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The news came through as I sat in the Brands Hatch Press Room………a jet had crashed at Farnborough, no, not the one in Hampshire but Kent, just up the road……there was some question as to whether Sunday’s BTCC races might be affected…….the track’s emergency services would be on standby if the accident scene required additional assistance………..some 12 hours later, early in the morning I picked up Andrew Cotton’s email bringing the terrible revelation that the accident had claimed the lives of the five men who were on board. Two casualties were pilots, the other three were from Apex Motorsport; boss, Richard Lloyd, driver, David Leslie and engineer, Christopher Allarton. To say that this shook me to the core would be an understatement……..not two weeks ago I had sat with David and Richard in Monza hatching plans for 2008, I had known both men since the 80’s as our paths crossed in course of many seasons. I will miss them both, good men are hard to find.

Andrew had been called by the Daily Telegraph to comment on the story and to get an appreciation of the two men from the motorsport community, which we share here.

SCP contributors’ John Elwin and David Lister recall their friend David Leslie.

And from across the Atlantic Tim Watson, ex Motoring News journalist and now VP Communications & Public Affairs for Jaguar Land Rover North America pays his own tribute to the two men.

To all the families, friends and colleagues of the deceased may we here at SportsCarPros extend our deepest sympathies.

May they all rest in peace.

John Brooks, Kerry Morse,  April 2008

Allan McNish led the tributes to David Leslie, the Dumfries-born touring car driver turned commentator who died in an air crash at Farnborough on Sunday. The 54-year-old’s death was yet another blow to Scottish motorsport following Colin McRae, who died last year in a helicopter accident, and Jimmy Stewart.
McNish, a close friend of the Leslie family having also been born in Dumfries, credited the Leslie family with helping him, and other top Scottish drivers, to start their motorsport careers.
“Before I started and when he was at the height of his career he was known to the family and I had heard these exciting stories of how he was beating this guy called Nigel Mansell,” said McNish, who will drive for Audi in the Le Mans Series race at Barcelona this weekend. “It is difficult to quantify the influence of that on a seven year old. When I was 11, it was David and his father who put me in my first go-kart.
“In Formula Ford, it was again David’s father who ran the team. They ensured that at the end of 1987 I was recognised by the works teams. They did the same with David Coulthard and they did the same with Dario Franchitti. David put more into motorsport than he took out. He was still active and won his final race. He was still getting into the car, putting the throttle down and loved what he was doing. This is a shock for Dumfries.”

Leslie shot to fame in 1976 when he finished second in the Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford scheme. In 1977, he won 30 races in the Formula Ford 1600 Championship and went on to a successful motorsport career in sports car racing, finishing second in his class at Le Mans in 1987 and 1988. He drove for the Silk Cut Jaguar team at Le Mans in 1990 and 1991, but it was in touring car racing that he became a household name.

At the height of the British Touring Car Championship in the late 1990s, Leslie drove for Honda and Nissan, finishing second in the drivers’ championship in 1999. “David of course was a great competitor within the BTCC for many years, always exciting to watch, fiercely competitive and incredibly passionate about his sport,” said BTCC director Alan Gow yesterday. “The BTCC is a close-knit community and we mourn the tragic loss of both David and Richard.”
Leslie continued to race until his death, winning a round of the Britcar series last weekend at Silverstone.

He was also an accomplished commentator whose next assignment would have been the World Touring Car Championship event in Puebla, Mexico this weekend, sharing the commentary booth with Martin Haven.

“I grew up with Murray Walker and James Hunt as the standard for motor racing commentary and David was the voice of reason between us,” said Haven last night. “We worked together for the best part of ten years, and I when I was on assignment with him, I never thought that it would be a hard day at the office.”

Three-time World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx will race for BMW in Mexico wearing a black arm band as a mark of respect. “I grew up watching David racing and he was a source of inspiration to me,” said the 33-year-old. “He proved that good guys can win championships by being hard, but fair racers. When he turned his hand to commentating, and was the voice of the FIA WTCC, I was equally impressed with his expertise and I know his comments were always well respected in our paddocks.”
Andrew Cotton, April 2008

Forgive me if this piece rambles a bit but it’s written in the immediate aftermath of hearing the sad news concerning the identity of those who lost their lives in yesterday afternoon’s Biggin Hill air accident. Initial inference that those who perished were well-known personalities from the the motorsport world led to all sorts of speculation – Biggin Hill is owned by Bernie Ecclestone after all. However, when news came that David Leslie was amongst the dead I was devastated.

I first met David when, like so many others, he was a young hopeful chasing his dream in the cut & thrust of 1970’s British Formula Ford racing. Not for him the trappings of a big team. After spending the week working in the family garage business in Carlisle, on the Scottish borders, he and his father would hitch up a trailer to the back of their Ford Transit camper van and make the long trek down to Silverstone, Brands Hatch or wherever, have a successful weekends’ racing (there were often championship rounds at two circuits on the same weekend) and return home for work on Monday morning.

A step-up to Formula Ford 2000 brought both British and European titles in 1979 together with Reynard, and in the same year he made his Formula 3 debut. By 1981 he was a regular front-runner in the prestigious Marlboro British F3 Championship, almost the obligatory stepping-stone to F1 in those days. However, it was to sportscars and Group C that David turned his attention. Starting in C2, he was a natural choice for a drive with the Ecurie Ecosse team but that also saw him enter a long-term relationship with Ray Mallock. He went on to race works Aston Martins and TWR Jaguars, before switching to the burgeoning Touring Car scene full-time in 1992. Again he teamed-up with Mallock to run a Vauxhall Cavalier in Ecurie Ecosse colours. Despite being very much a privateer team he took his first outright win in ’93 before embarking on a frustrating season with Mazda, then a rather happier period as a works Honda driver. After that, he returned to RML (now running the works Nissan deal), enjoying his best-ever BTCC season in 1999, finishing runner-up to champion – and team mate – Laurent Aiello. He loved the racing, was as hard as the next man in the take-no-prisoners world of Super Touring but admitted privately that he did not enjoy the brutal, contact nature of the series.

More recently he has become well-known as an erudite TV commentator, perfectly complimenting Martin Haven’s excitable coverage of sportscar (particularly Le Mans) and touring car racing for Motors TV and Eurosport, providing the insight that only someone who has been there, done it, can do. He had the ability to explain technical matters in a way that the layman could understand – not always easy to do in the heat of the moment.

Away from the track (just!) David was married to Jane Broadley, daughter of Eric Broadley of Lola fame and sadly the loss of David will caste a dark shadow over the Lola company's 50th anniversary celebrations this year. One of David’s big passions in recent times has been the restoration of a Lola Mk1 sportscar (his engineering abilities match his driving skills) that he was able to race for the first time at Silverstone last year. The restoration was a real labour of love, and more than once I bumped into him at classic car shows rooting around in the autojumble for that elusive Hillman Husky hub carrier, or whatever. He also returned to his Formula Ford roots, racing a self-prepared car in the annual end-of-season Walter Hayes Trophy event at Silverstone. Also at Silverstone, he won his last-ever race just a week ago, co-piloting Harry Handkammer’s BMW M3 to victory in a Britcar race on 22 March.

David was fiercely proud of his Scottish heritage and over the years has done much to foster the up-coming talent following in his footsteps together with his father, David Leslie Snr, running young drivers in the junior formulae. He began by mentoring a young Allan McNish in 1987 as he claimed the Dunlop/Autosport Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford title in his first season of racing. David Coulthard followed suit in 1989 for David Leslie Racing, as the team was now known, whilst Dario Franchitti took the honours in the Formula Vauxhall Junior series for DLR two years later.

It is the little moments you always remember, like the occasion at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year when trying to get a shot of him in the paddock, he thought the more interesting picture would be one of two drivers sound asleep in the confined cockpit of a Group C car whilst all around them engines revved! I wouldn’t claim to have been a close friend, but having known David for so long I shall miss him, whether bumping into him at a racetrack, a car show – where he always made time for a chat  -  or hearing him on TV.

To Jane and their two sons (the eldest of whom has embarked on his own motor racing career working for Ray Mallock) we send our sincere condolences.
John Elwin March 2008

I first met David about 20 years or so ago. At the time he was driving for RML/Ecosse in Gp C. He had driven a friend of mine's 928 in the British Porsche Championship, and he was a guest of that same friend at the British GP.. Of course, being a typical fan, and being presented with an ensnared driver of no little repute, I proceeded to bombard him with boring questions and drivel for, ooh, about 8 hours or so. This must have seemed like hell, for a bloke trying to enjoy a day out, but the measure of the man was the delightful way he in which he made me feel appreciated, as a fan, and the wonderful way he entertained us. You made my day, that day, mate.

Fast forward some 15 or so years and I got to know David through his work in the media, primarily (but not only) with Martin Haven and Eurosport in the WTCC. David was always a person whom I looked forward to seeing in the paddock and in the press room. Down to earth, honest in the opinion, and with a dry humour that could cut to the quick.. He always had time for you and was a perfect counter balance to Martin's mania. Along with many, I suspect, watching WTCC will not quite be the same from now on.

As a footnote, I did once ask David about the aforementioned 928. The car obviously left a lasting impression, as his opinion, some 20 odd years later, was still somewhat fruity. It would appear that the source of that opinion was its hairy nature and the pretty good scare it gave David during practice. Unfortunately, David never got to test the 928’s metal in competition, as it suffered a mysterious start line failure of engine and/or drive train. Its race lasted about 2 yards, at best. Rumours of a Scottish influence in that demise were never fully investigated...
I digress..............

I rather got the opinion that David enjoyed his life, and it is extremely sad that he was taken from us so.

Along with the rest of us here, at SportsCarPros, may I offer my sincere condolences to David's family and friends.
David Lister, March 2008

In my years within motor sport first as a journalist and then with a number of car manufacturers I have been fortunate to meet many interesting people. However, one man that has always stood out to me, and that was David Leslie. Our paths crossed on many occasions from my time at Mazda through to Ferrari and then Aston Martin and the measure of the man was not just his outstanding ability on the track in whatever he drove but his down to earth, good natured approach to everyone. From team owners to fans, David always made time for everyone and was modest and always very unassuming. Content to listen to others and take it all in before making his opinion felt - often with that spark of Leslie humour and a twinkle in his eye. He was a fantastic family man and can best be described as one of life's true gentlemen.

Richard too was in the same mould. I knew of him but not very well and it wasn't until in recent times with his tie up with Jaguar and the GT3 programme that he and I spoke regularly and met on several occasions. He demonstrated common sense, great business acumen and was a real pleasure to work with. We'd just started talking about racing Jaguars here in the US and his enthusiasm for racing and his drive for success were infectious. A truly sad day for motor sport and my thoughts are with both of these great guys' families.
Tim Watson, April 2008

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