Dick Bennetts has been honoured in his homeland by being named as a founder member of the New Zealand International Grand Prix Legends’ Club.
The WSR Team Principal was inducted at a special legends’ lunch during the New Zealand Motor Cup event at Hampton Downs last Sunday (27 January).
Unable to attend in person, Dick’s membership was accepted on his behalf by friend and fellow inductee David Oxton.
“I feel incredibly humbled to be a founding member of the New Zealand International Grand Prix Legends’ Club,” commented Bennetts. “For a country of less than five million people, my homeland has made an incredible contribution to global motorsport through racing folk like Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Ken Smith, Scott Dixon and Brendon Hartley and I feel honoured to even have my name spoken in the same sentence as these guys.
“While the WSR success story has been UK-based, I am a proud New Zealander and it’s the skills and ingenuity I learnt and developed as a young engineer there that have been the catalyst to everything that has followed over the past 45 years. It’s an extremely proud moment and is a tribute to everyone that’s played a part WSR’s successes and those that came before.”
Born and raised in Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island in 1947, Dick developed a love of motorsport from an early age and, keen to pursue his career in Europe, accompanied Oxton – the reigning New Zealand Formula Ford Champion – on what was billed as a two-year stint in the UK in 1972.
After working for Fred Opert Racing and March Engineering, Dick joined Ron Dennis’ Project 4 operation and engineered Niki Lauda to the BMW M1 Procar title in 1979 and Stefan Johansson to the British Formula 3 crown the following season.
Setting up West Surrey Racing in early 1981 to run Jonathan Palmer; racing protégé of West Surrey Engineering boss Mike Cox, Dick oversaw an incredible debut race win and debut championship victory for the team.
It was the first of five British titles to be won by WSR; Ayrton Senna, Mauricio Gugelmin, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello also triumphing. Two Macau GP wins and several one-off victories in Germany, Italy and Japan were also achieved as well as 56 British F3 victories – a record at the point at which the team exited the series at the end of 1995.
Dick moved WSR into the British Touring Car Championship in 1996; an ultra-successful period for the team that has brought them ‘Manufacturer’ status with Ford, Honda, MG and, since 2017, BMW.
In that time, a host of top-level drivers, including Paul Radisich, Nigel Mansell, Tom Kristensen, Andy Priaulx and Colin Turkington have climbed behind the wheel of WSR-run cars and achieved great success.
In total, WSR have won three BTCC Drivers’ titles, four Teams’ crowns and three Manufacturers’ championships; each one coming in the past decade with BMWs, plus 80 victories, nearly 300 podiums, and a race win in the FIA World Touring Car Championship.
WSR have also undertaken extensive motorsport and motoring research and development programmes for a variety of clients and have also used their circuit design consultancy to assist with the creation in the past decade of the Dubai Autodrome, UAE, and Hampton Downs, New Zealand, plus the redevelopment of Silverstone’s Formula 1 circuit.
Dick shows no signs of slowing up either; the 2018 season being one of WSR’s best ever as the team; based in Sunbury-on-Thames, won the BTCC Drivers’, Teams’ and Manufacturers’ titles and head into the new year targeting further success.