The Knight brothers, now aged 80 and 75, are the founders of the Winfield Racing School, which they have run with Tico Martini since day one. Gentlemen, a short view back to the past…

Engraved in his memory! Mike Knight, the eldest brother, will never forget that memorable November 22, 1963, but not necessarily for the reason one might imagine. On that day, the then Jim Russell Racing School, which had been based at Magny-Cours’ Motor Stadium for a few months, crowned its first winner: Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. In the evening of the event, instructors, students and jury members gathered at Jeannette’s restaurant La Renaissance to celebrate this first “Volant Shell”. 

“I had discovered Magny-Cours a few days earlier, when my father had asked me to drive down from England the Cooper given to the winner of the Volant,” Mike recalls with emotion today. “When I arrived in the little town, I asked where the circuit was, but nobody could tell me. Eventually, I found it by wandering down a side road. Then came the final, the date of which remains engraved in my memory as it coincides with the date of Kennedy’s assassination. A November 22, 1963 that brought so much anxiety to the world, but so much hope to me. We had imagined this first Volant so much that nothing could have spoiled our pleasure. Not even such a shock!”



One year later, Bill Knight, the father, having decided to end his collaboration with Jim Russell, renamed the school as “Winfield”, after his mother’s maiden name. Soon in charge of the company, Tico Martini, who would go on to become the renowned single-seater builder we know today, received reinforcements from the Knight siblings. While Mike flew back and forth to England, where he was pursuing a career as an F3 racer, Richard, the youngest, settled in the Nièvre region. “Dad told us to make it work financially,” recalls Richard. “Things were going well, but not making much money. We raised prices, cut back where we could, and asked Tico to build solid cars.” There’s even more work to be done at the school, as Winfield now has a second site in the south of France, at the Circuit Paul Ricard.


Winfield’s first logo on gate’s top right



A site to which an extraordinary young man would give his letters of nobility. He was twenty years old in 1976 and named Alain Prost, the future four-time Formula One World champion. “He was the only pupil who taught us anything”, tells Mike in a laugh. In his first season, he won twelve of the thirteen races on the program, losing the thirteenth due to a gearbox problem. “Two years later, when he was racing in F3, I found myself chatting with him and he started talking to me about gearboxes. He told me to be careful with them, as they could be detrimental to a driver’s career. I was a bit taken aback. It had been two years, but he still had his retirement hanging over his head!”


Alain Prost – 1975 Volant Elf-Winfield winner


Another world champion also wore out his wetsuit bottoms on the Winfield benches, Damon Hill, then known only as the son of the legendary Graham Hill. “It was more difficult for him because he had no idea what he was going to find when he arrived at Magny-Cours”, says Richard. “It was his mother Bette who signed him up, because she wanted him to stop racing motorcycles. Between two evils, she still preferred motor racing. He had something, but it was too early. He wasn’t fast enough to be in the final.”

The British racer wasn’t the only talented driver not to make it to the final; there was also Jean-Pierre Jarier. “He had a great drive, he was fast, but he acted like a young mad dog who sometimes did anything,” Mike winced. The cars were fragile, it was forbidden to exit certain corners deemed too dangerous, and we used to calm everyone down. But he couldn’t hear us. I tried to explain to him that there were lots of people around the circuit watching, and that if I let him do it, others who didn’t have the same control would be tempted to do the same and break equipment or, worse, get hurt. I told him to get his act together or I’d have no choice but to fire him. He didn’t calm down…”

François Cevert was just the opposite, as Mike likes to recall. “I started as an instructor the year he signed up, and Tico (Martini) said to me, “You see this guy, he’s going to F1!” He was very disciplined during the training sessions, going fast but nothing more. However, on the day of the final, when the track conditions were half dry and half wet, he attacked like never before, and stayed on the track!”

Winfield has produced many champions who have distinguished themselves in all motorsport disciplines and continue to do so, because 60 years is just a stage, not an end in itself.


Photo credits: ©Bernard Asset