Riccardo Paletti – Another black day in 1982…

13 June 1982, early afternoon at Montreal.

After the warm-up lap, 26 cars line up on the grid for the Canadian Grand Prix, eighth round of the 1982 F1 Championship. FISA starter Derek Ongaro holds the peloton a little longer than usual. When he finally switches on the red lights, poleman Didier Pironi weaves his hands frantically… with the wait, his Ferrari had overheated and the engine stalled. But it was too late to abort starting procedures, and on a flick of a second the lights become green. Everyone tries to swerve past the immobile Ferrari. Back on the peloton Boesel hits the rear tyre of Pironi, right behind the Brazilian, on his low driving position, young rookie Riccardo Paletti is deeply focused on the Osella rev counter, so he doesn’t see the obstacle and hit massively the Ferrari’s rear, sending it to the right side of the track and shrinking the front section of the Osella till the cockpit….

Caption of the crash (The Fastlane Forum)

Riccardo Paletti was the son of Gianna and Arietto Paletti, a wealthy Milanese building contractor and Pioneer Hi-Fi importer to Italy, and was born precisely in Milan on the 15th June, 1958. The young Riccardo was an accomplished sportsman since his youth, and with thirteen he was Italian junior karate champion, then switched to skiing, where he progressed to the National alpine skiing youth selection. Nevertheless his main aim was to follow the path of his father till, with nineteen, he decided to start a career on motor racing, so in 1978 his father invested 50,000 dollars on a campaign at the Italian Formula SuperFord Championship with an Osella, where Paletti proved immediately to be skillful, leading eighteen laps on his first races and being a regular podium visitor, even with no wins, which left him third on the standings.

Riccardo Paletti (Facebook)

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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.

Shekhar Mehta (Facebook)

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. Continue reading

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.

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). Continue reading

Alfonso García de Vinuesa – Fate takes it all

When Trollé took his sole F3000 win at the 1987 Spa-Francorchamps round, he was leading when the race was interrupted after a very nasty crash between Luis Pérez-Sala and Alfonso García de Vinuesa took place on the Raidillon. Both drivers were the most promising Spanish hotshots of their era, at a time where the Iberian country was almost completely peripheral concerning the highest levels of motor racing. After Alfonso de Portago, Spain provided just some odd entries in F1, till in 1987 Adrián Campos managed to grab a seat with Minardi, so both Pérez-Sala and de Vinuesa had real dreams of reaching F1 too. In fact, Pérez-Sala would drive and clearly outpace Campos at Minardi in 1988, but de Vinuesa seemed to vanish in the mist of history. Why? In fact, it was a life marked by such doom and tragedy that almost eclipsed his feats. Fate has never been so hard.

Alfonso García de Vinuesa (No Mirando a Nuestro Daño)

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Michel Trollé – The Brands day that changed everything

All of us know motor racing is dangerous…. And the number of drivers that saw their careers stopped or hampered due to serious accidents is quite high. The 1988 F3000 Championship was a good example of this, as three youngsters – Fabien Giroix, Michel Trollé and Johnny Herbert – suffered severe injuries on the usual high-attrition races of the main F1 feeder formula, and saw their careers changed forever. Trollé and Herbert were two of the biggest promises of the field, and if all we know what happened to Herbert, the Touquettois almost sank into oblivion… Time to remember and reevaluate his career.

Michel Trollé (Facebook)

Michel Trollé was born at Lens, on the 23rd June, 1959. His father used to drive a Renault 4 CV and then a Dauphiné on the thriving local rally scene during the fifties and sixties, so young Trollé caught the racing bug on his childhood, and as a teen used to travel – not always with permission – to nearby Belgium to see the races at Zolder. However, unlike his father, Michel always dreamt of racing and wanted to go karting, but his family found it too expensive so, while completing his studies, Trollé worked with his parents on a newshouse to raise money to buy a kart and then, first goal achieved, switched jobs to work for a friend in a restaurant. On the other hand, his friend was his mechanic… Continue reading

Richard Dallest – Talent is not enough

Wandering through the web on my researches, one theme that always captivated me were the unfulfilled promises, those men everyone said they’ll made it into F1, and by the end they just vanish on the fog, or build a career everywhere, mostly on sportscars, GT’s or cross the Atlantic to the fertile terrain of the USA racing scenario. In so many forums and pages, one name usually appeared: Richard Dallest. A Frenchman, like so many others, usually related to the small but affectionate AGS squad. And when I wrote the last piece on Patrick Gaillard, soon I saw a lot more about this man Dallest, and he can really be considered as a lost talent. But let’s travel back to Provence…

Richard Dallest (Facebook)

Richard Dallest came to this world in Marseille, 15th February 1951, from a middle-class family, and as far as his memory goes he was always very fond of playing with car miniatures. The southeast of France is a region known for his huge passion for motor racing, and there was a lot of racing and rallying there – even including a circuit in Parc Borely, Marseille, which hosted G.P. races between 1932 and 1952 – and, with ten, the young lad went to his first event, a hillclimb on the beautiful Provencal mountains. Meanwhile, Dallest’s father became involved on the car selling business, which surely helped the young boy to foster his interest in everything mechanical, jointly with his neighbour and close friend Gérard Bacle, slightly older than Richard and soon-to-be driver. Both teenagers did some races between themselves as soon as Dallest took his license in March of 1969, even if Richard didn’t pursue a career immediately. In fact, Dallest told Echappement Classic that he had several road accidents on his first months of driving, and only used to drive his Simca 1000 against his friend Bacle for pleasure, but gradually his passion grew on, and by 1972 he decided to switch to a Simca Rallye 1 and entered on some local hillclimbs, culminating with the Géant de Provence, the Mont Ventoux, where he won his class!! Continue reading

Patrick Gaillard – One Wrong Decision

There are some defining occasions in life. Vital decisions, job changes, unique opportunities, a special invitation… Like any other ‘job’ in the world, motor racing faces all these circumstances and, generally, career success depends on a multitude of factors. But what happens when, in different periods of your life, one of these countless factors has a tiny, little problem? It may have no consequences, hold back your progress, open another door, or… slowly erode your chances to be among the very great. Proof of it is a rather unknown Frenchman, Patrick Gaillard.

Patrick Gaillard (Google Images)

Patrick Gaillard was born in Paris on the 12th of February, 1952, and soon experienced the smell of petrol and rubber since his father had a garage to host his van and truck rental dealership. Perhaps that environment sparked the interest in mechanical sports, and in his early teens Gaillard made his debut on the thriving motorcycle racing scene, even reaching the French National Championship, where he occasionally rode a 350cc Honda. Young Patrick was a gifted driver and his parents didn’t quite disapprove of his career choice, but motorcycle racing was far more dangerous than four-wheeled racing, so they took the opportunity of his forced career interruption for military service to persuade him that, if he was to be a racing driver, at least he should switch to cars. Thus, in 1974, Gaillard enrolled at the Volant Winfield at Magny-Cours – precisely the year when support switched from Shell to Elf – he finished as a semi-finalist. It was a good way to start, above all because, unlike most of his opponents, he had no karting or any kind of other four-wheel background. Continue reading

John Haugland – The Discreet Norwegian

John Haugland is regarded as one of the best Norwegian rally drivers ever, widely known for his lifelong connection with the Czech manufacturer Škoda, a fairly unusual association back in the days of the Iron Curtain. Quite a coincidence I wrote the first version of this article, more or less three years ago, precisely on the day in which the world celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first big step to end the Cold War, if it really truly ended…

John Haugland on his early days (Google Images)

Returning to our man, Haugland was born at Stavanger, nowadays known as the centre of the Norwegian oil industry, on the 23rd September of 1946. Even if Norway hasn’t the same racing pedigree such as Finland and Sweden (after the 1955 Le Mans tragedy, Norway enforced severe motor racing restrictions that, even if they weren’t so wide as the Swiss ones, hampered its development), it hosted a thriving motorsport scenario during the sixties, not only on rallies – discipline we use to associate immediately with Scandinavia and their epitome, the Flying Finns – but also on racing, both on gravel kilometer ovals and ice racing. And it was in this thriving scenario that young John caught the motorsport bug, initially with motorbikes and only later on four wheels. Nevertheless, money was vital to have a chance of starting a motor racing career, and it wasn’t properly John’s strongest point. Also, his choice – rallying – proved more expensive than circuit racing, so Haugland chose the latter to debut and, at the same time, went into an apprenticeship as a car technician with Škoda Norway. These circumstances led John to buy, in 1965, a Škoda Octavia TS, which he then updated and entered on some minor track races. Continue reading

Markus Höttinger – On the verge of F1

Austria had a fair number of top F1 drivers, including two World Champions, Jochen Rindt and Niki Lauda. However, it seems almost all of those who reached the pinnacle of the sport were touched by tragedy. Lauda, Berger, Marko and Wendlinger had horrific crashes, while Rindt, Gartner, Koinigg and Ratzenberger paid the ultimate price for their passion. It also befell upon a young promise that was carving his way to the top of the international motoring scene in 1980: Markus Höttinger.

Markus Höttinger (Facebook)

Markus Höttinger was born at Neunkirchen, Eastern Austria, on the 28th May, 1956. His father was a judge in a national court and his mother a teacher, so young Markus had a typical middle-class upbringing, soon excelling both on studies and sports. After finishing his studies on the renowned Militärgymnasium with distinction, he proceeded to higher studies on Medicine on the University. As if such a degree wasn’t enough, he also applied with success for Journalism and Sports Sciences (!!!!), while developing his excellent skills on Ski, being coached by the famous Prof. Franz Hoppilcher of the Ski Austria Academy – the latter is considered as the father of modern skiing training methods in Austria and would coach a lot of champions!! Continue reading

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.

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