Sunday, January 03, 2010

Freno Bene Si!

Innes Ireland, works Ferrari driver, it's something you read occasionally, usually when someone has a car or piece of memorabilia to sell. Yes, Innes did once race a Formula One Ferrari 156, nominally for the British Racing Partnership but in reality for the works, and yes, he did drive the legendary 250GTO to victory in the Tourist Trophy. Yet works driver is stretching a point. Perhaps if the fuel contracts could have been sorted out in 1962 he would have joined the Maranello team, but it is as a Lotus driver and, given his long association with the company as Consultant Engineer, as an Aston Martin man that Innes is more properly remembered.

Of course Innes was a student of motor racing history and also a romantic, so it is little wonder that he could declare that "the ambition of any racing driver worth his salt was to drive for Scuderia Ferrari". And although he never really achieved that lofty aim, his relationship with the Modenese stable is certainly worth recalling.

1962 was the year that Enzo Ferrari was so desperate to secure Stirling Moss's services that he agreed to enter a car for the Rob Walker team in the Formula One World Championship. A car, by the way, which was to race in Scottish racing blue rather than Italian red. As part of the deal Stirling would also drive Ferrari sports cars for the UDT-Laystall team and in this Innes Ireland was to be his co-pilot. Innes, for whom Stirling was always a hero, looked forward to the partnership with relish.

A February outing in the UDT-Laystall 250SWB (2735GT) in the Daytona Three Hour race, had seen Innes retiring after 59 laps with brake problems. Then came the first drive with Moss, the Sebring 12 Hour race, where they shared a 250 Testa Rossa (TR/61) entered by local Ferrari dealer Chinetti's North American Racing Team. Stirling has described the NART pit work at this meeting as chaotic and the car was disqualified for refuelling too early. The long delayed disqualification robbed Innes and Moss of victory, they were leading by two laps when they were eventually black-flagged. That was to be Stirling's last endurance sports car race, for he would soon suffer his career ending Goodwood crash. It was to this fateful Sussex meeting that Innes had driven up from Modena, in the new pale green UDT 250GTO (3505GT). The car in which he and Moss were due to attack the coming season. A journey that Innes has described as the most memorable drive of his life.

The Goodwood crash put paid to Moss's Ferrari plans and also the promising partnership with Ireland. A Sharknose 156 did turn-up at the Silverstone International Trophy meeting complete with Scuderia mechanics and technicians for Innes to drive, a tribute to Moss it was said at the time. Innes found a car with a superb gearbox, a V6 engine that no longer matched the power of the V8 Climax and poor handling that the Scot put down to the flexing of the spoked Borrani wheels. Fourth place was a good result for a machine that could no longer compete with the green cars.

Innes carried on without Moss in car 3505, retiring after fifteen hours at Le Mans while in seventh place and ending the European season with a memorable victory in the Tourist Trophy, a race that was won with a chassis still bent from a practice crash.

That winter Innes drove another 250GTO, the Texan Rosebud team's 3589GT in the Nassau races, a third place in the Nassau TT being soon overshadowed by his victory in the Governor's Trophy race in Rosebud's Lotus19. Innes continued to drive the Rosebud Ferrari in 1963, an early crash at Daytona being followed by a sixth place (third in Class) at Sebring with Ritchie Ginther as co-pilot. An experiment with a Ferrari engine in Rosebud's Lotus 19 nearly put paid to Innes that Fall. The Scot crashing into a marshall's car which had been foolishly parked in an escape road during practice for the NW Pacific GP in Seattle.

A long and no doubt painful recovery saw Innes back for the 1964 season, where he drove Ferraris for Colonel Ronnie Hoare's Maranello Concessionaires team. Let Innes describe that first outing at the Nurburgring for the Colonel's equipe:

"I tore out of the pits in a crescendo of noise and spinning wheels, glancing briefly over my shoulder. Up through the gears and away, for the first time at the 'Ring I felt free and confident as I chased after the leaders.

Although the 330P was more of a handful, more skitterish, more sensitive and more unforgiving than the 250GTO, it was also faster, more urgent in its voice, more challenging and even more exciting. But still it gave a wonderful feeling of security, that it wouldn't suddenly do anything nasty.

We fairly flew through the twists and turns, a touch of the brakes here and there, a flick of the steering wheel to point her at the apex of the next corner, then lots of throttle and a touch of opposite as we screeched past the earth bankings and trees as one, clipping them as if they didn't exist. Oh, the total joy and exhilaration of such moments, for they happen but seldom. The Foxhole held none of the usual terrors as we hurtled steeply downhill through its curves, foot hard down, flat out in fifth. The Flugplatz was an exciting anticipation of the moment of landing when a flick of the wheel took her round the following right-hander on full song without going anywhere near the brake pedal, Control and rhythm seemed to be absolute as we swallowed up the gap on those in front, that wonderful V12 engine willingly and happily revving its heart out on the long straight, the exhaust note bliss in my ears. Still we closed passing first one, then the leader and we were out in front. And still the rhythm flowed; we pulled away and left them behind and it was almost as if they weren't there at all. There was only that magical Ferrari and me living out a dream just for our own enjoyment. We sang in the wind and nothing could touch us."

Like his career, Innes's occasional Ferrari drives finally petered out, a sixth place at Le Mans in 1964, a sixth place in the 1965 Monza 1000KM race, and finally, an outing at Daytona in 1966 in the Drummond Racing Organisation's 250LM.

Who knows how Innes's career might have turned out if the petrol contracts had allowed him to join the Scuderia in 1962 as some had hoped. Enzo Ferrari would surely have approved of Innes's tigerish driving, but would Innes have found fulfillment in Modena's political arena. In any case it wasn't to be. Oh and the title of this piece? The words spoken by Enzo Ferrari after he jumped on the brakes at 125 MPH on the occasion in 1962 when he took an ashen-faced Innes out for a spin in a little baby prototype, the distant forefather of the Dino 246.

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