Obituary: John Wyer

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A legendary figure in the world of sports car racing, John Wyer, has died at his adopted home in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 79. As team director, he could take credit for the Le Mans victories of Aston Martin in 1959, of the Gulf team Ford GT40s in 1968 and 1969, and of the Gulf-Mirage in 1975.

After serving his apprenticeship with the Sunbeam Motor Company, Wyer joined Solex Carburettors, resigning in 1945 to run Monaco Motors for his friend Dudley Folland. His introduction to sports-car racing soon followed, and in 1950 David Brown invited Wyer to form and run the Aston Martin team. It was Brown’s greatest ambition to win at Le Mans, something which the rival Jaguar Cars company managed to do five times in the 1950s while Aston Martin of Feltham achieved three second places. There were plenty of other successes though, and in 1959 the hopes of the entire company were realised with a 1-2 victory at the Sarthe, headed by Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby. Wyer, by now, was the general manager of Aston Martin Lagonda Limited, and Reg Parnell was responsible for the day-to-day running of the team.

Aston Martin went on to win the World Sports-Car Championship that year, then withdrew to concentrate on a brief, and unsuccessful venture into Formula One. Ford then made success at Le Mans a priority, and in 1963 invited Wyer to join the team’s management at Slough. Again, reaching the podium was a slow business, but once John Wyer and John Willment had formed JW Automotive to acquire the Ford GT40 racing programme success came in 1968 and 1969.

So impressed was Porsche that it invited JWA to operate the “works” 917 racing cars in 1970 and 1971. Wyer was tearn director, with David Yorke as manager and John Horsman as engineer, and together they formed a formidable management team. The Gulf Porsches swept opposition aside in those two seasons, but ironically were unable to win at Le Mans. Wyer’s final success there was in 1975 when, as a director of Gulf Research, he supervised Derek Bell’s first triumph.

Noted for his lugubrious wit, Wyer was the master of the crushing one-liner. When told that a rival team’s car had encountered difficulties he remarked: “Nothing trivial, I trust”; and of Pedro Rodriguez, his favourite driver: “The most exercise he gets is turning the pages of his book.”

John Wyer always commanded total respect from his employees and drivers, even Rodriguez and Jo Siffert seemingly in awe of him, but it was the relationship to produce success. Always a sufferer from asthma, he retired to the dry atmosphere of Arizona with his wife Tottie, who survives him.

To her, and their daughter Pia, Motor Sport extends sincere condolences. MLC