Carlo Capone – Wheel of Fortune

This is a history which script could have been completely different. The history of a great and truly gifted young Italian driver that could have made his name to the top of the rallying world. Instead, this man became completely forgotten from history, till the sadness of his life raised some awareness. He was Carlo Capone, and if his history inspired a movie, the true story is far more real, tragic and sad. When I first did this article, it touched deeply on my hearth, and it was always my objective to focus on his human side and his career, not on his late life and innumerable problems.  Let’s remember the man at his best.

 

Carlo Capone was born on the 12th of April, 1957 at Gassino Torinese, on the outskirts of the Piedmontese capital – by the way, the hometown of Fiat and Lancia – and a place used to see the hugely popular Rally Team ‘971 on their roads. It’s quite easy to understand to see a young teenager become enthralled by the motor competition, and it duly happened with Carlo which, in 1977 – even before reaching his twenties – debuted on his home ground with an Autobianchi A112 Abarth. Back then, the Fiat Group management had created the A112 Trophy, a one-make cup to run alongside the Italian Rally Championship with the A112 Abarth, with the patronage of both Fiat and Lancia (now part of the same industrial conglomerate and with merged competition departments), to provide a competitive ground to breed Italian rally talents. 1977 was the first edition and Capone soon established himself as one of the fastest and more regular drivers of the series, won by Attilio Bettega, and on the last round, the Rally 100.000 Trabucchi, surprised everyone to take an amazing and stinging win, raising the attention of the legendary H.F. Grifone team boss Luigi Tabaton, which invited Carlo to drive for him in 1978! Continuar a ler

Lars-Erik Torph – The Terrible Hand of Fate

Everybody knows motorsport is dangerous. However, rallying in open roads had produced far less fatalities than track racing, mainly concerning drivers and co-drivers, which may seem quite strange as driving on open roads with nothing to separate the car from deep ravines, trees, walls and so many more hazards bordering the special stages! On the other hand, spectators are much more at risk, so if we take a look on the tragedies that struck the rally past, the enthusiasts took a far heavier toll than the drivers. And, ironically, one of the few drivers to die on the centennial Monte Carlo Rally wasn’t driving, but spectating… Here’s the story of Lars-Erik Torph.

Wilhelm Lars-Erik Torph was born in Säffle, a small town in central Sweden between Örebro and Karlstad, traditional terrains of the Swedish Rally, on the 11th May 1961. Two of the most notorious natives of Örebro were famous drivers – Ronnie Peterson and Stig Blomqvist – and Torph grew up idolising the latter, the master of snow rallies aboard is orange Saab… He was a rally passionate since his childhood days and as a teen he didn’t take long to learn to drive and used to fix old cars to compete occasionally with his mates, which greatly improved his mechanical skills. In 1976 his older brother Kjell-Arne entered some local events and Lars was drafted as co-driver – even if he was only fifteen – and soon he set his ambitions to become a driver. However, Torph had no money, so used his hardly acquired mechanical skills to find a job on a local Volvo garage, and used his earnings to buy an old Volvo 142, which allowed him to enter his first local rallies as soon as he took his license, by March 1979.

WRC debuts on teh 1980 Swedish Rally, with the dear old Volvo!!!! (http://larserik-torph.se/)

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Shekhar Mehta – Five Times Glory at the Safari

Back in the fifties, rallying always meant adventure. However, between mid-sixties and early seventies those long épreuves began a process of transformation in adopting the Scandinavian rally model, which led to the scenario we know nowadays – the event is divided in legs, each of them composed by a certain number of timed special stages on closed roads. But, even when this system prevailed, there were some rallies that maintained most of the elements of the “old system” on them – the most famous one was the East African Safari. It was a contest of endurance and skill on the East African savanna, battered by a scorching sun or demential rains, men and machine alone against the elements on open roads… And it was in that onstage that one driver excelled – Shekhar Mehta. 

Chandrashekhar Mehta was born in his family’s farm near Lugazi, more or less 50 kilometers east of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, on the 20th June of 1945. As his name implies, Shekhar was from Indian ascent (more precisely, from Punjab), and his family had a wide range of affairs both in India and East Africa, mainly sugar and tea plantations, but also a BMW dealership for the British Colonies on the region. So, as it was natural for a son of a very rich family, Shekhar was sent with just five years old to an exclusive Swiss College and then proceeded to the renowned St.Paul’s School in London. And, as soon as he finished his studies, Mehta worked for a year on the London Stock Exchange and in a cement business owned by some relatives, before returning to Uganda with 20 years old, in 1965, to help his father Knimji with the family business, beginning with sugar, and only later reaching a position on the car dealership. Continuar a ler

Helmut Koinigg – Unlearnt lessons at the ‘Glen

Those were the days when motorsport was really dangerous – it still is, of course – and the probabilities of death in competition (F1 or not) were of one in three or four, counting all men that started a F1 season. Surely, Jackie Stewart and Jo Bonnier (who fell victim of his passion) had already started their safety crusade, and the circuits were vastly improved comparing to mid-to-late sixties. However, when the first measures were deployed, they could occasionally be worse than their total absence… such was the fate of Helmut Koinigg. 

Helmut Koinigg (unknown)

Helmut Koinigg was born in Vienna at the 3rd November 1948, but spent his childhood on the south-eastern state of Styria. Growing in such a mountainous region it wasn’t surprising that, like so many of his fellow countrymen, he practiced winter sports since his teens, excelling at skiing. And it was to the latter sport that he dedicated himself first, even being selected for the Austrian national junior B team, while pursuing his studies in engineering and journalism. It’s possible he was already someway interested in motor racing – it registered quite a boom in Austria with the rising success of Jochen Rindt – but he never sought to race, and in 1966 he left for Sweden to live and work, which certainly curtailed for the time being any possible interest in four wheels (while providing an excellent chance to keep skiing). Continuar a ler

Didier Pironi – Talent and Controversy

Even today, among motorsport fans, talking about Didier Pironi raises controversy. The French pilot is synonymous with betrayal, Imola 1982, and for being the cause of the death of Gilles Villeneuve. Unfortunately, this is an extremely narrow view of events, and it covers with a black cloak someone who was amongst the greatest talents that left the French school of the 70s.

Didier Pironi was born into a wealthy family on the outskirts of Paris, on the 26th of March, 1952, the son of Louis Pironi, a former combatant on the French resistance during World War II who, during the immediate post-war years, established a construction company that had become highly regarded. Pironi had an older half-brother, Joseph Dolhem, born in 1944, and it is curious that their mothers were sisters. Despite this apparent familiar confusion, the brothers grew up together and Dolhem soon developed a keen interest in sports, in particular, motor racing, and began his career late in the 1960s, winning the prestigious Volant Shell in 1969. However, for Dolhem, motor racing and flying were just a diversion, and the driver never cared much the same as his younger brother for his career, even though he was quite talented and even had occasional occasional chances in Formula 1, before turning his back on 4-wheels and becoming an airplane pilot. Continuar a ler

Attilio Bettega – The Dreamer from Molveno

It’s sad that so many drivers who died while competing are remembered only by their death, or by the innumerable “what if’s” have they survived. I always thought it was far more important to remember the man, personally and professionally, and his feats while he lived his passion. And it’s what happens to Bettega. Associated to the series of fatalities of the Group B era, he was much more than that. For some time, he was the true successor to Sandro Munari as the greatest Italian rally driver on the moment.

Attilio Bettega (unknown)

2nd May, 1985; Zerúbia village, deep into Corsican mountains. Attilio Bettega, Lancia’s works driver, prepares to attack the podium places on the fourth special stage of the WRC Tour de Corse, his Lancia 037 roars into the mountain roads. Suddenly a radio message arrives, Bettega had crashed…. Continuar a ler

Alex Caffi – Gold over Red

Italy produced a generation of young and promising drivers from mid-80s to early 1990’s, which had everything to make Formula 1 go back to the glory days of Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, Luigi Fagioli, Giuseppe Campari, Nino Farina and so on. However, a set of circumstances made that none of these men ever came close to give Italy another World title, which has escaped them since Alberto Ascari in 1953!

Alessandro Caffi was born in Rovato, near Brescia, on the 18th of March, 1964, and from an early age he became interested in motorsport, since both his father and uncle were well-known hillclimb drivers at local level, and this discipline enjoyed huge popularity in northern Italy back then. So, when he was old enough to do it, Alessandro made his debut in motocross and then moved to karts in 1980, with sixteen. In those days, it was common for drivers to start competing only in their late teens and, in the ultracompetitive Italian championship, amongst names such as Stefano Modena, Gabriele Tarquini, Pierluigi Martini, Ivan Capelli, Fabrizio Barbazza, Gianni Morbidelli and Nicola Larini, the young Alessandro soon stood out as one of the best, winning numerous races. Thus, in 1983, he finally jumped to single seaters, signing for Cevenini to compete in the Formula Fiat Abarth championship, the Formula Ford equivalent in Italy, immediately demonstrating an impeccable regularity and smooth driving style, which made him, even without victories, finish his first season outside karts as a runner-up. Continuar a ler