Sad to hear of the death on Sunday of Tom Walkinshaw, one of the toughest and most determined operators on the international motor racing scene over the last 30 years.
Whether it wads putting Jaguar back on the Le Mans-winning map, revelling in the role of engineering director at the Benetton F1 squad or running the Ligier and Arrows F1 teams, Walkinshaw always gave it 100 per cent effort.
As a journalist, you crossed him at your peril. In 1970 I was rash enough to voice the opinion in print that he wasn’t much good behind the wheel of an F3 March.
Our subsequent encounter in the paddock at Mallory Park saw him throw a punch at me. Mercifully – because Tom had fists like hams – no contact was made.
The following year I saw a more mellow side to this gritty Scot when we drove together from Monza to Vallelunga between F2 races in a Fiat 128. Yes, I know, it’s strange the things people do, but Tom was excellent company.
Walkinshaw established the respected TWR race engineering group which spearheaded Jaguar’s international racing return during the 1980s, first with the XJS which carried him to the European Touring Car Championship crown and later the Ross Brawn-designed endurance cars which won both the Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour classics as well as the World Sports Car championship.
In 1991 Tom became Engineering Director of the Benetton F1 squad and had a big hand in recruiting Michael Schumacher. After a dalliance with the Ligier squad, he finally bought Arrows in 1996 and scored a major coup by signing world champion Damon Hill to drive for them in 1997. Damon almost won the Hungarian GP, only a last lap electronic glitch handing victory to Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams.
My favourite Walkinshaw story concerns his Jaguar drivers Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever horsing around in the motorhome at one race in 1986, believing their boss to be away at another European event.
The motorhome looked like a tip, festooned with flameproof overalls, helmets and driving boots when the door suddenly opened and Walkinshaw appeared on the step.
He looked around the interior with a thunderous expression, announced that he would be back in a few minutes and closed the door. Warwick and Cheever, reduced to putty under the Scot’s steely gaze, transformed those fleeting seconds into a whirlwind of activity to clear up the mess before their employer returned!