Tom Walkinshaw's driving ambition

Rovers to Jaguars, touring cars to F1 via Le Mans: Tom Walkinshaw split paddocks wherever his cars raced. But the tough team boss was also a formidable driver in his own right, as Damien Smith recounts

Tom Walkinshaw

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

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Tom Walkinshaw was always one to leave a strong first impression. Love him or loathe him – and there were plenty on both sides of the divide – this was a man who had presence. What he lacked in height was more than made up by width (he must have been terrifying to face on a rugby pitch), but it was his manner that made you pay attention: quiet, composed, softly spoken, intimidating… He was a figure of significant power. And he knew how to use it too, without moving a muscle. A look could be enough, and was that humour in the glint in his eye, or something darker? Whatever, he enjoyed his power and the effect it could have, which is perhaps why he was such an effective racing driver as well as a team owner. If the latter was where he left his most significant mark on motor sport, it was the driving that came first – and it’s arguably where his soaring ambition was most forcefully expressed.

Win Percy remembers exactly where he was when he first met Tom Walkinshaw. He left an impression on that day, too. “It was at my first touring car race, in a Toyota Celica 1600 at Mallory Park in March 1975,” says Percy in that warm Dorset burr. “He was in London Sportscar Centre’s 2-litre Escort. I didn’t know anybody in touring cars then, I was a rallycross and autocross driver. Everyone was new to me. I’d diced the whole race with this Escort running in the bigger class, and he crossed the line about half a car in front. Afterwards, I was being congratulated on winning the class, and this guy shoulders his way through the crowd. He said: ‘Win’s a funny name.’ ‘Well, it’s Winston,’ I replied. He grunted as he did. ‘I understand this is your first touring car race.’ Oh dear, what have I done? Then he said: ‘One day I’ll have my own racing team and you’ll be my driver.’ We shook hands, and he walked away.

“Who the heck was that? That was the first I’d ever heard of Tom Walkinshaw.”

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