Monday, 13 December 2010
I met Emerson Fittipaldi and Tom Walkinshaw on a series of races in Brazil 40 years ago. Emerson went on to win two world championships and two Indianapolis 500s. Tom won the 1984 European Touring Car Championship in a Jaguar XJ-S, setting up Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) as the basis for a business empire in Britain and Australia. In the space of six years his Jaguars won three World Sports Car Championships and two Le Mans 24 Hours’ races. He married my sister-in-law. Tom died yesterday Sunday 12 December 2010. Emerson, happily, is still with us.
Both were born within months of one another in 1946; Emerson in São Paulo, Brazil, Tom at Mauldslie Farm, near Carluke, Scotland. Both had turbulent careers. Emerson catapulted to fame through Formula 2 and Formula 1 with Team Lotus, relatively safe in a racing car until the 1990s, when he had a big accident at Michigan International Speedway. Barely recovered, he then crashed his aeroplane, from which he was fortunate to escape with his life although suffering severe back injuries. When I knew him first he was married to Maria Helena, then came Teresa, later still Rossana.
Tom moved into Formula 3, driving a Lotus, then broke his left ankle in a works March. He had a lot of accidents and recuperating in my Putney flat met Elizabeth, still a 17 year old schoolgirl. He was a gritty determined driver in Formula 2 and Formula 5000, and shone brilliantly at the wheel of a Capri in the British Touring Car Championship. In 1976 he formed TWR and won the European Touring Car Championship. His ascent in team management was swift and lucrative. Tom drove hard bargains but you got your money’s worth. He ran squads for several manufacturers, sometimes simultaneously, building up an impressive business empire despite a broad-minded view of racing regulations. In 1983 his Rover Vitesses won all eleven races, only to be deprived of the British Saloon Car Championship for what were either technical infringements or flagrant breaches of the regulations, depending how you read them. Tom read them with the utmost care.
TWR’s crowning achievements were with Jaguar, first with XJ-S in the European Touring Car Championship, followed by the triumphs at Le Mans and the World Sports Car Championships. Tom had a sure touch with people, not only in securing the services of engineers such as Tony Southgate and Ross Brawn, but also when he moved into Formula 1 with drivers Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. TWR consultancy accomplished production runs of cars for Volvo and created the Bloxham factory that Ford took on for making the Aston Martin DB7.
Tom’s ambitions were boundless but Formula 1 proved his undoing. As engineering director of Jordan he was again scrutinised for technical infringements in 1994. His electronic aids were suspect. Adventures with the Arrows team led to more trouble and the liquidation of TWR. Tom made friends on his way to the top then lost them on the way down. He had set up a number of car dealerships and as chairman of the British Racing Drivers’ Club persuaded it to invest in the Silverstone Motor Group. Innes Ireland and Sir Jackie Stewart were among his severest critics.
Tom is mourned affectionately by Gloucester Rugby Club, which he owned. He was divorced from Elizabeth, with whom he had a son and was married to a Belgian girl. Tomorrow’s obituarists will have a field day. Apologists will claim he was much misunderstood, which is true. He was uncompromising and tough yet capable of surprising generosity of spirit. When Craig married Emma, Aunt Elizabeth flew the newlyweds off in Tom’s helicopter. Craig paid tribute. “I was one of his biggest fans. But you could see how difficult he could be if you weren’t family.”
Aunt Elizabeth Walkinshaw - pilot