Motorsport is arguably the most thrilling type in the world but also the most dangerous. During the middle of October last year, two popular racers on two and four wheels lost their lives in what turned out to be a black week for motorsport. In this article, we will remember 10 great racers (on four wheels) who are no longer with us.
Dan Wheldon: A horrific multi car pileup on lap 11 of the final IndyCar race last year claimed the life of one of the most popular drivers on the grid; who also happened to be a two times winner of the Indianapolis 500. The fatal accident was enough to shock the motorsport world to its core. After Wheldon’s death had been announced, an emotional ESPN commentator Marty Reid was quoted as saying, “People ask me why, when I sign off I say 'until we meet again'. Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye Dan Wheldon”
Venue: Las Vegas
Car: Panoz IR5 Honda
Colin McRae: One of the best rally drivers ever including this author’s favourite of all time. It was his flamboyant driving style and that never-give attitude that made him a fan favourite. He was one of the most gifted drivers in the sport and will always be an icon and the man who brought Subaru into the public eye. Yet he was dropped by Citroen at the end of 2002 and never had a full time WRC drive ever despite appearing twice for Skoda in 2005. Yet the legend of Colin McRae will remain forever.
Area: Lanark, Scotland
Ayrton Senna: This year marked 18 years since the man, some still view as the best F1 racer ever, died during that black week at Imola which also claimed the life of Roland Ratzenberger. One can call Senna controversial or someone who always wanted to be seen as #1, but the fact is he was a hard racer who excelled at what he did no matter what the critic might have said. It is still sad that he was never able to properly challenge Michael Schumacher.
Cars: Williams Renault
Gilles Villeneuve: Without a doubt, a man who deserved to be an F1 champion and someone who Enzo Ferrari believed in. Villeneuve was spectacular to watch and was not only fast but also someone who was not afraid to get physical in an F1 car (remember the 1978 French GP?). The phrase “Pushing to the limit” could just as well have been coined for Villeneuve as he drove at the limit most of the time and sometimes even over it like continuing at speed after a tyre blow out during the 1979 Dutch GP. His death 30 years ago at the Belgium GP was as big a loss to F1 as that of Ayrton Senna.
Car: Ferrari 126C
Dale Earnhardt snr: If you were to define greatness in NASCAR, look no further than the man dubbed the “intimidator”. He won the Daytona 500 once, took 76 wins and was a seven times NASCAR champion. He raced hard and became an idol not only to fans but other drivers. His death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, in what appeared to be a minor accident, could be viewed as the motorsport equivalent to what happened that September in New York.
Venue: Daytona, Florida
Car: Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Henri Toivonen: The Group B era was a crazy time in the WRC, yet it saw the rise (and fall, sadly) of this very competitive, fast and talented Finn. Even though he was prone to crash a lot whenever he was in the zone, Toivonen remained focused and committed. He was a young upstart who challenged the dominance of the established WRC guard and they certainly took notice of his intensions. Then while leading the Tour de Corse and the championship, tragedy struck. Group B were banned and the WRC lost a great driver.
Car: Lancia Delta S4
Tom Pryce: He was the only Welshman ever to win a Grand Prix even though it was a non-championship event held in 1975. He had tried hard to be competitive but was stuck with the Shadow team whose cars were not the best in those days. There was, at one time, rumours that he was to be signed by Lotus for 1975 but that never materialised. Then two years later at Kyalami on the main straight and in front of the television cameras, Price was killed in the most horrific and shocking crash ever in Formula 1 history. The crash details will not be disclosed in this article as they are too graphic.
Car: Shadow DN8
Peter Brock: One of the most successful Australian racers ever and a true ambassador to the Holden brand. He won the Bathurst 1000 and Sandown 500 races both nine times and won the V8 Supercar series three times. For the Holden fans, he was the best and was famously dubbed “Peter Perfect” in the media. Sadly he lost his life after sideswiping a tree during the Targa West Rally. His death ended a tragic week for Australia after the death of wildlife icon Steve Irwin four days before.
Event: Targa West Rally
Car: Daytona Coupe
Stefan Bellof: He is claimed to be Michael Schumacher’s idol but never really shone during his two year Grand Prix career for Tyrrell despite trying hard. In fact during 1984 the whole team got excluded after lead ballast was found in the fuel tanks. Bellof however excelled in Sportscars and was the 1984 champion and also holds the record for being the fastest man around the Nürburgring with a time of 6 min 11 secs (during qualifiyng in 1983). However, with a rumoured switch to Ferrari for the 1986 F1 season, Bellof died in a crash, invloving Jacky Ickx, while fightig for the lead at the Spa 1000 sportscar race in 1985. The race was abandoned and the Porsche 956 was withdrawn from competition.
Car: Porsche 956
Ronnie Peterson: Dubbed “Super Swede”, Peterson was another driver that spent most of his career playing second fiddle, specifically to Mario Andretti at Lotus. Not only was Peterson faster in some cases, but he had the ideal car to challenge and win, which he did, but only if Mario was not around. For 1979, he was to be the number one at McLaren but died as a result of a start line crash at Monza; not because of injuries but on the hospital operating table.
Car: Lotus 79