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Tom Walkinshaw (1946-2010)

By Will Silk

Silk Cut TWR Jaguar at Le Mans 1980Tom Walkinshaw passed away December 12th, 2010 at just 64 years of age after a battle with cancer. 

The Scottish-born Walkinshaw began racing in 1968 in an MG Midget, shortly after moving to the open wheeled realm by transitioning to a Lotus Formula Ford.  In 1969, Tom drove a Hawke to claim the Scottish Formula Ford title, before moving to British F3 in 1970, first with Lotus and later with March.

By 1974, Tom had worked his way into British F5000, the Shellsport Series having been opened up to a variety of formula cars from many different contemporary series.  Tom tackled F5000 with a Modus M5, which was believed to have been derived from Tom’s earlier Modus F3 car.  Jo Marquart’s cars had been designed to accept practically any engine, and Tom had a nice Ford 3.4 liter V-6 that had been tuned by Cosworth waiting for a chassis, so out of the ashes of his F3 wreck emerged the Modus M5 that was eligible to run in the Shellsport F5000 Series that year.

While the M5s debut at Snetterton was cut short due to an oil pump failure, the car was shunted at both Mallory Park and Brands Hatch, the latter being the end of the road with the tub being written off.

Back briefly in 1975, and the new M5 seemed to be an honest entry for that year’s series.  Tom did manage a 4th place at the Brands Hatch race before ultimately crashing the M5 heavily at Zolder.  Walkinshaw then obtained a used March 752 to fit his Ford GAA Cosworth tuned engine to, however results continued to elude the Scottish driver and he closed the door on his F5000 career at the end of the year.

While Tom’s open wheel career didn’t deliver what he had hoped, he won his class in a Ford Capri in the 1974 British Touring Car Championship, and by 1976 had launched TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing), a team that would become feared in Touring Car paddocks across Europe, ultimately winning the European Touring Car Championship in 1984 with Tom himself at the wheel of the TWR Jaguar XJS.

A year later, Walkinshaw found himself sharing the driving duties of a Jaguar in the Bathurst 1000 Race with Win Percy.  The pair secured a 3rd place podium finish in the Australian event, but their other team car took the top spot on the podium with John Goss and Armin Hahne at the wheel.  This set the stage for Tom and his TWR outfit to take control of the Jaguar Group C effort for the 1986 season.

The Group C Jaguar sports racing prototypes will more than likely be what Tom is best remembered for as from 1986 to 1991 the Silk Cut cats from Coventry would take two Le Mans victories and three World Championship titles.  The Group C ranks were loaded with stout competition, as manufacturers like Mercedes, Mazda, and Nissan were all in with a very loud shout; and no one can forget the almighty Porsches that seemed so bullet proof during those days twenty odd years ago.  Despite the odds, Tom built a sound team and conquered the ranks of the World Sports Car Championship.

After he accomplished his mission in Group C, Tom returned to the open wheeled ranks in Formula 1 by being recruited by the Benetton Team as Engineering Director in 1991.  Later he would buy the Arrows team where he managed to recruit 1996 World Champion Damon Hill to drive for the team.  When the Arrows team ran adrift in 2002, Tom set his sights on Australia and became active in the managerial roles within teams running in the Australian Super V8 Series.  Tom also purchased Elfin Cars, a small Australian sports car maker in 2006. 

No one will deny that Tom Walkinshaw left an unprecedented mark on the world of professional racing over the course of a career that spanned just over four decades.

[Source: photo credit: Autosports Marketing Assoc.]