Robert McGregor Innes Ireland probably wasn’t the world-class racing driver but was a larger-than-life character with a life story that could be filmed.
He recorded 53 entries (50 starts) in the Formula 1 World Championship between 1959 and 1966, scoring four podiums, including a victory at 1961 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. He also won seven times in non-championship F1 races.
Engineer and lieutenant
He was born in June 1930 in the village of Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire, but spent his childhood in Dumfries and Galloway council in Scotland where his father was from. Ireland trained as an engineer with Rolls Royce.
At the same time, he began to race in an old Bentley when he was 22. Soon after he became a lieutenant in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and served with the Parachute Regiment in the Suez-Kanal area during 1953 and 1954.
Ireland began to race seriously with Lotus
When he returned home, Innes became more involved in motorsport, driving a Riley 9. Always elegant and ready for fun, Ireland was a flamboyant character with a natural talent for racing but he never was really in it.
However, in 1957 he won the Brookland Memorial Trophy and caught the attention of Colin Chapman. The Lotus company and racing team founder called him to join the squad and that was the beginning of something that could be called a serious racing career.
Innes Ireland, Lotus
Le Mans 24h debut in 1958, Formula One debut in 1959
In the following year he debuted at Le Mans 24 Hours while in 1959 Ireland debuted in the Formula 1 World Championship. Driving a Lotus 16, he scored points in two Grand Prix races and finished 14th in the standings.
In 1960 he made a huge progress driving a Lotus 18. Ireland finished 2nd at the Dutch Grand Prix and the US Grand Prix, as well as 3rd at the British Grand Prix. With 18 points on his account, the Scottish racer finished 4th in the Drivers’ Championship, behind Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, and Stirling Moss.
"I would find myself in the middle of a race, thinking about the party we would have that night while Moss was concentrated and dedicated to success,“ recalled Ireland.
Ireland with Stirling Moss and Graham Hill, Brussels Grand Prix 1960
The first and only Formula 1 Grand Prix victory
The start of 1961 season wasn’t good as he was badly injured at Monaco Grand Prix but luckily he recovered relatively quickly. The same year Ireland earned his place in the history of Formula 1 and Scottish motorsport by becoming the first racer from Scotland who won the Grand Prix. Driving a Lotus 21, he won the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
At the same time, it was a maiden victory for the Lotus team and, unfortunately, last Ireland’s win in the most popular championship. After the race the Scot said he was lucky to win after Brabham and Moss retired from the race. Another interesting fact is that was the last F1 Championship race for Stirling Moss as his career was ended by a heavy accident during the race at Goodwood in 1962.
Ireland celebrates 1961 US Grand Prix victory with Colin Chapman
Too emotional rather than coldly calculated
Surprisingly, Chapman decided to sack Ireland in 1962 and bring Jim Clark in the team. In the following Ireland tried to make an impact with various small teams.
Although having some good results, he never was able to repeat the results that he had with Lotus. He scored numerous wins in the non-championship races but his peak has passed.
"No one could ever deny that Innes Ireland was quick, and he could be phenomenally fast but the trouble was consistency in racing situations, and there were times when it could be said that Innes was too emotional in a race rather than coldly calculating," described Graham Gauld, the respected racing historian who knew him well.
Innes Ireland, British Racing Partnership F1
After racing career, Ireland worked as a journalist and editor
In parallel to his duties in the Formula 1, Ireland sporadically raced sports and touring cars with a variable success. He was able to finish 6th at 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours when he drove Maranello Concessionaires’ Ferrari 350 GTO alongside Tony Maggs.
Finally, Innes decided to retire in 1967 after the Daytona 500 race but stayed in the world of racing working as a journalist and editor. Ireland also published an autobiography ’All Arms and Elbows’.
Innes Ireland in Ferrari 250 GTO
The Scot called Ireland who was born in England and lived in Wales also was a President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club until the time of his death. He died from cancer on October 22, 1993, in Reading.