“I’d race nothing but Porsches. There’s something very special about the marque,” reveals Mike Wilds, 77, PCGB member and lifelong racing driver. He’s flown helicopters, he’s also a patron of the BMW Car Club and he has won British championships in a Ferrari but, as he puts it: “They’re great, but they’re not Porsches.”
Mike first realised his ambition of Porsche ownership in 1999, buying a 911 Carrera Club Sport and enjoying it for more than two decades. However, his current Porsche is a 2012 987 Spyder which has turned out to be one of the best cars he has ever driven. It never fails to put a smile on his face.
Nevertheless, this passion for Porsche has a much longer history. Mike first fell in love with the marque as a young man, when he was just starting out in racing and working his way through the junior formulas. Based in Chiswick at the time, he found a job at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’s outlet in nearby Brentford.
“I was lucky enough to get a job in the racing division and to travel the world as a race tyre engineer,” recalls Mike. “I wanted to meet people who could help me with my career in motorsport and I went down to the Targa Florio in Sicily. We were working with John Wyer, who was running works Porsches at the time – 908 Mk3s.”
While there, he became friends with driver Jo Siffert, who had a 911 T as his company car. One day, Jo offered him a lift and agreed that they could take a ride around the circuit on the way back to the hotel. “I jumped in next to him and had one of the most memorable experiences of my life,” says Mike. “To be driven around the Targa Florio is pretty good in itself, but to be driven by a works Porsche race driver in a 911... he drove it so well, the car was sensational in his hands. I vowed within that hour or so I was in the car that, one day, I would own a Porsche.”
Starting out small, Mike’s very first race car was a DRW Mk1 which he took to the track for the first time at Snetterton in 1965, competing with the 750 Motor Club and taking third place. He found further success racing at Silverstone, marking the beginning of a journey which would take him all the way to Formula One. Sitting on that grid for the first time in 1974 alongside the likes of Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson – all his heroes – remains the pinnacle of Mike’s racing career.
“I wasn’t last on the grid either,” he smiles. “The fact that next to me was Graham Hill, who was world champion many times... that’s a very, very special feeling.”
Mike is still racing and Le Mans remains a firm favourite. He first competed there in 1981, taking on the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a ‘Baby’ 935, and returned last year for the Classic, driving Rainer Becker’s 956. This particular car is rather special: it’s the first-ever 956, with a production number of 101, and it was driven to third place at Le Mans in 1983 by Mario Andretti.
“Le Mans throws everything at you as a racing driver. It’s one hell of a challenge and just wonderful to do,” he explains. “They’ve put chicanes onto the straight to slow it down, but we used to go flat out for three-and-a-half miles, through a kink and down to Mulsanne Corner.
“We didn’t have air conditioning or paddle shifters back then but, if you were doing a 24-hour race in a 956, you’d be lucky enough to have a synchromesh gearbox which was brilliant to use and great for reliability. However, you could be in that car with a cockpit temperature in excess of 55°C; in two hours, I could lose 10lbs because of the moisture loss. We didn’t have isotonic drinks, so I’d take salt tablets, do some exercises and then, at three o’clock in the morning, I’d get my crash helmet and walk down some stairs into a dark alley. Doing that still makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and arms because I know, in 10 minutes’ time, in the dark and possibly in the rain too, I’m going to be doing 240mph down the Mulsanne Straight. Nothing, nothing, nothing can compare with that.”
Other favourites for Mike include Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and the old Interlagos circuit used for the Brazilian Grand Prix back in 1975. In 2018, he became the oldest competitor to drive in the GT3 Carrera Cup; an experience which demonstrates just how much the world of motorsport has evolved.
“It was a little bit worrying for me because they’re all mostly young lads desperately trying to make careers in motorsport,” he reflects. “Here’s me, a pensioner of some age... I had no aspirations, but I didn’t want to be last! I had great fun, and I can’t tell you how good that Porsche was.”
Speaking with Red Line Racing’s engineer after some practice laps, Mike had to adapt his driving style to the advanced capabilities of the GT3. He’d been braking at 80 metres before the corner but, as the engineer put it, “that’s where we normally brake in the wet.” Instead, he learned to brake at 45 metres and continue braking into the corner – a move which would have made the older models swap ends. “I found it very easy, but I had to totally change 50-odd years of driving style,” he explains.
And, as much as he enjoyed the experience, Mike will be sticking to the classics when it comes to racing. For all its incredible spec, the GT3 simply doesn’t speak to him like the older Porsches he knows and loves. “Older cars talk to you. They let you know when they’re going to slide, you control the slides and so on. The GT3s are so good – the brakes are unbelievable – but you get no feel through the pedal. The only way I could tell that I’d locked a wheel was a light on the dashboard and, to me, that’s like driving in a video game. It was an amazing experience, but it’s the last time I’ll drive a modern racing car because it’s a different era; motor racing cars have moved on.”
With a racing career spanning more than half a century, Mike has witnessed many changes to the sport, including vast improvements in safety. Some of these experiences are described in his autobiography, Life on the Wilds Side. He hasn’t lost the racing bug yet and recently took his 987 to the Castle Combe trackday, which was the first he has attended in a car which was actually his own. He has also competed with his son Anthony and, as his grandson is starting out in karting too, it seems another generation of Wilds will be following in their footsteps.