Tom Walkinshaw

Posted: December 13, 2010 in Formula 1
Tags: , , ,

It is with sadness that we record the passing of racer and businessman Tom Walkinshaw.

To many, Walkinshaw was best known for his ownership of the Arrows team from 1996 to 2002.  He got closer than anyone to guiding the team to the victory that would elude them through all 382 of their F1 starts, with Damon Hill losing the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix on the final lap through a faulty washer in the hydraulic system – go here and forward the video to 3:13 to see Damon passing Michael Schumacher for the lead as Tom merrily applauds perhaps his team’s finest hour.  The demise of Arrows in 2002 under a mass of litigation and a horribly constrictive equity deal with Morgan Grenfell was a sad postscript both for the team and for the Scotsman’s F1 involvement, but while there’s no hiding from the fact that not every one of his business deals was an inspired one, his achievements away from Arrows were worthy of celebration.

It was under Walkinshaw’s stewardship that Ligier had their most competitive spell in years, with regular points and a podium finish at Spa-Francorchamps for Martin Brundle in 1995.  Prior to that, there’d been a spell as Benetton’s engineering director during the team’s early 90s rise from occasional race winners to multiple champions, boosted by the Walkinshaw-led recruitment of Schumacher and technical director Ross Brawn.

Brawn came to Benetton from the Jaguar sportscar team where he’d bossed the design team for the XJR-14, which won the 1991 world title for Tom Walkinshaw Racing and later became the Le Mans 24 Hours-winning TWR WSC-95.  Tom’s long association with Jaguar also included victories at Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1988 and 1990, along with the manufacturers world championships of 1987 and 1988.  These followed the Jaguar touring car programme in which Walkinshaw himself won the 1984 European title at the wheel of an XJS.

His pedigree was enough to secure the works Volvo contract for their touring car return at the dawn of the Super Touring era.  The 850 estate ran well in 1994, the 850 saloon was a regular race winner and with the S40, TWR and Rickard Rydell captured the 1998 British championship.  At the same time, the Holden Racing Team was blossoming in Australia, earning Walkinshaw a further 6 touring car titles and 6 Bathurst 1000 victories from 1990 onwards.

It can only be through the success he enjoyed as a team owner that his driving career is often sidelined.  As a single-seater driver he drove in every major European category short of Formula 1 despite having his progress stymied by sponsorship problems and a leg-breaking Formula 3 shunt in 1970.  In touring cars he enjoyed success with Ford before starting TWR, where he and his team developed the Mazda RX-7 that carried Win Percy to a pair of British titles and Walkinshaw to a Spa 24 Hours win sharing a car with Piere Dieudonne in 1981.  The XJS would carry Walkinshaw to another Spa win with Percy and touring car legend Hans Heyer during his 1984 European championship season, then 3rd at the fearsome Bathurst 1000 the following year, behind the other TWR entry of Armin Hahne and John Goss.

His will to succeed, allied to his knowledge of how to do so, made him a formidable opponent in business as well as on-track – his recent dealings in the Australian V8 Supercars series attracted particular attention and have been widely documented elsewhere.  Away from motor racing, Walkinshaw took over Gloucester’s rugby union outfit in 1997 and oversaw the team’s development into mainstays of European competition.

His passion for motorsport was undeniable, his track record enviable and while there remains some doubt about his age – either 60, 63 or 64 depending on source –  there can be no question that his loss to complications arising from lung cancer is too soon and will be keenly felt.  Our condolences go to his family and friends.

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