Sir Jack Sears

Sir Jack Sears

16/2/1930

Jack Sears was one of the principal organisers of the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon. He competed in rallies and races for 15 years. He was British Saloon Car Racing Champion 1958 and again in 1963 in a Ford Galaxie and retired from active competition at the end of 1965. Recruited by the BMC Works team as a race / rally driver in 1955, Sears won the inaugural British Saloon Car Championship aboard an Austin Westminster some three years later. Transferring to Tommy Sopwith's Equipe Endeavour for 1960, he spent three successful seasons piloting Jaguar MKIIs, E-types and an Aston Martin DB4GT before joining the Willment outfit. Progressing from a Ford Cortina GT to 39 PH via a 7-litre Ford Galaxie (which helped secure him a second BSCC title in 1963), Sears was granted works drives by both Shelby American and Team Lotus during 1965 but chose to retire at the season's end. In 1963 he also raced a Lotus Cortina taking four class wins and winning the Marlboro 12 hour race with Bob Olthoff, and an outright win in a round of the European Touring Car Championships in 1965. At Le Mans he drove a Maranello Concessionaires entered Ferrari 330 LMB to fifth overall. For the 28th RAC International Tourist Trophy race due to be held at Goodwood on August 24th Jack raced an E type but before he tested a Cobra for Willment. Coombs pushing me on one side to drive his lightweight E-type in the TT and Willment on the other to drive the Cobra. I chased around in the E-type and it was superb. Then I tried the Cobra and was shattered by its performance - much quicker in a straight line than the E-type or 250 GTO. But I was shattered by its handling too because it went anywhere . . . you aimed it at the apex and somehow bounced it round the corner. I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and drove the E-type Sears finished fourth overall on race day. In 1964 Jack was under contract to Willmet as their number one saloon car driver. But he also drove a Cobra very enthusiastically. Making his first appearance with the Cobra at Goodwood for the News of the World International Trophy Race (Sussex Trophy) on 30th March 1964, he not only beat the Aston Martin DB4GT of Mike Salmon and Jaguar E-type of Dick Protheroe but also split the Ferrari 250 GTOs of Graham Hill and David Piper to claim a strong second overall. Crossing the line a mere 0.8 seconds behind Hill, Sears had actually led the first few laps much to the consternation of renowned Motorsport columnist Denis Jenkinson who recounted their clash thus: There was an embarrassing moment when it looked as though Willment's hulking great AC Cobra V8, driven by Jack Sears, was going to beat Graham Hill in a 1964 Ferrari GTO, but right prevailed against might and the Ferrari got in front and stayed there, but for the rest of the race Hill could see the Cobra making ugly faces at him in the rear-view mirror and he had to press on to the bitter end. A week later at the Oulton Park Trophy Race he qualified behind Jim Clark's 2.5 litre Lotus 19 but ahead of Bruce McLaren's 2.7 litre Zerex Special. Sears' solid drive to second overall was rewarded with a class win. 10 day passed before the Aintree 200 sports car. Beaten to pole position by Bruce McLaren's Zerex Special and demoted to third during the race by a hard-charging Jim Clark aboard the new Lotus 30, Sears still managed second in the 'Over 3,000cc' class. His inability to keep the Lotus 30 at bay is perhaps understandable given that it was powered by a similar Ford Advanced Vehicles supplied 289ci V8 and enjoyed a 300kg weight advantage! B.R.D.C.'s Silverstone based 'Festival of Speed' on May 2nd saw Sears manage a highly impressive third overall in wet conditions. He finished Graham Hill's winning Ferrari 250 GTO and Mike Salmon's Aston Martin DP214. Convincingly quicker than David Piper's Ferrari 250 GTO and the Jaguar E-type Lightweights of Roy Salvadori, Dick Protheroe and Dan Gurney, he set an equal fastest lap with the Hill and Salmon at 1 minute 51.2 seconds (95.135mph). In 1964 About a fortnight before Le Mans Derek Hurlock, proprietor of AC cars who had built a Cobra Coupé to compete with Carroll Shelby's Daytona Cobra Coupé at Le Mans, thought they ought test the car to assertain its top speed. They got up at dawn on a June morning to do a run up and down the M1 motorway. They met up at the Southern Service Station and Jack Sears went north for several miles ,hit what he felt was the top speed before turning 'round and heading back south without encountering any traffic. Back at the service station they worked out the top speed on a lside rule from the rvs and rear axle rations. It worked out at 185mph. Sadly the car was destroyed after a rear tyre burst in the race, putting Peter Bolton into hospital. Jack is the only man in the world who has raced a Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupé, the AC Car Company Cobra Coupé and the Willment Cobra Coupé. The Cobra's next competitive outing with Sears was the Ilford Films Trophy Race a support race at the RAC European Grand Prix meeting at Brands Hatch on July 11th. The car had just been repaired after a crash at the Nurburgring 1,000km while being driven by Frank Gardiner. Better known to a generation of enthusiasts as the 'black flag' race, Sears still considered it to be a career defining moment when interviewed by Autosport magazine some twenty-five years later: Practice hadn't gone too well for me; the car wasn't handling as well as it had in previous races. I think they'd changed the shock absorbers or something, and the car was more nervous - I couldn't get to grips with it or relax, and I was off the pace, fourth fastest. My team mate Bob Olthoff in another Cobra (CSX 2130) had put himself on pole, but then crashed, too severely for his car to be repaired, so he didn't make the race. Jackie Stewart in the Lightweight E-type was second fastest, Roy Salvadori in another Cobra third. That officially put me on the inside of the second row. During the warming-up lap I thought 'This is a bit of luck - Olthoff won't be starting so pole will be vacant and I can take a flyer into his slot and try and slide up inside Stewart'. In fact, when we got to the line, pole was occupied by Stewart who had moved over! Salvadori was in the middle slot. I paused momentarily on the second row then thought 'There's a blank space on the front row, they've moved over, that must be the form, closing up ranks', so I drove onto the outside place on the front grid. About a minute before flag fall, however, a marshal rushed up and said 'You're in the wrong row, you've got to go back', I said 'I can't! There's less than a minute to go, all the engines have been started it's too late!' He ran off the grid . . . I didn't make a particularly good start - I think I was about third or fourth into Paddock. And then, at the end of the first lap, the black flag went out with my number on it! I thought 'Hell, why are they black-flagging me? Maybe there's something wrong with the car I can't see'. But it felt alright. At the end of the second lap I came into the pits, to be admonished by an irate official who said 'You've been brought into the pits because you started on the wrong row of the grid. This is your penalty. You may now go'. I was absolutely white with anger and belted up the pit road effing and blinding, shaking my fists at everyone, and rejoined in eighth or ninth position, something like that. All the problems with the car were forgotten; there was just this white heat. I began lapping 2 seconds quicker than in practice, and then nearly lost it at Paddock on the first lap after the stop! I suddenly thought '50,000 people are waiting to see you go off, so don't be stupid - settle down and drive the bloody motor car'. I kept gaining places, gaining places, gaining places, the pit signals showing my minus position on Stewart - 10 seconds, 8 seconds, 5 seconds, 1 second. And then on the 16th lap I came up behind Jackie, so I was up to second. I thought 'how the hell am I going to get past?', and from memory I took him on the Hawthorn Straight. Jackie admitted then, and in fact still admits today, that he could do nothing about it. In the end, Sears finished over four seconds ahead of Stewart and nearly thirty seconds up on Salvadori. To celebrate this meteoric drive and the setting of a "New Lap Record of 89.66mph for GT cars" whilst using their tyres, Goodyear took a full page advertisement in Motorsport. Returning to the fray eight days on for the Scott Brown Trophy at Snetterton on July 19th, Sears' race ended when the Cobra's transmission locked up, the sole occasion the car would fail him that season. On August 3rd the Guards International Trophy Race at Brands Hatch was open to Prototypes, Sports Racers and GT cars, the event drew the attention of the Texan Mecom Racing Team whose impressive driver / car line-up encompassed Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt and Walt Hansgen. Other big guns on the grid included Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Innes Ireland, David Piper, Bruce McLaren, Jackie Stewart and Roy Salvadori. Putting in a typically gutsy qualifying performance, Sears headed the GT times in the Cobra at 1 minute 46.2 seconds. Predictably slower than the likes of Hill and Salvadori, he managed to show a clean pair of heels to Stewart, Foyt and Pabst. Starting from ninth on the grid, Sears spent the next forty-nine laps embroiled in a thrilling Cobra battle with Chris Amon. Driving for Tommy Atkins' team, the latter crossed the finishing line just 1.4 seconds behind fifth-placed Sears. On something of a roll, Sears and the Cobra took overall victory in the GT race at Croft on August 22nd, and arrived at Goodwood the following week for the 29th RAC International Tourist Trophy, they lost out in qualifying to the Shelby American entered Daytona Coupes of Dan Gurney and Phil Hill but proved usefully swifter than the Ferrari 250 GTOs of Innes Ireland, Richie Ginter, Tony Maggs and John Surtees. Indeed, Sears' best time of 1 minute 28.0 seconds was three seconds a lap faster than he had managed during practice the previous year. In the race Roy Salvadori, driving Tommy Atkins' Cobra lead the GT class, while Jack had spun his Willment car on the very first corner, dropping him to the back of the field, and putting himself in just the mood for a big comeback drive. Sure enough he carved his way through the field until he was challenging Dan Gurney's second place in the GT class with the Daytona Coupe. This in turn speeded up Gurney, who began to eat into Salvadori's lead, and was given a 'bonus' when Roy spun his car and lost several valuable seconds. After all the routine half-distance pit stops, Gurney emerged with the GT leadership and Sears continued to challenge, fianlyy crossing the line in fourth overall and second in class behind Graham Hill's Ferrari 330P, David Piper's Ferrari 275LM and Dan Gurney's Daytona Coupe.

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