Outstanding F3 driver who made his way into F1 with Brabham. Quicker than Jackie Stewart on occasion he suffered career ending injuries driving the Ford PL3 sports prototype at the NÃ¼rburgring.
Born in Wandsworth London during World War II, Irwin began racing in the early 1960s. He made an immediate impression in his first full Formula 3 season in 1964, taking third in the Grovewood Awards. He achieved further success with the Chequered Flag Merlyn which earned him an F2 seat in 1965 again with Merlyn.
He picked up a works drive with Brabham in 1966, concentrating on F3 but occasionally racing in F2, finishing a fine third place in the Albi GP racing against the likes of Peter Gethin and Piers Courage. Driving an old four-cylinder-engined Brabham, Chris made his GP debut at Brands Hatch finishing seventh. Tim Parnell was impressed and signed him along with Piers Courage to share the semi-works BRM for 1967. The factory team was running H16 cars for Jackie Stewart and Mike Spence, while Reg Parnell Racing ran a third car for Irwin. The plan was to give him a year learning the ropes before putting him into the works team in 1968.
Courage made a late start to the season, while Irwin scored a fourth at Sandown Park and a third at Longford in the Tasman series, followed by sixth in the Race of Champions and fourth at Syracuse in Parnell’s old Lotus 25-BRM.
At the 1967 French Grand Prix at Le Mans Irwin had his moment of glory when he went faster than Stewart on the first day in the V8 car. On the second day Stewart jumped into Irwin's car and he moved over to the H16. The result of this however was that Stewart failed to match Irwin's time while he went quicker than Stewart had done in the H16 car. In the race the BRMs were not on the pace of the Brabham-Repcos but Stewart finished third. Irwin was running fourth when his engine began to misbehave and on the last lap the car stopped allowing Jo Siffert to take fourth place.
Irwin stayed under contract to BRM in 1968, but joined up with John Surtees to race the works Lola in Formula 2, winning the 1968 Eifelrennen race at the Nürburgring and finishing third at Zolder, before a return to the ’Ring in Alan Mann’s Ford P68, also commonly known as the Ford 3L GT or F3L sports car. Sadly in practice at the Flugplatz section of the Nordschleife, Chris crashed. His injuries included brain damage, which, as well preventing him racing, severely impaired his abilities to live a normal life. He eventually made a recovery, but he never raced again.
It was reported that the remains of a hare were found in the front of the car and it is possible that the collision with the animal might have caused damage to the aerodynamics of the car, which could have been the reason why it got airborne at the "jump" at the Flugplatz section, however it seems more likely that having got airbourne the car did not land straight and ended up hitting the bank and somersaulting.
Irwin is now living quietly in Rutland.