Brian Redman

Brian Redman

Brian Redman is unique. A star in many different forms of motorsport, the Britisher’s credibility is bolstered by the number of different championships he won for himself and others during his career. Yet Redman, for all of his accomplishments, always has maintained an unassuming posture. Indeed, when people such as John Wyer, for whom he drove both Porsches and Fords, described him, words such as “steady” were heard most often. In truth, Redman’s quiet manner masks a talent for consistency and quickness that have made him one of the all-time greats of the sport.

Consider for a moment these statistics: three straight Formula 5000 titles and one IMSA Camel GT championship on his own resume, and four World Manufacturer crowns–two for Wyer (1968 and 1970) one for Porsche (1969) and one for Ferrari (1972). Redman, the son of a Lancashire retail grocery chain owner who never saw him race, began racing in 1959, progressing through the ranks until by the mid-1960s he was competing in both sports-racing and open-wheeled formula cars on an international level with a fair degree of success. In 1967 he came to the attention of John Wyer, who partnered him with Jacky Ickx in the Len Bailey designed Ford GT-40 based Mirage at Kyalami, where the pair won outright. The same two were partners again in 1968, this time in the famed double Le Mans winning chassis 1074-, a new car built that year that would wind up as one of the most successful racers in terms of percentage of victories to events entered that there ever was. Two of those triumphs, Brands Hatch and Spa, were attributed to the Redman-Ickx combination. There might have been more, but fate intervened, Redman almost coming to his Waterloo later that season at the Belgian Grand Prix, also run on the fast and dangerous Spa circuit.

 

Full Biography

Brian Redman is unique. A star in many different forms of motorsport, the Britisher’s credibility is bolstered by the number of different championships he won for himself and others during his career. Yet Redman, for all of his accomplishments, always has maintained an unassuming posture. Indeed, when people such as John Wyer, for whom he drove both Porsches and Fords, described him, words such as “steady” were heard most often.

In truth, Redman’s quiet manner masks a talent for consistency and quickness that have made him one of the all-time greats of the sport. Consider for a moment these statistics: three straight Formula 5000 titles and one IMSA Camel GT championship on his own resume, and four World Manufacturer crowns-two for Wyer (1968 and 1970) one for Porsche (1969) and one for Ferrari (1972). Redman, the son of a Lancashire retail Grocery chain owner, who never saw him race, began racing in 1959, progressing through the ranks until by the mid-1960s he was competing in both sports-racing and open-wheeled formula cars on an international level with a fair degree of success. In 1967 he came to the attention of John Wyer, who partnered him with Jacky Ickx in the Len Bailey designed Ford GT-40 based Mirage at Kyalami, where the pair won outright.

The same two were partners again in 1968, this time in the famed double Le Mans winning chassis 1074-, a new car built that year that would wind up as one of the most successful racers in terms of percentage of victories to events entered that there ever was. Two of those triumphs, Brands Hatch and Spa, were attributed to the Redman-Ickx combination. There might have been more, but fate intervened, Redman almost coming to his Waterloo later that season at the Belgian Grand Prix, also run on the fast and dangerous Spa circuit.

“I was at going at 150 mph in top gear when a front wishbone broke on my Cooper-BRM. The results were disturbing to say the least, the car hitting the barrier and rolling over it, leaving me with a compound fracture of both bones in the right forearm”. Not only would the incident leave Redman with an abiding respect for Spa, it would also leave him with two steel pins in his arm as the result of his injuries.

Although forced to sit out the rest of that year, Redman was hardly forgotten, especially by the then rising Vic Elford whom he had run against during his days in Great Britain. Elford, whose career at this point was accelerating like a rocket with wins in both rallying and circuit competition, recommended Redman to be his partner for the 1969 Daytona 24-Hours, where in spite of their best efforts, the two retired because of a broken layshaft in their engine, a problem which afflicted the majority of the eight-cylinder entries. “Afterwards,” says Redman, “Rico Steinemann, then the team manager, asked who I’d like to be partnered with for the rest of the season. I opted to be the number two driver to Jo Siffert simply because he was the fastest on the team. I think, even in hindsight, that it was a good decision because we complemented each other since we had vastly differing temperaments.” Indeed, Redman remembers well the year that Siffert cost them the victory at Le Mans. “It was in 1970, and we had a four-lap lead in our Gulf-Wyer 917 when about one in the morning Jo came up to pass three slower cars and missed a shift, right in front of the pits.

If those 917 motors went more than 300 rpm above their safe 8,000 rpm limit, the valve gear broke. If it had been me, or someone else, we probably would have waited to make the pass. Jo, however, knew only one way to live, whether it was racing cars, doing business or romancing the ladies. That was flat out. He truly never could figure a way to conserve, especially during the 1970-71 era when he and Pedro Rodriguez were locked in a battle to see who was the best.”

It took great skill to drive the 917 like the one Siffert and Redman shared at Le Mans that June. “In its original form,” says the Britisher, “it may have been the most awful car I’ve driven, at least for Porsche. It was a high horsepower coupe with very little road holding. Not something you really wanted to get into.”

Ironically, Redman’s first taste of the beast came at a rainy Spa, less than a year after his accident. Paired with Siffert in one of the 908 long-tails on hand, Redman was standing in the back of the pits during practice, waiting for his turn in the flat eight, when the late Helmuth Bott told him to drive the 917, which was sitting waiting for anyone foolish enough to try it.. “I tried to act like the invisible man,” recalls.

Redman, “but Herr Bott found me anyway.” After protesting to an unyielding Bott that the slippery track was a dangerous place to try the new car, Redman strapped himself in and started up. Almost immediately, the lone windshield wiper flew off and hurled itself across the pits. Redman had barely unbuckled when Bott walked up and asked what he was doing. Redman pointed out the visibility problems he now faced, to which Bott replied only, “Drive slowly.” Although it was one of the slowest laps in the 12-cylinder’s history, Redman would, in another irony, be the man who helped tame the car, transforming it into the dominant vehicle of its kind and creating a legend such that even today many people think of it as the ultimate Porsche. That all happened in the fall of 1969, at a test session in Zeltweg, Austria. There Wyer’s team, including David Yorke and John Horsman, the technoid bookends who had helped to make the Gulf-sponsored Wyer Ford operation the tough contender it was (a fact of which Porsche was well aware, having lost at Le Mans to Wyer in 1969 by less than 70 feet). Porsche had engaged Wyer earlier that summer to be Zuffenhausen’s main team on the 1970 Makes tour. Under the agreement, Porsche would supply the cars, spares and technical support, while Wyer’s operation would run them, using Gulf Oil funds. With the 1969 season complete, the Zeltweg session was to be the first up close and personal meeting between the British team and its new German coupes. Redman, one of the better test drivers and nominated along with Siffert to be part of the Gulf Wyer team (“Jo and I were actually paid by the factory, while Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen were on the Wyer payroll”), was brought in to help evaluate what might be needed.

Also brought along was 917-027, the prototype Can-Am spyder whose tail rose from the centerline to the rear, rather than sloping downward like its coupe cousin. Redman quickly established that the Can-Am version was almost four seconds a lap faster than the coupe. Horsman and Yorke realized that this was attributable to the differing rear body shape. After the Wyer men had cobbled up a similar wedge-shaped rear decklid on one of the coupes, using plywood and duct tape, that car became as fast in Redman’s hands as the spyder. It was a lesson in aerodynamics that might have been learned earlier had only Porsche more closely studied the lessons from what they had learned with the 908. “I really liked that car in shorttail form,” says Redman. “It was quick and nimble and easy to drive. The long-tail coupe, very similar to the original 917, was something else again. It felt loose, as if it were bending in the middle somehow. In reality, though, it was simply a lack of downforce that made it so tricky. To me, the funny thing is that in 1971 I drove a wedge-shaped 1.8-liter Chevron at Spa three seconds faster than I did with the three-liter 908 in 1969. I can’t say for sure, but it’s my opinion, at least, that Porsche would have been better off running the 908/2 Spyders in Belgium rather than the long-tails.”

Of course, one had to tread carefully when discussing one’s opinions at Porsche during that period when the boss of the racing program was Ferry Porsche’s ambitious nephew, Ferdinand Piëch. “I wouldn’t say he was autocratic,” recalled Redman, “but he knew what he wanted and he got it. I remember how the Wyer team felt after we had been led to believe that we were the official factory team and then discovered that Piëch’s mother, Louise, would have her Porsche Salzburg operation alongside us. They got many of the development pieces even before we did, despite the fact that they were supposed to be a private team.” In large measure the status as the test group for the 917 program had been thrust upon Porsche Salzburg because of John Wyer’s dislike of trying new things at the track. By nature Piëch was and continues to be an individual more interested in technology than in winning-the opposite of Wyer’s attitude. Still, Redman has retained the highest respect for the present Volkswagen chairman. “In my opinion, Porsche would have never accomplished what it did back then without Piëch. The energy level was amazing. In fact, it was that drive that produced what Redman has come to consider his all-time favorite Porsche: the 908/3. “This was really a wholly different car than the previous 908s I had driven, sharing only the engine and a few other bits. Derived from the hillclimb 909, it was very light and a bit worrying because the driver had been moved forward to balance the weight so far that one’s feet were well ahead of the front axle line.

“It was, however, a maneuverable car with a good power to weight ratio. In fact, if I recall correctly, it had almost the same ratio as did the 962. It was terrific to drive, and in spite of my concerns, I loved it.” So much so that Redman and Siffert had a ball winning the Targa Florio with the little Spyder in 1970. They might have won at the Nürburgring as well, had not their engine lost its oil pressure during the 1000-km affair. “It was quite disappointing. Earlier this year I learned why Elford’s Salzburg entry won and we didn’t, when a former factory team engineer told me that they knew about the excessive oil consumption problem – the Salzburg cars had bigger dry sump tanks!

In addition to the Targa, Redman and Siffert also garnered another first overall, this one coming at, of all places, Spa. The Britisher was also kept busy driving for Chevron in sports racing circles and for Frank Williams in Formula One where he replaced Piers Courage who had been killed before the midway point of that year’s Grand Prix tour. In fact, it was the staggering death toll that caused Redman to leave Porsche at the end of 1970 and go into a brief retirement.

“I looked around and saw the number of people who weren’t there anymore, and just knew that I would be next. So I quit and went to South Africa to work for the VW dealer. However, I’d decided to finish off my career by doing the six race Springbok series. Unfortunately, in some ways, I won the 2 liter class at the Kyalami 9 Hour race and went on to win every one of the four other races in the works Chevron B16/S!”

After a short retirement, Redman decided the game was worth the candle and came back to race in European F5000 for Sid Taylor. Invited to replace Derek Bell in a one-off drive at the Targa Florio for the John Wyer Gulf team in a 908/3 (Bell had never done the Targa, Redman had won the previous year with Siffert) Redman eagerly accepted. The car was crashed by Siffert the day before the race, and on the first lap, the steering failed sending Redman into a concrete post. The car exploded on fire. Redman was lucky to escape, suffering burns to his face – “so, when I get a kiss from a nice lady, I have to tell them they’re kissing my left buttock!” – neck, legs and hands.

After scoring a number of successes with Chevrons, particularly in the open-wheeled Formula 5000 category, Redman found himself driving for Jim Hall and Carl Haas in the SCCA’s Formula 5000 tour, winning the crown, as we previously noted, three times in a row between 1974 and 1976, with Mario Andretti as the runner-up in ’74 & ’75 and Al Unser in ’76.

From the high of those seasons, it was a remarkably short ride to the lows of 1977, where once again Redman’s luck almost ran out. That year, the SCCA had mandated envelope bodies for the F-5000 single-seaters, rechristening them as second generation Can-Am sports cars. Unfortunately, not everyone got everything perfectly right, as Redman found out when travelling at 170 mph his Haas/Hall Lola took-off and flipped at the top of a fast rise at St. Jovite, Quebec. Taking nine months to recover from injuries which included a broken neck, sternum, ribs, shoulder and bruising of the brain – from which his wife Marion states he has never recovered! Once more Redman could only watch from the sidelines. This time, however, he had some doubt about what he wanted to do. “I really didn’t know myself whether or not I could, or even wanted. to drive. I called Jo Hoppen, then in charge of Porsche’s U.S. racing operation, and asked him to find me a nice comfortable car with which I could test myself to see what I really wanted to do.” That turned out to be the Dick Barbour entered 935, which had Bob Garretson and Charlie Mendez as Redman’s teammates. It also turned out to be the Sebring 12-hour race winner for 1978. Redman, doubts and all, was back. Subsequently he would team with Bob Garretson and Bobby Rahal to score the overall victory at Daytona in 1981 with a 935 K3 entered by Cooke-Woods Racing. Later, using a new Cooke-Woods Lola T600 GT prototype coupe, Redman would claim the Camel GT season honors. At the 1981 Daytona season finale, he and John Paul, Jr., raced to the checkered flag, Paul standing on it and Redman backing off as they came through a smoke-covered turn four. Asked later why he let Paul win, Redman was blunt and to the point. “I thought there was one more lap to go and knew I could pass under braking. I’d already clinched the Championship and to be frank I just chickened out – going 200 mph into a wall of smoke isn’t much fun, but I was disappointed in myself. I suppose that’s the difference between a 21 year old and an old man of 44!”

Redman would drive again after that, for Bob Tullius’ Group 44 Jaguar team and the factory backed Aston Martin in Europe, displaying the same talent as he had in the past. Today, at the age of 75, Redman, as a leading figure in vintage and historic racing, continues to find himself deeply involved, both as an event organizer and as an instructor. At one event, the Jefferson 500, he broke the lap record for small bore sports racing cars with a Chevron -this with a passenger aboard.

Brian Redman may be a quiet man, reluctant to talk about his accomplishments. However, those speak more about him and his place in motorsport history than anything he could say about himself. While there are others of immense ability who drove for Porsche during the Piëch era, Redman stands out as one of the key ingredients in the company’s successful metamorphosis into the dominant player in major league sports car and prototype competition.