Dick Bennetts at 70
Reigning BTCC champion team boss Dick Bennetts celebrates his 70th birthday today (Monday, 26 June) and the renowned engineer is looking stronger than ever!
Bennetts’ West Surrey Racing organisation has achieved huge success since entering the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship in 1996, winning 14 overall and independents’ titles.
Neither show any sign of slowing up yet either with the Sunbury-on-Thames organisation having taken BMW and Team BMW to the head of this year’s BTCC Manufacturers’ and Teams’ Championships and having guided drivers Colin Turkington, Rob Collard and Andrew Jordan to victories.
Born and raised in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1947, a young Bennetts arrived in the UK in his 20s as an engineering graduate and former (not very good; his words) competitor with a determination to succeed in motorsport.
After coming to prominence as a championship-winning race engineer for Niki Lauda and Stefan Johansson – both as part of Ron Dennis’s Project 4 organisation, Bennetts established West Surrey Racing in early 1981 and ran Jonathan Palmer to that year’s British Formula 3 title.
WSR established themselves as the top team in the series, winning a record five championships with Palmer, Ayrton Senna, Mauricio Gugelmin, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello. The team had won 56 races by the time they left the series at the end of 1995, and took the bold step to move into the BTCC as Ford’s manufacturer team following an introduction to the American giant by Paul Radisich.
After an inauspicious start (Radisich and team-mate Steve Robertson collided on the team’s BTCC debut), WSR’s Mondeos began to move towards the front as the team’s experience built; a maiden win coming at Silverstone in 1998 courtesy of the late Will Hoy.
Appointed to mastermind Honda’s BTCC programme for 1999, WSR kicked off the season with victory for James Thompson and remained in title contention for much of the year. They can also claim to have won the BTCC’s final Super Touring race; Tom Kristensen triumphing under cover of darkness at Silverstone in 2000.
A switch to MG came as the cost-controlled BTC regulations replaced Super Touring. Entering the series for the final three rounds of 2001, victory came at the final event of the year at Brands Hatch and kicked off a five-year stint that included Anthony Reid becoming independents’ champion in 2004.
It was the switch to BMW machinery in 2007 that was to prove the biggest boost to the Surrey squad, however. Colin Turkington put the 320si on pole for its debut, won three consecutive Independent drivers’ and teams’ crowns plus the overall title in ’09.
A testament to Dick’s desire for engineering excellence, which filters through WSR, the 320 was still a regular race winner in 2012, and paved the way for its successor, the WSR-designed-and-built 125i M Sport.
This car is by some margin WSR’s most successful. Winning second time out in Turkington’s hands, it went on to become the class of the 2014 BTCC field with nine wins and 26 podiums from 30 races as Bennetts’ team took the overall and Independent Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships.
Further milestones were reached in 2015 – with a treble win at Croft – and in 2016 with Rob Collard, Sam Tordoff and Jack Goff combing to win the Constructors’ and Teams’ Championships.
The current season has also started superbly with WSR BMWs winning six times and leading the Teams’ and Manufacturers’ title races.
Famed for his stopwatch and clipboard (the watch having gone missing at Knockhill last year after years of trusty service) and for his meticulous attention to detail, he shows no sign of slowing down just yet.
Happy birthday Dick.
WSR in the BTCC under Dick Bennetts
Makes represented: 4 (Ford, Honda, MG, BMW)
Race wins: 75
Pole positions: 26
Fastest laps: 102
Titles won: 14 (2x drivers’ titles, 2x teams’ titles, 1x constructors’ title, 5x independent drivers’ titles, 4x independent teams’ titles).