David Leslie, born in Dumfries on the 9th November 1953, won his first Scottish karting title at the age of 16, and would add another four championships before graduating to car racing, winning the Formula Ford title in 1978.
He later moved on to Formula 3 in 1981 and it was there where he made his first links with the famous Ecurie Ecosse team, whom he would team up with during the early part of his BTCC career.
Alongside his racing commitments, David also helped to run the David Leslie Racing team with his father, David Leslie Sr, which is credited with helping the start of many famous careers of Scottish drivers, including David Coulthard, Dario Franchitti and Allan McNish.
His links with Ecurie Ecosse took David to the World Sportscar Championship, where he would take multiple class victories and finish 2nd in the 1987 championship, alongside team mate, Ray Mallock – another man that would have a lot of influence during David’s future BTCC career.
David then made sporadic appearances in the BTCC for a few years, before making his full time debut in 1992. He partnered Bobby Verdon-Roe in Cavaliers, run by Ecurie Ecosse. The cars themselves were built by RML, the team owned by David’s former team mate, Ray Mallock.
The Ecurie Ecosse cars were very quick, Leslie claimed 6 pole positions in two seasons with the car, but David himself was very unlucky. Often, the unfortunate victim of collisions, he would only claim one victory, at Brands Hatch in 1993.
Ecurie Ecosse and RML had done so well with the Cavalier, they were awarded the works Vauxhall contract for 1994, which meant David made the move to Mazda for 1994, who were launching an ambitious programme alongide Team Dynamics. Sadly for David, it was a disaster. After a point scoring start to the season, with 2 8th place finishes, David never troubled the point scorers again. After a horrific accident with team mate Matt Neal, which would see him sidelined for the remainder of the season, the team collapsed half way through the season.
Without a drive for the remainder of 1994, David was soon picked up by the ambitious Honda squad, who were making their BTCC debut for 1995. David had built a reputation of being able to develop a car really well, which would be vital for Honda, as they developed their Accord Super Tourer.
The season started off slowly for Leslie and team mate James Kaye, but results steadily improved as the season progressed and Leslie in particular was able to mix it at the front of the pack, scoring a podium at Oulton Park – finishing in 3rd place. Towards the end of the season, David was never out of the top 8 in the results, boding well for a strong 1996.
1996 saw David take 3 race victories and finish 4th in the championship standings with the Accord. He was rarely out of the top 10 all season, showing great speed and consistency. That was Leslie’s final season at Honda, as Ray Mallock had won the contract to bring Nissan back to the championship & convinced David to join the team.
With the first year of the Nissan, David grabbed 3 podiums, including one in the car’s 2nd meeting at Silverstone. Reliability of the car was an issue, but results certainly showed potential for the future.
David’s team mate in the Nissan for 1997, was BTCC newcomer, Anthony Reid, who shared his thoughts with us on the anniversary of David’s death.
“I can’t believe that it is 11 years since the death of my great friend, David Leslie. Time absolutely flies by – you really have to make the most of every single day. I had known David for a long time before I joined the BTCC, in fact we first met in the early 1980s and he was such a nice, straight and honest man. He was a family man too, we regularly enjoyed dinners with him and his family.
He was a wonderful driver, an especially good development driver. I was new to the championship in 1997 – we both signed for Nissan and he immediately made me feel at home with the team at RML. He gave me some amazing advice in my first season, even as far as telling me who to avoid on the track!!
He was a fellow Scot – a part of the Scottish mafia at the time in the BTCC & his death was such a tragic loss to the sport.”
1998 saw the Nissan Primera come of age, with Leslie giving the car its first BTCC win, much like he had with the Accord 2 seasons before. By the third round, David had won 2 races, but the retirements were also mounting up. Reid took his first win at Donington, then went on to win another 6 races. David finished 6th and remained with Nissan into 1999, where he would be joined by Frenchman Laurent Aiello, as Reid had agreed to join the Ford team.
David and new team mate Aiello’s styles couldn’t have been more different. Aiello was pretty much win-or-bust, whilst David was Mr. Consistency himself, as demonstrated by Aiello’s 10 wins to Leslie’s 3, with the final standings separating the two drivers by only 16 points. David’s disasterous meeting was at Thruxton for Round 3. The victim of someone else’s accident meaning he scored 0 points, whilst Aiello went on to a double victory.
“Not taking anything away from Laurent (Aiello), but David was on fire that year, I think it should have been David’s championship win that year.
Laurent was very much win or bust, but David drove well for most of the season.’
With Nissan withdrawing from the series at the end of 1999, David’s hopes of a full time seat for 2000 were looking bleak. He ended up replacing an injured James Thompson for Honda at Thruxton, before replacing Colin Blair in an independent Primera for the Donington and Silverstone rounds.
With very few seats available for 2001, David raced in America, before returning to head up the Proton entry in the BTCC for 2002. David’s skill saw him haul an uncompetitive package to 4 podium positions, before leaving the team at the end of 2003.
After his retirement from the BTCC, David occasionally raced in the Britcar series – his last race victory was only 8 days before his tragic death. He also provided expert analysis for the Europsport coverage of WTCC & lectured Motorsport Management at Swansea Metropolitan University on a part time basis.
David tragically died on the 30th March 2008, when the private jet he was travelling in crashed into a housing estate in Farnborough, London. He was flying with fellow racing driver and team owner Richard Lloyd and data engineer Chris Allarton. They were travelling to the Nogaro Circuit in France to test for Richard Lloyd’s Apex Motorsport in preparation for the FIA GT3 European Championship.
The investigation into the crash found that a combination of incorrectly identified, non-critical system failures led to the in-flight shut-down of both engines, with the crew unable to restart them in time to avoid the impact.
David’s name lives on today – a corner of the Knockhill circuit has been named ‘Leslie’s Bend’. It was officially named at the British GT Championship by David’s wife, his sons and his father David Snr.
“David Leslie was a friend and was instrumental in helping me make the transition from kart racing to cars.
Throughout the winter of ’88 and all through ’89, both David and his father coached and guided my career to the point where I entered a multi-year contract with Paul Stewart Racing in 1990, which led to me making my grand prix debut four years later. He was selfless in his help and advice and would regularly jump in my Formula Ford race car to show me the correct techniques and driving lines required for single seaters.”
David is survived by his wife Jane and their two sons.