David Hobbs came to prominence as a racing driver in 1961, at age 23, when he won 14 races from 18 starts in a Lotus Elite fitted with a clever automatic gearbox designed and built by his father. The following year, the Englishman took part in the inaugural Daytona 3 Hours and entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first of 20 times (winning his class in an Elite). Thereafter, drives came thick and fast, and Hobbs turned professional at the end of ’63.
Like most pro drivers of the day, Hobbs piloted just about everything he could lay his hands on. He raced Lotus Cortinas for Colin Chapman, Formula Juniors, F2s, the Lola GT, then Lola T70s and Ford GT40s. He landed his first Formula 1 drive in 1966. In 1968, he won the Monza 1,000-kms and the 9 Hours of Kyalami with John Wyer’s Gulf team. He finished third overall at Le Mans in 1969 in a Ford GT, a feat he repeated in 1984 in a Porsche 956.
As much due to opportunity as planning, much of Hobbs’ racing took place in the United States. He competed extensively in Can-Am and Formula 5000, clinching the latter championship in 1971. He raced at Indy (four times) and in the Daytona 500, competed in several Grands Prix with McLaren, Honda, and Bernard White’s BRM. During the mid to late ’70s he raced BMW sedans, and in 1983, driving a Chevrolet Camaro, he was crowned Trans-Am champion.
And, of course, Hobbs piloted a number of privateer Ferraris. These ranged from a Dino 206 S for Colonel Ronnie Hoare to 250 LMs for White and David Piper to 512 M’s for Roger Penske and Escuderia Montjuich.
Hobbs continued racing sports cars until 1990, when he finally hung up his crash helmet, but his involvement in motorsport continued. Since 1976, alongside his busy race schedule, Hobbs has been a much-in-demand television racing commentator; many readers will know him from his place alongside Leigh Diffey and Steve Matchett on NBC’s F1 coverage.
We spoke with Hobbs from his home in Florida following the publication of his autobiography — Hobbo: Motor Racer, Motor Mouth — in conjunction with Andrew Marriott and Evro Publishing.
Your very first Formula 1 race was the 1966 Syracuse Grand Prix, where you were up against Ferrari.
Yes. It was a non-Championship event but in those days most people went. I went with Tim Parnell [the son of Reg Parnell] and drove his Lotus-BRM. The Ferrari team were there in full force with John Surtees and [Lorenzo] Bandini. They came first and second and, miraculously, I came third.
It was a wildly dangerous place, particularly for the spectators because they were sitting there right on the edge of the road. As the race got nearer the end, they got closer and closer to the road. I remember on the slowing-down lap you were down to a crawl because people came onto the road. It was like driving through a market on a Saturday morning. You drove through them trying to make sure they didn’t nick the wing mirrors off it.