Driving a 40-year-old Formula 1 car is a rare 21st birthday present, but that’s exactly what Benn Tilley was given last October. Benn’s parents, Stuart and Ann, decided to give him a gift that he will surely never forget: the chance to drive a Cosworth DFV-engined Lotus 91, as raced by Elio de Angelis in 1982.
The personable Lincolnshire lad is already an accomplished competitor in historic racing, having followed his dad into the sport. Yet the Tilleys are certainly not rich: just ordinary working people who stretch their minimal resources to get Benn on track.
All round, 2020 was quite a year for Benn, who romped to the Classic Formula 3 title in the ex-Rupert Keegan March 743 on loan from Simon Hadfield.
With Hadfield’s support, Tilley’s parents have helped him go much further in the sport than his lack of funds might otherwise have allowed.
The idea for the unrivalled birthday present stemmed from the fact that Stuart has known Historic F1 racer Dan Collins for more than 30 years, since they raced together in Formula Ford. So a plan was hatched for Benn to have a run in Collins’ 91 on the test track at Lotus’s Hethel headquarters. This is chassis number 10, so it also has a Nigel Mansell history.
“I had no clue what was coming up,” says Benn. “Mum and Dad told me to take my race kit with me and said that we were going to Classic Team Lotus. Other than that, I didn’t know anything until one of the mechanics walked in and said: ‘The lad’s here to drive the 91!’”
In fact, Benn turned around to see who was behind him, unable to take in what was about to happen.
“If I’m perfectly honest, I still can’t really believe it,” he says. “It was a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. I did nearly 20 laps in total and was getting quicker, but I wasn’t going to take any risks.
“It was a case of gently feeding the throttle out of the corners and winding it up a bit on the straights; the F3 March is about 160bhp and the Lotus is 525bhp and weighs 650kg.