Five Minutes with Racing Driver Brian Redman

Apr 10, 2015 02:30 AM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

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As much as new car launches and concept car presentations are part and parcel to auto show coverage, so are the personages affiliated with the automotive industry.

We were fortunate to spend a few minutes speaking with acclaimed racing driver Brian Redman and learn a little about life on and off the track. Redman, who has raced factory cars for Porsche and Ferrari, among others, was on hand at the BMW display alongside his race-winning car.

Auto World News: Why is this particular BMW 2002 on the stand?

Brian Redman: As you may know, BMW Motorsport was only formed in 1975, and so the first race was the Daytona 24 Hours, where I was driving with Ronnie Peterson, whose name is on this car still. Unfortunately, the car broke down at Daytona, but a few weeks later, we had the Sebring 12 Hours. Ronnie, at the last minute, couldn't drive, because the FIA wouldn't let him-Sebring, at that time, wasn't an FIA-recognized race-so he was pulled out. The Australian champion, Alan Moffitt, was brought in, and in the other car were Hans Stuck and Sam Posey. Before the race, the team manager got us together and said, "Hans, I wish you to go out and break ze Porsches. And Brian, you take care of winning the race."

That's really what happened. It was actually Sam Posey who broke the leading Porsche-leading him astray, shall we say-so Sam Posey, Hans Stuck and Allan Moffat all drove this car, about seven hours in it. Toward the end of the race, they said, "Brian, would you like to do the last session?" I was going around, we had a good lead, and then the battery started going down. So I was racing without the lights, except going past the pits, where I turned them on so I didn't get black-flagged. With about 20 minutes to go, I turned the lights on, going into the last turn, and I looked at the gauges, which were off the clock for the rear-axle temperature. I slowed right down as slowly as I could, and I watched the gap coming down. It all held together and we won the race. It was a fantastic win for BMW. In fact, in some ways more widely recognized today than it was then. We then went on and won several more races, including the Daytona 24 Hours the following year, in 1976. There, my co-driver, who was a well-known local Porsche dealer, felt ill, and I finished up driving 14 hours. The race was shortened by just under four hours because of some water in the fuel, but again, it held together. It went on to five cylinders around 5 in the morning, but by driving it at maximum RPM-which was 9000 RPM-we were faster than the fastest RSR Porsche.

Tell me about the life of a race driver, going from circuit to circuit.

I was already about 40 years old [when I started with BMW] and had won the world manufacturers' championships, for Ford with the GT40 in '68; and in '69 with the factory Porsches, the 908s; in '70, when the factory Porsche 917s and 908s [ran]; and in '72, for Ferrari. I'd already won four long-distance championships. I also ran single-seater championships, the Formula 5000, which was open-wheel. Mario Andretti was second for two years in that series. It came at a time in my career when I was already pretty well established, but those two races-Sebring 12 Hours and Daytona 24 hours-really stand out above all other races, except perhaps for the LeMans 24 Hours race. While people talk about [the six-hour races], what really stands out in people's memory are Sebring and Daytona, at least in America.

What is the most difficult part about an endurance race?

In those days, going back to the '70s, you really had to take some care of the car. I'm sure today, people will tell you, they drive them flat out. A 24-hour race is now like a sprint race. In those days, the cars were mechanically not as strong as they are today You had to be careful with the gearbox especially, because it was the normal, street, synchromesh gearbox. Today, it's paddle shifting, and you really can't make a mistake. You're driving flat out all the time. We had to take care of the cars to some degree.

What's your most recent race?

I raced in the Daytona 24 Hours historics last December, in a BMW CSL.

How was that?

It was very good. It belongs to a private owner, who is the president of the BMW car club. The car is, let's say, detuned. The engine is probably under 300 horsepower, whereas this engine was 430. The power band in this car was 6000 to 9000 RPM; in his car, it gives up at 6000. I'm sure he doesn't want to rebuild the engine.

Do you think road cars have gotten too powerful?

It's absolutely unbelievable, isn't it? Cars of now have the power that they can use all the time, on the road, that we had on the racing cars. Of course, we're going back 40 years, so this 430-hp engine compares to the engine of the race car behind me, which has about 490. It's restricted by the amount of air that goes through-partly why it's so reliable. They can take it to maximum revs all the time in every gear, for 24 hours. We couldn't do that. It would break if we did that. In 1981, I was driving with Bobby Rahal, who of course now runs these cars at Daytona, in a Porsche 935 in the 24 Hours race. I qualified in 15th. Bobby, a young, aggressive driver, said, "Brian, let me have a go." I said, "Bobby, leave it." At about 1 a.m., I came into the trailer and said, "How are we doing?" He said, "We're leading." I said, "I thought I told you..." and he said, "I haven't passed a single car: they've all broken down." When Donohue ran in 1969, he spent an hour and a half in the pits making repairs. Today, that doesn't happen.

What are you driving these days?

I drive a Nissan Murano on the street, because I set myself a budget of $1500 maximum that my car costs me each year. My wife has a smaller car. She drives a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. 

Auto World News was on the ground and covering the 2015 New York International Auto Show. Check out our up-to-the-minute coverage of all the action in New York City, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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