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'Unstoppable' fire hero Peter Gough dies at 79

Motorsport

Cape Town - The South African motorsport fraternity is mourning the death of colourful former double national champion Peter Gough (79), who passed away on Friday 5 May.

A former SA Saloon, as well as Sports Car titleholder in the late 1960s, Gough's sports car success came first and was partly due to his meticulous attention to detail. This resulted in his GSM Dart, its engine fed by four individual Amal carburettors, performing flawlessly and going on to win class D despite serious opposition in every event, from Richie Jute in a similar Dart.

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Gough is seen here in a jovial mood some time after recovering from his tragic accident.Picture: Supplied

This attracted the attention of Willie Meissner, who had left GSM and was running a Ford-backed racing team with Koos Swanepoel as the driver. Before long, a second car was offered to Gough.

The timing was perfect, with Swanepoel taking over one of the recently released Mustangs, while Gough moved into a Cortina. Next came the Escort era when Meissner’s brilliance led to the development of the belt driven DOHC engine. Gough drove the new car to victory in its first competitive appearance in the world. Its British debut only took place a week later.

The new combination became unbeatable. Gough qualified on pole at every race meeting and set new lap records at nearly all the circuits. With his talent now recognised internationally, he was invited to share a Porsche 906 with Formula One McLaren and BRM driver Peter Gethin in the 1969 Kyalami 9-Hour race.

Sadly, Peter‘s burgeoning career came to a sudden end when the inboard long-distance auxiliary fuel tank fitted to a rotary engined Mazda he was sharing with Basil van Rooyen in a six hour race in Bulawayo wasn’t closed properly after a routine pit stop. With leaking fuel centimetres deep swirling around on the floor, there was a loud explosion as the car became an incendiary device and was immediately engulfed in smoke and flames.

Even in the resulting mayhem, Gough recalled he tried in vain to find an ambulance or fire post. So, stopping alongside the track, he released the safety harness, but by the time he reached for the door handle it had already melted. Eventually getting the window down he opened the door from the outside and rolled out onto the grass.

He suffered 65 percent burns and with no fireproof underwear, his overalls melted onto his body and he was in tremendous pain. The injuries were so severe that no commercial airline was prepared to accept him as a passenger and he had to be flown back to Cape Town in a private aircraft.

Back on track

He eventually spent more than a year in and out of hospital and had to endure more than 100 surgical procedures, many of them for facial reconstruction.

Incredibly, although it took a long time, he eventually recovered and - to a limited degree - even returned to competing in regional events on the track. He also acquired a commercial pilot’s licence and with initial support from Don Philp in Stellenbosch, began a highly successful career in the motor industry.

Sadly, there were other accidents. The most serious of these was when he had to be hospitalised again, after crashing his bicycle during a high speed downhill training run.

He is survived by his wife Ardi and three daughters. A memorial gathering in his honour will be held at the Killarney clubhouse tomorrow on Friday 12 May at 4pm.

IOL Motoring

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