Michael Johnson Parkes was born on September 24, 1931 in Richmond, in the English county of Surrey, south of London. His father, born in 1903, shows a great passion for mechanics. He became an engineer, then an airplane pilot and then a flight instructor for the Auxiliary Air Force, directly linked to the British Royal Air Force, and in the period in which Mike was born, the first of three children, an airplane pilot for Airwork Ltd and a flight instructor for the same company. He then directs two De Havilland (now Bombardier) propeller factories during the Second World War, from which his England will emerge victorious. After the war he worked as managing director in Alvis, a manufacturer of cars and radial engines, generally for military vehicles.
Lancelot Johnson, Mike's maternal grandfather, had worked as an engineer on merchant navy ships and then, once married, opened a trucking company using one of the first six-wheeled trucks he himself designed. Mary Johnson, Mike's mother, a lover of mechanics, helps her son learn to drive, taking advantage of the abandoned airports typical of post-war England, later converted into racetracks. Thanks to this background, in the Parkes house there has always been a small garage where to work on the assembly of cars and mechanical devices. Mike thus acquires his first engineering knowledge, inherits the interest of his father and maternal grandfather, and immediately gets involved in the first person.
Mike finishes his high school studies at Haileybury College, specializing in physics, mathematics and chemistry. The modest results at the level of theoretical study are compensated by the great dedication to practical work. A great runner in cross-country, in the institute he also meets another British driver destined to write the history of motorsport: Stirling Moss, two years older. Harold Dawes, a friend of Mike's since school, tells various stories related to Parkes' relationship with cars: the two had found some former gravel pits full of military vehicles in the county, and together with another friend, John Nunn, they used the excuse of training for cross-country races to reach the quarries in the afternoons, and work on the vehicles. At the Hartford Heath workshop, many cars had been abandoned, so Parkes stole gasoline from the school's lawnmowers and then poured it into the tanks and tried to start them.
In 1950 Mike enrolled as an apprentice at Humber-Hillman in Coventry, linked to Rootes. In this way he can combine the practical work in the factory with the theoretical preparation sessions. The decision is also a consequence of his father's new job at Alvis, and the move to the Midlands of the whole family. For Parkes, the situation is ideal: many manufacturers of the most disparate vehicles had settled in this area. Mike, who does not want to follow Alvis's training path, but is studying for the Higher National Certificate in mechanical engineering, reaching the goal in 1956, refuses the protection of his father, but knows executives of various companies in the sector that allow him to fit into the environment, testing the various cars from time to time.
"After I finished school I had two options: go to college, or enter the automotive industry as a mechanical engineering apprentice. I didn't want to spend any more years taking a university course, so in 1950 I went to Rootes. There I took a class. three years as a student, passing through the various workshops, then in the offices, the sales department, the inspection department, and even the department that was in charge of paying salaries".
Meanwhile, for Parkes, acquaintance with Alec Issigonis, designer of the Morris Minor and the Mini, was formative, and he spends a lot of time talking about cars with him.
"He had a huge influence, Alec had a wonderful brain, totally eccentric. It did everyone a lot of good in the sense that he threw out extreme ideas and allowed us to dissect them. Mike followed Alec's lines of thought when he found himself at work on a small machine".
Harold Dawes would say. Parkes' first purchase, just reached legal driving age, is a motorcycle, but later, believing it to be safer, his parents buy him a car, a 1929 Alvis 12/50 with which Mike learns the basics of repair. of cars, since he takes care of them personally. Subsequently, in 1952, for his twenty-first birthday, his father gave him a new car, an MG TD with which, obviously, in June 1952 Mike entered the S.U.N.B.A.C. at Silverstone and wins on his debut. Then Parkes' first work experience arrives: hired at Rootes in the experimental department, Mike deals with the development of several cars. And three years later he was assigned to an unprecedented project for Rootes: a small displacement car for the mass market, based on the Little Jimmy prototype that had been discarded a few years earlier. The board of directors, skeptical as it may be, finances the production of a new prototype, and the task of working on it goes to Parkes and Fry.
After analyzing various cars of this type already on the market, Fry thinks of a body shop and Parkes takes care of the engine. A first prototype is born: the Lumacca. As ugly as it may be, the car meets the demands: it consumes only one liter of petrol every twenty-nine kilometers. The prototype is approved, and Rootes engineers from the design department are involved. Parkes, meanwhile, buys through a colleague a Sunbeam Alpine with the steering wheel on the left, which slowly transforms by moving the drive to the right. The curious thing is that, since the changes are not immediate, a passenger is needed for a period because the clutch pedal and the brake pedal are on opposite sides of the car, and subsequently two steering wheels will coexist, one on the right. and one on the left.
In 1954 Parkes started running more steadily after he, together with his friend John Nunn, fixed an old Frazer Nash, and a friend of theirs provided a second Frazer so that he could switch between them on race weekends. Parkes' first races are all organized by the Vintage Sports Car Club, and for the most part at Silverstone. Driver and tuner of his own cars, Mike is meticulous in particular in recording lap times, all written in a booklet together with the various set-ups developed from time to time. Also due to the poor performance of the two Frazer Nash, the significant results are few, but Silverstone is a training track for both driving and mechanical work on the car.
This certainly does not discourage Mike, since in 1956 he bought a Ford Prefect, a low fuel consumption car, which was then modified by the Englishman to improve its performance. One of his tricks to save on petrol consumption is to never brake, which means immediately overtaking any car that comes in front of him, even when driving on public roads. Through Tim Fry, the following year Mike meets Geoff Williamson, engineer and owner of a Ford Lotus Eleven. Parkes offers to modify it and take it to the track, managing to double the power developed, bringing it from 40 to 85 horsepower. Until 1959 Parkes relied on this car, while continuing his work at Rootes.
In the meantime, Issigonis works with David Fry on the development of a Formula 2 car with a Coventry-Climax engine. David Fry's idea of having Vanwall factory driver Stuart Lewis-Evans drive it fades after the tragic accident at Ain Diab, in Morocco, where the British loses his life. Issigonis then suggests Mike Parkes, who thus in the two-year period 1958-1959 drives the Fry-Climax, with poor results: the car is too heavy and suffers from reliability problems, but despite this Parkes accumulates in these two years the fundamental experience for move from historic cars to modern cars.
"You must never accept to drive a car that is too far ahead of the ones you are already capable of driving".
In this period Colin Chapman noticed Mike's driving skills, and decided to call him to the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a reserve driver for Lotus, which fielded four cars: Parkes went to the Circuit de la Sarthe, but never got off track. Meanwhile, the British is divided between the various commitments, bringing the racing cars to the racetrack in tow with his Triumph TR3. As he continues his work at Rootes, the future Ferrari driver begins a new project to create a car similar to the Fry-Climax in the garage, but fails in a short time. At the beginning of 1960 Parkes came into contact with Sir Gawaine Baillie, owner of a Lotus Elite: initially Mike was summoned as an engineer but, given his driving skills, Baillie chose to share the car with him in the race. The first race the two will run together is the 1000 Kilometer of the Nurburgring, where Parkes even records the fastest lap; however, due to a mistake made by Baillie while he is leading in his category, the car is damaged and cannot continue.
Parkes and Baillie will take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but also in this case they will retire due to a failure of the differential, shortly after halfway through the race. Mike then drives Baillie's cars in some national level races, finishes on the podium on three of the four occasions, and ends his experience when Baillie, in the late 1960s, decides to sell the car. In January 1961 Mike drives a Sunbeam Rapier at the Monte Carlo rally together with the journalist Gregor Grant: during the timed test the car loses a wheel and crashes into a barrier. In this period, during a dinner between Sunbeam owners, a certain Tommy Sopwith asks Mike to drive his Gran Turismo cars in the race, managed by the private team Equipe Endeavor, which fielded two Jaguar 3.8, a Jaguar E-Type and some Ferrari 250 GTO, co-financed directly by Ferrari's English subsidiary: Maranello Concessionaires.
Mike accepts, and in March 1961 he made his debut at Snetterton: at the beginning of the last lap he was in the lead, ahead of his teammate, but due to a team error (the gasoline had been calculated based on a shorter race) both cars remain stationary along the track. In total, Mike drives the Jaguar 3.8 for the team in eight races, and the budget is six podiums, of which five wins, while in four other races he gets behind the wheel of the E-type, with which he gets two wins and one second place.
"The basic thought was then and still is, as far as I'm concerned, that driving has to be fun. If you have a tool, if it's fun to use and you enjoy using it, then you'll make the most of it. If a car is fun, even if you travel through London with heavy traffic, not only do you like to drive but you are also inclined to drive better. We thought that this was among the most important things: to make the car easy and fun to drive".
And in the meantime he deals with road tests of the Hillman Imp, which will go into production in 1963, when Parkes will be in Maranello: the car will enter a market dominated by the Mini with decent results, despite the reputation of poor reliability. Parkes' adventure with Ferrari began in 1961, first participating in some Gran Turismo races and prototypes in England, with the aim of advertising the Ferrari cars and the Maranello Concessionaires of Colonel Ronnie Hoare, after the latter struck agreement with Sopwith to bring them on the track with Equipe Endeavor until the end of 1962. In 1961 Mike drove the Ferrari of Maranello Concessionaires for seven races, winning four first places - absolute or category - on three of the most important tracks in England: two at Snetterton, one at Goodwood and one at Brands Hatch, in addition to second place in the RAC Tourist Trophy.
"Among my first experiences driving a Gran Turismo were the races I did with the 250 GT Ferrari of Tommy Sopwith's Scuderia Equipe Endeavor, in 1961. Both Jack Sears and I had done some test laps in the Ferrari and I went a tad bit faster than him, so they chose me to drive it in the race. I won the race with that wonderful car, and I decided that from then on the thing I would like most would be to drive a Ferrari, any Ferrari".
At Goodwood, in particular, he wins after a close duel with Stirling Moss:
"During the race I was chased for several laps by Stirling Moss in his Zagato Aston Martin DB4. For the first time I realized that, in addition to being a very experienced driver, he also had something more. He must have decided that, being a neophyte, I had to be put under as much pressure as possible, and knowing that he could not overtake me on the straight because the Ferrari Berlinetta - which Moss had driven in the Tourist Trophy the previous year - had higher acceleration, caught up with me at every corner, because it braked more late and, admittedly, he drove better, flashing his headlights and honking his horn, in short, trying every trick to make me make a mistake in a war of nerves that lasted half a dozen laps. I was almost sorry when his car lost a bit. 'of strength, and he was left behind along with the others".
Subsequently, at the RAC Tourist Trophy, Mike is again fighting against Stirling Moss and Roy Salvadori, respectively on Ferrari and Aston Martin, but this time it is Moss who precedes Parkes and Salvadori, and even the extremely tight race pace forces the British driver four pit stops to change tires. During the month of April 1961, Mike went to Le Mans as an engineer for Sunbeam. Hoare, informed of the fact, contacts the Ferrari sports director, Romolo Tavoni, to offer Parkes a test with an official Ferrari. Tavoni accepts but asks Parkes not to push the car to the limit; however, Mike ignores the request and records the best time of the day for a Ferrari, attracting the attention of the commendatore's advisors, and is subsequently asked to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a three-liter Testa Rossa paired with Willy Mairesse.
At the finish, Mike and Willy are second behind Gendebien and Hill, also in a Ferrari. In 1962 Mike returned to the track with the Jaguars and Ferraris of the Endeavor Equipe, but he also participated in two races with the Scuderia Ferrari, on the occasion of the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At 1000 Kilometers of the Nürburgring Mike is again paired with Willy Mairesse, aboard an official 250 GTO. On this occasion, the British fights in the early stages of the race against Jim Clark, at the wheel of a 1.5-liter Lotus 23: apparently Clark can dominate the race, but retires after twelve laps due to mechanical problems, therefore Parkes and Mairesse alternate in first place with teammates Hill and Gendebien, who ultimately win. Parkes and Mairesse come second instead.
At Le Mans, Mike is in one of the four official cars, a GTO, paired with Lorenzo Bandini. Second overall during practice, in the first lap he ends up in a sandbar at Mulsanne to avoid contact with Kerguen, on Aston Martin, who cuts his way. After half an hour lost to free the car using a spade, Mike resumes racing with the damaged car, and after seven hours of racing he opts to retire. At Bank Holiday in Brands Hatch, Parkes runs three races and wins them all: the first with the Jaguar 3.8 of Equipe Endeavor, the second with a Ferrari GTO and the third with a Dino 246SP loaned to Hoare by Ferrari, but followed by Mauro Forghieri as an observer.
"Mike is one of the first, if not the best, GT driver in the world. Aside from his exceptional ability as a driver, he is also a fully-fledged engineer, with a technical background, in my opinion, second to none among racing drivers. In practice, he rarely asks for any changes to his car. And if he does, he never changes his mind after they have been made, because he knows exactly what it takes. Once he has the change, he is completely satisfied, and he would not dream of blaming the car. The fact that in the course of two intense seasons with Ferraris he has never had any mechanical failures demonstrates so much his technical competence and the way it affects his driving, as much as the resistance of the car. Its charm and its exterior calm, especially before the race, are totally disarming. The more our team is in turmoil, the more Mike stays calm. No patron could have a better driver than Mike Parkes".
Hoare will declare. At the end of the season, Maranello Concessionaires takes part in the 1000 Kilometers of Montlhéry with Mike Parkes and John Surtees. Throughout the race, the two chase two other Ferrari GTOs: a NART of the Rodriguez brothers and one in the hands of Mairesse and Bianchi of Ecurie Nationale Belge. Under the checkered flag Parkes and Surtees pass in second place, despite an oil leak.
Still in 1962 Parkes made his debut in a race for Formula 1 cars, at Mallory Park, at the wheel of a Cooper Climax. The car was registered only shortly before departure: the intention is to use it for spare parts for a Bowmaker Lola-Climax V8 driven by John Surtees, which later turned out to be a winner. But the team manager, Reg Parnell, realizes that no spare parts are needed during the whole weekend, so he invites Mike to drive the Cooper Climax in the race: the Briton is fourth at the finish.
In November 1962 Mike went to Modena to meet Enzo Ferrari who had asked to meet him to offer him a three-year full-time contract, in the dual role of engineer and official driver for GT races. Ferrari in this period is complaining about its drivers, and in particular Phil Hill, for their attitude not very willing to carry out days of tests and trials before the races. Consequently, Ferrari chooses to entrust its cars to test drivers, hiring Mike Parkes for the GTs, and John Surtees and Willy Mairesse for Formula 1.
The dual role in Ferrari means for Parkes the formalization of his professional career as a driver, and a significant improvement in his economic condition. The salary offered by Ferrari is well above the average for both a driver and an engineer. Indeed, Enzo Ferrari understands that Parkes' role is unique and has enormous potential. Furthermore, employing foreign pilots is a way to advertise the brand also abroad.
"I could not refuse the wonderful opportunity to work at Ferrari. It was a dream for design and engineering. I will be able to develop all my ideas under one roof".
Mike describes his new job like this:
"Divided into two separate parts, respectively concerning the race cars and the production cars. I do the tests on the prototypes and the Formula 1 cars for the race car department, and then I race with both of them. I am also responsible for the experimental department. , which involves following production cars from when they are born on the drawing board, to the point where the first prototype is produced, developed and tested, and then when the first replicas start rolling off the assembly line. randomly on the cars produced, to be sure that the standards set on the prototypes are maintained when they go into production".
Reached the agreement, Mike buys a small apartment on the top floor in the center of Modena, learns to speak Italian, assimilates the Modenese dialect, and integrates into Italian society thanks to Brenda Vernor, an English girl who works in Modena as a teacher. At Ferrari Parkes he dedicates a lot of time to testing: tests both on the Modena and Imola circuits, and on a normal road, preferably on the Modena-Rome motorway taking advantage of the absence of speed limits, or the Apennine between Modena and Livorno, where Parkes has a habit of holding the wheel steady with his knees while taking notes. In the meantime, he continued his career as a driver with excellent results: in 1963 Ferrari won the GT over 2000 cc championship, the World Challenge de Vitesse and the Prototype Trophy. Parkes drives Ferrari cars in fourteen races, mainly endurance: five with Scuderia Ferrari, and nine with Maranello Concessionaires, taking two wins at Goodwood and Silverstone, four second places and a third place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
At the 12 Hours of Sebring Ferrari entrusted a 330LMB to Parkes and Bandini: during the fourth hour of the race, Parkes made a mistake, probably after passing over an oil slick, and ended up against a tree. He manages to get back to the pits but the tank and bodywork are impossible to repair in time. The other Ferraris score a historic hat-trick. Mike then runs the Targa Florio with John Surtees in a 250P: John, who gets behind the wheel after the first three laps, goes off the road in the fifth. And then, with the same car, he runs the 1000 Kilometer of the Nurburgring with Ludovico Scarfiotti. The two factory 250Ps alternate in the lead for the early stages of the race, until on lap 16 Parkes turns at the Aremberg curve, probably touched by team mate Mairesse. Mike Parkes retires, while Mairesse and Surtees climb to the top step of the podium.
At Le Mans, Ferrari presents eight cars: three official cars, three entrusted to NART, one to Maranello Concessionaires, and one privately owned by Pierre Noblet. Parkes still drives a Ferrari 250P, alternating with Umberto Maglioli, but after being in the lead, the car begins to suffer mechanical problems and slips to the rear. Subsequently, the two recover and close overall thirds and second in the category. Meanwhile, in national level competitions in England and Italy, Mike achieves various successes. In the Inter-Europe Cup, at Monza, Mike battled with Roy Salvadori's Aston Martin for the entire race, losing just two laps from the end due to bad laps. In 1964 the British won again the Challenge World de Vitesse and the GT Championship beating Shelby American, and triumphs in the 12 Hours of Sebring paired with Umberto Maglioli in a Ferrari 275P.
In this edition the two drivers improve the distance record for the race, bringing it to 1112 miles (1790 kilometers). In reality, among the members there are no prominent teams other than those of Ferrari. This is why the race was won very easily, with three of the five Ferrari prototypes at the finish line and the other two retired. Subsequently, paired with Guichet, Mike finished second in the 1000 Kilometer of the Nurburgring. At Le Mans Ford and Ferrari have their first real clash. Eight Ferraris compete, including six official and three Ford GT40s. Parkes shares a 275P with Scarfiotti, which stops after five hours due to an oil leak. Ferrari, however, ends with a hat-trick, while Ford faces serious mechanical problems.
Subsequently, Mike drives together with Scarfiotti once again in Reims, where in the 12 Hours he finishes a decent third place. But then, due to an accident in a test in Modena, he has to sacrifice the second half of the season because he remains for several months with his bust in a cast. In 1965 Parkes ran eight races, still dividing himself between the Maranello Concessionaires team and the official team. At the 1000 Kilometers of Monza, Ferrari shows up with four official cars, one of which is a 275P driven by Parkes and Guichet. This is precisely the winning car, while the other Ferraris struggle with mechanical problems.
Retired from the Targa Florio, the British driver at Spa for Maranello Concessionaires, but also in this case retires due to the failure to open the petrol pump, which was incorrectly repaired in the pits. Four Ferraris challenge four Fords at the Nurburgring: Parkes and Guichet finish second behind teammates Surtees and Scarfiotti, three Fords do not finish the race, while the other is only eighth. Still paired with Guichet, the British participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans: in this circumstance only an official Ferrari finished the race, but in the close fight with Ford the team from Maranello came out the winner, because none of the American cars crossed the finish line. Parkes retires after twenty-two hours of racing. Two Ferraris, one officially supported by NART and a private one by Ecurie Francorchamps, achieved a double in the overall standings.
At the 12 Hours of Reims, Mike becomes the protagonist of a particular episode told by Colonel Hoare. In fact, just before the race Parkes has not yet turned up at the racetrack and his team goes to check if he has stayed at the hotel. In his room, he sleeps peacefully, forgetting that he has to go to the track. Subsequently he is dragged by force into the paddock and put behind the wheel: at the finish line he will be second. A result also repeated in Zeltweg, in a race that will be followed by a controversy over the supply of tires, while at the RAC Tourist Trophy he does not get more than a seventh place.
In 1966 Parkes, together with Bob Bondurant, took part in the 12 Hours of Sebring, where Ferrari presented itself with a single prototype and a Dino 206S. Parkes and Bondurant's car battled six Fords and held second place for the first nine hours of the race, but the gearbox betrayed them and forced them to retire, while Ford celebrated a spectacular hat-trick. During the season, Ferrari once again brought only one official car to Monza, in which Parkes teamed up with John Surtees: under an incessant rain, the duo achieved success. Then, at the Tourist Trophy, Parkes drives the Dino 206S and retires almost immediately, while at the Targa Florio he participates together with Ludovico Scarfiotti, in which the two encounter as many accidents: one in practice due to a mistake by Parkes and one in the race for mechanical failures.
At Spa, Parkes and Scarfiotti drive a 330P3 which for the first time fitted with Firestone tires (previously used Dunlop) and won the race without ever leaving the lead; later, the Briton drives in tandem with Surtees, on the Nurburgring circuit, but various mechanical problems make two pit stops and the subsequent retirement due to clutch malfunction necessary. In France, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford achieves a historic hat-trick and the photo of the three cars together on the finish line is imprinted in the history of motoring. Until dawn Parkes and Scarfiotti held up the pace of the leading group behind the wheel of one of the three 330P3s, but at 8:30 am Scarfiotti hit a Matra-B.R.M. off the track shortly before and was seriously injured.
For 1967 Ferrari once again considered making a more powerful prototype, the 330P4, to counter Ford's success. Originally conceived with a six-liter engine and only for fast tracks, in the end it was decided to mount a four-liter engine and use it in all races. Meanwhile, the championship changes its name to Speed and World Challenge Cup, organized in eight races, of which only the five best results are valid for the classification.
Ferrari, committed on several fronts, can dedicate limited resources to endurance races, so it never presents more than two cars, and Parkes only drives official cars in four races and on one occasion a car from Maranello Concessionaires. The year opens in Daytona with the 24 Hours held on the roval track, a mix of permanent and oval. Ferrari enters two 330P4s against the six Ford Mk IIs that dominate the early stages of the race while Ferrari deliberately maintains a slower pace. The Fords, which had carried out very few tests during the winter, suffer mechanical problems and retire, leaving the Ferraris undisturbed in the first four places.
At the end of the race the three Ferraris crossed the line side by side, in response to the photo of the three Fords immortalized at Le Mans a few months earlier. Parkes and Scarfiotti are placed in second place, lapped by the winners Lorenzo Bandini and Chris Amon. Ferrari brings two 330P4s to Monza, with the same crews present at Daytona, and also on this occasion Bandini and Amon win, followed by Parkes and Scarfiotti. For Ferrari, dominance is only threatened by Mike Spence and Phil Hill's Chaparral 2F, withdrawn almost immediately due to mechanical problems.
In the 1000 Kilometers of Spa Ferrari presented only one 330P4 berlinetta, with Parkes and Scarfiotti, and the two did not go beyond fifth place due to gearshift problems. On 10 and 11 June the 24 Hours of Le Mans sees a new duel between Ferrari and Ford, in which only two of the seven American cars cross the finish line, but one of them wins the race. Parkes and Scarfiotti come in second, followed by another Ferrari in third. In the words of Enzo Ferrari:
"In that Le Mans won by Gurney and Foyt there was an attack, in the early hours of the morning, if the Fords showed a crack in their massive line-up. At 2:00 there seemed to be that possibility. An accident had eliminated d ' one shot three units of the Detroit squadron. A fourth, that of McLaren, was cut out of the fight. The only leading car remained, that of Gurney and Foyt, who was in command from the beginning with clear intentions to play the hare, according to a strategy that in long-distance races sacrifices one unit, throwing it into the fray, to the advantage of the cars adjusted to get to the bottom. Well, against that one car, already very tried and so battered that it is now visibly liable to disqualification (but which race director or technical commissioner would have felt like taking such a decision?), Parkes fought against that car for a decisive assault. Scarfiotti had doubts. he did nothing about it. Parkes and Scarfiotti were second, and after the champagne on the Le Mans arrival stage there remained the question of whether we had attacked".
In total, Parkes participates in Le Mans eleven times, from 1960 to 1967 and from 1970 to 1972. Never a winner, he still boasts two second places and a third:
"Long distance racing can be very lonely, especially if most of the cars have retired. At the beginning the scrum leads to driving like it's a Grand Prix and you have to mind being calm, because there is no advantage. in getting involved in small fights in the early laps. This type of race must be regulated by the clock, the driver must run fast and smoothly, taking advantage of the performance and reliability of the car, regardless of what is happening ahead or behind him. We must avoid making emotional moves, without logic, or letting ourselves be tempted by short-term challenges, because this is the way to get out of the race in a short time".
Meanwhile, on the Formula 1 front, in June 1966 John Surtees ran into a series of quarrels with Dragoni, Ferrari's sporting director, and was forced to abandon Maranello during the current season. To fill the gap left by the British ace, Enzo Ferrari assigns Parkes the seat for four races. The latter, however, is much taller than Surtees, so mechanics have to adapt the car to his build: longer cockpit, spaced pedals and raised windshield.
"I was very happy when, at the beginning of 1966, Commendatore Ferrari told me that he would do his best to let me drive in Formula 1 from time to time in the coming season. From this I understood that I would have a good chance to drive. in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, when Ferrari always works hard, usually with at least one more car. At that moment I didn't even imagine that by mid-season I would be catapulted into the team to fill the hole left by John Surtees. The disagreement between Surtees and the Ferrari team took place on the eve of the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Surtees did not participate in the race, and the final separation came after he flew to Maranello the following Wednesday for a meeting with the Commendatore".
Despite trying to qualify for the 1959 British Grand Prix in Aintree with a Fry F2, the first Formula 1 race in which Parkes participates is the French Grand Prix in Reims, where he finishes second behind Jack Brabham. In the final laps, Parkes reduces his gap from Jack Brabham by thirty seconds, who becomes the first driver to win a World Championship Grand Prix with a car he built himself. At the Dutch Grand Prix, in Zandvoort, Parkes goes off the track at the same spot where Jochen Rindt had gone out a few laps earlier, and hits his abandoned Cooper-Maserati; and at the German Grand Prix he made a mistake again, signing the second consecutive retirement. At the Italian Grand Prix, in Monza, Parkes finished second, very close to Ludovico Scarfiotti, his teammate. But that is enough for the Italian public to become attached to Mike who, according to their perception, allowed an Italian driver to win the home race in a Ferrari. In reality, for Parkes, after Bandini's retirement, the team's order became that of defending Scarfiotti from Denny Hulme, preventing him from approaching him; the New Zealander at the finish is only three tenths of a second behind Parkes.
"I have always considered myself an employee of the company, no more and no less. They employed me to do a certain job as part of a team".
Parkes wins the von Trips Trophy as the best beginner in Formula 1 at the beginning of 1967.
"As I made the transition, the first thing I had to get used to was sitting in the center of the car, with the fuel tanks left and right, top and bottom. At first it made me feel like seeing the front wheels , and be able to observe the operation of the front suspension. Of course I was quick to discover and know exactly what the front wheels are doing and where they are pointing. This has its advantages, for example it allows you to steer the car with much more precision when entering and exiting corners. This is extremely important in Formula 1, which requires a much more precise and refined skill than driving sports cars which are relatively heavy. Compared to a two-seater the Grand Prix car is a more sophisticated mechanism, designed to give a higher performance, but that you have to drive much closer to its maximum limit for the entire distance and duration of the race".
In 1967 Parkes was confirmed for four Formula 1 races, two of which were valid for the world championship (Zandvoort and Spa) and two extra-championship (Silverstone-BRDC Trophy and Siracusa). At Silverstone he reaches the finish line first, in front of the eyes of his father who is on the circuit as a spectator. In the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort, however, he is fifth, in a race where Ferrari suffers against Lotus and Brabham. In the Syracuse Grand Prix he returns to win, crossing the finish line with the same time as Scarfiotti. The two drivers had agreed to reach the finish line together and dedicate the victory to Lorenzo Bandini, who had lost his life in the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks earlier.
During the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, Parkes is then involved in the accident that will mark his farewell to Formula 1. On June 18, 1967 Mike has just started and on the first lap he is in the leading group. Jackie Stewart drives a B.R.M. sixteen-cylinder with H engine, which consumes a lot of oil. For this reason it must be filled with the highest oil load. On the Stavelot, a fast left-hander (no longer in use since 1978), the oil accumulated in the left side of the B.R.M. engine escapes from the vents. Parkes doesn't have time to avoid it.
"I don't remember anything about the accident anymore, Chris Amon told me all I know. He saw me skidding and then immediately took his foot off the accelerator, risking to slip on that damned oil spot too. entering that curve to the left at a speed of at least 200 km/h, the tail slid towards the outside of the curve and the car, for this reason, moved inwards, to the left of the road. In the meantime I was trying to keep it on the track, Amon told me that I almost succeeded; in any case the car moved more and more to the left until it collided with the embankment, fell back on its side and began to roll on itself; then we we weren't even wearing seat belts while racing and the centrifugal force would hit me up, then the car would fall and I would come back down. I broke my knees immediately, they told me then in the hospital, and the ligaments in my joints. Since I'm tall and couldn't get out of the car, the bones in my legs began to break apart from the knees down until I was finally thrown out. I had both legs broken and I was also broken my right wrist, probably in an attempt to protect my head: there is a photograph of me in which I am lying on the track with my legs crossed: one foot up and the other pointing down. first aid told me later that he was trying to recover pieces of bone, from which he had to remove blades of grass, before sending me to the hospital in Liège".
After the first treatments at the medical center, therefore, Parkes is taken to the Liege hospital in a coma. He fears a cerebral hemorrhage. But after twelve days, when he regained consciousness, Mike was transferred to Luton hospital, not far from London, where it was decided not to operate immediately, to allow the skin to heal. Parkes believes he can race in Monza, but in reality the accident will keep him away from racing for two years.
"It was a dramatic day when Doctor Plewes told me that there was good news. I was all happy and I was expecting who knows what, even that I would be discharged earlier than expected. Instead the doctor said to me: Now I can assure you without a shadow of doubt that we will not amputate her leg. I was stunned, I certainly had no idea that things were so serious, and to think that such an eventuality could happen to me was really a shock. But the skin was healing, the infection was was arrested and the tissues began to reform".
In January 1968, his conditions are verified: the bone has not healed by itself and it is necessary to operate. At this moment, Mike loses all his personal hopes for a full recovery, and falls into depression. He is operated on the following month. Despite Parkes' plans to return to Italy, his convalescence lengthens from time to time. In June 1968, during a hillclimb, his friend, colleague and rival Ludovico Scarfiotti died. Parkes goes to Italy for the funeral, limping and with plaster casts. Only in November 1968 he can return to work in Maranello, and only two months later he can start driving again in testing. The accident kept him away from work for seventeen months. During an interview with Ferrari about his future, Mike realizes that he cannot resume his dual jobs as an engineer and driver. Parkes can't go back to racing yet, so he takes up the role of engineer again, but for the racing department, where he develops the new 312P with three-liter engine.
"But at the end of the year I said to the Commander: And with racing? He replied that he needed too much as a technician, and that he knew me too well to risk having me drive a car. But I replied that, even though I understood his point of sight, I had to be the one to decide when to stop running and not him, and if he hadn't given me the car, I would have gone to look for it elsewhere".
Enzo Ferrari then proposed that he go and work for Georges Filipinetti, a Swiss Ferrari dealer who in the 1970 season would have participated in some races with a semi-official Ferrari, to which the parent company would undertake to pass all the updates. In October 1969 Parkes returned to racing, together with Richard Attwood, in the 1000 Kilometers of Paris, in Montlhéry, aboard a Lola T70 owned by David Piper. They conclude in the middle of the table. In the same month Chapman contacts Parkes to propose a managerial role and shares in Lotus, but after some negotiations the agreement fails.
Thus, since 1970 Mike has worked for the Filipinetti stable in Formigine, near Maranello, which allows the British to live in Modena and maintain close ties with Ferrari. Although Parkes did not approve of the 128 Abarth as a base, he was forced by Filipinetti to develop it. Instead, he loves to work with a small group of people, something he couldn't have at Ferrari, with whom he also prepares Fiat Abarths for touring races, which he never drives.
Parkes achieved good results with Filipinetti's 512S in probably the worst period for unofficial teams in the history of motorsport: fourth at the Nürburgring, then thirteenth at Brands Hatch, always paired with H. Muller. Sixth at the Targa Florio, then eighth at Monza. At Le Mans he retires due to an accident with four cars involved, his car catches fire but he comes out with only a burn in his leg. Mike also drives a Ferrari 312P, used by the factory team in 1969 before being sold to NART, with which he is first in his category and fourth overall in the 24 Hours of Daytona with Sam Posey as co-driver; at Sebring, on the other hand, he is sixth overall and fourth among the prototypes, driving with Chuck Parsons.
In 1971 Scuderia Filipinetti bought a 512M, an evolution of the 512 never used by the factory team. Parkes runs in the 1000 Kilometer of Buenos Aires paired with Jo Bonnier, and finishes sixth. The same couple retires in Monza due to mechanical problems. At Le Mans, however, they retire due to a mistake by Parkes, which causes damage to the bodywork. In 1972, in his last 24 Hours of Le Mans, Parkes drives a Ferrari 365 GTB / 4 Daytona together with Jean-Louis Lafosse and Jean-Jacques Cochet: he finishes seventh overall and third in the GT category.
In October of this same year Ray Keller, Californian owner of a 512F, previously owned by Filipinetti, asked Parkes to race in the Can-Am race in Riverside. Mike accepts and is tenth at the finish, but Keller gets in the car to celebrate, and starts to turn on a track already crowded with spectators; for this the car is disqualified and the result canceled. The last race as a driver for Mike Parkes is held in Imola, with a De Tomaso Pantera: Mike wins and sets the fastest lap. The Formiginese adventure ends in mid-1973, when Georges Filipinetti dies and his son, disinterested in racing cars, sells the team. Parkes accepts a new job in Fiat orbit and moves to Lancia, where he will have to develop the new rally Stratos with Ferrari engine. Graham Robson writes:
"Mike brought English pragmatism to this project, along with considerable preparation and know-how. In addition, his experience and his calm and quiet way of doing things contributed a lot to moving the project forward. It would not be excessive to say that Mike he was the person who mattered most in transforming a great idea into a great car. His skills as an engineer and test driver were crucial in the success of the car, and his experience as a driver helped build good relationships with the drivers. Piero Sodano, one of the rally drivers, said that he had a lot of understanding for the drivers and they, in turn, had a lot of respect for him because he was kind of a legend".
The Stratos was conceived ad hoc for rallies and homologation was granted at the end of 1974, after two years of development and participation in races for experimental vehicles. The Stratos is constantly being improved, with great successes: it wins the Targa Florio, the San Remo Rally, the Automobile Tour of Italy, the Tour de Corse and the Monte Carlo Rally. One of Parkes' successes as an engineer is to make the engine almost completely waterproof, so that it can withstand the extremely variable weather and terrain conditions typical of a rally championship.
For the 1977 season, Fiat decided to unite the racing department of Abarth and Lancia, and priority went to the Fiat Abarth 131 which won the World Championship for Makes. The Lancia Stratos participates with the whole team only in the four main rallies: Monte Carlo, Safari, San Remo and Tour de Corse. In 1978, Alitalia left Lancia to sponsor Fiat, and the Stratos program was reduced to just European rallies, in its last year with an official team. After moving to Turin for work, Parkes rents an apartment but keeps the house, the plane and the Bentley in Modena, returning on weekends and for holidays. Sunday 28th August 1977 he is driving back to Turin when he starts to rain.
Near Riva di Chieri he finds a sharp curve at the end of a straight. A puddle of water inside the curve causes the car, a Lancia Beta, which crashes into a truck. Mike Parkes loses his life due to a broken spine. Mike is buried in England, in Charsfield, his father's country. He leaves his engineering genius and his genuine madness on the track to Motorsport. A gentleman driver for life, he has always taken to the track for fun, almost as if the cash payment was marginal compared to the satisfaction of being able to work on a car, and, occasionally, to be able to drive it.