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Tommy Byrne

6th May 1958 (Age 62)
Drogheda, County Louth
Most recent race (in database):

A year before Ayrton Senna there was Tommy Byrne winning both the European Formula Ford 2000 and British F3 titles immediately ahead of the great Brazilian. Both were forthright, confident and above all, fast. But while Senna went on to become a legend, the Irishman is a largely forgotten character. Byrne is perhaps the ultimate proof that talent alone is not enough.

Early racing career

He had not seemed interested in a racing career when he first raced a Mini for fun. But a day at Mondello Park changed his view – "after that, I couldn’t think of anything else!" Byrne saved up to buy a Formula Ford 1600 Crosslé which he regularly crashed during 1977.

Byrne made his British debut in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and he continued in the British championships until 1980. His new consistency was evident during that final FF1600 campaign and he won both the RAC and P&O titles with a Van Diemen RF80. British FF2000 Champion in 1981, he starred in the end-of-season non-championship Formula 3 race at Thruxton by finishing second with a Murray Taylor Racing Ralt RT3-Toyota.

Formula 3 success and F1 struggles

It was the prelude to a full season in the British series in 1982 and Byrne began by winning five of the opening six races. By mid-season the title appeared his and such was his success that Byrne joined Theodore’s Formula 1 team from the German GP. He retired in both Austria and Las Vegas but failed to qualify on a further three occasions. This F1 diversion almost cost him the F3 title – missing three races – but he clinched the title at the final round.

Part of his prize was an F1 test with McLaren but his confident manner annoyed many and perhaps thwarted progress. Instead, Byrne raced in European F3 for Eddie Jordan and then Anson during 1983 and 1984 respectively.

Race winner in America

With opportunities in Europe increasingly limited, Byrne moved to North America and Indy Lights, the Champ Car feeder series then known as the American Racing Series. A race winner for four seasons, he was beaten to the 1988 title by Jon Beekhuis and a scant three points. He was runner-up again in 1989 but he never graduated to Champ Cars and retired after 1992.

His autobiography Crashed and Byrned: The Greatest Racing Driver You Never Saw won the 2009 William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1992 Firestone Indy Lights Championship 5 0 1 0
0% win rate
10th 44
1991 Firestone Indy Lights Championship 5 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 35
1990 HFC American Racing Series
Genoa Racing
5 0 2 1
20% win rate
13th 52
1989 HFC American Racing Series 12 6 6 4
34% win rate
2nd 153
1988 HFC American Racing Series 11 2 7 3
28% win rate
2nd 144
1987 American Racing Series 9 (1) 3 4 2
23% win rate
3rd 120
1986 FIA International F3000 Championship
Eddie Jordan Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
1986 American Racing Series 8 1 2 0
0% win rate
7th 62
1984 European F3 Championship
Anson Racing
11 (1) 0 2 0
0% win rate
6th 14
1983 European F3 Championship
Eddie Jordan Racing
13 (2) 3 4 2
16% win rate
4th 35
1982 F1 World Championship
Theodore Racing Team
2 (3) 0 0 0
0% win rate
1982 European F3 Championship
Murray Taylor Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 1
1982 Marlboro British F3 Championship
Murray Taylor Racing
7 4 7 7 1st 101
1981 European FF2000 Championship 1st -