After thinking about what he hadn’t done in his career as a professional racing driver, a chance to race a McLaren M26 from the 1977 Formula 1 season at Monaco led Bobby Verdon-Roe on a new venture when his professional career was coming to an end.
It has since remained a massive part of both his and his family’s life, where he’s enjoyed some great success within the world of Historic Racing.
After being a relatively late starter to Motorsport, Verdon-Roe’s professional racing career saw him drive a diverse range of cars – from single-seaters to high-speed prototypes at Le Mans.
He enjoyed his fair share of success as well, winning various championship titles and securing historic results for manufacturers all over Europe.
‘Shit or Bust’
His British Formula Renault Championship win in 1991 came after a frenetic and season-long rivalry with future two-time British Touring Car champion, Jason Plato.
The rivalry started when both drivers effectively put a bet on themselves before the season started, as to who would win the crown come the end of the season. They took out prize indemnity insurance policies in the hope of paying for their future racing plans and continue their progress up the racing ladder.
Verdon-Roe’s was for £100,000 whilst Plato’s was for £250,000.
The rivalry perhaps hit its peak at the Donington Park round in August, when Verdon-Roe and Plato clashed multiple times throughout the race whilst battling for the lead.
Plato’s Manor-run car was ahead going into the final corner but was then hit in the rear by Verdon-Roe’s Fortec. Plato admits that he deliberately drove into Verdon-Roe on the exit, propelling the Fortec car into the air.
Despite that, however, Verdon-Roe still beat Plato to the line by just a tenth of a second.
To this day, opinions still differ as to who was to blame for the incident.
In an Autosport article in December 2019, Plato said; “The money both of us had riding on the championship fuelled the acrimony. That’s why it all got so fruity. For me, it was shit or bust – the gloves were off.”
Plato ended up finishing fourth in the standings at the end of the year, not helped by two exclusions for technical infringements, whilst Verdon-Roe’s title win saw him use the £100,000 to help fund a part-season in the British Touring Car Championship with the RML Vauxhall squad.
For the 1993 season, he joined the Park Lane Toyota Junior team in a semi-works drive, where he secured a best result of sixth place at Snetterton.
A TVR Tuscan Challenge championship win in 1997 followed, which kick-started a rather successful GT career for the Brit as he went on to represent TVR in the British GT Championship, racing their Cerbera Speed 12 GT1 car in the 2000 and 2001 campaign.
Having raced briefly for Lister in the FIA GT Championship in 1999, he returned to them in 2002, taking a second place at Silverstone and at the Spa 24 Hours – Lister’s best-ever result in a 24-Hour race – once again showing what a brilliant driver he was.
That result saw him get a shot at the Le Mans 24-Hours endurance race in 2005 with the Rollcentre outfit and their Dallara Nissan LMP1 car. Michael Krumm and Harold Primat were his teammates. Unfortunately, the outfit was disqualified from the race.
Opening More Doors
More recently, Verdon Roe has been focusing more so on Historic Racing. He explained how he got into the discipline, which has seen him win; Historic Formula 1 Championships, the Grand Prix de Historic at Monaco, and also the Royal Automobile Club TT Celebration at the Goodwood Revival.
“In 2007, my professional racing career was coming to an end – I was getting older and wasn’t getting the drives I’d got earlier in my career,” he admitted. “There were a lot of young guys coming through at the time and they were getting the drives instead.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about what I hadn’t done in my career, and I’d always wanted to race an F1 car around Monaco, so we looked at doing the Grand Prix de Historic there. The opportunity came up to race James Hunt’s McLaren M26 from 1977 and we did well.
“That opened more doors, and we then got the chance to race the Ferrari 330 LMB at the Goodwood Revival in 2008. I shared the car with Peter Hardman and that went really well! We ended up winning the TT which was fantastic – that was also the first win for Ferrari in the TT since the Revival began.
“It was and still is such a pretty car and incredibly rare as well, but I tend not to think about the rarity of a car when I’m driving it.”
The turned Historic racer explains how racing a rare car like the 330 LMB makes it impossible to write off, despite what people may tend to think. He also spoke about the advice he gave to Martin Brundle, who he shared his 1964 AC Cobra with at the Revival this year.
“It’s impossible to write a car off like that because it’s so rare. If you were to go off, it may cost £50,000 to get a new front wing for example and repair it. But it’s not the end of the world in comparison to what the whole car probably costs.
“The first thing I told to Martin was to bring the car home in one piece and he looked at me and went ‘Oh yeah, ok.’ He had actually crashed a Cobra before – I think it was Bill Sheppard’s one, but otherwise you don’t really worry about it. You can’t in fact.
“You need to trust the celebrity drivers you’re partnered with – Goodwood enjoy having the likes of Jenson Button come in and race, it gives the whole event another dynamic and adds interest. That’s great for historic racing in the grand scheme of things. You’ll probably see Lewis Hamilton wanting to have a go in the future!”
There Always Seemed To Be A Problem
Competing in his first Revival for six years, Verdon-Roe spoke of his pleasure at returning to the meeting, despite having a few problems with that car throughout the weekend.
“It was great! We had a few problems, but you get that at any race weekend,” he confirmed.
Going on to explain the issues the pair had to contend with, Verdon-Roe said; “On the Friday, we had a misfire which we knew about, so we got that fixed in time for the Saturday, but then we had a throttle linkage problem in qualifying – which meant we couldn’t go full throttle – so we had to come in and fix that as well.
“It all meant that I only had a couple of minutes at the end of the session to set a representative lap time in. Luckily, the car held together, and we qualified in eighth, which wasn’t bad at all considering the difficulties we faced.
“I felt more bad for Martin because whenever he got in the car, there always seemed to be a problem. Because he had so little running, we decided that it would be best if he started the race. He was going well too and when we swapped over, we were in sixth place.”
Brundle’s stint in the car proved to be very good, especially if you bear in mind the limited running he had in the car before the race. After running as high as fifth at one point, he was soon another victim of Jenson Button’s fight back, after he dropped a considerable number of places at the start.
Speaking about his stint in the car, Brundle said: “I had a great start, but then I had to duck around Jenson a bit – it looked like he had some sort of problem, I don’t know where he got to, but it was the first hot laps I’d done in the car as we’d had a few issues – so I was happy to just get away.
“It was a bit slippery in the first corner and I got a bit sideways, and then this bonnet came up the inside of me – I then realised it was junior (Alex Brundle) and I thought ‘Oh ok, I can trust him.’
“We had a good fight after that, I followed him through the traffic, but it was so slippery through Woodcote and the Chicane – but I was really pleased with my stint.”
The Revival brought in a new minimum time limit for the TT race this year. It’s there to make sure when the drivers change over, they don’t rush in and set off without doing their belts up correctly, or without shutting the door.
Verdon-Roe admitted it helped both him and Brundle in their race, putting themselves in a very respectable fifth position after others around them also made their stops at a time when Safety Cars were affecting the race.
We Finished Where We Wanted To
This is also where the race would become even more exciting for the experienced Brit.
Piling the pressure on Sam Hancock (who had just taken over from Gregor Fisken) as they both fought their way through lapped cars, Hancock made a costly error that would, unfortunately, end both his and Fisken’s race.
Having had a prime spot to view the incident from, Verdon-Roe explained how it all unfolded from his perspective.
“I got right behind Sam Hancock, but then he tried to have a go around the outside of someone at St Mary’s and went off.”
That promoted him into fourth position before a third Safety Car stint of the race bunched the field up again.
Once the race resumed, three-time FIA World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx was a man eager to make up places. Applying increasing pressure to Verdon-Roe, who used his extensive knowledge of the track to put up a fantastic defensive drive for a couple of laps, Priaulx finally got the move done, perfecting a cutback on Verdon-Roe as they went through Lavant.
Verdon-Roe tried to nip back up the inside going into Woodcote, but it was to no avail as he settled for a fifth-place finish in what was the car’s first race in the United Kingdom.
Despite losing out to Priaulx late on, both Verdon-Roe and Brundle were pleased with where they finished.
Former Formula 1 driver, turned TV pundit, Brundle said; “Bobby was pushing really hard out there, it’s his car and it’s the first race it’s done over here – I just loved the snake eyes on the headlamps.
“It was just such a good weekend, racing the Mini, D-Type, E-Type and then the Cobra – it couldn’t have been better.”
Verdon-Roe echoed Brundle’s comments in what was his first race in an AC Cobra – a car which he admitted still wasn’t set-up how he wanted it to be.
“We finished where we wanted to, it felt fantastic to be back – it was my first Revival for six years,” he said. “We had loads of support from friends and family, and on social media too. The car got a lot of attention from people which was great to see.
“I’d never raced a Cobra before, but I’d obviously raced in the TT before. The Cobra’s have a huge amount of power – I think mine has around 460hp which for a car from 1964 is just brilliant – especially when you consider it’s on skinny tyres as well, which obviously start wearing as the race goes on.
“That perhaps wasn’t helped by the weather either with the rain that fell before, making the track quite greasy.
“The car wasn’t set up right. We only had limited testing with it before the Revival – we had a day around Blyton where we spent all day pounding round, but it was still a bit too soft – there were times where we had a front right wheel dangling in the air as we went through Madgwick, which obviously points to the softness of the car.
“People say they used to do that back in the day but obviously nowadays, things have moved on a lot and so to be competitive, you want the car set-up as best as you can.”
Reminiscing about the big names in the TT at the Revival this year, Verdon-Roe admitted that the best thing about racing with the likes of Button, Priaulx, Emanuele Pirro amongst a plethora of other amazing talent is that you can race with them on a level playing field.
“I had no idea who I was racing, I was just concentrating on doing my job,” he said calmly. “I’ve raced against the likes of Jean Alesi before, so no one really phases me, and I say that with the greatest of respect to anyone I’ve raced against.
“However, the best thing about racing with these big names is that you’re on a level and equal playing field with them. That’s what makes Historic Racing so great – especially at the Revival.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully going back next year and also potentially doing the Silverstone Classic, amongst a couple of other things if anything else crops up.”
Header image courtesy of Kevin Wood @ Motorsport Images
By Jordan Hollands