Opinion

Opinion: historic racer David Tomlin like a phoenix from the flames

Major car fire is a scary prospect for any racing driver, but that’s just what happened to David Tomlin this summer – and in two consecutive races.

Worcester-based Tomlin is a real all-rounder of historic motorsport. He has become quite a contender in historic racing, running various cars, including a rare 1973 Motul M1 Formula 2 single-seater and, most recently, a Group A Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500.

He has also taken to forest rallying in a full-spec Group 4 Ford Escort Mk2, but that has been parked in the garage all season while rallying struggles against the pandemic.

Like many, Tomlin started his season at Brands Hatch in midJuly, racing the Motul in the historic Formula 2 races on the Grand Prix circuit. Mid-race, a serious engine fire erupted as he put the power on at the exit of Druids, and the flames were licking around his shoulders by the time he had stopped the car and bailed out.

Although the fire damage wasn’t too extensive, lots of ancillary items were burnt and the car and its engine needed rebuilding before it could run again after being liberally doused in extinguishant.

The pan-European Historic F2 calendar was already in tatters due to the pandemic, so Tomlin switched to the RS500 for the Motor Racing Legends race at Thruxton in mid-August – and had a truly frightening incident. A fuel leak in the back of the car filled the cockpit with fuel vapour and it ignited without warning while he was at some speed around the daunting Thruxton sweeps.

“It was an explosion,” he says. “It blew the windows out and the doors were bent out.” Although Tomlin got the car stopped safely, he had suffered nasty but largely superficial burns to his face, which quickly swelled up as he headed to hospital. Thankfully, no lasting harm was done, and by October it was all healing well.

Once well enough to be able to stand wearing a crash helmet and balaclava again, Tomlin entered his final race of the season. The Motor Racing Legends event on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit at the end of October, hastily arranged to give racers a date to make up for all the cancelled events, offered an hour-long race for Historic Touring Cars, including the RS500.

“Every time I’ve been out this year, I’ve caught fire,” he said with a smile before qualifying at Silverstone. Thankfully, there was no three-in-a-row disaster, and he enjoyed a mighty battle with the similar car of Mark Wright before easing away for a deserved victory.

“I had to work hard for that,” Tomlin said after the race. “We lost 14 seconds in the pit stop when the car stalled as we were about to go back out. We were both running out of tyres and brakes towards the end of the race, and Mark backed out of it a little.”

After the shocking year he had suffered, Tomlin was determined to go out with a win, and it was a popular result.

Paul Lawrence

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