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BTCC hero Jack Sears has died aged 86

First ever British touring car champion won titles in 1958 and 1963

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‘Gentleman Jack’ Sears – the first man to win the British Saloon Car Championship, as it was known until 1987 – has sadly passed away at the age of 86.

Sears would drive home from races in the Austin 105 which brought him the Class C title in the series’ maiden season in 1958, although he was forced to battle for outright victory in a two-man shootout after finishing level on points with Class D’s Tommy Sopwith in a Jaguar 3.4-litre.

With both men refusing to have the result decided by a coin toss, they were eventually provided with nearly identical Riley 1.5s for two five-lap races around Brands Hatch. Switching cars after the first race to ensure absolute fairness, Sears eventually prevailed with an aggregate time 1.6 seconds faster than his rival. Sears became the first person to claim the overall crown for a second time by beating the likes of Graham Hill, Jim Clark and runner-up John Whitmore in 1963.

Sears was also a successful GT driver. Making his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1960, his best result at La Sarthe came alongside Mike Salmon in a Ferrari 330LMB in 1963, when the pair finished fifth.

A year later Sears was involved in the now notorious pre-Le Mans test with AC Cars on the M1, in which he surpassed 180mph in a Cobra Coupe. Many believed – incorrectly – that the stunt led to the introduction of the 70mph speed limit on Britain’s motorways which still exists today.

Sears’ career behind the wheel came to an early end at the age of 35, when an accident in a Lotus 40 at Silverstone left him with serious injuries which took many months to recover from. Although retirement from racing left him to concentrate on farming in Norfolk, he retained a presence in motorsport with a stint as president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, and watched on as his son David enjoyed a successful racing career of his own.

In recognition of his achievements and his place in the sport’s history, the BTCC introduced the ‘Jack Sears Trophy’ in 2013, which is awarded to the best rookie at the end of each season. Winners so far include Lea Wood, Dave Newsham and Josh Cook.

“It is with great regret and genuine sadness to learn of Jack’s death,” said BTCC Series Director Alan Gow. “I really liked Jack a lot… not only as an extremely talented and inspirational racing driver, but more importantly as a hugely popular, humble and impressive human being.

“Jack loved this championship and continued to play an active part in the BTCC right up until his passing. He will be sorely missed by everyone involved in the BTCC, but our immediate thoughts are with his family and closest friends at this time.”

A minute’s silence will be held at Knockhill this weekend, prior to Round 7 of this year’s championship.

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