Last week we noted the death of Gordon Rogers who, as well as being a very nice person, became a superstar of rallycross in just one weekend of giant killing performances at Lydden. he then stopped racing for a quarter of a century before returning to be successful again. To mark his passing and to explain just why he is regarded as one of the greats, we are re-running this story from the Autumn 2002 issue of rallycross World Magazine.
When I started working in Rallycross and would get excited about this or that driver doing well, older hands would often stop me in my tracks with wise words about a man called Gordon Rogers.
In the mid-80s Rogers had stopped racing but, I would be told, in 1977 Rogers had rolled up at Lydden with his little green Mini and promptly run rings around a classy European entry in Saturday’s televised event. Not done with that, Rogers was back for more on Sunday when he won the final round of the British Championship.
It was the stuff of legend, the young Englishman and his Mini conquering allcomers and the weather to and taking an event win over Per Eklund, then like now a factory backed Saab driver.
Rogers was, my educators said, the man. I took their word and filed the Rogers name away for future reference.
Then, in 1996, a young man called Rogers driving a Mini appeared in Rallycross. Barry, younger brother of Gordon, looked like a chip off the block, soon got the hang of his Mini and in 1997 won his class in the BRDA championship.
Barry’s presence at Rallycross reintroduced Gordon to the sport he had left soon after claiming those major scalps at Lydden and it wasn’t long before his itch needed scratching.
Returning as a driver with a Vauxhall Nova, Rogers was soon in with the fastest of the 1600cc class in Britain.
A new car was also planned and at the start of the 2001 season Gordon wheeled out a new 2.0-litre Vauxhall Corsa, once again finished in his trademark lime green.
This year he has been the force in the BRDA’s Modified Championship, winning twice and leading the title race into the final round at Croft. Today he is rightly recognised as being among the fastest in the game and his star is rising again, but few know that, at 52-years, he is scaling the heights for a second time and that he was a star when being a star meant being a household name.
So, back to 1977 and in the first weekend of November Thames Estuary Automobile Club were running a weekend of Rallycross that comprised the BBC televised Castrol International on Saturday and the RAC British Championship Final on Sunday.
“I can remember that it was wet on both days and also that it was just one of those where everything you do goes right, everything went my way.” says Rogers.
“We lashed out and bought some new tyres which I had never done before, I suppose that helped.
“I didn’t work that year, I spent the whole year racing. I did the French championship and an event in Sweden and one in Belgium and I finished third in the French championship (won by Jean Ragnotti in a Renault Alpine A310 V6). Coming home to race at Lydden and winning that was the icing on the cake, it was absolutely spot on.
“I’d built up to what I did in 1977, I’d had okay cars before that but the car I had that year was the best one, it had a proper 1500cc engine.
“Beating Per Eklund was quite a thing but it’s the rain I remember more than anything. It was so wet that I wore Wellington boots in the car, the car was just full of water. Back then you had a hole in the windscreen – I really can’t imagine doing that now, but it was a different era.
“The races were only four abreast then, which personally I quite like, but that may have made it a bit easier. I suppose the weather made it difficult for the boys with more power but it suited me just right.”
Rogers is modest about his achievements that weekend but the Marcus Pye’s event report in Autosport makes it clear that Rogers was the star performer.
‘Gordon was up against Cees Teurlings, Eklund and [John] Taylor in his heat and, after being out-dragged by the Porsche at the start, drove the little green Mini heroically to vanquish the foreigners, Taylor retiring with mechanical failure before his challenge could materialise.’ wrote Pye, going on to praise Rogers further ‘Gordon drove beautifully once again, maximising his traction advantage to beat [Ron] Douglas and the overpowered Porsche [Teurlings] while [Trevor] Hopkins retired.’
The event was run on a knock-out basis, quarter Finals deciding the four Finalists and here Rogers made his move on Eklund early.
‘…as the flag fell the black Saab and the green Mini moved as one with the Escort [John Welch] struggling for grip… A brave manoeuvre saw Rogers inherit the lead he was never to lose and, despite the close attentions of the quick Saab, the title fell to the Mini-man who, it can be falrly said, totally dominated the day’s sport. In accomplished style Rogers reeled off the laps for a very popular victory over Eklund.’
There was more of the same the next day, when Robin Bradford wrote of Rogers:
‘Gordon Rogers continued his excellent form from Saturday… The Grand Final saw Rogers, [Trevor] Reeves and Barry Hathaway’s Minis lined up alongside George Warren’s Escort. With Trevor Reeves running a little wide early on, Rogers was ahead and there he stayed, despite some determined challenges from the Dove Group car. Hathaway finished third and George Warren fourth.’
“I think the Mini was coming to the end of its day by that stage.” says Rogers, “Escorts and Porsches were too quick and Trevor Reeves was moving on to the special 16v Mini. I couldn’t afford that so I sold up and went to work for a living.
“I sold the car to a lad in Germany in the middle of the following year and stopped racing, I don’t what happened to the car, I never saw it again.
Rogers explains his decision to take a year out and go racing as medicinal.
“I’m a bit of a workaholic and it got the stage where I had to have some time off. I’d been invited to go and race in the French Championship but I couldn’t do that and work. The French would pay us start money, which would pay for the whole trip plus a little bit left. Then we went to Belgium and they paid us to go there. The Swedes paid the whole costs for us to go and race there. So really all I had to do was a little bit of work on father’s farm to cover my home living.
“It was tight but it was a fantastic year just travelling around and racing, I went lots of places and saw lots of things that you wouldn’t ordinarily do or see. It was great and I’d recommend it to any youngster today, don’t worry about not having any money left at the end of the year, just take any chance you have.” says Rogers.
Having raced in Autocross from 1969, Rogers moved into Rallycross for the 1973 season after winning the 1972 South West Autocross Championship.
“The first Rallycross I ever did was at Lydden and I was all over the place, crossed up in every corner. David Angel, who I knew from autocross but who had been doing Rallycross before me, came along and told me ‘when you get this one [his head] working over this one [his right foot] you’ll be able to drive!’ it was just a question of learning little things. I was cruising around making the numbers up when I started, but you gradually get into it.” says Rogers.
A quarter of a century later he is close to winning his first major championship title and will represent his country in the Inter-Nations Cup element of the Rallycross Grand Prix at Croft, where old adversary Eklund will be tilting for overall victory.