- October 16, 1918
- February 06, 2008
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
Tony Rolt (1918 – 2008) was a British racing driver who was active between 1935 and 1955, mostly in the sports car racing but also participating in three Formula 1 Championship races, including the first-ever championship race, the 1950 British Grand Prix. He contested seven times at Le Mans 24 Hours, winning the race in 1953 and finishing second in 1954, both times driving Jaguars.
After retiring from racing, Rolt was working as an engineer, participating in a project of the Ferguson 4WD Formula 1 car among others.
Eton student started to race at the age 16
Anthony Peter Roylance 'Tony' Rolt was born in Bordon, Hampshire, as a fourth child of Brigadier-General Stuart Rolt. Tony was educated at Eton, starting his racing career while he was still in a college, at the age 16 in 1935, participating in speed trials in a Morgan 3-wheeler.
In 1936, Rolt made a debut at Spa 24 Hours, driving a Triumph Gloria Vitesse together with Jack Elliott. They finished 11th overall and fourth in class. In 1937, Rolt raced a Triumph Dolomite, winning the Coronation Trophy and not finishing the Donington 12 Hours.
In 1938, Rolt had bought the famous ERA Remus race car from Prince Bira, who was his friend from Eton College. Rolt had won one race at Brooklands in that car. In 1939, Rolt was a winner of the British Empire Trophy at Donington Park in an ERA Type B. Soon after that, the World War II stopped all racing activities.
War hero and prisoner of war
Before the war, Rolt entered the Royal Military College in Sandhurst and then, in 1939, he received a commission in the Rifle Brigade. In 1940, he was sent to France where he was captured and taken a prisoner of war. Rolt escaped seven times from German prisoner camps before being sent to the maximum security prison in Colditz Castle. In Spring 1945, the US Army liberated the castle.
For his military actions, Rolt was awarded the Military Cross while for his determined escape attempts he was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross. After the war, Rolt resigned his commission with the rank of Major.
Return to racing in 1948, Le Mans debut in 1949
Rolt returned to racing in 1948, taking the second place at Zandvoort Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo Bimotore. He also participated in Spa 24 Hours, not finishing the race in an Aston Martin Speed.
In 1949, Rolt began a close association with Rob Walker, driving his #10 Delahaye 135CS in his Le Mans 24h debut. Rolt's co-driver was Guy Jason-Henry. They retired after 126 laps with a broken engine.
Participation in the first ever F1 Championship Grand Prix race
In May 1950, Rolt was one of the participants in the historic British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the first ever Formula 1 Championship race. He partnered Peter Walker in his #9 ERA.
Walker was driving for two laps before Rolt took over, staying in a car for three more laps before he retired with a broken gearbox. Fifty-eight years later, before his death, Rolt was the longest surviving participant of that historic race.
Rolt – Hamilton partnership was born in 1950
In 1950, the partnership between Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton was born, which resulted with six participations at Le Mans, including one victory and one more podium. Their first attempt was in June 1950 in the #14 Nash-Healey E. They finished fourth overall.
In 1951, they returned to Le Mans in the #19 Nash-Healey Coupe, finishing in the sixth place overall. A year later, Rolt was invited to drive for Jaguar factory team. He chose Hamilton as his co-driver. Their first Le Mans attempt in a Jaguar C-Type was disappointing as they retired after four hours.
1953 Le Mans 24h victory for Rolt and Hamilton
And then the 1953 Le Mans race came, with a scenario like in a Hollywood movie. Jaguar entered the event with three cars but Rolt's car was disqualified due to some misunderstanding during a practice session. Rolt and Hamilton were eventually allowed to compete and they became the race winners.
Second F1 attempt at 1953 British Grand Prix
In that time, Rolt was successful in British national events driving Connaughts for Rob Walker and regularly winning races or finishing on a podium. In July 1953, he was invited to drive the #14 Connaught Type A for Rob Walker at the British Grand Prix, the sixth round of the 1953 F1 Championship. Rolt retired after 70 laps with broken halfshaft.
Second place at 1954 Le Mans 24 Hours
In June 1954, Rolt and Hamilton returned to Le Mans in the #14 Jaguar D-Type, as one of three Jaguar's crews. After an exciting battle against Scuderia Ferrari's Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant in the #4 Ferrari 375 Plus, Rolt/Hamilton finished in the second place. Later in the season, they were also second at Reims 12 Hours.
Rolt and Hamilton had their last participation at Le Mans in 1955, in the event marked by the greatest tragedy in a history of motorsport. They were driving the #7 Jaguar D-Type, retiring after 16 hours with a broken gearbox.
One more Formula One attempt in 1955
In July 1955, Rolt recorded one more participation in the Formula 1 Championship, entering the British Grand Prix at Aintree. He drove the #36 Connaught Type B, sharing a car with Peter Walker. Rolt was driving for ten laps, then Walker for nine laps before retiring due to transmission failure.
Rolt recorded two more races in 1955, not finishing with Jaguar D-Type at Goodwood 9 Hours (DNF) and taking second place at Silverstone National with Connaught Type B. At the end of 1955, he retired from racing, although he spent the next season as a member of Jaguar team.
Developing a race-winning 4WD Formula 1 car
After leaving racing duties, Rolt switched his focus on engineering activities. For many years, Rolt and his friend Freddie Dixon were researching the four-wheel drive. After receiving support from tractor magnate Harry Ferguson, they developed a Ferguson P99 four-wheel drive Formula 1 car.
The car debuted at 1961 British Empire Trophy, where Jack Fairman was driving for Rob Walker. The greatest success came in the International Gold Cup at Oulton Park in September 1961, where Stirling Moss won the race in a Ferguson P99. It was the first and only 4WD car to win the Formula 1 event.
The P99 was later used as the basis for the Ferguson P104 4WD car, which contested at Indianapolis 500 few times, with Bobby Unser as a driver.
Rolt's firm was developing 4WD technology for major players
In 1971, Tony Rolt founded his own firm FF Developments, continuing to exploit the 4WD technology. In 1981, Rolt's son Stuart, joined the company as Marketing Director, becoming Chief Executive in 1986. In 1990, the company opened an engineering center in Detroit. In 1994, Ricardo group bought a firm, renaming it into FFD-Ricardo. Stuart Rolt remained the CEO until 1996.
During decades of working with 4WD technology, the company became the major partner to some of the biggest car manufacturers (Ford, Chrysler, GM, Audi, Fiat, Jaguar, McLaren).