Time Capsule Tuesday: Mike Thackwell

June 21, 2016

Team Penske will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in motorsports in 2016. To bring you some of the terrific stories of our five-decade run of excellence, Team Penske is running weekly online features highlighting some of our drivers and our key events. We hope you enjoy this memorable time in our history.

Mike Thackwell

Mike Thackwell born in Papakura, Auckland, New Zealand made a name for himself being one of the youngest drivers to ever qualify for a Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix, making his first of five F1 starts on September 28, 1980 at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Thackwell was born into a racing family. For many years, his father, Ray Tackwell, was a successful racer in his own right. At the age of six, the Thackwell’s emigrated from New Zealand to Perth, Western Australia, where he spent his formative years, and began racing.

Thackwell began competing in motocross events on motorcycles supplied by his father, an importer of high performance racing & sports cars. He then switched to karts, winning the Western Australian championship at the age of 14. He also won the Hong Kong Kart Grand Prix in 1975 and 1976.

Shortly after making his F1 debut in 1980, Thackwell suffered a fractured brake disc during a qualifying session for the United States Grand Prix and was unable to race. In 1981, Tackwell returned to Formula Two, considered to be one of stars of the future and was signed by Ralt to partner Geoff Lees. After winning the International Trophy at Silverstone in England, and a third place at Hockenheim in Germany, Thackwell suffered a massive testing accident that left him with a shattered heel and head injuries.

After recovery, Thackwell rejoined the Ralt team for 1983 season, and finished second in the F2 championship to Jonathan Palmer. Thackwell remained with the team the following season and dominated the championship, winning seven out of 11 races. By the end of the season, Thackwell had taken six pole positions and nine fastest laps, and led a total of 408 of the 580 laps.

His success during the season caught the eye of Roger Penske, who signed Thackwell to the Pennzoil March 84C, after foot injuries at Sanair Super Speedway during practice for the Molson 300 sidelined driver Rick Mears.

During his time with Team Penske in 1984, Thackwell made two starts. He started 11th and Laguna Seca and finished 18th after an oil line failure. He started 11th on the streets of Las Vegas and finished 20th after his No. 6 Pennzoil March/Cosworth overheated.

Thackwell retired from motorsports in 1988. In the years following his withdrawal, he worked, among other occupations, as a helicopter pilot, a gold miner in the North-West of Western Australia and as a teacher in England.