Motor racing ace’s death in Northamptonshire was a tragic accident, inquest hears, despite his car’s roll-bar collapsing

Denis Welch died aged 69 at Silverstone circuit last year, while competing in a pre-1966 Grand Prix race.
Denis Welch died aged 69 at Silverstone circuit last year, while competing in a pre-1966 Grand Prix race.

A collapsed roll-bar caused the death of an experienced motor-racer at Silverstone last year when he flipped his 1960s Lotus, an inquest heard today.

Denis Welch, who had won three classic car races in Monaco during his career, was only four corners into a pre-1966 vintage Grand Prix car race at the Northamptonshire track in July last year, when he clipped the back of another racer’s wheels and rolled the car.

If there was a tenth of a second difference in their times, there might have been an entirely different outcome.

John Symes

Though he was only travelling at slow speeds the ‘roll bar’ of his Lotus 18 collapsed while the vehicle was inverted, which caused the 69-year-old Staffordshire father-of-two to suffer catastrophic head injuries.

At an inquest into his death at County Hall today, senior coroner for Northamptonshire Anne Pember was satisfied the car had passed all safety checks before being allowed to race.

She returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’, saying that Mr Welch died ‘doing what he loved’.

Tragically however, Mr Welch’s eldest son Jeremy, giving evidence at the inquest, said that his racing father might have had plans to strengthen the roll bar on his ‘to-do list’.

He said: “In my opinion the thickness of the metal tubing was inadequate, but this was in keeping with the age and style of the vehicle.

“I would imagine it could have been replaced, but this was on the to-do list.

“There are plenty of other cars racing with the same or similar specifications.”

Mr Welch was taking part in a 20-minute timed race as part of the Silverstone Classic event last year.

The inquest heard how Mr Welch would have usually been a front-runner at vintage racing events, but was forced to start from the back on this occasion after gearbox problems in qualifying.

A video played a the inquest showed how cars bunched up in the tight left hand ‘Village’ corner when two fellow competitors collided.

The 69-year-old approached the near stationary cars at speed and his front left wheel clipped the back of Dutch driver Eddy Perk’s car, sending it into the fatal roll.

The inquest heard how Mr Perk was left in shock after the incident and classed himself as a good friend of Mr Welch.

Technical director at the Motor Sports Association (MSA) John Symes compiled a report on Mr Welch’s death after the incident.

He concluded the crash was a tragic racing accident ‘inherent’ in the risks of motorsport.

“If the car had been 250 millimetres one way or 250 millimetres another; or if there was a tenth of a second difference in their times, there might have been an entirely different outcome,” he said.

Mr Welch began racing vintage vehicles in 1981 and during his career won Formula Junior races at the famous Monte Carlo street circuit in Monaco three times.

He had retired from his business, Denis Welch Motorsport, eight years before his death. The Burton-on_trent based firm specialises in repairing road, race and rally Austin Healeys and supplying parts for the classic cars.

Son Jeremy said the family, including Mr Welch’s wife Tina who witnessed the fatal crash form the stands at Silverstone, were devastated by the loss.

He said: “Dad died doing something that he absolutely loved doing, having competed with distinction for over 50 years. Dad was one of the most popular characters in the paddock.”