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

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.’

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