Ian Walker: Doyen of British motorsport
Friday 18 July 2008
Ian Walker played a key role in British motorsport at the time when Colin Chapman's Lotus emerged as the team that would take Jim Clark and Graham Hill to world championship successes in the 1960s.
Walker's passion for motor racing emerged after a six-year period in the RAF which included two and a half years as a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber during the Second World War. He was 28 by the time he entered the RAC Rally in a Sunbeam-Talbot 90. That led to a spell developing Ford road cars for sporting applications.
He became a Ford works driver and competed in the Monte Carlo Rally six times. In 1964 he shared a Ford Falcon with Hill, a friend. They took the event very seriously, making pace notes and using a helmet-mounted intercom system for the first time. They finished the event after using a tree, a rope and reverse gear to straighten out frontal damage caused when the throttle stuck open. "Graham," Walker remembered, "spent most of his time asleep!"
In 1957 Walker had purchased an ex-Hill Lotus Eleven racing sportscar and it was with this, and the Lotus Elite road car, that he made his name on the British racing scene with a series of victories and strong placings. He was a close friend of Chapman, sourcing drawings for the Eleven from the Lotus founder so his Merit Kits company could make scale models. Later, he sold Chapman his house in Hadley Wood.
On his retirement from race driving in 1962 he set up Ian Walker Racing, which enjoyed success across Europe and north America with the likes of Clark, Hill and Peter Arundell behind the wheel. Walker was also instrumental in nurturing the careers of young racers such as Mike Spence, Paul Hawkins and Frank Gardner. His team set new standards of professionalism, using custom-built articulated trucks long before they became fashionable.
He was negotiating with John Player for sponsorship, and looking ahead to Formula One involvement, but the deaths of protégés such as Spence, Doug Revson and Tony Hegbourne hung heavily upon him and finally conspired to make him take a step back from the sport. He suggested that Chapman – who called him "Walker the Talker" because of his ability to find funding – should pursue the tobacco company. In 1968, Gold Leaf Team Lotus ushered in the era of commercial sponsorship.
From 1969, Walker focused on his flourishing businesses in the aviation, car retailing and auto parts industries but he remained a racer to the end, an enthusiastic supporter of his son Sean's exploits in single-seaters and sports and touring cars.
Ian Walker, racing driver: born London 16 March 1926; married (two sons); died High Wych, Hertfordshire 7 July 2008.
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