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NOTICE OF DEATH - HUGH CHAMBERLAIN (1941 - 2024)

It is with great sadness that we must inform Members of the death last Sunday, 25 February, of Associate Member Hugh Chamberlain at the age of 82. Although he had been suffering from prostate cancer for several years, it was a heart attack which took Hugh from us. 

For reasons which he claimed never to understand, Hugh was born in a Scottish croft in Sutherland. His father was headmaster of a school in Towcester, so Silverstone circuit was only just down the road from where the family lived in the years immediately after World War 2. At the age of seven Hugh went with his father to spectate at the RAC International Grand Prix in October 1948. Along with hundreds of others they watched from the inside of Abbey, in those days the last corner before the start/finish line and a fast left-hander. Hugh was bowled over by the sounds and smells, particularly those emanating from the Maserati 4CLT/48s of Luigi Villoresi and Alberto Ascari as they carved their way through from the back of the grid to finish first and second. There and then the motor racing bug bit although everything did not fall into place immediately.

Hugh’s father became involved in race team management and Hugh regularly accompanied him to Silverstone. Like so many others at that time, he was astounded by the stunning Jaguar XK120 which was launched at the Earl’s Court Motor Show just a few weeks after that first Silverstone Grand Prix. Some 12 years later, Hugh had saved up enough from his earnings as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police to be able to buy one which was immediately put to good use in sprint events. The XK120 gave way to a Cooper-Jaguar, the ex-Tommy Sopwith YPK400, which Hugh tracked down after spotting it one night whilst on foot patrol. Hugh’s first race with the Cooper-Jaguar should have been at the 1964 8 Clubs meeting at Silverstone. However, another police officer, the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire no less in the person of experienced race and rally driver John Gott, borrowed the Cooper-Jaguar only to be smacked in the rear by another competitor and Hugh’s race debut had to wait a while.

After leaving the Met, Hugh managed a motor parts business in Hertford but the interest in motor racing did not diminish. By circuitous means he became the owner of a Mallock U2 Mk 6B which introduced him to the wonderful world of the Clubmen’s Formula. Despite the lack of formal engineering training, Hugh was a quick learner with a preference for engines rather than chassis. Gradually he built a sound customer base so that by 1972 Chamberlain Engineering had attracted a loyal following from among the Clubmen’s Formula fraternity whilst at the same time Hugh was racing his own Mallock U2 whenever he could.

Rugby football had always been another of Hugh’s interests and it was through the Royston Rugby Club that he met Will Hoy who had yet to race cars but was already outstanding in 250 Superkarts. A plan was hatched for the pair to drive each other’s machines on the Silverstone Club Circuit. On his second flying lap Will was quicker than Hugh had ever been in the Mallock. Hugh got the message, realised that he would never be an outstanding driver and would do better to concentrate on the preparation and management of racing cars and teams. Will started his first ever car race from pole position at Silverstone in March 1982 and by 1984 he was one of the winners of that year’s Grovewood Awards, going on to enjoy a very successful career and winning the British Touring Car Championship in 1991. Meanwhile Creighton Brown, a director of McLaren International and accomplished Clubmen’s competitor, encouraged Hugh to join him to run a Tiga-Hart TS84 in the Thundersports series. Reliability was not the turbocharged Tiga’s strongest suit, but Hugh was not deterred and, with encouragement from his good friend and Clubmen’s Formula star Nick Adams, decided to take the plunge into international sports car racing, first with the Tiga and then with a Spice SE87C.  In 1985 Will Hoy shared the driving with Creighton Brown but their season in Thundersports was bedevilled by engine problems with retirement from just about every race apart from an occasion at Oulton Park when they finished a strong second.

Will accepted an offer from Norwegian Rallycross ace Martin Schanche for 1987 so Nick Adams became the lead driver for Hugh’s team which had acquired a Spice SE87C but was persevering with the Hart turbo engine on the basis that the works Spices, which used the Cosworth DFL engine, would always have an advantage given the resources available, so it was necessary to try something different to gain the upper hand. There were some good drivers available with adequate funding at the time so that, for 1987, the first more or less full season for Hugh’s team in the World Sports Car Championship, Nick was joined by amongst others the quick South African Graham Duxbury, engine-builder and Formula Atlantic Champion John Nicholson and, at Brands Hatch, by future circuit owner John Foulston. In a non-championship race for Group C2 cars only at Kyalami at the end of the year Nick and Graham took a resounding victory to give Chamberlain Engineering its first international victory.

Although the Adams/Duxbury pairing continued into 1988, it was the team’s sister car, usually shared by Jean-Louis Ricci and Claude Ballot-Lena which, at a slower pace, picked up points more often, the two Frenchmen finishing sixth in the C2 Drivers’ Championship and helping Hugh’s team to second place in the Teams’ championship behind the dominant Gordon Spice/Ray Bellm factory car. A year later and, with Spice Engineering moving up to Group C1, it was the turn of Chamberlain Engineering to lead the way, now with a Cosworth DFL engine in place of the powerful but difficult Hart Turbo. Graham Duxbury retired and was replaced by the late Fermin Velez to share the driving with Nick Adams. They won the first four races and finished in a podium position in two others, clinching the C2 Championships for Drivers and Teams at Donington Park and opting out of the final round in Mexico. The only disappointment was an engine failure at Le Mans which was not a round of the World Championship that year but was the race which Hugh most wanted to win. Nick and Fermin, with Luigi Taverna as third driver, were way ahead in the C2 class when at 9 am on Sunday morning a sudden electrical problem caused a valve breakage. Some 90 minutes elapsed before the next C2 car caught up.

Group C2 as an international category was phased out at the end of the 1990s so Hugh had to run his Spices against the likes of Jaguar and Sauber-Mercedes. With wealthy but dependable amateur Ferdinand de Lesseps as regular driver, accompanied depending upon their availability by Nick Adams or Will Hoy, Chamberlain Engineering won the FIA Cup division of the 1992 world championship which had been aimed at scooping up the otherwise internationally obsolete Group C2 cars. Keeping the faith, Hugh’s team was the only one to compete at every round.

With the Group C and prototype sports cars struggling for support, Hugh took up opportunities in GT racing. There was a partnership in conjunction with Lotus Sport to develop the Lotus Esprit for racing, followed by a project to develop the Jaguar XJ220. Chamberlain Engineering became involved with the Chrysler Viper GTS programme and returned to sports-prototypes at the behest of MG in 2001. With a name change to Chamberlain-Synergy, TVR Tuscans were campaigned in the American Le Mans Series for Gareth Evans with whom Hugh ran a Lola-AER with which Gareth won the LMP2 class of the ALMS. When the partnership with Gareth came to an end in 2008, Hugh continued to be in demand as a consultant to various teams running in international sports car racing. 

Every year from 1987 to 2008 Hugh invariably had a team management role at Le Mans and continued thereafter to attend the great race. Over the years his enthusiasm for racing never left him. He was a fount of knowledge about the cars, the drivers, the regulations, and the gossip, the last invariably tinged with a delightful sense of humour. He always told you how he saw it, free from waffle and political considerations. The Chamberlain Engineering pits were always welcoming to the media and what became known in the early days of Radio Le Mans as the Chamberlain Report became a much anticipated feature of the race coverage whatever the time of day or night. Hugh had the knack of turning a mundane anecdote into a reason to chuckle. Always approachable and always affable, Hugh was a unique character in the world of sports car racing who took the business of motor racing seriously but usually with a smile on his face.

All told, between 1980 and 1985 Chamberlain Engineering won nine Clubmen’s Formula championships. Later, between 1985 and 2003 Hugh was team owner and/or manager of cars which were victorious in the British GT Championship twice, the Le Mans Series once and the Le Mans 24 Hours once. Cars under his management and/or control competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours on 25 occasions. Apart from Nick Adams, Will Hoy, Fermin Velez and Ferdinand de Lesseps already mentioned other drivers to race for Hugh’s teams over the years included Nigel Mansell, Derek Bell, Tim Harvey, Mark Blundell, Julian Bailey, Martin Donnelly, Win Percy, Anthony Reid, Mike Wilds and Michael Schumacher.

The BRDC offers its most sincere condolences to Hugh’s wife Gill, known affectionately and amusingly to all and sundry as ‘Small’, who was a constant presence by his side at race circuits around the world for decades.  Hugh’s funeral will take place at 1.30pm on Wednesday 3 April at St Mary the Virgin Church, Furneux Pelham, Buntingford SG9 0LD.  All Members are welcome to attend both the funeral service and the wake at The Brewery Tap, Barleycroft End, Buntingford SG9 0LL. 

Hugh’s wife Gill has requested no flowers but donations are welcome to the BRDC Motor Sport Charity.  Please CLICK HERE to donate.

The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ron Bennett, who was elected as a BRDC Associate Member in 1963
The Club regrets to report on the death of Denys Rohan who was elected as an Honorary BRDC Member in 2000.
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