8 December 2018

Fascinating F1 Facts: 10

If you have a motor racing quiz and ask who won the first race in a Williams Formula 1 car, most people will get it wrong. They will tell you that it was Silverstone in 1979 when the Swiss driver Clay Regazzoni inherited the lead of the British GP when his team-mate Alan Jones retired from the lead after a water pump seal failed and his engine overheated.  This is incorrect. The first Williams F1 winner was a friend of Jones's by the name of Brian McGuire, an Australian who took a Kelly Girl-sponsored Williams FW04 to victory in a Shellsport International Series race at Thruxton in the autumn of 1976. It was quite an achievement as the Formula Libre race, which included F1, Formula 5000 and Formula 2 machinery, driven by some pretty well-known drivers, also took place in the wet.

The FW04 had been designed for the previous season by Ray Stokoe, a former McLaren designer who had worked with Gordon Coppuck on the McLaren M23 Formula 1 car and various other cars, who had then worked for JW Automotive on Gulf Porsche sports cars. It was an evolution of John Clarke's Iso-Marlboros from 1973 and 1974 and its best result in Formula 1 was at the German GP where Jacques Laffite managed to finish second.

You may read in places that McGuire was a successful motor trader in Melbourne before he headed to Europe in 1966, but the was only 20 so there was not much time to have built an empire at home. In England he hooked up with Jonesy, a year younger, and they shared a flat in Earls Court, known as the time as Kangaroo Valley because of the large number of Australians living there. It was struggle but the two began to raise money to go racing by buying and selling VW camper vans to new arrivals, parking the vans on the Earls Court Road and sticking a For Sale sign in the window. This allowed them to buy a Merlyn Formula Ford car with which Brian won his first race at Lydden Hill in 1969. The car was then destroyed in an accident. Jones went back to Australia but returned in 1970 and their second-hand camper van business allowed them to buy a Formula 3 Lotus. Jones wrote this off in a crash at Brands Hatch and broke his leg. But, in 1971, they teamed up with New Zealander Alan McCully, under the fancy name of the Australian International Racing Organisation, and Jones began to make progress. They had no money, but the presentation was impressive.

McGuire decided to stop racing for a while after that, to concentrate on building up a camper van business on Windmill Road in the west London suburb of Brentford. He returned to racing two years later, buying a Trojan T101 Formula 5000 car from Hexagon of Highgate. This was prepared for the Rothmans Formula 5000 Series by Jim Gleave's Motor Racing Enterprises in Bourne End, near Marlow. The car was not very competitive and so McGuire replaced it with a new Lola T332. For 1975 he bought a similar car, which had won the title with Bob Evans the previous year, and became a consistent frontrunner after that.

Although he raced only for fun, McGuire was still ambitious and in 1976 bought the two Williams FW04s for the new ShellSport British Group Eight Championship, a Formula Libre series that allowed Formula 1, F2 and F5000 machinery to compete together. He tried to enter one of the cars for the British Grand Prix but his entry was refused. In September he found some sponsorship from the temp agency Kelly Girl and the car was painted up in a green livery and he promptly beat all comers in the wet at Thruxton. The rest of that season was disappointing but over the winter McGuire set about modifying the cars, renamed them McGuires and went into action again in 1977. This time the entry for the British GP was accepted. The problem was that there were 36 cars entered and so a system of pre-qualifying was devised, making 14 cars pre-qualify but only eight of them going through. McGuire did not make the cut. A month later in the wet in Austria Jones won his first Grand Prix, much to the delight of his friends and fans.

At the end of that same month McGuire took part in the August Bank Holiday Monday meeting at Brands Hatch. The Windmill Motor Caravans car went out of control during the morning warm-up session and crashed at Stirlings, the fast left-hander which leads back to the stadium area. It hit the wall hard and flipped, knocking down three marshals who were standing on an earth bank nearby. McGuire was killed instantly, one of the marshals, John Thorpe, died in hospital later that day, while a second Barrie Hopkirk was seriously injured.

The crash was blamed on a brake pedal assembly failure.

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