David Purley

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David Purley
Davidpurley.jpg
Born (1945-01-26)26 January 1945
Bognor Regis, West Sussex, United Kingdom
Died 2 July 1985(1985-07-02) (aged 40)
English Channel off Bognor Regis
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality United Kingdom British
Active years 19731974, 1977
Teams LEC, Token
Races 11 (7 starts)
Championships 0
Wins 0
Podiums 0
Career points 0
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First race 1973 Monaco Grand Prix
Last race 1977 British Grand Prix

David Charles Purley, GM (26 January 1945 – 2 July 1985) was a British racing driver born in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, who participated in 11 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, debuting at Monaco in 1973.

Purley is best known for his actions at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix,[1] where he abandoned his own race and attempted to save the life of fellow driver Roger Williamson, whose car was upside down and on fire following a serious accident. Purley was awarded the George Medal for his courage in trying to save Williamson, who suffocated in the blaze.

During pre-qualifying for the 1977 British Grand Prix Purley sustained multiple bone fractures after his car's throttle stuck open and he crashed into a wall. His deceleration from 173 km/h (108 mph) to 0 in a distance of 66 cm (26 in) is thought to be one of the highest G-loads in human history. He scored no championship points during his Formula One career. He died in a plane crash, having retired from motorsport and taken up aerobatics, in 1985.

Early life[edit]

Purley's father was Charles Purley, the founder of LEC Refrigeration. Birth and death records show that his father's name was originally Puxley but he preferred the name Purley.[2] His mother was Welsh, having been born in the small village of Cwmfelinfach. David went to school at Seaford College and then Dartington Hall School in Devon.

Career[edit]

After spending time as an officer in the British Army (he served with the Parachute Regiment in Aden, Yemen), and then racing in various series with an AC Cobra and a Chevron, Purley raced in Formula Three with some success including three wins at Chimay between 1970 and 1972.

In 1972 Purley was one of only two drivers to attempt to race the Connew Grand Prix car in its original Formula One configuration. He was entered at the end of season World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch but did not start. Purley had asked for an electrical "kill" switch to be fitted to the steering wheel, but this malfunctioned on the warm up lap, the engine stopped, and the car was retired.[3]

In 1973 Purley hired a March and with backing from his family's refrigeration company he made a largely unsuccessful attempt at Formula One.

External video
Footage of Purley attempting to save Roger Williamson trapped in his overturned and burning car on YouTube

At the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, upon witnessing a crash which left fellow British driver Roger Williamson trapped in his overturned and burning car, Purley abandoned his own race and attempted to save Williamson, who was participating in only his second Formula One race. Purley later recalled that upon arriving at the scene, he heard Williamson crying for help as the fire began to take hold. Purley's efforts to right the car and extinguish the flames were in vain as he received no help from nearby track marshals or emergency workers, in spite of attempts to encourage them, and other passing drivers, to come to his aid; Williamson died from asphyxiation. The marshals were not wearing fire resistant clothing and the passing drivers assumed that Purley was attempting to extinguish his own car, having escaped a fiery crash unharmed.

A sequence of pictures taken by photographer Cor Mooij of the accident won the Photo Sequences category of that year's World Press Photo.[4] Later, Purley was awarded the George Medal for his rescue attempt. The story, and film footage of the rescue attempt, feature in a 2010 BBC documentary entitled Grand Prix: The Killer Years.

Apart from a one-off participation with Token at his home Grand Prix in 1974, Purley stayed out of Formula One for a few years, preferring to compete in Formula Two driving Chevrons and Marches for Hong Kong-based millionaire Bob Harper, and Formula 5000 where he won the British Championship in 1976 in a Chevron powered by the Cosworth GA 3.4-litre V6 engine.

In 1974 Purley won the Brighton Speed Trials driving a Trojan-Chevrolet T101, winning again the following year in a Chevron-GA B30.

He returned to Formula One in 1977 with his own LEC chassis designed by Mike Pilbeam and run by Mike Earle. It was this car in which he suffered serious injuries in an accident during pre-qualifying for that year's British Grand Prix. He survived an estimated 179.8 g when he decelerated from 173 km/h (108 mph) to 0 in a distance of 66 cm (26 inches) after his throttle became stuck wide open and he hit a wall.[5] This was the highest measured g-force ever survived by a human being (until in 2003, Kenny Bräck's crash violence recording system measured 214 g).[5][6] Purley suffered multiple fractures to his legs, pelvis and ribs.

Purley recovered to race again although he confined his activities to the minor Aurora AFX series of Formula One races in Britain. The remains of Purley's crashed LEC and its replacement are displayed at a museum at Donington Park.

Following his decision to quit motorsport, Purley moved into competition aerobatics. He died on 2 July 1985 when his Pitts Special aerobatic biplane crashed into the English Channel off Bognor Regis.

Racing record[edit]

Complete European Formula Two Championship results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Pos Pts
1972 Lec Refrigeration Racing March 722 Ford MAL
8
THR
Ret
HOC
Ret
PAU
3
PAL
Ret
HOC
Ret
ROU
NC
ZEL
12
IMO
Ret
MAN
DNQ
PER
SAL
ALB
DNQ
HOC
19th 4
1974 Team Harper March 742 BMW BAR
HOC
15
PAU
7†
SAL
2
4th 13
Chevron B27 HOC
14
KAR
Ret
PER
2
HOC
11
VAL
10
Chevron B27 Ford MUG
Ret
1975 Masami Kuwashima Racing March 752 BMW EST
THR
HOC
NÜR
PAU
HOC
Ret
SAL
ROU
MUG
PER
SIL
ZOL
NOG
VAL
- 0

Drivers who finished ahead of Purley but were ineligible for points so Purley scored more points than the position he finished.

Complete Formula One World Championship results[edit]

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 WDC Pts.
1973 LEC Refrigeration March 731 Cosworth V8 ARG BRA RSA ESP BEL MON
Ret
SWE FRA GBR
DNS
NED
Ret
GER
15
AUT ITA
9
CAN USA NC 0
1974 Token Racing Token RJ02 Cosworth V8 ARG BRA RSA ESP BEL MON SWE NED FRA GBR
DNQ
GER AUT ITA CAN USA NC 0
1977 LEC Refrigeration LEC CRP1 Cosworth V8 ARG BRA RSA USW ESP
DNQ
MON BEL
13
SWE
14
FRA
Ret
GBR
DNPQ
GER AUT NED ITA USA CAN JPN NC 0

References[edit]

  1. ^ David Tremayne, Racers Apart: Memories of Motorsport Heroes, MRP, 1991, p.293
  2. ^ see 'Discussion' for BMD information.
  3. ^ http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1986/26/story-connew-gp-car
  4. ^ World Press Photo
  5. ^ a b Anton Sukup (1977). "David PURLEY Silverstone crash". Retrieved July 31, 2006. 
  6. ^ http://www.kennybrack.com/pages/personal-info/2003.html

Books[edit]

  • Tremayne, David (1991). Racers Apart: Memories of motorsport heroes. UK: Motor Racing Publications Ltd. p. 293. ISBN 0-947981-58-6. 

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Teddy Pilette
British Formula 5000 Champion
1976
Succeeded by
None