Innes Ireland may not have been the most successful Grand Prix driver of his era, but he was one of the most personable, the kind of man who could transform even the staunchest rival into the best of friends with nothing but his wit and charm. And on this day in 1930, Ireland was born.
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Ireland had an interest in cars all his life, which led him to his first job in the automotive field: training as a Rolls-Royce engineer. Like many other drivers of his era, he took a detour through the military, where he served as a lieutenant in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers as part of the Parachute Regiment in the Suez Canal Zone during 1953 and 1954.
The year he finished his military service, Ireland began racing behind the wheel of a Riley 9, which was one of the most successful British-made cars of the time. He quickly moved up to international sportscar competition, which saw him scouted out by Colin Chapman at Team Lotus in order to make his Formula One debut in 1959. Back in that era, there were about as many non-championship F1 events as there were points-scoring events—and that seemed to be where Ireland had most of his luck. In 1960, he won three non-championship events but retired from most of the points-scoring events. And in 1961, he missed out on a race because he broke his leg in a bad qualifying crash. He managed to win the United States Grand Prix that year—but it wasn’t enough.
If you were in Chapman’s favor, all was well—but Ireland never quite forged the close friendship or the results necessary for him to remain as part of the team. As a result, Ireland lost his seat to Scottish up-and-comer Jim Clark. History will probably say Chapman made the right choice in the long run, but it was still a difficult blow for Ireland, who never had the chance to drive a car that competitive again. In 1962, he retired from five races and didn’t start one—and there were only nine races in the season. Ireland never ran a full F1 season again, retiring in 1966.
Despite that, Ireland continued to have a long career in and around motorsport. He raced at the 1967 Daytona 500 but lost his engine before the end of the race. He wrote an autobiography and worked as a journalist for magazines like Road & Track and Autocar. He was elected president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and held that position until he died of cancer in 1993.