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From the archives: Sears debuts the Lotus Cortina at Oulton Park

Wednesday, December 28 2016

The motor racing world lost one of the last gentleman racers in 2016 when Jack Sears passed away in August.

'Gentleman Jack' achieved a lot in his 86 years, but he'll forever be remembered as the inaugural champion of the British Saloon Car Championship, now known as the BTCC. He won this after a shootout at Brands Hatch with rival Tommy Sopwith, whom he tied with on points at the end of the 1958 season.

Five years later Jack claimed a second title, proving that the first was no fluke. Unlike the first, won with an Austin Westminster also used by his wife for shopping trips, this was claimed in a succession of Ford saloons that included the huge Galaxie and Cortina GT. After winning the championship in September, Lotus founder Colin Chapman asked Ford's racing boss Walter Hayes if Sears would be available to give the new Lotus Cortina its debut at Oulton Park's Gold Cup meeting.

SearsOPChapman was a fan of Sears, having raced against him, and was certain that the double BSCC champion would help sell the car to racers and punters alike. Jack, however, was not such a fan of what Lotus's engineers had done with the Cortina. Unlike the Cortina GT, the Lotus version had a tendency to lift its front wheels.

In practice, Jack hustled the car into third place on the grid, behind the Galaxies of F1 stars Dan Gurney and Graham Hill. Jack grabbed second off the line at the start, but Hill used the 7-litre Galaxie's power to regain the place by the end of the opening lap and they finished the race in the same order. Third place was an encouraging performance on the Lotus Cortina's debut, but more impressively, it lapped the Cheshire track over 5mph faster than the GT version.

That initial promise quickly translated into results. The following year Jim Clark succeeded Sears as BRSCC champion in the Lotus Cortina and in 1965, Sir John Whitmore used it to claim the European Touring Car title. Even by 1968 Frank Gardner used an ex-Team Lotus car to kick off his British championship-winning season with Alan Mann Racing.