Peter Lindenberg: speed sensation

4 December 2002

South African powerboat racing legend Peter Lindenberg has a saying that he lives by: “There are no prizes for second place.” In 22 years of powerboat racing he won the South African title on 15 occasions. There is no doubt that he would have won it even more times had he not also campaigned in the Formula One World Series.

That’s not where it ends for Lindenberg, though. He first made his mark in the sporting world as a barefoot water-skier, and says one of his proudest achievements was winning the European barefoot water-skiing title in 1977. South Africa was a “total underdog” at those championships, he says, but by the end of the competition he was way ahead of everyone.

World record holder

Lindenberg also became a world record holder in the ramp jump in barefoot water-skiing in 1981, the same year that he won his first South African powerboat racing title.

But still . that’s not all. He is also a very successful motor racing driver, and that part of his career is ongoing. In fact, he currently leads the South African SASCAR (South African Stock Car Auto Racing) championship for the 2002 season.

In a career littered with awards, he has among many others won the Maccabi Sports Award three times – an award also won by fellow South African and former Formula One world champion Jody Scheckter – as well as twice being awarded the State President’s Sports Award and being inducted into the South African Sports Hall of Fame.

F1 Powerboat racing retirement

His recent retirement from Formula One powerboat racing comes about 18 months ahead of his planned retirement following an accident in Saldanha that very nearly cost him his life. At the time he was leading the championship standings.

The accident brought to the fore his vulnerability, says Lindenberg, who says that as a racing driver “it needs only the slightest thing to go wrong and it can kill you”. He has three young children, the eldest aged 12 and the youngest aged seven, and he says he wants to see them grow up.

Casting his mind back, he explains how powerboat racing started for him. Since he was a kid, says Lindenberg, it was always a dream of his to race cars, but he had a father interested in boats and so it was as a water-skier that he first made his mark. Through his success in that sport he became known in the boating industry.

When he chose to move into that industry he decided to build a pleasure boat in the way that he believed a boat should be built. He first took it out for a run with Mike Haas of Johnson engines, who was so impressed with the performance of the craft that he urged Lindenberg: “Race this thing – it’s so fast.” Lindenberg told him that he (Haas) should race it, but Haas insisted that Lindenberg should be at the wheel.

So it was that he first raced his “pleasure craft” at the Vaal Dam, where he proceeded to annihilate the opposition. After the event Haas asked him to build a racing version of the boat, and from there his career exploded into an unrivalled success story.

Domination

Interestingly, Lindenberg’s first powerboat racing title did not come in the Formula One series that he so completely dominated, but in the ROO class, in which inboard engines, putting out up to a staggering 900 horse power, were used.

That was in 1981. The following year he won the first of his astounding 15 South African Formula One titles. The first seven championship victories came in succession, including an unbelievable season in 1985/6 when he won all 30 heats that he contested.

There was a simple reason for Lindenberg not winning eight titles in a row; he was competing in the Formula One World Series. “It was very good, very exciting, but very difficult,” he explains. At that time, 1988/9, it was at the height of sanctions against South Africa and he was targeted by activists. Had it not been for those sanctions, he could have, and probably would have, been crowned world champion.

It’s hard to argue with the facts. In 1989, a year that he describes as one the highlights of his career, he won the British Powerboat Grand Prix, finished on the podium a number of times and enjoyed a bunch of high placings, and despite being able to compete in only six of the 10 events, finished third in the World Series standings! Given the chance to compete in all the races, a world championship title was surely his for the taking.

Enduring success

Nearer his fifties than his early-forties, Lindenberg remains a top-class sportsman. How has he managed to stay at the top for so long? “Determination” is the first word that comes to his mind. He also describes himself as being very fit, although not a gym nut, and says an active lifestyle in which he is always on the go keeps him in shape.

There is no doubt that his motivation and enjoyment of competition remains very high. In fact, he feels the 2001-2002 Formula One powerboat season, in which he won nine of 10 races, was one of the highlights of his career.

Looking back over an incredible CV of achievements, he comments: “It’s been a helluva run”, adding that he feels very privileged to have been able to compete at the top level for so long. He also points out with pride that he has won national colours in four different decades, an eye-popping achievement!

He further points out that his career is not over, it is still ongoing as a motor racing driver.

Peter Lindenberg: Entertainer

Even so, at this time in his sporting career, when his powerboat racing has come to an end, how does he want people to remember Peter Lindenberg, the sportsman? “As someone who provided serious entertainment, gave them something to be proud of, and as someone who came through the transition the right way, a proud South African”, he says.

On the subject of transition, he has the actions to back up the words that he came through it in the right way. Lindenberg has been involved in the development of powerboat racing for 10 years. “It’s not easy”, he explains. First up, a R28 000 boat is needed, then others things to factor into the equation include petrol, transport to and from the water for boats, and servicing.

Nonetheless, he says the development programme has been a success, training 140 children a year, and in a racing population of only 400 people that is quite some feat.

The future

He might have raced his last Formula One race, but it is not the end of his involvement in powerboat racing, including its development. He is currently the president of South African Powerboat Racing, and will remain involved in managing the team that he formerly raced for, The National Ports Authority, whom he describes as “very loyal sponsors”.

The team will continue to race three boats and will be introducing a new driver in Lindenberg’s place. His involvement in development will see him looking after three kids in Formula 30 and two in the junior class.

However, there’s more (didn’t you just know it?). He is in charge of the Gosforth Park Motorsport Raceway, and very excited about it. Lindenberg admits he feels very fortunate to be able to head it up, and says it gives him a wonderful feeling to be able to go to work in the morning and by the time he leaves in the evening see the progress that has been made.

He describes Gosforth Park, which is due to open in June 2003, as a “unique motorsport facility”, and firmly believes “it is going to change the face of motorsport in South Africa”. He explains that usually spectators at motor racing events see only a few seconds of action on each lap of a race. With stadium racing, which is what Gosforth Park will be providing, people are able to see the entire track, and the racing unfolds before their eyes.

“It’s under your nose,” he says with obvious excitement in his voice. “It is the future”.

A part of Peter Lindenberg’s career may have now been consigned to history with his retirement from Formula One powerboat racing, but who can doubt that Gosforth Park will be a success, given that saying he lives by: “There are no prizes for second place.”

The remarkable career of a proud South African continues to go from strength to strength.

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