The tragedy of Tom Pryce, Wales' Formula One hero

Sunday 4 March 2012, 09:00

James Roberts James Roberts

Monday 5 March is the 35th anniversary of the death of Welsh Formula One driver Tom Pryce. The man from Nantglyn near Ruthin was tipped for F1 championship glory by many of his contemporaries, but at the age of just 27 his life and career were cut short in one of the most bizarre, tragic accidents in the sport's history.

Here's a report from BBC News on the day of the accident:

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The dashing but unassuming Pryce was a popular figure in the paddock, but it was his speed and car control that had everyone talking.

At the 1975 British Grand Prix he became the first and only Welshman ever to take an F1 pole, driving the little-fancied Shadow. An accident brought his race to a premature end, but earlier that year he had shown what he was really capable of.

At the annual non-championship Race of Champions, in his black Shadow emblazoned with the Welsh flag, he started from pole position. He slithered on the damp and cold Brands Hatch circuit, the famous, undulating stripe of Kentish tarmac, and beat some of the greatest names in the history of motor racing, including the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacky Ickx and Ronnie Peterson.

This BBC Wales News video from 1975 catches a rare interview with Pryce as his star burned brightest. Here he reflects in a typically understated way about his victory at Brands Hatch. The clip also includes some high praise from none other than three-time champion Jackie Stewart:

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Rival, friend and five-time Grand Prix winner John Watson confirms Pryce's reticence towards the jet-setting world of Formula One. "Tom was possessed of a huge talent," remembered Watson. "We spent a bit of time together because we both did Formula Two in 1974 and traveled around a bit together.

"I remember one time having dinner in Italy, and what Tom wanted was chicken and chips. And there in Italy you had the choice of the most incredible food - but that was all he wanted."

Pryce was killed aged just 27 in baffling circumstances in the 1977 South African Grand Prix. He fell victim to the decade's lackadaisical approach to safety in one of the most horribly bizarre accidents ever to befall motor racing. Cresting a rise at Kyalami, he was unable to dodge a teenage marshall running across the track to attend a small fire on his team-mate Renzo Zorzi's Shadow.

Jansen van Vuuren, the 19 year old marshall, was killed instantly. Pryce was struck on the head by the heavy fire extinguisher van Vuuren was carrying, also killing him instantly. His car carried on down to the next corner, collecting Jacques Laffites' Ligier and knocking him out of the race, before coming to a halt.

As Grand Prix racing is now a safer and more affluent world, it will forever be poorer for the absence of one of Wales' greatest and most unassuming sportsmen many tipped as a future world champion.

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