• Where Are They Now?

'I wish I'd had a chance in a competitive car'

Andrew Marriott January 11, 2010
Mike Wilds during his days in F1 © Sutton Images
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Despite a fairly fruitless F1 career, driving a March, an Ensign, a BRM and a Shadow in the 1970s, Mike Wilds has gone on to enjoy a career in motorsport spanning 43 seasons.

Wilds is rarely far from a race track and, since he started racing back in 1965 at the age of 19, he has only missed one season. That was when he was in a wheelchair, the aftermath of a big Goodwood Festival of Speed crash in Nick Mason's ex-Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 312T.

Amazingly, at 63, he is still winning races and championships. In 2008 he not only took the Group C Endurance series driving alongside Henry Pearman in a Porsche 962, but he also won the overall Britcar title co-driving with Ian Lawson in a BMW M3.

Add to that a career as an instructor in both cars and helicopters and you have a very busy man who loves his motorsport as much now as he did back in the 1970s. His only regrets are related to his three years in F1.

"I just wish I'd had the chance to drive a competitive F1 car, although I drove four different cars, they were all frankly back of the grid cars and unreliable," he recalls. "I would have liked to have known how I would have shaped up in a decent car. My close friend Mike Hailwood kept telling me not to drive bad cars, not to join BRM, for instance but what could I do, I was trying to make a name for myself."

Wilds' aspirations to become a racing driver were fuelled by looking through the showroom window of the then famous sports car garage The Chequered Flag on Chiswick High Road near his home in London. At the time "The Flag" ran a number of racing cars and the place became a magnet for aspiring young racing drivers, encouraged by owner Graham Warner.

After months of peering through the window, Wilds finally plucked up the courage to go into the showroom. Pretty soon he was cleaning cars and then later selling them, which led to a drive in a DRW Clubmans.

Success quickly came, he moved up to Formula 4 cars, made contacts and by 1970 was racing in the ultra-competitive world of 1-litre Formula 3 in a March, having secured sponsorship from a property company Dempster Developments.

Dempster really wanted to make its mark so it moved him up into a March F5000 car. Encouraged by a number of podiums and battles with the likes of Peter Gethin and Brian Redman, the sponsors developed higher aspirations for Wilds.

A deal was done to rent the ex-James Hunt Hesketh-March 731 for him to drive in the 1974 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. In those days there were many more cars than there were grid places and he failed to qualify.

But Ensign boss Morris Nunn knew of Wilds' speed in Formula 3 and F5000, so he called the Londoner up and offered him a drive. Now he was a "works" driver, not that his fortunes changed much. He failed to qualify the strange "batmobile" Ensign in Austria, Italy and Canada before finally making it onto the grid at Watkins Glen. He finished too - in 14th position.

Mike Wilds driving the Brookspeed Chrysler Viper at Silverstone in the British GT championship in 2000 © Sutton Images

In 1977 Ensign were struggling to find the funds to continue, but Wilds had already moved on. He had been contracted to drive for Stanley-BRM, the last throws of life of the once proud BRM marque.

"It was a disaster," he recalled. "I never finished a test session let alone qualifying, things kept breaking."

The records show that he retired from the season opener in Argentina in 1975, as well as the Brazilian GP a couple of weeks later - then he was promptly replaced by another British driver, Bob Evans. The team soldiered on for another five races before finally collapsing.

In 1976 he secured a one-off deal to drive a private Shadow in the British Grand Prix. Sadly he again failed to make the cut - his F1 career was over. But, like so many other F1 rejects before and after him, he forged a successful sports car career most notably with Ecurie Ecosse, helping the team win the sports car C2 World Championship in 1986. In 1988 he drove for the factory Nissan squad in one of the awesome R90Vs co-driving with Win Percy.

At about this time he decided that he needed to supplement his income and, falling back on his old skills, decided to become a salesman again - but this time for helicopters.

"If I was going to sell them I thought I better learn to fly them, and I absolutely loved it," he recalls. "I moved on to become an instructor." In fact these days this "failed" F1 driver is one of Britain's most successful helicopter instructors with over 8,000 hours in his log book.

Back on the track, he raced historic sports cars and won the Historic Group 6 Championship on several occasions. Over the years he has changed little. He still sports the unique yellow crash helmet with a ring of black diamonds. The prominent jaw is now clean shaven and doesn't hide the ever present smile. Above all else he retains his huge enthusiasm and love of a sport, which all started at a car showroom window.