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Gerry Birrell

Full Name:
Gerald Hussey Buchanan Birrell
Born:
30th July 1944
Glasgow, Scotland
Died:
23rd June 1973 (Aged 28)
Rouen-les-Essarts, Normandy (F), F2 practice
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Gerry Birrell followed older brother Graham into Scottish club racing in 1961. Fast, brave and a talented development driver, he was killed at Rouen-les-Essarts when competing in Formula 2.

Upbringing and promising early career

Despite a public-school education, he left to pursue a career in mechanical engineering when just 15 years old. An apprentice with Glasgow’s BMC distributors during the week, he was mechanic on Graham’s Austin A40 at the weekend.

The younger brother raced at Charterhall just four weeks after his 17th birthday (the legal driving age in Britain) and his talent was soon evident. 1967 Scottish Saloon Car Champion, he also raced in Formula Vee at the time. Birrell won the 1969 European Formula Ford Championship for Crosslé and was a Formula 3 race winner a year later.

European Formula 2 Championship

He also made his F2 debut at Hockenheim in 1970 when his works Brabham BT30-Cosworth ran among the leaders before finishing eighth at Imola. A fulltime F2 driver in 1971 with John Stanton’s Lotus 69, he finished second in a non-championship race at Mallory Park at the start of the year. However, he struggled against the works entries thereafter – fifth at Vallelunga and 12th in the championship was something of a disappointment.

Touring car success for Ford

He also raced a works Ford Capri RS saloon that year and finished second in Paul Ricard’s European Championship race (when sharing with Rolf Stommelen) before winning the final British round at Brands Hatch. Birrell developed a reputation as one of the best saloon car drivers in Europe over the next couple of years despite braking his collarbone in a huge testing accident in 1972 when the brakes on his Ford Mustang failed at Snetterton. He returned to finish second in the Spa 24 Hours and at Járama in the ETCC.

His Coca-Cola-sponsored Sports Motors March 722 started occasional F2 races that year – fourth in the non-championship Rothmans £50,000 race at Brands Hatch his best result. He dominated the Springbok sports car series with a Chevron B23 and 1973 promised the same mix of F2 and saloons.

The accident at Rouen

The Scot’s works F2 Chevron B25-Ford was fourth at Thruxton before he crashed heavily during practice at the Salzburgring when his tyre punctured. Birrell and Chevron were considering graduating to Formula 1 later that year but he was killed during qualifying at Rouen. His front tyre suddenly deflated as he approached the dangerous Virage des Six Frères. Birrell crashed head-on into the Armco and was killed instantly.