Money cannot buy talent. However, money can buy talent opportunities to express itself. Many gentlemen racers that had money had some amounts of talent. The disproportionate amount of money and talent would, then, become obvious out on the circuit. Then, there were those with proportional amounts of money and talent. These were rare, but they would manage to truly distinguish themselves. Kenneth Downing was one of those rare blends of money and talent. He didn't merely compete. He was competitive.
Born in Chesterton, England in 1917, the silver spoon was never far from Downing's mouth. Born into a prominent family having made its wealth through extensive manufacturing, transportation and car dealerships, Downing never lacked anything, but he would also apply himself as well.
One of the ways in which he would apply himself was to his many interests. Among them was auto racing. He wasn't merely a rich man with the means to go racing. He was focused on using what talent he had to the best of its ability.
After World War II, and at the age of only twenty-one, Downing entered his first race. The race was the Eastbourne Rally in which he entered with a Healey. Then, in the very early 50s, Downing approached Oliver, Clarke and McAlpine about their Connaught sports car. He would end up driving the car throughout the 1951 season and would score a number of victories. This offered proof of the young man's resolve and talent, despite his money.
Coming from a family with obviously keen business minds, Downing recognized an opportunity when he saw one. And heading into the 1952 season he saw his opportunity to compete on the ultimate level. The Formula One race organizers had a problem at the completion of the 1951 season. Alfa Romeo had withdrawn from competition. Only Ferrari remained as the main contender for the World Championship. This became obvious over the course of the 1951 season as Ferrari literally dominated the second-half of the season. The organizers needed time to create new rules for the fledgling series. Time; however, was something they didn't have with Alfa Romeo's departure and sky-rocketing costs. An alternative was needed to serve as a stop-gap. Enter Formula 2.
Formula 2 had costs that were a fair share lower than the levels paid out by competitive Formula One teams. Because of the cost, and the regulations involved, Formula 2 also inspired smaller teams and individuals to take part in the races. This made Formula 2 also rather competitive. This is what the World Championship needed. And what the World Championship needed offered someone, like Downing with an opportunity—an opportunity to take part in the World Championship.
To take advantage of the opportunity, Downing would stay with Connaught, but would switch to their single-seater A-Type chassis. Over the course of two seasons of sportscar racing, Downing had managed to win fourteen races. Most of those victories came while driving a Connaught sportscar. Downing wouldn't just have the World Championship to test himself and the new chassis in. There were many other non-championship races throughout the 1952 season. Besides the World Championship, and non-championship, races, there were still the sportscar races he could enter. Downing would do just that. Some of the first races Downing would take part in during the 1952 season would be sportscar races at Goodwood. While he wouldn't score a victory in any one of the races he entered in the National Goodwood, he would still manage to finish in the top five in each and would finish in 3rd in another. This offered Downing a lot of confidence as he looked to begin racing in single-seaters.
One of the first single-seater races around England in which Downing could have taken part took place during the Easter Monday races at Goodwood. The day of racing on the 14th of April featured a number of short races around the 2.39 mile circuit. However, neither of the Connaughts were ready in time. Therefore, it would be another month before Downing would take part in his first Formula 2 race with the new Connaught chassis. The race was one of the biggest and most competitive non-championship races in all of England.
On the 10th of May, the Silverstone Circuit hosted, for the 4th time, the BRDC International Trophy race. A popular race, especially amongst British drivers, the field was filled with thirty-three drivers taking part in the race.
Silverstone, a former Royal Air Force base during World War II, had become quickly become the official home of British racing after the closure of Brooklands and the end of the war. The wide and rather flat perimeter road around the former airbase served as the perfect setting for a grand prix circuit. While many airbases would turn into grand prix circuits after the end of the war, Silverstone would become the greatest of them all. Heading into the 1952 season, the 2.88 mile circuit had received one update. The start/finish line would end up being moved to its more recognized position between Woodcote and Copse corners.
Downing was quite familiar with Silverstone despite the International Trophy race being his first in single-seaters. This not only offered confidence, but also calmness. Because of this vast experience in sportscars, Downing was also familiar and comfortable with many of the talented drivers in which he would compete against in the race. However, there were some others, international drivers, that he wasn't as familiar. Among the international drivers present, Robert Manzon, Jean Behra and Rudolf Fischer posed the greatest threat.
Heat races were a rather normal experience during the golden era of grand prix racing. The International Trophy race would also utilize a heat and final race format. The entire field entered to take part in the race would be split into two heats. Each heat would have a 15 lap race. The finishing time of each competitor in their respective heat would then determine the starting order for a 35 lap final.
Downing was positioned in the first heat along with another young British driver Mike Hawthorn. These two would also be joined in the first heat by Equipe Gordini's Jean Behra, Prince Bira and Johnny Claes. HWM drivers, Peter Collins and Lance Macklin would also be part of the first heat.
In practice, it would be the youngster, Mike Hawthorn, that would grab the attention of the British fans as he would end up being fastest with a time of two minutes. Joining Hawthorn on the front row were Peter Collins, Jean Behra and Lance Macklin. The 2nd through 4th place starting positions would be within three seconds of Hawthorn's time.
Downing would prove his money didn't buy his results as he too would prove fast in practice. His fastest lap would end up being two minutes and four seconds. This would be slightly faster than Ken Wharton's time, and therefore, good enough to start from the 5th position on the second row. In fact, Downing would start just off of Hawthorn's left shoulder.
The race was very important as finishing times determined the starting order for the final. This meant all of the drivers would push a good deal. Jean Behra would prove to everyone that he intended to give himself the best shot at victory in the final. Starting 3rd, Behra would get around Collins and would begin pressuring Hawthorn. Once slotted in the 3rd position, Collins would hold station in front of Lance Macklin in 4th place.
Downing's Connaught was a new, and untested, car. Unfortunately, the heat race would reveal its weaknesses. Only 6 laps into the 15 lap heat race, it all came to an end for Downing as his Lea Francis engine let go. Undoubtedly, Downing had hoped his race would last just a little longer than 6 laps.
What Downing missed was Hawthorn and Behra turning the same fastest lap time and running nose-to-tail all the way to the finish. At the finish, Hawthorn would manage to hold off Behra by a margin of a little over two seconds. Thirty seconds would separate Behra in 2nd and the 3rd place finisher, who would be Collins.
In the second heat race, Equipe Gordini's Robert Manzon would face off against another Connaught A-Type chassis driven by Connaught patron Kenneth McAlpine. In addition to McAlpine, Manzon had to face Rudolf Fischer, in his Ferrari 500; Tony Rolt; and the defending champion Reg Parnell.
In practice for the second heat, Manzon would prove fastest in the new Gordini T16. Only one second would separate Manzon on pole and McAlpine who would start in 2nd place on the front row. McAlpine, and three others, would all turn laps in two minutes and two seconds. However, McAlpine would prove the slightly faster driver. He would edge out Fischer, Duncan Hamilton and Emmanuel de Graffenried. Frustrating for de Graffenried, his time was not quite fast enough to start from the front row.
Unlike the first heat, attrition would play more of a role. Of course this would be helped along by the pace Manzon and Fischer would put together at the front of the pack. McAlpine would fade with the new Connaught. In contrast, Fischer would prove a thorn in Manzon's side. Pressured by Fischer, Manzon would push hard. This would cause the rest of the field to push a little harder than they otherwise would have. This didn't help others make it to the end of the heat. In the first heat, only two cars would fail to finish; Downing's stricken Connaught being one of the two. In the second heat; however, seven would end up retiring before the end. Included among them was the defending champion, Parnell.
In spite of a lap of one minute and fifty-eight seconds by Fischer, Manzon would fight to hold onto the lead. He would do his best to match Fischer blow-for-blow. Interestingly, Manzon would end up taking the victory by the same margin Hawthorn had held on over Behra, just a little more than two seconds. After Fischer in 2nd place, almost fifty seconds elapsed before Tony Rolt powered across the line in 3rd place.
Having completed the two heat races, the starting order for the 35 lap final could be determined. By far, Manzon and Fischer finished with the fastest times of the two heats and would start in the first-two positions on the grid. Hawthorn and Behra would prove to be the 3rd and 4th fastest and would; therefore, round out the front row.
Despite not finishing the heat, Downing would still be allowed to take part in the final. Since the heat races were merely for the purpose of determining starting order, Downing was allowed to take part. However, he would start from dead-last, 26th position on the grid.
The pace of the second heat had obviously taken a toll as it would come into play right away at the start of the thankfully dry final. Without the deluge of the year prior, which cut the race short after only 6 laps, the pace promised to be much quicker during the 1952 edition. After being pressured by Fischer for 15 laps, Manzon's new T16 had had enough. And after only one lap, he would be forced to retire due to transmission failure.
Manzon wouldn't be alone for long. Only two laps later, his Equipe Gordini and fellow front row starter Jean Behra, would retire from the race also with transmission failure. The front row starters continued to have trouble as Mike Hawthorn would quickly fade after setting the fastest lap of the race. Fischer, who had turned the fastest lap of anyone at any point, surprisingly seemed stuck and couldn't move forward against drivers that had qualified with times at least four seconds slower than the fastest lap Fischer had managed to put together in the second heat race.
The catastrophe at the front opened the door to those many of the fans never gave a chance, perhaps never even a thought. Rising above all of the carnage and thoroughly confusing drama was Lance Macklin. What was amazing about Macklin was the fact he had started the final in the 10th position on the grid!
Another surprise was Downing. Thoroughly enjoying his second chance, he would push the car, but not as hard as he had during his heat. While he would end up going a couple of laps down before the end of the race, he continued on, and continued to move forward.
It was an amazing day for HWM. Almost entirely written off before the final started, they were running 1st and 2nd as the end of the race neared. Coming around to complete the white flag lap, Macklin had a comfortable lead in hand over his teammate. Macklin would take the victory by a margin of ten seconds over his HWM teammate Rolt. Rolt would end up with a fifteen second margin for comfort himself over Emmanuel de Graffenried driving an aged Maserati 4CLT/48 that had been altered to conform to Formula 2 regulations.
Downing wouldn't set the world on fire with his pace in the final. However, he was focused on finishing the race and further proving the car. While he would end up two laps down to Macklin by the end, Downing would drive a consistent and error-free final. In fact, the drive would show off his abilities of being able to test and develop a race car. Something he would use to great effect later on in his career. But in the International Trophy race, the steady drive would earn him a 13th place finish. He had improved thirteen positions from where he had started the final.
While bitterly disappointing given how he had qualified for his first heat race, the final would end up being a strong performance by Downing and an important one given the fact the A-Type chassis was so new. By being patient and developing the car as he had during the race, Downing would only benefit as the season progressed. This would be proven true in his very next race. However, he would be thrown an unfortunate surprise right at the very end.
After a couple of wonderful results in a sportscar and Formula Libre race during the month of May, Downing headed across the English Channel to Belgium for his second Formula 2 grand prix race of the season. While many of the best international drivers were in Albi, France contesting one of a few Formula One races, Downing had decided he would have better fortune heading to Chimay, Belgium for the 22nd Grand Prix des Frontieres. This 'hunch' would prove correct.
Although dwarfed by its more famous fellow Belgian circuit, Spa-Francorchamps, Chimay was a quite popular venue and it hosted the very popular Grand Prix des Frontieres. Unfortunately in 1952, the race took place on the same day as the Grand Prix of Albi. The other knock was the fact Albi allowed Formula One cars to compete. However, Chimay would manage to pull out some of the best Belgium had to offer.
Chimay was like the circuit at Reims, France. It was entirely comprised of public roads. The terrain was relatively flat, although it did have some slight undulation. The circuit was quite fast as average speeds around the circuit routinely exceeded 90 mph. However, Chimay did have some features that were all its own. The run down from the La Bouchere hairpin to Salles was by no means a straight stretch, but it was taken as fast as possible. This made the left-hand Spikins corner technically very demanding and dangerous. One of the aesthetic features of Chimay included a small stone church literally right on the edge of the circuit between Salles and Mairesse. All-in-all, Chimay was 6.75 miles of fast and challenging circuit.
Practice, for Downing, went quite similar to the International Trophy race. He would not be the fastest, but he wouldn't be too far away either. The title of 'fastest' would go to Johnny Claes. The Belgian musician would take his Gordini T15 and grab the pole for the 22 lap race. The German, Willi Heeks, would end up starting 2nd in his AFM. The 3rd, and final, position on the front row would go to another Belgian, the talented Roger Laurent driving a Ferrari 500 for Ecurie Francorchamps. Laurent's Ferrari would only arrive just before practice after Jacques Swaters had to drive all the way from Modena in the car, in the dark and with no headlights.
Downing's practice effort would be a good one. He would be a little easier on the car but would still manage to turn a lap fast enough to start the race from the two-wide second row. He would start 5th.
The start of the race was absolute chaos. The Belgian heroes, Claes and Laurent, would come together in a 1st lap crash that would end up taking them both out of the race. Just one lap later, Heeks' oil pump would fail, thus ending his race as well. Just like that, within two laps, the entire front row of the grid was out of the race. This was a welcome bit of fortune for Downing.
Downing would take over the lead in only his second major single-seater grand prix. He would continue to lead and would even manage to increase his margin over the rest of the field. Behind him, the carnage kept coming. Eleven laps into the race, John Heath, who started 4th, would drop out due to a crash. This meant only Downing remained amongst the top five starters.
Unfortunately for Downing, Heath's crash happened as rain began to fall on the circuit. Downing had almost a forty-five second lead at this point. He seemed safe to carry on and take the win. Therefore, Downing concentrated and just kept going at the best pace he could.
Being so far in front can sometimes cause blind spots. While lapping quite well, Downing had another driver quickly gaining on him. Paul Frere, a Belgian racer and journalist, had only been given a ride with HWM at Chimay as somewhat of a last minute thing. He was taking advantage of his opportunity. Downing; however, was unaware of his presence.
Thinking he had the race in hand, Downing circulated the last lap steadily and carefully. Frere was approaching even faster. As Downing came down through Vidal and the last right-hander before the start/finish line, he suddenly had a driver streak by him. Frere had come by to take the lead, and right before the line. Frere would take the victory; beating out Downing by a mere second! Robin Montgomerie-Charrington would end up 3rd, two laps down and having run out of fuel on the last lap.
Downing thought he had the race well in hand. With even the 3rd place finisher running out of fuel on the last lap, he seemed absolutely safe to take the victory. While still a great result for Downing given his lack of single-seater grand prix experience, and the fact he had a brand-new car, it was; nevertheless, still a truly bitter disappointment.
In spite of the still great performance at Chimay with a new car, Downing undoubtedly wanted to apply the lessons he had learned from the experience so to make sure it never happened again. More than anything; he wanted the victory he had lost.
Toward the end of June, and one day before the third round of the World Championship, Downing would join the Connaught Engineering race team at Boreham, England for the 1st West Essex CC Formula 2 Race.
Once again, Downing would perform well in the 10 lap race. Kenneth McAlpine would score a 2nd place result for the team. Downing would uphold his part in the team as he would bring his Connaught in for a 4th place result.
After scoring the 4th place result at Boreham, Downing would make preparations to take part in his first-ever round of the World Championship.
Once again, Downing would enter his Connaught A-Type chassis under the Connaught Engineering banner for the fifth round of the World Championship. The race was the British Grand Prix. The first-ever World Championship round in which Downing would take part in would be his home grand prix.
Downing was; again, back at Silverstone. This time; however, the list of competitors would be even more potent than what he had faced back during the International Trophy race. By the time of the British Grand Prix, the World Championship was over halfway through. And every since returning from his failed Indianapolis 500 bid, Ascari had been on an absolute terror.
In spite of such talented drivers as Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina, Stirling Moss and others, Downing would make a good show of himself. He would start the race from the second row in the 5th position. Yet again, Downing would start from the 5th position. This was where he had started from back during the International Trophy race in May.
Alberto Ascari would dominate the race after starting 2nd. He had taken the lead going into the first turn of the 1st lap, and would not look back from then on. Meanwhile, Downing would get swallowed up by some of the other British drivers in the field. He would slip well down the order due to his own mistake. At Chimay, he would get caught and passed through the last corner of the last lap. At Silverstone, Downing would end up giving up a 4th place position on the circuit due to making a mistake that caused him to spin off the track. Once he got going again he had slipped down the running order.
Ascari would cruise to victory by a whole lap over Piero Taruffi. One lap further back was the British youngster Mike Hawthorn. Hawthorn would lead home a whole train of British drivers that would also include Downing. With the exception of Giuseppe Farina, who would finish 6th, 3rd through 10th would be all British drivers. Downing would end up finishing the race a fine 9th.
In spite of the mistake, Downing would look impressive in his first World Championship race. However, he had thrown away three points in the World Championship when he spun during the race. Instead, the opportunity would slip away and he would leave Silverstone with no points. While he would still finish in the top ten, he could have had better.
After another bitter disappointment in a grand prix race, there would be a couple of weeks before Downing would take part in another major grand prix. Then, in the very early part of August, he headed to Boreham, England for the 2nd Daily Mail Trophy race with the Connaught Engineering team.
Boreham was another circuit with which Downing was very familiar. He had already taken a victory there earlier in year in a sportscar race. What's more, Boreham was located just a little over an hour north of his hometown.
Downing would face a different challenge at the Daily Mail Trophy race. The race was one of a few that allowed Formula One cars to participate. Therefore, Downing would not only take on some of the best drivers in the world. He would also compete against some of the best cars as well. Sure enough, Scuderia Ferrari would dispatch a couple of their powerful 375s that almost enabled Ascari to earn the World Championship the year before. Also, the field would include a couple of the BRM P15s. While the P15 proved troublesome and very fragile, it still wasn't a car to treat lightly. If it were working properly it was fast.
Jose Froilan Gonzalez would prove just how capable the BRM was as he would end up second-fastest to the Ferrari 375 of Luigi Villoresi. Facing such powerful cars, Downing could do little to ensure a top starting position. Even pushing as hard as he dared, Downing was only able to qualify in the 11th position, or, the outer portion of the third row.
All of the Formula 2 cars had one thing going in their favor as the race started. The rain was falling. This helped to neutralize some of the power advantage the Formula One cars had in hand over the Formula 2 cars. This would enable Mike Hawthorn to take the lead over Villoresi, and hold it, throughout the majority of the race.
Unfortunately, it is in the moments when the rain is falling that true talent rises to the top. In Downing's case, while he was talented, he also wasn't a champion. As a result, he would slip even further down the running order in the conditions. This would later be compounded when the rain stopped and the circuit dried. Once dry, the Formula One cars were able to strut their stuff. There was little a Formula 2 car could do against such a power advantage.
Even with all of Hawthorn's talent, he could not hold back Villoresi, who would come through into the lead of the race. Villoresi would be followed by Chico Landi in a second Ferrari. Meanwhile, Downing would slip even further down in the field.
Villoresi, in the dry, would pull away. He would win the 67 lap race by ten seconds over Landi. Hawthorn would end up 3rd, but over a minute behind. Downing, racing for Connaught Engineering, could not engineer anything good. He would be passed by the leaders some seven times and would finish 18th.
Even with a team effort behind him, Downing was finding the going much tougher in the major grand prix races. Of course he hadn't helped himself with his couple of mistakes earlier in the season. Downing was looking and hoping for a better later-part of the season.
Two weeks after another disappointment, Downing would make his way back across the Channel and to the Netherlands for the Grand Prix of the Netherlands. The Grand Prix of the Netherlands was held at the 2.60 mile Zandvoort Circuit on the 17th of August and it was the seventh round of the World Championship.
After being so close at Silverstone, Downing wanted another crack at the World Championship. He would enter the event under his own name, instead of coming with Connaught Engineering.
Zandvoort had been the home for the Dutch Grand Prix since the very beginning. Situated on the dunes overlooking the North Sea, the 2.60 mile circuit was the culmination of plans that had first been proposed before the start of the Second World War. Then, in 1948, the dream was realized. Overall, the circuit played out as a slow to medium speed circuit. However, the sweeping right-hand corner that fed onto the start/finish straight was one of the most dramatic corners to be found in grand prix racing.
Though the official home of the Dutch Grand Prix, the 1952 season would be the first season in which the race counted toward the World Championship. And while Ascari had already earned the World Championship after his victory at the German Grand Prix a couple of weeks earlier, he showed no signs of easing up during practice.
Due to the nature of the circuit, the smaller, more-nimble cars like the Gordini chassis and the Cooper-Bristols were better suited. However, Ferrari had made an incredible car when it had made the 500. Powerful, agile and rather light, the 500 would prove, in the hands of a champion like Ascari, it was the car to have no matter what the competition had at their disposal. In practice before the 90 lap race, Ascari would muscle his Ferrari around the circuit in one minute and forty-six seconds. This would be more than enough to earn yet another pole-position. As usual, Giuseppe Farina would earn the 2nd starting position. His time would be two seconds slower than Ascari around the 2.60 miles. As proof of his talent and of things to come, Mike Hawthorn would earn the final spot on the front row with a time five seconds slower.
The entry list for the Grand Prix of the Netherlands was rather light compared to some of the other rounds of the World Championship. While thirty, or more, had come to be part of the British and German Grand Prix, only eighteen would start the Grand Prix of the Netherlands. And while Downing would perform well in practice, he would not have at least ten others starting behind him. Downing would turn in a lap time that was a fair bit slow. It was twelve seconds behind Ascari. However, with about ten fewer entries in the field, the time would end up causing Downing to have to start toward the back of the field. He would end up in the 13th position on the fifth row. Unlike the British Grand Prix, where he started 5th, Downing would have his work cut out for him at Zandvoort.
At the start of the 90 lap race, Ascari would take the lead. Farina would give chase in 2nd place. Downing was just trying to find a comfortable pace that would enable him to gradually move his way forward.
It wouldn't be a good day for Escuderia Bandeirantes. Two out of three of their cars would end up being the first-two cars out of the race. Only 4 laps in, Gino Bianco would retire with a rear axle failure. Three laps later, the Dutch driver Jan Flinterman would also retire with a differential problem. Meanwhile, Ascari was out front and gradually pulling away from the rest of the field.
A little more than fifty minutes into the race, it would all come to an end for Downing. He had been trying to run steady, but his car was not healthy. As he completed 26 laps, the car's oil pressure began to give him trouble causing him to retire from the race. He would not gain the retribution for which he was looking.
Downing, like many others, could do nothing with Ascari at the front of the field. He controlled the pace and the race. While he would end up not as far ahead as he had managed to be at the end of some of the other races, he was still far enough out front that he was able to just run a comfortable pace and stay out of trouble.
In a little more than two hours and fifty-three minutes, Alberto would streak across the finish line to take what was his fifth-straight victory. He would finish forty seconds ahead of Farina in 2nd place. Finishing just about a minute behind Farina, Luigi Villoresi would make it a Ferrari clean sweep of the podium as he finished 3rd.
The failure of the car at Zandvoort only made the mistake at Silverstone worse. It had still proven to be the closest Downing ever was to a championship point. This retirement would end up bringing to an end Downing's World Championship campaign for 1952 and his career.
While Zandvoort may have been the last World Championship race in which Downing competed, it would not be the last single-seater grand prix in which he would take part. There were still a few non-championship grand prix on the calendar.
Perhaps a little snake-bit, Downing would only take part in one more major grand prix in 1952. In spite of it being the last of the season, Downing would end up making it one of his best.
It would not be until the end of September before Downing would be seen behind the wheel of a grand prix car again. The racing season had begun in some sportscar races held at Goodwood all the way back in March. Then, he had intended to enter his new Connaught in the Easter Monday races at Goodwood in April. He would never get the opportunity as the car was not ready in time for the races. Therefore, on the 27th of September, Downing looked to do what he never got a chance to do. He would enter his Connaught in the fall races held at Goodwood.
Downing entered the race as part of the Connaught Engineering team. He had had near misses both when he entered a race under his own name and when he entered under Connaught Engineering. However, after a season of racing, coming to the race with a team offered Downing the best opportunity at a good result.
Goodwood had come into existence, like many other circuits throughout England, first as an airbase. As part of the Goodwood Estate, the portion of the estate was developed and had an auxiliary airfield built. The grass runways served, mostly, as an emergency landing field for British Spitfire and Hurricanes that were part of the Tangmere Wing. At war's end, the field was not really being used. The Duke of Richmond, who owned the Goodwood Estate, and some other racing enthusiasts, were looking for a suitable circuit to host motor races after Brooklands had come to be closed. They would end up being convinced RAF Westhampnett would serve the purpose perfectly. Once the perimeter road was paved properly, Goodwood Circuit was born.
With the exception of just a couple of corners, the circuit was fast. This led the organizers to make some changes heading into the 1952 season. A chicane was added just after the Woodcote corner and the start/finish line.
As with the Easter Monday races held earlier in the year, the Goodwood Circuit would host short, more like exhibition races, again in the fall. Downing, and the Connaught Engineering racing team, would enter the Madgwick Cup race. It would be the 5th edition of the 7 lap race.
In spite of an all-British field, the race would feature some really tight competition. However, in practice Downing would prove the equal of just about any in the field, which included Stirling Moss, Roy Salvadori and Duncan Hamilton.
Eric Thompson, a Connaught Engineering driver, would prove to be the fastest. Downing would prove to be just as fast as he would start 2nd on the grid. The two Connaught pilots would be joined on the front row by Duncan Hamilton and Alan Brown.
At only 7 laps long, the pressure on the field was great right from the start. It would be evident when the race started. Stirling Moss would end up being collected by Andre Loens right at the start of the race. This ended their race before it even began. The pole-sitter, Eric Thompson, would suffer damage due to a crash, also on the 1st lap of the race. He would try to continue but would also have to retire on the 2nd lap.
Having a clean start was important in such a short race. Downing had managed to escape the melee on the 1st lap and pulled away with the lead. With every passing lap, the short-comings of the season were no doubt troubling his subconscious.
Dennis Poore, who started in another Connaught right behind Downing, had followed Downing through the 1st lap issues and was giving chase. He was closely followed by Alan Brown.
Taking from the lessons learned over the course of the season, Downing would put his head down and would power around the circuit. With every lap, he would stretch the margin ever so slightly more. Conscious of his mistake in the British Grand Prix, Downing was fast but sure. This wasn't easy given the fact Poore would set the fastest lap of the race in his pursuit of Downing.
Yet, in the face of such pressure, Downing would not flinch. Averaging a little more than 84 mph, Downing would race to his first Formula 2 grand prix win! He would do so in convincing fashion. In spite of Poore's pace, Downing would manage to stretch out a thirteen second advantage. At Silverstone, Downing was running ahead of Poore before his spin. Poore would go on to come in 4th. Downing recognized the talent he had and never feared in the face of the pressure.
Though not the major race and victory he had snatched away from him at Chimay, nor, the potential points-paying position he had before him in the British Grand Prix, the Madgwick Cup race; nonetheless, was still a source of some retribution. It was the best result Downing could hope for on which to end a bitter season.
The 1952 season; undoubtedly, took something out of Downing as he returned for the 1953 season. Downing would focus entirely on sportscar racing in 1953. He would end up switching from Connaught over to Aston Martin.
He would have a not so good result at Silverstone in May, but he would earn a 3rd place just a couple of weeks later at Thruxton. Then, after a victory at the National Silverstone race toward the end of June, Downing stepped away from racing.
Upon retiring from racing, Downing would use his other talent—his business sense. Though retired from racing, he would not step too far away from automobiles. He would end up focusing on the family's car dealerships and other automotive interests and would become quite successful. He would become so successful that he would move to Monaco and live there until his death in 2004.
One of Downing's talents was recognizing timing and talents. He had used his racing talent to great success in sportscars. But after three years, he recognized it was time to use his other talents to great effect. Part of business is timing and not getting caught up in the moment. Downing wouldn't get caught up in the moment, but he would leave some wondering.