Former Benetton, Ligier and Arrows team boss Tom Walkinshaw died this morning at the age of 64. The Scot, who had endured a long battle with cancer, made his last visit to an F1 paddock at Silverstone in July.
Walkinshaw was a successful driver in his own right. Although he competed in F3, F2 and F5000, he was much more successful in touring cars. He won the Spa 24 Hours in 1981 with a Mazda, and in 1984 with a Jaguar XJ-S, while in the latter year he also won the European Touring Car Championship.
It was at that stage that he retired from driving to focus on Tom Walkinshaw Racing, which he launched in the late seventies. He built the company into a motor sport and engineering empire, most famously finding success with Jaguar.
After the ETCC triumphs he took the marque into sportscars in 1985, initially in green livery. The following year the team switched to the iconic Silk Cut colours, going on to win Le Mans in 1988 and ’90, and both the teams’ and drivers’ World Championships in 1987, ’88 and ’91.
Walkinshaw was invited to run Benetton in 1991 and brought his sportscar designer Ross Brawn with him. He was also instrumental in headhunting Michael Schumacher after the German’s sensational debut with Jordan at Spa that year.
He continued to run the engineering side of Benetton until 1994, when Schumacher won the World Championship, although the team’s commercial boss Flavio Briatore had a higher public profile and received much of the credit.
However that year the team was embroiled in several controversies, and as part of the fallout Walkinshaw was ousted. He ended up running Ligier, which was owned by Briatore, in 1995. However, plans for Tom to buy the team outright did not come to fruition, and in early 1996 he switched his focus to Footwork (aka Arrows), where he initially took a 51% stake.
He had high hopes of building up the team and convinced Damon Hill to join in 1997. Hill came close to winning that year’s Hungarian GP, eventually finishing second. Despite some high profile sponsors the team ran out of funding, and folded in the middle of the 2002 season, in large part because of the high costs of customer engines at that time.
The TWR empire also collapsed, but Walkinshaw maintained a foothold in engineering and racing, most notably with Holden in Australia.
Although his off track deals sometimes attacted criticism, Walkinshaw was hugely respected by the drivers who worked with him, and he will be remembered as a true racer.