The formation of the new TWR Techeetah squad, which runs Stefan Rzadzinski in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, has its roots in 25 years of links to the famous Tom Walkinshaw Racing stable.
The brainchild of Mark Preston and Keith Smout, two senior DS Techeetah staffers, the TWR Techeetah operation debuted at Ad Diriyah in December and then took on an even greater profile at Mexico City last month when its new corporate identity was revealed.
An homage to the glory days of TWR when it raced with the now iconic Silk Cut livery en route to the 1988 and 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans wins, the purple, white and yellow colours turned heads and spread a welcome frisson of both nostalgia and future racing strategies to motorsport.
The roots of the TWR Techeetah hookup can be traced way back to the mid 1990s when an idealistic and curious young engineering student made the life-changing decision to leave home city of Melbourne to trade sun for sleet with a move to the UK.
“I went to work for Holden Special Vehicles [HSV] in Australia in 1994 which was then owned by TWR,” Preston told e-racing365.
“Then when Tom [Walkinshaw] bought Arrows from Jackie Oliver I said to him, ‘You need me to go to England to learn stuff and work in F1’, and I wrote him a letter.
“I saw it again recently, re-read it and it’s terrible! But within it I said: ‘I’m going for two weeks or two years, so you can either let me go or not.’
On the advice of former TWR engineering lynchpin John Crennan, Preston was hired in the stress testing department and so set in motion a remarkable chain of events leading up to the present day.
Preston was promoted to the vehicle dynamics department and then to R&D, before finally running the test team where he first met Pedro de la Rosa when the Spaniard drove the A21 design on which Preston worked with the likes of Mike Coughlan and Eghbal Hamidy.
“This was the time I worked a lot with Pedro which I have very fond memories of,” said Preston.
“At the end I would have to say that was probably my best job ever because I had stress analysis, vehicle dynamics, the test team and we had a really amazing group of people that did so much there.”
After Arrows became defunct in 2003, Super Aguri was born from the ashes of Walkinshaw’s last major interest in Formula 1.
“We bought the whole Arrows infrastructure from Paul Stoddart, including the A23s which became the Super Aguri SA05s with Honda, so it was all reborn again,” explains Preston.
His memories of Walkinshaw, a legendary and often fearsome figure in motorsport business management, are vivid.
“It’s funny, I talked to Tom back in those days only on a professional basis and he was great in giving you credit on things that were working well, he was a solid motivator of his workforce,” says Preston.
“I got on very well with him, but if you did anything to piss him off then you certainly knew about it.
“I remember we were in Valencia testing one year and something went wrong with one of the wings and Tom said ‘who’s responsible for this?’ and I’m trying to hide a little bit and raise my hand, bracing myself.
“He was like, ‘Right, get on the plane we’re going home.’
“I thought, ‘Shit, now I’m in trouble’. But then once we were on the plane, he said. ‘What was the problem then? What did you do? What are the issues?
“We just went through it and said this is what happened and what we think went wrong and he said, ‘OK, what are we doing about it?’ And that was that. He was tough but he was usually constructive and positive.”
Preston therefore has a genuine soft spot for the TWR name, what it has achieved and is still achieving in its business interests.
“I kept in contact with Ryan [Walkinshaw] and other family members over the years and this sort of opportunity came up and we went for it,” he says.
“I always thought that TWR was a team with, let’s say, a lot of entrepreneurial spirit.
“Tom would let you get on with things. If you thought you could do something and get something done in a certain way, he would just let you get on with it.
“In fact I always said that when we started Super Aguri I wanted to take the sort of professionalism of McLaren, the extreme professionalism you know, with a balance of the TWR entrepreneurial racing spirit, we’ve always been thinking about this over the years.”
From when TWR was founded by Tom Walkinshaw in a small workshop in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, back in 1976, all the way to its present day activities under his sons Sean, Ryan and Fergus and the new Techeetah link-up, the team has always been looking to the future of motorsport.