Tom Walkinshaw's footprints left firmly in two sporting camps

BRITISH sport is this week mourning the death of Tom Walkinshaw, who passed away on Sunday after succumbing to lung cancer. An ambitious Scot with a passion for motor-racing, Walkinshaw was also at the heart of the development of professional rugby in England and across Europe.

A keen driver who became a leading figure in British motorsport and signed, among others, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, he would go on to invest millions in Gloucester as he helped fellow rugby enthusiasts develop a professional game in England that ultimately attracted the biggest club crowds in the world and helped to underpin England's World Cup win in 2003.

It all started for Walkinshaw at Mauldslie Farm near Penicuik, where he was born on 14 August, 1946. From there the budding racing driver started out behind the wheel of an MG Midget and worked his way up through Formula Ford - winning the 1969 Scottish Championship - Formula Three, 5000 and Two and then on to the British Touring Car Championship, where he drove a Capri.

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He was just 30 when he founded Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), but he continued to drive and won the European Touring Car Championship in 1984 in a Jaguar XJS. That was the start of an exciting spell with Jaguar, which brought success in the Bathurst in Australia, before he moved into management and the design and manufacturing of racing and road cars full-time. This saw him claim success in touring cars, saloon cars, Le Mans, and bring engineers such as Ross Brawn to the main stage.

In 1991, Walkinshaw took over as Benetton's F1 director and in 1994 the team won the World Championship.

He had also recruited Schumacher and, though he was at the centre of controversy over technical infringements, Walkinshaw was viewed within motor racing as one of the most astute figures in sport, one able to move it forward to new horizons and with new marques in motor-racing.

He was becoming a wealthy man and after failing to buy-out the Ligier team from Benetton, he took control of Arrows, recruited then world champion Damon Hill and became boss of a 1500-employee TWR operation stretching from the UK and Sweden to Australia and the USA. The group went into liquidation in 2002 and, though Walkinshaw returned with Holden in recent years and continued to develop in Australia, he was by now a leading figure in English rugby.

The sport turned professional in 1995 and two years later he moved in, taking control of Gloucester, one of the most iconic and traditional of English rugby clubs based at Kingsholm.He twice served as chairman of Premiership Rugby and was instrumental in negotiating a long-term agreement between England's top clubs and the RFU, which helped create unique arrangements for the release of club players for Test duty and also helped create the Heineken Cup competition.

He was a doughty fighter, keen to let clubs drive the game forward, and made some enemies in the game. But he commanded respect and yesterday the RFU added its "heartfelt condolences" to his family.

Martyn Thomas, Chairman of the RFU Board, said: "Soon after the game went professional in 1995, Tom acquired the Gloucester club and was at the very centre of the rugby revolution battling hard for what he felt was right.

"He was always forthright and passionate and earned huge respect because there was no doubting his commitment to his beloved club and the game. I think the fact that we were able to reach an agreement that delivered professionalism but which also protected the fabric of the game we both held dear and which will safeguard its future is to his huge credit.

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"When the history of rugby union in England is written, Tom Walkinshaw's name will be to the fore."

He also helped provide some Scots with a route into the top-flight in the south, adding Bryan Redpath, Carl Hogg and Bob Stewart to the coaching staff and agreeing to the signing of a handful of Scottish players, including Rory Lawson and Alasdair Strokosch who have gone on to prove their international ability after struggling in Scotland.

Peter Tom, the executive chairman of Leicester who succeeded Walkinshaw as Premiership Rugby chairman, said: "Tom was a central figure in the development of the professional club game in this country and in Europe, and he was a positive influence as chairman of his club and also as chairman of Premiership Rugby.

"Gloucester is a traditional hotbed of the game and Tom was a major force in the club's development on and off the field in the professional era.

"He was a dynamic chairman of Premiership Rugby, and although we had our rivalries when our clubs met, he was always a gracious host at Kingsholm and a welcome guest at Welford Road. Club rugby in this country is all the poorer for his passing."