The Sideburn Swede
- Leif Snellman, Rainer Nyberg, Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W September 1999 issue
- Lotus 56B - Aircraft on wheels, by Mattijs Diepraam
Reine Wisell (John Watson)
March-Cosworth 741 (John Goldie Racing with Hexagon Brabham-Cosworth BT42)
1974 Swedish GP
This Sideburn Swede was a contemporary to the more famous Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson, their careers becoming intertwined on many occasions on their run up to Formula 1. While Ronnie was known as a "wild" driver, Reine became known for his smooth and calm driving style. Though Reine never really possessed the natural speed and ability Ronnie had, they still fought closely for F3 honours during the late 1960s, resulting in 27 F3 wins and the Swedish championship in 1967 for Reine.
Reine Wisell was born in 1941 in the small industrial town of Motala near lake Vättern in central Sweden. He started his racing career in 1962 with a Mini Cooper. After some years doing local saloon races he turned to F3 in 1966, taking the only F3 victories that year for the Cooper company at minor races at Roskilde and Bengtsfors. In 1966 he also was an instructor at Karlskoga race track for one young Swedish Formula K driver who wanted to have a license to go racing in Formula 3. That young man went by the name of Ronnie Peterson. For 1967 Wisell changed his Cooper for a Brabham, taking the Swedish F3 championship that year.
In 1968 both Reine and Ronnie raced the new Italian Tecno cars, the former internationally, the latter in local races with quite some success. Reine scored 11 victories, Ronnie 12. 1969 was a busy season for Reine. He did sportscar racing in Derek Bennett's Chevron cars while at the same time he raced F3 under the name of Publicator Racing Team. While winning some races he had to see himself beaten by Peterson in the exciting Monaco F3 event, a race in which the Swedish drivers passed and re-passed each other, locking brakes and touching wheels. In 1970 Reine continued in sportscars with Jo Bonnier and did F5000 for McLaren before getting his chance in F1 when he replaced John Miles as second driver for the works Lotus team in the two last races of 1970.
By then, Peterson had already graduated to F1, Ronnie on board of Colin Crabbe's privately entered March 701 cars that were common on GP grids in 1970. When Reine got his GP break after Jochen Rindt's fatal crash at Monza late in 1970, things looked brighter for Wisell compared to his rival. With a works Lotus deal in his pocket, Reine finished his first F1 race at Watkins Glen with a sensational 3rd place and signed for a full-time Lotus drive for 1971. It looked a better prospect than it actually was. Reine had to split his efforts between the 72 and the Lotus 56B turbine car, which he raced at Oulton Park and Silverstone.
Adapted from the Lotus 56 Indycar it used a Ferguson 4WD system coupled with the massive torque of the ex-military helicopter Pratt & Whitney turbine. It had only one forward gear but still required 4WD to counter the massive torque to avoid wheelspin. Unfortunately the car was too heavy (630kg) and had a massive thirst for kerosene (it used 350 litre fuel tanks!) so it was ultimately a failure and the project was abandoned after the 1971 season.
While Ronnie Peterson took second in the championship with his now works-entered "tea-tray" STP March 711, the season turned out to be a huge disappointment for Lotus, with only 16 points to Fittipaldi and 9 points to Wisell. Reine raced also F2 cars for Lotus, winning his first F2 race at the non-championship Pau GP when the leading Beltoise retired with only four laps to go. While Ronnie Peterson had moved to a higher level with the works March team, his career definitely on a roll, Reine's contract was not renewed for 1972, Chapman instead signing his latest prospect Dave Walker as his replacement. The irony was that Walker did even worse, leading to Chapman calling on Wisell again for the final two races of 1972. There was however never a glimpse of hope for more as Reine was in turn replaced by… Ronnie Peterson, who signed for Lotus at exactly the right moment.
Before accepting the two-race arrangement with Lotus, Reine's big mistake was then that he signed for the multi-car BRM team. For 1972 BRM tried to race no less than five cars, which definitely proved too much of a stretch for the team organization. The season turned out to be another disappointment and after his brief Lotus return his F1 career was effectively over. The highlight of the 1973 season was a win at the Eifelrennen F2 race, 29 April in a GRD-Ford. Wisell also made two F1 races, in the inaugural Swedish GP with a rented March 731 entered by Team Pierre Robert (an aftershave company). and in the French GP replacing Mike Beuttler in the Clarke-Mordaunt-Guthie team. At his home track he qualified a promising 14th but did not make the start after the suspension broke in the warm-up. Pierre Robert also sponsored his Formula 2 GRD 272 for the 1973 season (here seen at Kinnekulle).
Reine's last F1 race was the 1974 Swedish GP, in a Västkuststugan (makers of cottages in a distinctive Swedish style) sponsored March 741 subbing for Hans-Joachim Stuck who had commitments elsewhere. At Anderstorp Reine showed he had not forgotten how to drive these things, qualifying 16th, just in front of team mate Brambilla. (By the way, the entry list was the most "Scandinavian rich" ever with Ronnie Peterson, Reine Wisell and Bertil Roos from Sweden, Tom Belsø from Denmark and Leo Kinnunen from Finland!) The race itself was dominated by the Tyrrells of Scheckter and Depailler with only Peterson's Lotus in the beginning of the race and Hunt's Hesketh at the end able to put up any kind of challenge. For Reine the race ended at lap 60 with a rear suspension failure.
Thus, Reine never fulfilled the early promise of his GP career, bowing out of single-seater racing and from now on concentrating on saloons but also sportscars. He had shared the Ecurie Bonnier Lola on many occasions with the team owner during the early 1970s and doing Le Mans on four occasions. In 1969 he shared a Chevy Corvette with Henri Greder, while 1970 saw him in a Ferrari 512S together with compatriot Jo Bonnier. Then he was absent for a few years until 1973 when he returned in a Lola T282 motivated by a Cosworth DFV. In 1974 he made his final appearance at the Sarthe in a Gulf Mirage GR7 together with Vern Schuppan. He never once finished during his four attempts.
The latter part of the 1970s were mostly spent in Group 2 Chevrolet Camaro in European saloon car racing. He also drove a Camaro in the very popular Swedish SuperStar series during 1976-79. He was second in the championship in 1977 and fourth in 1978.
Reine quietly disappeared from the limelight during the early 1980s. There were some rumours of a comeback in the newly created Group C class but it never turned into an actual drive. In 1985 Reine did return to sportscars but in a more relaxed and laid-back style, Wisell taking part in the SuperSports series for historic sportscars created by englishman David Piper. Reine shared his driving duties with Johnny Lundberger in a Chevron and still today occasionally takes on a ride in historic racing.
During the 1980s Reine also developed a passion for economy runs that were quite the opposite to racing! He won many contests during the 1980s and still continues to keep his foot light on the throttle and to stay in top gear as much as possible, his latest effort being a Malmö-Amsterdam drive with one tank of fuel in a VW Lupo SDI with an average fuel consumption of 3.6 litres per 100km! Reine today also manages and helps Swedish drivers to some much needed winter testing down in sunny Spain at the Cartagena Circuit when the Swedish tracks are snow-covered.
Reader's Why by Jon Petersson
Temporarily replacing Hans Joachim Stuck, Reine made a final appearance in front of his home crowd, with the help of local summer home builder Västkust-Stugan. The Swedish audience was not surprised, however. Because both drivers sported remarkably funny looking sideburns, they were certain that Reine had actually been driving the #9 March all season...