One-time Grand Prix driver and former Aston Martin sports car racer Eric Thompson died on Saturday 22 August, six weeks shy of his 96th birthday.
Born in Surrey, Thompson’s interest in motorsport was sparked during his childhood and he was particularly interested in the exploits of Richard Seaman.
Thompson worked as an insurance broker for Lloyd’s of London and after fighting and surviving in World War II, he decided to take up racing alongside his brokerage work in 1948 when he was in his late-twenties. Getting every third weekend off work as holidays, he went racing.
His first race was the Paris 12 Hours in Montlhery in a shared drive with Robin Richard driving an HRG; the pair finished fourth in their class.
By 1949, he made his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and took 1.5-litre class honours in an HRG which he shared with Jack Fairman. The pair entered the 24 Hours of Spa where they won their class. He also won the Silverstone International Trophy that year.
He joined Aston Martin in 1950 and the next four years with David Brown’s équipe saw him enjoy a number of successes. After retiring from the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans after just nine laps with an engine failure, he was back in 1953 alongside Lance Macklin in a DB2 and the pair finished third overall with victory in the 3-litre class.
In 1950, he also made his open-wheel racing debut in Formula 3, retiring a Cooper-Vincent at Castle Combe. The next year was spent predominantly in open-wheel racing – particularly in Formula Libre and Formula 2 – and he landed a drive at the 1952 British Grand Prix in a works-supported Connaught run by Rob Walker.
His one and only Grand Prix outing at Silverstone served as a reminder of the fickleness of Formula 1, as it really should have led to a further career where he would undoubtedly have proved successful. He qualified an impressive ninth-fastest, ahead of the likes of Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant, albeit seven seconds off Giuseppe Farnia’s pole position.
During the race he fought his way steadily through the field and maintained a cool head to walk away with an impressive fifth place, taking two World Championship points with him. Incredibly, he was never called back for further Grand Prix outings.
Thompson went back to sports cars before retiring from motor sport in 1956. He returned to insurance brokerage and finally retired in the 1980s, going on to open a book store in his home town of Guildford that sole rare motoring books.
He was the first driver to be inducted in to the Le Mans Drivers Hall of Fame in 2013 and continued making occasional appearances at historic events well into his nineties.
Image via Autosport