Saturday 24 August 2019

Obituary: Derek McMahon

Skilful racing team owner and manager who led Irish motorsport to Formula One glory, writes Martin McCarthy

WINNING TEAM: Derek McMahon (right) with Derek Daly
WINNING TEAM: Derek McMahon (right) with Derek Daly

Derek McMahon, who has died, aged 75, was the mastermind of the amazing success that led a succession of Irish drivers into Formula One racing in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

That he and his rookie driver Derek Daly could win the British Formula Three championship at their first attempt in 1977 was a sensational achievement, which enabled Daly to make the fastest ever ascent - 13 months - from Formula Ford to F1.

With Daly doing F1 and F2, McMahon drafted Eddie Jordan into the Derek McMahon Racing F3 team in 1979, and quick to spot his commercial talent, he soon had the former Bank of Ireland official running the team as well as driving. When McMahon's domestic businesses demanded more attention, he sold the Silverstone-based business to Jordan but continued to sponsor and support drivers.

The years of 1976 and 1977 inspired a blizzard of Irish driver talent, and coupled with John Hynes running David Kennedy in European F3, McMahon paved the way for Michael Roe, Tommy Byrne, Bernard Devaney and others.

Derek McMahon was born in Milford, Co Donegal, into a family where the motor car was king. McMahon Bros was the biggest BMW dealer in Ireland in its time. Derek went to school in the Coleraine Institute, and did an apprenticeship in Belfast, where he met and married his wife, Anne, in 1966.

In 1973, he founded the Donegal Motor Club and his firm, Donegal Oil, supported the Donegal Rally.

In 1976, he kept an eye on Derek Daly's success in Formula Ford in England, and following Daly's win in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, he started to plan a full season of Formula 3.

In 1977 there was a titanic struggle between Daly and Stephen South. Daly eventually wrapped up the championship and was asked by Chevron to run its F2 car at Estoril, Portugal. He was sensational - setting the fastest lap and finishing fifth - enough to persuade Sid Taylor, of Taylor's Grange, Rathfarnham, to offer Daly a test in the new Theodore F1 car.

Under McMahon's watchful management, that led to Daly driving the Hesketh in March at a very wet Silverstone International Trophy, where he took the lead from James Hunt half way around the first lap. He made his Grand Prix debut for Ensign in July 1978 at Brands Hatch.

Eddie Jordan debuted in F3 in McMahon's Chevron in Silverstone in 1977 and then raced full-time for McMahon in 1979 and 1980, before taking over the business in Unit 4A Silverstone, in 1981, renaming it as Eddie Jordan Racing.

McMahon stayed involved in Formula Two long enough to ensure Daly had a secure F1 drive with the championship-winning Tyrell outfit in 1980 and became the most successful Irish driver ever.

Derek McMahon greatly missed his wife, Anne, who died three years ago. He is survived by his sons Arthur, Roger and Barry, and daughters Rachel and Lorna.

Sunday Independent

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