The Editor: The heroes who lift motor sport above the ordinary

"Did this suggest that Ecclestone is back?"

Joe Dunn

“It is rare to see such winning attributes in one so young, for it is not enough to have driving skill nowadays. Experience counts for a great deal, for it is that which brings the tactical cleverness and tenacity which enable one to use skill to the best advantage.”

This is how Motor Sport reported Henri Toivonen’s maiden WRC victory in the 1980 RAC Rally. The Finn was 24 years old when he romped home in his Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, more than four and a half minutes ahead of the next car, and became the youngest winner of a world championship rally. It was a record that stood for more than 27 years until Jari-Matti Latvala won in Sweden in 2008.

The 40th anniversary of that win falls next month against a backdrop of a cancelled British round of the WRC, which would usually have been taking place this autumn. And although you wouldn’t guess it from our rather idiosyncratic report (it is well worth a read for an insight into the atmosphere and concerns of period rallying, and can be found via the Archive section of our website), that victory created a real moment for the sport in Britain.

As we reported subsequently: “There was more to Toivonen than just natural speed and results. He had an extra spark: a rock-star swagger with just the right amount of bad boy for his appeal to transcend the immediate environment of his chosen discipline.”

That extra spark is something that we seek to celebrate in our cover story this month. We have called it ‘Cult Heroes’, but it could equally well be called ‘Folk Heroes’. It is about those drivers, riders, engineers even, who bring that something extra to motor sport and lift it above the ordinary. Some champions have it, but not all, and it is revealing that our list features more than a few names who never quite achieved the biggest win. Perhaps there is something about unfulfilled promise which appeals to the romantic in all of us? Or perhaps those characters who possess that extra spark are destined not to fully achieve their potential? For Henri Toivonen, who died alongside his co-driver Sergio Cresto in Corsica in 1986, that was tragically true.

We will also be celebrating Toivonen and others during this year’s Motor Sport Hall of Fame. For the uninitiated, these are our annual awards which seek to celebrate the greats of our sport. Each year we compose a shortlist of nominees across several categories and invite you, the readers, to vote on your favourite. The winners will be inducted our Hall of Fame this December.

Usually the induction ceremony is a glittering, live event, but this year we will be making the announcements virtually via our website. More details about this will be revealed soon so keep watching for updates. But for now, please visit our site to cast your vote. Toivonen is in our new Cult Hero category, and I know who I am voting for in that one…

The sale of Williams to an American-based investment fund called Dorilton turned the Rumour mills in overdrive.

It didn’t take long before paddock sleuths discerned that Dorilton bought Williams through a subsidiary called BCE Limited. Did this suggest that a certain Bernard Charles Ecclestone was back in the game?

The fact that James Matthews is involved with Dorilton had many a newspaper run with the fact that he was Pippa Middleton’s husband, hence brother-in-law of our future king. Racing fans were far more interested in the fact that James, the 1994 Formula Renault champion, was the son of Dave Matthews, himself a former saloon car racer whose social set would have crossed paths with FrankWilliams back in the 1970s. Could there be a personal interest behind the US investment fund’s acquisition of Williams?

But perhaps the best, and certainly the most blue-blooded theory I came across, was that the prime mover in the deal – which necessitated deep pockets -could be the seventh Marquess of Bute, who with an estimated fortune of £125m would have enough financial clout to get involved with an F1 team. The marquess’ full name is John Crichton-Stuart, but he is better known to racing people as plain Johnny Dumfries, Le Mans winner in 1988. But where is the Williams link? Well, after leaving Ampleforth school early with dreams of breaking into motorsport, the future laird took a job as a van driver for Frank’s team in order to raise money to go racing.

Like so many idle rumours, it would be nice if this last one were true.

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