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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sportscar and BTCC champion dies at 81

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Spice was greatest recognized for profitable the highest class of the BTCC for six consecutive seasons from 1975-80, and incomes 4 world sportscar championship titles within the Group C2 class in 1985-88.

A driver of the old-fashioned, he was an achieved raconteur who was invariably the life and soul of any social gathering, usually entertaining his viewers with magic methods. Away from the cockpit he was hardly ever seen and not using a cigarette in a single hand and a drink within the different.

His innate sense of enjoyable belied a lethal severe method when it got here to racing, and he was a fierce competitor too within the enterprise world.

Spice’s east London-born father George had humble beginnings as a metropolis messenger boy, earlier than turning into rich within the cocoa enterprise, enabling him to provide Gordon and his siblings an excellent begin in life.

At age 18 the youthful Spice emigrated to Australia as “£10 pom” to take up a job in a finance firm. He earned more money within the evenings working as a barman in a Sydney resort, the place clients included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin.

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Though he cherished Australia and had rapidly risen by means of the ranks in enterprise, Spice was obliged to return to the UK in 1959 when he realized that his father was unwell – solely to find later that it had been a household plot to deliver him dwelling.

Subsequently he had a spell working within the USA. He returned dwelling a second time in 1961, and shortly married his first spouse Valerie, often known as Birdie.

 

By then his older brother Derek, generally known as Dee, had carried out some racing with an Austin A40. Having sampled the automobile on a check day at Goodwood Spice determined to have a go himself.

He purchased an MG TF – having beforehand owned one in Australia – however the automobile proved to be disastrously unreliable on his early outings with it in 1962. He changed it with a Morgan in 1963 and shortly made speedy progress, a lot in order that in 1964 he made his first look at Le Mans, sharing a Deep Sanderson with Chris Lawrence.

He actually started to make his title from 1965 onwards racing Minis, and in 1968 he received the 1000cc class of what was then the British Saloon Automobile Championship (now the British Touring Automobile Championship). On the identical time he was saved busy increase a profitable automobile accent store enterprise.

On observe he continued to star in Minis till 1970, when he doubled up with an formidable change to the European F5000 championship with a Kitchiner. This was an enormous step given his lack of single-seater expertise, however he completed as excessive as fourth general at Monza and fifth on the Salzburgring earlier than the cash ran out.

He additionally returned to Le Mans in Escuderia Montjuich’s Ferrari 512S, having dealt with the Spanish crew’s Ford GT40 in a number of races the earlier 12 months.

Spice ran only some occasions with an F5000 McLaren M10B in 1971. They included two that allowed him to combine it with F1 equipment, specifically the non-championship Argentine GP in Buenos Aires, and the Victory Race at Manufacturers Hatch, the place sadly Jo Siffert was killed.

 

His 1972 F5000 season with the rebuilt and renamed ‘Kitchmac’ was equally quick, primarily as a result of he targeted on enterprise, however he took pole at Mallory Park and led at Snetterton.

In 1973 Spice stepped again to saloons, racing the automobile that might ultimately see him make his mark within the historical past books – the Ford Capri. He scored two wins and completed an in depth second to James Hunt on the Tour of Britain.

Having obtained divorced from Birdie earlier that 12 months he additionally met his future second spouse, Mandy, on a blind date. All the time keen on nicknames, he would affectionately discuss with her as ‘Creech’, shorthand for creature.

Spice barely raced in any respect in 1974 after an formidable mission to race a Plymouth Hemicuda failed to come back collectively.

Having discovered funding, he returned to F5000 in 1975, this time with a Lola. He started the 12 months with an excellent win within the Oulton Park Gold Cup, however his season ended early after a testing crash at Mallory Park left him with severe accidents. He would by no means once more race a single-seater.

For the following few years the Capri can be his foremost focus, and Spice’s 1976 BTCC class title was adopted by 5 extra in an intensely aggressive class, his automobile latterly run by his personal crew.

He additionally raced extensively in Europe, profitable the 1978 Spa 24 Hours with Teddy Pilette – it was the final occasion to be held on the daunting {old} observe.

“Gordon was an exceptionally good driver,” remembers four-time BTCC champion Andy Rouse, who was Spice’s Capri team-mate and rival in 1980. “He was a type of uncommon guys who may afford to go racing and was good at it – often you may afford to go racing, otherwise you’re good at it however haven’t got the cash. He was an excellent enjoyable man to be round.

 

“He was an excellent businessman, he was an excellent supervisor, whereas I used to be an engineer. His crew was actually good and naturally he had Keith Greene as crew supervisor, who was additionally a enjoyable man.”

Triumph Dolomite ace Tony Dron, who was one of many few to tackle the Capri hordes, agrees: “Gordy was a high bloke to race towards. He was significantly fast, persistently ‘on it’ all the way in which and he by no means went in for any soiled methods.”

Having scored 28 general wins (together with a shared victory) and after two closing seasons within the BTCC in 1981-82 noticed the rival TWR Rovers dominate, Spice switched his focus to sportscar racing.

He’d had an outing at Le Mans with the hopeless Japanese Dome in 1979, and in 1980 he raced within the 24 Hours for the works Rondeau outfit, ending third general behind the profitable sister automobile.

He returned with the French crew in 1981, scoring one other third place. He was again with Rondeau in 1982, additionally racing for the crew at Silverstone and Spa, sharing on the former occasion with Henri Pescarolo.

Having established his credentials within the new Group C class the plan for 1983 was to run a works Ford C100 on this planet sportscar championship, alongside then present F1 driver Marc Surer. Nevertheless simply earlier than the season began Spice was left within the lurch after Ford cancelled the programme.

He subsequently grew to become concerned with a Tiga mission initially put collectively by Australian Neil Crang. In 1984 along with third driver Ray Bellm they dominated the Group C Junior class beneath the Gordon Spice Racing banner, though there was no drivers’ title that 12 months.

That oversight was corrected beneath the brand new Group C2 title in 1985. Spice shared his first crown with Bellm, having by now fashioned Spice Engineering to develop and run the automobile. The pair repeated the feat in each 1986 and 1988, with Gordon additionally taking the 1987 title with Spaniard Fermin Velez. He additionally scored three C2 class wins at Le Mans.

Run by Jeff Hazell, Spice Engineering developed rapidly as a constructor, promoting Group C2 buyer automobiles. It additionally moved into IMSA, initially with works help from GM’s Pontiac division.

 

In 1989 the corporate graduated to the primary C1 class with a DFZ engine, competing immediately with Sauber-Mercedes, Jaguar, Nissan, Toyota, Porsche and Aston Martin.

Combating issues together with his accent enterprise, which was by now a public firm, Gordon stepped all the way down to make approach for drivers with sponsorship. He thus made his solely outing of the 12 months at Le Mans, sharing with Bellm and Lyn St James. That weekend he determined that it will be his final race, and he retired on the age of 49.

The price of working within the high class, not helped by the failure of a driver to pay his sponsorship payments, precipitated monetary issues at Spice Engineering. On the finish of 1990 Spice and associate Bellm ended their involvement with the corporate.

Spice remained busy away from motor racing, pursuing quite a lot of enterprise ventures, and spending time in Zimbabwe, a rustic he cherished.

In 2009, shortly after surviving a most cancers scare, he revealed an excellent autobiography, Lifetime of Spice. It coated not simply his racing profession however his vibrant social life, his ups and downs in enterprise, and his successes as a property developer alongside the River Thames in Berkshire, the place he lived for a lot of his life.

Autosport sends its condolences to Mandy, their son Patrick, and to Gordon’s many pals within the sport.

 



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