Double memorial unveiled at Zandvoort

Family and comrades assemble in Holland to commemorate Roger Williamson and Piers Courage

The names of Piers Courage and Roger Williamson have always been linked in the minds of racing enthusiasts – an inevitable result of the eerily similar nature of the fiery accidents that claimed their lives on the same stretch of the Zandvoort track, just three years apart.

That connection has now been formalised by the circuit with the unveiling of a joint memorial. Located in front of the main tunnel to the infield, it was created on the initiative of TV commentator Allard Kalff, a young spectator at his first F1 race when Williamson died in the 1973 Dutch GP.

Having first landed the support of Courage’s entrant Sir Frank Williams, Kalff subsequently convinced the Zandvoort authorities that the time was right. He had anticipated a low-key unveiling on the weekend of the August historic meeting, and was both surprised and delighted when the Courage family agreed to attend the event in force.

For Lady Sarah Aspinall, the former Sally Courage, the day represented a poignant return to Zandvoort for the first time since she was ushered out of the track on June 21, 1970, and flownback to the UK by Bernie Ecclestone and Jochen and Nina Rindt.

She was joined by her sons Jason and Amos, grandsons Albert and Piers, and by Piers’s youngest brother Andrew. Also present were Sir Frank and Courage’s close friends and F3 team-mates Jonathan Williams and Charles Lucas.

In a speech Zandvoort commentator Rob Petersens, who witnessed the Courage crash as a teenager, made it clear that the Dutch motor sport community had never forgotten the twin tragedies.

For all concerned, the event proved to be a day of mixed emotions, perhaps best epitomised by the huge smile on Sir Frank’s face when he met the six-year-old namesake of his former driver.

“I’m delighted, but it’s long overdue obviously,” he said. “Piers was a special breed. They don’t make them like that now. He was a gentleman, immensely amusing, very charming and he had a great name for a racing driver! His career was cut short, but there was no mercy on racetracks in those days. The drivers who were at the funeral – there wasn’t a dry eye among all those hard bastards…”

After the ceremony the Courage family went to the site of the accident, now cut off from the modern track.

“It’s very sweet and kind that they’ve done it,” said Lady Sarah, who admitted that the day had finally given her a form of closure. “I think it’s a wonderful gesture, an amazing thing, even if it has taken a long time. We’re very lucky.” Williamson was represented by Kevin Wheatcroft, who was just 14 when he went to Zandvoort with father Tom, Roger’s sponsor, mentor and close friend.

“I’ve never been back here since the accident,” said Wheatcroft. “Anyone that knew my dad knows he was a very tough character, and very little stopped him, let alone slowed him down. Losing Roger destroyed him. For a few weeks he wasn’t approachable in any sense of the word, and he never really got over it. Roger wasn’t just a driver, he became an extension of the family.

“I had quite a fight with myself on whether I should or shouldn’t be here, but I did it for Roger’s memory and I’m glad I came. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t stop and think about what might have been, and what he would be doing now. At the end of the day it’s 40 years ago, and time to bury some ghosts, I suppose. That’s exactly what I’ve done.”

Adam Cooper