Tom Walkinshaw, 64, the man who did most to promote Michael Schumacher’s first grand prix victory, died on Sunday after a brave battle with cancer.
Walkinshaw, the Scottish-born former racing driver, boss of Benetton, Arrows and Ligier F1 teams, founder of the TWR engineering empire and chairman of the Gloucester rugby club, was the son of a Scottish market gardener, who became obsessed with cars in childhood and began racing Formula Fords as soon as he could overcome early parental disapproval.
He rapidly developed a reputation as a quick and aggressive competitor, both on the track and in business, a reputation he was to keep all his life.
Walkinshaw rapidly discovered a penchant for running racing teams as well as driving cars, and formed his TWR business in the early ’70s, organising BMW and Mazda saloon racing teams, among others. His cars became known for robustness, speed, thorough preparation, and for being developed to the very limit of the regulations.
In the early ’80s his Rover SD1s won many flagship British touring car races, but his greatest days came later in the decade when he secured a deal to race Jaguars (and build TWR Jaguarsport road cars). At first he concentrated on racing XJS saloons in European Touring Car Championship events (scoring some big wins and taking the championship in 1984) before founding a Jaguar sportscar team that won three world sportscar titles, with victories at Le Mans in 1988 and 1990. The same team brought engineer Ross Brawn to prominence.
Walkinshaw moved to Benetton F1 as engineering director in 1991, playing a leading hand (with Flavio Briatore) in the establishment of the Enstone F1 works which Renault continues to use today, and setting Schumacher on the road to his first F1 drivers' title for Benetton-Ford.
But Walkinshaw’s life was rarely without controversy, and after upheaval at Benetton in 1994 he moved briefly to Ligier, then to Arrows, in which he acquired a majority stake. He operated the team, and the rest of the burgeoning TWR engineering empire, from a former telecommunications transmissions base in Leafield, Oxfordshire.
TWR prospered for a while, but Arrows was never truly successful and the financial drain of F1 saw the two businesses fail together in 2002. After that, Walkinshaw did less in Britain, but maintained racing interests in Australia through the Holden’s HSV team, and some engineering and manufacturing businesses in Asia.