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NOTICE OF DEATH - JOHN WICKHAM (1949 - 2023)

It is with very great regret that we have to inform Members of the death of John Wickham last Saturday 14 January. Elected as a BRDC Associate Member in 1989, John had enjoyed a lengthy and illustrious career in motor sport team management. In recent years he had been increasingly suffering from the debilitating effects of motor neurone disease since first being diagnosed in 2018 and had been living in a care home for some time.

John, whose father had raced motor-cycles in the 1930s, first became involved in motor sport as a teenage marshal at Brands Hatch and Crystal Palace while working in a bank. Responding to an advertisement by the British Automobile Racing Club, he was taken on by the club’s then general manager Grahame White, becoming immediately involved in the organisation of the growing number of race meetings which the BARC was then running. John’s first venture into team management came in 1973 when he was recruited by John Surtees as team manager for his eponymous Formula 2 team even though he had no previous directly relevant experience. With Jochen Mass as the principal driver, the Matchbox-liveried Surtees TS15 was best of the rest behind the dominant works March-BMW 732 of Jean-Pierre Jarier. Jochen won races at Kinnekulle in Sweden and at Hockenheim which, with other good results, enabled him to take second place in the final standings but with little more than half the points scored by ‘Jumper’ Jarier such was the Frenchman’s dominance. For his first year in team management, John should have been well pleased with the outcome but the relationship with John Surtees was not easy and so, after a year, John had had enough and returned to the BARC.

By 1979 John was back in Formula 2, this time running Marc Surer in a factory March-BMW 792 to take the European F2 title after a season-long tussle with Brian Henton’s Ralt-Hart RT2. The switch to March proved to be very much a beneficial career move since it led to John meeting future Honda CEO Nobuhiko Kawamoto who at that time was masterminding Honda’s entry via Formula 2 into Formula 1. The result was the establishment of Spirit Racing in partnership with former McLaren F1 designer Gordon Coppuck as fellow director and financial backing from Honda. Driven by Thierry Boutsen and Stefan Johnasson the Spirit-Honda 201s in Marlboro livery enjoyed an excellent season in 1982, Thierry winning at the Nurburgring, Spa and Enna-Pergusa to finish a close second in the final European F2 standings to March’s Corrado Fabi. Stefan showed great pace but was beset by reliability problems.

The F1 1.5 litre Spirit 201C first appeared at the 1983 non-championship Brands Hatch Race of Champions driven by Stefan Johansson before contesting six World Championship races with a best result of seventh in the Dutch Grand Prix. For the following year, 1984, John’s team was marginalised as Honda switched its allegiance to Williams, leaving Spirit to soldier on with Brian Hart’s four-cylinder turbo engines and Mauro Baldi and Huub Rothengatter as successive drivers in a single-car team. As funds dried up in early 1985, Spirit quietly shut up shop for good but unlike many such efforts before and after John ensured that the team paid off all its creditors.

After a spell with the Belgian team RAS Sport which was running Volvo 240 Turbos in the European Touring Car Championship, John moved to the Japanese TOM’S team and ran one of its Toyota 87Cs at Le Mans in 1987. Under the Spirit TOM’S name he ran Steve Kempton in Formula 3000 for 1989 before a return to Formula 1, this time with Arrows (later Footwork) team in 1990, a venture which was plagued by one of the worst engines ever produced by Porsche; it was overweight, heavy on fuel and unreliable and was discarded after half a dozen races. There was an improvement when the Ford DFR engine replaced the Porsche effort although early promise in 1994 when Christian Fittipaldi finished fourth in the Pacific Grand Prix soon melted away in the wake of rule changes following the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola.

 A brief spell with Ligier was followed by another touring car experience when, together with Richard Lloyd, John ran the Audi Sport UK team with which Frank Biela won the BTCC title in 1996 in the A4 quattro, the four-wheel-drive rocket ship in the hands of a top driver proving to be too quick for its own good and being slowed  down by rule changes for the following two years before Audi pulled the plug and set about sports car domination at Le Mans and elsewhere. In 2001 John became team manager for Bentley on its ultimately successful bid to win the 24 hour race in which the grand old marque had been so dominant between 1924 and 1930. A major highlight of John’s lengthy career in motor sport was the 1-2 result with the Bentley EXP Speed 8 in 2003, the winning car being shared by Tom Kristensen, Dindo Capello and Guy Smith. Job done at Bentley, John worked with Zytek on its 04S LMP1 car in the course of which he was invited by Sheikh Maktoum to become head of operations for the newly-minted A1GP series which looked so promising as a world-wide powerful single-seater category quite different from Formula 1. Sadly, a switch to Ferrari engines was a failure and the operation folded early in 2009.

A couple more dabbles in Formula 1 preceded a return to Bentley with the aim of turning the Continental GT into a competitive proposition and for a couple of years John was team manager for M-Sport in the 2014 and 2015 Blancpain GT Series. John’s plan to run a Bentley Continental in the British GT Championship had to be called off when MND struck him down.

John was the epitome of what a team manager should be. He was versatile and adaptable, capable of tackling any category of motor racing and delivering a strong outcome. He did not make very much noise but quietly did his job with great efficiency and understanding of the sport. He did not waste words but was always approachable, with a mischievous sense of humour which could take the tension out of fraught situations. His reputation went before him hence the number of manufacturers and teams which sought his services. To John’s daughters, family and many friends and colleagues in the motor sport world, the BRDC offers its most sincere condolences.

John's funeral will take place on Monday 20 February at 11am at Greenacres Chiltern Natural Cemetary, Potkiln Lane, Jordans, Nr Beaconsfield HP9 2XB.  All are welcome to attend.

The Club regrets to report the death of Stan Collier, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1988.
The Club regrets to report on the death of Neville Hay, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1993
The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
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