A gifted F1 racer and an ingenious engineer

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On this day in 1937, Bruce McLaren, founder of the eponymous McLaren Formula One team, was born in Auckland, New Zealand.

Bruce McLaren’s father owned a service station, and the proximity to the workshop kindled his interest in cars. When at the age of 13 his father bought an old 1929 Austin Ulster as a project to rebuild and sell on the young Bruce convinced him to convert it into a racer for him to use – and Bruce was hands on in the restoration and modification of the car that would see him enter his first race at the tender age of 15, as soon as he had his driving licence! Bruce was an obvious talent, earning a scholarship to take him to race in Europe from the New Zealand International Grand Prix Association. He landed with the Cooper team, competing in F2 races, and made an impression by winning the F2 class at the 1958 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring (where F1 and F2 ran together). He was promoted to the Cooper F1 team for the 1959 season, and would win the first of his four Grand Prix victories that year at the United States Grand Prix, setting a record for youngest Grand Prix winner at the age of 22 that would stand until Fernando Alonso won the Hungarian Grand Prix over forty years later in 2003! McLaren would finish a career high of second in the driver’s champion ship in 1960, before departing Cooper and setting up his own team in 1966.

McLaren had founded his team in order to compete in the inaugural Tasman Series in 1964 after Cooper would not agree to field a car for him. McLaren ran a pair of Coopers for himself and Timmy Mayer under the banner Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd., with McLaren winning 3 times in New Zealand and claiming the inaugural Tasman title, success tinged with tragedy as Mayer lost his life in a crash during practice for the final event of the series in Longford. McLaren would take the plunge and build his own F1 car for the 1966 season. After a few years of struggle, McLaren won his new teams first (and his own last) Grand Prix at Belgium in 1968.

McLaren enjoyed racing in other categories, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 in fortuitous circumstances for Ford (McLaren and co-driver Amon were declared the winner after crossing the line in second place after Ford, who had the 1st, 2nd and 3rd cars, ordered the leadings cars to come to the line together to maximise publicity, denying the win to Ken Miles and Denny Hulme due to the rule stating that the car which had covered the most distance at the end of the lap would win – and the McLaren/Amon Ford had started 8 meters back on the grid!!).

But it was in the Can-Am series that McLaren enjoyed the most success as both a driver and constructor. Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd were absolutely dominant between 1966 and 1971, with Bruce himself winning the title in 1967 and 1969. Tragically, Bruce lost his life testing the latest McLaren Can-Am car on 2nd June 1970 in Goodwood. Formula One and motorsport in general had lost an amazing talent, both a gifted racer and an ingenious engineer.

2 responses to “A gifted F1 racer and an ingenious engineer

    • Agree – we all know about the Can-Am years and the cars, but his early years at Cooper were impressive and he suffered by sticking with Cooper in the start of their decline. This may have contributed to the strange fact that he only won 4 Grand Prix.
      The good impression he made in the 58 German GP was not just that he won the F2 class, but finished 5th overall!!

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