John Surtees, at the age of 80, was rightly honoured at the Donington Historic Festival recently, writes Mick Herring, and it was fitting to see the genuine warmth and esteem with which people, of a certain age, still feel for John.
A steady stream of people asking him to sign pictures, prints, programmes (yes, I got mine signed) and biographies.
Always renowned as one of the best test and development engineers of his time, Surtees had to ask the permission of Enzo Ferrari to test the prototype Lola T70 Can-Am Spyder that he would demonstrate here at Donington. This followed a call from the Lola’s designer Eric Broadley and as it did not conflict with any Ferrari programmes, Enzo gave his permission.
Following recovery from his near-fatal 1965 practice accident at Mosport Park, Canada in a T70 Surtees went on to win the inaugural Can-Am championship for Lola and Team Surtees and would, today, wear the same pair of racing overalls that he wore during his championship winning year in 1966.
Sitting relaxed in the car before his drive he gave an extended interview over Donington FM and the circuit’s p.a. system to entertain the crowds.
History will inevitably record him as the only driver to win the world championship on both two and four wheels but there was so much more to his talent and abilities.
The prototype T70 has been restored and following John’s helmet-less drive, the Wrensport engineers listened intently to his comments and appraisal of this historic car.
Even now, so many years after his retirement, when Surtees speaks, everyone listens.
Words & images ©Mick Herring