News found its way to me via the interwebs that today (12th December 2010) Scottish Motorsport entrepreneur Tom Walkinshaw lost his battle against cancer. He was 63.
Tom was a racer of some success, starting out in Minis, but going on to win his class in the 1974 British Touring Car Championship. He formed his own engineering company TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) and ran successful programmes for BMW, Mazda and Rover.
But it was his association with Jaguar that would be forever cemented in the minds of motorsport fans. Winning the European Touring Car Championship in an XJS, before taking on the world of sports cars. Three championships with Jaguar would ensue, including victories at the Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour races.
Aside from the success of TWR, and additional strong showings building Holden touring cars in Australia, Tom Walkinshaw was motivated to succeed in Formula 1. As team manager at Benetton during the championship years, this success came, but Tom was overshadowed by the publicity-hungry team boss Flavio Briatore. It was clear that Benetton, with Briatore, strategist Ross Brawn, designer Rory Byrne and driver Michael Schumacher, were sailing very close to the wind of legality, and successive contraversies saw Tom ousted from the team. He spent some time running Ligier before taking over the Arrows operation from Jackie Oliver.
Sadly, success eluded the Leafield team, and although it was high-profile, with a rescue of 1996 champion Damon Hill, and the first big telco title sponsorship from Orange, Arrows never made it to the big time, and folded in 2002.
Walkinshaw returned to the sanctuary of Australia, running the Holden Racing Team, and manufacturer offshoot Holden Special Vehicles. The race team won 6 Australian V8 Supercar championships, and took the blue riband Bathurst 1000 six times also.
It was through the Silverstone/BRDC contraversy that I met him, and even though he had an awful lot on his plate, he always took the time to answer a young man’s motorsport questions. My wife and I were his guests at the 2000 Canadian Grand Prix qualifying day, when we were there on honeymoon.
Tom may have annoyed a lot of people in life, but he was always nice to me, and – whatever you thought of the man – he proved what could be achieved with creativity and hard work.