Keith Greene obituary: F1 driver and legendary team manager

Sports Car News

After competing in six World Championship grand prix, Keith Greene became a hugely respected team manager, winning Le Mans, multiple Spa 24hrs and several BTCC titles

Keith Greene in a Cooper Maserati T45 at the British Grand Prix, Silverstone, England 16 July 1960. (Photo by: GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Greene at the 1960 British Grand Prix in his Cooper-Maserati

GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Keith Greene: 1938-2021

Renowned motorsport team manager Keith Greene has died at the age of 83.

After contesting a handful of grands prix in the early 60s, the F1 driver turned team manager would go on to mastermind success in BTCC, F1 and Le Mans in a rich and varied career.

His most renowned association was with life-long friend – and touring car ace – Chris Craft whom he ran in the British Saloon Car Championship, amongst other series.

Keith had been transmitted the racing bug by his father Syd, an amateur racer. The older Greene, who had lost an arm in a road accident as a child, was famous for holding the steering wheel between his knees while changing gear at high speed.

After getting practice in his dad’s Maserati 250F in domestic races, Keith soon moved up the ranks.

Syd’s firm Gilby Engineering built its own eponymous F1 racer, which his son managed to qualify for the 1961 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. His final GP appearance came at the Nürburgring in 1962: “I was running ahead of Siffert and Vaccarella until the front suspension broke, and I went through a hedge.” he told Simon Taylor in 2012.

Jack Fairman, Keith Greene, Fergusson-Climax P99, Gilby-Climax, Grand Prix of Great Britain, Aintree, 15 July 1961. (Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)

Greene, second from left, endures typically seasonal weather at Aintree’s 1961 British GP

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Gilby Engineering produced shock absorbers for Armstrong, which supplied the entire late ‘60s F1 grid apart from Ferrari and Honda. The younger Greene became competition manager for Armstrong, which led him to become team manager at touring car team Alan Mann Racing.

Running Frank Gardner for AMR, the winning combination would go on to dominate the British Saloon Car Championship in ‘67 and ‘68 and experience success on the continent too.

When AMR withdrew from racing, Greene eventually found himself running the Brabham F1 team.

“Late one night I got a call from Bernie [Ecclestone] to come down and see him,” he told Motor Sport in 2003. “We had a conversation in the car park, and suddenly I was Brabham team manager!

“That was tough. I ran the team in the day and the F2 shop at night. We were also building the truck, the first of the huge white whales…”

“I was doing what five people would do now. I was the engineer, too; I’d discuss things with Gordon Murray, the only one in the drawing office, but running the cars was down to me.”

From the archive

Working 100-and-something hours a week for Mr E understandably became too much for Greene, and so he moved on to the world of endurance, running Ecurie Evergreen for debonair privateer Alain de Cadenet.

“He was pretty out there,” Greene remembered. “A longhaired bloke with a great fur coat down to his ankles and a purple Ferrari Dino 206. He could sell ice to Eskimos.”

The pair had a McLaren M8C Can-Am car converted to take a Cosworth DFV (de Cadenet and Craft driving), then Greene made his first foray into Le Mans team management.

He ran friend Craft in a Ferrari 512S with de Cadenet’s co-owner David Weir, running fourth until the clutch broke. The car had been a spare bought from Steve McQueen after the filming of Le Mans.

Next, de Cadenet bought a Brabham BT33 and the small band found themselves in a brief two-race F1 foray.

Team Manager Keith Greene talks to Julian Bailey (in car) of Great Britain, driver of the #23 Nissan Motorsports International Nissan R89C during the FIA World Sportscar Prototype Championship Coupe de Dijon on 21st May 1989 at the Circuit Dijon Prenois in Dijon, France.(Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

Greene (far right) talks to Julian Bailey in car at Dijon in ’89

Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

“It was a tiny team,” Greene said. “Alain, Chris, me and Keith Baldwin. We had a Transit and a trailer. That was the team. We had no tools – at Le Mans we had to borrow every roll of tape in the pits when the bodywork came adrift. That was a heroic bloody weekend. I slept for 14 hours straight afterwards.”

After managing another privateer F1 effort, John Watson’s Hexagon team, then running International Tyres – again for Bernie – Greene headed Gordon Spice’s endurance squad, and had immediate success.

“We ran the works Ford Capris, and won five 24-hour races, came second in the Spa and ‘Ring 24 Hours, and won the Belgian championship,” he said.

After Spice, Greene would run endurance efforts for John Fitzpatrick and Richard Lloyd Racing, before starting his own team, GP Racing, which would achieve second in class at Le Mans and a class win at Brands Hatch.

From the archive

Many have commented on Greene’s empathy with drivers and his other staff, a human understanding that was commented on and appreciated by many.

“I can observe people’s driving and see what’s going wrong,” he said. “I did 10 years of racing and I was not a complete lemon-head. Not Stirling Moss, but I was half-reasonable, so I have a knowledge of what a driver is telling me, which I can then do something about”.

After running Nissan’s works Le Mans team in the late ’80s, Greene ran Toyota sportscar team SARD in Japan.

“I spoke hardly any Japanese – I communicated by whistles and signs – but they smiled where the others were dour,” he reminisced of that period. “And we won at Fuji and Suzuka, beating the factory cars.”

Greene returned to the BTCC during the ‘90s, garnering another title with Tim Harvey before running the Renault works squad.

As modest as Greene was, perhaps the key to his driver understanding is that he always kept his eye in, as well as his foot.

“I used to qualify the Can-Am car for Chris Craft if he couldn’t get there; and that was an 800hp McLaren M8E,” he said. “I was quicker than Costas Los in our C2 Spice, and I did systems testing on the 1200hp Nissans.”

“I’ve been around so long, it didn’t matter that the technology changed, because it changed around me. I was a seat-of-the-pants-flier.”