Teams Raymond Mays
By Jeremy McMullen
The inventor's mind could probably be summed up with a statement like this: 'Someone ought to making something that would be able to do this.' And the mind of the engineer could be summed up with the statement like: 'I bet I can make this better or more efficient.' Thomas Raymond Mays approached life seemingly with these points of view before himself at all times. Mays would become known for his ingenuity and skills as an entrepreneur and, oh yeah, as a racing driver.
Born just before the turn of the century (August 1899), Raymond was the son of a pioneer in British motoring. Therefore, motor-vehicles ran through Raymond's veins at a young age. But like everything in life, it's about timing and about being part of the 'right thing'.
The issue of 'timing' was prevalent almost right away. While attending Oundle School, Mays met an important connection, Amherst Villiers. It was 1917, and toward the last couple of years of World War I. Therefore, this important partnership had to be put on hold for the future as Raymond headed off to France, the Grenadier Guards and the war.
After returning from the war, Mays attended Christ's College, Cambridge, and later, started to go racing. In 1921 Raymond had coerced his father into buying him a Hillman. But Mays' father didn't have to wonder if this were just some passing fancy or not as Raymond went out and promptly won the first race in which he entered.
Being the son of a pioneer in British motoring, and being a bit of an engineer himself, Mays wasn't just happy going racing. He also had a passion for taking what worked already and making it work even better. This was not a cheap exercise and the fact Raymond would end up racing in hillclimbs and sprint events in Hillmans, Bugattis, ACs and Vauxhalls proves that Raymond needed a rather large budget to discover the fastest, most efficient racing machine out there. The problem was he wasn't finding one to his liking. Therefore, this led to only one possible conclusion in Mays' mind—to design and build his own. This led to the White Riley and eventually E.R.A.
Throughout the 1920s, Mays focused primarily on hillclimbs and sprint races, and practically was an institution at the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb. Through a collaboration with his old school peer Amherst Villiers, Mays developed his cars utilizing superchargers and other 'tweaks'. The 'White Riley' developed from 'tweaks' made to a Vauxhall-Villiers, which included two rear wheels for the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in 1929. With the two rear wheels, the car was well prepared for the event and Mays dominated, breaking the record as a result. This innovation, in particular, would become widely copied in later years.
Mays always had a passion to see Britain succeed at the top levels of motor sports. This passion and desire led to another collaboration, but this time between Mays, Humphrey Cook and Peter Berthon. The Flamboyant Mays had a tall order before him and it would take a rather large amount of money to even get it off the ground. That is where Humphrey Cook came in. Cook was the heir to a fortune in a London drapery and was the source of income Raymond needed to make this dream a reality. Peter Berthon was the designer genius who was charged with the task of creating a competitive race car. In 1933, these men started the English Racing Automobile company (ERA) (see ERA article). It was the intention of these men that their cars would take the fight to the French and Italian teams in the smaller 1.5 liter voiturette racing category. At the time of ERA's formation Mercedes and Auto Union dominated, and rightfully so, with Germany throwing the nation's money into the teams. There was almost no hope for Mays to compete with that power, but it was more than possible in the voiturette category, which was designed to make it possible for wealthy amateurs to compete on rather equal terms with the best professionals of the day.
In the midst of laying the groundwork for ERA, Mays entered the 1933 Mountain Championship race at Brooklands, which took place in October of that year. Mays entered the race with his 'White Riley'. During the race, one of the drivers touched another car and was sent off track. Taruffi, while in the lead, was overcome by the sight of nearly sixty people trying to help the stricken car get back on track. This led Taruffi to slow down. This allowed Straight and Mays to pass. Unfortunately, just as Mays went around Taruffi, his car suffered from a broken distributor and slid to a stop. Raymond had only completed one lap.
In 1934, Mays, with the help of self-taught engine builder Peter Berthon, and designer Reid Railton, built the ERA R1A. The car was unveiled to the public in its first test session at Brooklands in May of that year and Mays was at the wheel to shake it down.
The Grand Prix of Dieppe was in July of 1934 and Mays and Cook decided to take the R1A to compete in the race. Mays' first race was a one hour heat race. In Raymond's heat there was Chiron in an Alfa Romeo Tipo and Clemente Biondetti in a Maserati T26M. However, Mays' main competition was the car's endurance. Six laps into the race his ERA developed ignition problems which forced the Brit to have to retire from the heat race, as well as, the final.
Then, in October of 1934, Mays took his new ERA to take part in the Nuffield Trophy handicap race at Donington Park. The venture paid off, as Mays was able to take his ERA to victory.
Four days later, Raymond and Cook entered their ERA in the Mountain Championship race at Brooklands again. This time, Raymond's race went much better. He not only finished the race, he was able to finish 2nd behind the Maserati 3 liter 8CM of Straight. Raymond finished the 10 lap race 6+ seconds behind.
1935 was a difficult year for Mays. He suffered from a total of four DNFs, out of the six races he competed. However, Raymond was able to score a victory in one of those two races he was able to finish.
In June of '35, Mays drove the new 'B' model ERA in the ADAC Eifelrennen, a voiturette race at the Nurburgring in Germany. Raymond wasn't the only driver now for the ERA team. In fact, for the Eifel, ERA entered three cars. Mays drove one, co-founder Cook drove another and Rose-Richards drove the third. But they weren't the only ones present at the race to be driving an ERA chassis. Richard Seaman (famous for his career with Mercedes-Benz) also drove a 'B' chassis ERA. Mays, and the rest of his ERA teammates took the top-three spots right from the start of the race. Rather quickly, Seaman moved up from 7th to 3rd, while Cook fell back in the field. Seaman was able to take the lead away from Mays but began to suffer from an oil leak. A stop by Seaman handed the lead back to Mays, but he was under pressure from Ruesch. Raymond was able to hold him off to score the victory; ERA's first in international competition. ERAs ended up taking 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th.
Mays' only other good result in 1935 came at Bremgarten in August for the voiturette Prix de Berne. Mays had a new teammate in zu Leiningen. ERA cars became increasingly popular with privateer entries. Seaman arrived for the race driving an ERA again, but this time, even Prince Bira showed up with one.
Mays had the early lead but suffered from the wrong fuel mixture. This problem caused the lead to be handed over to Seaman, who disappeared into the distance. Bira would be involved in a tough fight throughout the race but would hold on to take 2nd. Raymond would end the race in 7th, almost 3 minutes down.
The intention of Mays, Berthon and Cook to create cars able to compete in the voiturette category was working out well. At just about each place an ERA was present it was in the hunt. The same held true going into 1936.
At Monaco, in April of '36, Mays took part in the Coupe de Prince Rainier. On race day it was cold and dull, but the race would hardly be. The race distance was 50 laps of the 3 kilometer track. Mays was running 2nd early on in the race. Then, as with his teammate Howe, Mays started to develop a misfire. Raymond tried to continue on as the winner of the race was very much in doubt given the fact that there were crashes and spins by those who had been in the lead at points during the race. Mays tried so hard to keep going that he would end up being disqualified from the race for receiving push starts. This was an unfortunate result after having started the race 3rd.
After Monaco, Raymond failed to start the Tunis Grand Prix and then suffered a DNF in the Isle of Man voiturette race. To help turn his year around, Mays needed to go and take part in a race he was familiar with and had a good chance at a positive result. He got a positive result alright when he went back to Shelsley Walsh for the hillclimb.
In June of '36, Mays took part in the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb; the same race he had broken the record at a few years prior. This time, Raymond was present with one of his ERAs. Mays found his old touch at the familiar event and went on the win the hillclimb.
After his success at Shelsley Walsh, Mays entered the Eifel again, which took place in the middle part of June that year. Raymond ended up scoring a 10th place finish in the voiturette race.
After his 10th at the Eifel, Raymond suffered two straight DNFs. One was at the Picardie voiturette race in Peronne, France. And the other was the voiturette Swiss Grand Prix held at Bremgarten.
Despite the difficult and frustrating season, Mays ended the year with a couple of good results. In August, Raymond traveled to Donington Park to take part in the Junior Car Club 200 mile race. This was a race that combined the voiturette and 1500cc categories together. Unfortunately, the race proved to be no contest between the two. The voiturette category dominated the event. The day of the race was sunny and warm and eleven drivers poised to take on the 77 laps of the 2.5 mile track. No less than eight of the eleven starters were driving ERA model cars. Despite the overwhelming number of ERAs it was Seaman, in a Delage 15S8 that took the victory. Raymond had a quiet race; finishing 4th. Raymond was 5 laps down to Seaman at the end of the race.
Mays' last race of the '36 season was the Mountain Championship at Brooklands. This race was 10 laps in length and was contested by fifteen drivers. Mays' only victory for the season, at this point, was the hillclimb at Shelsley Walsh. Well, Brooklands was almost as familiar to Mays as Shelsley Walsh. Raymond ended up being able to hold off Ruesch and his Alfa Romeo 8C to take the victory. Mays finished the 10 laps in eight minutes and forty-one seconds.
In 1936, Raymond completed less than fifty percent of the races in which he took part. That statistic would dramatically turn around the next year.
Things started with a bang right from the very first in 1937. In the early part of April, Mays entered the British Empire Trophy handicap race at Donington. In his first race of the season, Mays went out and scored a victory.
Things were starting out great for Raymond, but things would hit a snag in the next race he contested, which was the Coronation Trophy voiturette race, held at Crystal Palace, London. The race was broken down into two heat races followed by a final race. Mays had the pole for his heat race. He was able to win his heat race, which was heat two. Then, in the final, Raymond was in the lead but had to retire from the race when his ERA developed brake problems, a common occurrence with the brakes of the day.
The brake problem revisited Mays during his next race at Brooklands. Raymond decided to take part in the Campbell Trophy race, which pitted grand prix cars with voiturettes for 100 laps. Mays' ERA was the only car the factory team entered for the race. Mays started the race from the middle of the second row. While Mays' race was a real disappointment, as he struggled with brake problems again and had to take the race at a much slower pace than the other competitors, the spectators got to witness some simply marvelous racing. Despite racing against cars that had engine displacements twice that of his ERA voiturette, Howe was able to hold onto the lead for 15 laps until he suffered a terrible accident that caused a bad head wound and several other internal injuries. Prince Bira ended up winning the race in a Maserati 8CM and Raymond Mays finished a disappointing 7th overall and 4th in the voiturette category.
Mays, up to this point, had suffered two poor performances in a row due to brake problems. Were they to not exist, it is easy to surmise he would have had better results. At the RAC International Light Car Race in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, Raymond could have left truly frustrated, perhaps ready to throw away his ERA in favor of another car. Mays had the pole in the new C-type chassis with Prince Bira alongside in another ERA B-type. Mays took the lead from the very start, flying through the rain. Due to the conditions, Mays perhaps used his brakes a bit too heavily and his ERA started to develop brake problems yet again. He was out of the running until Villoresi developed fuel feed problems and Bira made a late pit stop. Bira, however, was able to fight his way back to the lead. Mays was able to carefully battle his way to finish the race 2nd. Despite the brake problems, Raymond was able to turn the challenge into a good result. And this small victory seemed to send Raymond on a course of success throughout the remainder of the year.
The year before, Mays failed to finish the Picardie Grand Prix. Things were vastly different a year later. The event was comprised of two heat races and a final once again. Mays was in the second heat and was untouchable. He beat the newcomer de Graffenried by three minutes and forty-one seconds! Since he finished his heat race with the fastest time, Mays had the pole for the final race. In the final race, Mays repeated his dominant performance. He ended up winning the race over Dreyfus and his Maserati 6CM by almost a minute and forty-five seconds.
The next race Raymond took part in 1937 was the voiturette Grand Prix de l'Albigeois in Albi, France. This race was a rather different affair in that it was broken up into two, twenty-lap, races. The times of the two races would then be added together to find out who the winning driver was. Starting out the event, Mays had the pole with a time that was eighteen seconds faster than Emilio Villoresi who started next to him. Raymond took the lead in the first twenty-lap race, and was pulling away. Then, on lap 17, Mays was forced to retire due to problems with his ERA. For the second twenty-lap race, Raymond took over his co-founder's (Cook) ERA. This change meant Villoresi would start the second part of the race with a two minute time bonus. Mays was driving on the edge and was outclassing everyone on the track. Perhaps Mays' pace was too much, as Villoresi, who had been following Raymond at the time, went off the track and destroyed his car. This allowed Mays to go on and win the race when Cook's, and his time, was added together.
The winning ways continued into the early part of August. Mays went on to win the handicap race in the Junior Car Club International Trophy race at Brooklands, England.
Toward the end of August, Raymond went to Bremgarten to take part in the voiturette Grand Prix de Berne, or, the Swiss Grand Prix. This race too was split into two heat races, and then, a final. The heat races were 14 laps of the 4.5 mile circuit. The final was to be 21 laps. The weather was nice during the heat races, and this played into the hands of those who were driving Maseratis, like Villoresi. Emilio was able to beat Mays in heat one. Then, in the final, the rain started to fall. The handling of the Maserati 6 and 4CMs were atrocious in the wet, and in the final, it showed. In the end, ERAs dominated. ERAs came in first, second, and third. Mays finished the race 2nd.
After a DNF at the Junior Car Club 200 mile race at Donington, this time due to rear axle problems, Raymond headed to Dublin, Ireland, and Phoenix Park, to take part in the voiturette race at the park in September of '37. When the car was working properly, Raymond was able to show his talent behind the wheel. And at Phoenix Park he showed why he was one of the most famous British drivers during the 30s. Mays started the race from the pole. And when the race started, he was in a class all unto himself. At the start, Mays disappeared into the distance, leaving everyone else to battle it out for who would finish second and so-on. When Raymond crossed the line to take 1st it was over two minutes later that Wakefield crossed the line to finish 2nd.
Mays' performance at Phoenix Park was probably his most dominant performance, and yet, last successful result for 1937. Mays suffered a DNF at his next event, the Donington Grand Prix, and was unable to start the Mountain Championship race at Brooklands in October of that year.
Raymond's 1938 season didn't get started until June of that year at the Picardie Grand Prix in Peronne, France. This was a memorable race for Mays. He won his heat race rather handily, but the final was not without its problems. Mays started the race 3rd but took the lead straightaway when Howe suffered from problems in his ERA. Part of the way through the 15 lap final Mays lost first gear and relinquished his lead to Prince Bira, who ended up building up an advantage of over a minute. Troubles then hit the Prince, forcing him to retire and handing the lead back to Mays. Raymond would hold on to win rather easily over the Maseratis. What was amazing about this race was the fact that this would be ERA's final victory outside of the British Empire.
After being handed victory at Peronne, Mays suffered in his next three races. He would fail to finish in each of them, including the voiturette Albi Grand Prix and the voiturette Swiss Grand Prix. Mays would end the year, however, on a good note.
In the middle of October of '38, Raymond took part in the Mountain Championship once again. Brooklands had become a favorite venue for Raymond and was a good place to overcome the bad results he had been experiencing in his last few races. Only three cars finished the race and Mays dominated the other two. At the end of the 10 lap race, Raymond finished with a 12+ second advantage, which was a large gap on the short circuit.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, the number of grand prix races dwindled rather drastically. In 1939, Raymond only took part in four races total and only two of them were international races.
In June of 1939 Raymond was at Donington Park, once again, for the Nuffield Trophy race. This time Raymond came to the race with an ERA, but as a privateer. The German and Italian teams had been invited to come and take part in the race but refused with the Picardie Grand Prix taking place at the same time. Mays departed ERA when the team was facing financial troubles. ERA's new E-type chassis was not ready and threatened to further sink the company into financial woes. Raymond was also in a cautious state given his role as a privateer. Mays qualified for the race 2nd. Bira took the pole with a time 2+ seconds faster than Mays. Raymond was just as careful during the race. Bira took the lead from the start and opened up a substantial lead over Mays who, despite being careful, had opened up a rather large advantage over the 3rd place car. With Bira running away with the race, Raymond kept himself out of trouble and finished the race 2nd.
Two straight DNFs followed the Nuffield Trophy race. Mays first suffered a DNF at the French Grand Prix held in Reims, France; and the other was at the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois in July of that year.
Then, in August; and with another world war looming larger and larger, Mays took part in what was to be his final race until the end of the war. Raymond entered a D-type ERA in the Campbell Trophy race at Brooklands. The shorter events seemed to suit the ERA rather well. Showing that Brooklands was a favorite venue for Mays, he disappeared into the distance during the race and never looked back for the 10 lap event. Raymond once again dominated at Brooklands, winning the race by over 13 seconds. Prince Bira finished 2nd. It was fitting for Raymond that if his racing was to have to come to an end he would give himself the best chance possible of scoring a good result. And Brooklands had been good to Mays. In the course of nine races in which Raymond took part at the Brooklands circuit, he failed to start the race once, failed to finish only twice, finished out of the top-five only once, and won an event at the circuit some three times.
By the time the world was embroiled in another world war Mays had already moved on from ERA, leaving his co-founder, Cook, to run the financially struggling company. Raymond, however, was already dreaming and planning his next grand prix team. He and Berthon were planning a team on a scale similar to that of those Mays witnessed in the 1930s like Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union. They envisioned a team funded by Britain; a source of patriotic pride.
When Europe staggered out of the end of World War II, Raymond emerged roaring to go. Despite a continent and an island empire still suffering from the effects and rationing of war, Raymond was asking people and business to pony-up a rather large amount of money for his newest venture, British Racing Motors (BRM). Using national pride, and just good salesmanship, many invested in Mays' goal of building a whole new and ultra-competitive race car. As with ERA, BRM took shape in Mays' hometown of Bourne, after Cook relocated ERA.
As a result of his focus with BRM, and his age, Raymond's racing career mostly took a back seat. Of course, by the time Mays and Berthon started BRM he was already in his late-forties.
Though caught up in the development of BRM, Mays couldn't be kept out from behind the wheel of a race car. And in May of 1947 Raymond took part in the Junior Car Club Jersey Road Race. This race was held on the island of Jersey and was 50 laps of a 3 mile street course. By this time, the Maserati 4CL was a formidable foe, and Raymond Sommer had the pole wth Louis Chiron alongside, both in 4CLs. Mays started the race in his black ERA D-type from the 7th place starting spot on the grid. Reg Parnell, in another Maserati 4CL, set off into the distance at the start of the race. Parnell won the race, completing the 160 miles in just under two hours and lapping the entire field. Chiron finished 2nd and Mays finished 3rd.
Mays' best result for the next two years would come in the following race in which he competed. It was the Grand Prix de Nimes, which took place at the Nimes aerodrome. Taking place on the 1st of June, the race was 70 laps of a 3.2 mile course, for a total distance of just under 227 miles. Luigi Villoresi had the pole with his Scuderia Ambrosiana Maserati 4CL. Louis Chiron started beside him, this time, in an Ecurie France Talbot-Lago T26C. For this race, Raymond brought his ERA B-type chassis. Villoresi and Chiron left the field behind and would be the only two cars on the lead lap by the finish. The way they started was the way they finished. Villoresi won with Chiron coming in 2nd. Reg Parnell came in 3rd and Mays finished 4th, one lap down.
Raymond failed to finish the remaining race in which he took part in 1947. In fact, Mays failed to finish a race from the time of his last one in 1947, through 1948 and up until April of 1949.
In April of 1949, Mays was back on the island of Jersey for the 3rd Junior Car Club Jersey Road Race. He had finished 3rd here the first time the event was held, but he had suffered a DNF due to an oil line problem the second time the race was run. This time, however, an ERA would take the victory, but it wasn't Mays'. Luigi Villoresi had the pole in the rather new Maserati 4CLT/48. In fact, there were no fewer than five 4CLT/48s in the race. This is a testament to the car's popularity and performance. But on this day in 1949, the new 4CLT/48 was bested by an older ERA R14B. Bob Gerard won the 55 lap event over the Swiss Emanuel de Graffenried. In the third installment of the race, Mays finished the race 3rd in his ERA R4D. For his 3rd place effort, Raymond won a little over $600.00. Bob Gerard won just over $1,400.00.
The only other event in which Raymond took part in 1949 was the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. The BRM Type 15 was still being developed, so, Mays took part in the event in a Ferrari 125. It wasn't to be a return to the days of old, however, as Raymond started the race all the way down in 19th and failed to finish.
At the end of 1949 Raymond was turning 50 years of age. His days of racing, as a driver, were drawing to a close. But not quite yet.
Though not officially entered, nor having partaken in the first Formula One race at Silverstone, England, Mays was present for the British Grand Prix. By the time of the race, in May of 1950, Raymond had been developing his Type 15 grand prix car for his BRM company for a few years. The public was becoming unsettled as to the fact no car had even really seen the light of day, despite the large amounts of money invested into the company. The pressure was mounting, and thus, Mays brought the new and problematic, BRM 15 to Silverstone for a demonstration run prior to the British Grand Prix. The fact that Raymond was only performing a demonstration run instead of actually racing against other cars was a fact that many noted. Despite this, the crowd of British spectators roared with excitement at the sound of the 16 cylinder engine. This roar of excitement would turn to a roar of disgust later on in the year after a very public self-destruction.
Mays' success made him one of the most popular British drivers in the nation's early grand prix history. His vision and desire helped to make England into the Formula One center that it is today, but it wasn't at all easy. In fact, it was his vision that caused much of the strife he would lament later on in life. But great vision takes sacrifice and the ability to overcome failure. One of the hardest parts of being a person with real vision is helping others to see the same thing. Like his BRM 15 failure, people began to wonder if Mays was merely producing noise instead of competitive race cars. But as his racing career proved, Mays had the talent to produce a winning drive. And when the vision led to BRM's success in the 60s, and to the adoption of England as the home of grand prix racing, the doubts of the true genius and accomplishments of Raymond Mays was put to rest.Sources:
'Drivers (M)', (http://www.kolumbus.fi/leif.snellman/dm.htm). The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing. http://www.kolumbus.fi/leif.snellman/dm.htm. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
'Drivers (M)', (http://www.ultimateracinghistory.com/drivers.php). UltimateRacingHistory.com. http://www.ultimateracinghistory.com/drivers.php. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Raymond Mays', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 June 2010, 13:16 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Raymond_Mays&oldid=366981732 accessed 20 July 2010
Felix Muelas, Leif Snellman, Mattijs Diepraam 'Bonnier takes BRM by the horns', (http://www.forix.com/8w/bonnier.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Fact and Fiction. http://www.forix.com/8w/bonnier.html. Retrieved 20 July 2010.