Eric Thompson (1919-2015) was a British racing driver who had a short but successful career in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
He recorded one start in the Formula One World Championship, participating in the 1952 British Grand Prix, but he achieved the most of success at 24 Hours of Le Mans where he was a class winner in 1949 and third overall in 1951.
In 2013, he was the first inductee into the Le Mans Drivers Hall of Fame. Before he died in August 2015, Eric Thompson was one of the oldest living Formula 1 drivers.
Successful broker started a racing career in 1948
Born in November 1919 in Ditton Hill, Surrey, Eric Thompson was a great fan of racing as a kid. In a pre-war period, he loved Richard Seaman, the greatest British racer of that time. During the 1930s, Eric was working as a broker at Lloyd's of London, then actively served during World War II and then finally started his racing career in 1948.
He continued to work as a broker because he was earning a good money and it was using it for funding his racing activities. His first notable race was the Paris 12 Hours at the Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery. Sharing an HRG-Singer 1100 with Robin Richards, he was fourth in class and 17th overall.
Class victories both at Le Mans and Spa in 1949
In June 1949, Thompson made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans and immediately gained a success. Sharing the #35 HRG-Singer with Jack Fairman, he was eight in the overall classification and the winner of the S1.5 class.
Two weeks later, the same pair clinched one more class victory in the same car, triumphing in the Spa 24 Hours race. To make the season even better, Thompson added few more wins to his account in the UK, winning two BARC Goodwood races and taking the class win at Silverstone International race,
Thompson joined Aston Martin in 1950
In 1950, Thompson joined Aston Martin, driving the #20 Aston Martin DB2 at 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was sharing a car with John Gordon. Their race lasted for just eight laps and then they had to stop due to engine failure,
During the year, he scored few good results in national sports car races with HRG but also made an attempt in Formula 3, driving a Cooper at Castle Combe.
Third place overall at 1951 Le Mans 24 Hours
In 1951, Thompson was combining open-wheel and sports car races, trying a variety of cars (Cooper, Bugatti, ERA/Delage, Delahaye). The highlight of the season was an overall podium at 24 Hours of Le Mans and a victory in S3.0 class. In that race, he was sharing the #26 Aston Martin DB2 with Lance Macklin.
Thompson was driving Aston Martins at Le Mans two more times, in 1952 and 1953, not finishing races in both occasions. In 1952, he was sharing an Aston Martin DB3S with Reg Parnell. In 1953, his partner was Dennis Poore.
One Formula One attempt in the 1952 British Grand Prix
In July 1952, Eric Thompson made his only Formula One attempt. He came to Silverstone to race in a factory-entered Connaught Type A in the British Grand Prix. He qualified a car equipped with a Lea-Francis engine to the ninth place on the grid.
In the race, he improved his position and finished in the fifth place, three laps behind race winner Alberto Ascari (Ferrari). Thompson earned two championship points which placed him 16th in the championship standings.
Eric Thompson in the #5 Connaught at 1952 British Grand Prix
Goodwood 9 Hours victory in 1953
In 1953, Thompson's greatest success was a victory at Goodwood 9 Hours in the #4 Aston Martin DB3S which he was sharing with Reg Parnell. A few weeks later, the pair finished second at Tourist Trophy on the Dundrod Circuit.
In 1954, Thompson and Dennis Poore were sharing David Brown's Lagonda DP115 at Le Mans, not finishing the race because of a crash.
Retiring from racing in 1956
In 1955, Thompson announced his retirement from racing due to pressure from his job. He recorded his last attempt at Le Mans in a Connaught ALSR, sharing a car with Kenneth McAlpine. They retired with engine problems after 60 laps. In August, Thompson and McAlpine raced together in the same car at Goodwood 9 Hours, finishing 16th.
Thompson's final race was in 1956 at the CUAC Speed Trials, where he was driving a 498cc Jason to second place in his class.
The first driver in the Le Mans Drivers Hall of Fame
After leaving motorsport, Thompson continued to work for Lloyd's, staying with the company until the 1980s. In that time, he started his third career as a book dealer, opening a bookshop near Guildford. He was selling rare books on the history of motorsport.
He also made occasional appearances at historic racing festivals. In 2013, he became the first driver to be inducted into the Le Mans Drivers Hall of Fame.
Eric Thompson was the first inductee into the Le Mans Drivers Hall of Fame