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!

Alex Caffi (unknown)

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.

Alex Caffi (#27) and Joe Sulentic (#28), Italian F3, Varano 1984

With these results, Caffi progressed through Italian Formula 3 in 1984, defending the colours of Euroteam, just confirming what he had done the previous year – an amazingly good series of regular performances, mingled with two wins – which gave him the second place in the championship, not far from the champion Alessandro Santin. Well, one year to learn, another to win, and in 1985 Alessandro signed for Coloni – precisely the reigning champions – to drive one of their Martini Mk45-Alfa Romeo. Unfortunately, that chassis was a little behind the Dallara’s and, in a championship so closely disputed, the difference quickly made some damage and Caffi lost ground on the title fight. However, in the middle of the season, Coloni decided to buy a Dallara 385 which, equipped by the almost ubiquitous Alfa Romeo engine, quickly proved to be much more effective, giving its driver a pretty good tool to fight for victories … It wasn’t enough for the title, obviously, this time won by Franco Forini, but Caffi managed to be runner-up again with two victories and eight podiums, winning at the end of the season the European Cup Formula 3, which had replaced the European Championship, abolished after 1984. Alessandro could be expected to take the next step to F3000 in 1986, but it wasn’t easy to get a budget for that series that, after replacing the ailing F2 in 1985, was growing incredibly, and Caffi opted for a third season in Italian F3, this time defending the colours of Venturini Racing. However, he proved to be wrong when he left Coloni, as their team was “in another league” and dominated the series with Nicola Larini and Marco Apicella, with Caffi ending third with two more victories, as well as a second place in the European Cup, beaten only by Stefano Modena, who would win the F3000 title in 1987.

Somewhere in 1985 (unknwon)

However, the young driver, known for his red helmet with two crossed gold lists, was already on another league in 1987. Over three years, his performances at the Italian F3 hadn’t gone unnoticed and, on the eve of the 1986 Italian Grand Prix, Osella invited him to drive the second car, replacing the Canadian Allen Berg (who was in great difficulty to find the necessary budget to compete in the last races of the season). With an uncompetitive car and no experience at all with the brutal turbocharged engines (as he didn’t even test the car before the race !!!), Caffi qualified last and finished the race in the same position, six laps adrift from the leader, so he wasn’t classified. However, the talent and analytical skills of the pilot convinced Osella’s managers to sign with him for 1987, reducing the operation to just one car for financial reasons. However, the new Osella FA11-Alfa Romeo was as “competitive” as its predecessor, and Alessandro rarely managed to escape the last places in qualifying – failing to qualify only twice in sixteen races – and, on the remaining races, he never finished, although he was classified in San Marino, after stopping very close to the end without gas. However, again, the consistency of the young driver, who never retired due to any mistake of his own, was noticed by the Italian tycoon Beppe Lucchini, who planned to enter Formula 1 in 1988 with a single-seater built by Dallara.

San Marino Grand Prix 1987 (Vincenzo Zaccaria)

The BMS Scuderia Italia-Dallara project hadn’t the most auspicious beginnings, as in Brazil the new single-seater wasn’t ready, so the team resorted to a Dallara 3087-Cosworth from … F3000! It is unnecessary to say why Alessandro was the first victim of the return of pre-qualifications to F1. However, in San Marino, the Dallara 188 was ready, but it suffered with a lot of teething problems. Yet, in Monaco, Caffi was an excellent 17th in practice, only to (finally) miss it and crash alone on the first lap. Till the USA round, the season was similar to 1987, but from Detroit onwards the car began to perform much better both in qualifying and races, and Caffi was an amazing eighth on the States. The growing experience of the team was reflected in the following rounds, with a new eighth place in Spa and even better qualifying performances, not forgetting that, despite growing restrictions on turbochargers since 1986, in 1988 the long-awaited parity between atmospheric engines and turbocharged ones wasn’t even close, so these results showed how good Dallara and BMS prepared their entry into F1, as well as the talent of the driver, who would get his best classification of the season with a fantastic seventh place in Portugal, as well as a brilliant top-10 in qualifying in Hungary. And, if the season ended with some retirements, it was expected a huge performance boost in 1989. If there were doubts about Caffi’s talent and progression, it’s enough to know that Frank Williams closely followed him throughout the season and even made a proposal for Alessandro to sign for his squad in 1989, but the compensation Frank would have to pay to Lucchini was too high.

Belgium Grand Prix, 1988 (unknwon)

In fact, the ban on turbo engines at the end of 1988 acted as a performance equalizer, especially in the middle of the peloton, since at the top McLaren kept his supremacy, even if it wasn’t so obvious as the previous season. Now equipped with Pirelli tires, BMS Dallara featured the new 189 with a Ford engine, just as in the previous year, but expanded the operation to two cars, hiring the experienced Andrea de Cesaris to partner Caffi. However, this equilibrium in the middle of the pack resulted in some unpleasant surprises, since Dallara was not immune to the pre-qualifications, which were increasingly necessary due to the also increasing number of forces in presence, and Alex failed to beat this “sieve” in Brazil. However, the team quickly got on his ways, and in San Marino, Caffi qualified ninth and finished seventh. The points were there within reach and the Italian was ninth in qualifying for the G.P. of Monaco, finally achieving his first points with an excellent exhibition that culminated in a fourth place. And things were even better in the USA, in the insipid Phoenix circuit. Caffi was sixth in qualifying and, in an elimination event, was running second behind Alain Prost when, while lapping… Andrea de Cesaris, the latter decided not to collaborate, touching his teammate which left Caffi in the wall!!! It is said that, at the end of this event, BMS Dallara’s manager Patrizio Cantú said that the ideal end on that day was to have one of his drivers on the podium and another on the gaol…

Monaco Grand Prix, 1989 (unknown)

Caffi was sixth in Canada, but the second half of the season – already without pre-qualifying due to the points scored – represented a reversal in the team and the driver’s fortunes. Although the qualifying performances remained excellent with a spectacular third place in Hungary for instance – thanks to the special Pirelli qualifying tires – these results couldn’t be reached on race day, precisely because the race tires weren’t as effective as the qualifiers, and both results and performances never again approached the astounding displays of the first half of the season, with Caffi to commit – something that was rare in him, as has been said – several mistakes, getting involved in accidents or crashing himself, strongly implying that the driver was trying to compensate with extra aggressiveness the lack of development of the car. Yet, the season ended on a positive note, and Caffi signed with Arrows for two seasons. Jackie Oliver’s team came from three particularly successful seasons thanks to the experienced and seasoned duo Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever, and with the strong financial support of the Japanese company Footwork, had already signed an engine supply contract with Porsche for 1991. Thus, in 1990, Oliver wanted a balanced pair, and the departures of Warwick (to Lotus) and Cheever (who moved to the CART championship) were replaced by the hiring of Caffi and the experienced Michele Alboreto… In fact, it was a true dream for Alessandro, who had grown admiring Alboreto, and both would become great friends on and off the circuits.

Belgian Grand Prix, 1989 (Carmelo Di Giannantonio)

The loss of a promising engineer called Ross Brawn to Jaguar in late 1989 and, probably, the focus on the promising 1991 package might have diverted the British team, as the 1990 car was no more than an evolution of the A11 designed by Brawn in 1989. With Ford engines, the A11B was a good car but, in an increasingly balanced intermediate peloton, it became extremely difficult to ride regularly on the points. At the same time, for Caffi, the season started badly due to a pre-season bicycle accident that left him out of the opening race in the USA. Returning to Brazil, he did not end with mechanical problems, and then didn’t qualify in San Marino, only to finish in a spectacular fifth place at Monaco. Unfortunately, these would be Caffi’s sole points of the season since, although he returned to his extremely regular performances, both in qualifying and races, it was clear that the car had no more performance to extract from, and there was no other alternative than waiting for 1991, not before an extremely violent crash in Portugal sidelined Caffi for one Grand Prix. Yet, Alex was clearly Arrows’ fastest rider throughout the season, beating Alboreto, although it should be said that Michele’s motivation wasn’t the same as those from his glory years at the Scuderia.

Monaco Grand Prix, 1990 (unknown)

Well, when the renamed Footwork Arrows introduced its new car for 1991, it quickly became clear that the new Porsche V12 engine was no more than a junction of two V6 engines derived from the Porsche 962C prototype from Group C since mid-eighties, which were yet widely used but too aged already, and it was an “ill-advised” solution developed by the renowned engineer Hans Mezger, who had to deal with the German brand recovering from a serious financial crisis and also with an R&D department with very few resources. Extremely heavy, underpowered and unreliable, the Porsche 3512 engine was truly disastrous and, to make matters worse, Footwork could not get its chassis ready for the first races of the season, forcing the team use an evolution of the evolution of the A11, named A11C. Two races, two non-qualifications for Caffi. The presentation of the brand new FA12 in San Marino didn’t bring many improvements, as with that engine neither a McLaren would get any results, and two more non-qualifications followed, as well as another brutal crash while practising in Monaco. Caffi was forced to rest but, shortly thereafter, he had a serious car accident – it was said he was coming from a night off – so he had to be miss four races. The atmosphere was never the same within the team, which quickly showed interest in keeping Alex’s replacement, the veteran Stefan Johansson, until the end of the season, and Caffi was only able to recover his place thanks to a lawsuit. Happily (or not), when he returned in Germany, Porsche had already retired in shame and Alan Jenkins had designed a new evolution of the chassis, the FA12C, equipped with Ford engine, trying to save the season. However, everything was done in a hurry, so the results were equally bad, and Caffi only qualified again on the last two races of the season. Alboreto did a little better, nevertheless it was a season to forget both for the drivers and the team, which signed with Mugen for 1992, and the new engine suppliers wanted Aguri Suzuki on the squad, thus leaving the door wide open to the younger Italian.

USA Grand Prix, 1991 (unknown)

Disgraced, Caffi couldn’t find a drive on a good team, and saw a unique opportunity to stay in the “Big Circus” on the new Andrea Moda squad, built from the remains of Coloni early in 1992 by the Italian shoe magnate Andrea Sassetti. Well, the plan was simple: drivers would be Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia, and the chassis would be an evolution of the dreadful Coloni C4 of 1991 who left poor Pedro Matos Chaves on the limits of his patience, but with Judd engines!!!! However, the FIA ​​understood that Andrea Moda was a new team, which meant they would have to pay a large registration fee, and Sassetti declined to do so, which resulted in the exclusion of both cars from the South African Grand Prix. The situation was apparently solved for Mexico, and the team would already have the new S921, designed by Nick Wirth’s Simtek studios, but the preparation and delivery of the single-seater was delayed and the pilots were left on cold. Caffi was fed up with the ridiculous situation – undoubtedly this was one of the most flamboyant adventures in F1 history – and told it to Sassetti, who dismissed him on the spot. Thus, it ended the career of Alex Caffi on the pinnacle of motor racing, without honour or glory.

South African Grand Prix, 1992 (unknown)

After Andrea Moda’s massive failure, Caffi found shelter on the Endurance World Championship at the wheel of a works Mazda, often sharing it with another lost promise, Brazilian Maurizio Sandro Sala. However, not only the Mazda MXR-01 wasn’t a competitive car, but Group C was on the verge of his death so, apart from two points, the 1992 season was a disaster in terms of results and, with the effective end of the WSC at the end of the season, Alessandro was again driveless, prompting him to withdraw temporarily from motor sport.

Alex Caffi/Maurizio Sandro Sala, WSC Donington, 1992 (Jeremy Jackson)

However, Caffi was yet a young man and, at the end of 1994, Opel España invited him to test the new Opel Vectra GT and, despite two sabbatical years, he proved to be competitive. Alessandro couldn’t resist and chose to try his luck on touring cars – where many of those Italian stars I mentioned had took refuge – signing for the team to compete in the Spanish Supertouring Championship. Alex quickly gained rhythm and, even if he didn’t manage the same level of his team-mate Jordi Gené, Caffi again provided an impeccable regularity, finishing the year in a reasonable eighth place overall with a win and five podiums in a very competitive championship. However, in 1996, he thought he could return to Endurance and moved to USA, occasionally driving a Chevron B73-BMW in the IMSA championship and, in 1997, a Riley&Scott MkIII-Chevrolet. Unfortunately, the cars weren’t competitive and the IMSA championship was also ailing, after the division between them and the future Grand-Am series.

Alex Caffi/Fabio Montani/Gabrio Rosa/Ivan Capelli, 24 Hours of Daytona 1997 (Patrick Durand)

After testing a single-seater again, with a view on a drive on the 1998 IRL championship, Caffi chose to return to Europe to drive Prototypes in the ISRS series with a R&S MkIII-Chevrolet, achieving two podium finishes. In 1999, IMSA was replaced by ALMS, which gradually revitalized the American Endurance and created one of the best championships of the following fifteen years, and Caffi divided his season between the ISRS (with the Target 24 R&S) and the ALMS championship with a Ferrari 333SP, entered by Doyle-Risi Racing. Alessandro achieved two more podiums and quite a lot of points’ finishes in the European events, as well as a positive fifth place in his debut at Le Mans, while in America the Ferrari was a little bit outdated, but the team often managed the top-10. In 2000 he raced occasionally on both sides of the Atlantic, but in 2001 Caffi came back to Europe again, competing on the FIA ​​Sport-Prototype Championship (the ISRS substitute) with a works Riley & Scott MkIIIB-Judd, alongside ex-F1 driver Mauro Baldi. Thus, Caffi established his career pattern for the following years, gradually leaving the Prototypes for the growing GT scenario, running on both sides of the Atlantic, until settling definitively in Europe in 2005 on the Italian GT Championship, winning the GT2 title in 2006. Caffi was a regular contender in this competitive series until 2010, even managing a third place on GT2 in 1998.

Alex Caffi/Andrea Montermini/Domenico Schiattarella, 24h Le Mans 1999. Behind the LMP cars, it’s possible to see one of the beautiful – and prone to fly – Mercedes-Benz CLR (John Brooks)

However, after 2010, he gradually left GT’s to drive trucks for fun, as well as entering on historical events. In between, he founded his own team, Alex Caffi Motorsports, and entered the 2011 Monte Carlo Rally. On the recent years, his team focus on the NASCAR Euroseries, and Caffi drove on that championship occasionally, gradually driving less and less as the managing duties increased. He’s also an instructor at the official Subaru Italia safety driving and racing school.

Historic Monaco Grand Prix, 2018. Caffi is driving an Ensign N176-Cosworth (Facebook Alex Caffi)

Undoubtedly, Caffi had the potential to drive for bigger teams in Formula One, however, perhaps the monetary factor didn’t help, as well as signing with Arrows at the wrong time. Then he was caught by the end of Group C – and his style suited Endurance perfectly – and never invested too much on a touring car career. Trying to drive on Endurance when it was in a phase of reconstruction both in Europe and America never provided him with a stable drive, which explains why the second half of his career was a journey of immense ups and downs. But there remains no doubt that he was an extremely talented and underrated  driver, who could have forged a successful career both on F1 and the WSC/IMSA series.

Caffi’s iconic red with golden bands crassing at the top (unknwon)

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!

Carlo Capone on his element… behind the wheel (unknown)

It was the beginning of an amazing career, but I dare to say it could also have marked the start of its ending… Capone was paired alongside the promising two-year older Fabrizio Tabaton to do the entire Trophy in 1978 and he duly fulfilled the expectations by ending second on the championship, tied with his teammate. Fabrizio had won more rounds, this being crowned as champion, but it must be said that team orders favoured Tabaton – the last round of the Trophy was the Giro d’Italia Automobilistico and on the last two stages Capone carefully slowed not to win, thus allowing Tabaton to take the title… perhaps being the son of Grifone’s boss had something to do with it. His skills and allegiance to the team led to a renewal of his contract with Grifone and a chance to drive one of the works Autobianchi at the season-ending RAC Rally, alongside Tabaton and Mirri. In his international debut on one of the most technical rallies of the WRC Capone retired early with a broken engine.

Capone dominated the Trofeo Autobianchi entirely on that Giro d’Italia, but team orders prevailed at the end (unknwon).

However, the loss at the Trophy meant that, instead of driving the Lancia Stratos promised to the winner in 1979, he remained with Grifone but had to content himself with a humble Fiat Ritmo 130 early in the season, then switching to a Fiat Ritmo 75 Abarth. The car was by any means the class of the field, but it was good enough for a young driver to learn his trade and show what he could do with a less competitive machine, and in 1979 and 1980 Capone left everyone without doubts concerning his skills, achieving impressive stage times for such a small front-wheel drive machine, and quite a few top placements on bigger rallies such his sixth overall at the Italian ERC round Rally Il Ciocco at the end of 1980, and an outstanding win at the Rally della Lanterna, one of the few overall wins for the small Ritmo. 1981 was more or less the same, being now partnered with young co-driver Luigi Pirollo (which became known later alongside Alessandro Fiorio, Franco Cunico and Giandomenico Basso) and Carlo had his second WRC outing at the Sanremo, sadly ending off the road. It’s interesting to point that Pirollo reminds Capone as a driver who took huge risks to succeed with a notoriously aggressive style, but taking a look to his records major shunts ending in retirements were quite rare. Perhaps what is most troubling while reading “Gigi” Pirollo’s memories is his personal account of Carlo, already saying he was terribly shy and introvert, and had a strange character, appearing really only to be able to express his emotions at the wheel of a rally car. And, apart these personality traits, he was also known to be hugely professional and meticulous with his car preparation and tuning, which was sometimes a true headache for the mechanics that got a little bit tired of that perfectionism.

1981 Sanremo Rally (Jiri Marsicek)

Fiat group was going through major changes, and the competition department focused on the development of the brand new Lancia 037 accounting on the Group B regulations that would be enforced since January 1983, so the drivers from the works team and the satellite ones had to be content with the old Lancia Stratos or the Fiat 131 Abarth. In 1982, after four seasons with Grifone, Carlo was called by another of the usual Lancia/Fiat clients, Jolly Club Milano, to drive their Group A Fiat Ritmo Abarth 125 TC, which proved an immediate success, as Carlo was often on the top-10 among the fastest cars and duly won the Italian Group A title, However, his participation on the Sanremo ended again with a crash on the second leg. By then the 037 was already developed and was a genuine contender for 1983, which meant the 25-years-old Capone expected to finally have the chance to aim for overall wins regularly.

His hopes would be fulfilled because in 1983 Lancia management distributed the 037 by their three satellite teams – Grifone, Tre Gazzelle and Jolly Club – and Capone remained with the latter alongside Miki Biasion (which was the Lancia-backed driver for the ERC). Since the first round, the Targa Florio Rally, he was among the best and ended second, and at the Costa Smeralda, a coefficient 4 ERC round he finished fourth. It was a matter of time till he could win again, but at the 4 Regioni mechanical woes sidelined him while leading. Finally, Carlo reached the highest place of the podium with a superb win at the Rally della Lana, in front of Biasion, Cunico, Cerrato and Tabaton – easy to see how competitive was the Italian Championship back then, plenty of local glories and a big bunch of young guns aspiring to become European and World Champions. He could have won at Piancavallo if not for engine problems, but the second place put him the fourth overall on the championship, while his teammate Biasion won both the European and the Italian titles, effectively launching himself on an impressive international career.

The 037 was one of the best rally cars ever created and it allowed Capone to win his first rally overall on the Italian Rally Championship in 1983, the Rallye Internazionale della Lana (unknown).

For 1984 Lancia put their hopes for the ERC on Capone, so he was transferred to Tre Gazzelle to drive their West-liveried Lancias, as the Giorgio Leonetti’s squad was the chosen one to aim for the ERC, while Jolly Club would do a part-time WRC program for Miki Biaison. Pirollo had left Carlo, which was now co-driven by Sergio Cresto, sadly remembered by his horrific death alongside Toivonen at Corsica in 1986. In those days, the ERC was a fifty-rally season, which was remarkably long, divided in four coefficients, making it very hard to preview who would be the biggest contenders because it depended a lot on the points scored in the earlier coefficient 4 rallies which conditioned the remaining season because the less graded events had almost no weight on the final overall and it mattered a lot to score early points to raise attention to possible additional sponsors. But it was easy to preview that Henri Toivonen – himself a Lancia driver, more about that later – would be his biggest rival, driving a Porsche 911 SC RS entered by David Richards under the banner of Rothmans Porsche Rally Team. There were a lot of tarmac rallies on the championship so the 2WD cars weren’t so down on power against possible 4WD rivals, even if the Audis and Peugeots weren’t focused on this title, save for the German ones of Harald Demuth and Martino Cinotto; but local contenders such as Jimmy McRae, Béguin, Andruet, Zanini and even other Italians could be in the mix.

Boucles de Spa 1984 (Olivier Delhez)

To prevent any eventual teething problems with their first full-time ERC campaign, Leonetti decided to start the season earlier than usual on the co.2 Boucles de Spa, where Capone won his first round of the season after a fine fight with Tony Pond. Yet the first real match against Toivonen & co. was on the foremost co.4, the Spanish Costa Brava Rally, but both contenders ended prematurely, Carlo crashing out on the first gravel stage when he was leading by six minutes and Henri with a broken driveshaft. Then, Capone dominated and won the RACE-Costa Blanca (co.3) and finished second at the Costa Smeralda after a great battle against Toivonen, the Finn winning by 57 seconds while the third, Cerrato, was a massive thirteen minutes behind the Porsche. Next, the Albena-Zlatni Piassatzi in Bulgaria ended with the same two on the top places, but in reverse order – this time luck played for Capone as Toivonen penalized after a pointing error of his co-driver, Ian Grindrod. So, by mid-championship the ERC standings were:

  1. Carlo Capone (Lancia)                     240
  2. Henri Toivonen (Porsche)                209
  3. “Lucky” (Ferrari)                             145
  4. Harald Demuth (Audi)                     100
  5. Adartico Vudafieri (Lancia)             100

As expected the title fight soon turned into a private match between Toivonen and Capone, as even the peculiarities of the championship left almost no margin to the other contenders. Before returning to the ERC field Tre Gazzelle provided Capone a chance to measure himself against the WRC lot again, this time on the Acropolis, an interesting test for Carlo as it was the toughest European rally, but it ended too soon when the differential and suspension broke on the first stage, ironically when he was running as the fast Lancia, the works team being scourged by punctures. Back to ERC for the 24 Hours of Ypres, the legendary rally on Flemish soil providing the absolute place for a royal battle between the title contenders and the cream of so many national championships: McRae, Béguin, Andruet, Colsoul, Snijers, Droogmans et al. As expected, it was full speed since the beginning and Capone was on the dice till he penalized after a gearbox change. Toivonen dominated the second part of the rally in exemplar style in front of the local rising star Snijers in another Porsche, Capone ending third after further problems with the differential, thus minimizing points losses. But he could had lost it all at the breath-taking scenario of the Rali Vinho da Madeira…. Capone was in “maximum attack” mode and atomized his rivals on the first stage, yet on the second he lost control of the Lancia on the wet tarmac and destroyed it, while Toivonen won again and took the lead of the championship 81 points ahead – Capone said it was due to a broken break pipe, but sports manager Gianfranco Silecchia criticized him, leading to some tension.

The 24 Hours of Ypres produced another episode of the epic battle between Capone and Toivonen, the Italian wasn’t so lucky (Herman Sels).

Now Capone desperately needed to win on the harsh Greek stages of the Halkidikis, which he duly complied by smashing the Mehta-led outpowered Nissan opposition, thus reducing his disadvantage to just one point (Toivonen was driving for Martini Lancia on the 1000 Lakes). Facing this context, Tre Gazzelle kept its planned outing at Cyprus (co.3), plus every other round where Toivonen may drive. There remained only one coefficient 4 round, the Tour de France Automobile, overlapping dates with the Sanremo; and it sparked a contractual feud between Lancia and Prodrive concerning the young Finn… The problem dated back to the early season, as a disappointed Henri Toivonen chose to sign with David Richard for an assault to the ERC after failing to secure a top WRC drive. Soon after, Cesare Fiorio offered him some rounds with a works Lancia 037, so Henri found himself with two contracts that led to this explosive situation… Obviously Cesare Fiorio wanted Lancia to win the ERC, which meant Capone; so it was said his intention to draft Henri for the Sanremo was mainly to prevent him to gain precious points (Capone hadn’t the Tour in his schedule), which deeply angered David Richards who saw himself as Henri’s main employer.

Rally Halkidikis gave Capone a good margin over an injured Toivonen (Mario Rossi)

All this controversy was useless because Henri was suffering from back injury (after he entered a go-kart race for fun during a pause on the Circuit of Ireland that year) and was put to rest for two months, having no chances to defend himself. Capone returned for another dose of terrifying rocky gravel roads at the co.3 Cyprus Rally, but retired with a broken engine after being delayed by a sequence of punctures. The decision was further delayed to the co.3 Rally Antibes, and with Toivonen yet injured Capone only needed to finish on the points, nevertheless he took a hard fought win against Béguin, effectively sealing the ERC title, taking the championship with 428 points, against Toivonen’s 369 and Demuth’s 245. It had been an excellent season, and the 27-years-old deserved the title he had achieved on his first international season, despite the setbacks expected from a growing driver; however, the situation was already extremely sour between Capone and Lancia.

Apart his deep contractual problems, Toivonen future was uncertain due to the possible extent of his back injuries and the possibility of being drafted for the military early in 1985, all these things could compromise his place at Lancia. But no one could deny Henri was the man Cesare Fiorio really wanted to partner Alén, and it really hurt Carlo. Shortly after Cyprus, with the title almost on his pocket, Capone gave an interview to Autosprint in which he said that “Many say that in 85 I’ll still be with Tre Gazzelle: it isn’t true. And I want to add that for the next year I don’t desire to drive for a private squad. Works or nothing. I know in Italy it won’t be easy, but I don’t lose my heart. We’ll see” [Autosprint, nº 54:49, p.34]. It was like dropping a bomb, and immediately Lancia reacted, being needed some power of persuasion by Leonetti not to end the season and release Carlo on the spot, so it was a demoralized Capone that drove at the Antibes and took the title, even if totally aware all the doors in Turin were closed.

Capone’s title against Toivonen and his criticism over Lancia/Fiat promotion system ruined his chances to drive for the Italian establishment, but also left himself broken (unknown).

Both Fiorio and Leonetti were deeply angered by his statements, and even if Carlo Capone had reasons for complaining – at Grifone and the first Jolly Club year he was driving less-powerful machinery than his teammates, which generally prevented him to fight for the overall win – it was regarded as too ambitious by Cesare Fiorio, which immediately said it was the drivers’ choice to accept the contract, and if he was unhappy he had the door opened, effectively sidelining him at the end of the season. In fact, Capone was increasingly uncomfortable with the wide preference their bosses had for Toivonen, and the fact he bet him on the ERC without any possible reward deeply frustrated an already insecure and complicated man. We can’t also forget that Italy had a big bunch of young and fast drivers, epitomised on Miki Biasion, so Capone quickly found himself with no chance to secure a competitive ERC or WRC drive in Italy, as Lancia had replaced him with Zanussi at Tre Gazzelle, while Jolly Club hired Cerrato from Conrero Opel. Leonetti himself told on an interview to Autosprint that Capone couldn’t bear the fact the works team preferred Toivonen because the Finn was a world ace, and even if Carlo bet him on the ERC, he was forgetting he had factory-assistance and by far the best car, and at the end of the season there were the aforementioned injuries, so he couldn’t measure against Henri on the same par. It’s quite unfair to put things that way, because even Toivonen would say at the end of the season that, even if he was strong till his back problems were aggravated by the jumps at the 1000 Lakes, he recognized he was fighting against a terrific and talented driver, Carlo Capone.

Nevertheless, all the damage was done. As it was told before, most of the men that was familiar with Carlo remember him as a very introvert and slightly strange man, generally living in his own world, also his way to give his best at the wheel, as he was terribly focused on the career. His adversaries reckoned he was very talented, a fast and neat driver really sensitive and soft with the car who rarely crashed or broke the mechanics, but his personality wasn’t attractive for the increasingly important PR operations for the marques and sponsors, something even the journalists noticed that when Lancia presented their junior programmes earlier in the year. But what definitively defined his fate was the fact he lived in an era in which the Italian rally scene was dominated by the Fiat/Lancia group, and he always suffered from being set aside for rivals (not discussing their talents) with better sponsors or connections… if he had rejected team orders in 1978 it would have killed his career on the spot, so he managed to thrive under harsher circumstances till the top, but by the end of 1984 he was too frank and Giorgio Leonetti and Cesare Fiorio estranged him definitively – one of the things he criticized about the development program of Italian youngsters could be quoted more or less like this: “In Italy, they put us first on the A112 Trophy to gain experience, then driving a Group 1 Ritmo to gain more experience, and then a Group 2 Ritmo to gain yet more experience, and then they say you too old for the works team” [RallyMania Forum].

Even if it was rumoured that Rothmans Porsche was interested in him to replace Toivonen, as the Finn solved his troubles and signed an exclusive contract with Lancia for three years, and even that there were other manufacturers interested, his deception with Lancia was a huge psychological blow and undoubtedly contributed to the radical decision of his retirement at the end of the season, bitterly disappointed with the motoring world, despite having barely reached his prime, and that doubtless he had talent for much more. His father tried to help him and contacted friends and journalists trying to find his son a team, but to no avail, and Capone became more and more introvert and depressed. It’s worthy to say, however, that it’s a mistake to state he retired at all after 1984, because he did occasional regional events till late 80’s, but the passion had waned and his personal life was already totally shattered.

Rare camption of Capone driving a Group N Peugeot 205 on a local rally in 1987 (unknown).

Bad fortune didn’t abandon him after the sad end of his promising career. After his winning season he plunged into a severe depression and his marriage crumbled, but the terminal blow was the sudden death of his baby daughter Cristina. All of these happened few months after the collapse of his career, and definitively plunged Carlo into a heavy depression and dependence on medications. He went back to his parents’ home at Gassino and lived there increasingly alone and depressed, occasionally driving around the places where took his first steps in rallying and reminiscing on what could have been if not the Lancia attitude and subsequent lobbying over the remaining Italian teams… Capone was immersed on a downwards spiral that took a heavy toll over his health, and he became more and more forgotten by everyone, even from his old rally mates. Isolation aggravated his psychological problems and it took another deep blow with his father Aldo’s death late in 2013.

More or less a year and a half later, Carlo Capone and his aged mother were admitted to the Residenza Anni Azzurri, near Asti. It’s a nursing home not only for aged people, but also offering aid to people unable to live alone, mainly with dementia, cognitive impairments and psychiatric problems, and both mother and son remain there till today. However, when these sad things happened, a wave of sympathy rose on the local community and the web, thanks to his friends such as the prestigious motoring journalist Carlo Canova – which was his first co-driver – that created a Facebook page to raise attention to his situation and help him to get adequate treatment and regain a life as normal as it could be possible after so many tragedies he suffered, as well as raising awareness for the problem, instead of the countless rumours. Thirty years ago psychological and psychiatric treatment was far more inefficient than it is today, and even if the problems tend to aggravate after so many setbacks and without attendance, so it can’t be said Carlo Capone will have a normal life ever again, but let’s have hope and faith he may recover as most as he can.

Meanwhile, Matteo Rovere released a movie, Veloce come il vento, allegedly inspired on Carlo Capone’ story, in which an accomplished ex-driver, Loris De Martino (played by the renowned Stefano Accorsi) manages to return to competition after a complicated past, where he lost almost everything – career and family – due to depression and drug addictions, being consigned to some occasional illegal races and rallies, that manages to fight his demons and recover while helping his promising younger sister Giulia to become a leading driver on the Italian scene, ending with the reunion and reconciliation of the family. The movie was launched in April 2016 and Matteo Rovere said Carlo Capone’s sad story was a great inspiration to create the complex character of Loris De Martino. However, there are a lot of different questions also addressed on the movie, mainly the drug addiction, which raised some criticism by the purists and friends and admirers of Carlo Capone. In my opinion, Veloce come il vento is a story of overcoming bad times and fits well for a fiction movie, but shouldn’t be so linked with Carlo’s past, which was a completely different situation and involved a psychiatric condition.

As I said at the beginning, when I first read Carlo Capone’s story, I became terrible saddened, but also fascinated with it, because it is, more than so many others, an epitome of the human side of motor racing. We tend to focus on these men as racing drivers, but there’s so more underneath their performances with fast cars that is usually so ignored, that I decided to do further investigation to this story in particular. I sincerely hope Carlo Capone could improve to live a reasonable life in the near future and that all of us, rally fans or not, remember him as the great driver and man he was, and give him strength to win this rally, against the depression. Ti vogliamo bene, Carlo!

The forgotten Italian legend from the 80’s (unknown).

I learnt the first stories on Carlo Capone on the widely known Rallymania Forum. I remember I did it back in 2015, not properly on a good personal moment. When I published the first version, Angelo Carlo Canova, which was my Facebook friend by then. He had met him and had a strong bond with Carlo, then and now, and we further discussed more things on his career, and we met personally at the 2016 Rally of Portugal. Sadly, Angelo Carlo Canova passed away shortly after the 2019 edition of the Portuguese Rally, which deeply touched me. I knew he was fighting against illness for a long time, and I am sad I never magaed to contact him for some time before he died. This article is also a tribute to someone that was a great man and professional, and that helped me a lot, when I was absolutely unknwon. Ciao Carlo!!!

Carlo Capone/Carlo Canova, Rallye Sanremo 1978 (Carlo Canova).

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 (unknown)

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!!

Amidst such multiform talent and success, Höttinger did an internship at Mercedes-Benz on the 1975 summer break and used his earnings to buy a Ford, which he immediately entered on local club races! And, on the following season, he took his car to the Austrian Ford Escort Cup, ending second, and also drove on the Austrian Renault 5 Cup, finishing seventh and winning it on his second attempt at 1977. That year he also entered the highly competitive Renault 5 Eurocup, winning the support event for the Italian Grand Prix! It was during his tenure with the small French machines that Höttinger met Helmut Marko – the elder countrymate had a successful career with sportscars and was driving for BRM in F1 when he lost an eye at the 1972 French G.P., after being hit by a stone that pierced his visor; so he became a talent-hunter, nowadays renowned for his powerful role at Red Bull. Helmut Marko recalls Höttinger as “He was just a young guy from Burgenland, which is the smallest state in Austria. He was working on the cars himself in the beginning, just with a friend of his. And then I think we did some sort of cooperation in the European championship. So from then on I was following him or guiding him through the various categories” [Autosport, 220:3, p.61].

Cutting his teeth on the Austrian Renault 5 Cup (unknwon)

Helmut was already a cunning manager and saw raw talent in Höttinger, so he spoke of him to Jochen Neerpasch, then BMW sports manager. And when one of the Münich protégées, Eddie Cheever, was unable to drive at the season ending Kyalami 1000 Km, he called Höttinger to drive an Alpina-entered BMW 320 with the veteran Harald Grohs. Both managed a third place, and even if it was against a frail opposition and they weren’t properly fast (at the beginning Markus was more or less five second slower to his BMW teammates), it has to be said the young man adapted quite well to a far more powerful car and to an unknown circuit, so for 1978 Neerpasch signed him for the BMW development programme. Alongside extensive testing mileage (mainly developing the new 1.4-liter turbocompressed engine), Höttinger was assigned to the semi-works GS Tuning squad to drive one of the powerful Group 5 BMW 320 on the DRM – immediately he was one of the fastest men on Division 2 and won his first race on the third round on the daunting Nürburgring. He would climb to the highest place on the podium two more times that season, finishing second on Division 2 and joint fourth on the overall with 117 points, beating on the way some experienced drivers as Armin Hahne, Hans Heyer and Harald Grohs.

Harald Ertl (#55) closely pursued by Markus Höttinger similar BMW 320 (unknown)

His strong performances led to an invitation to drive on the Nürburgring round of the World Championship of Makes (to make it easier, let’s call it World Sportscar Championship, WSC) with a works BMW 320, pairing the far more experienced Hans Stuck. It gave Markus another win at the ‘Ring, as they took the honours on Division 1, in front of their mates, nothing less than Dieter Quester (which had refused to drive alongside the younger countrymate because he didn’t want to be a “racing school monitor”) and Ronnie Peterson! Definitively the promising signs at Kyalami and the ‘Ring’s DRM round weren’t one-off performances, so Höttinger was further called by BMW to drive by diverse teams both on the WSC and the ETC. If the remaining WSC entries brought retirements, his debut on ETC had a far better flavour, as Höttinger won the Zeltweg round alongside Umberto Grano, driving a BMW 3.0 CSL for the Luigi “dream team”. 1978 also marked his single-seater debut on the Österreichring European F3 event, driving a Chevron B38-BMW, but he retired on the first heat after an accident.

Another superb performance gave Höttinger and the Ringmeister Hans-Joachim Stuck the Group 5-Division 1 the title (Jürgen Reiss)

Obviously, such an impressive season reinforced his place in the BMW Junior squad, and Helmut Marko recalls that, despite the occasional detours typical of a good-looking young man, Höttinger soon developed a very professional approach to everything on the sport, and was one of the first young drivers to give special care to fitness and eating habits, which could be a big asset further on his career. And he really needed to be in perfect condition, as BMW filled his calendar with DRM, F2 and the brand-new Procar Series. The latter championship was born after a row between BMW and FISA, as the ruling body imposed a lot of modifications to accept the Gr.4 homologation of the brand new M1, a limited model built almost specially to compete. BMW didn’t agree so Neerpasch approached Max Mosley and the FOCA in order to create a F1 support series with twenty identical M1’s that would be sold to renowned teams, so the ability of both the tuner and driver would make the bigger difference. Also there were another big appeal for the fans and sponsors: the first five F1 qualifiers were offered a drive with works-prepared cars! Thus one of the most spectacular, if not the best ever, one-make series was created, and it would support eight European F1 rounds, starting at Zolder.

One of the entering teams was GS Tuning, that wisely chose Höttinger to drive the terrific M1 against F1 drivers (including Lauda doing the whole series with a Project 4 car) and several established sports and touring car stars. Immediately Markus was among the best and further impressed the BMW board and the F1 bosses. At Zolder, the fight for the lead between him and Stuck ended in a collision, then he was quite outpaced at Monaco and retired at Dijon; but at Silverstone he was back to the top and robbed Stuck of his third place after a sensational battle. Hockenheim ended after an early pile-up, but on home turf Höttinger was superb and managed to handle a damaged car to a sensational second. On the heavy Zandvoort, rain Markus took off Piquet, but finished the season with another podium at Monza (3rd), which put him fourth overall with 45 points – in front of him there were only consecrated drivers: Lauda, Stuck and Regazzoni!! Quoting Marko: “His performance in the Procar really opened up his future. Especially with BMW. Neerpasch noticed his talent and helped a lot” [Autosport, 220:3, p.62].

Procar Series lasted only two seasons, but proved to be a state-of-the-art one-manufacturer Trophy and let the fans longing for another one. Who knows if something like that would draw more public and a different mojo to a F1 weekend nowadays? (unknown)

On the DRM front, Höttinger drove the beautifully-liveried Jägermeister Team BMW 320, but it was outpowered against the new 320 Turbos and the Ford Capri Turbo that would dominate the Division 2 in 1979. Yet he often managed to push the car to its maximum without breaking, often finishing on the points and being the best of the “older” BMW’s. By the end of the year the team bought a 320 Turbo and Markus was immediately back on the dice for the overall, taking his lone win at the penultimate round at Hockenheim, enough to be third on Division 2 and eighth overall.

Which is the best? The car? The eternal livery? The young driver behind the wheel? All of them, I presume, and this caption at the Mainz-Finthen airfield sums it all (The Automobilist)

Finally, BMW also allowed Höttinger to prove his talent on single-seaters, arranging him a drive with a semi-works March 792-BMW from Bob Salisbury. The team had a small budget and Markus’ top priorities were his DRM and Procar outings, so he was only entered on five rounds, alongside the permanent driver Juan Traverso. None of them could impress and the best Höttinger could do were three seventh places, but it wasn’t too bad for a rookie who lacked mileage to adapt to the tricky handling of the March 792. But BMW had already set his eyes on F1, even after a management change, so they wanted their young drivers to have a full F2 season in 1980 and Höttinger was drafted to the newcomer Maurer team.

Markus’ first single-seater season wasn’t properly succesfull. However, he only did odd F2 races and the difficult March 792 provided an excellent car to learn the trade. (Hans Fohr)

BMW was the dominant engine in F2 between early seventies and 1982 and sponsored the official March team, being only occasionally challenged by Hart. Concerning the manufacturers, March was always on top, challenged by Chevron (which retired in 1980 after the death of founder Derek Bennett), Toleman and privately-entered Marches. Occasionally AGS and Minardi provided a surprise, but in 1979 a new team would arrive with an ambitious programme: Maurer. Willy Maurer decided to build a car for the 1979 season, sponsored by the Berlin-based beverage company Mampe, thus the MM Mampe Team name; and they had a deal for BMW engines. Even if their first season was a total disaster, the new MM80, designed by Gustav Brunner, embedded all the lessons hardly learnt the year before so 1980 was approached with renewed optimism, and Maurer placed the experienced Eje Elgh alongside Markus.

Second round of the 1980 F2 season at Höckenheim. This photo must have been taken during practice, as he would die during the first laps of the race (unknwon)

Sadly, Thruxton seemed to be a sequel of 1979, as Höttinger retired with a broken engine before completing the first lap and Elgh was out with a puncture, and both weren’t properly fast, but it all seemed to improve at Hockenheim. For the Jim Clark Trophy both cars qualified in midfield and after the start they ran on top-10, so all hopes were allowed. Then tragedy ensued… On lap 3 de Cesaris and Winkelhock collided on Turn 1 and the track was dirty with sand. A lap later, desperately defending from a faster Thackwell, Derek Warwick ran wide and spun on the sand, failing to regain control of his Toleman Derek crashed heavily on the inside Armco barriers, which tore off his right rear wheel that jumped into the track…. precisely at the moment Höttinger was passing. He was struck square on his helmet with such violence the roll-bar was bent sideways!!! An unconscious Höttinger spun and was yet hit by Bernard Devaney, before stopping against the guard-rails three hundred meters after the impact with the wheel.

Höttinger was immediately reached by marshals and the medical staff but he had severe head injuries. Immediately they applied trauma procedures on an ambulance right on the side of the circuit, and if initially the doctors thought him clinically dead frail electrocardiogram signs made them take the decision to call a helicopter from Oggersheim, 24 Km away, and the race was shortened in three laps to allow the landing. Markus was transferred to Heidelberg hospital but was pronounced dead on the arrival. There was criticism because the helicopter took so much to arrive, but his condition was probably beyond any help even with actual safety procedures, as we sadly saw by the recent cases of Justin Wilson and Henry Surtees.

Small footage of the race and the intervention of the safety teams.

His death occurred the day before the planned announcement on the ORF TV program “Sport am Montag” of Höttinger’s debut in F1 in the Austrian G.P., probably driving an ATS. It was ironic that other of the BMW young protégés, Hans-Georg Bürger, would be killed later in the season in the F2 Zandvoort round. Bürger and Höttinger were great friends and both were considered potential F1 drivers, as Marko remembers: “For sure Markus would have been competitive in F1. Just from his speed and his intelligence. Hans-Georg didn’t have the straightforward approach that Markus had, but he was one of the best Germans at that time” [Autosport, 220:3, p.65]. His teammate at the BMW junior squad Christian Danner adds that “Markus had the right personality, and was very disciplined” [Autosport, 220:3, p.65]. Even if he hadn’t yet completed his 24th anniversary and had less than ten single-seater outings in his very short career, it couldn’t be denied he had a lot of talent and could be a top driver, if not on F1, on touring and sports cars, after his impressive performances in 78 and 79. And BMW didn’t fail too much with their talents… sadly, two of them would also die five years later. They were called Stefan Bellof and Manfred Winkelhock.

Betraued by destiny, remembered forever (Hartmut Schulz)

Didier Pironi – Talent and Controversy (Part II)

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

Pironi at Ferrari…. A champion to be??? (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

When he signed for Ferrari, Pironi knew he was far from having an easy task ahead of him. First, the Scuderia, having won the 1979 F1 World Championship with Scheckter in front of Villeneuve, had gone through an absolutely disastrous 1980 season, culminating in the South African’s withdrawal from the sport, as he confessed never to have the same motivation after fulfilling the dream of being World Champion. In 1981 Mauro Forghieri designed the first Ferrari with a turbocharged engine, but they were expecting a lot of teething troubles. At the same time, Didier moved to a team with a name deeply established into their structure and, admittedly, one of the fastest drivers ever – although the speed was often accompanied by excesses – of the history of the sport, the Canadian Gilles Villeneuve.

Pironi (289 leading Piquet (5) and Villeneuve (27) during the USA-Long Beach Grand Prix (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

In 1979, Villeneuve had always been very close to his teammate Scheckter and, at Monza, when Ferrari gave orders to maintain positions, the Canadian religiously obeyed the team, aware that he would have more time to be a champion and that his teammate had, indeed, been the most complete driver of the season. However, with the disastrous car of 1980, the Canadian had vulgarised the South African and was, in matter of fact, the leader of the Scuderia in 1981. However, with his usual sincere and kind character, Gilles welcomed the new team-mate as if it was a friend. Soon this courtesy resulted in a strong friendship, often ending up with a lot of fun and peril, like some spectacular street racing and risky flights – both men had a passion for helicopters and airplanes – and, once, they decided to endure a Transatlantic flight with the gas on the limits, eventually having to perform and emergency landing in Greenland!!!!! Any current team manager would have a heart attack if this happened…

1981 Monaco Grand Prix (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

And, on the circuits, they didn’t give in to an unbridled rivalry. In fact, the new Ferrari 126CK, the first with turbo engine and ground effect, was very powerful but extremely heavy and hard to drive, which left the drivers far from being able to fight for top positions. In addition, reliability wasn’t, as expected, the best, and both Pironi and Villeneuve were penalized throughout the season with a car which the Canadian described a “fast red Cadillac”. However, both in qualifying and racing, Pironi was unable to keep up with his team-mate since, while Gilles managed to win in Spain and Monaco, the best that Pironi did was a fourth place on the winding Monegasque circuit, having started from the bottom of the grid. This discrepancy which occurred during 1981 gave voice to those who considered the French as a driver who hadn’t enough ability to be a champion, unlike Villeneuve that would soon take the title, only needing to moderate even more his driving’s excesses. However, it is necessary to look carefully to the different ways both men approached the adversity. Like Peterson, Villeneuve had the natural ability to bypass the car’s lack of quality with natural exuberance and a style of driving with “the knife in his teeth”, maximizing the potential of the machine when there were occasions for such, having an inventive ability to bypass the problems. Pironi, with his very cerebral and applied approach, hadn’t developed the same capacities, thus preferring to work on the car to tune it and extract the best results from it, but he couldn’t immediately establish this rapport with Ferrari.

1982 season promised to be great, as Ferrari had a great car, with the strongest turbo engine (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

However, in 1982, with Harvey Postlethwaite at the helm of the design of the new 126 C2, Ferrari could hope, in all fairness, to have one of the best cars on the field. Of the four teams that used turbo engines, it was soon obvious that Ferrari, although not the most powerful, was the most reliable, and the men from Maranello had the most complete package, so both Villeneuve and Pironi started the season with legitimate ambitions for the title. Once again, on the first races of the season, Villeneuve beat Pironi and managed (although in a somewhat slender way) to better convert his performances in results. Arriving at Imola on a race boycotted by FOCA drivers, Ferrari and Renault were in a separate championship, and when the French turbos failed (again), the two Ferrari men were isolated in front, only needing to finish the race to get a double in front of their enthusiastic audience. Hence the order to slow down, given from the pitlane… From then on, everyone knows the story. Villeneuve led when the order was given and although both drivers overtook each other more than once (even because the turbo pressure of the Ferrari sometimes shot up, which made one of the cars much faster than the teammate), the Canadian entered the last lap on the front and thought the order was to keep positions, so he felt safe he could win, but Pironi passed him at Tosa and crossed the finish first, to Gilles’ great disbelief!!! Feeling betrayed, mainly by his beloved team, Villeneuve also vowed never to speak to Pironi again and, a fortnight later in Zolder, when he tried to improve his qualifying time, Gilles collided with Jochen Mass on his slowdown lap, suffering an extremely violent accident that caused his death a few hours later. Worse than being considered by most of the press as a traitor, Pironi was now seen by the vast majority of fans as guilty from Villeneuve’s death, the hero idolized by thousands. However, things were not that simple, and it’s a horrible injustice to the memory of a great man and driver (an article about Imola 1982 will be released later).

The moment everything changed… forever (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

In mourning, Ferrari didn’t race in Belgium, but then Pironi realized that all expectations from the team rested on him and took the lead of the operations, focusing more and more on the conquest of the title. Many considered him colder and arrogant at this stage, but the truth is that, beyond the media pressure, Didier was plunged into a very troubled sentimental spiral. Having married just before G.P. of San Marino with his long-time girlfriend Catherine Bleynie, the relationship quickly suffered a heavy blow when, while filming a television ad, Pironi met TV presenter Véronique Jeannot, getting involved with her shortly thereafter. No wonder, then, that Didier was a transfigured man on that troubled summer.

Pironi took a second place in Monaco and a third in the USA-Detroit but, in Canada he was involved on an horrific accident. This time it all happened when the Frenchman, who started from pole, let the car stall on the start and he was subsequently hit with great violence by the rookie Riccardo Paletti, who started from the bottom of the grid and reached the Ferrari ate considerable speed. The impact was so hard that Paletti suffered thoracic injuries that led to his almost immediate death. After the restart, distressed by mechanical problems and deconcentrated by the horrific events, Pironi didn’t go further than ninth. However, in Netherlands, the Frenchman appeared to be once again absolutely focused on the title and got an overwhelming win at Zandvoort, followed by a second place in England and a third in France, leaving him nine points clear of John Watson at the start of the German G.P. Given that both the Renaults and the Brabhams, due to the unreliability of their turbochargers, wouldn’t be able to compete regularly enough for the title, and that the closest atmospheric rivals – John Watson and Keke Rosberg – would have serious difficulties fighting the Ferrari and the other turbos on the fast tracks that would follow, it was perfectly justifiable, including to Pironi himself, to seriously dream with the title.

Great (and last) win at Zandvoort (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

Unfortunately, everything would come to a tragic end on the German G.P. Pironi had already secured the pole when he decided to leave the pitlane on the last practice session, under torrential rain. Why did the French risk so much, no one knows, but everyone says that, in those days, he seemed a man more and more distant and tormented. On one of his laps, Pironi was approaching Derek Daly at high speed on the road to the Stadium, when the Irishman from Williams moved away to let pass the Ferrari. Unfortunately, the truth was that Daly was just overtaking Prost, who was on his slowing lap, and Pironi fully hit the rear of the Renault, being throwed in the air just like Villeneuve, landing with his front on the track. Didier survived the scary accident, but was horribly injured on his legs and feet, which left Professor Syd Watkins equating an amputation. The venerable Formula 1 doctor told in his book and on several other occasions that Pironi, amidst the horrible pain he was suffering, asked not have his legs cut and Watkins assured that he would do everything that was possible to avoid it. Hitherto, Didier became embroiled in controversy because he would later say that Syd Watkins had favoured the amputation as the most practical measure to take. The Professor would say that Pironi would be one of the few people to whom he would always harbour grudges.

The remains of the Ferrari are in almost the same state as Villeneuve’s. Pironi survived, but his career was over (Didier Pironi Memorial Website).

Obviously, Didier’s career was over, and title hopes were severely diminished, as Ferrari had again only one driver, Patrick Tambay, to defend their colours and steal points from their opponents. Unfortunately, Tambay also had health problems – the spine was suffering from the effects of ground-effect cars – and he had to be absent on two races, and not even the late call to Mario Andretti was enough for the title to be decided between Keke Rosberg and John Watson, being conquered by the Finn, which only won one race at Dijon.

Pironi never stopped dreaming of a return to the sport, having returned to the paddock precisely at Hockenheim during the 1983 season, still on crutches, and aware that it would take several surgeries to give him back his physical abilities to drive and, although Enzo Ferrari said he was ready to hire the Frenchman as soon as he was recovered, it was too obvious for all that the probabilities were extremely small. Pironi would undergo dozens of surgeries to recover the best use of his legs as much as possible, and it was not until the end of 1986 that he effectively managed to test a Formula 1 again, an AGS prototype that would debut the following season (without great results). He was later invited by Guy Ligier to test in Dijon (Ligier had lost Laffite after the 1986 British Grand Prix, when the veteran broke his legs on a start pile-up) and was not far from the chronos of the other driver of the team, his old colleague and rival René Arnoux. However, in addition to being unsure of being competitive enough during a full weekend even more on a complete season, Pironi had problems with his insurer, who had paid him the end-of-career amount after the accident so, had he returned, Didier would have to give back a huge load of money.

After his AGS experience, Pironi tested for Ligier at Dijon. He was in good condition, and an offer would come… (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

Thus, Pironi realized that he would never return to Formula 1 and, in 1987 he dedicated himself to powerboats, especially the offshore events, at the wheel of his Colibri 4. Like José Dolhem, Pironi was attracted to everything that was radical, and at the wheel of his boat he seemed to release all the energy contained by his interrupted motoring career, always taking a lot of risks. Unfortunately, on 23 August 1987, Pironi and his crew, Bernard Giroux and Jean-Claude Guénard, were at full speed on the second place in a race off the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, when the Colibri crossed the waves caused by the passage of an imposing tanker. Being in maximum attack, Pironi could not avoid them like the preceding team and the boat took off and flew, striking the water with brutal violence, instantly killing all its occupants. Didier had 35 years old. By this time, he had already rebuilt his personal life and lived for quite some time with his girlfriend Catherine Goux, who was pregnant with twins – when they were born, Catherine called them Didier and Gilles. As for Formula One, it appears that Professor Letournel’s work had finally taken effect, and Pironi had reached an agreement with his insurer to return in 1988, having a pre-contract with the Larrousse team. But all was over on the English coast that day …

Glory and tragedy aboard the Colibri (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

Didier Pironi always suffered with a little problem, which was far less common back then, his approach to the Formula 1 “Piranha Club”. Pironi was a politician – he confessed that, even though he was not the noblest of the men’s professions, he loved it – and someone who worked a lot on the backstage. This isn’t implying he was a false and covert person, everyone who lived with Didier did not characterize him in that way. But under the cloak of a very direct but apparently shy and secretive person, there was a man who fought to the utmost for success and who put all dedication in his work. And the dedication also implied being close to the sponsors and the right people to get their way. In this way, as it was common and, on our days, generalised, it implied at all costs to obtain for himself some beenefits within the team. It was the opposite of Villeneuve, who limited his profession to the work behind the wheel and to promotional commitments related to the marque. For the Canadian, that was the duty of a Formula 1 driver. For Pironi, being with influential people and sponsors was just as important as tuning the car. Thus, by the way he won in Imola and the subsequent tragic death of his friend and teammate, Didier became, in a completely undeserved way, in the archetype of the traitor, fuelled by a ruthless press. Looking further, didn’t Arnoux deliberately ignore the team orders aimed to help Prost in the title fight in France that season? Or has not Lauda used his three-year influence at Ferrari to secure his primacy over Reutemann in 1977? Backstage manoeuvres have always existed and won’t cease ever and, in this case, such orders weren’t so clear, which adds to the huge injustice with which Pironi is regarded for so many people.

The driver and the man (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

Didier Pironi – Talent and Controversy (Part I)

Even today, among motorsport fans, talking about Didier Pironi raises controversy. The French pilot is synonymous of betrayal, Imola 1982, and for being the cause of the death of Gilles Villeneuve. Unfortunately, this is an extremely narrow view of the 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, 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 he never cared much the same as his younger brother for his career, even though José was quite talented and even had occasional odd chances in Formula 1, before turning his back on 4-wheels and becoming an airplane pilot.

Pironi and his half-brother José Dolhem, two lovers of sport and high risk adventure, both skilled drivers, one completely dedicated pro, another that raced for fun (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

As for Didier, he seemed to be destined to pursue the family business and apllied for an engineering course. However, he caught the racing bug from Joseph, and entered his first local car racing in 1972 and, encouraged by his brother, decided to enrol at the Paul Ricard’s Winfield School, with the aim of obtaining the Volant Elf (which had replaced Shell on the promotion of the most respected French drivers’ school). From a very early stage, Didier proved to be a highly focused driver, concentrating on achieving success, and extremely sharp-eyed to the smallest detail, thus managing to win the famous prize at the end of 1972, which guaranteed him a place in the Ecurie Elf on the European Formula Renault Championship (F3 in France was, back then, much less valued than Formula Renault and Super Renault, the latter even serving occasionally as a supporting event for Grand Prix!) in 1973. Pironi would later say that if the first season wasn’t properly successful, he would quit the competition as, more than a passion, he only got involved in something to win. And, in fact, the first season evinced a very talented and totally dedicated driver, Didier’s finishing overall, which was an extremely positive result considering his youth and almost total lack of previous experience in motor racing.

Winning the Volant Elf, with Ken Tyrrell and Jackiw Stewart. (Didier Pironi Memorial website)

Elf only guaranteed sponsorship and support to the winner of the Volant on the first season, but they also rewarded the most talented drivers in France, and Pironi stood with Ecurie Elf in 1974, further showing his dedication by moving himself to Magny-Cours, where Tico Martini’s squad was based, as he drove for him. In matter of fact, the back then French small circuit was the base for many talented young drivers and Pironi, always looking to maximize his gify, decided that he would be better in the vicinity of the circuit, where he could rent a garage and a place on the pits and test. The results were immediate and, faced with a very powerful competition, Didier won the Formula Renault Championship in 1974, winning seven of the twenty races. Thus he kept his connection to Martini and Elf for 1975, now in the upper echelon, the Formula Super Renault, achieving immediately a third place in the championship, beaten only by the more experienced René Arnoux and … Jean Ragnotti! And, if the first year was to learn, the second was enough to emphasize young Pironi’s raw talent, as he simply destroyed all the opposition to win twelve of the seventeen rounds of the championship to secure the 1976 title.

Didier Pironi (#) on the front at the mythical Nouveau Monde corner, Rouen-les-Essarts (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

By the end of the year, Didier Pironi was hired by the works Tico Martini’s squad, supported by Elf and Renault, to run in the European Formula 2, having as teammate the more experienced Arnoux. Even though he was not the team’s first driver, Pironi showed all his usual dose of talent and dedication to finish the championship in third place, just two points away from the second, winning a race in Estoril, while his teammate guaranteed the title. That same year, aware of the strong image it provided both for the “big bosses” of F1 and the sponsors, Pironi made its debut in Formula 3 on the prestigious Monaco G.P. at the wheel of a Martini Mk21-Toyota supported by Elf, being able to dominate the race with a terrifying exhibition. Didier also drove for the second time in his career on the 24 Hours of Le Mans (he had made his debut with Kremer the previous year) at the wheel of a Renault Alpine A442 entered by Oreca, alongside René Arnoux and Guy Fréquelin, but he was the first victim of the Renault’s debacle in that edition of the French classic, retiring on the formation lap with the car on fire!

His sole season of F2 easily demonstrated why Pironi was one of the best prospects on the single-seater world (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

While René Arnoux remained with Martini, who was preparing to debut on the Formula 1 circus in 1978, Didier Pironi was immediately hired by another Elf-backed team, Tyrrell, alongside Patrick Depailler. After two years with the celebrated six-wheeled P34, which never had the desired effect, Tyrrell returned to the conventional designs with the 008 and, although it was no more on the plateau of the golden days of Stewart and Scheckter, when they could fight for the titles, it was always a hard-working squad which was often vying for the points and the occasional podiums and wins. Thrown to the “piranha club”, Pironi couldn’t yet be a competitor to Patrick, both in practice and racing, as Depailler was one of the most experienced and renowned drivers of the era, both aggressive and sensitive enough to test a lot and tune the car almost perfectly. Yet Didier got a very consistent first half of the season, which allowed him to get to the points on a regular basis. However, on the second half, trying to show some service in a car that, due to lack of funds, could not evolve in the same way as the top-tiers, the regularity was replaced by some accidents, typical of the driver who forces the machine beyond its capabilities. For many observers, it was on that season they began to realize that Pironi wasn’t perhaps one of the most natural talented drivers, even if he knew how to compensate this slight deficit that separates the excellent from the legends with a boundless dedication.

Here at Long Beach, Pironi proves on his first season he was more than prepared to become a F1 driver. (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

Anyway, Didier left his mark on the history of motor racing that year by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the new Renault Alpine A442B with the experienced Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, being able to handle a steady pace with a car whose gearbox was clearly crying his days out, collapsing from exhaustion after finishing the race. While working at Le Mans, Renault had made its debut in Formula One in 1977 with Jean-Pierre Jabouille and, although the experimental car was called the “yellow kettle” by the British press due to the usual custom of breaking the engine or the turbocharger, the gradual improvements made in 1978 turned the car as an odd fighter for points in 1978 and, unknowingly, showed the way to follow to all the teams of Formula 1 – Renault had just inaugurated the Turbo Era. After a year and a half of development, the team wanted to extend the team to two drivers and were looking for a quick and consistent youngster to partner the veteran Jabouille, whose car development faculties were absolutely indispensable. The choice fell on Pironi, but he had a contract with Ken Tyrrell for 1979, which led to some “frisson” between the parties. The Englishman claimed his rights and Pironi accepted, being the vacant place at Renault occupied by … René Arnoux, who had given everything with the Martini – Tico Martini soon realized that running a F1 team was far more complicated and expensive, and wisely chose to end its adventure after one year, dedicating himself to the blossoming business on the promotion formulas.

Splendid win for Pironi/Jaussaud at Le Mans, after so many troubles for Renault they year before. After that, Renault’s focus turned entirely to their turbo programme in F1. (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

In 1979 Pironi had another very experienced team-mate behind the wheel of the new Tyrrell 009, Jean-Pierre Jarier, but Didier wasn’t (again) intimidated and, unlike the year before, quickly proved to be the fastest and most consistent of the team. The team from Ockham was gradually struggling to catch up with the front-runners, but that was no problem for Pironi, who often managed to make the car perform more than expected, finishing almost every race and often with very interesting performances, which earned him two third places in Belgium and USA-Watkins Glen. Thus he finished the season in tenth with fourteen points, twice as much as he had achieved in 1978. And, thanks to his excellent qualifying results, Pironi was able to enter three races on the fabulous Procar Series – a one-off trophy using BMW M1 that supported some Grand Prix, where the six-best drivers on the F1 qualifying earnt a place, so they could face the remaining habitués, mostly endurance and touring car drivers, but also some “young wolves” searching for a place among the top of the tops. Of those three events, Pironi finished two on the podium… A great talent was, definitely, emerging.

Even if Tyrrell wasn’t a top team since the failure of their P34-six wheel prohect, between 1968 (as Matra International) until 1979, the squad from Ockham only failed to win twice, in 1977 and 1979. However, it was obvious the team was going definitively to midfield, but it didn’t deterr Pironi to make another excellent season. (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)

The performances with Tyrrell convinced Guy Ligier to invite him to take the place of Patrick Depailler at Ligier in 1980. Since his debut in the highest category of motorsport in 1976, Ligier had been renowned by reliable cars capable of regularly finishing on the points, occasionally reaching victories, but the first half of the 1979 season had been absolutely brilliant, and Laffite fought for the championship until the last rounds. In matter of fact, what Ligier lacked was the ability to develop the car at the same pace as most of the teams in the second half of the season and, perhaps, a little more organization. Still, when switching to the French team, Didier Pironi was aware that he would have a potential winning car in hand and was quick to prove it. The first part of the season was very regular, and culminated with a spectacular victory in G.P. of Belgium in Zolder.

On the way to his first win, Pironi press hard with his Ligier. (Didier Pironi Memorial Website).

Then, Pironi was pole on the Monaco G.P. and led more than half of the race, until an accident in the bend with René Arnoux left both out of the race. Second place in France, Pironi managed a spectacular pole at Brands Hatch and set off for an almost guaranteed domination of the race until, like his team-mate Jacques Laffite, he suffered a puncture and became hopelessly delayed, retiring shortly after. It turned out that the Ligier punctures were caused by broken rims due to some mistakes with ground effect tuning, which placed too heavy loads on the suspensions. After a sequence of three consecutive retirements, which left him out of the title contention, it was, nevertheless, worthy to say that, on the first half of the season, Pironi was frankly stronger than the star driver of the team, Jacques Laffite – who, despite not being the utmost genius at the wheel was, notwithstanding, an excellent driver – which caused quite a stir inside Ligier, since Laffite had led them since their arrival to F1 in 1976 (Laffite would even say that Pironi was the strongest teammate he had, even stronger than Rosberg, which partnered him at Williams in 1983 and 1984). At the same time, Guy Ligier’s bad temper was widely known, and some mistakes within the team led the blue cars to lose their pace on the second half of the season, which alerted Pironi to look for other marque for 1981. Yet, on the latest days of the season, Pironi managed to give more podiums to Ligier on the last two rounds of the year, losing his second win at the Canadian G.P. only because, in those days, the penalty for false start was one minute applied after crossing the finishing line. Pironi dominated most of the race and crossed the line first, but the penalty deprived him of a deserved victory, demoting him to third. Therefore, Didier was fifth in the F1 World Championship with 32 points, just two behind his colleague Laffite, less affected by mechanical failures. And, again, his spectacular qualifying results guaranteed him seven races in the Procar Series, and the Frenchman won once. However, his shows of brilliance caught the attention of several teams, in particular Scuderia Ferrari, who soon hired him for two seasons. Now, Pironi was sure he could achieve the title.

The season ended with some stellar performances, but also with a huge disappointment because Ligier lacked the organization to fight for more, even if in 1979 and 1981 they weren’t far from the title with Laffite, and the team won regularly between 1977 and 1981. (Didier Pironi Memorial Website)
French dream team – Didier Pironi and Jacques Laffite. One of the best years for Ligier curtailed by several problems due to ground effect miinterpretation and the heavy loads it placed on wheels and suspensions. (Didier Pironi Memorial Website).

Introducing myself

Hello to all!!!

I am finally back with my renewed website, which I chose to maintain the same name my original WordPress blog, where it all began some years ago – Wanderings of a Motor Racing Historian. In matter of fact, an historian, whatever he dedicates himself, is always wandering through pieces of the past – documents, books, magazines, photos, videos, even interviewing people. It’s a fascinating work, and since motor racing and history were my childhood passions, I found a way to join both.

I am Guilherme Ribeiro, a 30-years old Portuguese man, born and living at Porto. Since I remember myself, I always loved cars, and I have bare memories of watching a white and red Footwork with my father at TV, which implies that, being born in 1989, I was already seeing Formula 1 by 1993 (the last year where the team used that beautiful livery). But the first season I remember to see almost completely was 1994. Thus I was born with the memories of early Schumacher’s domination, his fight against Damon Hill and how it all ended – which made me hate everyone who recurs to any dirty tactics to achieve his purposes – but, more than that, the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. I remember Senna’s crash today, I saw it live, but it didn’t diminish my passion for motor racing. As I grew up, I remember to watch and play a lot with my little cars F1 races, and I was also an avid reader of a wide range of themes, from astronomy to geography, biology to history, etc… Some of these interests accompanied me while growing, and I became an avid reader, mainly historical romances, something that I remain – sometimes it’s so interesting that causes insomnia…

As I became a teen, my passion for motor racing grew a lot, and history was always intertwined with it. I bought my first racing books about the past and, then, came the internet. Woowww suddenly a 13-years old teen found so much information in so many places that he had no place to start by!!! It was a huge emotion, mainly when I discovered Atlas Nostalgia Forum. This was THE catalyst of my future works. I had fourteen and, suddenly, I was a member of one of the biggest and best communities in motor racing – there were no social networks back then. TNF’s material and information was something I never ever expected to achieve, and it sparked my interest to become a motor racing historian and writer. Interestingly… I always hated writing…

I grew up and followed haphazardly as a typical teenager my ideas. Next, I went to College, applying for a degree in Microbiology. As I told you before, sciences were an old passion too, so when we have to choose between equal passion for Sciences and Humanities, the weight in the balance was the probability to get a job, and Sciences win by miles… Thus I started my degree, taking an option to do Biochemistry instead of Microbiology when we had to choose, while I started my first motor racing writings. But the degree was extremely hard and I rarely had time to do a bigger thing. Even that, under alias, I published my first works at TNF and 8W. Then I applied for the Master Degree in Applied Microbiology, and had lesser and lesser time to dedicate myself to my dear hobby.

However, I was increasingly tired and amidst a huge vocational crisis. Even if I enjoyed sciences since I was young, my greatest love was history, and as soon as the years of the degree passed on, I found it more and more evident. And the huge personal pressure a career in scientific investigation was taking a heavy toll on me, so I took some time to reflect and while doing my Master thesis, I decided my career in sciences would end when I delivered the thesis and have the final presentation and argument, and I would switch to History. I really thank my parents for all their enormous support, because a second degree is a huge financial burden, but they helped me a lot, and I am far happier now. Of course, my original idea was to start an academic career in history and pursue my motor racing investigations as a hobby, but everything turned differently than I expected. When I applied to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities I had very high expectations, that weren’t entirely fulfilled. Then, it surged a chance to do the final degree project with a race-related theme, and now the same with my Master thesis in Contemporary History. And I followed that destiny, let’s see where it leads me…

So this website is the culmination of a lot of years working on this area as an amateur, mostly behind the screen and among my books and magazines. I don’t come from a family with big interest in racing to take me to the races and rallies, so this passion grew from TV and, most of it, wandering through something. The web and paper – I am a traditionalist, I far prefer doing research on journals and books. It was always very important for me on a personal level, because I had some personal issues when I got literally exhausted during my period in sciences and even in history, and my hobby was something that helped me to turn around and start again. So here I am, a racing passionate, cat lover, extremely avid reader and writer, and someone who loves to enjoy himself with friends too.

 But this work isn’t only for me, but for you. History is made for the readers, and I hope you enjoy. I leave you with my stories, some of them you know well, others you haven’t heard about. Hope you enjoy…

Best Regards

Guilherme Ribeiro