustle a Grand Prix car round the superfast, 2.4-mile Motor Circuit 40 years ago or more. Not least because the Capri wasn’t quite ready so Mike and I had a bit more time to reminisce!

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‘I was in my mid-20s, so I was fearless and desperate to get to F1. I’d test anything, anywhere!’ Wilds recalls.

Renowned as a winner in domestic and international single-seaters, from Formula 3 to Formula 1, and sportscars, particularly at Group C World Championship level, Wilds’s World Championship F1 career was shortlived, although that didn’t stop him testing at every available opportunity.

‘I only did three Grands Prix – one for Ensign at Watkins Glen at the end of ’74 and two for BRM in Argentina and Brazil in ’75 – but I loved driving the cars. Any excuse to be behind the wheel!

2004 Goodwood Festival Of Speed Press Day, Wednesday 24th March 2004. Mike Wilds leads the field. Action. World copyright: Gary Hawkins/LAT Ref: Digital image only.

‘Sitting on the grid at The Glen awaiting the start of my first GP, I could see my hero Ronnie Peterson three places ahead (he’d had a problem in qualifying!). It was a magical moment. And I’ve since driven his John Player Special Lotus 72E. Wow!

‘Anyway, back to Goodwood, I came here as a lad in the 1950s with my dad to watch. I never imagined I’d ever get to drive F1 cars round here. Well, I did, but you know what I mean…

‘I remember coming here on one occasion for a test with Surtees and Mike Hailwood in the early ’70s. Mike was living in a flat in Heston outside London at the time and I was not far away in Chiswick. Mike always had a good road car – a Citroen SM or a Jaguar E-type or something like that – and he gave me a lift down here. He was a big star and a great bloke.

Le Mans, France. 11th - 12th June 1988 Allan Grice/Mike Wilds/Win Percy, March 87G Nissan R88C, 14th position, action. World Copyright: Bill Murenbeeld/LAT Photographic ref: 88LM65

‘It was pouring with rain and Surtees’ South African team manager George Thornton said there was no point going out. We all sat around until Big John [Surtees] arrived and wanted to know what we we’re doing. “We need to be doing wet testing!” he barked.

‘After lunch, when it had dried out, we put slicks on and went out. The circuit was – is – incredibly quick, with teasing cambers and brows. In those days, it was pretty bumpy, too. Lapping quickly round here was scary, but magic. I didn’t think about safety. It was not a concern. I was desperate to make it, as I say. Looking back, there was a humble Land Rover fire truck that looked like it hadn’t been started in years. You just put that to the back of your mind and got on with it.

‘The Surtees was undriveable that afternoon, really horrid, with wild oversteer everywhere. I came in to tell them but John didn’t believe me and jumped in in his jeans for a go! He was soon back in to tell me he knew what I meant. Turned out that the rear of the car was still on wet settings, while the front had been tweaked for the dry. Lethal!

Watkins Glen, New York State, United States. 6 October 1974. Mike Wilds.  Ensign-Ford N174, retired, action.  World Copyright: LAT Photographic. Ref:  74USA30.

‘Charging round here in an F1 car is something I’ll never forget and I’m thrilled to be back here for the Members’ Meeting. I’ve done hundreds of laps here in testing, as an instructor and on corporate days, but I’ve never raced here. I think the last time I drove a proper competition car here was testing Adrian Yates-Smith’s Porsche 911 that we shared with Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams in the Silverstone 6 Hours in 1980.

‘I’m 70 now, but I can’t wait to get out there in the Capri and show a few of these youngsters a thing or two!’

And we’re delighted to have you back at Goodwood, Mike.

Photography courtesy of LAT

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