Tiff Needell is a British former racing driver whose greatest achievement in a career was a podium at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1990 when he was driving a Porsche 962C. He participated in Le Mans 24h race fourteen times between 1981 and 1997.
After participating full season in the 1979 British Formula One Series, Needell made one start in the Formula 1 World Championship in 1980. He was also active in the British Touring Car Championship between 1987 and 2001.
Parallel to his racing activities, Needell became one of the world's most known TV presenters in automotive shows, taking part in some of the most famous shows such are Top Gear or Fifth Gear.
First racing attempts at Brands Hatch
Born in October 1951 in Havant, Hampshire, Timothy 'Tiff' Needell raced for the first time in a driving school at Brands Hatch in 1970. In the early 1970s, he participated in different Formula Ford competitions, gaining some success. In the second part of the 1970s, he was the Formula 3 regular, mostly driving for Unipart Racing Team.
In 1977, he made a debut in the Formula 2 European Championship and then reached Formula 1 in 1979. In April 1979, he participated in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, driving a Chevron B41-Cosworth for Graham Eden Racing and retiring after sixteen laps because of an accident.
With the same car, Needell spent a season in the 1979 British Aurora F1 Series. He scored one podium, finishing 10th in the points. He was lacking a license for a participation in the F1 World Championship, but he made a debut a year later.
F1 Championship debut at 1980 Belgian Grand Prix
Needell's first and only race in the F1 World Championship was the 1980 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. He was driving the #14 Ensign N180-Cosworth for Unipart Racing Team. Starting 23rd on the grid, he ended a racer after just 12 laps due to engine failure.
Needell had one more F1 Championship attempt in the next round at the streets of Monte-Carlo, but he failed to qualify for the race.
Le Mans 24 Hours debut in 1981
In 1980, Needell also recorded unsuccessful qualifying attempt at 24 hours of Le Mans, where he joined Ian Bracey's team to drive an Ibec-Hesketh prototype. Next year, he made a debut in the world's greatest race, sharing the Cosworth powered Ibec-Hesketh with Tony Trimmer. They retired after 95 laps.
Regular participant at 24h Le Mans in the 1980s
During the 1980s, Needell became a regular participant at 24 hours of Le Mans with different types of cars. In 1982, he, Geoff Lees and Bob Evans were sharing the Nimrod NRA/C2-Aston Martin, stopping after 55 laps. He was driving an EMKA-Aston Martin prototypes two times, in 1983 and 1985, finishing 17th and 11th respectively.
In 1984, Needell joined Porsche Kremer Racing to drive a Porsche 956 together with David Sutherland and Rusty French. They finished in the ninth place. In 1987 and 1988, Needell was a part of Toyota Team Tom's, driving Toyota 87C and 88C at Circuit de la Sarthe. In 1989, he was again in a cockpit of Porsche, driving a Porsche 962C for Richard Lloyd Racing alongside Derek Bell and James Weaver.
Le Mans podium with Porsche 962C in 1990
In 1990, in his ninth Le Mans attempt, Needell joined Japanese Alpha Racing Team to drive the #45 Porsche 962C. He, David Sears and Anthony Reid finished in the third place, behind two Silk Cut Jaguars XJR-12.
During the 1990s, Needell appeared five more times in the Circuit de la Sarthe's 24-hour race. He was driving Porsche 962CK for Kremer Racing, Porsche 962C for ADA Engineering, Jaguar XJ220 for PC Automotive and Lister Storm two times for Newcastle United Lister team. He had some notable co-drivers, such are Derek Bell, Justin Bell, Geoff Lees, James Weaver or Anthony Reid.
BTCC victory with Ford Sierra RS500 at Donington Park
Throughout his entire career, Needell rarely competed full-time in some championship. He preferred part-time driving and guest appearances. It was a such a case in the British Touring Car Championship too. He made a BTCC debut in 1987, driving a Toyota Corolla at Silverstone for Tom's GB team.
After few more outings with Toyota in 1987 and 1988, his greatest BTCC moment came in the fourth round of the 1989 season. He and Laurence Bristow were the winners of the endurance race at Donington Park in the #6 Ford Sierra RS500 of Labatt's Team.
Later in a career, Needell was driving Nissan Primera in the BTCC between 1992 and 1998. His last BTCC attempt was with Honda Accord at Oulton Park in 2001.
Needell started TV career in 1981
Parallel to a racing career, Needell started his TV career in 1981 as a co-host to Murray Walker in the live coverages of races. In 1987, he became a co-host of the BBC motoring show Top Gear. In 2002, he switched to the Fifth Gear, staying on that show until 2016. He was also writing for some famous motoring magazines, such are Top Gear, Autocar, Auto Express or Evo.
Needell never stopped racing. His last full season was in the 2006 FIA GT3 European Championship with Barwell Motorsport's Aston Martin DBRS9. After that, he occasionally appeared in different racing competitions. In recent years, he is participating in historic racing events.