A Tribute To
Russell Brookes - Two Times British Rally Champion
We were honoured to have Russell Brookes as our President, his family still have an involvement in the Club and have kindly donated trophies from Russell’s own collection for Club use. His wife, Julia and Son Rob have kindly attended and presented awards at the Club Awards Dinner. The two times British Rally Champion and one of the few British drivers to win a World Championship Rally (New Zealand). He was an active member of the club, attending events, including being the Starter for The Lavender Run and presenting the Trophies at the annual Club Dinner.
Russell passed his driving test in 1962 and at that time was a Member of Hagley and District Car Club. He proceeded to buy a Mini in which to compete. However he was due to participate in the Mermaid Rally in 1963 but his Dad had an accident in the car and put it out of action. Enjoying motor sport, but not having and in-depth knowledge of what rallying involved, his Dad told him that he could borrow his Austin Westminster instead. Russell rolled the car off the road, an inauspicious start to his rally career and as the insurance company would not pay for the repairs his Dad sold the Mini to pay for the damage to the Westminster, hence Russell became a Navigator for five years as the rally pot was gone!
“Russell rolled the car off the road, an inauspicious start to his rally career…”
Roger Platt introduced Russell to Redditch and District Car Club in 1966. Roger used to visit Redditch Car Auctions, buy whatever he could for under £25.00, fit spots and a map light, rally it that weekend and then put it back through the auctions the following week! This made for an interesting mix of cars including a Jaguar XK120 and a Vauxhall Veloux.
He made his competitive debut in club events in 1963. At first he drove privately entered cars including a BMC Mini Cooper. Progress was slow until 1973 as the sport at that time did not permit sponsorship of individual cars. He then came to the attention of the Ford Motor Company when contesting their Ford Escort Mexico (one make) championship.
In 1974 he started on one of the longest running sponsorship deals in motorsport when he signed with Andrews – Heat for Hire. Their distinctive yellow colour scheme graced nearly all of his cars through to 1991. During this period the sponsors’ turnover grew from £1.5m to over £60m making it a benchmark for other sponsorship deals.
He won the British Rally Championship first in 1977 in a Ford Escort RS1800 and again in 1985 in an Opel Manta 400. In 1978 he won Rally New Zealand and finished on the podium on the RAC three times in a row from 1977 to 1979.
“In 1974 he started on one of the longest running sponsorship deals in motorsport when he signed with Andrews – Heat for Hire. Their distinctive yellow colour scheme graced nearly all of his cars through to 1991.”
In 1976 Russell was invited to join the Ford ‘works’ team to drive an Escort RS1800 in the British Rally Championship. At that time the British Championship was highly competitive having eclipsed the World Rally Championship for publicity. He found himself in formidable company not least from within the team, Björn Waldegård, Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen (all World Champions), being his team mates. The won the Open Championship in 1977 and then stayed with Ford until the end of the 1979 World Rally Championship season.
Two years in the Talbot team then followed before he joined the Vauxhall/Opel dealer team, first in the Chevette HSR and then the Group B Opel Manta 400. The two years with the Opel Manta put Brookes head to head with his team mate Jimmy McRae. The contest was more about the unofficial title of ‘Top British Driver’ than the championship itself. McRae won in 1984 and Brookes in 1985.
After a year in the uncompetitive Vauxhall Astra and a one off event in a ‘works’ Lancia Delta Integrale, Brookes rejoined Ford in 1988 for an assuault on the British Rally Championship first in a Sierra RS Cosworth and later in a Sapphire Cosworth 4×4 giving Ford their first international win with the new four wheel drive car. He stayed with Ford until the end of 1991 when he retired from professional rallying. He still made appearances in various cars on historic rallies and at motor sport events such as Goodwood Festival of Speed and the ‘Children in Need’ CarFest.
As a local man himself, Russell was keen for Redditch and District Car Club to continue to develop and encourage the enthusiasm for Motor Sport. He felt that the Club is welcoming with a great atmosphere and puts on fun events for its Members. After his retirement he played an active role in nurturing new rally talent and promoting the sport by attending and driving some of his iconic cars at events such as Race Retro.
Russell tragically died on 30th October 2019 aged 74.