BTCC Greats - David Leslie
This weeks BTCC Great is a driver who raced for 13 years in the series and drove six different cars, David Leslie.
Leslie shot to fame in 1976 when he finished second in the Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford scheme. In 1977 he won 30 races in the Formula Ford 1600 Championship and went on to a successful motorsport career in sports car racing, finishing second in his class at Le Mans in 1987 and 1988. In 1990 though he elected to leave the sport and take a seat in the BTCC where he became a household name.
Maintaining links with Ecosse that he built up in his early years – Leslie competed selected races in his first two seasons in the BTCC before taking a full time seat with Vauxhall in 1992. Leslie’s first season in the Cavalier brought a best finish of third – at the final round at Silverstone although 1993 saw Leslie really start to flourish in the series.
Running the Vauxhall Cavalier again allowed Leslie to take six pole positions with the team and at Thruxton in Hampshire – he took his first ever victory in the BTCC, which delighted personalities up and down the paddock. You would have thought that taking a win in the 93′ season would open up doors moving forward – however Leslie appeared to take a step back by moving to Team Mazda, driving the Mazda Xedos 6. Only half the season was completed with a best finish of eighth in the first meeting of the season was the best that Leslie could achieve.
In 1995 Honda arrived on the scene as a full works outfit – with the Accord their chosen weapon. Leslie took the challenge of developing the car on and suffered in the early stages as late delivery prevented any meaningful pre-season testing. The reliability of the project was the reason they suffered in 95′ though and Leslie could only manage 10th place in the drivers championship.
Collisions early on in the following season somewhat scuppered the Accords chances of challenging for the title which was won by Frank Biela. It wasn’t until the British Grand Prix support meeting that Leslie thrust himself into the fray with victory in front of a monumental crowd – kick starting his 1996 season. Leslie ultimately finished fourth in outright championship and showed his talent at Thruxton as he held off Biela all race long to take victory whilst the Audi driver waltzed to a maiden title.
Another new manufacturer entered the BTCC in 1997 – Nissan. With Anthony Reid at the helm of the Primera, Leslie joined the Japanese outfit as he looked for a change in fortunes and a foundation to build upon. Their first season was primarily a learning year as they developed the car – not really troubling the front runners for victories. Leslie was always known for his temper and at Silverstone early on in the season, fans got to see how passionate he was about the sport. An incident with John Bintcliffe sent both drivers crashing into the barriers – leaving Leslie to confront the Audi driver on what happened.
After a year of learning in 97′ – the 1998 season showed that Nissan were a force to be reckoned with. Leslie took two victories early on in commanding fashion as the rest of the field scrapped behind. The Primera was on form and took the most victories that season however Leslie had to play second fiddle to team mate Reid as he went for the title. Sixth position in the championship with two wins was the best the Scot could manage.
Nissan stayed in the series for a third and final season for 1999 however Leslie had to sit back and let his team mate be the main focus – this time the Frenchman Laurent Aiello. This time though Leslie was a championship contender and took the series to the final round as well as three victories of which showed he was no pushover. Sadly he was to be the runner up and didn’t have a seat for the turn of the millennium. He did however run selected rounds for Honda to fill in for the injured James Thompson.
In 2002 Leslie returned to the UK series – leading the brand new Proton team as his new project. In the two years that the team ran in the BTCC they never really made the progress they hoped for and the 2003 season was to be their last in the championship. Leslie took the commentary box from then on to cast his eye over the WTCC
So from a career that spanned from 1990-2003, Leslie took part in 220 races and took the chequered flag first nine times. The Scotsman also achieved 35 podiums, 16 pole positions and 17 fastest laps.
Sadly on the 30th March 2008 Leslie was killed when a private jet he was travelling on crashed into a housing estate. Fellow racing driver and team owner Richard Lloyd also perished in the crash. The second BTCC event of the 2008 season was held at Rockingham – with all personnel taking to the grid for a minutes applause in honor of Leslie before the first race of the day.
Article originally written on Sunday, 30 June 2013. Read more articles from the BTCC Crazy Archive.