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John Nicholson

6th October 1941
Auckland, North Island
19th September 2017 (Aged 75)
Clark's Beach, North Island
New Zealander
Most recent race (in database):

John Nicholson was one of motor racing’s top engine specialists. He was also a championship-winning driver during the 1970s who started one Grand Prix.

Championship winning engine tuner and racing driver

Successful in his native New Zealand, he moved to England in 1969 and soon worked in McLaren’s engine department. Nicholson McLaren Engines was formed at the start of 1973 to prepare Ford Cosworth DFV engines for its Formula 1 team and others. World Championship success followed with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt two years later.

He continued to race a March 70A in British Formula Atlantic during 1971 before switching to Martin Slater’s Lyncar chassis for 1972. That combination won the national title in 1973 and 1974.

Formula 1 with Lyncar

Slater designed an F1 car and Nicholson entered the three British races in 1974. Midfield at the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, he finished sixth in Silverstone’s International Trophy but he did not qualify for the British GP. He repeated that F1 programme in 1975 and qualified for his GP debut at Silverstone albeit last on the grid. He ran at the back before being caught in the multiple accidents that stopped the race amid severe rain.

He looked to buy an ex-works McLaren M23 but that did not materialise. Instead, he prepared a Chevrolet-powered March 752 for the 1976 Formula 2 season and Nicholson finished 11th in his first race. Even a switch to conventional BMW-power did not help and Nicholson struggled to qualify.

Final appearances in New Zealand Formula 5000 followed in 1977 before he retired from the cockpit to concentrate on running his company. He later raced powerboats to satisfy his personal need for competition.