November 13, 2018
New Zealander Dick Bennetts and the UK-based race team he founded have been recognised with an award from European motorsport industry publication and expo, Professional Motorsport World.
Originally from Dunedin, Bennetts came to prominence as a championship-winning race engineer for Niki Lauda and Stefan Johansson as part of Ron Dennis’s Project 4 organisation (Dennis has his own Kiwi connection as the former CEO and Chairman of the McLaren Technology Group, which evolved from Formula 1 team created by New Zealander Bruce McLaren.)
Now aged 71, Bennetts founded West Surrey Racing in 1981 to compete in the British Formula 3 Championship, and 14 years later the team bowed out of F3 as the most successful team in the history of the series, both in terms of race victories and titles.
Over the years, Bennetts has been responsible for masterminding the careers of such names as Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen, Jonathan Palmer, Rubens Barrichello, Maurício Gugelmin and Eddie Irvine with his involvement in F3 and a racing academy in the 1980s and ‘90s.
In 1996, Bennetts directed WSR’s focus to the British Touring Car Championship, originally with Ford. Now as the official BMW team, WSR has won nine overall BTCC crowns with the BMW 125i M Sport in the past five seasons.
Following WSR’s 2018 BTCC success as the reigning Drivers’, Teams’ and Manufacturers’ Champions, the team was named the European Race Series Team of the Year in the Professional Motorsport World Expo Awards at a ceremony in Cologne, Germany, attended by 300 of the global motorsport industry’s leading figures.
Bennetts was quoted as saying: “It’s a great honour for everybody at WSR to be named European Series Team of the Year by Professional Motorsport World, a publication that’s not only essential reading for me, but also influential within the technology sector of the industry. The BTCC is a championship in which it’s incredibly hard to get to the front and even more difficult to stay there. The fact that we’ve remained competitive throughout the past six seasons with the BMW 125i M Sport and won three titles this year speaks volumes about the ability and determination of every member of our team.”
Wayne Christie, President of MotorSport New Zealand, says this is fantastic recognition for one of the quiet achievers of New Zealand motorsport.
“While Dick Bennetts hasn’t lived in New Zealand for many years, he maintains strong and valued links with our motorsport community,” says Christie. “West Surrey Racing has achieved extraordinary success under Dick’s leadership and we’re thrilled on their behalf to be recognised in this way by the wider motorsport sector.”
Christie adds: “In terms of race and rally competitors like five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen and his close championship contender Scott McLaughlin, Formula 1 driver Brendon Hartley and WRC driver Hayden Paddon, New Zealand regularly punches above its weight in world motorsport. People like Dick Bennetts, with his strong engineering and technical background, show that Kiwi talents encompass many aspects of motorsport.”
European Race Series Team of the Year
Winner: Team BMW / West Surrey Racing in BTCC
Colin Turkington and Team BMW clinched an extraordinary triple crown on a historic final day of the 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch in September. The Northern Irishman took an emotional third title, to become one of only eight drivers to have won three or more BTCC crowns (adding to those he won in 2009 and 2014), after a hugely consistent and competitive season. BMW also ended the year as winner of the Manufacturers Championship, beating Speedworks Motorsport into second place, while WSR-run Team BMW became Team Champion on a glorious day at the Kent track.
Background information: West Surrey Racing history
West Surrey Racing was created by New Zealander Dick Bennetts in 1981 to race in the British Formula 3 Championship and achieved success almost immediately as Jonathan Palmer won its debut race on March 1 at Silverstone and went on to take that season’s title. Four more crowns were achieved in British F3 by 1991 with Ayrton Senna, Mauricio Gugelmin, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello. Senna and Gugelmin also won the category’s most prestigious race, the Macau Grand Prix, with WSR.
WSR bowed out of F3 at the end of 1995 as the most successful team in the history of the series, both in terms of race victories and titles. This prowess helped it to become Ford’s works team in the 1996 British Touring Car Championship, the first BTCC win coming with Will Hoy in 1998. F1 legend Nigel Mansell memorably led ‘the greatest touring car race of all time’ at Donington Park later that year in another of WSR’s Mondeos.
For 1999 WSR began a two-year association with Honda, winning first time out with James Thompson and closing with a double-victory for Tom Kristensen at Silverstone in what was the final BTCC event for Super Touring machinery.
A new manufacturer programme began in the post-Super Touring era with MG; Anthony Reid taking victory at only the third event for the ZS racer in 2001 and he, Warren Hughes and Colin Turkington all winning races. MG withdrew from motorsport at the end of 2003 and WSR opted to continue with the ZS saloons as a non-factory team for the next three seasons. They were rewarded by Reid’s independent drivers’ title in ’04 and race victories right up to the end of the 2006 season.
A switch to BMW machinery in 2007 marked the start of the most successful chapter in WSR’s touring car history. Turkington became independents’ champion in his first season with the German saloon and added an overall title in ’09 and a race win in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for WSR the following year.
Replacing the 320si model with the new 1 Series for 2013 paved the way for another overall title for Turkington in 2014. Turkington also won the independents’ title – the fifth for a WSR driver in 11 seasons – and helped the team add a fourth independent teams’ crown in the same year.
The 2015 season brought race victories for WSR’s three drivers; Rob Collard, Sam Tordoff and Andy Priaulx while Collard, Tordoff and Jack Goff combined to win the constructors’ and teams’ championships in 2016; the latter under the Team JCT600 with GardX banner.
In 2017, WSR were honoured to be chosen as BMW’s Manufacturer team in the BTCC as the German brand returned to the series in an official capacity following a 21-year absence. A superb season netted eight victories for Turkington, Collard and Andrew Jordan and included a landmark 75th BTCC win, all contributing to Teams’ and Manufacturers’ title success and second place for Turkington in the Drivers’ standings.
This year, Colin Turkington and Team BMW clinched an extraordinary triple crown on a historic final day of the 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch in September. The Northern Irishman took an emotional third title, to become one of only eight drivers to have won three or more BTCC crowns (adding to those he won in 2009 and 2014), after a hugely consistent and competitive season. BMW also ended the year as winner of the Manufacturers Championship, beating Speedworks Motorsport into second place, while WSR-run Team BMW became Team Champion on a glorious day at the Kent track.