10:30 - 29 July 2003
29, 1973, is probably remembered by Leicestershire motor-racing
fans as the day the county lost its greatest hope of Formula 1 fame
in a fatal accident at Zandvoort, in Holland.
But for the friends, colleagues and family of 24-year-old motor-racing
virtuoso Roger Williamson, it was the day they lost an irreplaceable
friend, son and brother.
Today is the 30th anniversary of his death, which is to be marked
at Donington Park with the unveiling of a life-size statue - a lasting
tribute to the Ashby-born man who gained the admiration of racing
legends such as Jackie Stewart and Ken Tyrrell in his short lifetime.
Already behind the wheel of his father's car at the age of 10, Williamson
loved everything connected to cars, earning his living as a motor
mechanic at his father's garage in North-gate, Leicester, and getting
brides to the church on time as a chauffeur for his father's wedding
His career started at Monarchs Speedway in Leicester's Slater Street,
from which he soon progressed to go-karting, a hobby which he shared
with his father, 'Dodge'.
By the 1960s, he was firmly in the driving seat of Minis and Anglias
at Mallory Park, from which he moved on to Formula 3, when he met
the man who was to be his professional mainstay and a second father
to him - Tom Wheatcroft, the owner of Donington Park and the Grand
Under Wheatcroft's guidance, Williamson continued to excel whenever
he competed, with a series of accolades including BP Superman of
the Year in 1971, winner of three Formula 3 championships in one
year and an additional 32 race wins.
But his bid for Formula 1 Grand Prix glory ended in tragedy at Zandvoort
in only his second F1 race. The treads of his tyres caused him to
veer out of control, causing him to hit the crash barriers, reputedly
secured only by posts hammered into the sand.
His March's ruptured fuel tank burst into flames and in spite of
the selfless attempts of fellow British driver David Purley, he
lay trapped in the upturned vehicle for 20 minutes and died of smoke
At the same time, a nation's hopes for an invincible British world
champion died with him.Trevor Foster, who was one of Williamson's
Formula 2 mechanics who was also at the fateful Dutch Grand Prix,
shared his memories of this unforgettable Leicester hero.
Foster, a 50-year-old and the former managing director of Jordan
Grand Prix for 15 years, said: "The week before the Dutch Grand
Prix, Roger had been involved in a collision at the start of his
first Formula 1 race at Silverstone, which wasn't his fault. "Everyone
was desperate to repair the car in time to go to Zandvoort.
"There was also the opportunity of a Formula 2 race in Sweden
on the same day, so the plan was to stop off at Zandvoort and wait
for a call to see if the car was ready. If it was, we did the Dutch
Grand Prix. It was like fate and extremely sad looking back that
the car was ready.
"There was no doubt at all that he was a future world champion.
"If you compare him to Nigel Mansell, Mansell probably didn't
have as much natural ability as Roger, but the same dedication and
determination to the job.
"The Formula 2 Monza race shortly before he died was amazing.
He got knocked out of the race at the first chicane, so by the time
he recovered, he was way behind everyone else.
"By the end, even the Italians were chanting his name and cheering
him on. He came right from the back of the field and won it.
"The dedication of the statue was due to take place today at
11.30am, with all welcome.