Supriya Ghosh

1977 South African Grand Prix

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Date  5 March 1977
Course length  4.104 km (2.550 mi)
1977 South African Grand Prix
Official name  XXIII South African Grand Prix
Location  Kyalami Gauteng, South Africa
Course  Permanent racing facility
Distance  78 laps, 320.112 km (198.908 mi)

The 1977 South African Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held at Kyalami on 5 March 1977. The race is principally remembered for the accident that resulted in the deaths of race marshal Frederick Jansen van Vuuren and driver Tom Pryce. It was also the last race for Carlos Pace, who was killed in an aircraft accident less than two weeks later.

Contents

Report

James Hunt continued his streak of pole positions, with Carlos Pace alongside and Niki Lauda next. Hunt led off at the start, with Lauda and local driver Jody Scheckter following him after Pace struggled. The order stayed put until the seventh lap when Lauda took the lead and was never passed again, with Scheckter taking second from Hunt 11 laps later.

During lap 22, two marshals ran onto the track after the Shadow of Renzo Zorzi suffered engine failure. The second marshal, Fredrik Jansen van Vuuren, was hit by the car of Tom Pryce and killed instantly by the collision; the fire extinguisher he was holding flew from his hands and hit Pryce in the face, killing and nearly decapitating him.

The race continued, however, and Lauda won, his first victory since his near-fatal crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix the previous year. South African Scheckter was second, and Patrick Depailler's six-wheeler took third from Hunt in the closing laps.

The eventual race winner was Austrian Niki Lauda, his first win since his near fatal accident during the 1976 German Grand Prix. At first he announced it was the greatest victory of his career, but when told on the victory podium of Pryce's death, he said that "there was no joy after that".

Accident

On lap 22, the Shadow car of Italian driver Renzo Zorzi retired from the race with engine failure and moved off the track on the left side. Moments after the car came to a halt on a blind brow, the engine caught fire. Reacting to the emergency, two fire marshals carrying fire extinguishers ran across the track to put out the blaze as the race continued. As they did so, Pryce, in the other Shadow car, and Hans-Joachim Stuck, driving a March-Ford car, crested the rise. Stuck's leading car swerved, narrowly missing the first marshal, but Pryce, who was unsighted behind the German, had no time to react before hitting the second marshal, Frederick Jansen van Vuuren, who was killed instantly.

At the moment of impact of the car with the marshal, the fire extinguisher that Jansen van Vuuren had been holding hit Pryce's head, killing him instantly and nearly decapitating him. The Shadow car then continued down the main straight at speed with Pryce's body still seated behind the wheel. The car finally left the track at the first corner taking the Ligier of Jacques Laffite out of the race in the process. The incident was filmed by a broadcast crew covering the race.

Lauda's Ferrari was barely able to finish the race after his car had picked up part of the wreckage from Pryce's accident in the underside of its monocoque. This damaged the car's water system and at the end of the race, the team found that only a third of the usual twelve liters of water remained in the system. Both the warnings for oil pressure and water temperature had been flashing at Lauda for the final 25 laps, in the car which he later described as 'completely gone'.

Jansen van Vuuren's injuries were so severe that, initially, his body was only identified after the race director had summoned all of the race marshals and Van Vuuren was not among them.

Aftermath

The sport reacted with sorrow at the loss of two young men. Tyrrell mechanic Trevor Foster viewed the incident from a distance, later recalling

David Tremayne, a veteran biographer and motor sports journalist, recalled the feelings of disbelief and horror following the aftermath of the incident;

The event was included in the motor racing film The Quick and the Dead.

Championship standings after the race

  • Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
  • References

    1977 South African Grand Prix Wikipedia


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