Thailand’s oldest race driver shares his secrets

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Driving race cars is usually thought of as a young man’s sport, but there are a few ‘senior’ drivers around the world who can challenge that idea, and Pattaya resident Dr. Iain Corness is one of them.

Dr. Iain admits he is completely involved in his sport, and gets annoyed when people refer to motor racing as his hobby.  “It’s more than a hobby – it’s my passion,” he says.

Dr Iain Corness drives his race-modified MGB in this undated photo.Dr Iain Corness drives his race-modified MGB in this undated photo.

He began motor racing in 1965 in a 10 year old MGA he bought under hire purchase.  This meant he had to run with an assumed name and he chose “Ian Gordon” as his alias.  He is also proud of the fact that “Ian Gordon” came third on his first race and won five pounds!  This was on the Lowood circuit in Queensland Australia, a track that was lost to a housing development.  Dr. Iain says with a wry smile, “I have raced at more tracks that no longer exist than any other current driver!”

In 1966 he went to the UK to further his medical studies but made contact with the MG car company and returned in 1969 with all the performance bits for an MGB, and the ‘grand plan’ in his head.

The Doc puts a Mk1 Escort through its paces at the Buriram Chang Circuit in Thailand.The Doc puts a Mk1 Escort through its paces at the Buriram Chang Circuit in Thailand.

The first MGB race car was made from a burned out shell, which he built under his house in Brisbane, Australia, with the help of a young pharmacy student, John Campbell.

This car was immediately the fastest racing MGB, and Dr. Iain was noticed by British Leyland who contracted him into the Works Team.  Over the next two seasons he continued to develop the MGB and in 1971 British Leyland claimed it was the fastest MGB in the world.  (In 2013, articles were still being written about that car, which has been totally restored and races in historic events in Australia by the new owner Ian Rogers.)

His next project was to develop and race a Mk 1 Ford Escort.  This car showed so much promise that he was chosen by Castrol Oils to represent Team Castrol in 1979 in Australia, with his friend John English.

The oldest racer in town but still fast enough to show some of the youngsters a clean pair of heels. (Photo/Edd Ellison/Fast Track Media)The oldest racer in town but still fast enough to show some of the youngsters a clean pair of heels. (Photo/Edd Ellison/Fast Track Media)

With Castrol’s support Dr. Iain then went on to design and build the first winged, space-framed Ford Escort sports sedans in Queensland, picking up sponsorship from Bryan Byrt Ford, at that time the biggest Ford Dealership in the Southern hemisphere.

After the Escort, Dr. Iain was invited to drive in the Gemini one make series where he came third in his first race in these cars, having never even sat in one before.  More drives came his winning way, driving a venerable Datsun 1600 to win the Queensland Under 2 Liter championship and a second in the Australian championships.  He also won the Formula Ford category in the Australian Hill Climb championships and was invited to drive a Lola T 430 Formula 5000 in Melbourne.

Until he left Australia to come to Thailand he raced many different cars for different teams, and always delivered trophies to the sponsors.

By now, in his 40th year of motor sport, he was invited by the Pizza Company team to drive their Vios in Endurance events, racing at the local Prince Bira circuit and then around the houses event at Bang Saen.

Dr. Iain test drives a Lola T 430 Formula 5000 in Melbourne, Australia.Dr. Iain test drives a Lola T 430 Formula 5000 in Melbourne, Australia.

However, he did find that one hour behind the wheel was becoming a little taxing, and so returned to sprint racing, going back and choosing a Mk 1 Ford Escort to compete in the Retro Class.  This was only made possible with the TBX company’s backing, and Kevin Fisher’s (CEA and CES) companies.  Of course there are other major sponsors who have helped keep the Escort on the track, and the driver in the seat, and these include David Nardone (Hemaraj), Peter Papanikitas (Stonefish Wines), and Henk Kiks (B-Quik), along with minor (but important) sponsors such as Peter Malhotra (Pattaya Mail), Peter Smith (AA Insurances), Terry Wilson (AVO Turbos), Royal Cliff Hotels, and Thomas Raldorf (CEA’s number 1 driver).

This car and its driver has continued to confound the critics, with many of the young Thai drivers he competes against being shocked when they find they have just been beaten by a 73 year old!

Has he had any accidents during his 50 years in the sport?  “Yes, I’ve had a couple of big ones in that time.  In 1982 I had a Gemini catch fire after being pushed into the fence and I had to kick my way out of that one, and in 2012 a triple barrel roll at the Kaeng Krachan circuit in Petchburi was fairly exciting.”

However, he says that he is no dare-devil behind the wheel, but with so much experience he knows just what risks he can take, and what risks he can get away with!

At the local race meetings the team has a hospitality corner in the pit for the sponsors and their guests to rub shoulders with the driver and crew, a specialized type of networking, and once a year organizes ‘fast taxi rides’ for all those associated with the team, fitting an extra seat to give the passengers the ride of their lives.

Racing a Formula Ford at the Australian Hill Climb championships.Racing a Formula Ford at the Australian Hill Climb championships.

Regular bulletins are sent out to keep the team sponsor’s abreast of race car preparation and results.  “I like the sponsors to think of the race team as an extension of their own marketing departments, and a display featuring the car always draws interested spectators.”

So at 73 years of age, does he take any magic elixir of life or special drugs to stay fit?  “The only drug I need is motor sport.  That’s what keeps me young!”  He also advocates retired people being passionately involved in ‘something’ as the way to beat advancing years.  “You can’t stop getting older, but you don’t have to mature!”

The car is almost as popular as the driver.  This Mk 1 was originally built in Thailand in 1973, surprising many people who did not know that Ford had a presence here in Thailand all those years ago.  Judging by the number of people who want to be photographed with the car, it would seem that a Mk 1 Escort played a significant role in many people’s lives, a first car for some or the car they proposed to their sweetheart in (and many other situations).

On the race track, Mk 1 Escorts were also a very successful car, winning championships 40 years ago, and if Dr. Iain has any say in the matter, Mk 1 Ford Escorts will continue fighting for outright honors in 2015!

If you would like to become involved with this amazing team, potential sponsors can contact Dr. Iain by email [email protected]