Piers Courage (1942 - 1970)

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Piers Courage (1942 - 1970)

Piers Courage
PIERS COURAGE was born on 27 May 1942, the first son of the Chairman of Courage breweries and therefore destined to inherit the vast fortune of the brewery family. However, like so many sons of wealthy fathers, he turned his back on the family business and began to make his own way in the precarious world of motor racing, with very little assistance from the family.

His upbringing was conventional for someone from his background; after preparatory schooling at Seaford, he went to Eton. This is an establishment he hated, partly because he was not a great scholar and partly because he disliked most games intensely, especially football and cricket.

However, there was a car club at Eton which Piers joined, and through the club his love of motoring began in earnest. Several friends raced sports cars soon after they left Eton and Piers went along to watch, although he showed no early inclination to join them. He went off to Paris to learn French, working in a bookshop, and then went to college in Paris to learn French history, but he was rather rootless and was always taking time off from lectures.

On his return to England, he shared a flat with three motor racing enthusiasts, all of whom took up racing. Piers decided he wanted to join in and persuaded his father to buy him a Lotus Seven, which he built up from a kit of parts. His mechanical ability was not noticeable at that time, as the front suspension was put on upside down and the car had to be towed to the Lotus factory for them to put it right.

However, he immediately began to race the Lotus and picked up a few places in club events. For the following season, 1963, Piers bought an 1100 cc Merlyn-Climax which was, at that time, a competitive car. He picked up a number of wins in British events and began to rate the odd mention in the specialised motor-racing press.

For two years he had been struggling along as a trainee accountant but he had little interest in the subject, threw it all up and moved to a flat in Harrow which he shared with Innes Ireland, Charles Lucas, Frank Williams, Jonathan Williams and Charles Crichton-Stuart; this flat was to become famous in motor-racing history, with a succession of tenants that were destined for great things in motor racing.

Anglo-Swiss Racing

For 1964, Courage decided to turn professional and, together with Jonathan Williams, he formed a team called Angle-Swiss Racing, bought a pair of Lotus 22s and barnstormed round Europe taking part in every possible Formula Three race. The pair raced on a shoestring, usually sleeping in their cars and tending to the racing cars themselves, without the aid of mechanics, whom they couldn't afford. Piers never won a race that season but, far 1965, Charles Lucas took charge of the team, furnished Williams and Courage with F3 Brabhams and gave the team a very polished professional outlook.

Piers Courage
Piers Courage in action in the Frank Williams entered Brabham BT26,
which he drove to second place in the 1969 Monaco GP.

Lady Sarah Curzon

Courage suddenly showed his great potential by winning at a Silverstone international meeting and at Rouen; he also picked up a number of minor successes and began to attract notice from team managers. In 1966, Charles Lucas was asked to run the factory team of Formula Three Lotus 41s and Courage led the team to a number of impressive victories both in England and abroad. That season he married Lady Sarah Curzon, daughter of Earl Howe, the pre-war racing driver, and she became an avid follower of her husband's career.

Courage's exploits during 1966 impressed the BRM team sufficiently for them to offer him a contract for the Tasman series in Australia and New Zealand during the winter of 1966/67. He raced a 2-Iitre BRM for them but, despite being fast, he tended to spin off the track frequently and, although he was given a couple of Formula One drives by BRM when he returned to Europe, they' soon dropped him in favour of Chris Irwin. Courage was signed by John Coombs to race his Formula Two McLaren- Cosworth during 1967, but a series of hair-raising spins and other off-course incidents hardly made up for the few places he gained.

Courage was in a despondent frame of mind at the end of 1967 as it seemed that he was not going to make it to the top, and his nickname of 'Porridge' (applied mainly in the UK to anyone who spun or did something wrong in a racing car) did little to bolster his confidence. Despite his reputation, he was invited back to the Tasman series, with the McLaren which he had by now purchased from Coombs. This time he showed his true potential, taking three third places and one second, before winning the final race of the series in heavy rain.

His 1600 cc car had been up against bigger-engined machines, including the works Lotus-Ford 2½-litre cars of Clark and Hill and such was the impression he made that he was invited to join Team Lotus as number two to Graham Hill after Clark's death, but he turned it down. Instead, he signed for the works-backed Tim Parnell team of BRMs and finished the season with a best placing of fourth in the Italian Grand Prix. He also raced a Brabham BT23 in Formula Two, for Frank Williams, in which he gained one victory.

Courage returned to the Tasman series in the winter of 1968/1969 with a Formula One Brabham BT24, entered by Frank Williams and powered by a 2½-litre Cosworth-Ford engine. He gained a win, together with a second and a third place, and finished up third in the championship. On his return to Europe, Williams bought a Formula One Brabham BT26 for Courage and in this fine-handling car Courage did well, considering that it was privately entered; he took second place in the Monaco Grand Prix and the United States Grand Prix, as well as fifth places in England and Italy. His sixteen points gave him eighth place in the World Championship. He also raced a Brabham for Williams in Formula Two, putting up excellent performances.

For 1970, the Italian De Tomaso factory asked Frank Williams to run their Formula One car and, once again, Courage took the wheel for Williams. The car was not very competitive because it was too heavy, but it picked up third place in both heats of the International Trophy at Silverstone and was running steadily in seventh place in the Dutch Grand Prix when the car suddenly left the track on a long 150 mph bend and crashed through the fencing. Piers was killed instantly although the car burned fiercely for some considerable time - due mainly to the magnesium used in construction.

Coming so soon after the death of Bruce McLaren, this plunged the motor-racing world into a furore about the safety of the sport and many changes were made both to racing cars and the tracks on which they raced as a result of these two crashes. nvestigations revealed that Courage probably died before the flames started; his helmet was found at the point of impact with a large smear of rubber on the front, most likely from a wheel detached on impact. Just three years later Roger Williamson crashed fatally at the same corner. Courage was survived by his wife, Lady Sarah Curzon, and his two sons.
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