Spirit F1 owner and Le Mans winning Bentley team boss John Wickham dies aged 73

His role with the Spirit team that brought Honda back to F1 in 1983 and the first of two stints with Bentley as team director of the organization that triumphed at Le Mans with the Speed ​​8 LM GTP coupe were just two chapters a varied and successful motorsport management career spanning five decades.

Wickham, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2019, has worked around the world, in a variety of different racing categories and for multiple manufacturers during this time.

He was team manager at March Engineering when Marc Surer won the 1979 European Formula 2 Championship and on the Audi Sport UK team when the German manufacturer clinched the British Touring Car Championship straight away with Frank Biela in 1996.

He was also General Manager, Engineering and Operations, of the A1 Grand Prix World Cup of Motorsport for its four seasons between 2005 and ’09.

He returned to Bentley in early 2012 to help lead the brand’s return to motorsport with the Continental GT3 racer and was team manager of the factory M-Sport team in 2014-15.

Longtime Bentley Motorsport Director Brian Gush recalls a “master organizer who was always on top of things”.

“That’s why I brought John back when we were doing the GT3 program because he was the ideal person to handle all the finer points of FIA homologation,†said Gush.

Wickham’s motorsport career began with the British Automobile Racing Club as a competition manager before moving to Surtees at the age of 23 to oversee F2 operations for the 1973 season.

Stefan Johansson, Spirit 201C Honda, in the pit lane.  Team manager John Wickham and designer Gordon Coppuck are in attendance.

After another stint with the BARC, March 1979 saw Wickham back in the F2 paddock.

Contact with Honda during his time with the Bicester-based designer resulted in an invitation to assemble a team fully focused on the brand’s F2 program with the two-litre V6 introduced in 1980.

Wickham left March along with designer Gordon Coppuck to found Spirit for 1982 and narrowly missed out on the title that year with his Honda-engined 201 chassis driven by Thierry Boutsen.

Honda returned to the top of the sport with a modified Spirit F2 car in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in April, after which the team contested six recent Grands Prix.

Honda had already entered talks with Williams, who ran a Honda-engined turbo car through the end of the season and requested exclusivity of the ’84 delivery.

Spirit hobbled into the 1985 season hard-powered – and a Cosworth DFV for one race – before selling his Pirelli tire deal to Toleman to cash out his debuts and subsequently closing his doors.

Wickham went to Le Mans for the first time in 1987 after joining the TOM’S GB squad at the end of the previous year: he helped expand its activities in Formula 3, touring cars and sports cars.

A second stint in Formula 1 followed from 1990 to 1994, when he negotiated the purchase of Arrows by the Japanese organization Footwork.

He became operations manager and from 1991 also team manager.

It wasn’t his last attempt F1: Wickham was parachuted into the fledgling HRT team for a brief stint prior to his F1 entry in 2011; and then returned at the end of the year with a short-lived management role at Lotus Renault GP.

Two spells, working with British competitor Richard Lloyd, brought Wickham’s greatest successes.

They formed Team Audi Sport UK which won 15 BTCC races in 1996-98 and entered the ill-fated Audi R8C coupe at Le Mans in 1999.

Podium and Results: 1st: Tom Kristensen (DEN) / Rinaldo Capello (ITA) / Guy Smith (GBR) Bentley, centre.  2nd: Johnny Herbert (GBR) / David Brabham (AUS) / Mark Blundell (GBR) Bentley, left.  3rd: Stefan Johansson (SWE) / JJ Lehto (FIN) / Emanuele Pirro (ITA) Champion Racing, right

After a year driving two of Reynard’s LMP cars in the American Le Mans Series and at Le Mans for former Spirit and Footwork driver Stefan Johansson, Wickham rejoined Lloyd at Team Bentley as the British marque competed for one first win in the series attempted French Enduro since 1930.

Originally a member of Lloyd’s Apex team, he moved onto the Bentley payroll for the program’s final year when Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith scored a one-two for the team.

After winning Le Mans in 2003, Bentley left motorsport and Wickham helped run British constructors Zytek’s LMP programme.

This led to a chance meeting with A1GP founder Sheikh Maktoum, which led to him becoming the young series’ number one employer.

He first led the test team for the Zytek-powered Lola Ein-Manufacturer racer, then put together the infrastructure for the series – including sourcing the massive base for all teams at the Woodcote slope at Silverstone – and then led the series at one Day-to-day basis until his demise.

Wickham’s second stint with Bentley lasted until 2017, but he was due to be working as a weekend TM for Team Parker Racing’s Bentley squad in the British GT Championship in 2018 when he was stricken with an illness later diagnosed as MND.

12.11.  2006 Beijing, China - Charlie Whiting, FIA Delegate and John Wickham, General Manager, Engineering and Operations - A1GP World Cup of Motorsport 2006/07 Round 3 Beijing Sunday Race 2 - Copyright A1GP - Free for Editorial Use


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