Tom Percival - Fast On Water 2017

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Tom Percival

Circuit > Hall of Fame
Born: 28.3.1943
Died: 20.8.1984
Started racing: 1964
1973 - 3rd in UIM Formula 1 World Championship.
1974 - Runner-up UIM Formula 1 World Championship.
1975 - Runner-up UIM Formula 1 World Championship.
1976 - Winner of Paris six-hour; Runner-up UIM Formula 1 World Championship.
1977 - Winner of Paris six-hour; 3rd UIM Formula 1 World Championship.
1978 - F1 World Champion.
1981 - 4th overall in JPS F1 World Series.
1982 - 3rd in JPS F1 World Series.
1983 - 3rd overall in JPS F1 World series; 3rd overall Benson and Hedges Gold Series.
1984 - Died during the Liege Grand Prix.
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Tom Percival's accident happened during the 5th lap of the first heat of the Belgium Grand Prix, on the River Meuse course in Liège. The 7th round of the 1984 F1 Powerboat World Championship. Some 400 meters after the upstream buoy the Italian driver, Fabrizio Bocca suddenly made leeway and overturned, passing in front of the confluence of the hydroelectric power plant. Tom Percival, who was following close behind Bocca, tried to avoid him but hit the wreckage and lost control of his boat, landing on the river bank. Both the injured drivers were taken immediately to Liège hospital, Fabrizio Bocca was operated on during the night.
 
Tom Percival who had received severe head injuries, then lapsed into a coma and died some hours later on the morning of Monday 20 August 1984. After the accident the race was immediately stopped and the event abandoned. Previously, in the supporting F3 race, in another huge crash driver Rochel, a former World Champion, was seriously injured.
 
On Sunday afternoon the F1 drivers decided to make just an exhibition run, and Renato Molinari was the winner, from François Salabert and Cees van der Velden. This was the fourth fatality of the1984 F1 Powerboat season. Before Tom Percival, Luigi Valdano was killed on 27 May during the Netherlands Grand Prix, Gérard Barthelemy died one week later in the Paris G.P. and in August, Saverio Roberto was also killed during private testing before the Belgium Grand Prix.
 
Tom Percival was a Norfolk boat dealer, he was married to Gilly, and they had two children, son Guy (16 years old at the time) and daughter Katie (then 14). Tom had his racing debut in 1964. He won several National titles, and was twice the the Canon  European Series champion (in 1976 and 1978), this series was contested mainly by Europeans, but also by some American competitors and went on to become the World series in the 1980s. Percival raced in the UIM top classes OZ and ON, that became respectively F1 and F2 in1981. Tom was runner-up three times in the UIM World Championship (1974, 1975 and 1976). He also came third four times (1973, 1977, 1982 and 1983). During the 1970s and early 1980s Percival was recognized as one of the world's top powerboat drivers, along with his compatriot and team mate Bob Spalding.
 
Percival and Spalding raced together in the Mercury factory race team (ON class) and the Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) race team (OZ). After Tom's death Gilly Percival married Bob Spalding.
 
We would like to thank Gill Percival and the Motorsport Memorial website for the above.
Tom and Bob Spalding celebrating
victory in the 1976 Paris six hour
Centre is Mr Ian Coombes, Managing
Director of Long John International with 
Gary Garbrecht of Mercury Marine and 
Erwin Zimmerman to the left; Bill Seebold and 
Tom Percival. The three Long John Team drivers

Tom with Bill Seebold meeting HRH Princess Margaret
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1983
 
The JPS Velden's. Tom lining up with Francois salabert and Bob Spalding
Paris 1979. Photo Rene Schulz
Paris 1980. Photo Rene Schultz
The following is an article by Anna O’Brien first published in Powerboat 85 Yearbook.
 
He died far away from his beloved Norfolk. Far from the picturesque tranquillity of Horning Village (of Swallows and Amazons fame) where he was born and lived for most of his forty-one years, deep in the heart of the Norfolk Broads waterways.
 
Tom Percival’s family history was steeped in boating. Sail boats and motor boats and, of course, racing boats. The love of sailing ran deep. His father ‘H.T.’, or ‘Perci’ as he is affectionately known, taught his young son everything he knew about the classic Norfolk dinghy. An accomplished yachtsman himself, the Percival family business was heavily engaged in the construction of MTBs during the Second World War but Tom’s first love was for the gentler art of  sailing. A schoolboy at Gresham’s Public School on the North Norfolk coast, he became an enthusiastic yachtsman and one of his earliest waterborne successes came when he finished second in the competitive National Schoolboys Firefly Championships.
 
Tom’s mother was one of six children of the Brooke family of Oulton Broad and his great grandfather founded the Brooke Marine company. In 1900 they produced a motor car driven by a three-cylinder engine but it was not long before Tom’s maternal grandfather, Mawdsley Brooke, turned his attention to marine work. The company was one of the earliest constructors of marine engines and started a boat building yard.
 
Mawdsley Brooke was to produce a large number of racing boats, many of which he used to drive himself. It all started with the building of Brooke One in 1905. Brookes built the engine but the hull was built by Reynolds of Oulton Broad. The six-cylinder Brooke engines, the biggest of their kind ever built in Britain, developed 400 bhp, and were reported to sound like a battery of machine-gun fire when opened up! In sea trials off Lowestoft in 1905, Brooke One achieved a best speed of 26 knots.
 
In 1911 Brooke opened their own yard and promptly built the ‘Crusader’, a single step hydroplane, powered by a 300 bhp 8-cylinder Brooke engine and capable of speeds of over 40 knots. In August 1914 she won the eliminating trials for the  British International Trophy Contest but the outbreak of the First World War put paid to the competition. But after the War, in 1925, a Brooke ‘Bulldog’ set a world record of 38.179 knots for the class restricted to boats costing around £300 and powered by one and a half litre engines.
 
Three years earlier in 1922, Mawdsley Brooke attended the International Motor Boating Conference in Brussels. The Conference established the International Yachting Union, now known as the UIM. It was a visit which perhaps kindled the enthusiasm of his grandson for fair-play by the UIM rule book. Tom was always the first to know when injustice had been done – perhaps now we understand a little why! His grandfather had helped to found the governing body of the sport he loved so well.
 
In 1928 came a Brooke victory, which the company coveted above all others. Tom’s uncle, J.W. Brooke, known as ‘Mr Pick’ helped to carry off the solid gold Atlantis Trophy with the Brooke ‘Seacar’. Presented for boats of not more than 26 feet, with a maximum 180 bhp at 3000 rpm – and at least six boats similar in design to have been sold to the public, the contest was to be run in three separate thirty-mile races on three consecutive days. The lap time was taken over each lap on the first day, the average lap time calculated and the difference in each lap time from the average totalled against the competitors. The boat with the lowest aggregate variation was the winner. It was a contest calling for the utmost concentration and consistency – characteristics, which would distinguish ‘Pick’s’ nephew Tom throughout his racing career.
 
In 1930 it was the turn of another of Tom’s uncles, Waveney, to tackle a record attempt, this time the six-hour British Endurance Record in a Brooke Hydrocar. Twenty-four feet long, the single step Hydrocar was powered by a six-cylinder 100 bhp engine, with a top speed of approximately 38mph. Waveney covered the Fareham to Gosport course with his co-driver the Hon. Victor Bruce at an average speed of 29.9mph for the 174 miles – including a four minute stop for petrol!
 
Record breaking was a way of life for Tom’s family and he was not about to break with tradition. One of his last achievements was to break the lap record at his beloved Oulton Broad with a time of 27.78 seconds (a time that stands to this day - 7th March 2012) in his Hodges-Evinrude in front of his many fans at a traditional Thursday night meeting in the summer of ’84. Tom never forgot the club that gave him his first chance in racing. A Director, he was always ready and happy to return in later years, to offer a word of advice to an aspiring junior driver, to exchange one of his many excruciating jokes with old friends and rivals.
 
His own racing history is well chronicled over the years. At 17 he ‘rolled’ one of the stepped hydroplanes, which his father had raced before the war in the annual motor boat race on Barton Broad. The hydro continued on its way – minus driver – to bury itself in the reeds after passing through the side of a 40-foot spectator cruiser, which just happened to be one of the best customers in the hire fleet, which ‘Perci’ was running at the time. Not an auspicious start!
 
Four years later he began his racing career at Oulton Broad. He also met the lady he was to marry and who was to remain his greatest supporter for the next twenty years, Gilly.
 
In 1967 and 1968, Tom competed with ‘Perci’ in both the Cowes Torquay Offshore Classic and the first ever Round Britain race. Results were spectacularly negligible, so Tom decided to stick to inshore events and managed to demolish his friend Bob Spalding’s ‘Bobcat’ in the 1969 Liege Six Hours, after a high-speed flip. The Percival/Spalding duo continued to be a dominating force in the sport for the next 15 years. And few who were privileged to have witnessed Tom's battle for the world title in Cardiff with Cees van der Velden will ever forget the hallmarks of the Percival style, crouching ever further forward over the wheel in his determination to coax the utmost out of his craft.
 
Twice he won the Paris Six Hours, three times European titles, he was British Champion four times in the ‘seventies. His dogged determination was almost legendary. So too was his character. The Italians – notorious for their chauvinism, called him ‘the baron’, a tribute to his typical ‘English’ public schoolboy ‘touch of class’ and his acknowledged skill and good manners behind the wheel. And a tribute too to his continual joke that   ‘one day I will be knighted for my services to the sport!’
 
Tom Percival was not an arrogant man. He was a man who loved his sport. Victim of an undeniable destiny in a world which gives no favours. But above all, a man born to race…
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The following article, by Rosalind Nott, first appeared in Powerboat and Waterskiing magazine, 1984.
 
 
Tribute to Tom Percival
28.3.43
20.8.84
 
“Time Driveth Onward Fast”
Tennyson
 
Today in a tiny village churchyard in Horning, Norfolk, over 250 wreaths line the path to the church. The messages of love and condolences have been sent from all over the world, Holland, Belgium and South Africa, from drivers, engine manufacturers and yachtsmen.
 
They paid to tribute to Tom Percival
 
Tom died in hospital in Liege, Belgium, on August 20 and his loss to powerboat racing is devastating. But that was only one facet of his life; his gentle nature touched his fellow yachtsmen, the boating industry through Percival Boats, the small community of Horning and the people of East Anglia.
 
His death followed an incident during the Belgian Grand Prix on the infamous River Meuse. This stretch of water saw Tom flip his first catamaran in 1969 when he broke two ribs.
 
On this particular outing, the Percival Hodges motorhome and box measuring 54 feet had trundled from Norfolk to the OMC factory in Bruges for testing. Tom’s V8 Evinrude had just been rebuilt and he was told to do two runs down the river and come in for a ‘plug pull’. Five runs later Tom’s beaming face came to the jetty. ‘It’s wonderful’ he said to his partner and boat builder, Chris Hodges.
 
So it was a jubilant PHR Team who parked in the pits in Liege. The event was renowned for being rough – and Tom who revelled in these conditions was fairly glowing.
 
Lap times for pole slot were first on the agenda. This season Renato Molinari set the seal on ‘funny laps’. Instead of driving three standard circuits he threw one away and used the other laps to position himself for maximum advantage with timing control. Tom was the only driver to run three ‘standard’ laps and he was fourth fastest. There was no doubt by the size of propeller that Tom was capable of travelling faster than ever before.
 
Race day dawned and the lights changed. With a new set of plugs, Tom began as the back marker. Each lap he took another boat – Jenkins then Velden and as the leaders began their fifth lap, Tom came up to pass Fabricio Bocca. At a point on the course,  renowned for the rough water, Bocca’s boat hooked in front of Percival. As Bocca’s boat exploded into hundreds of pieces, Tom’s boat went upwards through the spray levelling off at about 25 feet and slid up the top of the grassy bank towards the road.
 
Suffice to say, Tom knew no more and despite tremendous endeavours by the Belgian neurosurgeons, Tom’s heart stopped beating at 10.50 on the Monday morning.
 
No-one, but no-one will forget the cries from Tom’s children when they heard the worst in the pits. No-one could believe that Tom Percival would not walk back into the pits as he had done for some twenty years.
 
To say that Tom was a gentle man whose determined racing defied his ‘harmless’ nature barely touches the surface. There are so many memories by so many people over so many years. Many will remember Tom, calculator and tape recorder in hand, sending endless messages to his secretary, Barbara. Tom was a paperwork fanatic and every business contract was fair to the last ‘enth’.
 
If the team went out on the town – the calculations were always left to Tom. No-one ever questioned – because everyone knew Tom was totally fair. Then there were the jokes. Tom was the greatest ‘worse’ joke teller in the world.  He could never get the joke right – or the punch-line together – but he had everyone in hysterics trying.
 
Then there was Tom the mechanic. He practiced on the motorhome and armed with the owner’s manual Tom would give it his best shot – even if getting the cigar lighter to work meant fusing the electrics.
 
Then there was Tom the family man. The loving husband to Gilly and ‘Daddy’ to Katie Jane and Guy. To say that Tom went racing is really not quite correct – the Percival family went racing. Gilly has always been with Tom, catering for those in the pits – always rushing to give that ‘final’ embrace before the start of every heat. But during the racing Gilly normally cleaned the bathroom, totally incapable of watching Tom on the water.
 
Like so many wives, Gilly accepted that racing was part of Tom’s life and his character. She wanted him to retire but never forced him to. She would have been the only reason for Tom’s retirement.
 
Then there was Tom the ‘racer’. So many years, over two decades of always being there. He introduced sponsorship to the sport – and until the last two seasons he had such names as Players No.6, Players No.10, Long John, Colemans and John Player Special as backers.
 
He raced with Bob Spalding for so many years – and these great friends and rivals shared those close moments known only by drivers on the water. Tom has been British Champion more times than anyone can remember, been European Champion during his best years in the late ‘70s. But the world title eluded him.
 
For those who remember Cardiff in 1975 when Tom so nearly beat Cees van der Velden but also gave a display of ‘all-out’ driving – you will be remembering one of the greatest races ever seen. He won the Paris 6 hour event twice and then there was the victory in Bristol when he triumphed over Billy Seebold. In 1981 in the German Grand Prix, Tom was thrown out of his boat but scrambled back in to finish the race. His dogged determination was almost legendary.
 
There was no doubt Tom loved driving fast. The battle with himself to retire was a very real one but he only managed to hang up his helmet for an hour or even a day. When radio communication was first introduced Tom earned another nickname. As Gary Garbrecht switched to Tom’s channel all he could hear was ‘tally ho, tally ho’. Tally Ho Tom stuck for a long while.
 
Tom was happiest starting at the back and fighting his way through the fleet to get the chequered flag. On those occasions he almost ‘ate the steering wheel’, leaning further forward than any other driver. Tom was also very safety conscious.  He always wanted the best in lifejackets and helmets – wrote so many letters and with the late Peter Inward, started the Water Safety Research Project – which will now be used for cockpit development.
 
Then there was Tom the friend. And friend he was to so many. Seven hundred people came to a beautiful service in St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich. They came because they were proud to call this great man a friend. And his nature touched so many. He did not readily lose his temper, was always surrounded by people, always ready for a party. To avoid being caught up in the Percival ‘aura’ took a pretty cool customer.
 
In the Percival home there are almost forty photo albums tracing Tom’s career all over the world, holidays with fellow racers and press cuttings following his success. There are also videos of some of Tom’s greatest hours. On the screen, Tom’s all familiar face comes alive. For a few minutes he is back with us. That voice that has been heard throughout the world promoting powerboat racing and Great Britain. That face – so vibrant in victory, so tenacious in competition.  The gloves, the overalls – so familiar around the circuits.
 
Can it be that Tom is no longer with us? It is so unreal – so hard to believe. He lived life to the full and has left his indelible mark on all of us.
 
Dutchman Henry Scott (1847-1918) seems to have been able to put into words what his thoughts must be…
 
‘Death is nothing at all – I have only slipped into the next room…I am I, and you are you…whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
 
Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your time; wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
 
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together – play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effect, without the ghost of a shadow on it.         
 
Life means all that it ever means. It is the same as it ever was; there is absolutely unbroken continuity – what is this death but a negligible accident; why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
 
I'm but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner…
 
All is well.’
 
 
Cardiff 1975. Tom in his JPS sponsored Molinari
Como 1982. Photo Simon Scott
Bristol 1975
Bristol 1978. Photo Roy Cooper
Bristol 1980. Photo Rene Schulz
Bristol 1982
Amsterdam 3 hours, 1979. Photo Rene Schultz
Nottingham 1981. Photo Rene Schultz
Chasewater, August 1978. Photo Simon Scott
Tom talking with Keith Duckworth 
Chasewater, August 1978. Photo Simon Scott
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