British racing driver John Rhodes was one of the world’s fastest Mini wheelman.
Smoking tyres, as here in the Spring Race Meeting at Oulton Park in 1965, were a John Rhodes trademark.
Not for nothing was British racing driver John Rhodes nicknamed “Smokey”; lavishly smouldering tyres were a key element of his preferred cornering style. It was a method that propelled Rhodes into the hearts of spectators far and wide – and very often onto the top step of the podium too. And there was the additional benefit that his pursuers couldn’t see a whole lot as they languished in his wake.
Any performance deficit along the straights was soon made up for in the next corner. John Rhodes’s Mini Cooper S heads a Ford Escort at Brands Hatch, 1968.
With its 1959 launch still fresh in the memory, the Mini set about making a name for itself in touring car racing. Unfazed by the substantially larger metal filling its mirrors, the diminutive featherweight was a case study in late-braking audacity, squeezing its way into gaps few realised were there. Its front-wheel-drive layout indulged drivers with wheel spin aplenty, but spared them a contretemps with the Armco. Consequently, many a 1960s starting grid was dominated by hot Minis. The similarity between the machinery on display meant talent behind the wheel carried even greater weight. And British driver John Rhodes had more talent than most.
Burn the rubber John!
No quarter asked or given: John Rhodes (right) locks horns with Steve Neal at Silverstone in 1969.
Rhodes was thoroughly good value for his nickname. After all, lavishly smouldering front tyres were a key part of “Smokey’s” preferred cornering style chez Mini. As considered as they were spectacular, his four-wheel drifts through the bends proved extremely effective. Rhodes would feed his Mini into the twisty stuff with a whole heap of speed but even greater balance, keep his right foot planted (which had the front wheels sliding), and give the steering wheel an extra tweak or two into the corner. The resultant braking effect lightened up the rear end, generating additional turn-in momentum. This was Rhodes tiptoeing the line between understeer and oversteer. But that dreaded pushing sensation over the front wheels towards the outside of a corner – the scourge of many a front-driver – remained conspicuous by its absence.
Cooper Car Company man Rhodes perfected this highly distinctive driving style, one that made him super-quick but also burned through tyres. On occasion he would light up his front rubber with such ferocity that those following would be engulfed in clouds of smoke. Momentarily blinded, many would lift to avoid crashing – and off went John, grin on face, towards the chequered flag.
Another one bites the dust. The Mini Cooper S racers liked nothing more than bothering more powerful machinery, as here at Brands Hatch in 1966.
John Rhodes also piloted formula racing cars and has an F1 start on his CV. Plus, he competed in the Le Mans 24-hour race on several occasions. But it is principally those incomparable performances in a Mini Cooper S that are lodged in the memory. After hanging up his racing overalls in 1973, he turned his hand to restoring vintage cars.
This YouTube film encapsulates John Rhodes’ cornering method of choice: