Born in Wuppertal, Germany, the son of a Royal Air Force test pilot, Ashley started racing in 1966 when he took a course at the Jim Russell Racing School. He then raced extensively in Formula Ford, F3 and F5OOO from 1967 to 1975, often showing great speed but not always the ability to keep the car on the road, earning him the nickname of "Crashley".
He enjoyed some success in the early 70's in F5000 starting in 1972. He proved a front runner the following year, winning the European Championship event at the Jyllandsring, and continued his improvement in 1974, winning the Oulton Gold Cup and finishing third in the series.
His forays into Grand Prix racing with some of the formula's lesser lights ranged between the undistinguished and the disastrous. He had a huge accident in qualifying for the German GP in August 1975 when he crashed his Williams at Nurburgring's daunting Pflanzgarten and broke his ankle. He made a comeback in 1977 driving an Obex Oil Hesketh but flipped while cresting one of Mosport Park's famous bumps and somersaulted over the barriers and into a television tower. Ashley was seriously hurt again.
Below is a description of the crash in Ian's own words:
We then went to Mosport, and I was 6th fastest towards the end of the first session of practice, trying new springs and everything, learning the circuit, trying to set the thing up.
I had just been in to put a little more rear wing on and at the end of the main straight, where with the gearing we had I must have been doing close to 195mph, I had just slipstreamed past Jacques Laffite in the Ligier. I was approaching the slight hump at the end of the straight which you fly over before braking for the right-left-right past the pits when the nose section collapsed.
The car climbed 30 ft into the air and did two and a half backwards somersaults. Jacques went underneath me, and he said that as he looked up my helmet was already gone. The car crashed down, ripped the engine and gearbox off and the wheels. It bounced back 30 ft in the air again and somersaulted over the armco.
There was a TV stand - it was Friday morning, first practice, there weren't any TV people in it (this was a 30 ft TV stand), there weren't any spectators just there. It was backwards, upside down, just the monocoque and 40 gallons of fuel. It righted itself, and then knocked the TV stand over as it righted itself. It then buried 10 inches into the ground, and my feet punched through the end of the monocoque.
It took them 45 minutes to cut me out, the gear lever had gone through and shattered my wrist, and my ankles were crushed upto my knees - my right one was in 13 pieces and my left one in 5. This was a clean break in the left. Fittipaldi came with his own doctor, and Mass was helping to cut me out, and all the mechanics were helping to cut me out.
They didn't know whether I had broken my neck, and put this thing around my neck, and in Toronto, at Sunnybrook (the teaching hospital) they had just had bought this helicoptor on the Monday, and 45 minutes later it arrived and it whisked me off to hospital. They weren't sure about any of my limbs as they had all gone blue, and that was pretty much that.
After a slow recovery Ian took up the same career as his father and became a pilot of executive jets in the United States.
He returned to the tracks in Indycars in 1985 and 1986 without any great success. He had a brief stint racing motorbikes in 1989, then in 1993 he returned to four wheels, to contest the highly competitive British Touring Car series in a Vauxhall Cavalier but ran out of money and headed back to flying again. In 1995 he tried three wheels and contested the World Sidecar series. Then in 1998 he was back on four wheels for the TVR Tuscan Challenge.
Then on January 16 2001 he was arrested at Heathrow's Terminal 4 for allegedly trying to carry offensive weapons onto a flight to Seattle.
Security staff at Terminal Four discovered a three-inch penknife and pliers concealed in Ashley's socks and found a screwdriver hidden in a spectacle case.
Ashley was later bailed to appear at Uxbridge Magistrates Court on February 1. Ashley was detained after being charged under the Aviation and Security Act
At the time Ashley was working as a racing driving instructor and, with his wife Jane, had been flying out to north America to visit a recently widowed aunt. One would have though that being a commercial pilot, he would have know better. However, the case against him was discontinued at Uxbridge magistrates and Ashley walked free.
In 2003 Ashley was back in sidecar racing contesting the MRO Supersidecar Championship.