The twelfth installment looking at each driver who competed in my first BTCC race as a spectator at the season opening round at Brands Hatch in 2002.
For my next feature I am going to look at every driver who started my first ever British Touring Car Championship race and what they have achieved in their careers, both before and after.
As some of you may know, my first BTCC race was on the 30th March 2002 when my Dad and I went to the “Super Sunday” event at Brands Hatch, in which the touring cars were joined by the British GT championship as well as Formula 3.
I was only seven when I attended and immediately fell in love with touring cars, a passion which has failed to die down yet nearly eighteen years later!
The order I will be looking at the drivers will be the finishing positions of that race.
The next driver I am going to look at is David Leslie, who was the third driver to retire from my first race after suffering a puncture on lap 12.
2002 was Leslie’s first season with Malaysian manufacture Proton, who joined the BTCC for the first time with Petronas support. Leslie was partnered by 2001 Vauxhall driver Phil Bennett with 2002 being Leslie’s first full season beck in touring cars since 1999.
Leslie first entered a BTCC race in 1987 however he did not make his debut until 1990 when he raced for Pyramid Motorsport in a BMW M3, in what would be the final season of the multi category championship.
After another season of part time drives in 1991, 1992 was Leslie’s first full season in the BTCC, driving a Vauxhall Cavalier for Ecurie Ecosse, run at the time by the hugely successful RML. It was an impressive debut season for Leslie, finishing the season seventh with a best result of third in the final race at Silverstone.
Leslie continued with Vauxhall in 1993 ending the season eighth with 72 points. 1993 also yielded Leslie’s first BTCC victory at Thruxton, the first of nine in the championship. During his time with Vauchall he also achievced six pole positions.
It was Leslie’s final season with Vauxhall as for 1994 he joined Mazda as a factory backed driver, partnering Matt Neal in a pair of Mazda Xedos 6’s run by the ambitious Team Dynamics. It was both drivers’ first taste of being part of a manufacture backed outfit however sadly for the duo, the cars were not competitive and by the eighth round of the season, after a string of poor results, both Neal and Leslie had been withdrawn from the season. In his time with Mazda, Leslie’s best results were two eighth places in the first two races of the season.
After the disappointment of 1994, 1995 was a chance for a fresh start for Leslie, joining the new factory backed Honda team alongside the experienced James Kaye. The duo drove Honda’s new Accord and despite early issues, in which Leslie failed to score points in the first four races of the season, as the year went on the team improved dramatically to the point Leslie scored points in the final seven races of the season, including a podium at Oulton Park.
Prior to singing for Honda, Leslie had developed a reputation for being able to develop a car quickly and maximise its potential, a skill which would aid him throughout his career.
Leslie finished 1995 eleventh with 61 points and remained with Honda alongside Kaye for 1996, as the Japanese manufacture prepared for their second year in the BTCC. With a year’s experience behind them, the team improved hugely once again, with Leslie able to fight for podiums consistently. Every race Leslie completed he finished in the points, ending the season fourth with 159 points. This included eight podiums three of which being races wins, the first three for the Japanese manufacture in the modern BTCC era.
It would prove to be his last season with Honda as Leslie moved once again to a new manufacture, this time Nissan who were entering the SuperTouring era for the first time since 1994.
Leslie was joined at the team by debutant Anthony Reid, who had raced in Japan prior to his move to the BTCC. Nissan’s entry into the BTCC was a much more successful for Leslie as he finished the season eighth with three podiums to his name. It was also clear to see the potential of the car was there. Leslie remained with the team in 1998 again partnered by Reid with the duo showing the rest of the field how much of a threat Nissan were.
Between the two of them, they achieved nine race victories, nearly half the races that season were won by Nissans as Leslie finished the year sixth with Reid second. As well as two victories, Leslie also achieved a further five podiums.
For the only time in his career, Leslie remained with a team for more than two seasons as Leslie continued to drive for Nissan. Reid moved onto Ford with his vacant seat being filled by Frenchman Laurent Aiello, who joined the BTCC after competing in the German SuperTouring category previously, finishing third, first and second in his three seasons in the championship.
The omens were that the duo would be quick heading into the 1999 season, however no one expected them to be as quick as they were as the duo dominated the 1999 season, winning thirteen races between them.
Sadly for Leslie, despite his better consistency throughout the season, he was unable to match Aiello and missed out on the championship by sixteen points. It would prove to be Nissan’s final season in the BTCC as the SuperTouring era slowly collapsed due to the escalating costs.
It left Leslie without a drive heading into the new millennium eventually deputising for the injured James Thompson in a factory back Honda Accord for a round at Donington Park and two rounds in a privately run Nissan Primera later in the season. Sadly the outings were not his most successful as Ford and Vauxhall headed the field, his highest finishing position being sixth at Donington Park and Silverstone.
It would be his last outings prior to his 2002 return with Proton with manufacture support for the new BTC regulations limited as teams adjusted to the new rules in 2001. Leslie debuted the Proton Impian alongside Phil Bennett and had mixed results eventually finishing the season a very respectable seventh, with four podiums.
This included a second place and three third place finishes as he comfortably beat Bennett. Leslie remained with Proton for what would prove to be his final season in the British Touring Car Championship, once again alongside Bennett. Sadly for the duo, by this time other manufacturers had upped their game, with Honda and MG far stronger than they were the season before. Independent outfits were also back on the up as older machinery found its way into budding hopefuls.
My best memory of Leslie was from the 2003 season at the penultimate round at Donington Park where, in the first race, Leslie crashed heavily, destroying the rear of his Proton. It looked like his day was finished, however to everyone’s surprise and amusement, Proton rebuilt the rear of his car entirely of gaffer-tape! I remember watching Leslie go full speed down the Craner Curves as small pieces of tape made their way lose as the race went on!
Leslie ended 2003 with a best result of fifth, in the opening race of the season, on his way to eleventh in the championship standings.
After leaving the BTCC Leslie started to consider sports car racing however this was never meant to be as sadly he lost his life in a plane crash in 2005, when the aircraft he was a passenger in encountered catastrophic problems shortly after takeoff. The plane went down in a housing estate, destroying a house in the process. Thankfully, no one was in the house at the time.
It was a desperately sad end for a driver who was a big part of my childhood and was a superb racer for four manufacturers in the BTCC.
I sincerely hope he is remembered and that his time in the BTCC will never be forgotton.
Pictures: www.motorsportimages.com, www.global.nissannews.com, www.flickr.com