A driver of courage whose greatest achievement was mastering the fine art of paying the debt forward
Many of us could recall our own personal Damascene moment, one suspects, if prodded: that very first occasion when the light switched on. Innes Ireland certainly well remembered the spark that ignited his rather extraordinary motoring life, and related it often. He was ten years old, it was 1940, and he drifted into the garage of a septuagenarian family friend, to find therein the dear lady’s brace of genuine Red Label Bentleys. Which she was overjoyed to ‘share’, with much gusto and considerable velocity – and for Christmas she gave him Bentley Boy Tim Birkin’s seminal volume Full Throttle. He was, of course, hooked forever.
Innes nevertheless hardly became a teenage wunderkind. He was born Robert MacGregor Innes Ireland in 1930, in West Yorkshire, and his father was a Scottish veterinary surgeon who for quite some years assumed the son would follow his example.
Innes was 21 when he got his initial taste of motor sport, after finally securing his father’s blessing on a Rolls-Royce apprenticeship and leaving Scotland for London (the family had returned north just as war commenced). It was in a Bentley Drivers Club handicap race; the kindly senior Bentley owner had left him a Red Label that year in her will.
Then came his call-up for military service, including a harrowing stretch with the Paras in Suez, and a Bentley and ‘Royce garage business, more club racing in a Brooklands Riley, followed by a Lotus Eleven, all the while learning and building his reputation.
It was 1957, however, before he managed what he would have reckoned a full season of real competition, but it was a good one, driving for Team Lotus in European sports car meetings against the pros, and giving as good as he got. Or better. Suitably impressed, Chapman offered him a Formula 1 seat for ’59, alongside Graham Hill.