Piers Courage

Full Name:
Piers Raymond Courage
Born:
27th May 1942
Colchester, Essex
Died:
21st June 1970 (Aged 28)
Zandvoort, Noord-Holland (NL), Dutch GP
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

The heir to the Courage beer fortune, it would have been easy for Piers Courage to have been anything but the professional and dedicated racing driver that he was. Intelligent, popular, self-deprecating but above all focused – he was determined to succeed at his chosen profession. His early Formula 1 career was punctuated by errors but Courage eventually earned the respect of his peers.

Education and early racing career

Educated at Eton Public School, Courage started racing in May 1962 with a Lotus Seven that he had assembled himself, apparently not too well. 1963 was interrupted by a lack of finance and accountancy exams. However, he drove a Lotus 22 in Formula 3 and Courage led his very first race on the Nürburgring south circuit.

Courage shared a flat in Harrow with the likes of Frank Williams (his future manager and entrant), Jonathan Williams, Charlie Crichton-Stuart and Innes Ireland at the time and the parties must have been riotous. Another flat-mate was Charles Lucas and Courage drove his Brabham during 1965 scoring victories from Goodwood to Caserta.

His promise was recognised by the £500 top Grovewood Award for emerging Commonwealth talent. But the year ended with Courage contracting typhoid when recovering in an Argentinian hospital from burns he suffered after crashing during the Temporada series.

More F3 success followed in 1966 and he finished eighth on his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours with a Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 275GTB – winning the GT class with Roy Pike in the process. Courage, who made his Grand Prix debut in that year’s German GP with a Ron Harris-entered Formula 2 Lotus 44-Cosworth, also married Lord Howe’s daughter Lady Sarah Curzon that year.

Formula 1 with Parnell and Williams

Success in the junior categories attracted the attention of BRM for 1967 but early appearances with the semi-works Reg Parnell Racing in the Tasman Cup and world championship were blighted by errors. He stepped back to F2 for the rest of the year with a John Coombs-run McLaren M4A-Ford and he finished fourth in the 1967 European F2 Championship despite further accidents at Pau and Brands Hatch.

Coombs apparently told him to retire before he hurt himself but success in that winter’s Tasman Cup (including victory at a wet Longford) restored his reputation somewhat and persuaded Courage to try Formula 1 again in 1968. That was with Parnell’s BRM P126 and he turned down a Lotus drive in the wake of Jim Clark’s death in April to remain with Parnell. Sixth in France and fourth in Italy were his first points scores and he shared 19th in the world championship.

Courage also raced Frank Williams’ F2 Brabham BT23C that year – scoring a number of placings in Europe before winning the final Temporada race of the year in Buenos Aires. Courage was third in the winter Tasman series and he drove a Williams-entered Brabham BT26A-Ford in F1 during 1969. Highlights included second place finishes in Monaco and the United States and Courage ended the year eighth in the standings. Winner of an F2 race at Enna-Pergusa for Williams, he finished fourth at Le Mans with a works Matra MS650 and Jean-Pierre Beltoise. It had been a most promising campaign during which Courage silenced his doubters.

Williams chose to run the untried De Tomaso 505/38-Ford during the 1970 World Championship and Courage spent the early months sorting the Italian chassis. He finished third in the International Trophy and qualified in the top 10 for three of the first five championship races.

Ninth on the grid for the Dutch GP, he was running seventh after 23 laps when he ran wide on the fast far side of the circuit. The car rolled and caught fire with Courage killed in the wreckage. His great friend Jochen Rindt cast a solemn figure on the top step of the podium that day.

Championship seasons