7 June 2019

Robin Herd 1939 - 2019

Robin Herd has died at the age of 80. Herd was an aerospace designer who moved into motorsport in the mid-1960s and went on to establish March Engineering, one of the great customer car companies in the history of the sport.

Herd graduated in mechanical engineering from St Peter's College, Oxford and in 1961 was recruited to work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, becoming a member of the design team working on Concorde, the supersonic jet project. Work on the construction of the prototypes began in 1965 but the aircraft would not fly for the first time until 1969. For Herd, the world of aviation was too slow-moving and in 1965 he was recruited by Bruce McLaren to build a test car for Firestone, which was built from an aerospace laminate composite material formed from balsa wood encased in an aluminium alloy called duralumin. The first car was fitted with an Oldsmobile V8 engine but a F1 version of the car was built and run in 1966 with both Ford and Serenissima engines. Neither was very successful but the sportscar version was very successful in CanAm racing winning titles for McLaren in 1966, 1967 and 1968. Herd then designed the McLaren M7 Formula 1 car used in 1968 before moving on to work for Cosworth on the design of a four-wheel drive F1 car.

In 1969, after the project was cancelled, Robin teamed up with Max Mosley, Alan Rees and Graham Coaker to form March Engineering which rapidly became the sport's most successful racing car manufacturing business. The company's efforts in F1 were not stellar but the team did manage to win a race in Austria in 1975 when Vittorio Brambilla scored an unexpected victory in torrential rain. By the end of 1977 Herd was the only one of the original owners left. He pulled the team out of F1 and concentrated on building customer cars with great success in Formula 2 and Formula 3. Although March made a brief return to F1 in 1981 with the RAM team Herd moved the company's focus to the United States with the March 81C IndyCar. The car won one race in 1981 but was then developed by Adrian Newey to begin a domination of IndyCar that resulted in five Indy 500 victories. Newey was also behind the March 82G sports car, which enjoyed huge success in IMSA.

Herd took March Racing back into F1 in 1987 with backing from the Japanese property company Leyton House and then sold the new team to the Japanese company in 1989 and went off to do his own thing, setting up Robin Herd Ltd, an independent design office in Bicester. This created an F1 car but there was no budget to run a team and in 1991 the design became Fomet 1 and supplied the car to the Fondmetal team. In 1992 a new deal was struck with French team owner Gerard Larrousse. The French ran out of money in 1995 and the design office then began to work with the Forsythe Racing CART team.

In the end Herd quit racing and purchased Oxford United soccer team, while also setting up a company investigating natural ways of producing energy. Neither project was very successful and Herd stood down from Oxford United after two and half years.

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