It was the summer of 1955 when Brooks made the stunning start to his Formula One career. Still studying for his dental exams, he was invited by the Connaught directors to drive their car in the Syracuse GP in Sicily. Although a non- championship race, it still featured the works Maseratis who were expected to win. When Tony got there his car hadn’t arrived and with little single-seater experience he had to learn the car and circuit during practice. He added some laps on a Vespa to further learn the track. To his great surprise he won the race, the first GP win by a British driver in a British car since Segrave in 1924. After the race all he wanted to do was to return to his hotel and have a shower but the excited Italian crowd were overwhelming and in the melee Tony lost a temporary crown on one of his teeth. When he got home the offers flooded in and he eventually chose to race with BRM in 1956.

It was at this stage in the evening that Tony explained his golden rule, which was that he never drove a car that wasn’t 100 per cent fit to race. Whilst he accepted that motor racing was very dangerous and there were certain circum- stances that one couldn’t control (such as oil on the circuit) the fitness of the car he could. Additionally Tony drove to the absolute limit of his ability but never beyond. He broke his rule twice, and on both occasions he suffered consequences. The first occasion was in the BRM at Silverstone. After problems with a sticking throttle early in the race Tony had pitted and the car was supposedly repaired. Unfortunately it was to fail again on the entry into Stowe corner causing a spin, the car turned over throwing Brooks out and finally doing the decent thing, setting itself on fire! The second occasion was at the 1957 Le Mans 24 hours. When Brooks took over the Aston Martin from Noel Cunningham-Reid in the early hours, it was running in second place but was stuck in fourth gear. Tony thought he could free the gear lever (as he had done on a previous occasion). He got caught out by not looking at the road ahead, resulting in the car turning over on the exit to Tertre Rouge corner with Tony trapped nderneath. Fearing the worst he was lucky that an Italian driver just clipped the corner of the Aston, moving it sufficiently for Tony to escape.

In 1957 Tony started driving for Vanwall and he was to be the joint winner with Stirling Moss


of the British GP at Aintree. Still suffering from his Le Mans injuries, Tony was lucky to be allowed to race and when Stirling’s car hit problems Brooks handed his car over to him.

1958 was to see that triple crown of GP victories but failures elsewhere meant that Hawthorn won the championship. The German GP was the best of Brooks’s wins that season as he chased down a deficit of over 20 seconds to the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins. At some stage Collins dropped out and only after the race had finished did Tony learn that his compatriot had suffered a fatal accident. That year three drivers died, including Vanwall team-mate Stuart Lewis-Evans. When Vanwall withdrew for the 1959 season,

Tony moved to Ferrari, winning the German GP at the difficult AVUS circuit with its terrifying banked corners – the curvature and angle of the banking were not in alignment. Frenchman Jean Behra was killed the day before in a rainy sports car race. Tony found that the Ferrari team was not as tightly run as Vanwall but this was made up for by their enthusiasm. Unfortunately, at Monza, the mechanics changed the clutch after practice (the problem was the brakes) and the car lasted 100 yards before the clutch failed. At the last GP of the season Brooks had a chance at the title – only to be rear-ended by team-mate Wolfgang von Tripps. Tony stuck to his rule, pitting to check the car and losing the championship as a consequence.

An hour and a quarter had passed very quickly.

Tony Brooks had enthralled the sell-out audience with responses that were full and considered. There was so much more to talk about and hopefully Tony can be persuaded to return and tell us the rest of his racing story.

Gareth Tarr

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