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From the archives: The Mann with the golden run

Saturday, December 29 2012

Earlier this year motorsport lost one of its legendary figures with the passing of Alan Mann. The former racer was better known for his years running a racing team, which became synonymous with success as much as its distinctive red and gold livery. Mann will be remembered as a force in the arenas of touring car and sportscar racing, and one of his most successful seasons came in 1965, with Snetterton playing its part during the European Touring Car Championship.

Saloon car racing had grown in popularity during the 1960s and this era is often recalled with such fondness that it is popularly re-enacted at historic meetings. Fans look forward to the David and Goliath battles between big American V8 saloons and the tiny Minis, but special affection is reserved for the Lotus Cortina, which will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2013.

The product of a collaboration between Ford's visionary European boss Walter Hayes and Lotus' Colin Chapman, the hot Cortina, complete with upgraded suspension and Twin Cam engine, helped transform the company's image this side of the States. Whilst the works team ran Jim Clark to success in the British Saloon Car Championship, former champion Sir John Whitmore was hired to lift the European title and narrowly missed out in 1964.

SN archive article imageWhitmore entered motorsport from a privileged background, as the son of a Baronet, initially taking part in rallies before switching to circuit racing with the then new BMC Mini. Soon after winning the British Saloon Car Championship, he inherited his father's title whilst still racing saloons and sportscars. He was totally bereft of heirs and graces, but included Clark and Hollywood star Steve McQueen amongst his racing friends.

Mann's team started out with the 64 model Cortina at the first race of the season, before switching to the newer model, now running revised rear suspension and resplendent in the new team livery. The car's gold roof was even said to have included traces of the previous metal. Whether it did or not, Whitmore was setting the gold standard by dominating his class and often the races.

The Snetterton 500km race took place in August of that year and was scheduled to start at 6pm, running for nearly four hours, much of that taking place in darkness. However despite Whitmore, Mann and Lotus being on home ground, it was the Jolly Club Alfa Romeo driven by Italian Roberto Bussinello that led at the start. Ever determined, Whitmore applied pressure throughout the early laps but his efforts only yielded a burst tyre.

Team mate Peter Procter took up the chase but Whitmore's progress saw him leading by half distance, with the Alfa dropping to third place. Procter suffered a flat battery at half distance, dropping him out of the top three, leaving Whitmore to carry the flag for Mann, and his eventual winning margin was almost a minute over Bussinello. Third place was taken by the BMW of Hubert Hahne.

Whitmore's Snetterton win was almost enough to give him the title and with a class win at the next event - a hill climb in Switzerland - and second place at the final round in Zandvoort, Ford had achieved their objective. The manufacturer increased the scale of their motorsport activities to Formula 1, whilst Mann's saloon car success continued with Frank Gardner before he closed the team and left the sport completely. Whitmore retired from racing the following season after becoming involved with the GT40 Le Mans project and despite the occasional historic racing appearance, has largely stayed away from the sport, having satisfied his competitive need.

Meanwhile Snetterton continued to hold the UK round of the European Touring Car Championship until 1969 when the race moved to Brands Hatch. The final event heralded a win for home drivers after two victories for Italian manufacturers but there was something special about that 1965 season.

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship visits Snetterton on 3/4 August 2013. For more information and to book tickets, call 0843 453 9000 or click here.