Hopkirk: single-seater racing ‘one of my biggest mistakes’

Recently appointed BRDC chairman Paddy recalls his bold decision to turn down Ken Tyrrell – and his scary debut racing in Formula Junior

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Paddy Hopkirk is internationally renowned as one of the most famous rally drivers of all time. And while the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally winner is less well known as a racing driver, in his formative years he briefly tried his hand in Formula Junior single-seaters.

Recently joining the 60th anniversary celebrations for the category at Autosport International, he recalled his handful of Formula Junior races in 1960 and 1961: ‘By ’61 I was already rallying, but I wanted to try racing, and so I had a run at Brands Hatch. Yet it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I was better at rallying than racing.’

He continued: ‘I raced in Formula Junior in 1960 and 1961, but I was only on the fringes. I drove a Lotus 18, and I was stupid enough to buy an Elva 200. I used to borrow the Lotus from a friend of mine called Charlie Eyre-Maunsell, to race on the street circuit at Dunboyne in Ireland.

‘I thought I might take up this motor-racing business, and Ken Tyrrell was there. So I led into the first corner at Dunboyne, and suddenly I had wheels in my cockpit from Peter Procter and someone else. I thought it was very rude and very dangerous!’

Hopkirk went on: ‘I made a Horlicks of it after that, and didn’t win the race. But Ken Tyrrell asked me if I would drive for him and I said: “No, it’s much too dangerous.” So I’m probably one of the few people who turned down a drive with Ken Tyrrell. But I’m still alive, so it was the right decision. However, I did race for Ken in Minis, as I liked racing saloon cars with some bodywork around me.

‘I did about half a dozen Formula Junior races, and raced the Elva at Kirkistown and Phoenix Park as well as Dunboyne. I also did some hillclimbs in it. But I only raced in Formula Junior back home in Ireland, and I never raced open-wheelers in England.

‘The Elva was a very difficult car to drive: well, I couldn’t drive it, anyway. The Lotus was much better. I bought the Elva first and raced it in the summer of 1961, and then I borrowed the Lotus for three races the following summer. At the start of 1962 I finished third on the Monte Carlo Rally in a Sunbeam Rapier.’

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