Tom Walkinshaw – another obituary

My friend and colleague David Tremayne has penned an obituary of Tom Walkinshaw in the latest edition of Grand Prix + magazine, I think it is worth publishing here to show another side to the man. We all had our different experiences with TW and it is good that the world sees more than one view.

Farewell to “the Brawny Scot”

A man of passion, Tom Walkinshaw courted success and controversy and inspired loyalty and dislike in equal measures

In racing, you speak as you find. I’m firmly in the camp of those who saw the true value of Thomas Dobbie Walkinshaw. And will be until it’s my turn for the big sleep.

I reckon we first met in the middle of 1983. That year his Rover Vitesses won 11 races and the title in the British Touring Car Championship, and in later years his pr man Eric Silbermann would regale us in F1 with stories of how, when the cars were being homologated, investigative representatives led TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) a merry dance. As in any form of racing, a lot of the chances of success hung on ‘interpretation’ of the rules, and Tom and his men were masters of the grey art. A whole load of cars were prepared at the Kidlington headquarters, but the men tasked with verifying that sufficient numbers of cars existed decided that they would visit various Rover dealers around the country and make random picks. The way Eric tells it, TWR just kept ahead of them, running the ‘special’ cars to the next dealer in line. “But there must be a few elderly couples who found that their Rover SD1 had way more pep than they anticipated, thanks to the various non-standard parts that were incorporated…”

At the time I was editor of Motoring News (now Motorsport News), and Tom invited my deputy editor Martin Whitaker and I out to a fancy lunch in London’s Bishopsgate, accompanied by former rallyman John Davenport. JD had also worked for MN at one time, when one of his great accomplishments was to park his Saab company car in the window of Harrod’s… As you might imagine, it was a lively and amusing lunch and Tom and JD proved extremely engaging company.

When we finally got back to the office a Telex awaited us, in which Lord Shawcross delivered an excoriating verdict against TWR in a legal case over the eligibility of the Rovers, and TWR was stripped of its championship title. That lunch was such an outrageously unsubtle attempt to influence our opinion that I just couldn’t help bursting out laughing despite the severity of offences which included illegal rockers and bodywork.

Tom was a market gardener’s son, born at Mauldslie Farm, near Penicuik, Midlothian, on November 17 1946. He caught the racing bug from a local garage owner who raced Minis. He started competing in 1968 in an MG Midget before scraping together the money to buy a Formula Ford Lotus. After racing in local events, he bought a Hawke in 1969 and won the Scottish Formula Ford 1600 championship before heading south to England to race in Formula 3 in 1970. After an abortive start with a Lotus 69 he joined the March ‘works’ Petonyer Racing team run by former Motoring News scribe Andrew Marriott, but broke an ankle in an accident. Subsequently he would race in Formula 2 and with Cosworth V6-engined Modus and March equipment, briefly, in Formula 5000.

In 1970 my dear friend and MN colleague Alan Henry thought it very witty when assessing Formula 3 form to suggest that the Petonyer team should go to its sponsor, the Adelphi Staff Bureau, “to see if they had any racing drivers on their books!” Tom, who had spent the year trying to make something of March’s hopeless 703, was not amused. But after AH had discovered the limits of the brawny Scot’s humour, a warm friendship developed between them.

Walkinshaw was soon hired by Ford which spotted his ability to develop race cars and in 1974 won his class in the British Touring Car Championship. That led to the foundation of Tom Walkinshaw Racing and in 1976 he scored his first major victory sharing a BMW CSL with John Fitzpatrick at Silverstone. TWR began by preparing BMWs and this culminated in the BMW County Challenge of 1979 and ’80. TWR Mazda RX7s won the British Touring Car Championship in 1980 and ‘81 with Win Percy driving, and in that latter season Tom shared victory in the Spa 24 Hours with Pierre Dieudonné.

TWR grew fast and bought a string of garages across the UK as it developed touring cars for both Rover and Jaguar and the Paris-Dakar-winning Range Rover for Rene Metge and Bernard Giroux. In 1982 it first raced Jaguars in the European Touring Car Championship and Rovers in the British series. There was much success but also that controversy when the team ran afoul of the Shawcross Tribunal of Enquiry. Rover switched to the ETCC, where it competed against TWR’s Jaguars. In 1984 Walkinshaw won the European title in a Jaguar XJS, including victory in the Spa 24 Hours, and the success led to Jaguar commissioning TWR to build a sportscar for the Le Mans 24 Hours. That led to phenomenal success for the marque which embraced three World Sportscar Championships, wins at Le Mans in 1988 and ’90 and victories in America’s IMSA series.

Walkinshaw’s businesses were funded upon his abilities as a driver and a car sorter, and prospered because he know how to spot good people and then let them do their jobs without excessive interference. That, allied to his passion and ebullient leadership, made TWR a phenomenal force. Its continuing success led to his election as chairman of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, a job he attacked with his typical gusto. Among his major plans for the inward-looking BRDC, several of which were subsequently adopted by those who followed, was diversification via the formation of Silverstone Motor Group, but the radical and controversial plan led to him being ousted by an enraged and heavily critical membership. In the meantime, however, he had been appointed engineering director at Benetton’s F1 team as TWR simultaneously began producing roadgoing Jaguar XJ220s while creating its own remarkable XJR15. Later, TWR would take Volvo into the BTCC.

By 1994 Benetton was a title-contending team, partly because of the thrust of Walkinshaw’s engineering ministrations: the melding together of the talents of Jaguar sportscar designer Ross Brawn with the incumbent Rory Byrne, and snaffling Michael Schumacher from Jordan after his Spa debut in 1991. That year the team won the World Championship despite huge controversy centred around allegations that it was running illegal traction control; the fallout of the fire at Hockenheim which was said to have been caused when a ‘junior employee’ sped up refuelling stops by removing a crucial fuel filter; and Schumacher’s brutal tactics on Damon Hill in the finale in Adelaide. Walkinshaw and team boss Flavio Briatore had such a distant relationship that they occupied different areas of the team’s Enstone factory, which because they occupied areas as far apart as possible became known as ‘Twin Towers.’ At the end of the year he was pushed out to run Ligier, which Briatore owned. Tom took 50 percent, with the long-term plan to buy the team outright, but when that foundered he withdrew and instead bought a controlling interest in Arrows for 1996, the year in which the Volvo BTCC deal started and a TWR-designed Porsche sportscar won the Le Mans 24 Hours.

For 1997 TWR put together a strong package for Arrows based around Yamaha engines, tyres from Bridgestone whom Walkinshaw had persuaded to enter F1 a year earlier than it had planned, and reigning World Champion Damon Hill. They came within a lap of winning the Hungarian GP in what would have been the upset of the year, before a throttle problem dropped Hill to second place. Thereafter the team struggled, until a major sponsorship deal with the Orange telecommunications company was forged for 2000.

Like Alan Henry, I couldn’t resist tweaking Tom’s tail after a TWR cock-up lost the team the 1987 World Sportscar Championship race at Donington after the Silk Cut Jaguars got held up in the pits. He blamed pressmen for getting in the way, so inevitably the headline of the following Wednesday’s issue had to be: Media’s fault, says Tom.

There were times when I wondered why he didn’t haul off and smack me, but after we worked together on the judging panel for the Cellnet Awards later that year, we too developed a friendship. I liked him a great deal. He was invariably amusing company with a stack of anecdotes, and wore his passion for the sport like a badge. I got that.

Where it got close between us was in Monaco, in 1990, when the TWR Jaguar XJR15s were doing their single-marque race. That car was everything that Jaguar’s own appallingly outdated XJ220 was not…

Long story short, I was building a three-point hydroplane – Restless Spirit RS170 – to establish a new British water speed record of 170 mph. I had the hull and I needed an engine. Tom, of course, had the 650 bhp 7-litre V12 Jaguar. I was massively apprehensive about approaching him about supplying one, not least because I had zero money and hate asking people for anything.

I was walking along the shoreline road to the car park beneath Old Monaco one morning when I happened upon him. It was one of those moments when you either take your chance, or shut up for good. I snatched mine with the desperation of a drowning man grabbing a lifeline. Now, another F1 personality well known for his four cylinder turbo engines had turned me down flat already, so after I had blurted out my plans to Tom I was totally astonished when he simply looked me in the eye, thought for barely a moment, and replied: “Aye, I don’t see why we can’t help you with that.”

It’s not often these days that I’m speechless, but I sure was then. Whenever you are in thrall to the passion of a dream that you are going to do something about, the first thing you need is other people who believe in it. I walked on air the rest of that weekend. It’s one of the reasons I love Monaco.

Tom’s detractors will tell you that he was close with money, and that it was usually somebody else’s. Many claimed that he still owed them after the Arrows fall-out. But here’s my experience, my measure of the man. Speak as you find.

Tom was always aware that we had no money, because I was always harping on about it. Work started on a special V12 for us, but soon TWR and my designer Lorne Campbell and I realised that it would be much better to use a twin supercharged 850 bhp version of the 3.5-litre ARG V6 engine that TWR had developed for the racing Jaguars. The first one blew up on the dyno; the rebuilt version, with a single supercharger, delivered over 700 bhp. More than enough. I remember the day I drove home from Kidlington, down the M40, after seeing it for the first time. It was a beautiful day, with the clearest blue skies and streaks of yellow oilseed rape in the fields; I was driving my four-wheel drive Cosworth. Life could not have been better. For the first time I had been to a racing factory where the guys I had spoken to were dedicated purely to creating something for me. For my dream, into which Tom and TWR had bought.

The situation was so surreal that after an F1 press conference in Brazil, probably in 1995, I approached Tom just to make sure that I hadn’t got it wrong, that he really was making an engine for me for nothing, that there wouldn’t be a £30k bill down the line that I wouldn’t be able to pay.

He gently grasped the front of my shirt, drew me close, and said with a smile: “DT, I told you there will be no cost to you…”

I never asked him again. Sometimes you get smart enough to take things at face value and trust people. Tom never let me down.

In the end I lost the project after some underhand subterfuge on behalf of third parties, and what made it worse for me was that the guys who stole it also took Tom’s engine on which they had no lien since it belonged to TWR, not Restless Spirit Hydroplanes. I noted that it came on the market a year or two back, so if you bought a unique Jaguar V6 with a single supercharger, you might like to know that the people you bought it from had no legal right to it…

The TWR empire collapsed with major debts in 2002, just around the time of the British GP, to the smiles of the ghouls who professed themselves pleased to see Tom brought down. Like I said, you speak as you find in this business. He had always pushed the limits, in every area of his life, for that was his character. But what’s less well known is that a Red Bull rescue was on the table. Dietrich Mateschitz, who had split his sponsorship between Sauber and Arrows after Peter Sauber opted for Kimi Raikkonen rather than his protégé Enrique Bernoldi and the Brazilian was slotted into Arrows, was prepared to buy the team for $30m. That would have saved Arrows and kept TWR afloat. But the judge who heard the case against TWR memorably knew nothing of the energy drink.

“What is Red Bull?” he enquired with apparent distaste. “I have never heard of it.”

Whereupon a legal minion informed him: “M’Lud may know it as Lucozade…”

And on such crass ignorance turned the fate of the team, since the judge allegedly professed himself unable to believe that such a company could possibly be a credible saviour. But for that, it’s not fanciful to suggest that Tom might have lived to see ‘his’ team winning the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championships for Drivers and Constructors…

TWR had also been enormously successful in Australia, building its business racing Holden road cars. After his initial efforts with Bernie Ecclestone bore no fruit as they attempted to organise a Russian Grand Prix – they were, however, asked whether they would like to buy a Space Shuttle – Tom refocussed Down Under. His Holden Racing Team won the Australian V8 Supercar Series six times, and no fewer than six victories in the famed Bathurst 1000. In 2005 he returned to the V8 Supercars Australia and began a new relationship with his former teams, HSV Dealer Team and Holden Racing Team, leading Holden to its first series win since 2002 with Rick Kelly in 2006 and Garth Tander in 2007. In late 2006 Walkinshaw Performance brought the small Australian sports car manufacturer Elfin Cars, and 2007 saw it acquire a 50 percent stake in Holden Racing Team prior to full acquisition from Skaife Sports in 2008. In 2009 Walkinshaw Racing ran a two-car operation under the individual auspices of Bundaberg Red Racing and Team Autobarn. Tom also had an interest in in professional rugby union as the owner of Aviva Premiership team, Gloucester Rugby.

Writing this, memories flood the mind. The sight of TW and my elder son together at the British GP one year in the late Nineties – “Big Tom and Little Tom,” as TW laughed. Our heavily accented press room mimickry: “Aye, that is a grey area…” “No, DT, that is not the case…” The lunch we ate together in his office in 2002, shortly before the end, when Mr E had instructed me to go up to Leafield to write a more benign and objective feature on his friend than the vengeful editor of his Formula 1 Magazine had penned the previous month. The wistful, broken look on Tom’s face as we talked quietly while gazing out at the countryside view, and the realisation that he knew he was facing the end of his great empire.

That day I was as sad driving home as I had been ecstatic that time six years previously.

Tom was the first non-family member to confirm to Jane Leslie that he would be at David’s funeral in 2008, but in the end regretfully had to tell her that he was unable to attend because he was going for his first chemotherapy session that day. For me, that was another true measure of the man.

I saw him briefly at Monaco this year, and was shocked by the toll his cancer had taken. But when he came to Silverstone, the last time he would attend a Grand Prix, he looked and sounded so much better and the old Tom was re-emerging as he and his partner Martine were welcomed by old friends. We made plans to have dinner next time I was down Banbury way, and looking back it’s alarming to ponder where the intervening five months went…

Instead of another amusing evening together, then, it’s farewell, Tom. I’ll miss the cheery “Hello, Restless,” in that unmistakable Scottish brogue, and still deeply regret that we couldn’t complete that RS170 project together. And… Well, thanks for believing in me. That meant more than you ever knew.

24 thoughts on “Tom Walkinshaw – another obituary

  1. Excellent writing.

    Also reminded me of Nissan in Australia putting their racing clutch in a genuine Nissan parts box to claim it was a genuine part.

  2. “DT” is one of my (very) long term favourite Motor Racing writers. Thanks for publishing this on your blog…excellent tribute….

  3. “to the smiles of the ghouls who professed themselves pleased to see Tom brought down.”

    Too Bloody Right. It was proper nasty.

    But if anyone else has read the whole thing which went to court, it’s a morality tale, that maybe the days of doing deals on a word, and a look, are over. I hope not, or else all my lot are done for too. But I feel it’s a rare thing already.

    Now we (or at least I) know the real result of all that 2002 mess. He had a solution, but wasn’t allowed to fix it. Such pettiness. (Red Bull).

    That’s so awesome, I am right angry about a bunch of stuff i thought was just a mistake. I was mislead. Doesn’t sound now like he was making mistakes, sounds like he was manouvered legally on some very fine points.

    This is such a fine portrait. I know now why the judge was so harsh about TW, because TW clearly knew more, and made a mistake I see all the time: being insufficiently supplicant. (Busy with what was real to him, saving his team) That alway gets a slap from the bench.

    Justice. Not Served.

    When I calm down, I’ll read this again. Thank you Joe, and David.

    Honor to the man.

    – john

  4. I made a rotten mess of typing that, deepest apologies, from my heart, if my above was in any way misunderstood:

    I meant “I know” [sic] because it’s a revelation to me, not because i know anything special.

    Also I meant the pettiness was in court, not anything to do with Red Bull.

    Sorry, that came out really the wrong way, whilst I was making a poor attempt to edit myself.

    – j

  5. I just remembered too, that the court papers were splayed all over the internet.

    That’s a low thing to do, even if you can get them if you really want, by normal means. There are many good reasons why courts are not always open in this easy way, which i think are obvious. I now wish I had time to check whether anyone applied for In Camera.

    OK, I’d do that, in extremis, if I have to deal with a truly low person. It’s a very hard call. I’d say life changing, whether you get it right or wrong. Which is why it signifies a dirty fight.

    Shows how wrong they were about Walkinshaw, and how nervous they were that their hatcheting would stick.

    I’m very pleased however, to be – now – better informed.

    Does not look like a black mark now.

  6. David & Joe. Thank you so much for showing & sharing with us the true Tom.There was so much I did not know about Tom, and D T’s story brought it home for me. Tom is a true legend. So thank you so much DT for the look into,I’m sure, just a small part of Tom’s life.. There must so much more to be told.
    So once again,thanks D T.

  7. David.By the way,I have just finished reading “The Uncrowned King” I could not put it down.Jochen was my all time Hero.I have read all your books so far,but this one for me,is a MUST read for all,20/10. Thank you.

  8. Dear all

    Joe, thankyou for publishing the DT “eulogy”.

    It was deeply moving, and showed a side of Tom which wasn’t well portrayed in the Australian Motorsport Media.

    Though, in v8 Supercars, I am a Ford supporter, (as much as I can be when I don’t give a rats about it any more), and TWR fielded Holdens, I feel sad that the number 1 team, Holden Racing Team, couldn’t take the chequered flag.

    Nevertheless, they did get second. Considering that this car had the drivers side door fall off during a driver change, it was a pretty good salvage of a less than optimal race.

    Such a pity that he didn’t get to see his teams as dominant as they were not so long ago.

    Hope that he can do so from heaven.

  9. Its a nice obituary, but the guy did not pay his bills.

    He gave his word to the people at Ford as his bond. It was worthless.

    I’m nowhere near as successful as he was. But I make a point of making sure that everyone I do business with is paid. Promptly. Its important. And sadly something he clearly didn’t respect. A blemish on what seems to be otherwise quite a good career.

  10. Thank you, David, and Joe for publishing this very moving and real tribute. TW was cast in the mould of a Colin Chapman, and I fear there are not that many flawed geniuses in the sport to take their place. No place for straight talk any more, is there?

  11. That Red Bull contract that would have saved Arrows is still on desk! Without Prejudice meant it could not be put in front of the judge. It would have saved a lot of jobs and tears! I remenber that judge saying he had never heard about Red Bull and he was not sure they had money maybe he should have been invited at the last Grand Prix

  12. What an excellent tribute to an incredible man. I had the pleasure of working with Tom and his dear family. The world has lost a gentleman. He was always true to his word and both the media and some foolish people allowed their own prejudice scar a reputation. It would be impossible to achieve such success without some controversary but the reality is Tom was a hard working, genuine soul, a risk taker and a good man. I have great respect for his honesty and innovation. A true legend. My deepest sympathy to Martine and the boys.

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