Will took his fitness very seriously. Which is why he was a bit offput when his early-1990s BTCC Toyota team-mate Julian Bailey, a smoker who also liked a jar, beat or matched him in pre-season physical assessment tests. But life, as Will, his wife and family, and his many, many friends and fans have just discovered, can be routinely unfair and regularly unpredictable.
Will and his trademark ‘tache became a regular feature on our TV screens in those heady days of 10-manufacturer tin-top racing. He was a leading light initially, a pacesetter, winning the first single-class two-litre British Touring Car Championship in 1991 for BMW. He might have won it the following year, too, but for some ‘unhelpful’ performances from his ultra-competitive Toyota team-mate and car-builder, Andy Rouse.
Toyota and Will were never again truly in the ascendant, the arrival of big-budget Audi, Alfa Romeo, BMW Schnitzer, TWR and Williams, together with a raft of overseas tin-top hotshots, shuffling him back into the pack. However, his unruffled intelligent racing in the door-handling scrum made him an ideal choice as number two to Alain Menu at Renault in 1995-96. The Swiss star was the benchmark of the formula, and so Will did extremely well to win three races in his first season there.
He joined Ford, a team on the slide, in ’97 and wangled one more BTCC victory the following year at a wet-dry Silverstone. In all, he scored nine BTCC wins from over 150 starts. Not a great strike rate in the end, but there was much more to Will Hoy than mere success.
Put at its most plain, he was the man in the paddock whom you’d choose to spend some downtime with: affable and understatedly amusing. In a very self-centred environment, he knew that small things meant a lot tramping, into a jam-packed Oulton Park with my father, it was Will who stopped to give us a lift into the circuit – and then proceeded to chat about our upcoming days rather than his, somewhat more exciting, own. And he loved the fact that the editorial crew at Motoring News had mischievously convinced its advertising colleagues that Will had just become the first Chinese driver to secure the BTCC championship title.
His career may have started late – bursting onto the scene, aged almost 30, with three back-to-back Clubmans titles in 1982-84 and his life was ended tragically early, aged just 50, by an inoperable brain tumour, but he packed an awful lot in, while holding down jobs as a chartered surveyor and a TV presenter and, most important of all, while being a doting husband and father to three children.
A fine driver, but an even better bloke. Godspeed, Will. PF