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John Surtees: 1934 - 2017

Friday, March 10 2017

John Surtees, the only man to have won World Championships on two wheels and four, has passed away at the age of 83.

Surtees leaves a remarkable legacy forged during a dramatic era of motor racing. He was born in 1934, and as the son of a South London motorcycle dealer, was destined to go racing from an early age. His first outing was as a sidecar passenger to his father, and by 15 he was racing in grasstrack competitions. He quickly established himself as a two-wheeled ace, challenging then motorcycle master Geoff Duke on the tarmac circuits, and he beat him at local track Brands Hatch.

Surtees' sudden rise brought him to the attention of the Agusta family, and he represented the MV Agusta brand on the world stage. In 1956 he won his first 500cc World Championship, adding another three over the following four years, as well as three 350cc world titles.

By the time he claimed his final two titles in 1960, Surtees had turned his attention to car racing, entering the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix with Team Lotus. A hugely impressive second place in his next outing at the British Grand Prix and pole position in the Portuguese GP, only his third Formula 1 appearance, confirmed his talent on four wheels. A two-year stint racing for Reg Parnell's Yeoman Credit and Bowmaker teams led to a contract with Ferrari for 1963.

Surtees' first season with Ferrari yielded his maiden Grand Prix win at no less a circuit than Germany's Nürburgring, and fourth place in the championship. It was the following year that would define his career, however, with two wins and the World Championship. It sealed a unique record that may stand for all time.

Surtees' 1965 season was punctuated by a huge CanAm accident, but in F1 the following year he won once more for Ferrari in his last Grand Prix with the team, leaving after a row with Team Manager Eugenio Dragoni at Le Mans. He moved to Cooper, winning in Mexico and he finished second in the championship despite the mid-season transfer. In 1967 he won the Italian Grand Prix for Honda, and also raced for BRM before forming and racing for his own team until his retirement in 1972. He continued to prepare cars throughout the 70s for a host of rising stars including Derek Bell, Alan Jones and fellow motorcycling hero Mike Hailwood.

Surtees was also a winner of the Oulton Park Gold Cup on four occasions, including the first ever running for historic cars in 1981, when he drove a Maserati 250F.

Like many of his contemporaries, Surtees raced in many other categories including Formula 2, Formula 5000, Le Mans and CanAm, as well as fielding cars with his eponymous team. He returned to team management in 2005, running Team Great Britain in the A1GP series. By then he was also helping his son Henry through motorsport's junior ranks, first in Formula BMW UK, then Formula Renault UK and FIA Formula 2. Tragically Henry was killed in an F2 race, but John dedicated the rest of his life to honouring his son through the Henry Surtees Foundation, which assists people with accidental injuries and helps young people to develop their capabilities. He also purchased Buckmore Park Kart Circuit in Kent, which has helped nurture the careers of young drivers.

John leaves a wife, Jane, and daughters, Leonora and Edwina, who were by his side when he passed away.