INNES IRELAND WAS ONE OF THE LAST of the great characters of motor racing, after he gave up racing in 1966 the amount of sponsorship money hanging on race results precluded any of the all-night pre-race parties and escapades in which Ireland often indulged.
Although he was a professional racing driver, his approach was that of a gentleman amateur to whom the sport was simply a well paid means of assisting him to enjoy life. Born Robert McGregor Innes Ireland at Kirkcudbright, Scotland, in 1930, he was the son of a veterinary surgeon who attempted to give him a good education.
Apprentice to the Rolls-Royce Aero-Engine Division in Glasgow
However, Innes was more interested in sport and motor cycles, so his father bowed to the inevitable and apprenticed him to the Rolls-Royce aero-engine division in Glasgow. His engineering talent was obvious, but he went to great lengths to hide this by becoming involved in various pranks and other anti-establishment activities.
His departure from Glasgow was precipitated when he managed to blow up an expensive aircraft engine during power tests, so he was switched to the car division in London. In London, he met various people interested in motor racing, and before long, he was working on vintage cars, which naturally introduced him to the race track.
His first race, at Boreham in 1952, was in a 4½-litre Bentley but before his racing career could develop any further he was called up for military service, joining the Parachute Regiment, where he was commissioned as an officer. On his discharge from the Army, he went into partnership in a garage business and soon got back into racing with a pre-war Riley, with which he scored several wins and good placings.
Racing the Lotus II
He really began to come to public notice when he acquired a Lotus II for the 1957 season. He picked up several wins with the car, principally at Goodwood, finally winning the Brooklands Memorial Trophy as a result of his success in club racing at Goodwood in 1957. Already, he was developing a reputation as a 'hairy' driver, for his Lotus spun quite regularly on its way to victory. By now, his rather long name had been shortened by race reporters and public alike to Innes Ireland, and that is the way it remained.
In 1958, he drove both his own Lotus and those of other entrants in a large number of races, winning the 3-hour Circuit of Auvergne race in France as well as a number of other minor events. By 1959, he had been invited to join Team Lotus as a works driver both in Formula One and sports cars, although he also drove an Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar at Le Mans. In Formula One, he was number two to Graham Hill
, but the front-engined car he drove was not very competitive and his only result all season was a fourth place at the Dutch Grand Prix. However, he picked up several wins in the 1½-litre Lotus sports car.
The UDT-Laystall Lotus chases car number #8, racing in the 1962 Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps.
Ireland stayed with Lotus in 1960 when they produced the new rear-engined Mk18 F1 car. With it, he won the Glover Trophy at Goodwood and the International Trophy at Silverstone but, in Grand Prix
races, he was less fortunate because the car often broke down, and his only places of note were second in the Dutch and US Grand Prixs. In the F2 Lotus, he won the Lavant Cup at Goodwood and the Oulton Park Trophy race. Staying with Lotus in 1961, Ireland had another poor year, partly because of a crash in the Monaco Grand Prix
when he changed into the wrong gear in the famous tunnel, receiving serious leg injuries.
However, he came back to top form later in the year, winning a furious battle for the Solitude GP in Germany, following up with the non-Championship F1 race at Zeltweg in Austria, and then, in October, he won the United States Grand Prix; not only was it his first, and only, Championship win, but it was also the first Championship win for Lotus. Ireland upset Lotus Cars boss Colin Chapman
and the team sponsors by giving up his car to Stirling Moss of the rival Rob Walker team at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix. This led to him being arbitrarily sacked at the end of the 1961 season.
Joining the UDT-Laystall team
Lotus replaced Ireland with Jim Clark
, a decision which still rankled him years after. He joined the private UDT-Laystall team which ran Lotus-BRM
s but, from then on, he was equipped with out of date machinery and, although he drove particularly hard in 1962, his only major win was in the London GP at Crystal Palace. He had more luck in the team's Lotus 19 sports car with which he won the Nassau Trophy in the Bahamas and a whole string of British sports-car races. He also won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood in a Ferrari 250GTO.
The UDT team was renamed BRP for 1963, and Ireland stayed with them, winning the Glover Trophy at Goodwood, in their Lotus-BRM
. When he switched to their new BRP-BRM
car, he was often fast, but the car seldom lasted the distance. However, he was put out of racing for a long while when he crashed a Lotus-Ferrari in America; he received multiple injuries, including a very badly smashed hip. He returned to racing in 1964 with the BRP once more, winning the Daily Mirror Trophy at Snetterton, but, in Grand Prix
races, he either crashed or retired in most events.
All Arms and Elbows
By now, he was unable to command a place in a works team and, in 1965, he drove a rather uncompetitive Lotus-BRM
for the Parnell team which brought him no success at all. In 1966, he raced only spasmodically, taking in the last two races of the season in Bernard White's old 2-litre BRM
. His last race was the Mexican Grand Prix
of that year. Ireland retired from the sport soon afterwards to take up farming, but he later became a F! sports writer for British auto magazines and the American Road and Track magazine. He also wrote an amusing autobiography called All Arms and Elbows and, later on, he returned to competition in such events as the London to Sydney Marathon
, about which he also wrote a book.