It’s March 2006, Orebro, Sweden. A bright sunny, early spring day, but very cold. The nearby lakes still frozen over, with only the beginnings of a thaw. I’m in Sweden with Andy McKenna, in the embryonic stages of what will one day become a premier winter ice driving company. We’re looking for infrastructure and frozen lakes, but today we’ve taken an hour or so off our quest to find a location in the suburbs of Orebro that we’ve wanted to see for some time.
A tourist map marks it loud and clear, it’s easy for us to find. Ronnie’s memorial. We pull over at a junction by the side of a busy road and there, far bigger than I’d anticipated, is the memorial statue commemorating the life of Ronnie Peterson. We dump the hire car on the verge, climb out and stroll over. Cast in bronze, over 3 metres high, the silhouette of the Lotus 79 is instantly recognisable.
Ronnie died in 1978 at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza after a heavy accident. He’s pulled from the crash by James Hunt and Italian marshalls and is talking whilst waiting for the ambulance. Today, it would have been a survivable crash, but he developed complications and passed away at the age of 34. His body was returned to his home town, where he lies in the local church. A full account of the day can be read on this memorial website to Ronnie. I was twelve years old at the time with divided loyalties. A Hunt fan as you’d expect, but my battered Corgi JPS Lotus on my desk has Ronnie’s name on the side.
In 2003, 25 years after his death, the statue was unveiled along with an exhibition commemorating his life. McKenna and I move slowly around the sculpture, trying not to slip on the ice. It’s a wonderful piece, the bronze becoming gently weathered with the passage of time. Around the corner is the church and Ronnie’s grave. It takes a short while to find, but we do. I fire off a few self conscious frames with my camera and we stand and take in the fact that we’re here. Orebro isn’t the kind of town you’d pass through that often, we’re unlikely to be there again any time soon. But we’ve been, it was worth it and we stroll back to the rental car as the spring thaw starts to reveal the grass of the cemetry, the words printed on one of my favourite T Shirts spring to mind.
“I just want to drive flat out”
Text & Photos Neill Watson