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Gloucester owner and former F1 boss Tom Walkinshaw dies

Jacques Villeneuve gets past Damon Hill on the grass

Walkinshaw's Arrows almost win 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix

Gloucester Rugby Club owner and chairman and former Formula 1 team chief Tom Walkinshaw has died aged 64.

The ex-Benetton, Ligier and Arrows owner, who took over at Kingsholm in 1997, had been suffering from cancer.

The Scot drove in Formula Two and touring cars before launching his own team Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), which twice triumphed at Le Mans.

He joined the Benetton team in 1991 and helped recruit designer Ross Brawn and driver Michael Schumacher.

Walkinshaw won a European touring car title for Jaguar in 1984, and the TWR Jaguar cars won at Le Mans in 1988 and 1990.

He ran the engineering side of Benetton until 1994, when Schumacher won the world title.

When the history of rugby union in England is written, then Tom's name will be to the fore

RFU management board chairman Martyn Thomas

Walkinshaw moved on to run Ligier and then Arrows, where he persuaded world champion Damon Hill to join the team in 1997, although financial problems saw the outfit fold in 2002.

Schumacher said: "It is shocking to hear of somebody having to go so early - much too early, one has to say.

"It is also shocking to think somebody like Tom, who seemed to be so full of power, lost against this terrible disease.

"He was such a character, and we surely spent some good times together. My thoughts are with his family."

Hill, who is now president of the British Racing Drivers' Club that owns Silverstone, said: "He was a very big-hearted guy who put everything he had into motor racing in all its forms. He loved motor sport and he liked business, too.

"You have to remember the Jaguar successes at Le Mans. He was a major player in motorsport for a long time and that will be his testimony.

"He maybe tried to do too much and spread himself too thin, but Arrows was a very exciting time for me. I certainly believed in Tom and his sincere desire to build a team. But it didn't work out.

"Tom had a competitive spirit and there were a lot of good things about him. He genuinely wanted to compete. He wanted things to turn out right.

"He was clearly embattled a lot of the time. It is a loss. He did leave a mark on motor racing."

Martin Brundle, who won Le Mans and the world sportscar championship for Walkinshaw's TWR Jaguar team said: "He was a mentor to me. I wrote to him and asked him for a drive when he didn't know me from Adam and he gave me a chance. If he hadn't done that, I'd still be selling Toyotas in West Norfolk, for sure.

"He was an entrepreneurial racer. He was a pretty handy racing driver in touring cars and Formula Two in the 1970s and he knew what it was like from the driver's perspective.

"Then he had the entrepreneurial strength to get the team together. But where he was at his strongest was on the pit wall.

Tom Walkinshaw
Walkinshaw was well known within motorsport and rugby union circles

"You had confidence he would make the right calls, and that made a big difference to you as a driver.

"He never really had the funding [to succeed] at Arrows - the business got a bit too big. I suspect he was angry that he didn't get the credit he felt he deserved at Benetton and he wanted to show it at his own team. But the circumstances were too complicated at both Ligier and Arrows."

Walkinshaw took over at Kingsholm as Gloucester owner in April 1997 after buying a majority shareholding.

He was chairman of Premier Rugby, the top-flight clubs' umbrella body, from 1998-2002 and helped establish stability after a chaotic period for the newly-professional sport.

Premier Rugby - now called Premiership Rugby - expressed "deep sadness" at the death of its former chairman.

Quentin Smith, chairman of Premiership Rugby, said: "In so many respects, the success of professional club rugby is testament to the vision, leadership and drive of Tom Walkinshaw.

"His determination and energy helped create the Premiership Rugby and European competitions we know and love today. He will be sadly missed."

Premiership rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said Walkinshaw was "unquestionably one of the founding fathers and leaders in the creation and growth of professional club rugby, not only in England but across Europe".

"His vision and drive was decisive in today's success and the legacy he leaves is the enjoyment of so many each weekend of the season," added McCafferty.

Peter Tom, the executive chairman of Premiership champions Leicester who succeeded Walkinshaw as Premiership Rugby chairman, also hailed his contribution to the sport.

"Tom was a central figure in the development of the professional club game in this country and in Europe, and he was a positive influence as chairman of his club and also as chairman of Premiership Rugby," he said.

"Gloucester is a traditional hot-bed of the game and Tom was a major force in the club's development on and off the field in the professional era.

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"He was a dynamic chairman of Premiership Rugby, and although we had our rivalries when our clubs met, he was always a gracious host at Kingsholm and a welcome guest at Welford Road.

"I spent a lot of time with Tom over the last 15 years and got to know him well. I counted him as a close friend within the rugby community, and I send my condolences to Tom's wife Martine and their family, as well as to the officials, players and supporters of Gloucester Rugby.

"Club rugby in this country is all the poorer for his passing."

During his four-year stint as chairman, Premiership Rugby introduced the salary cap and the average attendances in the Premiership increased by 33%.

Walkinshaw later led the clubs team negotiating with the Rugby Football Union over the release of England players, the details of which are now enshrined in an eight-year agreement.

Rugby Football Union management board chairman Martyn Thomas paid testimony to Walkinshaw and the pivotal role he played in the history of rugby union.

"Soon after the game went professional in 1995, Tom acquired the iconic Gloucester club in 1997 and was at the very centre of the rugby revolution, battling hard for what he felt was right," said Thomas.

"He was always forthright and passionate and earned huge respect because there was no doubting his commitment to his beloved club and the game.

"I think the fact that we were able to reach an agreement that delivered professionalism, but which also protected the fabric of the game we both held dear and which will safeguard its future, is to his huge credit.

"When the history of rugby union in England is written, then Tom's name will be to the fore."

Gloucester never managed to win the Premiership title under Walkinshaw but went agonisingly close, finishing top of the regular-season table three times only to lose in the play-offs.

In 2003, Gloucester finished 15 points clear only to be beaten by Wasps in the first-ever Premiership Grand Final.

The Cherry and Whites did win the 2005 European Challenge Cup, beating London Irish 36-34 after extra-time in a thrilling final at The Stoop.

Bath's former Gloucester player Olly Barkley said on Twitter: "Very sorry to hear about the passing of Tom Walkinshaw. Amazing man. My thoughts are with his family and close friends."

Former Gloucester wing Mark Foster, now with Exeter, also posted his best wishes, saying: "Saddened to hear about the passing of Tom Walkinshaw, a great man who has done so much for Gloucester Rugby over the years.

"Will be missed greatly, my thoughts go out to his family."

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Australian GP 1994: Schumacher wins title driving for Walkinshaw-led Benetton



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