IN THIS MASTERS SPECIAL FEATURE, we talk to the larger-than-life character James Hagan who has been a mainstay of the Masters’ paddock since 2010. Find out more about how James got into historics and his racing story so far…
A mainstay of the Masters series for well over a decade now, James Hagan is one of the true characters in historic motor racing. He has raced a wide variety of cars on both sides of the Big Pond, from touring cars and GTs to Formula One and Le Mans prototypes.
His fun-loving antics, which include wearing his famous James Hagan wig on the grid, are well-known throughout the Masters paddock. Behind the wheel, though, he is a tough and capable competitor who, for many years racked up the podiums in Masters’ pre-78 Formula One class. We talked to James during the Bosch Hockenheim Historic in May.
How did you get into historic motor racing?
“I played rugby until I turned 40 and then a knee injury pushed me out of the sport and my impatience always ruled out golf! A friend of mine was racing Formula Fords in Belfast, so I decided to join him. We competed at Kirkistown and Mondello Park 30 years ago, around ‘93 or ‘94. After a couple of years, I grew tired of racing on the same tracks. That’s when my friend Stephen Mawhinney and I embarked on a new adventure. We travelled with two Formula Fords in a motorhome and trailer to participate in the Classic Formula Ford series in England. After a few years, we sought new challenges and expanded our racing adventures to include Classic Formula Ford in Europe In fact, I even won the championship in 2001!”
And how did the jump to Formula One come about?
“In 2010, I had an incredible experience when I rented a Surtees F1 and took it for a test drive at Mallory Park before heading to Monaco. However, my excitement was short-lived as I crashed the car on my third qualifying lap when the steering rod broke. Despite the setback, I persevered and purchased a ‘78 Ensign, which I raced before eventually selling it to acquire the iconic Hesketh 308 that I still own to this day. The Hesketh has brought me immense joy and unforgettable moments. Just recently, I had the opportunity to compete in the Phillip Island Historic Grand Prix in Australia, where I emerged victorious and can proudly call myself a Grand Prix winner after defeating Martin O’Connell. Ten years ago, I added the Tyrrell 011 to my collection and raced it in the United States. Three years ago, I acquired an ORECA LMPC car, which I bought jointly with my mate from the Isle of Wight (the South Island!) Chris Atkinson Although due to the impact of Covid-19, it didn’t see much action However, I am eagerly looking forward to racing it this year. Surprisingly, I find myself less fatigued after a 45-minute race in the LMPC car compared to a 25-minute Formula One race!”
Your first-ever Masters event?
“It must have been right after that first time in Monaco, my first race in a Formula One car, so around 2010. I’ve been there every time since.”
In it to win it or just for fun?
“We all like to win, but I’m in it to enjoy myself and meet people. We were never going to be proper Formula One drivers, we are all past our sell-by date, so it’s important that you have fun. I very much enjoyed the Masters in America, it’s more relaxed over there, despite the fact that they don’t like to race in the rain. I was in a race with six other guys once when ahead of the race it started to rain. Three declined to start, and the other two dropped out on the opening lap, so I won! I actually prefer to race in the rain. If we didn’t race in the rain in Belfast, we didn’t race at all!”
Your best day in motor racing?
“I’ve been fortunate to have countless memorable motor racing moments, but perhaps the best one is when I wake up feeling refreshed and without a hangover! It’s hard to single out just one day because they’ve all been special. I’ve decided to make the most of every moment. This morning, waking up was already a great start to the day. You know, a few weeks back, a friend of mine called and asked me to grab a tape measure. He said, ‘Set it to 80cm and now place your finger at 70cm. Look at the remaining 10cm — that’s all the time we have left!’ So, let’s make the most of those precious moments. I genuinely believe we should have the opportunity to live until we’re 150 years old. It takes us 50 years just to figure out what life is all about, so why not grant us another century to savour and enjoy it?”
Your worst day?
“That would be that first race at Monaco where I crashed on my third lap out...”
The best car you ever drove?
“The one I’ve had the most enjoyment with is the Hesketh. I bought it to look like a young James Hunt but the girls still didn’t chase after me!”
And the worst?
“It wasn’t the worst, but I just couldn’t get my head around the Lec CRP1, a Formula One car that I raced for one year in 2017. It’s a great car but I just couldn’t make it work. It’s the same with the Mini that I had.”
Your favourite circuit?
“Zandvoort! Not only for the fact that it’s a good track, but it’s a good place to go overall. I have nothing against places like the Nürburgring but it’s got no atmosphere. I find the Dutch are like the Irish. They have a great sense of humour and know how to party. And everyone stays in the area so you meet everyone you know.”
Why doesn’t Masters go to…?
“I was at Singapore for the Masters F1 support race back in the day, and I loved it. I had an electrical fault after three laps, so I would love to do that race again. It’s Monaco on steroids – those corners come at you bloody quick!”
The rival you fear or respect the most?
“He’s stopped racing now, but for years it used to be Andrew Beaumont. We were always on the same pace so it was important that we beat each other — except that it wasn’t important if you know what I mean. Also, Roberto Moreno and Tommy Byrne have always been very helpful to me. They are very kind people and great fun to be with — two great guys who respected each other back in the day. Tommy had great natural talent but like all Irish, he didn’t give a ****.”
Your best mate in the paddock?
“I don’t have one, there’s just so many! I get on with all of them — well, not all of them, most of them… They’re such a varied group, it just opens your eyes to the many different types you have, from all walks of life. My enjoyment of running with Masters is that you know the people you’re racing with. If you were my Masters racing buddy, you’d have a smile on your face if you pass me!”
Source: Masters Historic Racing