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Motorsport world mourns Dan Gurney: an all-rounder is dead

The motorsport world mourns Dan Gurney
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E r has no formula 1- World championship won. Not an Indy 500. He never became a Can-Am Champion either. And yet Dan Gurney was one of the greatest racing drivers in post-war history. Jim Clark once confided in a friend during a quiet hour that of all opponents he respected Dan Gurney the most. On January 14th, the motorsport community received sad news from distant California. Dan Gurney had died of pneumonia at the age of 86. Until recently, the American had been working on a biography. We can only hope that the work will be completed. It would be one of the most exciting stories in automobile racing.

The son of an opera singer and Korean War veteran began his career in 1955 in national sports car races on a Triumph TR2. Just three years later, he appeared in Europe with a Ferrari 250TR at Le Mans. He impressed the Commendatore so much that he offered the tall Gurney a works driver contract for 1959. Because he didn't like Enzo Ferrari's policy of pitting his drivers against each other, Gurney left the team after one season. In his first season in Formula 1, he finished second and third once.

The move to B.R.M. he later described as a mistake. 1960 was the only season in which Gurney remained without a World Cup point. The memory of a bad accident in Zandvoort remained. The car overturned in the Tarzan curve after a brake defect. A youth who was illegally staying in the exclusion zone was arrested by the B.R.M. slay. Gurney was unharmed.

With thePorsche 804, Gurney celebrated his first Formula 1 victory in France in 1962.

Racing driver, team owner, designer

After the disappointment with the British, Gurney switched to Porsche. In 1962 he celebrated his first GP victory in Rouen in the Porsche 804. Because Porsche withdrew at the end of 1962, Gurney joined Jack Brabham's young racing team. He paid with many failures, but with the BT7 and BT11 models he always had competitive cars. On the credit side, the American won the French and Mexican GPs in 1964. At the same time as Formula 1, Gurney regularly drove sports car races. In Le Mans for Ferrari, Jaguar, Shelby Cobra and Ford. In the USA under the banner of his own team. In 1962 Gurney founded the All American Racers Team together with Cobra inventor Carroll Shelby.

The experience at Brabham spurred Gurney to go among the designers himself. From 1965 Gurney built his own cars. That year the AAR-Eagle made its debut in the USAC-IndyCar series. A year later, Gurney also competed in Formula 1 with his own car. The Eagle, which had been designed by Len Terry, was initially equipped with an inflated Climax V8 engine. In 1967 the Weslake V12 was finally ready. The dark blue Eagle T1G-Weslake was unanimously voted the most beautiful Formula 1 car of the 60s.

Gurney's self-construction was not only beautiful, but also fast. Unfortunately not very reliable either. In 25 missions, the various Eagle constructions only crossed the finish line six times. Two highlights stood out. Victory at the Belgian GP in 1967 and third place at the Canadian GP in the same year. The third week of June 1967 was a triumphal march for Dan Gurney. On June 11th, he and A.J. Foyt in a Ford GT40 the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A week later he crowned his own Formula 1 project with victory in Spa-Francorchamps.

It was proof of the versatility of the racing driver Gurney. The high school graduate felt comfortable in all types of vehicles. In addition to his four GP wins, three pole positions and six fastest laps in Formula 1 as well as his Le Mans success, Gurney was able to show seven wins in the IndyCar series, three in the Can-Am and five in the Nascar championship. In 1968 he finished second behind Bobby Unser in the Indy 500. A year later he repeated the result as second behind Mario Andretti. In 1970 Gurney landed in the Brickyard behind Al Unser senior and Mark Donohue in 3rd place. Always with their own cars, always powered by an engine from his contract partner Ford.

The story with the dent in the roof

Ford GT40 with the famous Gurney dent.

Gurney remained a racing car designer . And could also be admired in various film roles, for example in John Frankenheimer's feature film “Grand Prix” and the film “Cannonball” by Brock Yates. The four-time GP winner also campaigned for a race in Long Beach in the 1970s. This became the American Monte Carlo. Formula 1 made guest appearances from 1976 to 1983 against the backdrop of the disused Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor. Then the IndyCar series settled on America's most famous street circuit.

In 2002, the multi-talent presented his own motorcycle, which he named 'Alligator'. Gurney showed his original ideas and inventiveness not only there. He invented the champagne shower after his victory at Le Mans in 1967. He was the first Formula 1 driver to wear a full face helmet. He invented the Gurney Flap, the bar on the top of the rear wing that was used for trimming. He had his Ford GT40 equipped with a dent in the roof. So that he didn't have to sit crooked behind the wheel. The tall American came into conflict with the roof in the 40-inch high racing car.

Gurney was a constant tinkerer. When he wanted to slim down the Eagle from 1967, he replaced the original aluminum chassis with magnesium and built the suspension out of titanium. Gurney knew the dangers of magnesium in the event of a fire. That is why he decided not to wear seat belts for his trips in the lightweight Eagle. 'In an accident, it was better to be thrown out of the car than to be trapped in it,' Gurney said at the time. Gurney survived the most successful years of motorsport with this pragmatism: “Whenever a colleague was involved in an accident, I analyzed the cause. Was it a driving mistake or was something broken? Then I said to myself: what would you do if you were in the same situation'

Gurney's memory of the 1962 German GP

I met Dan Gurney at an IndyCar race in 2000 in Long Beach. Back then we chatted about his unforgettable races. One was the GP Germany in 1962 at the Nürburgring, which he started from pole position and finished in third. He should have won it. In a humorous story, he told me why things turned out differently for the Porsche works driver at the time. “It was typical Eifel weather. I led the race for two laps, but didn't notice anything in the spray. At the ring you always kind of drove your own race. Suddenly I felt a blow on the leg. The battery had loosened from its anchorage and was flying back and forth in the footwell. I was afraid that the battery could puncture one of the aluminum side tanks. If I had been grounded, all that stuff would have blown up with me in the middle. Somehow I managed to clamp the battery to the chassis wall with my left leg. By the time I learned how to couple and lock a battery in place at the same time, I fell 17 seconds behind. When I got used to it, I quickly made up my deficit. My Porsche was fantastic in the rain. Graham Hill and John Surtees stopped me. Unfortunately I couldn't get past them. So I finished third in the end. ”


gino francesco

2021-10-17 13:26:40

I was fortunate to be a correspondent with Dan, and he once said the reason he escaped injury was ironically because of the poor reliability of the Eagle. In later years Dan want a photo of the old Westlake building in Rye which is sent to him. A great racer and gentleman who left this world a better place for being here

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