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We very much regret to inform Members that John Bute, better known within the motor racing fraternity as Johnny Dumfries, died yesterday after a short illness. He was 62 years old and had been suffering from cancer. Johnny was a BRDC Life Member having been first elected to the Club in 1984.

If Johnny was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the family wealth played no significant part in his racing career which began in the traditional manner for any aspiring young driver in Formula Ford, in Johnny’s case with one of Bert Ray’s machines. He showed speed but no consistent results on account of his limited financial resources which were earned from various occupations which included working on building sites, painting and decorating and as a van driver for the Williams Grand Prix team. Johnny persisted with his determination to make it as a racing driver and in 1983 he had the opportunity to move into the British Formula 3 Championship under the Associated Racing banner with a Ralt RT3 run by former driver Dave Morgan. In a season when all the headlines were being made by the battle for the championship between Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle, Johnny’s efforts were somewhat overshadowed but were good enough to bring him 10th place in the championship and more importantly convince BP to back him the following year.

Entered as Team BP but in reality it was Dave Price’s team running the car, a Volkswagen-powered Ralt RT3, Johnny won 10 of the 17 rounds of the British F3 Championship and emerged as a convincing champion whilst in the European F3 Championship with four race wins he finished a close runner up to Ivan Capelli and ahead of Gerhard Berger. Johnny was making his mark and showing that his talent needed to be taken seriously. There were opportunities to drive for the Tyrrell and Brabham teams or to test with Ferrari. Johnny chose the Italian option which, with the benefit of hindsight, proved to be a mistake. Progression up the ladder to race in Formula 3000 still required funds which Johnny did not have. After four early season races in an Onyx Racing March 85B had produced best results of sixth at Vallelunga and seventh at Thruxton, Johnny had to withdraw; at the end of the year a couple of outings in a Lola T950 were unrewarding.

At first prospects of continuing in single-seater racing in 1986 seemed bleak until a vacancy opened up at John Player Team Lotus after its number one driver Ayrton Senna had objected to having Derek Warwick as his team mate for being too good. Casting around for a British replacement, Johnny’s Formula 3 successes made him an obvious candidate. Given Johnny’s lack of Formula 1 experience, it was something of a poisoned chalice. After a promising ninth place in the opening race in Brazil with the 1.5 litre turbo Lotus-Renault 98T, results were mixed ranging from points-paying finishes in Hungary (fifth) and Australia (sixth) to failing to qualify at Monaco. If politics had played a part in giving Johnny his Formula 1 opportunity so more politics led to him being dropped at the end of the year in favour of Honda nominee Satoru Nakajima as Lotus switched from Renault to Honda power for 1987.

If Johnny was to pursue his motor racing career, the time had come to explore opportunities in sports car racing. In fact he had already been there towards the end of 1984 when the late Richard Lloyd invited Johnny to share a Porsche 956 with him in the Spa 1000 Kms which was followed a few weeks later by the opportunity to drive a Rothmans Porsche 956 in the final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Sandown Park 1000 Kms in Australia with none other than Jack Brabham as team mate, the motor racing legend having been tempted out of retirement at the age of 58. After various problems they finished too far back to be classified. There was to be another outing with Richard Lloyd Racing in the 1985 Fuji 1000 Kms with Kenny Acheson as team mate which ended in retirement.

Johnny’s sports car career resumed in earnest in 1987 with an outing in one of the Swiftair Ecosse C286 cars in the Silverstone 1000 Kms which produced eighth place overall and third in the C2 category, withh Mike Wilds. Johnny’s first Le Mans soon followed with Sauber. After being fastest in the morning warm up, Johnny took the first stint, running well in the top six before handing over to Chip Ganassi for whom the gearbox broke. Back with Richard Lloyd Racing for the Brands Hatch 1000 Kms, Johnny and Mauro Baldi drove impressively to finish second between two Jaguar XJR8s. Three weeks later and Johnny was driving a Dyson Racing Porsche 962 in the rain-affected Road America 500 at Elkhart Lake; with Price Cobb as team mate, they were first at the flag. Fellow Scot Tom Walkinshaw had been far from oblivious to Johnny’s performances and signed him up to drive for the Silk Cut Jaguar team at Spa and Fuji. In Belgium Johnny was paired with Martin Brundle to be joined by Raul Boesel when their car looked the more likely winner, their win enabling the Brazilian to secure the Drivers’ Championship. In Japan Johnny shared with Raul to finish second to the sister car of Jan Lammers/John Watson. One week after Fuji Johnny was back in IMSA with Dyson Racing and Price Cobb to finish third on the streets of Columbus, Ohio.

The New Year began at Daytona for the 24 Hours where Johnny finished third with John Watson and Eddie Cheever as co-drivers. Jan Lammers was Johnny’s regular team mate for the year in the World Championship which did not start well for them with retirements in the first three races at Jerez, Jarama and Monza. However, the great day came next as Johnny and Jan, joined for the event by Andy Wallace, won the Le Mans 24 Hours to give Jaguar its first victory at La Sarthe since 1957. The rest of the year was something of an anti-climax with a third place in one of the two sprint races at Brno being the best result. Johnny missed out on sharing ‘his’ car’s second place at Spa Francorchamps when team tactics required him to be substituted by Martin Brundle to enhance Martin’s ultimately successful quest to win the Drivers’ Championship.

Johnny moved to Toyota for the remaining two years of his front line career with Geoff Lees and John Watson as alternating team mates in 1989 and Roberto Ravaglia in 1990 but the results were disappointing, fourth place with Geoff at Dijon in the second race of 1989 being the best achieved across the two seasons. There was a return to Le Mans in 1991 to drive a Cougar-Porsche 26S alongside Anders Olofsson and Thomas Danielsson but this talented trio were thwarted by car problems which led to an early retirement from the race.

By 1992 Johnny’s father, the 6th Marquess of Bute, was in declining health so that, although he still enjoyed racing, he felt the need to help with the various family business interests. His father died in 1993 when Johnny became the 7th Marquess. Much of his time was spent at Mount Stuart, his ancestral home on the Island of Bute which he transformed into a tourist attraction as a working visitor facility, inaugurating the Mount Stuart Trust in 2005. His island projects have included the internationally- respected Bute Fabrics, the Kerrylamont Centre for Rural Excellence and Bute Yard. In 2002 Johnny initiated the Mount Stuart Classic, similar in concept to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. However, although the two events were very well received by those who attended, the logistics including the need for ferry crossings, the location on the west coast of Scotland and limited local accommodation meant that the concept was short-lived. Always keen to be getting his hands dirty as part of a team working on machinery and cars in particular, Johnny developed an interest in classic American cars which he enjoyed restoring.

The BRDC offers its most sincere condolences to Johnny’s wife Serena, to his son and daughters and to his family.

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
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
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