Monday, November 3, 2008
The motorsports community lost one of its great innovators and talents on February 6th this year with the passing of Tony Rolt. Though not a household name among speed enthusiasts, Tony's groundbreaking developments and involvement with various mechanical advancements during motor racing's golden era are very much still felt today. A talented driver, Tony competed both before and after WWII in a range of series and cars with good success and is known for running every year of the 24 hours of LeMans from 1949-1955. In 1953 he won the 24 hour race outright in a C-Type Jaguar. Aside from placing himself solidly in the history books as a world class driver ( he beat out 2nd place finisher Stirling Moss ), this achievement proved to the world once and for all, by out-braking the mighty Ferrari's throughout the race, that the Jaguar's newly developed disc brake system was the future... a design that Rolt strongly believed in. But perhaps his most daring and controversial idea was when, in 1960, he teamed with Fred Dixon and Harry Ferguson to develop a 4 wheel drive grand prix car for circuit racing in Formula One. The car was the Ferguson P99. Powered by a 1.5 litre Climax engine, the car would ultimately prove to be competitive in spite of a shaky start. It's first two races ended in DNF's, but with some continued sorting and a bit of luck from mother nature, the car would go on to make motorsports history. On a rain soaked track in 1961, Stirling Moss won the International Gold Cup at Oulton Park in the P99. Making it the only 4WD car to ever win a Formula One race and the last front engined car to do the same. Rolt would continue on with his 4WD developments as a Ferguson Research Ltd. engineer, helping to further the design for use in both racing and passenger vehicles. At the time of his death, Rolt was both the last living participant of the first ever World Championship Grand Prix ( The 1950 British Grand Prix at Silverstone ) and the last living pre-war elected member of the British Racing Drivers club.
So, today when you climb into your 4 wheel disc braked, 4 wheel drive SUV to run into town, think of Tony Rolt and smile at the thought of the punters who doubted his ideas.