Motor sport

Johnny Dumfries obituary | Sports car

It was Johnny Dumfries’ luck to be born into the Scottish aristocracy, as a descendant of Robert the Bruce and heir to the Marquess of Bute. It was his bad luck, as his Grand Prix racing career seemed to be taking off, to be chosen to accompany Ayrton Senna in the Lotus team during the 1986 season.

The young Brazilian, already recognized as the outstanding new talent in Formula 1, was adamant that all the team’s efforts should be focused on supporting the No.1 driver, which is himself . The man in the second car was actually there to catch up.

And it turned out. While Senna won two Grands Prix that year, the Earl of Dumfries could only do better than fifth in Hungary. Discarded at the end of the season, he was never able to find his way back to F1, although in 1988 he achieved the distinction of becoming the first member of the British aristocracy to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans since Lord Selsdon in 1949 .

Dumfries, who died aged 62 after a short illness, retired from the circuits in 1991, leaving behind him the memory of a likeable, unassuming man talented enough to have scored more. Two years later, on the death of his father, he became the 7th Marquess of Bute. Thereafter he devoted himself to the upkeep of the ancestral home, Mount Stuart, a Victorian Gothic pile near Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.

He was born in Rothesay as John Crichton-Stuart, nicknamed the Earl of Dumfries. His mother, Nicola (née Weld-Forester), was the first wife of John Crichton-Stuart, the 6th Marquess, whose right to his title came from being born five minutes before his twin brother. Educated at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, the young Earl left before his O levels – which he spent at a London high school – in a bid to pursue his interest in motorsport. While there is no opposition from his family, there is also no financial support, and he earns his living as a painter and decorator and as a van driver for the Williams F1 team.

Johnny Dumfries, left, at the British Grand Prix in 1986. Photograph: Nigel Roberson/Alamy

Undeterred by a go-kart accident in which he broke both ankles, he bought a Formula Ford single-seater and learned to tune it in a south London garage, working happily alongside others young men with similar ambitions. In 1983 he moved up to Formula 3, taking on Senna, who won the British championship before moving to F1. The following year, it was Dumfries’ turn to claim the title, with 10 wins and four more in the European series.

His exploits had brought him to the attention of various F1 team principals, and in 1985 he signed a contract with Ferrari to test a four-cylinder car built to F1’s next set of regulations. But when those rules were scrapped, so was his relationship with the Italian team.

Settled at Lotus but lacking experience with 1,000 horsepower turbocharged F1 cars, he soon discovered that a distant Senna received the best equipment. By mid-summer, it had been clarified that there would be no second season with the team; as part of a Honda engine acquisition deal, his seat would go to a Japanese driver.

Unable to find another F1 driver, he turned to the endurance racing circuit. In 1987, he set a new lap record at Le Mans in a Sauber-Mercedes. The following year he co-drive the winning Jaguar XJR9 with Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace, the marque’s first victory in the 24-hour classic since 1957.

Johnny Dumfries, center, celebrates winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-drivers Andy Wallace, left, and Jan Lammers in 1988.
Johnny Dumfries, center, celebrates winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-drivers Andy Wallace, left, and Jan Lammers in 1988. Photography: AFP/Getty Images

Dropped by the Jaguar team after crashing into the lead at the Nürburgring 1000km race later that season, he then spent two years with the Toyota endurance racing team before ending his motorsport career. when his father fell ill.

After earning the title in 1993, he focused on developing the 3,000-acre estate. As chairman of the Mount Stuart Trust, he transformed disused farm cottages into holiday homes, revived Bute Fabrics, which had been founded by his grandfather, and opened the big house to the public.

Inspired by the Goodwood Festival of Speed, it also inaugurated the Mount Stuart Classic, in which competition cars of all kinds raced on the grounds, although it only lasted two years.

He sold a second family mansion, Dumfries House in Ayrshire, to the Prince’s Foundation, a charity run by the Prince of Wales, in 2007. In December 2020 he and six other people, aged between 21 and 90, were charged with breaking Covid-19 travel rules after traveling from London, where he had a home in Ladbroke Grove, Bute.

His first marriage, in 1984, to Carolyn Waddell, a former nanny, ended in divorce in 1993. In 1999, he married Serena Wendell, a fashion designer. He is survived by Serena and their daughter, Lola, by the three children from his first marriage, Caroline, Cathleen and John, and by two stepchildren, Jazzy and Joshua.

John Colum Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute, landowner and racing driver, born 26 April 1958; passed away on March 22, 2021