Honda Racing crew chief Darren Gilpin says he owes a huge debt of gratitude to former road racing team owner Wilson Craig, who passed away suddenly on Wednesday this week.
A passionate supporter of Irish road racing, Londonderry businessman Craig played a key role in the careers of many of the sport’s biggest names, working alongside top riders such as Guy Martin, William Dunlop, Cameron Donald, Keith Amor, Jamie Hamilton, Derek McGee and most recently Australian David Johnson.
He established his Wilson Craig Racing team in 2008 and stayed loyal to the Honda brand, forging strong ties with the official international roads team through former Honda Racing manager Neil Tuxworth.
In addition to countless victories at the Irish national road races, Wilson’s team celebrated coveted wins at on the international stage, with William Dunlop victorious in the Supersport class at the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix in 2012.
Ballyclare man Gilpin, who was crew chief to David Johnson in the Honda Racing team this year at the international road races, first worked with Wilson Craig Racing in 2014, joining the team with fellow Ballyclare man Jamie Hamilton.
Hamilton left the team in 2015, but Gilpin remained and he developed a close bond with Craig over the ensuing years.
Gilpin, who is currently in Portimao in Portugal to work as Frenchman Sylvain Barrier’s crew chief at this weekend’s World Superbike round, said: “We worked together for many years and we became good friends to the point I got a daily phone call from him.
“It wasn’t always about motorcycles or racing and being a successful businessman, he also helped with advice and wisdom when I started my own business.
“In the team he was referred to as my ‘Dad’ because we spent a lot of time together and people would come to the awning and ask me where my Father was, or if they could speak to him – hence the joke within the team.
“It was a privilege to work with Wilson and some of the amazing people he was connected to within the racing industry,” he added.
“He gave me some amazing opportunities to work at international and world championship level within our sport and our highlight this season was bringing David Johnson to a podium at the Isle of Man TT in the Superstock race.”
Wilson was a ‘Honda man’ through and through and Gilpin said his former boss was ‘very proud and honoured’ to be association with the manufacturer.
“Wilson once told me he wished we had met ten years earlier as we worked so well,” he said.
“He was a Honda enthusiast and did his very best to present the bikes and represent the brand to the highest standard. He was very proud and honoured to be associated with the brand and the racing history. I just wish we could have won him a TT.”
Hamilton, who hasn’t raced since he was seriously injured in a crash at the Isle of Man TT in 2015, had a mixed season on the Craig Honda machines in 2014.
He clinched a four-timer at the Bush Road Races and was battling for victory in the Grand Final at Skerries until he crashed out on the final lap after tangling with late Manxman Dan Kneen.
The Ulster rider sustained a broken pelvis in the incident, which ruled him out of the Ulster Grand Prix.
It wasn’t the season Hamilton had hoped for after parting company from Ryan Farquhar’s KMR Kawasaki team, but he was grateful for the opportunity offered to him by Craig.
“In 2014 I started riding for Wilson Craig but I struggled a bit at the start of the season,” said Hamilton.
“Once we got half-way through the season I finally got going and I think we won four races at Bush that year.
“Things were beginning to improve for me but then I tangled with Dan Kneen when we were battling for the win in the Grand Final at Skerries and I broke my pelvis.
“I missed the Ulster Grand Prix and we came back at Killalane, where I managed a decent result,” he added.
“The potential was there for more that season but things just never fell into place.
“I left the team after that but I was always grateful to Wilson for the opportunity and I remained friendly with Wilson. As recently as the Ulster Grand Prix I was in the awning and having a chat with him and I had a bit of an understanding with Wilson about racing,” he added.
“He was a lovely man and it’s just really sad news.”
Mr Craig’s funeral will leave his home at 99 Westlake, Londonderry, at 1.30pm on Saturday for a service of thanksgiving in Carlisle Road Presbyterian Church at 2pm, followed by burial in Altnagelvin Cemetery. (House private).