Monday 8th May 1922
Born on this day, Tom Wheatcroft, English businessman, who made his fortune through building and construction. He resurrected the Donington Park motor racing circuit and founded the Donington Grand Prix Collection museum.
Having made his fortune, and having started to build his car collection, Wheatcroft further indulged his racing passion by running his own racing car team. In 1970 he purchased an ex-works Brabham BT26, Jacky Ickx’s 1969 German Grand Prix-winning car, and entered Derek Bell for the Tasman Series’ 1970 New Zealand Grand Prix. Bell finished second. Following that initial success, later that year he invested in a new a Brabham BT30 to run for Bell in the European Formula Two Championship. Bell again finished second. During the season he also entered the BT26, in full three-litre form, at the Race of Champions, where Bell suffered an accident in practice, and the Belgian Grand Prix, where the car retired.
At the 1971 Monaco Formula Three race Wheatcroft became acquainted with Roger Williamson, also from Leicester, and began to support his driving career. Driving for Wheatcroft Racing, in 1972 Williamson won two of the three British Formula Three Championships, and took part in numerous European Formula Three and Formula Two races. In 1973 Wheatcroft sponsored a seat for Williamson in the Formula One March Engineering works team, run by Max Mosley. Williamson’s short career lasted two races. He crashed on the first lap of his debut, at the ill-fated 1973 British Grand Prix. Then also on the eighth lap of the Dutch Grand Prix. Although he was unhurt in the accident the car had flipped over, preventing his escape, and Williamson died in the subsequent fire. Wheatcroft reflected later that “I lost friends in the war but it was nothing like losing The Lad. Wasn’t until afterwards you realised how much he meant.”
After this Wheatcroft continued to back occasional drivers in Formula Atlantic and Formula Two. He funded the construction of a bespoke Wheatcroft chassis, designed by former BRM designer Mike Pilbeam, and ran 1974 British champion Brian Henton (born in Castle Donington) in selected Formula Two and Atlantic races using it. Henton’s best result with the Wheatcroft 002 was third place in the Silverstone Circuit round of the European Formula Two Championship. The two maintained their relationship in 1976, but Wheatcroft’s heart wasn’t in it and he slowly wound down the team’s activities over the year.