Steve O'Rourke (1940-2003), a tribute.
Steve O'Rourke, one of the big names in endurance racing for more than 20 years
but better known to the wider world, perhaps, as manager of the Pink Floyd rock
group, died on Wednesday of a suspected heart attack.
Appropriately, perhaps, he collapsed at the Boca Raton home of Derek and Misti
Bell while visiting with his wife and son. He and Derek went back a very long way,
to 1981 when he entered a BMW M1 for the Pagham man at Le Mans.
As Derek tells it, the whole idea of the deal was to give him a decent drive at Le
Mans, but in the meantime he was offered a plum drive in the Porsche works
team, to partner Jacky Ickx in the famous 'Jules' 936. "Derek, if Porsche wants you
I would be really flattered to release you to drive for them" O'Rourke assured him,
and from that point on Derek's career was set for the 1980s: four Le Mans victories
in the 956 and 962, two World Championships ('95 and '96) and many successes
with Al Holbert in the IMSA Championship.
Steve O'Rourke was a gentleman who mixed the worlds of music and motor
racing as skilfully as his friend Nick Mason, and his interest in racing was further
sub-divided as an entrant, a competitor of modern cars and of historic machines,
too. After two seasons with the BMW, managed by Michael Cane, O'Rourke then
sponsored the EMKA Aston Martin which he drove at Le Mans with Tiff Needell and
Nick Faure. They got this underpowered car to the finish both in 1983, 17th, and in
O'Rourke was equally involved in Historic racing, which provided him with his early
successes. He won at the Nurburgring in 1979 with a Surtees TS19, also finishing
second in the sports car event on the same day, driving an Alfa Romeo T33, and
contested the Aurora F1 Championship in 1982, driving a Williams. After the EMKA
Aston Martin appearances at Le Mans O'Rourke concentrated more on historic F1
and sportscar events with a superb variety of cars including a Cooper-Maserati, a
Lister Jaguar and a Porsche 935. His favourites were the BRM P25 and the Lotus
His favourite, he maintained, was his McLaren F1 GTR, in which he, Sugden and
Bill Auberlen finished fourth overall at Le Mans in 1998 and won the GT1 category.
It was sponsored by EMI and Harmon Kardon and was managed, as usual, by
Michael Cane. "I think that was the finest production car that ever went racing"
O'Rourke reckoned. O'Rourke and Sugden won the British GT Championship
outright in 1997 sharing the EMKA Porsche GT2 and exchanged this for a GT3,
which he and Derek Bell drove in the Rolex 24, Daytona, in 2001.
Says Stephane Ratel, organiser of the FIA GT Championship: "I liked Steve very
much, he was a great guy and was very much a part of the revival of endurance
racing. He had plenty of good ideas and I always liked talking to him. We are going
to miss him very much."
Earlier this year Steve O'Rourke was diagnosed with a heart condition which
forced his retirement from driving, and the future of his EMKA Racing Porsche
team was in doubt for a month. Then, out of obligation to Sugden and his
sponsors, he decided to continue as an entrant, and the decision really paid off.
Sugden and Martin Short won the FIA GT Championship's N-GT class at Enna,
and then EMKA received some factory backing and the services of Emmanuel
Collard. They won the N-GT class together at Anderstorp and got more good
results at Oschersleben and Estoril, promoting the EMKA team to fourth in the
Teams Championship. The EMKA Porsche GT3, with chassis and engine
preparation undertaken by Ricardo Engineering, was grudgingly acknowledged by
arch-rival Manfred Freisinger to be "better than ours", and would almost certainly
have received more favoured treatment by Porsche AG in 2004. Now, all that is
cast into doubt.
Steve O'Rourke sometimes sounded gruff, even with friends, but opened up with
immense charm when he got going on any of his favourite topics. He was all
smiles at Monza a fortnight ago, even after Collard was brake tested (inadvertently)
by an amateur driver and finished up in the gravel, and there was no thought then
that the EMKA team might not have a rosy future in 2004.
Steve O'Rourke was one of the pillars of endurance racing, and will be greatly