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March, Reynard and BAR engineering guru Bill Stone dies aged 72

Bill Stone, a key figure in the histories of racing car constructors March and Reynard, died earlier this week at the age of 72.

Born Arthur George Stone on June 10, 1939 in Ngaruawahia on his parent's farm in New Zealand, he learned to drive tractors at an early age. At 18 he was driving big diggers and earthmovers, later helping to build the airport in Fiji.

His earnings were channelled into sprints and hillclimbs in New Zealand with a Jaguar XK120 and a 500cc Cooper Mk9-Norton, later converted to JAP 1100cc power. By 1964 he had graduated to an ex-Denny Hulme Cooper T52 in Formula Junior, which he entered into the 1965 and 1966 New Zealand Grands Prix, competing against the likes of Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart.

The following year Bill finished eighth in a Brabham BT6 in the same race against Stewart and Jim Clark, and outlasted Hulme and Jack Brabham. He used the same car in the 1968 Tasman Series, finishing 10th at Pukekohe and sixth at Levin.

Upon moving to the UK, Bill bought a crashed Brabham BT21 from Frank Williams, which he and his friend Jimmy Stone rebuilt and raced in Europe. In 1969 he bought a McLaren M4A but ran out of funds. However, a call from the car's designer, Robin Herd, changed his career.

Herd asked Bill to build the first March racing car - the 693. Stone became the first employee of March Engineering Ltd and had an input into the design of the first March Formula Ford car.

He was soon promoted to production manager at March and was instrumental in the manufacture and assembly of the entire range, including F3, F2 and F1 machines.

In 1971, a chance meeting with young engineering student Adrian Reynard - on a visit to the March factory - led to the establishing of Sabre Automotive. Bill left March and founded Sabre in a small workshop equipped only with a set of welding bottles and a pillar drill. Reynard became his partner (although still at college and apprenticed to British Leyland) and the company established itself as a sub-contractor to March, Chevron, Mallock and other racing car companies.

Little did he realise as he delivered wishbones and axles to Mallock, that the young female greeting him was one Susanne Mallock, who would later become his second wife.

While Reynard finished his education and designed and built his own Formula Ford, Bill grew Sabre into a profitable business. He was able to pass on his wisdom, expertise and business savvy to Reynard and they became great friends. When Reynard managed to sell replicas in 1975, Sabre set about manufacturing kits of parts. By the end of 1976, 12 Reynard car kits had been made and sold but Bill decided to move to New Zealand with his first wife Maura. Sabre's name was changed to Reynard Racing Cars to reflect the main product line and Adrian took over the company, replicating the philosophies of his mentor, to grow it into the largest racing car constructor in the world by the 1990s.

Bill bought a 60-acre farm in New Zealand, raising angora goats and running a vehicle recycling yard, as well as working for a trailer manufacturer. But his appetite for motorsport became aroused again and he moved back to England, setting up another fabrication business; Bill Stone Engineering, which became a sub-contractor to Mallock.

He was then recruited as team manager for Andy Rouse's Ford touring car programme. He stayed until the end of 1995, when he was persuaded by Reynard to head the Chrysler North American Touring Car Programme for his company. This was an ambitious develop/design/build project, which won first time out and subsequently won the NATC title.

In 1997 Reynard became the partner of BAT in establishing the BAR F1 Team. Bill was again the first employee of the company and was instrumental in setting up temporary premises and recruiting the staff, many of whom remain today under the auspices of the Mercedes team in Brackley. Bill organised the design office and R&D department while the main factory was being built.

In 2001 Bill was head-hunted by Minardi F1 team boss Paul Stoddart before moving back to New Zealand with Susanne in the middle if the last decade.

Still he wasn't entirely finished with motorsport. He acquired a Speedway car and a Mallock Mk6B, which were both meticulously prepared and raced with great spirit and enthusiasm. He even managed to win what was his final race, a wet Formula Ford encounter at Hampton Downs in February 2011.

His legacy is not just that he saw the best in everyone and gave freely of his wisdom and advice, but also that he carried an aura of quiet confidence and purpose and was able to selflessly inspire those who met him to greater achievement.

He died peacefully in his sleep at home in Pukekohe on April 10, 2012, with Susanne at his side.

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