Bill de Selincourt first started racing at the age of 37 in his TR3 and met with R. W. Fitzwilliam who was running two MGA Twin-cams under the banner of the Fitzwilliam Racing Team. Fitzwilliam replaced the MG racers with two very early Elva Juniors and Bill was invited to drive one car at the first Nurburgring F/J race in July '59 and his Elva involvement had begun. He had five memorable races in the Elva during 1959 and then went on to a Lola Mk.1 and later a Lister-Jaguar. I am indebted to to Bill for his fond memories of what was a brief but successful motor racing career.
It was June 1959. The Fitzwilliam Racing Team took delivery of two new Elva front engined Formula Juniors and we managed one day at Brands Hatch to run in the BMC A series 990cc engines which were only mildly tuned and fitted with twin SU carburettors. All went reasonably well and at least I had a chance to sit in the car before racing it!
The first race was on the 12th July, the ADAC Eifelrevinen held on the famous Nurburgring south circuit, 7.7kms in length with the race being 13 laps or about 100kms. Practice amounted to getting used to the car and the circuit both of which were new to me. Everything held together and we qualified near the back of the grid. After the start and having settled in for a few laps, I began to pass a some cars as I found that although the performance was not exciting against the many Stanguellinis running, the road holding and braking was far superior, so that the twisting sections could be covered far more rapidly.
All went well until lap 9 when on a moderately fast downhill series of bends a rear radius arm broke. A huge spin resulted and I spun off into the woods, luckily missing the trees! As I spun, I went hard on the brakes, shut my eyes and hoped for the best, and we suffered no further damage. On our return to England, the car went back to the Elva factory and new beefed up radius arms were fitted to this and I believe all subsequent cars.
The next event on 30th August was the ADAC Eifel-Pokal meeting again at the Nurburgring south circuit and things went much better this time. Now having a feel for the car and circuit, I went to third place (front row) on the grid alongside May and Mitter but in front of Grandsire and D'Orey. Race day was warm and sunny and I made a fair start and at the end of the first lap was lying 4th, lap six I moved up to 3rd and by lap eight had moved to 2nd and only 3 seconds behind Michael May.
I was feeling good and thinking that a win could be possible, and just when I was closing the gap the exhaust manifold fractured and hot gasses fed into the cockpit but were also roasting my left leg. However, it also meant that the performance fell off and there were four laps to go. Unfortunately I was unable to hold on to second place and finished 4th, but at least I now knew that I was able to run with the leading bunch.
The following weekend 6th September was the International Formula Junior race at Cadours near Toulouse. We left the Ring on Monday morning and drove to Paris where a new exhaust manifold was fitted. Fitzwilliam employed no mechanics and so the work was carried out by the driver! We then drove down to Cadours and on our arrival we discovered that there was a unwillingness to accept our entry as for the previous year there was a single English entry, and he finished four laps down. With some difficulty we persuaded the authorities to allow us to run in practice but did well enough to be accepted for the two heats of 20 laps and the final race of 30 laps.
My first heat went well and in the second round I managed to finish second behind Michael May. The second Fitzwilliam entry was driven by Fitzwilliam himself but he failed to qualify. I had noticed that towards the end of the race the clutch was beginning to slip and we had to work on resolving this during the short interval and before the final race. Sixteen cars lined up for the final and I was in the second row of the 3 - 2 - 3 grid line-up. At the start I managed to hold position and was 4th into the first bend, settled down to some steady motoring as the car was handling well with no signs of the earlier clutch problem.
On lap twelve, I moved up to 3rd place having passed Henri Grandsite, at that time Fritz D'Orey was leading with Michael May second and we were all but seconds apart. On lap twenty-two I managed to pass May and chased off after D'Orey, slowly catching up with him and trying to decide the best place to get in front.
Unfortunately I managed a long slide on some dropped oil so fell back and felt the best option was to settle for a 2nd place rather than going off, however, on rounding the blind first corner after the start and with just two laps to go, I came across D'Orey stationary at the track side as his throttle cable had broken. What bad luck, but as one famous driver has said 'you have to finish to win'. The last two laps were nerve wracking as all I had to do was stay on the track, keep ahead of May and not break down. All this happened and I crossed the line winning by 5 seconds from May, much to the surprise of many people. Celebrations were certainly in order that evening.
The next event was on October 4th at Brands Hatch being the first Formula Junior race in the UK. It was 12 laps on the short circuit and there were 12 starters, and 7 were Elva. I managed 2nd fastest in practice just behind Mike McGee in the 'works' supported Elva Junior, and this with that slipping clutch playing up again. In the race I had a great scrap with McKee and managed to pass him twice, but he repassed and won by 0.2 of a second. I managed the fastest lap at 71.54, the very first F.J. lap record at Brands. Chris Lawrence drove the second Fitzwilliam Elva to third place.
My final Formula Junior race was the Brands Hatch Boxing Day meeting which was a 10 lap race with some interesting entries. The 'works' Elva drivers included Peter Arundell and Chris Threlfall, a Gemini-Ford with Jim Clark, a Lola-Austin for Peter Ashdown, the Cooper-Austin for Mike Taylor and the first outing of the Lotus-Ford for Alan Stacey. I made fastest lap in practice and lined up on the front row with Peter Arundell, Mike Taylor and Chris Threlfall in that order.
I felt quietly comfortable when I went to bed Christmas night and race day dawned as miserable and damp. This pleased me greatly as I enjoy driving in the wet, and I knew the Brands short circuit well, and the car was running fautlessly. When the flag dropped, I made a bad start dropping to 4th or 5th into Paddock Bend and up the hill to Druids. Down the hill and into the left hander leading onto the bottom straight, I lost it and spun wildly, but by good luck more than judgement, no one hit me however by the time I had gathered everything together I was at the tail of the field. I set too, but it was a hard grind and after 10 laps had only managed to get back to 6th place.
This was my last F.J. drive although we applied to enter the next years race at Monaco, but despite the win at Cadours and the Brands Hatch F.J. lap record, our entry was refused. Such is life, but maybe it was a case of who you know rather than what you have done when it comes to Monaco.