Noël Cunningham-Reid

Flashback

The thirteen laps of the Noël Cunningham-Reid

Cunningham-Reid? Never heard of him - many will surely say, even if they count themselves among long-time Nürburgring fans.

Author: Udo Klinkel - After all, it's been a long time since a man of this name made history at the Nürburgring. We have to go back to May 26, 1957, to come across this event. 

The third 1000 kilometer race on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife will take place from May 23-26, and the then 27-year-old Briton is likely to have arrived in the Eifel without any great expectations. His racing experience spans a good two years of sports car racing, mostly in the English "club scene" between Mallory Park, Goodwood and Silverstone. The British sports car manufacturer Aston Martin had decided to bring two of its new DBR1 three-liter cars to the Nürburgring for the first time. The team is somewhat short of drivers, as only Roy Salvadori and Tony Brooks are permanent members of the team. Without further ado, Les Leston, whose real name is Albert Lazarus Fingleston, and the aforementioned Noel Cunningham-Reid are hired to take on the role of co-drivers. Neither of them has ever seen the Nürburgring before, so the three days of training before the race come just in time to acquire at least an approximate knowledge of the track. And this against competition that is truly not of bad parents. Maserati and Ferrari are the clear favorites. 

Stirling Moss in vain pursuit of Tony Brooks. Photo: Völker-Richarz archive

Especially the Maserati 450S  - with Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio - is regarded as virtually unbeatable. The Ferrari squad is also impressive: Peter Collins, Olivier Gendebien, Mike Hawthorn and Maurice Trintignant will certainly want to have their say when it comes to overall victory. The whole adventure begins on Thursday in typical Eifel weather. The landscape around Nürburg is rainy and cool. The practice times are accordingly. 

Only six drivers break the eleven minutes, with the first surprise coming right away: Tony Brooks in the Aston-Martin sixteen seconds ahead of Moss! But that's not all: the inexperienced Cunningham-Reid also joins the list of "under eleven" people, which is completed by Umberto Maglioli in the Porsche, Roy Salvadori in the second Aston-Martin, and - the next surprise - Archie Scott-Brown in the Jaguar D. No Ferrari no Maserati far and wide. No one had expected that, and probably that afternoon the Aston-Martin team began to invoke the rain god.

Happy winners: lap of honor for Noel Cunningham-Reid and Tony Brooks. Photo: Völker-Richarz archive

However, the sun doesn't relent and the next day refuses to give the Brits the wet weather they have been longing for. The sun was shining from the Eifel sky and that would not change throughout the weekend. At the end of the day, Brooks is just behind Fangio and Moss. Noel improves again. He is a full twelve seconds faster than colleague Les Leston, which prompts the team management under John Wyer to team him up with Brooks for the race, forcing Leston to switch to Salvadori. Aston Martin skips Saturday practice to save the cars for the tough race.

Victory podium with the then ADAC Sports President Jules Köther and Franz-Josef Strauss. Photo: Völker-Richarz archive

At the start, Tony Brooks gets off best in his dark green Aston-Martin with start number 14. Everything seems to be going his way this weekend. In the pits, Noel witnesses how his team leader pulls away from the entire Italian pack. 

After a poor start, Moss is bogged down in midfield and has to fight his way to the front. But Moss wouldn't be Moss if he didn't succeed. At the end of the seventh lap he has caught up with Brooks and passes him. But his joy is not long-lasting. At the dovetail, a wheel and brake come off the Maserati in spectacular fashion. Fortunately, this has no consequences for the spectators, over whose heads the car heads for a parking lot, where it crashes without causing any damage.

Noel can hardly believe that on the 16th lap he has to take over a car that is now leading the 1000 kilometer race. With what feelings he sets off, only he knows. In any case, the spectators witness a great and controlled drive by the Nürburgring rookie.

And yet he still extended his lead to four minutes. In the pits, his timekeepers will have been staring at their watches in disbelief, only now to actually smell morning air. Should it succeed? With a youngster at the wheel of their fastest car? If he doesn't make a mistake after all. The Nürburgring doesn't forgive such things. Noel has to hold out until the 29th lap, defending his lead against the pursuers in their red racers. And then he comes back... on schedule after this 29th lap, which is his thirteenth. Brooks is ready, takes over the car and drives the thing home uncontested. Noel is first of all completely exhausted after his thirteen laps, barely responsive. The hardest piece of work of his life so far, without a doubt. And who would have thought that a man named Cunningham-Reid would find himself under the winner's wreath on this Sunday afternoon?

Tony Brooks in the winning Aston Martin in the south turn. Photo: Völker-Richarz archive

It will remain his greatest success. That same year, the young man said goodbye to racing. His last race was at Silverstone in September. After that, he hangs up his helmet. Why did he make this decision? Who knows? As a lifelong member of the "British Racing Driver Club," Noel remains connected to racing, at least in this way, into old age. He died at the age of 86 on October 4, 2017.