Veteran racer David Leslie and Apex Motorsport team principal Richard Lloyd died Sunday in a plane crash in Kent, England. The two, along with team member Christopher Allarton and two pilots, were en route to Nogaro, France for Monday's FIA GT3 European Championship equalization test. The private jet took off from Biggin Hill airfield before shortly crashing into a housing estate. All five occupants died upon impact.
Leslie was an accomplished sportscar and touring car ace, who was also a television commentator in recent years. Born in Dumfries, Scotland in 1953, Leslie began racing at a young age, winning five karting championships. He then moved onto the open-wheel ranks, winning the 1979 Formula Ford 2000 championship and one year later, taking the Formua Atlantic crown. Leslie also dabbed in British Formula 3 before moving to sportscars.
In 1984, Leslie made his first of six appearances as a driver in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, racing for Ecurie Ecosse in the C2 class. He drove for the Scottish team for four years, including claiming the World Sports Car class championship in 1986, and finishing runner-up at Le Mans the following year. Leslie then moved to the Mazdaspeed team in 1988 before joining the factory Aston Martin effort in the 1989 World Sports Prototype Championship. In 1990 and 1991, he teamed with Tom Walkinshaw Racing, co-driving one of the legendary Silk Cut Jaguar XJRs at Le Mans.
Leslie made another jump in the early '90s, moving to the touring car ranks. His illustrious career in the British Touring Car Championship began in 1991 at the wheel of a BMW M3. Leslie then raced Vauxhalls the following two years, picking up his first win in 1993, back driving for Ecurie Ecosse. He spent a year racing Mazdas before joining the Honda squad in 1995. Three wins came from his two-year stint with the team. The peak of Leslie's career came while with Nissan, claiming two wins in 1998, and three wins and finishing runner-up in the championship in 1999.
When Nissan withdrew its factory team, Leslie drove for a privateer team in 2000, before having a dab in the SCCA World Challenge Series in the U.S.A. He moved back to full-time racing in the U.K. in 2002, spearheading Proton's entry into the BTCC. Leslie spent two years with the team, before once again shifting his focus back to sportscars.
The 2004 season saw Leslie race in the FIA GT Championship, aboard a Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7-R. He also competed in Britcar, with a BMW M3. In 2005, he claimed six class wins, three of them overall, in Britcar. Leslie backed that up with more wins in 2006 and 2007. His final victory in the series came just one week before his death, on March 22 at Silverstone. He was teamed with Harry Handkammer, also a business partner with Lloyd's Apex Motorsport team. Leslie was looking forward to competing in the FIA GT3 European Championship this season for Apex.
Leslie was not only a star on the racetrack, but also a talent behind the microphone. He was a well-renowned commentator for various touring car and sportscar broadcasts. Leslie provided insight and analysis to the World Touring Car Championship races for Eurosport, as well the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Le Mans Series events for Motors TV.
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic news of David's death," Frederic Viger, Motors TV head of programming said. "He was a valued member of our commentary team, but much more than that, he was a gentleman and one of the nicest guys you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. All our thoughts and prayers are with David's family and friends and with those of Richard Lloyd, pilot Mike Roberts and the other two victims of this terrible tragedy."
Leslie leaves behind wife, Jane, and two sons. He was 54 years old.
Richard Lloyd, born in Belfast, Ireland in 1945, started racing in 1967. An accomplished racer in his own right, Lloyd made the transition to a team manager/owner in the mid-70s. Lloyd first established GTi Engineering, which ran Audis with Sir Stirling Moss in the BTCC.
In 1981, the team name changed to Richard Lloyd Racing, also moving into the World Sportscar Championship. The squad quickly became a racing-winning effort during the decade. One of the highlights came in 1985 when James Weaver and Jonathan Palmer steered the team's Porsche 956 to a second place finish at Le Mans. Lloyd continued in WSC until 1990.
The team was also the mastermind behind Audi Sport UK's entry into the BTCC in 1995, which included Frank Biela's crown in 1996. Lloyd's relationship with the German marquee strengthened into the late 90s, as the team returned to the sportscar ranks.
In 1999, Lloyd's firm developed and campaigned the Audi R8C closed-top prototype, which ran at Le Mans alongside the Joest-entered R8R LMPs. What ended as an unsuccessful effort turned into a fairytale for the British team. In 2001, newly renamed Apex Motorsport designed and ran Bentley's LM GTP program at Le Mans. Finishing third in its return to La Sarthe, the team was back in the upswing. That turned into success in 2003 when Apex, assisted by Team Joest, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Bentley Speed 8.
After a brief stint supporting Zytek's sportscar program in 2004, Apex launched a new project in 2006 - the Jaguar XKR GT3. The program, run in conjunction with business partner Harry Handkammer, took to the track in 2007 in the FIA GT3 European and British GT Championships. During the off-season, the car had undergone significant developments and looks to be one of the main contenders for the title in 2008.
Lloyd, who was 63 years old, leaves behind wife, Philippa, and three daughters.
In remembrance of the victims, a moment of silence was held today at the Nogaro circuit, where teams were testing for the upcoming FIA GT3 European Championship season.