Behind the wheel: Scotland’s golden motorsport heritage

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What springs to mind when you think about Scotland’s contribution to the sporting world? Perhaps Andy Murray beating Djokovic to the Wimbledon title or, since we’re in St Andrews, Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris playing a round on the Old Course. If you are a motorsport fan, you would almost definitely picture Jackie Stewart storming to victory in a Tyrrell or Jim Clark dominating in a Lotus. The indelible contribution Scotland has made to international motorsport is certainly impressive and should be celebrated.

To delve into the history of motorsport in Scotland is no simple task, as the amount of tabs open while trying to write this article can prove. However, Ecurie Ecosse would surely be a safe place to begin this endeavour. In 1951, among the cobbled streets and lock-up garages at Merchiston Mews in Edinburgh, David Murray set up his motor racing team, Ecurie Ecosse, on a slim budget. Sadly the team did not enjoy success during the four F1 races in which they entered; Ecurie Ecosse did prove, however, to be much better suited to endurance racing, with the metallic blue cars claiming back to back victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1956 and 1957. Financial trouble led to the team’s disbandment in 1972, but Ecurie Ecosse did not simply vanish into the annals of motorsport history.

The team was revived in 1982 and went on to win the World Sportscar and British Touring Car Championships. In recent years the team continue to fly the saltire in the British GT Championship, winning the drivers’ championship in 2014.

Scotland’s motorsport heritage is rich and so too is its future. This year Ecurie Ecosse launched their Young Driver Initiative, which will hopefully ensure the continued development of young racing talent like Ciaran Haggerty in Formula 4. This is not the first time, however, that Ecurie Ecosse has played a crucial role in supporting drivers: every Scottish F1 grand prix winner raced for the team at some point in their career.

The achievements of Scottish drivers themselves have been remarkable to say the least. How has a country with a population smaller than that of London produced so many brilliant drivers able to compete on an international level? The answer is elusive but the mark left by Scotland on the motorsport world is clear.

Thanks to the prowess of certain drivers, Scotland is woven into the fabric of F1. Jim Clark, one of the greatest drivers ever, is the epitome of a Scottish success story, winning two World Championships in 1963 and 1965. Clark learned his craft among hill climbs and rallies in the Borders and became renowned for his versatility, winning the Indy 500 in 1965 alongside his F1 World Championship. He raced during the dangerous era of motorsport but his tragic death in a Formula 2 race in 1968 was a shock to everyone in motorsport; nobody thought it would happen to Clark.

His career statistics are beyond impressive; for example he still dominates the grand chelem record table with 8 (a ‘grand chelem’ is the F1 equivalent of a ‘grand slam’ – to achieve this a driver needs pole position, fastest lap, to lead every lap and to win the race). Compare this number to other drivers like Michael Schumacher who achieved 5 and Lewis Hamilton who currently has 2. It is true that Clark’s car was dominant, but so too was the man himself and other drivers knew this: Jackie Stewart called his friend ‘Jimmy’ the greatest driver he ever raced against. Stewart also sits with the F1 greats and is probably the most recognizable impact of this country on the sport; the man is a walking VisitScotland advert with his tartan trews and cap. In fairness he can wear whatever he wants: he won the World Championship three times. However Stewart’s legacy is not only measured in his victories, but also in his impact on the sport’s safety, as he stood up against those who thought death was simply part of the sport whilst pioneering various safety devices. Stewart was, and still is, one of Scotland’s sporting mega-stars

In recent years, the enigma that is David Coulthard enjoyed a solid F1 career with 13 wins and 62 podiums and now presents F1 to millions across the world. Another impressive Scot is Susie Wolff, currently the test driver for Williams; she became the first woman in 20 years to take part in an F1 weekend during her recent appearances in practice sessions.

Beyond F1, Scottish drivers have competed in various motorsport categories. Allan McNish won 24 Hours of Le Mans three times; Dario Franchitti is a four-time IndyCar Series Champion and a three-time winner of the Indy 500; and in the world of rallying, Colin McRae was the first British driver to win the World Rally Championship. The list goes on and this is without looking at the success on 2 wheels.

Scotland’s contribution to the motorsport world has been invaluable and so too has motorsport’s contribution to Scotland. The relationship remains strong and motorsport continues to be accessible for the people of Scotland too, with Knockill Racing Circuit situated on our Fife doorstep. So if you feel the urge to go for a spin around the ‘Home of Scottish Motorsport’ anytime soon, remember the greats who have paved Scotland’s path to international sporting glory.

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