Gerry Birrell (1944 - 1973) was a racing driver from Scotland who was active in open-wheel and touring car competitions before he lost a life in a crash during practice for Formula 2 race at Rouen-Les-Essarts circuit in France in June 1973.
The highlight of Birrell's career was a victory in Touring class at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1972.
Formula Ford champion early in a career
Born in July 1944 in Milngavie near Glasgow, Gerry Birrell left school at the age of 15 and worked as a race mechanic for his older brother Graham Birrell. Gerry recorded his first racing attempts in the Scottish Saloon Car Championship and then entered the Formula Vee in 1967.
His first success came in 1969 when he won the Formula Ford European Championship, defeating Tony Trimmer in the title fight but also racing against some of the future F1 aces such as Emerson Fittipaldi or James Hunt.
Gerry Birrell successfully progressed through the open-wheel racing ladder
Racing in Formula 3 and Formula 2
In 1970, Birrell made a step up into the Formula 3, racing with Brabham BT28 (Ford) in the UK and France. He also had some successful sports car attempts, driving a Gropa CMC prototype in WSC races at Brands Hatch and Nurburgring. At Brands Hatch, he and Andrew Mylius were 15th overall and first in P2.0 class.
In 1971, Birrell raced with Lotus 69 (Cosworth) in the European Formula 2 Championship and some other competitions. Not scoring wins or podiums, he finished 14th in the points.
Gerry Birrell's Ford Capri RS 2600
Class victory at Le Mans in a Ford Capri
In 1971, Birrell also raced in touring car events in a Ford Capri RS 2600, recording some pretty good results, such as the 4th place at Nurburgring or second place at Paul Ricard 12 Hours. At Spa 24 Hours, he didn't finish the race.
The highlight of his career came in July 1972 when he clinched Touring class victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was sharing the #54 Ford Capri RS 2600 of Ford Deutschland with Claude Bourgoignie, finishing 10th overall. They defeated teammates Dieter Glemser and Alex Soler-Roig in another Ford Capri by three laps.
One more great result for Birrell and Bourgoignie followed in July when they finished second at Spa 24 Hours.
Gerry Birrell and Jochen Mass
Successful South African trip in a Chevron
Late in 1972, in November and December, Birrell recorded several successful sports car races in South Africa, driving a Chevron B21/23-Hart.
He and Jochen Mass finished second overall and first in G class at Kyalami 9 Hours. After that, they won two 3-hour races. In December, Birrell and Peter Gethin won at Goldfields in a Chevron.
In 1973, Birrell continued to race in a Ford Capri RS 2600. His best result was the sixth place overall and class victory at Nurburgring 1000 km, together with John Fitzpatrick. At Le Mans 24 Hours, he failed to finish the race.
Gerry Birrell in a March F2 car
A promising career ended with a crash
Parallel to his touring car commitments, Birrell raced in the European Formula 2 Championship with Chevron Racing. He scored points at Thruxton by finishing third, behind Bob Wollek and Mike Beuttler.
In the ninth round of the Formula 2 season, at Rouen, a front tire failure caused a crash during practice in which he sustained fatal injuries. A promising career of a driver who was supposed to replace Jackie Stewart in Tyrrell F1 team was abruptly ended.