Twenty Questions with Sportscar Racing Legend Brian Redman
Image: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch thanks to the Brian Redman Collection
Brian Redman is a legend of motorsport, with a multi-disciplinary talent that he put to work through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s winning in World Sportscar Championship, IMSA GT and Formula 5000, as well as enjoying some very promising outings in Formula 1.
And he hasn’t slowed down one bit! Today he races the cars he helped make history with and is actively involved in historic motorsport around the world. He races with the HSR (Historic Sportscar Racing), and has since it was formed, and is working on the Advisory Board for the HSR Classic 24 Hour at Daytona International Speedway.
Have you ever searched yourself on Youtube? (If so, what’s the best clip?)
Not really…. I looked at Laguna Seca in Porsche 908/03. Road America in 1985 I think, driving Jaguar XJR 5 battling with Bill Whittington in March Chevvy.
What was your most satisfying race, whether you won or not?
Ha! So many… F5000 Laguna Seca, 1st, James Hunt and Mario 2nd and 3rd. Spa-Francorchamps 2 Litre Championship race in 1970, I took the lead on the last corner of the last lap in my Chevron B16/S. Chevron won the Championship by 1 point over Lola.
Mario Andretti – A Fierce Rival in Formula 5000 / Image: The Cahier Archive
Who was your fiercest rival and why?
Probably Mario Andretti for 1974/75 in the U.S. F5000 series. Mario is a great driver and had a great team, also his was the only car on Firestone tyres, which gave some advantage, at least in qualifying.
Porsche’s 908 was a favourite – ’69 Nurburgring 1000k / Image: The Brian Redman Collection
Which car you’ve driven is your favourite?
Lola T332C F5000. Chevron B19, Porsche 908/03, BMW CSL, Ferrari 312 PB.
Jim Clark – Hero / Image: The Cahier Archive
Who is the greatest driver of all time?
My hero was Jim Clark, who I raced against in F2 and a bit in F1
What was your closest shave or “holy shit”moment?
I was extremely lucky to survive three bad accidents:
1. Belgian GP Spa-Francorchamps 1968.
Redman’s close call at Spa in 1968 / Image: The Brian Redman Collection
Almost lost my arm and it was only due to the skill of Prof.F. Orban of the University of Liege Teaching Hospital that I didn’t. Prof. Orban was a Winston Churchill aide in World War 2.
2. Porsche 908/03 crash following steering failure on the Targa Florio in 1971.
Fuel tank burst and I was soaked in fuel, burning from head to toe and blind from the fire. The only thing left from the car was the crankshaft, sitting in a hole in the road.
3. First day of practice for the “new” single seater Can-Am series in 1977, at St.Jovite, Canada – F5000 cars fitted with bodywork so that the SCCA could promote the series as “Can-Am” which they felt had better spectator appeal.
I came in the pits and Jim Hall asked how the car was, I replied “good” when asked if I wanted to make any changes, I replied: “take ¼” off the front wing”. On the next lap, at 160 mph, it took off at the top of the straight, went 40 feet in the air and turned over.
I landed upside down, breaking my neck (C1), sternum, shoulder and two ribs. My heart stopped. The ambulance blew a tyre on the way to hospital and when my wife, Marion, arrived from England the next day, there was a photograph on the front page showing the two ambulance attendants working on the wheel and me in the back. The headline was: “Redman est Mort”.
We agree – Gulf orange/blue IS a superb livery / Image: The Brian Redman Collection
What is your favourite racing livery or logo?
The John Wyer Gulf orange/blue was a superb livery.
Which driver, dead or alive would you most like to have dinner with?
Who was the best driver you saw, who didn’t’t make it to the big time?
Perhaps Barry “Whizzo” Williams.
Despite leading four times, the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall wasn’t to be for Redman / Image: The Brian Redman Collection
What was your biggest disappointment in racing?
That’s easy – in spite of leading four times – Le Mans!!
Stirling Moss won the British Grand Prix at Aintree in 1955 / Image: The Cahier Archive
What was the first race you saw in person, and how old were you?
The British Grand Prix at Aintree in 1955.
Moss won, Fangio 2nd. I was 18.
Is there an event you would still like to race in?
The Mille Miglia.
What was it about sportscar racing that drew you there over Formula 1?
It didn’t, it was F5000 over F1. The money was the same, I thought I’d be better off finishing at the top of the F5000 tree than in the middle of the field in F1.
What’s been the best post-race party?
In 1970 Jo Siffert and I won the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 Ks.
In practice Jo had a tire come of the rim of a front wheel on the Masta Straight. I had the left rear come off, at 180 mph at the entry to Blanchimont. Sleepless night Saturday, win the race Sunday – at that time, the fastest road race ever run at an average, including pit stops, of over 149 mph.
After enduring hours of officials thanking themselves at the post-race prize giving, it finally finished at 10:30 pm. My wife and small son were there and when Jo suggested “a drink with the mechanics” I agreed and when asked what time we would be back, replied: “midnight”. We arrive back at 4 am, somewhat the worse for wear, spin turns in the gravel forecourt and crawling on hands and knees did not endear us to either the hotel management or my personal manager. Much noise and fuss ensued with the manager. Porsche were banned from the hotel.
Redman in the 1971 Targa Florio / Image: The Cahier Archive
You crashed out of your opening lap in the 1971 Targa Florio after being chosen as the starting driver to keep Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodríguez out of trouble. Tell us the story.
At the end of 1970 I retired – thinking I was going to be killed – to a job in Johannesburg. I realised that it was big mistake and came back to Europe four months later!
Derek Bell took my place in the John Wyer Gulf Porsche team. He had never done the Targa and I’d won it the year before with Siffert. John rang to ask if I’d do the Targa, and it looked like a great opportunity to get back into the big time.
The day before the race, in practice, Jo crashed the car. It was repaired overnight. On race morning Wyer said he wanted me to start the race as: “I don’t want Siffert and Rodriguez banging into each other.” The handling of the 908/03 was not normal from the start, 20 miles round the 44 mile circuit, the steering broke and I had the very bad crash described earlier. No medical attention for 45 minutes, taken to an unknown hospital. At 11 that night, Pedro Rodriguez and Richard Attwood came looking for me and took me back to the hotel.
The next day, Gulf and Porsche rented a jet out of Geneva and I was flown back to Manchester for treatment. Whilst recovering, both Pedro and Jo were killed in separate accidents involving fire.
Image: The Brian Redman Collection
You raced across three decades – how do you feel the sport changed through that time, and what was it that kept drawing you coming back each season?
During my main time, from 1959 through 1989, there were of course, many changes, especially the advent of ground-effect. Also, the hugely increased safety of the cars, the fuel systems and the tracks themselves.
In 1966 at Spa-Francorchamps there were no barriers. You knew that if something went wrong, there was a good chance you would be history. The Nurburgring in 1968, my first time there, in a GT 40. 12 times a lap leaping in the air. No barriers. As car owner Peter Sutcliffe said: “Brian, I want you to remember two things, the first is, this is my car, the second, you’ve seen all the little bushes round the track? Just remember, that underneath them is 100 feet of trunk”! I kept coming back, because it was the only way I knew to earn a living. Otherwise, used car salesman!
How do you prepare mentally when you’re sitting on the start line at the Nürburgring and you know you have a thousand racing kilometres on one of the most dangerous tracks in the world ahead of you?
Each night before the race I would think only of the track, going through it my mind until falling asleep. To me, Spa-Francorchamps was more difficult than the Nurburgring it was the sheer speed of mile after mile in top gear going through tremendously fast, but not “flat” corners… approaching the Masta Kink at 214 in the 917K, through Stavelot at 170. The 917K was much faster than the F1 cars at that time.
I won at Spa 5 times and at the Nurburgring 3.
Jo Siffert in the 1970 Targa Florio / Image: The Cahier Archive
Your list of teammates is illustrious and we’re sure you shared many great adventures with them. Could you share one that pops to mind?
The one I related with Jo Siffert at Spa! There was a lot more to it… locked out of the bedroom, stark naked and dripping wet!
You raced many cars with many great teams through one of sports-car racing’s most exciting and innovative periods. Who do you feel pushed the boundaries in the most interesting ways?
I don’t think there’s any question that Ferdinand Piëch’s decision to go ahead and build 25 x 917s in 1968/69 was a hugely brave gamble. That the car was turned from a pig of a car to what it became the best long-distance racing car in the world, was also a huge achievement.
Porsche 908, 917, 935 or 962?
As time goes by in the racing world, cars improve, so no question that the 962 was an amazing car.
Would you still be interested in racing with today’s rules, regulations and atmosphere?
Probably! If you want to race, you want to race, no matter what in.
Daniel Ricciardo – the most exciting driver racing today / Image: The Cahier Archive
Who’s the most exciting driver racing today?
Daniel Ricciardo I think!
What do you think of the historic motor racing scene?
Very strong all over the world, with so many events, especially Goodwood, Le Mans, Monaco, the Nurburgring, Silverstone, Laguna Seca, leading to huge increase in the value of the cars.
What’s the most important thing we (the community in general) can do to support and promote historic motorsport?
Well, that’s a leading question! As discussed earlier, historic motors sport is already very strong and growing. More publicity.
What’s the best value fun-per-dollar car you can take racing in histories today?
Lotus Super 7 at under $40,000 U.S. is probably as good as anything!
Personally, I’d buy a Mini-Cooper 1275s in racing trim. Geat fun!
We’d like to send out an immense ‘THANK YOU!’ to Brian Redman and his son James taking the time to chat with us and making this story possible.
Images thanks to the Brian Redman Collection and The Cahier Archive