- June 18, 1936
- October 04, 1992
- New Zealand
- Not Active
Denny Hulme (1936-1992) was one of the most successful racing drivers from New Zealand. He captured the Formula 1 World Championship title in 1967, driving for Brabham. In total, he recorded 112 starts in the F1 Championship between 1965 and 1974, finishing on a podium 33 times, including eight victories.
Before making a name in Formula 1, Hulme recorded two great results at Le Mans 24 Hours, scoring S850 class victory in 1961 and finishing third overall in a Ford GT40 in 1966. In the post-F1 career, he raced mostly in touring car competitions, including ten starts at famous Bathurst 1000 race. Hulme died from heart attack during the Bathurst 1000 race in 1992, at the wheel of BMW M3.
Departure to Europe early in a career
Denis Clive Hulme was born in June 1938, in the town of Motueka, best known as the region of tobacco growing in the Southern Island of New Zealand. Even there, it could be spotted that he has a driving talent as he learned to drive a truck when he was six.
He left school early and started to work in a local garage, saving money to buy a car. His first car was an MG TF and he started to compete in local hillclimbing events. His racing progress was fast, and soon, he was chosen for the 'New Zealand Driver to Europe' program.
In Europe, Hulme started racing in Formula Junior and Formula 2, driving a Cooper-BMC or Cooper-Ford. He had considerable success during 1960, but that year will be remembered for the tragedy in which his compatriot and another Driver to Europe program member George Lawton was killed in the racing accident in Roskilde in Denmark, dying in Denny’s hands.
Sadly, Hulme’s performances in Europe were unnoticed in New Zealand, so he decided to return home. After hiring a 2.5 liter Cooper-Climax, he entered New Zealand Golden Star Championship and became the outright champion. The same year, he successfully debuted at 24 Hours of Le Mans driving for the Abarth team and winning the S850 class title.
Establishing himself in the world of racing and working in the Jack Brabham’s garage near London in parallel, Hulme continued his climb to the top competitions. In 1963, he won seven races in the International Formula Junior Championship and earned a call from his boss Brabham to join his Formula 2 team. And again, success was imminent and the Kiwi was ready for Formula 1.
Formula 1 championship debut in 1965
Hulme debuted in the most popular racing series in 1965 as a driver of Brabham Racing. He scored points in France and the Netherlands, finishing 11th in the Drivers’ championship.
Interestingly, Hulme retired from five of nine races next year but was fourth overall after he clinched four podium finishes in 1965. He was second in Great Britain and third in France, Italy and Mexico.
Video : 1964 New Zealand International Grand Prix
Denny Hulme won the 1967 F1 title
In his third year with Brabham Racing, Hulme managed to win the 1967 Formula 1 championship title, silencing many critics and confirming that he is a versatile racer capable of fighting for victory at any type of track.
The Kiwi scored wins in Monaco and Germany, finished second in Great Britain, France, and Canada, and was third in the Netherlands, USA, and Mexico, scoring a total of 51 points, leaving the runner-up Jack Brabham five points behind. Denny Hulme has been the only Formula 1 champion from New Zealand thus far.
Years in the McLaren team
In 1968, Hulme decided to move to the McLaren team, ran by his compatriot Bruce McLaren. He stayed with the team for six years but despite many excellent performances, he was never close to winning another championship crown. Hulme finished third in 1968 scoring two wins, but the following three years were near to disaster as the team struggled with an unreliable car.
He scored only one victory in 1969, but the next year was even worse. Bruce McLaren was killed in an accident during testing of the new car which affected Hulme badly. In 1971, 'Bear' finished only 13th overall which was his worst result in the Formula 1 career.
Third place in the 1972 Formula 1 season
A new hope for the McLaren team was born in 1972 when Yardley became the main sponsor of the team. Partnered with his good friend Peter Revson, Hulme drove well and won the South African Grand Prix. His form was consistent throughout the whole season and he finished third in the Drivers’ championship, behind the champion Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart.
For the first time in his career, Hulme was able to finish almost all races in the 1973 season as he retired only at Zandvoort. In South Africa, he clinched his first and only F1 pole position. Later, he won at the Swedish Grand Prix but at the end of the season, Hulme was only 6th.
Retiring from F1 at the end of 1974
1974 for Hulme was marked with another tragedy. His teammate and his friend Peter Revson was killed during the testing at Kyalami and again that tragedy happened in front of his eyes. Previously, Hulme won the race in Argentina, last in his F1 career, but after Revson’s tragedy, Hulme announced retirement at the end of the season.
In his Formula 1 career, Hulme scored eight wins, 33 podiums, one pole position and nine fastest laps in 112 races, scoring a total of 248 points.
Master of the Can-Am Series
Along with his Formula 1 commitments, the racer from New Zealand successfully competed in various racing series. In 1966, he was 2nd overall at Le Mans 24 Hours, driving Ford GT40 MkII with Ken Miles. He also appeared twice at 24 Hours of Daytona, while in the Indianapolis 500 race he finished 4th twice, in 1967 and 1968.
From 1966 until 1972, Hulme partnered Bruce McLaren in the new Can-Am Series. The pair was so dominant that the competition at one point was called by the Americans ’Bruce and Denny Show’. Driving McLaren-Chevrolet cars, they won four consecutive titles from 1967 to 1970, two by Hulme and two by McLaren, while Revson was the best in 1971.
A new career in touring car racing
Hulme's retirement from racing was just temporary. He returned home to New Zealand and appeared occasionally in some local endurance races before returning to full-time racing in 1982. Four years later, he returned to Europe and competed in the European Touring Cars Championship.
Later, he also drove for the newly-formed Holden Racing Team alongside Larry Perkins. Finally, in the early 1990s, Hulme competed in trucks racing in New Zealand and Europe, driving a Scania.
Video: Danny Hulme's last race
Hulme's life ended at the wheel of a race car
Hulme’s life ended in 1992, during his favorite Bathurst 1000 race. Driving BMW M3 for the Benson & Hedges Racing team, Denny suffered a heart attack, driving at a speed of almost 230 km/h.
He somehow managed to avoid a huge crash, but when the race marshalls reached the place of the accident, he was still strapped in the car. He was immediately taken to the Bathurst hospital, but the only thing the doctors could do is confirming his death.
Hulme was hard-mouthed but sensitive
It was a sad end of the journey for one of the best New Zealand racers. Denny was a great driver, but also a difficult person due to his hard-mouthed character. Those who knew him well said that his nickname ’Bear’ was well deserved.
Many of them also said that Hulme could express his emotions and feelings only through racing. Considering everything he has achieved in his career, we can conclude that he was obviously an emotional and sensitive person.